My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
Christmas in many ways is one of the most nostalgic periods of time. We have many treasured memories, especially surrounding the celebration of Christmas. Perhaps as we come closer to this Christmas, we can recall these memories.
For me, it was the annual ritual of buying the Christmas tree and decorating it, but most importantly placing the Christmas crèche, or presepio, beneath the tree. I learned from my grandmother that the presepio truly is, in the Italian tradition, a manifestation of Christ to the world. And so the images that were placed in the crèche would represent every possible human and animal form.
And so whatever figurines were in the house … animals, snowmen, Santa Claus, etc., they were all placed in the crèche because it was the point when Christ, the newborn, God-Man, manifested Himself to all of creation. This memory has remained with me all my life. In fact, in the vestibule of our Chancery building, there is a very large Neapolitan presepio that was presented to me by the Italian Trade Commission several years ago. It represents the same type of universal manifestation of Christ in a setting in an Italian village where everyone is going about their normal life … fishing, farming, blacksmithing, cooking … whatever their daily activity is. In the center is Christ, Who enters human history, not completely changing it, but becoming part of it.
Looking back on some of my other memories of Christmas, as an altar server and then as a sacristy helper in the Sacred Heart Cathedral in Newark, I remember Christmas being one of the busiest times of the year. The Cathedral would host Christmas concerts, and celebrate special liturgies requiring careful preparation and, of course, the Cathedral had to be in tip-top shape.
My special job was polishing the candle tops and the thurible. I can remember one occasion when I did such a good job that the server went out to light the candles and thought they were already lit, so bright were the brass followers. I still pay attention to the candles in the parishes I visit, but seldom do I see such highly polished candle followers.
How can we put Christ back into Christmas? Recently, Catholics Come Home produced a video on Santa Claus who, unfortunately, has become the centerpiece of what Christmas is about. This video, however, traces Santa’s journey which brings him to a live Nativity scene where Santa bends his knee to worship the Infant. Human history, with the entrance of the God-Man, demands that He be at the center of history especially at Christmas.
Recently, I learned that the Catholic Lawyers Association has placed a crèche on the steps of Brooklyn Supreme Court. The controversy about Christmas trees versus creches, menorahs and other religious symbols is a complex one. If we truly are to celebrate Christmas, we must remember that it celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ into history. What can we each do to make Christ the center of our own Christmas? That is the question before us at this time.
As we put out into the deep recesses of our memories of Christmas past, perhaps we can commit ourselves to live the present celebration of Christmas using those powerful and good memories of the past to help us create an atmosphere today where Christmas means as much to us as to the new generation exclusive of the presents and other positive experiences. How can we bring the world to recognize that the Savior is born for all people and, in fact, for all of creation?