Monday, December 22, 2008
Bishop Felipe Estevez
The Catholic contribution to the holiday season is to provide a wider sense
of festivity cantered on the Incarnation of the Word. It avoids on the one hand
the rush of anticipation fostered by the business community, since this is the
season of their highest prosperity. The Catholic mind protests this
over-emphasis on consumerism. At the same time, the Catholic mind avoids the
push to end the season before it is over. Catholics remind their neighbours:
More is to come.
If we pay close attention, there is a magic in the Christmas season which touches everyone. There are songs and hymns which are heard and sung only during this season; family gatherings; especially-made Christmas cards which reach out to so many people, family and friends, only during this time of the year. Children look forward with excitement and expectation. The decorations make the city and the buildings shine in ways which strongly appeal to the senses.
Yet Catholic Christians have a peculiar way of celebrating this season. Catholics celebrate Christmas for a longer period of time than the rest of the people. For Catholics, the Christmas season begins with a long and careful period of preparation called Advent. The purpose of Advent is to prepare the heart to hope in the coming of the Lord. The prophet Isaiah sounds the theme of hope and optimism. It is a common practice in parishes to have charitable drives reaching out to the elderly, the sick, and people who are left out of family celebrations. This is a time when most Catholics come to the sacrament of reconciliation seeking healing and filled with good resolutions.
At times, walking in my neighbourhood on the day after Christmas, I am shocked to see how quickly the Christmas trees and decorations disappear. But Catholics then are only half-way through the Christmas season. Right after Christmas, there are eight days (octave) of high festivity and beautiful readings and hymns. The Sunday after Christmas, we celebrate the Holy Family of Nazareth. On January 1, we focus on Mary as the Mother of God. It also is a universal day of prayer for world peace when the Holy Father provides a message that is preached in the entire world. In 2009, the theme of the message is “Fighting Poverty to Build Peace.” The first Sunday of the new year, we celebrate the Epiphany, a story which is only found in the Gospel of St. Matthew. It represents the world, symbolized by the three kings, who come to offer homage and adoration to the King of Glory, to the Savoir of all. The Christmas season only ends with the celebration of the Baptism of our Lord, which happens in mid-January.
We are indeed very indebted to the liturgical calendar, for it is the liturgy of the church which forms a culture of celebration and prayer. The Psalmist says: “Taste and see how good the Lord is.” The liturgical practices and the popular religiosity which surround them encourage a communitarian way of celebrating a fundamental mystery of God, who dared, out of incredible love, to become one of us in Jesus Christ.
How do you celebrate the Christmas season in your home? Do you remember to celebrate the full season of Advent?
Bishop Felipe J. Estevez
Auxiliary Bishop of Miami