On January 1, I watched (on TV) crazy, nutty people take the Polar Bear Plunge and throw their half-naked bodies out of the 16 below zero air temperature into icy cold waters through a hole that had been chiseled into frozen Lake Minnetonka.
Now, as a nurse, there is no way you could convince me that throwing my body, or my heart for that matter, into a fight-or-flight response would be fun: as a person whose baseline body temperature indicates she should be living in Southern California, nothing could be further from my bucket list!
So it’s no wonder that as I was making the New Year’s dinner that night, I had a the sense something was bothering me, I just I couldn’t put my finger on what it was. The second my hands hit the ice cold water I was rinsing the green beans under, I remembered! It was those crazy people risking life and limb for an adrenaline rush and a little bragging rights.
It always amazes me how I can read, hear or see something and hours later still feel it tugging at my attention. This happened on Christmas Eve. Something Catholic author and Bible teacher Sarah Christmyer wrote in our Advent Reflections on Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation “The Joy of the Gospel” (Evangelii Gaudium) stayed with me all morning.
As I sat waiting for Mass to begin at 5:00 p.m. her words filled my thoughts again. Sarah summarized the final paragraphs of Evangelii Gaudium, the paragraphs that focused on Mary as the Star of the New Evangelization, like this:
Mary is her son’s gift to his people, Pope Francis says; then he picks up the title used by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI before him: she is the “Star of the New Evangelization.”
When I first read that, the ex-Protestant in me cringed. Don’t make her the star, I wanted to say – Jesus is the star! But her “star power” is not that of, say, Jenifer Aniston or Angelina Jolie. Mary is like the North Star, Polaris, the Guiding Star. Brightest among the stars in Ursa Minor and easy to find, it is the still point in the wheeling Northern sky. But you don’t find Polaris for its own sake, you find it so you know where North is.
“But you don’t find Polaris for its own sake, you find it so you know where North is.” Those were the words that set my heart “a pondering”. The brightest star isn’t created for us to bask in its beauty; it is created to point us in a direction.
Then it hit me! A star, though majestic and beautiful in its own radiant light, should always point to something greater. That was exactly the role of the Star of Bethlehem. That is exactly the role of Mary, the Star of the New Evangelization. Both lead to the Perfect Light, the Light of the World, Jesus Christ, and that’s exactly what we should do. We should be stars that guide others to Christ.
One of my all-time favorite quotes is by the author of A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle:
“We draw people to Christ by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.”
The question then follows, how do we do this? How can we be such a light to others?
There are two Christmas songs that I have known since I was a child, but it wasn’t until a new mixed version of the songs came out in September of 2010 that they climbed to the top of “My Favorite Christmas Songs” list. The song combines God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen and We Three Kings and the chorus is something to be pondered, not only in light of “three wise guys,” but in light of the Blessed Mother and in light of our call to be the light of Christ to the world, to share the Gospel with joy!
After reading Sarah Christmyer’s post, I decided to reflect on the words of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen/We Three Kings in light of three things: the star of Bethlehem, the Star of the New Evangelization, and the star we are commissioned to be. When looking at the chorus, the meaning pertaining to the star of Bethlehem is the most obvious, and one can easily see how the lyrics fit the Blessed Mother as well, but it got me thinking, “What do these lyrics mean in light of me leading others to Christ?”
Star of wonder
Star of night
Star with royal beauty bright
Guide us to thy perfect Light
Star of wonder:
As evangelists, we should be joyful! We should radiate a light so lovely that people wonder with all their hearts, “What has she got?”
Star of night:
In times of darkness and suffering, we should shine that peaceful light of Christ. When others are suffering, our faith and compassion can bring them comfort. When we are suffering, praising and thanking God can lead us out of our darkness.
Star with royal beauty bright:
I am the daughter of a King and my mom is the Queen of Heaven. Just knowing that should make me shine with beauty bright. And get this, through our baptism we all share, according to our own vocation, in Christ’s royal mission. How can we not shine? (CCC 1546)
Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden into exile, and which way do you think they headed? They headed east of Eden, away from God’s presence. As evangelists, our every action, our every word should be leading people “back to the Garden.” We should be leading people into the presence of God in all we do.
Perseverance! We must never give up sharing the Good News with the world. No matter how dark our surroundings may be—for one thing is certain, when the sun sets, darkness follows—we must always proceed forward, shining the light of Christ.
Guide us to thy perfect Light:
By having the joy of Christ in us and living that joy daily, we can be the light that guides people to “thy Perfect Light.” This is what the star of Bethlehem did. This is what Mary the Star of the New Evangelization does, and this is what we are have been commissioned to do. (Mt 28:19-20)
Hopefully this post will linger in your minds and tonight you’ll find yourself peeling potatoes and contemplating how Mary is a “star with royal beauty bright,” or maybe you’ll ponder how you have led others to “thy perfect Light” by radiating the joy of the Gospel.
Or maybe flip that scenario and ask yourself: In the past year, how has someone been a guiding light for me? How has a person led me to a deeper relationship with Jesus?
Who knows, maybe after reading this you’ll hear a song, or a Gospel reading, and see the message in a different light, like I did with the remix of two classic Christmas carols.
All that said, I want to share that song with you. As you listen to it, close your eyes and reflect on how you can be that star.
Now, please realize I can’t control the name the band gave themselves way back when, but it is with the greatest of ironies that this column, which began talking about half-naked people jumping into the frozen January waters of a Minnesota lake, found its inspiration in a remix of Christmas songs by a band whose name would indicate one would definitely feel a little chill in 16 below weather.
Here’s the remix: God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen/We Three Kings featuring Sarah McLachlan.
Kelly Wahlquist is a dynamic and inspiring Catholic speaker whose gift of weaving personal stories and Scripture together with practical advice allows her audience to enter more fully into what Blessed John Paul II, Pope Emeritus Benedict, and Pope Francis have called us into - to be witnesses of our faith and part of the New Evangelization. She is the Program Manager for the Archbishop Harry J. Flynn Catechetical Institute in the Archdiocese of St. Paul & Minneapolis, co-creator of and speaker for the Hearts Afire Parish-based Programs for the New Evangelization, editor of Catholicism 101 -a program by Jeff Cavins on the basics of Catholicism- and a contributing writer for CatholicMom.com, NewEvangelizers.com, and The Integrated Catholic Life, an eMagazine about integrating faith, family, and work. Kelly has a blog on her website www.KellyWahlquist.com that focuses on that which Pope Francis has called us to—Living the Joy of the Gospel. She, her husband Andy, and their three children live in Minnesota.