Monday, December 24, 2007

Keeping Christ in Christmas

In the midst of the voracious consumerism, unbridled marketing and paganization that are characterizing the December holiday season, combined with the recent proliferation and dissemination of falsehoods regarding Jesus of Nazareth – lies that are an affront to the very foundations of the Christian Faith – the essence, sense and significance of Christmas are obscured, and we Christians run the risk of forgetting what it is that we are actually celebrating and the implications of this annual commemoration within our Christian and ecclesiastical life, and in the lives of every man and woman of goodwill.

The remembrance of the Birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ, which we Catholics celebrate in the liturgical holiday season of Christmas, finds its inspiration, foundation and source in the birth and infancy of Jesus as related to us in the New Testament and, more specifically, in the Gospel according to Matthew and Luke, whose works take up that portion of the life of Jesus of Nazareth.

In order to achieve an “intelligent” reading of the Bible and, with it, a “Christian” celebration of Christmas, one must distinguish and differentiate, within all of the stories related in the Bible, between two types of data on which all human stories are built and which provide the written plot for the story of Mankind as such: namely, historical data and testimonies of faith.

Historical data are all of those that provide tangible evidence, provable within our classifications of time/space, and verifiable – as such – by a universe of individuals. These data are even present in extra-biblical narratives. For example: the existence of persons and events such as the group of slaves of the Egyptians, banishment to Babylonia, Jesus of Nazareth, His ministry, His death on the cross, the first disciples (Peter and Paul), the founding of the first Christian communities, their persecution, and so on.

Testimonies of faith are data that are only valid for a certain community or group of persons and born of a singular experience. For example, that Jesus "is the Lord God" or "the Light of the World" are testimonies of faith that are valid only for Christians. Testimonies of faith constitute the priority and the main aspect in the theological purpose of the holy scribes, but they nonetheless would be impossible without historical foundation.

In other words, while it is true that the purpose of the writers of the Gospel is, first and foremost, theological – that is to say, to profess and proclaim faith in Jesus Christ (in the case of the New Testament), and not necessarily to relate historical fact in the style of today and in accordance with history as we understand it from our chronological and chronometric viewpoint, it remains, nevertheless, possible, in stories from the Bible and the New Testament, to find historical information to support and make possible the experience of Jesus Christ and information that has given rise to testimonies of faith. These are testimonies of faith, from another time and in different historical contexts and circumstances, which connect the Christians of today – and throughout history – with the same faith confessed and proclaimed in the New Testament by the very first Christians.

Among historical data and testimonies that we find, and might point to as noteworthy, within the so-called “childhood stories” of Jesus of Nazareth, in the Gospel according to Matthew and Luke, are the following:

Historical Data: A male child called Jesus is born in the days of King Herod, when Augustus Caesar issued an edict requiring census registration, at the time when Cirinus was governor of Syria. The Child’s parents, Joseph and Mary, in compliance with the law of Moses, circumcised him and presented him in the Temple. The boy grew up in Nazareth and there grew strong and full with wisdom.

Testimonies of Faith: Through the stories of his genealogy, the Annunciation of His coming to Mary and the shepherds, the Immaculate Conception, his birth in Bethlehem and in a manger, the presentation of Joseph as a descendant of David, the persecution led by Herod, the adoration of the Magi, the journey into Egypt, the Visitation, the circumcision, the presentation in the Temple…through all of these things, the Christian communities of Matthew and Luke seek to testify – and indeed do testify – (in the light of Easter) to the Resurrected Lord, already from His childhood, as the long-awaited, almighty, central figure in the history of Israel (in the case of St. Matthew, who relates him with personages of the ilk of David and Abraham) and of Mankind (according to St. Luke, who relates him directly to Adam), as the Son of God, Christ the Lord, the Messiah, whose coming the prophets of the Old Testament foresaw, even as they held up David as the model for the King of Israel, King of Kings, Light of Nations, Glory of Israel, born among and in the manner of the world’s humble, to serve as their savior, the Savior of Israel and of all peoples who live in the Grace of God. And testimony and recognition are also borne to Mary and Joseph and other characters as well (Simeon the Righteous, the Prophet Anna, John the Baptist, his mother Elizabeth, the shepherds…) as faithful followers of the will of God the Father and, therefore, benefactors of the promises set down in the Old Testament.

