Books, Articles and Essays
by FR. FELIX RAJ, SJ, DIRECTOR | «
"Glory to God in the highest
and on earth peace to people of good will!"
(Address on Christmas Eve at Ramamkrishna
Mission Institute, Gol Park, Kolkata)
By Fr. John Felix Raj.
Christmas means Christ among
the masses. Christ + Mass. Christ born as one among us. John the beloved
apostle of Jesus begins his gospel in the following words:
|In the beginning was the
Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things were
created by him. In him was life, and the life was the light of humankind. And
the light shines on in the darkness, but the darkness has not mastered it… He
is the true light, who gives light to everyone. The Word became flesh and took
up residence among us. We saw his glory - full of grace and truth, who
came from the Father (John 1: 1-14).
St. Ignatius of Loyola has a
beautiful contemplation on the Incarnation. “Three Divine Persons look
down upon the whole expanse of all the earth, filled with human beings (in great
diversity in dress and acting, some are white, some black, some at peace and
some at war; some weeping, some laughing; some well, some sick; some coming into
the world and some dying; etc. Since They see all nations in great blindness and
that people are descending into hell, They decree in Their eternity that the
Second Person should become man to save the human race. So when the fullness of
time came, They sent the Angel Gabriel to Mary in Nazareth” (Spiritual
Exercises, Week Two, First Contemplation, Nos: 102-109).
God so loved the world, he sent his son into the world as one among human beings
so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life (John 3:16-18). It
is said in the Bible: “The Lord himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin
shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel
which means “God with us” (IS 7:14).
“Joseph and Mary, the parents of Jesus, traveled from Nazareth in Galilee to
King David’s town, Bethlehem in Judea to be enrolled in the census. While they
were there, Mary gave birth to a son, wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid
him in a manger since there was no accommodation in the inn. On the eighth day
they named him Jesus” (Luke 2:1-7). In the manger one encounters the power of
simplicity, the depth of humility, the richness of spiritual poverty and the
wonder of divine communion with the human.
The birth of Jesus was miraculous. It is God’s own revelation. Nothing is
impossible to God. Jesus is born of a virgin, overshadowed by the Spirit of God.
Birth of Jesus is an even heralding universal peace and joy. As the Narada
Bhakti-Sutra (V.5) rightly says, “at the birth of a divine person, the ancestors
rejoice, the gods dance in joy, and the world gets a saviour”.
The purpose of Incarnation was redemption of people. In Christ’s birth God
revealed His love as He revealed it in creation. Christmas reminds us of the
truth that God loves us. The Baby in Bethlehem’s manger was a gift, a gift
from Loving God who is Father of all. This gift brought good tidings of
great joy to all. Despite the considerable and increasing commercialization of
Christmas, when celebrated meaningfully, Christmas becomes an event in our lives
and gives birth to love, peace, joy and fellowship.
The first ones to hear the news of Jesus’ birth are the shepherds who
were guarding over their sheep during the night. An angel of God appeared to
them and said: “I bring you news of great joy, a joy to be shared by the whole
people. Today in the town of David, a Saviour is born for you”. As they were
struck with wonder, they heard a choir of angels praising God: “Glory to God in
the highest and on earth peace to all good people (Luke 2:9-14). God chose first
the humble and the poor to receive the good news. “Blessed are the poor in
spirit, the kingdom of heaven is theirs; blessed are the pure in heart, they
shall see God” (Jesus’ sermon on the mount, Matthew 5:3-10).
“There came some wise men to Jerusalem from the East to do homage to the divine
child.. They rejoiced with exceeding great joy. Falling down they adored him and
opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold, frankincense and myrrh…”
(Matthew 2:1-12). Jesus is for all. His birth takes place in every human heart
that is pure. His message of love and service is universal. That is why
he told his disciples: ‘Go out into all nations and preach the good news… I am
with you till the end of time’.
