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CHRISTMAS, 2008 | Fr. James. V. Schall, S.J. | December 25, 2008 | Ignatius Insight
"Dearly beloved, today our
Savior is born; let us rejoice. Sadness should have no place on this birthday
of life." -- St. Leo the Great, Pope, d.
461 A.D., Sermon on the Birthday of Christ, Christmas Office.
The antiphon for the Office of
Readings for Christmas Day reads: "Christ is born for us: Come let us adore
Him." This antiphon does not say "May
Christ be born," let alone, "May
He be born 'for us.'" It states rather an "is," a fact. Christ is born. Christ is born for us.
Why does it not say, "Christ
"was" born for us?" We know He died on the Cross in Jerusalem thirty-some years
after His birth. It is because the Christ who was born of Mary in the time of
Caesar Augustus is not dead. He is risen. He was born to conquer death, which
But here on the Feast of the
Nativity, we celebrate the birth, the Nativity of Christ. To comprehend it all,
we take one thing at a time. Pope St. Leo, speaking of the same event, the same
fact, says that a "savior" is born to us. He is identified as "Christ the
Another antiphon reads: "A little
child is born for us today; little and yet called the mighty God." It adds,
"Alleluia," almost as if that is about the only thing we human beings could say
once we realize what has happened once among us.
Yet another antiphon describes
more of the scene: "Joseph and Mary, the mother of Jesus, were filled with
wonder at all that was said of the child." They are filled with wonder both
because of the Child and because of what was said of Him. If the two persons
closest to the event were filled wonder, so are we. This wonder means that we
are to understand what is going on. The Birth is also addressed to our minds.
We are supposed to think about it.
"Dearly beloved, today our
Savior is born; let us rejoice." Often when
St. Paul uses the word "rejoice" in speaking of the events in Christ's history,
he repeats himself, "Again, I say, rejoice." About some things, when we have
affirmed something once, we simply must affirm the event again, and again, as
if we are astounded at what the words describing it mean.
In Dei Verbum, the Second Vatican Council's Dogmatic Constitution
on Divine Revelation, we read: "He (the Father) sent his Son, the eternal Word
who enlightens all men, to dwell among men and make known to them the innermost
things of God. Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, sent as a man to
men, speaks the words of God..." (#4). When
He was twelve, in the Temple, this same Jesus told His parents that He must be
"about" His Father's business, as if He had business to be about.
The "innermost things of God" are
His Father's business. Christ Himself is the "only-begotten" Son. His proper
life is eternal life, within the Godhead, in which God is not alone, but full
of the life of Father, Son, Spirit. It is into this life we are all invited in
our very creation, in our births.
At the Mass of mid-day on
Christmas, we read that the "Word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us." There
is no "dwelling amongst us," no "pitching one's tent amongst us," unless there
is a becoming one of us. So He was "sent," as St. Leo says, as "man to man."
Moreover, man is the being who is endowed with logos; man speaks. So what does this Word made flesh
speak? He "speaks the word of God." He can do this because He is the Word of
"What does it mean to 'rejoice'
at such a proclamation?" We are curious to know. St. Leo says: "And so at the
birth of our Lord the angels sing in joy: Glory to God in the highest." Surely if angels can sing, so can we. Indeed, it
seems almost the only right thing to do. We are a unity. We cannot know
something glad and, except for the moment of silence in which we comprehend it
all, simply sit there.
When we respond with everything
in us, as St. Augustine said, we sing. Cantare amantis est. "To sing is characteristic of the one who loves,"
or in Josef Pieper's translation, "Only the lover sings." We do associate
Christmas with singing "on high" and rightly so. Adeste fideles,
It is interesting that in English
the word is "re-joy-ce," contains the word "again" as if to be joyful once is
not enough, which it isn't. Moreover, it means that we do not "cause" that over
which we find joy in the first place. Ours is not an action but a re-action to
something "given" to us. "A Son is given to us: Come let us rejoice."
In Robert Southwell's poem, "The
Nativity of Christ," we read: "Gift better than himself God doth not know; /
Gift better than his God no man can see. / This gift doth here the giver given
bestow; / Gift to this gift let each receiver be."
God does not know a gift better
than Himself. If He did, He would not be God. Men have long searched for a gift
better than God, but have not found it. A gift can only be offered, not
demanded, not required. This is why the spirit of Christmas is of a special
nature. It is the "season to be jolly," to be joyful, full of joy, but only
because it is here where we learn that we have nothing—especially nothing
ultimate—unless it is first given to us.
We are essentially "receivers,"
"gifts." We do not begin by making ourselves. This is what conception and birth
mean. We begin by realizing that we already are, and are what we are. "What is
it that you have not received?"
On Christmas Day, I will say the
Mass at dawn at the parish my brother and sister and their spouses attend in
California. The antiphon for this Mass is: "Lux fulgebit hodie super nos,
quia natus est nobis Dominus." "Today the
Light will shine upon us because to us the Lord is born."
I entitled this reflection, "Christmas,
2008." I did so not because there really
are 2008 Christmases, but always the same Christmas. "The Word was made flesh
and dwelt amongst us." Because of this dwelling amongst us, the world can be
what it was intended to be.
The Communion antiphon for
Christmas Midnight Mass reads: "The Word of God became man; and we have seen
his glory." Those who do not see this Light walk in darkness. "Lux fulgebit
hodie super nos, quia natus est nobis Dominus."
Related IgnatiusInsight.com Articles on Advent and Christmas:
What In Christmas Season Grows: On the Days Leading Up to the Nativity of the Lord | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
Turn Your Hearts! | A Homily for the Second Sunday
of Advent | Fr. Kenneth Baker, S.J.
The Perfect Faith of the Blessed Virgin | Carl E. Olson
Come, Lord Jesus! The Meaning of Advent | Fr. Kenneth Baker, S.J.
Mary Immaculate | Fr. Kenneth Baker, S.J.
Archbishop Fulton Sheen on Advent | From Through the Year
With Fulton Sheen
Mary's Gift of Self Points the Way | Carl E. Olson
Immaculate Mary, Matchless in Grace | John Saward
Mary | The Introduction to Mary in the Middle Ages | by Luigi Gambero
The Mystery Made Present To Us | Fr. Alfred Delp, S.J.
Remembering Father Alfred Delp, S.J., Priest and Martyr |
A Conversation with Father Karl Adolf Kreuser, S.J.
Assumed Into Mother's Arms | Carl E. Olson
Contemplates the Mother | Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis
The Incarnation | Frank Sheed
"Born of the Virgin Mary" | Paul Claudel
The Old Testament
and the Messianic Hope | Thomas Storck
of Contradiction, Season of Redemption | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
The God in the
Cave | G.K. Chesterton
James V. Schall, S.J., is Professor of Political Philosophy at Georgetown
He is the author of numerous books on social issues, spirituality, culture,
and literature including Another
Sort of Learning, Idylls
and Rambles, A Student's Guide to Liberal Learning,
The Life of the Mind (ISI, 2006),
The Sum Total of Human
Happiness (St. Augustine's Press, 2007), and The Regensburg Lecture (St. Augustine's Press, 2007).
His most recent book from Ignatius Press is
The Order of Things (Ignatius Press, 2007). His new book, The Mind That Is Catholic: Philosophical and
Political Essays, is now available from The Catholic University Press. Read more of his essays on his
the Insight Scoop Blog and read the latest posts and comments by
IgnatiusInsight.com staff and readers about current events, controversies,
and news in the Church!
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