DECEMBER 15 2003
Official newspaper of the Roman Catholic
Diocese of Oakland, California encompassing all of
Alameda &
Contra Costa counties.






Christmas: celebrating that God is visible to us

One of the blessings I received during the years I worked in the Vatican was the opportunity to visit the town of Greccio in Central Italy. There, for Christmas of 1223, St. Francis of Assisi began the tradition of setting up a manger scene as part of celebration that feast.

At Christmas we remember a great mystery: that the Only-begotten Son of God, the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity, became a man like us without ceasing to be God. St. Francis understood that seeing the figures of the Child Jesus, Mary and Joseph, the shepherds and the ox and the ass serves as a sort of anchor to keep us firm in our conviction that the birth of God the Son from the Maiden of Nazareth really happened. The invisible God has become visible. The Word did become flesh. God is with us.

It was not only St. Francis’s contemporaries who were tempted to treat the good news of Christ’s coming as if it were a mere “idea,” an abstraction. Our age, too, is inclined to forget that the birth of the God-Man really happened. God really did enter into human history.

Our particular temptation is to forget that God’s becoming one of us in history means that we can live God’s own life in our time. Our temptation is to forget that God’s taking on of our human nature brings His healing grace to our existence. As human beings we can live as the children of God we were created to be.

The way this sort of forgetting shows up for many of us in the United States is in our hesitancy to build up our society according to God’s laws. We too easily go along with commonly accepted notions about how we should live and act, how we should find happiness and fulfillment.

However, when God came into the world, He opened up for us new possibilities, a new and even better way of living – the way that fits the plan He established for us “from the beginning,” before the fall of our first parents.

In this new way of living, what we naturally know to be right is clear to us and within our power. Here the powerful must not exploit the weak but help them, so that all can work together in mutual respect for their common good.

In this new way of life, the relationships between men and women are governed, not by lust – even mutually agreed upon lust – but by chastity, by purity of heart.

Here the family is founded on the irrevocable covenant of one man and woman giving themselves totally to each other in a love that that is always open to generating new life. Here the right to life from conception to the moment of death is inviolable.

In this new way of life, some things are always right and some things are always wrong; and the true dignity of the human person is the measure of good and bad.

Some months ago, in the name of our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, one of his cardinals in Rome published a document reminding us that our political choices must be consistent with what the Lord teaches (“Doctrinal Note On Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life,” Congregation
for the Doctrine of the Faith, 13 January 2003).

This occasioned a lot of criticism. In great part that criticism came from the sort of forgetting I have been warning about.

Since the living God came into our world, we must shape our world according to His commandments about how we live our lives. If we do not, we are really just turning the Christmas story into a charming folk-tale.

But, since God did take on our flesh, we must “en-flesh” His will, His commandments, in our society. All Christians in the Catholic Church must shape their choices – choices in private matters and in public-political matters – according to the doctrines she has received from Him. Otherwise, what we do contradicts what we say we believe about Jesus being the Son of God.

One of my greatest joys this time of year is to see parents talking to their children about the Christmas crib. What could be better than to teach the next generation the names of the characters and figures in the crèche and to explain the meaning of this scene?

This Christmas I pray that we will all be more like those children. We should learn again that with the birth of Jesus the world changed for the better. And God expects us to be instruments of His world-changing grace. He expects us to be, as St. Francis said, “channels of peace” by building a society that rests securely on His laws and His plan, His heart and His mind about who we are and where we are headed.


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