'X-Mas' Files, The

by John Riley

Description

In this excellent article Fr. John Riley discusses the meaning of Christmas and how we should prepare for it.

Larger Work

Arlington Catholic Herald

Publisher & Date

Most Reverend Paul S. Loverde, 12/06/2001

Following is the second in a four-part Advent series.

"Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?" The angst-filled young philosopher, Charlie Brown by name, in frustration asks a question which resounds in the minds and hearts of so many of us during the busy days of December.

The misunderstood Charlie is depressed. All about him tinsel glitters and neon lights glow garishly. "Gimmie" lists are composed and addressed to the fellow in red and white at the North Pole. Kids dance and play and skate around and about —but Charlie can't find any meaning in all of it.

The product of a simpler time, "A Charlie Brown Christmas," probably would never have made it past the politically correct tele-programmers of our sophisticated age. When was the last time you saw or heard a network TV special devote a full 60 minutes to proclaiming the story of the birth of Jesus Christ as related in the Gospel of Luke? How "insensitive" if not downright "offensive"! Most of us have seen the half-hour special. Many of us grew up with it as a part of our yearly Christmas ritual. We probably thought, "How nice." Then — it’s back to the same frenzied activity and preparation which effectively drown out the spirit of quiet and contemplative reflection which should characterize the season.

In the early centuries of the Church, our forefathers set the date of Christmas in the last days of the year (late December, as reckoned by the Julian calendar) in an attempt to "Christianize" the pagan feast, Dies Natalis Solis Invicti. Translated "the birth of the Invincible Sun" — interesting turn of phrase! — it celebrated the lengthening of daylight in the wake of the winter solstice.

In our age, the tables have turned, and the "spirit" of secular humanism has effectively "paganized" our formerly Christian feast. It is not the spirit of Mary, but ironically, the self-indulgent "spirit" of Herod and Caesar, which prevails in our society’s "celebration" of Advent. Instead of being an opportunity eagerly to anticipate the coming of the Messiah, the weeks before "Christ’s Mass" become for us a study in modified mass hysteria. Consumers are convinced that the meaning of "X-mas" is to be found in a quest which involves buying the right gift[s] for the right person[s]. Or at least buying something for everyone we think we have to.

In order to accomplish this objective, we are willing to submit to a maze of congested highways and byways, descending into a maelstrom of malls and shopping centers looming amid acres of autos. Then? — the gauntlet of aisles, carts, cash registers and long lines of tired, anxious, angry shoppers. And when we’re finished with this frenzied business, we still don’t "journey" quietly to a spiritual Bethlehem, but cruise from one meaningless party to another where the alcoholic fluids freely flow. With extravagance and merrymaking, we celebrate the poverty of our Savior. Is it any wonder that so many people feel empty and depressed, and the suicide rate rises sharply during these "happy holidays"?

Advent is an opportunity to remember a Virgin Mother who treasured her memories and pondered them in her heart as Jesus Christ grew quietly in her womb. Perhaps a bit less television, a bit more prayer and a lot less shopping ought to be the order of these holy days. Take a "fast-15" to pray the Joyful Mysteries of the rosary with your family before the empty manger in the crèche. If you’re not up for all five decades, settle for one decade per evening. Save the parties and "good cheer" for the Christmas season. Stop quietly at your parish church in the evening. Leave the darkness and the sharp chill outside. In the soft and subdued light, smell the candles, visit the statues and holy images. Kneel quietly before the tabernacle with the One whose coming we anticipate during Advent. Embrace the Mercy of Jesus Christ in the beautiful Sacrament of Penance and "get clean" for Christmas.

We don’t need Linus to tell us how to keep "Christ" in "X-Mas." We know where Jesus is and how to find Him. Let’s leave the maddening crowds behind and follow the shepherds and kings to the stable — to watch and pray with love at the feet of the King Who is to come. Amen.

Fr. Riley is administrator of St. Louis Parish in Alexandria.

Copyright ©2001 Arlington Catholic Herald.  All rights reserved.

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