I’d like to put the emphasis on today’s first reading, from Isaiah. The beginning of this reading is practical: “Seek the Lord while He may be found, call Him while He is near.” Is there anyone you would like to say that to? Someone close to you who, perhaps, was once a seeker of the Lord?
A relative and friend? Maybe a child who has now gone in another direction? Such a person was Dan Wakefield, a novelist and screenwriter. He used to call himself a former Christian; a fallen angel. He lived the high life of New York and Hollywood; his books were best sellers and two became movies. He led a self-indulgent life in the fast lane. One Christmas Eve in Boston, he left his grand hotel and went to look for a bar.
While looking, he passed King’s Chapel where people were going in. He thought, “Oh yes, I remember Christmas Eve. That is what people do, go to church.” So, he stumbled into the church and sat down by the crib. Seeing the Christ Child there, that Gentle God in human form, the words of St. John’s Gospel kept going through his mind: “And the word was made flesh and dwelt among us.”
He was caught by old memories of family. Something resonated in his soul, and it was not long before he returned to his roots; returned to Christ. And he wrote a very beautiful book about that return. It is simply called Returning.
Another person who was seeking was a young woman named Catherine Whitemore. She grew up an Episcopalian and she had good memories. She creates coloring books for bible school, stories about Jesus. In college, she never went to church and scoffed at organized religion. But after her mother died, she wanted to go back. So she looked up the yellow pages and found 48 listings for Episcopal Churches. The first one was very grand with a famous choir and liturgy. It all felt rather anonymous; you were an onlooker, just listening to the wonderful music. And watching the movements on the altar, she felt just part of an audience.
She kept searching and found a small church where everyone took part in the liturgy. But above all what first attracted her was the large crucifix on the altar. And her first thought was “God so loved me that He allowed this to be done to His Son. This is not the way I would have saved the world. No, God’s thoughts are not our thoughts. God’s ways are not our ways.”
It is interesting, the paths these two seekers, Dan Wakefield and Catherine Whitemore, took. One is captured by the crib, the other by the cross. Both by the memories they stirred up.
The basic testimony of both these people is that their return was precisely that: a return. Someone had already in their young years laid a foundation. There were pictures and prayers and bible school and family church going.
Later on, it is true they left all that. But it did not leave them. Grace was but dormant, and merely waiting. Waiting to be resurrected by the crib or the cross of another time. Their stories remind us of the importance of laying good foundations: In short, the memories you are creating for your community, your family, your parish.
Never underestimate the power of memories. Whether you teach others the gentleness and nearness of the crib, or the demands and cost of the cross, do it early and do it often. Do it faithfully, do it with your own lives.
If you do not forget, perhaps someone someday will remember. Remember what you showed them by example, and maybe the crib or the cross will remind them that the Lord is near to all who call upon Him.