Monday, December 24, 2012

A Sorrowful Christmas

by Ryan

One of the litany of stereotypes against Catholics is that we are joyless and even that we make a funeral out of our religion. Ironically, I just deleted a post trying to defend against these ideas, but it never felt like it came together. Maybe there's a reason for that ... perhaps a topic for another time.

What may strike the (practicing) Catholic as interesting is that tomorrow, the beginning of the Christmas season for us, also coincides with the Sorrowful Mysteries as prayed in the Rosary. These include: The Agony in The Garden, The Scourging at The Pillar, The Crowning with Thorns, The Carrying of The Cross, and The Crucifixion and Death of Jesus Christ. These are probably among the last things the average person observing Christmas wants to think about on what has came to be known as a joyous day. Even the likes of Penn Jillette recently chimed in on why Christmas is for everyone, even the non-religious:

"And I don't care if you're talking about Walgreens, if you're talking about sending out Christmas cards or your setting up something on a town square. Why do you want to leave people out? ... Why do that? What's your motive? And trying to turn around a 'we want to leave you out' into 'why are you forcing us to not have our joy' is insanity. It's backwards"
Personally, I agree quite a bit with Jillette, though there are plenty of other non-believers that are not friendly to the season in any capacity. And, sure, there are some believers that would like to draw a line in the snow (what snow?) between their observance and the observance of the non-religious. This observer often thinks that how the average Christian and the average Atheist celebrate Christmas are just about one and the same, in terms of their real reason for celebrating at all — to get some really cool gifts and to spend time with loved ones, with just the slightest reference to religion.

In getting back to the matter at hand: Why would one want to make a season like Christmas the least bit sorrowful? I have no answer for the non-believer in this regard — they have liberty to celebrate the season as they will. But for the Christian, we cannot forget the very serious reason why Jesus "was made flesh, and came to dwell among us" (Jn. 1:14) — to save us from our sins.

The text of the Exsultet, found in the Church's readings for the Easter Vigil, contains a text that sums up the joyful and sorrowful aspects of Christmas perfectly:

"O felix culpa, quae talem ac tantum meruit habere Redemptorem!" or "O happy fault, that merited such and so great a redeemer!"
This "happy fault," resulted in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ at conception, continued at His Nativity, or birth, and was fulfilled with His death and resurrection. The Nativity is just one in a chain of events that led to the redemption of mankind. And, indeed it is a happy fault — a paradox, as is true with many things in the Christian religion. The Venerable Fulton Sheen illustrates this beautifully in his Life of Christ, which is worth obtaining a copy to read this passage in it's entirety:
"In the filthiest place in the world, a stable, purity was born ... He, who would call Himself 'the living bread descended from Heaven,' was laid in a manger, literally, a place to eat ... the stable would be the last place in the world where one would have looked for him. ... No worldly mind would ever have suspected that He Who could make the sun warm the earth would one day have need of an ox and an ass to warm him with their breath ... that He, from Whose hands came planets and worlds, would one day have tiny arms that were not long enough to touch the huge heads of the cattle ... for God to be homeless at home- that could only mean one thing to the worldly mind: the Babe could not have been God at all. And that is just why it (the world) missed Him. Divinity is always where one least expects to find it." (pp. 13-14)
My Christian friends, take time to meditate on the paradox of the Christmas season. Find the quietest place, and the quietest time, at the least important hour for your meditation. Take a moment to be cold, hungry and forgotten, even if only in your mind. In short — reflect on the first Christmas, reflect on your Christmas, and discover the meaning of meekness from your God at his most helpless moment in life.

Albrecht Altdorfer- Nativity (1513)

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