Christmas: a time to bring healing and hope
With this issue of FAITH magazine, we bring Christmastide greetings to our readers. Their number is growing – recent promotional work at Catholic gatherings this past summer introduced the magazine to a number of new readers. Welcome! It’s a cliché to say that Christmas is a “family time”. But clichés usually hold some wellestablished truth: that’s why they become clichés. Christmas Dinner ought to be – for many still is – a grand gathering of family and clan around a table with good food and with glasses raised in toasts and a generous host dispensing large quantities of good cheer.
Britain in 2018
But Christmas in the Britain of 2018, along with Christmases of the past half-century in our country, will see many families divided. Children will be ferried from one Christmas dinner to another: Mum and her new boyfriend, Dad and his parents, with some stepgrandparents and half-siblings variously added to the mix over the Christmas gatherings. Cohabitation, divorce, complicated pairings, all make for awkwardness. A thoughtful Christmas feature in a newspaper last year noted a child’s lament about the boredom of being ferried down what seemed endless motorway journeys, with lavatory stops and offers of hamburger meals en route to various step-relatives following parental divorces. Language once regarded as odd is now standard: “My ex-stepmother’s parents”, “My sister’s lesbian partner”. So we make no excuse for featuring, in this Christmas issue of FAITH, some comment and analysis of Britain’s current tragic situation concerning marriage and family life. At a time when food has never been so abundantly available in Britain for this season of feasting – indeed, our major national health problem is obesity – many will be hungry not for food but for family solidarity, love and goodwill, for a renewed confidence in the truth about God’s covenant plan for marriage as the lifelong union of a man and a woman. And the solution lies with the Church.
Christmas is not the right time for great public denunciations of divorce or contraception or same-sex “marriage” in fiery terms from the pulpit. But it is a time to affirm that the Church does not and cannot change her teachings: even a general upbeat message to that effect, without going into much detail, will be understood and will send a powerful message. This is a time to take note of the raw wounds being endured by the many people for whom the breaking up of family bonds has been particularly horrific and for whom this season will be miserable, so an emphasis of the consistency of God’s love for us and the consistency of the Church’s message will offer hope and healing. It is a time for the Church to focus firmly on the truth: God came to dwell among us, he knows our wounds, and he is really and substantially present with us now. He brings that steadfast love about which he taught when he spoke of the Good Samaritan who healed raw wounds with wine and oil and gave a pledge of future care for which he paid full price. Christ is the Good Samaritan and if our journey has been a savage one, with many wounds perhaps inflicted by a savage society imposing or encouraging horrible things, he is there to rescue and help us.
God is unchangeable, reliable, and loving
Many Catholic schools and organisations hold carol services in Advent: these are an opportunity to emphasise Advent as a time of preparation for Christmas and the place of the sacrament of penance (confession). Many people attending services at Catholic churches over Advent and Christmas will not be Catholic: this is time to offer all that is glorious in the liturgy and be generous with candlelight and beautiful traditional music so that the central importance of worship of God is grasped. Many Catholics will be at Midnight Mass who are not at Mass through the year: this is a time to bring a sense of joyful urgency about a new encounter with Christ, noting that as Catholics at Mass this Christmas, we should also be at Mass on every Sunday of the year: Christ calls us to this as we encounter him in the Christmas liturgy. If we have not been faithful to this in 2018 then the Christmas Mass is a time to open our hearts to him and make a fresh start.
A light for the year ahead
Midnight Mass as a sort of sentimental preliminary to general indulgence and socialising with a vaguely troubled conscience does not make for happiness: Midnight Mass as a spark that offers a light for the year ahead, perhaps through the challenging words of the sermon, could be a real Christmas gift. Above all this is a time to bring people close to God. Often, the emphasis even in church at this season is about food for the body rather than the soul: collections of money to fund important projects for the hungry and the poor. Of course such action is essential. But the message of Christmas is not just about encouraging well-fed people to part with their spare cash or their used toys or clothes. Christmas is more soul-searing, more real, than that.
An “edgy” message
Moaning about the “commercialisation of Christmas” tends to fall on deaf ears. We all know about it. More useful and important is a reminder of the hugeness of what Christmas celebrates: God becoming man and sharing directly in our lives. Our entire civilisation in Britain is based on an understanding of that reality: it is why we number our years in the way that we do, it frames our language and our traditions, it has shaped our family structures and is at the core of our common life. So Christmas has, or should have, an “edgy” message, a slightly uncomfortable challenge that will in fact act as a sort of healing to people who know that the wounds in our families and common life cannot be covered with a band-aid while festering beneath.
Christmas is a time to evangelise. The message is that God really is among us, that there is hope here, that the Child in the manger did not leave us but grew to adulthood, served and died and rose again, and is with us still - that we will all one day meet him face to face and that meanwhile our lives have meaning and purpose.