It is all of this that we Christians recall, testify to and celebrate during this liturgical holiday season of Christmas.

Monday, November 26, 2007


THANKSGIVING DAY is, from an historical, traditional and family standpoint, the most important of this Nation’s holidays. It is the celebration that most clearly congregates American society and in which the United States of America is most deeply rooted both culturally and collectively.

It is an anthropologically well-founded celebration. Gratitude thrusts its roots deep into the very essence of the human being, since in every man and woman there lives the capacity to observe everything that they are, everything that they have and everything that surrounds them, to take stock and GIVE THANKS.

The attitude and lifestyle of men and women who are capable of being thankful go hand in hand with happiness, since a person is happy when he or she is capable of the perception necessary to foster recognition and gratitude. At the other end of the scale are those who have forgotten or who have never developed this ontological capacity – individuals who are blind to life and reality – and who run the risk of suffering sadness, boredom and dejection.

A happily thankful attitude, on the other hand, generates hope, turns existence into a time and space worthy of living, and fills it with all of the different nuances and tones to confront the constant threat that routine poses in the everyday pace of human history. But it is not only the routine of a materialistic and consumer-oriented society – accustomed as it is to having everything – that poses a grave threat to gratitude. There is also the threat posed by the incapacity to be amazed at every new discovery, to be awed by what we are and what we have, by what we receive “free” in the arrogant belief that we deserve everything and need not be thankful for anything.

In this way, thankfulness, as an attitude and a lifestyle, additionally becomes an antidote against the experience of evil in the world. The person who gives thanks does not do so forgetting that evil exists, but in spite of and against evil. He or she does so in search of better conditions and better days, and in search of reasons for which to be grateful.

Gratitude, then, as a way of life, evokes both past and present, in order to give thanks for them, but in an active way that pushes us to build “the new Heaven and the new Earth” that we hope for, in order to keep on giving thanks.

Gratitude, thus, is a song, a shout of protest against all manifestations of evil in history. Gratitude, in short, frees us, because it exorcises misery, poverty, calamities, hatred, divisions, failures, violence, conflicts, disregard, abuse, injustice, suffering and even death itself.

It is here, within this anthropological foundation of gratitude for the bounty of life, conceived of as an invaluable gift, that the rites by which we celebrate THANKSGIVING DAY in this Nation lie.

To this so deeply human experience of gratitude, inserted as we said within the essence of our very being and in the hearts of every man and woman of goodwill, Christian revelation – for believers in Christ – adds more and more reasons to live a happily thankful life.

We Christians give thanks for life and Creation as a gift from God, and we thank the compassionate and merciful Father of us all, in the Holy Spirit, for making us his sons and daughters and, therefore, brothers and sisters among ourselves. We give thanks for His eternal presence in our history and we celebrate all of this daily, but especially each Sunday in THE EUCHARIST (a word that comes from Greek and means ACT OF THANKSGIVING), the primordial and supreme ACT OF THANKSGIVING in the life of the ecclesiastic community and of every Christian.

We congratulate ourselves, then, on this great national celebration of THANKSGIVING, which permits us, furthermore, to pause and examine our individual and community conscience regarding the sufficient reasons we have on this holiday for both giving and not giving thanks.

If we are truly building a world, a society, a culture and people in consonance with the common good, with justice, with humanization and for abundant life, then this holiday, like every rite of thanksgiving, takes on validity and makes sense. But if, on the contrary, there exists within us and, therefore, within society, enormous and very evident manifestations of evil, injustice and sinfulness, then THANKSGIVING DAY like any other thanksgiving rite, runs the risk of turning into a celebration of the absurd, of nonsense, of a farce and of emptiness.

Let us, then, construct sufficient spaces and reasons in which and for which to be grateful and to give thanks, and to live our lives “in hope, even against all hope.”