Gina Christian

After a recent daily Mass, a woman briskly walked up the aisle of my parish church with a large floral arrangement while the sacristan and I were gathering up old hymnals. I thought perhaps a funeral had been scheduled for later that morning, but the woman said she was simply delivering a generous benefactor’s weekly display for a side altar. 

As she removed the faded blooms, she smiled faintly and said, “I always like to think the really worn-out flowers are the ones placed where people have prayed the most.”

I thought of the countless times I’ve seen fellow parishioners kneeling before one of our church’s statues of Jesus, Mary or St. Joseph, silently pouring out their hearts, tears occasionally streaming down their faces. Moments later, those same petitioners have arisen, their shoulders straighter, their brows unfurrowed, their spirits lifted knowing they have been heard by their Lord, and that he walks with them through whatever valleys they must traverse.

Yet our access to that consolation has come at a cost, and a terrible one, to Christ. Just as scientists speak of the law of conservation of energy, where energy doesn’t disappear but rather changes state, the toxins of our souls were taken up and transformed in the Lord’s passion: “He himself bore our sins in his body upon the cross, so that, free from sin, we might live for righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Pt 2:24; cf. Is 53:4, 12, Is 53:5).

Indeed, as Venerable Fulton Sheen so eloquently reminds us in “Life of Christ,” Jesus chose to become one of us for this very reason: “Every other person who ever came into this world came into it to live. He came into it to die.”

Sheen adds that Christ’s life “has been the only life in the world that was ever lived backward,” since “in the Person of Christ … it was his death that was first and his life that was last. … The Cross was first, and cast its shadow back to his birth.”

Our Advent preparations hail the coming of a Child whose tender flesh would ultimately be scourged and sundered; the fingers that curled around those of Mary and Joseph would one day writhe in agony from Roman nails; the soft breath of the Newborn would at last be expelled on the cross in a ravaged cry of “It is finished” (Jn 19:30).

As we ready our hearts and homes for Christmas, may we take care to discern the shadows of this season, which whisper of a death to come, and a life that will never end.

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Gina Christian is a senior content producer at CatholicPhilly.com, host of the Inside CatholicPhilly.com podcast and author of the forthcoming book “Stations of the Cross for Sexual Abuse Survivors.” Follow her on Twitter at @GinaJesseReina.