The Personalist Project

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Accessed on January 16, 2018 - 10:35:20

The Most Personalist Time of the Year

Devra Torres, Dec 28, 2017

What am I talking about? Let me explain.

First of all, on December 6th, we have St. Nicholas. As Wikipedia tells it:

In his most famous exploit, Nicholas aided a poor man who had three daughters, but could not afford a proper dowry for them. This meant that they would remain unmarried and probably, in absence of any other possible employment, would have to become prostitutes. Even if they did not, unmarried women in those days would be assumed to be prostitutes. Hearing of the girls' plight, Nicholas decided to help them, but being too modest to help the family in public (or to save them the humiliation of accepting charity), he went to the house under the cover of night and threw three purses (one for each daughter) filled with gold coins through the window opening into the house.

St. Nicholas stands as a lasting sign of the dignity of every person, boy or girl, rich or poor. Instead of just accepting--even reluctantly--the assumptions that trying to rise above your station is uppity, he came to the rescue. Instead of imagining that social order requires forcing anyone into prostitution, or that morality justifies jumping to conclusions about anyone based solely on marital status (or lack thereof), he made a change of status possible. And the part where he neither wants to draw attention to himself nor humiliate his beneficiaries--this shows not just a willingness to do a helpful thing, but to do it with the dignity of the beneficiary firmly in mind.

Then on the 8th there's the Immaculate Conception: Mary was conceived without sin, and it's true, she had nothing to do with that. She was the recipient of a unique grace, not the initiator of anything. But then her free will comes into play: the Angel Gabriel doesn't order her to bear the Christ Child but waits on her fiat. Once she bestows it, he leaves immediately. She was free from original sin, but then, so were Adam and Eve. The Incarnation still hinged on her free response to what she received.

And what was she consenting to? Not just a function, or a role. Not just a temp job--"ISO woman to serve as vessel for God's human nature for nine months"--but the Mother of a Person. Catholics honor her not just for being the "container" of God's human nature--a mere functionary-- but as the Mother of God the Son. Two real persons, two real body-and-soul beings, not a trick, or a disguise, or an assignment.

On the next day, December 9th, we have the feast of St. Juan Diego, and on the 12th, Our Lady of Guadalupe. According to the standards of his time and place, peasants had no business receiving private revelations from the Mother of God, much less coming into a Bishop's presence with a message from her. We celebrate a God who is "no respecter of persons"--a misleading way of saying "no respecter of the trappings of social position."

And then--Christmas! God becomes a human person. He doesn't come disguised as one, or take on the role of acting like one for a few decades and then cast off His human nature, or His human body, going back to being True God but no longer True Man. It's not a trick or a deception; it's not just that He had a job to do, a function to perform, before getting "back to normal." Describing what, exactly, it was that He did instead would require more theological expertise than I have, but whatever it was, it was a real Incarnation as a real human person, nothing less.

So happy Holydays! Happy season of extravagant divine confirmations of the dignity of the human person! Happy 4th day of Christmas!

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Image credits: St. Nicholas, by Jacopo Tintoretto, via Wikimedia Commons

Annunciation by Henry Ossawa Tanner, via Wikimedia Commons.

Author's photo of statue of St. Juan Diego at St. Mark the Evangelist, Hyattsville, MD

Ukranian, Adoration of the Shepherds, Wikipedia Signpost, public domain.