Dim Lights on a Christmas Tree - The Point, December, 1952_________________________________________________
The American Christmas Story
Christmas used to be celebrated by Catholics as the day when God came into our world as a Baby. But Christmas in the U.S. has no such limited significance. It is, instead, the great democratic festival that means all things to all men, the day when everyone celebrates and displays whatever religious feeling, or lack of it, he has, or pretends to have. Christmas, as it is observed in the U.S., is not the day when the Word became flesh, it is the day when the Word becomes anything that anyone wants Him to be.
Christmas in the U.S. is a day composed of, and characterized by, such miscellaneous items as Santa Claus, eggnog, mistletoe, candy canes, scotty dogs, snowfalls, and fruit cake. It is a day presided over by Protestant sentimentalism and by Jewish commercialism. It is a day that provides Americans with an opportunity for re-calling their Thanksgiving gluttony and for anticipating their New Year's drunkenness. It is a day when the Protestants, who refuse to believe that the Baby whose birthday they are observing is true God and true man, and that His mother is the true Mother of God, try to turn Him into a symbol. They make Him stand for peace, or goodwill, or some other high-sounding Protestant abstraction, and they enthrone in His place, as the child of Christmas, that obnoxious little Protestant brat, Tiny Tim.
Christmas in the U.S. is a day when the Jews, who have rejected the Baby as their King, their God, and their Messias, re-affirm their belief in the divinity of the dollar. Christmas is not so much a day they care to celebrate themselves as one that they urge others to celebrate by exchanging the gifts that they sell and cards that they write.
Christmas in the U.S. has been made what it is by the Protestants and by the Jews. But it is the Catholics - and especially the Catholic priests - who have allowed them to make it so. Because of the neglect, the equivocation, and the infidelity of too many American priests, the significance and the challenge are gone from Christmas, and it has been turned into the kind of day that the Protestants and the Jews have been able to take over and pervert to their own interests. And this has happened not because of what they have said and done on Christmas Day, only, but because of what they have said and done all through the year.
Too many American priests have failed to insist on the meaning and the necessity of the Incarnation; they have been careful, when in the presence of non-Catholics, always to talk about "God," rather than about Jesus, the God-man; they have given the impression that all they ask of non-Catholics is belief in some common un-incarnated deity rather than in the God Who became a Baby at Bethlehem. They have pretended to the Jews that there is some other way to the Father than through this Baby; they have pretended to the Protestants that there is some other way to this Baby than through His Mother; they have pretended to all that there is some other way to Heaven than the single way He ordained. By equivalating the love and knowledge of this Baby with whatever belief one might sincerely hold, they have made Him seem vague and unreal. They have made His message vague, His Church vague, the Way to salvation vague.
Christmas in the U.S. will be the same in 1952 as it has been in other years. There will be the usual decorations, the usual revels, the usual songs. the Protestants will go on filling their mouths with plum pudding and talking about the spirit of the day; the Jews will go on hanging signs saying "Seasons Greetings" over their shops and hiring fat men to wear red suits and frighten the children. And, in the Catholic Churches, Midnight Mass will be said; priests will bring God down on their altars, in a presence as real and intimate as when he lay in the crib of Bethlehem.
But when Mass is over, and the door of the tabernacle has been locked, these American priests will go on talking and acting as though it does not matter, for those who choose to ignore it, that God has become a Baby.
The Confraternity of Christian Doctrine hopes to have the first instalment of its new translation of the Bible out in time for Christmas. The translation is notable chiefly for its treatment of Genesis 3:15, the famous and crucial text in which God the Father, speaking to the serpent (the Devil), establishes enmity between him and Our Lady. In the former versions, it read: "She shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel." The Confraternity has decided, for the instruction and edification of American Catholics, that Our Lady does not belong in the text, and has changed it to read: "He shall crush thy head..."
If Our Lady could have had the benefit of the Confraternity's scholarship in time, she would surely not have made the mistake of appearing at Lourdes with her heel crushing the serpent's head. [ I think he may have confused the appearance of Our Lady at Lourdes with her appearance to Saint Catherine Laboure, in 1830, as the woman crushing the head of the serpent, as depicted on the Miraculous Medal ]
The Miraculous Medal - Our Lady crushing the serpents head
For centuries, Catholics have believed that the world was created the way Genesis says it was, and that, therefore, the age of the world is a knowable, and not too large, number. Not until the "anthropology-priests" of our day have Catholics defied the Church's clear tradition on the age of the world. Each Christmas, however, the priests' Breviary contains a decided kick in the shin-bones for those excavating clerics who prefer to think that the ancestors of the infant Jesus were baboons of a few million years ago.
