While we are still steeped in the Christmas season — before the tree has been dragged to the curb and the forgotten toys carted down to the basement — here are some heartening words from Archbishop Robert Carlson, speaking about the meaning of Christmas and the ongoing “Catholics Come Home” initiative in the Archdiocese of St. Louis:
The mystery of Christmas speaks to every human heart. To those who have no religious faith, it reveals God’s closeness, His intimacy. To those who have drifted away from their faith, Christmas is a vivid reminder of simple truths and better times. To those who practice their faith in a routine or half-hearted way, Christmas can help reawaken the flame of life in Christ. And even for those who are fervent in their practice of the faith, Christmas is a chance to deepen and solidify a childlike humility and a Christlike generosity.
Christmas helps each of us realize in new and life-changing ways the paradox of God’s presence. Although He seems absent, He is closer to us than we are to ourselves. Although He is all-powerful and steeped in majesty, His coming is utterly simple, an act of supreme humility. As we pray in the Liturgy of the Hours, “A little child is born for us today; little and yet called the mighty God.”
The feast of Christmas, as we have come to know it, was strongly influenced by the devotion of St. Francis of Assisi. “The special warmth we feel at Christmas,” Pope Benedict writes, “did not develop until the Middle Ages. It was Francis of Assisi who helped bring this novelty about through his deep love for the man Jesus, for the God with us.” Quoting an early biographer of St. Francis, the pope says St. Francis “celebrated Christmas more than any other feast with an indescribable joy.” The saint’s biographer goes on to say that St. Francis “embraced with great affection and devotion the images that represented the child Jesus and stammered words of sympathy as children do words of affection. The name of Jesus was sweet as honey on his lips.”
St. Francis longed for the nearness of God. He wanted to experience the joy of Christmas directly. As Pope Benedict tells us, “He wanted to experience up close the birth of the child Jesus and to tell all his friends.”
This Christmas I pray that the Catholics Come Home initiative will help us all experience the closeness of Christ’s birth. I hope it will encourage us to tell our friends that God is with us!