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Saturday, December 23, 2017

Christmas Offers Hope through the Mists of Despair

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Christmas, along with Easter, it is one of the two most significant days of the calendar year for Christians, and, indeed, for ALL men worldwide. At this time of year we turn our thoughts to the Holy Feast "In Nativitate Domini Nostri Jesu Christi," as the ancient Latin liturgy announces to us.  What happened in Bethlehem a little over 2,000 years ago, and our memory and commemoration of that oh-so-critical event that forever changed human history, and its implications and clarion call to us now twenty centuries distant, demand our attention...and action.

No one, not even the pagan, nor the ISIS militant, nor the raving village atheist who believes that with modern "science" he has figured out everything and doesn't need a "God"—No one escapes Christmas and the Question it poses to mankind. The Creator's Grace through Our Lord is offered to all men, sufficient grace for us all and an ironclad promise of Salvation, if we choose to accept it.  And the Question is: How shall we respond?

We cannot avoid that offer, even if we attempt to hide from it. Our Lord chases us down, searches us out, He will not let us go until the very last moment of our lives. He is the Good Shepherd as He recounts in the Parable of the Lost Sheep [St. Matthew 18: 12-14; St Luke 15:3-7].

I remember the fascinating case of the great Irish writer and professed atheist, James Joyce. Early on an apostate from his Catholic upbringing, he had one of his literary characters proclaim: "I will not serve what I do not believe," [from A Portrait of the Artist as A Young Man] and in a letter he wrote: "My mind rejects the whole present social order and Christianity...." Yet Joyce, like many fallen-away Christians, could not escape the Faith and its message. For his entire life he wrestled with it and could not get away from it, for it was and is the Faith and its message that make the oftentimes insanity and complexity of life intelligible, give it order and purpose. According to one observer:  "Joyce may have vigorously resisted the oppressive power of [Catholic] tradition. But there was another Joyce who asserted his allegiance to that Christian tradition, and never left it, or wanted to leave it, behind him." Indeed, a witness tells us that he cried "secret tears" upon hearing Jesus' words on the cross. 

In so many ways archetypical modern man is like the wide-eyed teenager, exercising his newly-encountered maturity, filled with his belief that unlimited opportunities lie before him, that he has the full confidence and ability to do almost anything—and that he no longer really needs the strictures of mother and dad, and their wise counsels.

But he is wrong, for as St. Bernard of Clairvaux stated nearly 1,000 years ago, "We are as infants who stand upon the shoulders of giants." And just as we need our parents and their wisdom and direction and the inherited culture around us, so to make sense of our existence we need that free gift of immeasurable worth, that Gift of Faith and Promise of Salvation that came to us in a humble cradle in Bethlehem of Judaea.

As a small boy—I think I was about six at the time—I spent one Christmas at old Rex Hospital in Raleigh getting my tonsils taken out. I remember clearly Christmas Eve looking out the window from my fourth floor hospital room and seeing what I thought surely must be Santa Claus and his sleigh. I sat up in my bed and literally cried with joy! I had not been forgotten, and this was surely a sign that Santa was on the way to my house, and that tomorrow my parents would come and share his bounty with me, right there in my room.

As the next day came, I woke up early—there were nurses who came in first to see how I was doing: I recounted to them my marvelous vision. To which they smiled and agreed that it was indeed "very special" (although I think they attributed my vision to pain-killer!). Still, when mother and dad arrived with those special gifts, I knew—I had confirmation—that what I had seen was truthful. Santa had come and had let me know that even though I was in a hospital bed away from home, I was not forgotten.

Although I am more inclined these days to agree with those nurses' assessment of my story—even if today I cannot explain that very vivid sight out the window, the greater message of that special Christmas remains etched in my mind. No matter where we are, no matter if we are away from home, no matter if we have been separated or declared our separation from Our Creator, He does not separate Himself from us. He lets us see that "Heavenly Sleigh of Graces" that is intended for us, and which, miraculously, "came upon a Midnight clear" in all simplicity and purity.

So, while we take our collective breath and a slight reprieve from all the "important" and "critical" issues that confront us and our nation, and all the serious ills that afflict us as a people—there will be time for those--we also are reminded, vividly, of God's decision to send His Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, to live and teach among us, and to offer us His healing Grace.

Is this not the ultimate Christmas Gift to and for us? And does not it—He—beckon us to answer the Question in the affirmative? And in so doing, not only Faith and Love enter our lives, but also sustaining Hope...which enables us to meet those other challenges and issues, even if all appears lost?

And, so, we are expectant as we wait for that magical and special night, when we like the Angels can repeat that we are of good cheer, for unto us is born the Savior of the World:  "And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord." [St. Luke 2:10-11]

angel to shepherds

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Dr. Boyd D. Cathey

Boyd D. Cathey, a native North Carolinia, received an MA in history at the University of Virginia (as a Thomas Jefferson Fellow) and served as assistant to conservative author, Dr. Russell Kirk, in Mecosta, Michigan. Recipient of a Richard M. Weaver Fellowship, he completed his doctoral studies at the Catholic University of Navarra, Pamplona, Spain. Then, after additional studies in philosophy and theology, he taught in both Connecticut and in Argentina, before returning to the United States. He served as State Registrar of the North Carolina State Archives, retiring in 2011. He is the author of various articles and studies published in several different languages about political matters, religion, and culture and the arts.

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