One of my favorite Christmas Hymns is “In the Bleak Midwinter”, setting text by English poet Christina Rossetti to a tune by Gustav Holst. There’s something so simple and beautiful in the poet’s reflection on the birth of He whom neither heaven nor earth could contain. For me, the most arresting line is one of the hymn’s firsts: “Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone.” It is a mere statement of fact, attesting to what we all know about winter (though maybe not one here in Northern Virginia) – the earth is cold, hard, barren, and sparse. And yet, in the same month of our Savior’s birth, we are reminded of that miracle at Tepeyac when our Blessed Mother brought forth the most beautiful roses from that frozen earth.
Throughout Advent and the Christmas season, I have often paused to think of how my own heart is like frozen earth. It has grown a little hardened through trials and insecurities, a bit colder towards others due to pride and past hurts, sparse by not tending to it wholly and diligently in prayer, burdened and almost barren. I was encouraging our high-schoolers at St. Anthony’s to invite Jesus into the messiest parts of their lives and allow Him to work in their hearts during these liturgical seasons, while at the same time noticing how impervious I had allowed mine to become. It is in these moments of reflecting on my own inadequacy that our hymn comes to mind. “In the bleak midwinter, a stable-place sufficed”, the second stanza continues. Perhaps my heart is also stable-like as well as frozen: dimly lit, messy, uncomfortable. And yet, if the Lord Himself deigned to be born in such a place, would he deign to reside in me? To take his place among the muck and mire there and shed his Light into its drafty and dark corners? This has been a crucial part of my prayer, that rather than paper over the cracks and soldier on, I might be able to offer my heart, poor as it is, to our Lord that he may sanctify those cracks and other insufficiencies within for his glory and praise.
It is fitting that the first day of the new year is a solemnity honoring Mary, Mother of God. I’m reminded, again, of Our Lady at Tepeyac, who said to Juan Diego, “Am I not here, who is your Mother?” There is a gentleness in Mary that is so approachable, especially in times when things seem bleak; the Dawn given to us in spiritual motherhood, she awaits the chance to bear fruit in our hearts that most Radiant Day that is her Son. I think, perhaps, the Lord has been inviting me into deeper relationship with his Mother, that in her gentle care I may see that though the soil be frozen, does not mean it is incapable of bearing fruit. That I may be guided by her and continually offer what little I am to the Lord. As we welcome this new year, this new decade, I pray we are able to look forward in hope to what the Lord has in store for each of us, that we may entrust ourselves to his mother’s care, and that he who made flowers bloom in the desert may take root in the soil of our hearts (frozen or otherwise) just as he did that midwinter night long ago.
Sincerely in Christ,
Amelia Gil Figueroa
Missionary & Council Member At-Large, Women Youth Apostles