Emmanuel, God With Us

While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child.     (Lk. 2:6)

Right before Christmas one year, a really sad article came out in the press. According to several reports, a priest condemned suicide at the funeral of a young man who had taken his own life. I felt tremendous grief for the parents who had lost their son.  I also felt tremendous upset that this family had suffered pastoral abuse at such an excruciating time.

We are about a week before Christmas. As we remember and celebrate the birth of God’s Son into our world, we must understand and proclaim that there is no way to justify what that priest did. A God who becomes one with us never wants anyone, any church, any minister to limit His grace, confine His love, or restrict His mercy.

The Roman Catholic Church, thankfully, has apologized to the family. The church authorities have also said that this priest will not be doing any funerals in the near future.

Can that priest be rehabilitated? That’s not for me to say. What I can say is that before that priest can stand before God’s people, he needs to kneel before them; and before he can pronounce absolution over them, he needs to receive the absolution and forgiveness of the parents of the young man he condemned.

As you prepare for Christmas this year, I encourage you to remember that our Lord Jesus, who came as a vulnerable baby, wants us to be tender and kind to each other. Jesus was born flesh of our flesh so that we would know that there is nothing that can happen to us—like mental illness, which that young man undoubtedly suffered from—that Jesus does not know, will not share, and cannot redeem.

Jesus was born here—Emmanuel, God with us, so that we could be reborn both now and forever. And that’s the message that those parents—and everyone else who suffers—needs to hear. And that’s, finally, the message that young man was greeted with in God’s nearer presence.

Reflection Questions:

  1. During the priest’s misguided homily, the family actually went to the pulpit, pleading that he stop. If you had been at that service, how would you have reacted?
  1. Has the church ever given you less grace than you needed? Do you need to pray to forgive what happened, or what didn’t?
  1. How does the birth of Jesus—both His birth long ago and His ongoing birth now in us—impact your life, your relationships, your words and actions?

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