a new baby into any family is a time of preparation, and at this time the whole Church is preparing to celebrate the coming of Christ into the human family.
The birth of a child always involves some degree of sacrifice. In the most prim.tive context, it involves less to cat for the other members of the family. But even in conditions of affluence there is always the time, devotion and care that must he lavished on the child.
Not that the members of the family grudge giving what duty demands. They give, and give with . the wholehearted generosity that comes from the very conditions of life itself, For it is unthinkable that natural parents should not devote themselves to the welfare of the new child.
So the sacrifices are accepted as being part of the ordinary nature of things. They are unavoidable, and for this reason most of the sting is taken out of them. It is clear to the family that it is far better to welcome the child than to be selfish — the benefits outweigh the disadvantages. Over and above this there is the sense of being committed to a person. The new child is a person and as such has rights and can make claims on the other members of the family.
Much the same situation exists with regard to the coming of the child Christ into the human family. But the difference is that whereas the natural child presents the parents with a concrete, physical situation that cannot be wished away, the divine child Christ presents us with a spiritual situation only. The spiritual reality of the coming of Christ into the world is real enough but in the nature of our existence in this life, the material impresses itself on us more than the spiritual. The implications for us today of the birth of Christ into the world are in the first place spiritual and intangible for his actual physical coming 2.000 years ago took place in order that he might come into every heart today. The physical, material reality at Bethlehem was but the prelude to a reality that would outlive this material creation. In some way we are to share in the life of God himself and Christ is the means by which we do this.
Through his humanity, glorified after the resurrection. he acts in his sacraments. This action of Christ is seen and felt principally in the Eucharist. and from the Eucharist out through the other sacraments into every aspect of our lives.
The total overall effect is that our actions are no longer the actions of mere men but become the actions of men who arc living in a state of life that is a prelude to something greater.
This is what we mean when we say that Christ is born into our hearts. We mean that the effect of Christ through his sacraments is such that our outward behaviour is more like what he himself would have done in our circumstances. We retain our individuality and freedom of action, but at the same time we allow ourselves to have his outlook, his mentality, and. following on from this, our actions follow him too.
This birth of Christ must be prepared for. The necessity for this preparation is just as great and just as real as it would be in the case of a physical birth. It is only that this necessity is not so apparent to us.
We have to prepare ourselves and at the same time and by the same action we prepare one another to receive Christ. The role of St. John the Baptist is the role for all of us. We all must play the part of one who goes before the Lord both for ourselves and for others.
The keynote of preparation is to recognise that the reality of our own material existence lis to be built up at our death into something much greater. This will come about only through our union with Christ and our adoption of his outlook and mentality.
From a material. natural point of view we are all totally preoccupied in building up and preserving our life on this earth. Nothing serves this end better and nothing is more fundamental to natural human life than eating. Food is the absolute bedrock of our livta3 and it is for this reason that fasting is particularly appropriate at this time.
The Church has always recommended fasting as a means of preparing for times of especial grace. In these times its not appropriate to lay down the minutiae of times or quantities and for this reason the lati'S of the Church on fasting have been relaxed. But the necessitv Of fasting has never been greater, By fasting we detach ourselves from sore food that we otherwise might reasonably have. We do this because we want to show in our actions and in our bodies that we are not committed, lock, stock and barrel to this life alone.
Fasting before Holy Communion -is particularly appropriate since we show in our actions that we are prepared to forego the food that gives temporary life so as to appreciate the more the Food that gives eternal Life.
The need to practise some fasting comes from the very condition of our existence. It arises from the very nature of things — it is our way of preparing for Christ.