In Nativitate, vel Kalyāṇamitratā

He was a baby, He was a child,
so that you might be a perfect man;
He was wrapped in swaddling clothes,
that you might be loosed from the snares of death;
He was in a manger, so that you might be in the altar;
He on earth, that you might be in the stars.
He had no other place in the inn,
that you might have many mansions in the Heavens.
He, it says, being rich, became poor for your sakes,
that through His poverty you might be rich.
Therefore, His poverty is my inheritance,
and the Lord’s weakness is my virtue.
He chose to lack for Himself,
that He might abound for all.
~Ambrose of Milan, On the Nativity

Saint Ambrose of Milan  is considered one of the four Latin Fathers of the Church who are studied alongside the four Greek Fathers of the Church by nearly every  seminarian and divinity student, as well most serious Christian Biblical students. Milan has always been dear to me on account of my personal devotion to Cardinal Alfredo Ildefonso Schuster and Cardinal Giovanni Battista Montini. While Montini was the right-hand man of Pope Pius XII (and himself a future pope), Schuster nearly lost his red hat for refusing to humor Mussolini. I used to read Schuster’s commentaries on the liturgical year and it was Beato Schuster who convinced me that Mass and the Hours were not mere individualistic acts of personal piety, but something like the binary stars I’ve been reading about lately. (Regulus caught my attention last night, for some reason. Perhaps one day I’ll be able to write intelligently on topics like that!)

I was incredibly fortunate through the course of my seminary training and first years of priesthood to have role models, mentors, and friends who were more like Montini and Schuster than I was able to perceive at the time.  Perhaps already there are Millennial seminarians who look to Cardinals with names like Dolan and Harvey and Burke (to name just three of many) for inspiration and guidance. And when those Millennials are my age surely those men will live on in their hearts and minds, just as Schuster and Montini are alive in me.

I never had the chance to befriend Schuster or Montini but the generation of seminarians and young priests today are more fortunate. A budding theologian can not only contemplate the piercing insight of someone like Cardinal Christoph Schönborn but even take him out  to a pub for a bit of “theology on tap”. And a future diplomat can hang out with Cardinal Angelo Sodano and ask him what it was like to sit at the feet of the great Cardinal Agostino Casaroli who laid the groundwork for some of the most important geopolitical transformations of the final twenty years of the twentieth century.

The birth of Jesus was essentially an invitation to friendship with God and an opportunity to transcend a divide that seemed as impossible as a trip from Earth to Regulus. As Saint Athanasius described the Christmas mystery: God became man so that man might become [like unto] god (De incarnatione).

Today more than ever, the teaching of the Buddhist Master Sangharakshita finds purpose and urgency. The center of gravity for his entire corpus of spiritual teaching is basically this: The spiritual life is about friendship.

Kalyāṇamitratā
They come to us
To show us
What we will become
We go to them
To show them
What they are to us
For what we have received
Is not ours to destroy
It is ours, it is theirs
Without measure everywhere

THIS IS THE DAY
Of which they will say
The People of the Great Heart
Survived that day!

The waters above
Will find rest below
For ours is not the first
And theirs is not the last
Back and forth they pass
Beyond time yet in time
As the candle remains
While the light travels through

Therefore,
As a father scatters much seed
In the hope of even one son
And a woman bleeds monthly
For the sake of her only child
Let us become
Both father and child
Brother and son
Friend, mother, sister

TOGETHER

Let us create
From the place of Blood
A dwelling of the Spirit
For from both
All will arise
And become
And return
And go forth
Unto endless generations
For it is by living
That we best honor the dead
And by giving
That all will have

Where I have been
You too will go
For no one in the Family
Is ever left behind
Here, the just and the wicked
Have purpose and place
Both give their father joy
That when his days are over
Love will remain
Undying, Unconquered, Invincible
Just as Sol in our sky
Is source and power to us
So the many distant lights
In the night sky
Are as the same
To those we now encounter
One Sun
One Life
One Family
And when one light goes out
Another shall arise
As father gives way to son
And daughter becomes mother

This is the Family
And each of us
Must now become
Father and Mother
Brother and Daughter
Sister and Son
And even THE FRIEND

As THE FRIEND is to us
Let us be to one another

~BT Waldbillig
December 24, 2017


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