Christmas feast days a time for reflection - Diocese of Tulsa

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Christmas feast days a time for reflection - Diocese of Tulsa

The Baptism of Christ, Andrea del Verrocchio, ca. 1475

Centered in silence

Christmas feast days a time for reflection

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Eastern Oklahoma Catholic / Jan./Feb. 2012 / www.dioceseoftulsa.org


Every year – at the

beginning of the

year, when the world

seems fresh and

bright, untarnished

and as yet unbroken, when all

the Christmas decorations have

been returned to their protective

boxes and the house seems, well,

empty but at the same time bracingly

clean and ready for the year

ahead, I find myself amazed at how

wonderful is the contrast between

noise and silence.

This year was no different. The closer we

drew to Christmas and New Year’s, the greater

the commotion. Such is the excitement of the

modern holiday season that we are reluctant to

refuse an invitation or skip an event. By mid-

December, I think most of us were running at

a fever’s pitch, which, had we not been careful,

might have ended with us burning through

our best resolutions to prepare well in Advent

for Christmas.

I know this happens because I am struck

on Christmas morning by the exhaustion I see

on the faces of some of the faithful. The feast

is a feast of joy, but, in their eyes, I see they are

emotionally drained. In their physical weariness,

I read the signs of a spiritual crisis.

Staying centered in the silence

Is this true for most of us Thankfully, no.

For most of us, the silence of the feasts is clearly

heard through the commotion. We discover

in the stillness of these holy days a power that

keeps us centered in truth and prevents us

(or “helps prevent” us) from becoming overly

immersed in the noisy activities of the season

that are good in themselves, but which drain

some of us so badly. You know the activities I

mean: buying the gifts, decorating the house,

planning the parties and attending the dinners,

all the while trying to feel an emotion more

authentic than financial panic.

That spiritual truth which we discover in

the silence of these Christmas feast days is that

God loves us enough to send us His Son so

that divine love might shine forever in a human

heart. Perfect love in a human heart turns

this world into the image of heaven, and it

doesn’t matter much if this turning the world

into the image of heaven has to begin with a

cow stable, musty and cramped, in a town too

small and too insignificant to be anything

more than an historical footnote due to the

birth there of King David.

Contemplating heaven among us

We do well to contemplate heaven

among us in the tiniest of babies. What I

love about these first weeks of the new year

is the silence that descends upon us after

the holidays, that allows us to spend time

meditating upon the mysteries we have just

celebrated.

You might even say all the holiday “craziness,”

the laughter, the entertaining, the

hectic schedules and the feverish excitement,

are in one sense a blessing. They tire us out,

so that we are more disposed to the January

silence, which allows us to appreciate the

beauty of God’s love radiating out of a very

human child.

But January’s bright and untarnished

beginning offers the listening Christian

something more than silent space in which

to hear and contemplate the mystery. January

offers us a sense of time-having-passed,

a concept that also is necessary for the

proper contemplation of the Incarnation,

but which, I confess, is a concept that bears

some explanation.

from the bishop

Contemplating events in

sacred time

There is a wonderful immediacy to Christmas.

We celebrate the coming of Christ not

as something which happened two millennia

ago, but as something right now, in our

midst, in every parish, every family and every

heart. Christ comes among us. In recalling

the historic event, the manger, the shepherds,

the magi and the flight into Egypt, we

are able to place ourselves in the scene with

these principal characters from St. Luke’s

and St. Matthew’s biblical narratives.

But we contemplate the events in sacred

time, not daily time, and so this year on

Jan. 8, we celebrate the Epiphany and the

next day, Monday, Jan. 9, we celebrate Our

Lord’s baptism by John in the River Jordan.

On Sunday, Christ is still an infant, held in

the embrace of his Virgin Mother; but on

Monday, He steps into the River Jordan

as a man, and is anointed Messiah by the

Holy Spirit. There is no confusion here

because we know that we are dealing with

sacred time.

Part of what helps us to move seamlessly

between these two ways of understanding

time and history is that culturally, we understand

that “Christmas is over” when we put

away the decorations and clean our houses

Jan. 2 or 3. There is a sense that Christmas

time is over and the time of the Nativity is

passed, without our having completed the

cycle of our Christmas feasts. Christmas is

past, yet still before us are the Epiphany and

the Baptism, the two feasts by which the

mission and meaning of His Incarnation are

revealed to the world.

An indispensable spiritual aid

This sense of time having passed – natural

to us in January – is indispensable for

our spiritual lives because it helps us recover

the fact that the helpless, speechless baby,

Whom we worshiped two weeks ago at his

birth, is, of course, fully grown. And not

only is He grown, but He is the one Who

has healed and restored us, has preached

His Father’s Kingdom to us, and has suffered

every human agony and trial. Just this

little bit of space that January opens up for

us helps us live in the realization that Christ

has suffered, died and was buried, and now

– having risen from the dead – lives outside

of time so that He can perfectly offer Himself

to us every time in the Eucharist.

Because January gives us a two-week

ability to “glance back at Christmas,” we are

in a better position to understand how is it

that our vantage point in the 21st century

can foster in us a truer understanding of the

meaning of Christ’s birth. Whether we are

poor and unlettered like the shepherds, or

regal wise men like the magi, we need the

silence and the time of January to properly

contemplate the mystery of God’s own Son,

born among us as a child, and yet present

to us as a risen Savior under the forms of

bread and wine.

– Bishop Edward J. Slattery

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