Says the Martyrology for the 25th of December: "In the 5,199th year of the creation of the world, from the time when God in the beginning created the heavens and the earth, in the 2,957th year after the flood; in the 2,015th year from the birth of Abraham: ... in the 42nd year of the rule of Octavian Augustus, all the earth being at peace, Jesus Christ, the Eternal God, and the Son of the Eternal Father, ... was born in Bethlehem of Juda of the Virgin Mary, made Man."
Our page three prose selection by Fr. Leonard Feeney is from his new book, Bread of Life. just published by the St. Benedict Centre, Bread of Life is Fr. Feeney in twelve Faith-full talks on the Holy Eucharist, Our Lady, and Salvation Inside the Church.
BY FATHER FEENEY
St. Joseph's Christmas
Not envied, not desired,
Only admired: -
A girl on this will thrive
As on no thing alive.
And such was God's rare plan
For Mary's man.
He watched his loved one flower
Hour after hour,
With footstep caused no fear
In angel-anxious ear,
Gave her his husband's praise
In nought but gaze:
The exquisite adulation
That lets a fact reveal
Itself as real,
And, in Our Lady's case,
As full of grace.
He must have marvelled most
When of the Holy Ghost
Her little Son who shivered,
At dawn was delivered.
He must have feared and feared
And hid behind his beard
When what was not his life
He welcomed from his wife
And his bride's Babe and Lord
Adored and adored.
At Christ's Nativity,
St. Joseph, I love thee.
BREAD OF LIFE (excerpt)
At Bethlehem, in the crib, is a loving, warm, exquisite Baby. In order to find that little Charity, that bundle of Love lying in the straw, you have got to walk down the hills, over the rocks, across the brooks, into the dark, in your hunt for the cave. You have got to sacrifice other things in order to find it, even the brightness of the stars. The song of the angels have to be put away, or, if you are a shepherd, your sheep. That is how chaste you have to be to find this Baby ...
A child is given unto us! A Child is born to us, Who is Christ the Lord!
Our Lord's life was, in its simplicity, the life of a child. He did not have too many friends. I do not think you would call seventy-two disciples too many followers - or twelve apostles too many close friends. ...
We all stay a child as we go through life - the best part of us does. We are a child when we eat, when we sleep, when we are sick, when we are old. when we are lonely, we are a child; when we are hurt, we are a child. If we only would let that child in us become interested in Jesus, you would be surprised how easily we could find Him!
Jesus of Bethlehem is given all over the world in the simple, complete value of Christmas, in all the traditions we know - in the kind of story one tells to a child. the inspired record of His Life in Holy Scripture is there, in case a child is looking. If you are looking as a child this Christmas, it is child's play to find it.
And Still ...
And still ... though maybe not one-tenth the town
Believes what boon this birthday brought us down,
We go on keeping Christmas just the same
With tinsel tricks, pretenses, and a name.
Whatever else one could or could not say,
(And who but God could deal us such a day?),
There must have come to notice, less or more,
That blinds are drawn in the department store.
And having soared in sales of Christmas cards
Inscribed with Christ-less rhymes by Christ-less bards,
Proprietor Mazuma sends the season's
Best greetings round to all for Christ-less reasons;
Bravely endures a one-day profit pause,
Appeased with turkey and cranberry sauce,
Then snoozes sweetly as a buttercup,
Or boozes indiscreetly, woken up.
And still ... and still ... the marvel Mother-Maiden
Is of her infant Lad and Lord unladen;
Emmanuel, grown little for our sakes,
Into our world His baby-entrance makes.
And still ... above the Cave the stars are bright,
Some sheep and shepherds run with all their might;
And kings and camels from the Orient come,
While angels sing: Let there be Peace, for some!
* * * * *
DIM LIGHTS ON A CHRISTMAS TREE
Every December twenty-fifth, in liturgical generosity, the Church gives us three distinct Masses: the Midnight Mass, the Mass at Dawn and the Mass of Christmas day. In the midst of the middle Mass, the Mass at Dawn, the Church presents us with the memory of a girl named Anastasia, the only saint who gets a "feast day" commemoration on Jesus' Birthday.