I wish to thank Mr. Oliver, the editor of this newspaper, for his invitation to share a Christmas reflection this year with you, the paper’s readers. He asked me to share a few bits of biographical information to begin with.
I was born in New York City almost 70 years ago, but was raised by my parents here in Maine from 5 years old on. My grammar school years were spent in Winslow and my secondary and university years were spent in the province of New Brunswick, Canada. I studied at St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore and was ordained in 1973.
I and my seven siblings have many good memories of how we celebrated the feast of Christmas as a family. I also remember the many joyful Christmas celebrations in the various parishes I served in Maine and during my five years of mission service in Bolivia. I now serve as pastor of St. Michael parish in the Augusta region, which includes the St. Denis Church community of Whitefield in Lincoln County, which on June 10, 2018 will celebrate the 200th anniversary of its establishment as a daughter of St. Patrick parish, established in 1808 in the Lincoln County town of Newcastle.
Through my almost 45 years that I have served as a priest, I have marveled at the meaning that this Advent-Christmas season holds for people and how they celebrate and cherish the memories that are experienced of God’s love gifted to us.
As we journey through these four weeks of Advent and hear St. John the Baptist’s call to “prepare the way of the Lord,” we also begin to hear the call to “keep Christ in Christmas.” How could we not? “Christ” is in the title of this annual feast as Advent ends on Dec. 25. We cannot miss him. Or can we?
I suppose for most people my age it is not hard to know that this feast is about Jesus Christ and his birth.
Our part of the world, however, does seem to prioritize a different focus that becomes a large cloud smothering the true significance of the Christmas story we are about to celebrate again. That big cloud is the emphasis on the self and not on God’s Word revealed to us in a tiny child born in a very humble setting of a woman who said yes to the divine invitation to be God Bearer to our world. This feast is about our Savior, not just about us. The advertising world goes into overdrive in these weeks to attract us and entrap us into overemphasizing ourselves and what it thinks we should want and need.
The birth of Jesus the Christ brings to us the message of “peace on Earth and goodwill to all.” This is what Christians from earliest times came to recognize is what our Creator wanted us to want and need.
Jesus is God’s incarnate Word, who empowers us to be instruments of peace to one another and the world. Accepting that focus as our primary vocation in the world, the Gospel, God’s Good News, becomes more apparent to those who have little “good news” in their lives: the poor and sick, the sinner, the ignorant, the hungry and thirsty, the oppressed, the victims of war, terrorism, human greed, and selfishness.
When we consciously become the Good News of God revealed to us in Christ to one another, greater peace, goodwill, mercy, and justice are sown among us. These are the gifts of Christmas we can focus on to dispel the great cloud that blinds us to the true meaning of the season. They are the gifts that can last forever!
A few years back I came across the following Christmas meditation by Fr. Joseph Veneroso M.M., of the Maryknoll Foreign Missionary Society. Let his words inspire you this season to keep Christ in Christmas.
May your celebrations be holy and merry!
By Rev. Joseph Veneroso M.M.
God knows how it feels
To cry like a baby and die like a criminal.
God knows how it feels
To work with rough hands on rougher wood
And walk this earth with calloused feet
And taste the sweetness of precious food
Shared one last time with parting friends.
God knows a broken heart hurts more
Than whip or cross or nails or crown.
God knows comfort in a mother’s arms,
Longing for a father’s love,
Sadness at a brother’s loss,
Strength at a sister’s undying loyalty.
God knows why
A heart overflowing with love
Erupts with anger
When people hurt one another.
God knows the joy of life restored
When the dead arise and the lost are found.
God knows all this not by being God alone
But because a woman once said yes
And God became one of us.
(Used by permission from the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers)