Saturday, January 3, 2015


Last week’s Christmas post has really stayed with me during the whole eight days of the Church’s Christmas celebration. (If you haven't read that post, you may want to give it a quick look.)

I don’t know about anyone else, but for me Christmas is completely dominated by what Fr. Nocent calls “the cult of the stable,” so it was interesting to read that this was not the Church’s original intention, nor was it the primary focus of the feast. It’s like changing the background wallpaper on your desktop: the feast is not about the stable, with all other events being played out against that backdrop (the slaughter of the innocents, for example, or the martyrdom of Stephen celebrated on Dec.26).  The early Church saw it this way: The wallpaper is the Paschal Mystery of Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection, and everything else, including the incarnation, is played out against that background and takes its meaning from it.

I’m used to seeing the Paschal Mystery as the background for Lent and Easter, and meditating on the suffering and pain in the world and in my own life against that background. All the suffering of the world takes on a new and mysterious meaning in light of the mystery of Calvary. But Fr. Nocent’s Christmas meditation extended the wallpaper of the Paschal Mystery to include every day of the Church's calendar, and in fact every day of my life --even Christmas!

So the birth of the babe in Bethlehem, as crucial as it is, takes its meaning from the Paschal Mystery because it’s the point in time in which the Second Person of the Trinity, the Word, takes on our human flesh and becomes like us in everything but sin. He takes on our humanity in all its pain and suffering and death, and overcomes all of these, and allows us to share in that victory.

Against this paschal wallpaper we see, too, that the Word’s becoming flesh is “God’s becoming
human so that we might become divine.”  Because of this “divinization” that the early Christian writers were so fond of pointing out,  we now have the duty to be Christ’s presence in this world wherever we are, with every person, at every moment.

In the Church's rich liturgical celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours during the past ten days I’ve heard themes I’d never noticed before. Thanks to Fr. Nocent’s “heads up” I began hearing what was really happening in those early sermons on the Nativity and in the the lyrics of the ancient Latin Christmas hymns: They leave no doubt that the Paschal Mystery is what this feast is ultimately all about. The adoration by the shepherds, the loving gaze of the virgin mother, the song of the angelic choir are always subordinated to the overwhelming fact that God has become one of us in order to save us from our sin by giving His life on the cross.

I’ve discovered an additional advantage to this new wallpaper, this new perspective on Christmas, namely that when Christmas break comes to an end on Monday morning I won’t feel as if something is coming to an abrupt ending. Rather, the return of the kids and the start of a new semester will play out against the very same wallpaper as the Christmas feast: Christ’s mysterious self-giving love that gives meaning to all of our pain and suffering, all of our human limitations and even death itself. That’s a welcome background for whatever the new year of 2015 might bring.

Let’s pray that all of us will be able to let that beautiful paschal wallpaper  color our lives long after the Christmas decorations have been packed into their boxes and returned to the attic.

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