Christmas is closely connected to Sri Ramakrishna, his disciples and to
the Ramakrishna Mission. He spent his whole life seeking God in many different
paths. He enables us to see Christ in a new way. “In 1873, Ramakrishna met
Shambhu Charan Mallik, who read the Bible to him and spoke to him of Jesus. One
day Ramakrishna visited Mallik’s garden house, which was adjacent to the
Dakshineswar temple. In his living room there was a picture of the Madonna and
the Child Jesus sitting on her lap. While Ramakrishna was gazing at the picture,
he saw that the figures of the mother and child were shining and rays of
light were coming forth from them and entering his heart.
For the next three days Ramakrishna was absorbed in the thought of Jesus, and at
the end of the third day, while walking in the Panchavati, he had a vision of a
extraordinary looking person with a beautiful face and large eyes of uncommon
brilliance with his gaze intently fixed on him. As he pondered who this stranger
could be, the Person drew near and a voice from within said: “This is Jesus
Christ, the great yogi, the loving Son of God, who was one with his Father
and who shed his blood and suffered for the salvation of humankind!” Jesus then
embraced Ramakrishna and merged into his body” (God Lived with Them,
p.15). Sri Ramakrishna was convinced that Jesus Christ was the Incarnation of
On 23 December 1885, when Sashi (Swami Ramakrishnananda) and Sarat (Swami
Saradananda) met Sri Ramakrishna, the Master answered their queries with
passages from the New Testament and recognized them as his own who belonged to
his inner circle. He revealed that Sashi and Sarat were among the
followers of Jesus in their previous birth.
After Sri Ramakrishna’s departure, his disciples continued to cultivate the
“Jesus State”. Narendra (Swami Vivekananda) and eight other disciples
visited Antpur, the birthplace of Swami Premananda, on 24 December 1886. One
night, around an open fire, Narendra narrated the life of Jesus to all beginning
from the Immaculate Conception to the resurrection, emphasizing at every turn
the life of renunciation that Jesus lived. He spoke about Christ’s love
and self-sacrifice for the good of humanity. He introduced them to the
apostolic mission of St. Paul and other apostles of Jesus. And in an
inspired voice he exhorted them to be apostles themselves to carry out the
mission of love and renunciation. When they came out of their recollection, they
realized that it was the eve of Christmas.
On 24 December 1892, Swami Vivekananda went to Kanyakumari and
meditated in Mother Kumari’s temple. During his prayer he hit upon a plan for
the future, a plan to give back to the nation its lost individuality and
raise the masses… For Swami Vivekananda, Christ dons the earthly cloak. He
bodies forth the creation of His own time, and casts a far-flung glance into the
yet unborn to bring it into existence. He reveals Himself to each one according
to his or her power of receptivity. The words of Jesus, “What does it profit
a person if he gains the whole world and losses his life?” (Matthew 16:26)
echoes in everyone’s heart.
In his younger days, Swami Ramakrishnanada sought higher knowledge from
the Bible. He had a tremendous love for Christ. During his last days, he became
inspired whenever he spoke of Christ. He would often relate how Sri Ramakrishna
had regarded him as Christ’s disciple in his previous life.
Gurudeb Rabindranath has touchingly and beautifully brought out this
aspect divine encounter in human life in his song: “This is my delight,
thus to wait and watch at the wayside where shadow chases light and the rain
comes in the wake of the summer. Messengers, with tidings from unknown
skies, greet me and speed along the road. My heart is glad within, and the
breath of the passing breeze is sweet”.
“From dawn till dusk I sit here before my door, and I know that of a sudden the
happy moment will arrive when I shall see. In the meanwhile I smile and I sing
all alone. The air is filling with the perfume of promise”.
“Have you not heard his silent steps? He comes, comes, ever comes. Every
moment and every age, every day and every night he comes, comes, ever comes. I
surrendered my mind without struggle to the maze of shadows and songs”.
“At last, when I woke from my slumber and opened my eyes, I saw thee standing by
me, flooding my sleep with thy smile. How I had feared that the path was long
and wearisome, and the struggle to reach thee was hard! You came down from your
throne and stood at my cottage door”.
