Edited Under Fr. Leonard Feeney M.I.C.M. — Saint Benedict Center
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 the 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 the priests 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 upon 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 installment 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 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.
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 the 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 St. Benedict Center, 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 marveled 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 songs 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.
Saint Anastasia was martyred by burning on December twenty-fifth in the year 304, which means that her birth into Eternity occurred on the same day, 304 years later, as Jesus’ birth in Time. Among all the Christmas Day occurrences of nineteen hundred years, the Church has chosen to remember this fourth-century girl who defeated the flames that consumed her by becoming a new kind of Christmas star, burning in martyrdom to light us the way back to Bethlehem.
And it is doubtful, in this year of Our Lord nineteen hundred and fifty-two, that we should even recall the first Christmas, were it not for Anastasia and the girls of her Catholic courage whose professions of Faith still echo at Christmas time for men of good will. It is because we are assured of this echo in our world that Saint Paul tells us that “faith comes from hearing” a truth which is more often rendered in Latin, and was once put poetically this way:
And shepherds knew that Christmas was
A glory to agree to.
For angels were provided speech,
And fides ex auditu!
Thus, Christmas has traveled down to us by a route that is both audible and feminine. Christmas is a spoken invitation to hurry to Bethlehem and wonder at God in His Mother’s arms. And, to the Catholic children of America, that invitation has been most audible, and most feminine, when it has come from the dedicated lips of a Catholic nun.
We, who have been the Catholic children of America, retain whatever we have left of Christmas because of our early acquaintance with a wimpled lady in black. She talked of mangers and magi as if it were her custom to encounter them often; although we knew that day after day her one excursion into the world was a silent triangular trip which took her from the convent to the church, from the church to the school, and from the school back home to the convent.
Sister Imelda (or Agnes Joseph, or M. Theodosia) would each year conduct the school’s Christmas pageant. With much faith and a few yards of crepe paper, she annually transformed Jack (or Tom, or Joe) into a herald angel, complete with gilded trumpet and a well rehearsed declamation of “Glory to God in the highest.” And, when the pageant was over, Sister would return to the convent, grateful to Jesus that in her singleness she had been made fruitful with children who adored Him as God at Christmas time.
Because we love our sisters, we who have been the Hail Mary-reciters in their classrooms, and the paper angels in their plays, we are concerned about them this December. We have had, lately, some disturbing reports on America’s Sisters, associating them with things foreign and hostile to them. Only after much investigation did we accept the report that Sisters who teach in our schools are now getting instructions on how to do it from nun-smearing professors at secular universities. Regretfully, we have read in recent public print the dissatisfaction of some of our nuns with their traditional clothing — how they hoped that they could be allowed berets instead of veils: how they would be pleased to look more like Red Cross nurses; how black was a depressing color, and long skirts an encumbrance. While a best-selling Catholic book is exploiting the cartoon potentialities of America’s nuns, the Catholic Press, ever anxious to prove that Catholics can meet Protestant standards of achievement, has taken to publicizing a hyphenated series of nun-poets, nun-chemists, nun-physicists and nun-jeep drivers.
Hopefully, we who have been the Catholic children of America are praying for the one nun in every convent who will be a little sad this Christmas, wishing there were someone around to say, “Dear Sister, throw away your test-tubes, burn up all your degrees, and come and tell your children about Jesus and His Mother. Don’t leave us at Christmas time with a Bethlehem and no Baby, a manger and no Mary, plenty of crepe paper and no angels.”