Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas (Mass at Midnight)

Isaiah 9:1-6 / Titus 2:11-14 / Luke 2:1-14

In The Adventures of Pinocchio, we find our puppet hero passing through the city of Catchfools to come to the Field of Miracles, where he intends to dig a hole in the ground and bury his few remaining coins, in the absurd hope that they will grow and multiply. In the city, Pinocchio noticed that all the streets were filled with hairless dogs, yawning from hunger; with sheared sheep, trembling with cold; with combless chickens, begging for a grain of wheat; with large butterflies, unable to use their wings because they had sold all their lovely colors; with tailless peacocks, ashamed to show themselves; and with bedraggled pheasants, scuttling away hurriedly, grieving for their bright feathers of gold and silver, lost to them forever. All of these fools, caught by an illusion, by folly, by the hope of miracles, have lost whatever they had of value. Pinocchio, seeing all of this, seeing without confusion the suffering which has come from their folly, goes all the same to the Field of Miracles to bury his money.

For the world, the blessed hope of the Church, the hope of the Christian faithful in the appearing of the Infant Christ in Bethlehem, seems to be like the passage of Pinocchio through the city of Catchfools. We see, as he did, the suffering of all of those who have lost so much because of their dreams of beatitude, and seeing this, from the point of the world, we have not realized the truth. For the world, it is not that the celebration of Christmas is unpleasant. The unbelieving world likes the nicely decorated trees, the Christmas lights in every city street, the merry songs, the wonderful food. The unbelieving world also enjoys a chance to have a holiday with family and friends, free from the grind of daily work. The world also agrees with the Church in finding in the celebration of Christmas a reason for goodwill, to be a bit more generous, more patient, to be eager to do what is good to the needy in their own community and throughout the world. In this sense, the world is grateful for the gift of Christmas.

However, the world accuses us of mistaking these appearances, all this outward show of Christmas, as something other than mere appearances. The world insists that suffering, poverty, ignorance, conflict — that these are what is real, and that the sweet dreams of Christmas are but passing shadows. It insists that we are crazy, that we are fools caught up in a beautiful story — a very beautiful story — but a story, a false story all the same. Our decision to reject as godless all the desires of the world, our intention to live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age, and thus our decision to live as though this world were not all that is, but rather to live as we await something more glorious — all of this is for those who do not believe a reason to look upon as as Pinocchio in the city of Catchfools, surrounded by evidence of the folly of trusting ourselves to miracles, but eager to do so all the same.

We, however, have a wisdom in our celebration of Christmas, indeed in our whole Christian lives, more profound than that of the world. It is not that we deny the reality of loss in our lives, in the lives of all, or especially in the lives of the poor. Rather, in our adoration of the poor Infant in the midst of the poor shepherds, we are more responsive to the difficulties of life, more aware that life in God — the very life of God incarnate — does not exclude suffering. Even so, with the eyes of faith, we can see in poverty and suffering, especially in poverty and suffering, the presence of Emmanuel, God-with-us, our great God and savior Jesus Christ. In being aware of his gracious presence, those on their sick bed are cheerful, those in foreign lands feel close at home, those who struggle are patient in their great hope. By the light of the cave of Bethlehem, the Christian faithful see what the world longs to see but does not — the Good News of the glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests. We see by the radiant beams streaming from the Infant's face the appearance of the glory of our great God, a promissory note of the riches of the Kingdom of God that no power, howsoever it try to impede or prevent it, can ever succeed in doing so.

Dearly beloved, we are not fools caught up in the sparkling lights or twinkling tinsel in our streets or shop windows. We are not gullible puppets, burying the few joys we have remaining to us in our rejecting godless ways and worldly desires, in our sober, just, and devout living. We are the poor shepherds living in the fields and keeping the night watch, the watch of the night of this world — the night of suffering, of poverty, and of sin — and without denying the fact of that night, we have received the news of the great desire of all the nations, of the birth of that hope which answers every one of our desires. We have received the angel's message, foolishness to the world and at the very same time the proclamation that responds to every human heart: Today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ the Lord!