I was singing all alone in a corner, and the melody caught your ear. You
came down and stood at my cottage door. Masters are many in your hall, and songs
are sung there at all hours. But the simple carol of this novice struck at your
love. One plaintive little strain mingled with the great music of the world, and
with a flower for a prize you came down and stopped at my cottage door”.
We, Christians believe in a Trinitarian, in other words, communitarian God.
Trinitarianism is the theory of the nature of God that one divine essence
exists in three divine persons (personae). When one reads that there are three
persons in the Godhead the word "person" should be understood in its archaic
sense and not in the contemporary sense of a center or core of personality.
There are not three separate personalities in the Godhead. God is neither a
person nor three persons. For us, a person is an individual agent, a conscious
centre of memory and choice, of action, reflection and decision. But when we say
there are, in God, 'three persons', we do not mean that God has, as it were,
three minds, three memories, three wills" (Nicholas Lash 1993:32).
Brahmabhanda Upadyay has explained the Trinitarian dimension very well. Jesus
is divine and human. He is the Logos, the divine word, the eternal Image of
the Father, who by his incarnation revealed the humanity of God and divinity of
“The infinite, eternal God who cognizes his own Self reproduced in thought, is
the Father; and the same God who is the begotten Image of divinity, who
acknowledges the Father in reason, is the Logos, the Son. This is the
mystery of the timeless Word-colloquy, which sweetens the divine bosom and fills
it with joy ineffable. The eternal, intellectual act of divine generation and
the correspondence which binds the Father and his Logos Image in the Spirit of
Love completes the life of God and makes it self-sufficient…”
Upadhyay adopted the vision of Saccidananda as expressive of the
Christian doctrine of God as Trinity. God the Father is the Sat –
Being, the Son is the Cit – Consciousness or intelligence, and the
Spirit is Ananda – Joy, fulfillment. This vision comes through a
beautiful Sanskrit hymn, Vande Saccidanandam Vande, which he composed and
is today widely sung in Christian Churches all over India.
According to Upadhyay, Jesus Christ has certain claims to attention:
He is a universal Teacher.
He is in St. Paul’s words “all things to all people”. He commissioned his
apostles to “go and teach all nations to observe all things he had commanded
Jesus Christ has given to
humankind by his Incarnation the most complete possible revelation of the
nature and character of God.
He unfolds the mystery of
God’s inner life.
The last but the foremost is
his divinity. He claims to be the incarnate divinity suffering in his
union with human nature.
An important message of
Christmas is that of joyous giving. The Story of Santa Claus explains this
dimension of Christmas. It is centered on the message of love and giving. The
more we give the more we receive. God loves those who love not themselves but
others. The spirit of Christmas makes every person other-centered, that is
people centered. Jesus said: “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s
life for his fellow being” (John 15:13).
Sixteen hundred years ago, there was a man called Nicholas in Patara, a
town on Turkey's Mediterranean coast. Because he was very fond of children and
was kind and generous to them, they came to think of him as their dear friend
and their beloved saint. So it was that after a time the wonderful things he did
were woven into a beautiful legend. Santa means Saint and Claus stands for
Nicholas, and that is how he came to be known as Santa Claus.
In Santa Claus's own town, Patara, lived a nobleman who had three daughters. He
was very poor, so poor that one day he was on the point of sending his daughters
out to beg for food from his neighbors. Nicholas heard of the trouble the poor
man was in, and made up his mind to help him secretly. So he went to the man's
house at night, and as the moon shone out from behind a cloud, he saw an open
window into which he threw a bag of gold, and with this timely gift the father
was able to provide for his eldest daughter so that she could be married. On
another night Santa Claus set off with another bag of gold, and threw it in at
the window, so the second daughter was provided for. But by this time, the
father had grown eager to discover who the mysterious visitor could be, and next
night he kept on the lookout. Then for the third time Santa Claus came with a
bag of gold upon his back and pitched it in at the window. The old man at once
recognized his fellow townsman, and falling on his knees, cried out "Oh!
Nicholas, servant of God, why seek to hide yourself?"
I wish you all a Joy filled Christmas and the Blessings of the Infant Jesus to
extend your love and life to others in service.
24 December 2005