When the kindness and generous love of God our savior appeared, not because of any righteous deeds we had done but because of his mercy, He saved us through the bath of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he richly poured out on us through Jesus Christ our savior, so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life.
Titus 3:4-7Because many people will fulfill their Christmas obligation by assisting at either the Vigil Mass (sometimes promoted as a "family" Mass, one more appropriate for little children) or the Mass During the Night (no matter at what time it starts--late Christmas Eve or on the stroke of midnight Christmas Day), this reading is rarely heard by the faithful. It actually compliments the Second Reading of the Feast of the Nativity: Mass During the Night. Not just because it is from the same letter, but because it completes the thought of the other reading. (Which is why I have both readings as part of my post "Proclamation Of The Birth Of Christ" which will re-appear later tonight.)
As I did last year with the other reading from this letter, this year's reflection will also be an exercise in "lectio divina". At times I have found many of St. Paul's writings a challenge to grasp not only because of their theological denseness but also because of the sentence structure of the translation. This method helps me at least scratch the surface. As always, my thoughts are only a point of departure for what you may discern.
"The kindness and generous love of God our savior appeared." Ever since the Fall, God has taken the initiative to win us back to Him. Despite our sinfulness, He has, since Adan and Eve hid in the Garden, sought us because He could never forsake us. He Who is Love, as St. John wrote, made his kindness and generous love appear in a myriad of forms in the Old Testament. Magnificent as they were, they pale in comparison to the sign as foretold in Isaiah: "A virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel."
"Not because of any righteous deeds we had done." Ever since the Fall, man has not been able to make satisfaction for his ultimate failing. Having lost sanctifying grace, while still made in the image and likeness of God, he was but a faint shadow of his true self. While sacrifices and oblations were made, while obeying the Law was accomplished, he was unable to restore favor with God, because of the infinite gap between Creator and creature. He could do nothing without Grace.
"Because of his mercy." It was because God loves us that he did not want to see His crowing jewel of Creation destroyed forever. While we were condemned in righteous justice, we would also be forgiven in limitless mercy. It would take an infinite act of sacrifice to expedite an infinite act of betrayal. How appropriate then in this Jubilee Year of Mercy we are reminded of the fact, as St. Paul writes elsewhere, that while we were sinners, Christ died for us.
"He saved us." Jesus. A variation of Joshua, meaning "God is salvation". The name give to St. Joseph by the angel (contrast that to how St. John the Baptist was named). Born under the Law to deliver us from the Law. Man could not save himself; only the God-Man could.
"Through the bath of rebirth." It is by Baptism that Sanctifying Grace is restored. It is the waters of redemption that make us clean, pure and whole, pleasing and acceptable to God. This is what Jesus had in mind when He spoke to Nicodemus.
"And renewal by the Holy Spirit." By the work of the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity we are made new again, reclaiming in us the image and likeness of God. None of this is our doing. It is all God's favor. It is all Grace.
"Whom he richly poured out on us." God is never outdone in generosity. All of His blessings come forth in a never ending stream. It is up to us to work with Him, to continually seek and do His will. Even if we sin again, the Sacrament of Penance is there for us to help repair the damage.
"Through Jesus Christ our savior." How many times do we end our prayers, both liturgically and privately, with a variant of the phrase, "Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son"? It it "through Him, and with Him, and in Him" that all is possible. It is in His Holy Name our prayers are answered.
"We might be justified by his grace." The word that actually is prominent to me is "might". Grace is a gift freely given. Because we have free will, the choice to accept or reject it is ours. We were created to choose the good. In order to remain righteous and made just, we have to continually be like the Blessed Virgin Mary, whose "fiat" was cooperation with God's will at all times.
"Become heirs in hope of eternal life." And this is the ultimate reward: becoming the adopted children of God. Heaven is our true home; the Beatific Vision, our only sight. This is the pearl of great price, purchased for us by the Life, Death, and Resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and ours for the taking if we but only ask, seek, and knock.
But all of this does not happen if not for what we celebrate now: Jesus' coming into the world in the form of a slave. Emmanuel--God is with us. Taking on our humanity so that we may take on His divinity, we welcome once again the Christ Child with open arms and open heart.
Hodie Christus natus est.