By Fr. Rich, O.P.
THE GHOST OF CHRISTMAS PAST
Christmas Eve was coming to a close. After dinner and presents at my grandparents, my siblings and I were getting ready for a long winter’s nap. Mom and Dad would gather us around the tree, ablaze with lights and tinsel. (Mom always put tinsel on the tree until the day before we took it down!) Dad would read “the story”: the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 2, verses 1-14. Then it was off to bed for us all. Christmas began with Mass (we lived across the street from the parish), followed by presents, and then a gathering of the extended family for a feast! As we got older, we would invite dates to come to Midnight Mass with us, home for hot chocolate and orange Danish, dates home, us to bed, and then Mass in the morning. The numbers would change over the years as family members moved away, or died, but the feast continued.
As my brothers and sister had families of their own and as I, too, had a family, the one tradition that flourished was the reading of “the story.” She gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger has been the heart and soul of my family’s celebration of Christmas as long as I can remember. I’ve not celebrated the feast of Christmas with my family since entering the Dominicans in 1999. The celebration has always been centered on the community in which I lived and served, each with their own traditions. And each year has been a testament to the beauty of Christmas, the gentle enfolding of a community of its members as we celebrated the birth of the Christ.
THE GHOST OF CHRISTMAS PRESENT
There is always, in today’s craziness, the challenge to find and hold onto the spirit of Christmas. The traditional Christmas carols and hymns, finding their way into celebrations, are a gift. The lights and decorations appear: luminaries shining through the gloomy weather of December in New Mexico and lights in the decorated homes, glowing in the snow that falls in Denver or in Columbia. Since coming to St. Thomas More, I’ve been blessed with the challenge of preparing our worship space to celebrate the season.
I love Midnight Mass at Christmas, the lone voice intoning the proclamation, reminding us of how long we’ve waited for the birth of this Child. The fullness of the voices as they ring in this celebration with the Gloria, mostly absent through Advent. I enjoy seeing families coming together to celebrate and share stories of past Christmases. It reminds me of my own family, Jake, Beth, and their children, sharing Christmas at home. The thought always brings a smile because I know that they are together, amidst their own traditions.
The moment is always tinged with some sadness. I know that this can be a difficult season for many in our community. The death of loved ones, whether recent or distant, can color our celebration. The separation that comes with distance can challenge us to stay in the joy of Christ’s birth: first responders, members in the military, and family members working for other reasons. There are a myriad of reasons for the joy of the season to be a source of melancholy and pain. I invite you to pray with me for all these things.
THE GHOST OF CHRISTMAS FUTURE
As a science fiction fan, the future is rich with potential, good and bad; so too, the ghost of Christmases to come. New traditions are born. Life circumstances change, new dynamics require that we rethink how we enter into our celebrations. Change can be growth, an opportunity to deepen our own experience and the experience of others. Old traditions continue and grow, inviting others to join us.
We can stand as a source of hope in a world divided and chaotic. Each year, the season of Advent invites and challenges us, to get rid of those habits or activities or mindsets or traditions that interfere with our being ready for Jesus Christ. We have a new opportunity to open our hearts to the joy of those carols and hymns that celebrate so richly this birth. We are free to choose to place the “spirit of Christmas” in our hearts and live it out every day. Choose wisely!
My Dominican brothers and the staff of St. Thomas More Parish Newman Center wish each of you a BLESSED CHRISTMAS!