Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Reflecting on the Meaning of Christmas

Christmas is finally upon us! Glory to Jesus Christ! And of course, that means we still have several days of Christmas left, although many of our friends and neighbors unfortunately believe that it ended yesterday. Honestly, you could probably even argue that the Christmas celebration ended before it started, on Christmas Eve this year. Why do I say that? Well, how did our churches look on December 24th, the 4th Sunday of Advent? It's not very often that Christmas lands on a Monday. If your answer is similar to mine, that church was not as full as most Sundays, then you'll see why I can say that the Christmas celebration ended before it even started. And it's really something we should collectively be ashamed of.
Fra Diamante- "The Nativity"

Now, it's always best that we give people the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps since there was some light snow in the morning it kept people from the early Mass. Perhaps people were taking advantage of the later Mass at 4PM and would then attend Mass for their Christmas obligation Monday morning. But we must also keep things realistic, especially if we look at the demographics for Sunday and Holy Day Mass attendance. Is it possible that several people thought they could get a "two-fer" this year? That is, the two obligations to attend Mass on the 4th Sunday of Advent and the Solemnity of the Lord's Nativity could be condensed into one obligation on Sunday evening? Well, my home parish's church building, which is of the Latin Rite, is fairly small. Even the early Mass which we go to regularly is packed. It was not this past Sunday. It was very disappointing to see, because it makes me feel that for the people in my community, God isn't the most important thing. If He was, why would it be such an effort to get to Mass on Sunday morning and Monday morning? Again, I give the benefit of the doubt; perhaps some people went to other parishes because of travel. But don't some people travel to my town for Christmas? Where were all those Catholic people that traveled to my town?

It seems to me that we here in the US and Canada, and more largely in the West as a whole, are very comfortable. We live with a very comfortable Christianity, and many Westerners feel that their faith shouldn't be demanding. Now that's not to say the God demands us to come to church to worship. Instead, he commands us to, as we are His adopted sons and daughters. Should we not listen to our parents when they tell us to do something? Are we not, then, to obey our Lord and Father in heaven? We are obligated to go to Mass out of justice to God. We forget about that cardinal virtue of justice quite a bit, a virtue that is often called the most important of all virtues. We can narrow the scope the virtue of justice to the "virtue of religion", by which we give God what is due to Him. What is He due? Our love and our worship. Remember, our Lord said "He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me" (John 14:21). If we aren't keeping the Sabbath day holy by attending Mass, and thus disobeying our Lord's commandment, how can we say that we truly love Him? If we miss Mass on this Sunday, or any Sunday, aren't we saying that our Lord only matters when it's convenient for us? It sure looks that way when we skip out on Sunday and Holy Day Mass.

I want to contrast that with what I saw and heard at church on Christmas Day. My family and I attended Divine Liturgy at a Byzantine Catholic parish. Right before the end, Father said a few words about the real meaning of Christmas. To paraphrase him, he pointed out that if Christmas is about getting the house ready for a party and guests, cooking a big dinner, buying gifts for all those that we love, and decorating the Christmas tree and front yard, then we're doing it wrong. Christmas is a call to conversion. It is about recognizing the Incarnation of the Lord. He pointed to the mural on the wall depicting the Virgin Mary, St. Joseph, and the Child Jesus in the manger. Above all the paintings is a caption followed by a Bible verse (if applicable). He noted that the caption there reads in big letters "The Incarnation of Our Lord".

That is what we are celebrating. The Incarnation is the entire point of this holiday... excuse me, Holy Day. If during this season, we felt that we couldn't attend Mass two days in a row (once for the 4th Sunday of Advent, and once for Christmas) because we were too busy preparing for guests, or had to many errands to run, etc., then we've missed the mark. Our eyes aren't set on Christ, but are instead set on the false god given to us by the materialism of the secular age's "Christmas". When Christ becomes divorced from all the other great Christmas traditions out there, it's time to step back, reflect, and examine the situation, asking "How did I get here? Why is this Christmas turkey for my 35 guests more important than worshipping our Lord?" This whole business of getting a "two-fer" shows how lazy we've really become in the West.

Ruins of the Chaldean Catholic cathedral in Kirkuk, Iraq
I think we only need to look to our Eastern Catholic brethren, particularly those of the East and West Syrian Rites who are still being persecuted to this day. Fortunately, many lands of been liberated of ISIS control in recent months, though. Several Chaldean and Syriac Catholics were able to worship publicly for the first time in years this Christmas. Put that in perspective. These people were at risk of death if they worshipped publicly, and some still are! Yet their faith is all they had. They realized that without the Eucharist, they could not live. Yet, here we are in America, where we are free to worship how we please, and we have the opportunity to go to Mass twice in a week. Many Americans don't have that chance because of work. But this year, with Christmas falling on a Monday, we did! And how many American and Canadian Catholics took advantage of these graces? Definitely not as many as there should've been. And that should give all of us pause. Our Chaldean and Syriac Catholic brothers and sisters struggled to meet to worship and offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. We entitled Americans struggle with knowing whether or not to focus on a Christmas dinner or on our Lord and God. It's time to get our priorities right. Let's all pray and fast that Catholics the world over will be renewed with a zeal for Christ this Christmas season, and that Mass attendance will continue to grow commensurate with our growth in love for Jesus Christ.

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