The God with an infant’s face

As my too-cute-to-be-true grandson, Master William Joseph Susil, careened around the house over Thanksgiving, exercising his rapidly expanding vocabulary and wrecking havoc on unsecured objects in his path, I couldn’t help but imagine possible futures for him: The guy who breaks Alex Rodriguez’s MLB record for career home runs? Author of the Great American Novel? Victor over Chelsea Clinton in the 2048 presidential campaign? The first American pope? (No, one shouldn’t wish that job on anyone.) Inventor of morally-sound genetic therapies? (With two M.D. parents, one of whom does big-time medical research and both of whom are gung-ho pro-lifers, that sounds reasonable enough…)

Reveries aside, William’s presence in the family these past twenty months has been a happy reminder that nothing so sweetly pulls us out of ourselves as a baby. Infants and toddlers are human magnets drawing the rusty metal of self-absorption out of the members of the species who fancy themselves grown up while leading us into the bright, sometimes frightening, but never cynical world of childhood. Which prompted a further thought: this special capacity of babies to drain the rest of us of egocentricity and cynicism helps explain why God decided to enter the world as a newborn.

Because we certainly would have done it differently, wouldn’t we? If any of us were God, I doubt we’d have chosen to be born in less-than-optimal obstetrical circumstances in a ramshackle village on the far edge of the civilized world. Indeed, were any of us God, would we have chosen to go through the normal human drill of growing up, with its seemingly endless frustrations and alarums? Why not just arrive on the scene full-grown, at the height of our divine/human powers?

That, however, is not how Emmanuel, whom Pope Benedict XVI calls the “God who has a human face,” chose to make his entrance onto the stage. By coming into the world and its history as a newborn, Emmanuel, from the beginning, begins to draw the lives he touches out of themselves and into self-giving love. Mary, Joseph, shepherds, Magi, the rest of the familiar cast of characters: they don’t know the Chalcedonian confession of “two natures in one divine person,” but they do know that this is a baby, beautiful as all babies are. And whatever the hymns of the angelic choir add by way of identifying this baby as Someone Special, the characters we place around our crèches are already being drawn out of themselves and into self-giving love by…well, by a baby.

In an interview on German television before his return home in the autumn of 2006, Pope Benedict suggested that “it’s become more difficult to believe because the world in which we find ourselves is completely made up of ourselves.” That’s a crowded place, that world in which there is only us – which, primarily, means, “only me.” A world made up of me, myself, and I – and those few others I occasionally deign to let into my “space” – is a closed and claustrophobic world. And one of the goods that’s shut out of such a world is love.

In that same interview, the Holy Father noted that “Christianity, Catholicism, isn’t a collection of prohibitions: it’s a positive option.” It’s an option for love, for that radical self-giving and receptivity in which both giver and receiver are mysteriously enhanced. It’s an option for losing oneself in order to find the truth about each of us: that our human and spiritual fulfillment comes through making ourselves into the gifts for others that our lives are to us.

Christianity isn’t about our search for God. Like its parent, Judaism, Christianity is about God’s search for us, and our learning to take the same path through history that God does. The God with a human face began the climactic portion of his salvific journey through history as a baby, calling others out of themselves as only babies can do. Every year, the crèche calls us to ponder the Law of the Gift written on the human heart by the God who is Love.

COMING UP: Team Samaritan cyclist goes ‘Everesting’ for the homeless and hungry

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When it comes to the daily sufferings of those who are homeless, there’s nothing like a 29,029-foot bike ride to keep things in perspective.

That’s exactly what Corbin Clement will be doing this Saturday, June 19, with a couple of his riding buddies as they attempt an “Everesting” ride to raise money for the Samaritan House homeless shelter in Denver. Starting at Witter Gulch Road in Evergreen, the three riders will climb Squaw Pass Road to a point in Clear Creek County and ride back down the hill for over eight laps, which amounts to roughly 190 miles in distance and the equivalent of the elevation of Mt. Everest in terms of vertical climbing – hence the name “Everesting.” Their goal is to complete the feat in 20 hours or less.

Oh, and they can’t sleep. It is, indeed, just as crazy as it sounds. Those who aren’t avid cyclists might be wondering, “How in the world do you train for something like this?” 
“For training, it’s been just more or less ride as much as possible,” Clement told the Denver Catholic. “The training is structured around endurance, and that’s of course what Everesting is. It’s just a lot of peddling. So, a lot of my training so far has just been trying to ride as much as possible and ride longer high elevation rides.” 

In March, an Irish cyclist set the world record for Everesting when he completed the feat in six hours and 40 minutes. Clement isn’t trying to set a record, but regardless, it’s quite a feat to undertake, even for a seasoned athlete like him, whose pedigree includes snowboarding and rock climbing. 

“Our ride will be the same thing, but it’ll be pretty different,” Clement said. “We don’t have any sort of special bikes or super focused diet or a really regimented plan or a crew that’s very well-instructed on how we’re going to tackle this. I’ve read a couple of things to just kind of make it into a party — have friends come out to support you, get people to join you on certain laps…that’s kind of the approach we’re taking.” 

Clement has already raised $5,200 for Samaritan House, with a current goal of $8,000. This is Clement’s first year riding for Team Samaritan, but his dad, Kevin, has ridden for the team for several years. When his dad offered to give him an extra kit and uniform, Clement accepted, but didn’t want to take it without doing something help the cause. He could’ve simply opted for a nice ride in the countryside, but he chose to do something a bit more challenging.  

Corbin Clement used to experience the challenges that homeless people face on a daily basis when commuting through downtown Denver to work on his bike. This Saturday, he will raise money for Samaritan House homeless shelter by “Everesting,” a 190-mile bike ride that is the equivalent of the elevation of Mt. Everest in terms of vertical climbing. (Photo provided)

“For some reason, the Everesting idea popped into my head,” he explained. “I think it’s one of those things that has a little bit of shock value for people who hear about it. It’s certainly something that’s gained more popularity and visibility in the last couple of years with endurance athletes. I wanted to choose something that would actually be a challenge for myself and something that I’d have to work towards.” 

Clement currently resides in Utah, but he used to live in Denver and commute by bike to work every day. During those rides to his office, which was located near Samaritan House, he would pass many homeless people and have conversations with them. This experience was also a motivating factor for his Everesting attempt for Team Samaritan. 

“It’s very different when you’re on a bike versus in a car because you’re right there,” Clement said. “If you stop at a stoplight and a homeless person is on the corner, whether or not they’re panhandling or something like that, you hear the conversations, or you’ll have a conversation with them. There are things you smell or you hear or you see that you just never would if you were in a car. So, it kind of made sense, too, with the biking aspect. It’s part of my community that I’ve lived and worked in for a very long time.” 

Clement’s Everesting attempt is one event in a series of endurance event’s he’s doing over the summer that culminates with the Leadville 100, a single-day mountain bike race across the Colorado Rockies. In that race, he will be riding to support young adults diagnosed with cancer by raising funds for First Descents.  

Both causes are near to Clement’s heart, and he said that while his Everesting attempt will be a form of “suffering,” it pales in comparison to what the homeless face day in and day out. This is ultimately why he’s riding and raising funds for Team Samaritan. 

“Any time we see a homeless person or people who have to live on the streets,” Clement said, “That is true suffering — true endurance — with no end in sight.” 

To learn more about Corbin’s fundraising efforts or to donate, click here.