“But a natural desire cannot be in vain.”
Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae


For those of us with some length of life experience, Christmas comes to be associated with suffering—whether our own or that of others we know. Christmas depression is proverbial, and it is real.

At this time of year we want to be together with the people we love. And the simple truth of the matter is that often enough there is something that comes between us and them, Causes of separation are many—everything from moral and religious differences or other disagreements, to physical distance or death.

Surely Christmas brings these realities home to us most strongly especially because at Christmas our deepest desires are most present to us. Indeed just two days ago I heard a young adult commenting: “This year I’m trying to recapture the Christmas of my youth.”

In this aspect of Christmas we come face to face with the deepest issues of human existence—or in any case we can, if we are courageous enough to consider them.

Perhaps we tend to avert our eyes, and keep plowing forward in the hurly burly of our observances, in fear of what we might find if we take too hard a look.

Thomas Aquinas, following the thought of Aristotle, makes a remarkable assertion. The natural desire of the human heart cannot be in vain. There is much in this assertion.

This much at least is implicit. The very reality of the profound and universal experience of human longing for a deeper connection with one another, intertwined with the longing for a deeper connection with the divine, is a clear indication that such a longing can be fulfilled.

What to many people might seem naïve and unrealistic is actually rooted in a profound experience of human life, and of the natural world around us. It calls for more reflection.

This time of year many if not all of us will have occasion to wonder about the solidity of human existence, and whether Thomas Aquinas’s confidence is well-founded or not. I for one am convinced that Christmas depression, or even just longing in whatever form it takes, is a unique opportunity to learn an astounding lesson about the meaning of it all.

Merry Christmas.

Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) is considered one of the greatest of medieval theologians. He called Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) ‘the Philosopher’ and wrote commentaries on all his major works.

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