I believe it was St. Teresa of Avila who coined the phrase, “God writes straight with crooked lines.” This refers to the experience of a strange series of events for which we have no explanation, but with faith and trust in God we can see that although something unexpected took place, God was with us the entire time, even in tragedy. The Christmas season presents us with this sort of scenario. First we celebrated the birth of Jesus, a feast replete with joyful angels and awe-struck shepherds with whom we shared the wonder of it all. Then we celebrated the Feast of the Holy Family, which, in a surprising twist, involved danger; next weekend we will celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany featuring adoring Magi who also end up in danger. Even the Gospels are surprising, chronologically ‘reversed,’ with the reading for the Holy Family from Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23 and that of the Epiphany from Matthew 2:1-12. However, what is really happening in the Church’s choice of the timing of these passages is in the message which reveals that God was already doing a saving work, shedding light, like that of the Star, on the true identity of this Child: Jesus is the Savior, and while strange and even tragic things may happen, all is in the control of our God, the One who writes straight with crooked lines.
The Gospel for the Feast of the Holy Family involved the Family’s need to flee from the wicked King Herod whose intention was to kill the newborn Babe. We were immediately jarred out of our reverie and the silence of adoration into a sense of urgency and danger. And with the unfathomable tragedy which occurred for those little ones in Bethlehem, we see that belief in Jesus as the Son of God means that there will be danger, and that we will need to trust in God and in the message this little Child will bear. His birth brought hope into the world, and we must not lose sight of it: Jesus does bring “healing in His wings.”* The successful flight of the Holy Family, along with the tragedy which occurred, is a precursor to the victory Jesus would have over death, a victory wrapped in great mystery. Finally, it is important that we realize we are part of His holy family. During His ministry Jesus said: “Whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother.” (Mt 12:46-50) Therefore we are to take from this that we, His family, are never without His healing, power, and ultimate victory.
The Gospel for the Epiphany is similar in its message. The Magi came from afar to adore the newborn King. Herod became aware of their objective and tried to deceive them into revealing the Baby’s location; however the angel interceded and warned them not to return to Herod, but rather to depart to their country by a different route. Thus, the adoration of the Magi was overshadowed by the evil intent of Herod. And as before, God guided them to safety. While this is not what the Magi must have expected in finally arriving at the manger, it would seem that after following the star to get there, trusting the hand of God who they had now met face to face was not difficult for them.
A lesson from these two related passages is that being a follower of Jesus means accepting mystery, not just the kind which induces awe, but also that which can be confusing or does not seem to have a visible meaning. It teaches that we are to embrace faith and hope in a much deeper way than ever before, especially as life becomes increasingly complex. Further, it means that we must let go of everything that is pre-conceived within our minds and hearts; we need to allow a stripping away of all that comes between us and God. All attachments must be loosed in order to rise up and leave what is comfortable if need be. To do so is to allow ourselves to die to that which keeps us from God and to rise up again with Him on the last day. Ultimately, it leads to freedom and joy. We are to become as the Holy Family and as the Magi: willing to leave the safety of our comfort zone and go where we are unfamiliar. It means letting God write straight with crooked lines: that we truly trust the Word of God, Jesus, to lead us to healing, wholeness, and deeper love than we can ever imagine.
Perhaps this Christmas season we can ask for the grace to let go of that which keeps us from adoring, listening, trusting, acting, and being a person of peace, mercy, and love. It means we have to trust that God will lead, becoming like the Magi, following whatever ‘star’ or angel He sends, discerning the message through our prayer and through the voices of others. It means being like the Holy Family, trusting that when we go to a ‘foreign place’ we might have to ‘return’ to a different place, but that He will lead us home to Him. It would be good to spend time during this Christmas season in reflection upon these mysteries, asking for the grace to let go, accepting that sometimes God writes straight with crooked lines. And perhaps praying with the 2nd chapter of Matthew will assist us in embracing mystery so that we can find peace in the unknown and comfort in resting in God alone.
May we continue our celebration, adoration, reflection, and prayer during this Christmas season! May we learn how to let go of all which keeps us from growing in closeness to God! May we find inspiration in the Holy Family and the Magi who discerned the message of God! And may we find healing and peace in the newborn Jesus! Let us continue to meet in the heart of Jesus! Peace!
© Michele L. Catanese
* “With healing in His wings” is a line from the third verse of the Christmas carol, Hark the Herald Angels Sing. It is actually a paraphrase of Malachi 3:20. You can find the lyrics to this carol at https://www.google.com/search?q=hymn+hark+the+herald+angels+sing+lyrics&oq=Hymn%2C+Hark+the&aqs=chrome.4.69i57j0l7.6806j0j8&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8
Blessings to all in 2020!
1. Icon, The Holy Family for the Holy Family Hospital of Bethlehem, by Fr. William Hart McNichols. You can find this at https://fineartamerica.com/featured/the-holy-family-for-the-holy-family-hospital-of-bethlehem-william-hart-mcnichols.html
2. My photo of the fresco, The Flight into Egypt, by Giotto. This was taken in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua.
3. Mosaic of the Adoration of the Magi. San Vitale, Ravenna, Italy.
4. My photo of a sunset in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico. There is mystery in this photo, as symbolized by the unknown objects on the beach.
5. Painting, The Nativity and the Annunciation to the Shepherds, by Bernardino Luini, (1480/1490-1532)
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