Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

What I Have Seen and Heard (December 21, 2006)

Published December 21, 2006

As I walked from the front door of our Cathedral to the sacristy, I spoke with one of the participants of the “Advent Lessons and Carols” ceremony that we had just completed. He was effusive about the splendor of that service—as well he should have been. It was a beautiful and prayerful event.

The music of Advent and Christmas represents some of the most glorious hymns of our melodious treasury of Faith. Each one of us has a favorite song or two that captures what this wondrous season means for us. And the readings from Isaiah and Luke open a cache of memories that take us back to our childhood. The celebrations of Lessons and Carols bring both of these sources of faith into full harmony. It was a special prayer service indeed.

Our Catholic Faith provides so many examples of sacramental expressions of the mystery of God’s encounter with us. The Advent and Christmas seasons cause most of us to recall childhood memories of our earliest experiences of Faith. Perhaps that is the reason that this nostalgic time of year continues to inspire so many people to reconnect with the life of the Church. That may account for the traditional swell in numbers as we approach the feast of Christmas. The Mystery of God becoming man inspires us to reconnect with those who believe as we do, with memories from our childhood, and with God Himself.

Each year for at least the past generation, this time of year has also witnessed the legal battles with a secular society that frequently seeks to remove the religious roots and character of this season. Jews and Christians are often pitted against one another as though the feast of Christmas is in conflict with the celebration of Hanukkah. Jews, Christians and Muslims are often portrayed as in open warfare for the town square as our religious symbols are presumed to be mutually exclusive. Occasionally, some of the extreme personalities in each faith behave in such a hostile manner that they succeed in frightening all of society with their rage, their violence and their narrow-mindedness.

Some people propose that the only suitable way to manage this season is to remove all of its religious meaning and orientation. They suggest that we can have Christmas without any reference to Jesus—that we can have this time of year without acknowledging that it has a specific history that would be incomplete without admitting or referring to the fact that a Child was born in Bethlehem.

In a few short weeks, the furor over these seasonal symbols will subside and we will go about our ordinary lives once again. But there is something within the heart of every Christian that harkens back to the Mystery that cannot be secularized or sanitized or made to deny its religious origins.

I close with a word of greeting to our Jewish neighbors as they celebrate the feast of Hanukkah. May this time of year be a blessing for them and all of their loved ones. To our Muslim neighbors I offer a word of blessing for them as together we enter the New Year of 2007—may it be a year of real peace and deepening mutual respect and harmony.

And to you, my dearest brothers and sisters in Christ, may this Christmas be for all of us a moment of grace, happiness and joy. The Mystery of God becoming Man is not a secular feast; it is a moment when the whole world is made new.

Merry Christmas and a Blessed New Year to all!