In today's first reading, St. Paul says something rather mysterious. Let's listen to his words again: “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of His Body, which is the Church...”
We might wonder what could possibly be lacking in the sufferings of Christ. After all, He did everything perfectly, right down to His afflictions. Further, if there ever could be something lacking in the afflictions of Christ, how could Paul, a mere mortal, ever fill in the gaps?
To solve this dilemma, we need to understand the difference between objective redemption and subjective redemption. In terms of objective redemption, Jesus has done everything to free us from our sins and bring us to Heaven to be with Him forever. His sacrifice on Calvary was perfect. He has made available everything we need.
So what could be lacking? This is where subjective redemption comes into play. The redemption that Jesus earned for us on the Cross has not yet reached every human being. The multitude of graces God is pouring out has not touched every human life.
Here's where we can help. We can offer up our prayers, sufferings, and good works to spread the graces around to everybody. God allows us to cooperate with Him in this process of subjective redemption. Under God's loving supervision, our prayers can melt a cold heart; our sufferings can change a life; and our good works can release an outpouring of grace into someone's soul.
We will never completely understand how this works, but we know that it does work because God has told us so. As Blaise Pascal once remarked, God has given us “the dignity of being causes.” We may never see it or know it, but by our filling up of what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, our prayers, sufferings, and good works can make a dramatic difference in another person's life and eternity.
Tuesday – Little Town of Bethlehem
It might seem rather odd to talk about Bethlehem on this Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. After all, wasn't Jesus the One born there? Of course! But Bethlehem was also central to Mary's life and mission.
Let's reflect on Bethlehem for a few minutes.
The name Bethlehem actually means “house of bread.” How appropriate! The One Who would be born there would be the Bread of Life for the whole world.
Bethlehem was the home of King David. David started out an insignificant shepherd boy, overlooked by his father and brothers. He may have been a nobody to his family, but he definitely wasn't to God. Through the prophet Samuel, God anointed David to be the king of Israel, and after many struggles and hardships, he became exactly that. Under David's rule, Israel finally attained peace, and David prepared to build God a Temple. God, however, had other plans. David's son Solomon would build the Temple, but God would build a “house” for David, too. He would establish a dynasty, a family line, that would reach its climax in an Anointed One, a Messiah, who would be King over Israel forever.
The birth of this King would take place in Bethlehem, as we learn in today's first reading from the prophet Micah. From this tiny town, not even big enough to receive a clan designation, would one day come forth a Ruler like no other, a Ruler with ancient origins (as in eternally begotten!), a Ruler who would shepherd His flock in the Name of God, a Ruler who wouldn't just bring peace – He would be peace.
Mary would've known about this prophecy. For her whole life, she would have joined her fellow Jews in looking toward Bethlehem for any possible news of the Messiah. Imagine her delight when she discovered that she would be the woman mentioned in Micah's prophecy. She was the one who would give birth to Israel's King.
Mary must have wondered, though, how God would fulfill the prophet's prediction that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. Mary, after all, lived in Nazareth, and that was far away from King David's hometown. But God always has a plan. The Roman census brought Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem just in time for Jesus' birth. Micah's prophecy came true (of course), and the little town of Bethlehem became the birthplace of the Messiah.
Wednesday – Seek What Is Above
What are you seeking? A good job? An education? Wealth? Nice things? Fame? Power? Honor? Do you focus your attention on earthly things? On the material world?
If so, St. Paul has an important message for you: “If you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.”
Christians have been raised with Christ. In our Baptism, we entered into His death and then rose to new life. We are His now. Our lives are entwined with His. His divine life fills our souls when we maintain the state of grace we received at Baptism.
Therefore, we must seek what is above. Our whole focus must be on Christ. Our hearts must be where He is. Our goal must first and foremost be to get home to Heaven. “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness,” Jesus tells us. Then everything else will fall into place for us according to God's loving plan.