John Clark is an author and speechwriter. His first book Who’s Got You? reached #1 in the Amazon Kindle “Fatherhood” category and his new book How to Be a Superman Dad in a Kryptonite World, Even When You Can’t Afford A Decent Cape was just released by Guiding Light Books. He has written hundreds of articles and blogs about Catholic family life and apologetics in such places as Seton Magazine, Catholic Digest, and Homiletic and Pastoral Review. A graduate of Christendom College, John and his wife Lisa have nine children and live in Virginia.
A friend recently announced, almost apologetically, that she was going to start watching Christmas movies in early November. Why apologetically? Because to some Catholics, the idea of turning our thoughts toward Christmas before Dec. 25 constitutes a huge faux pas. I’ll admit that I don’t understand this logic at all.
I’ve never heard someone say: “Take down the crucifix from your wall. It’s not Good Friday.” There’s a reason for this. A crucifix signifies not merely an historical event, but a central truth of our Faith. It is a reminder that Jesus loves us so much that He died to save us from our sins, and the fact that a crucifix adorns our wall is a sign that we love Him. Thus, the thought of displaying a crucifix—an image of the Passion of Jesus—only once a year would strike us as pretty strange.
And yet, when it comes to images of the Nativity of Jesus, we take an entirely different approach. Some of us wait to display crèche scenes until Dec. 25—at which point, we keep the cardboard boxes within arm’s length so we can put the statues and manger away all too soon.
Why the disparity between images of Our Lord’s Passion and images of Our Lord’s birth? Some point to the liturgical calendar, explaining that Christmas is a forty-day period between Dec. 25 and Feb. 2. Of course, that is correct; but as a priest once explained to me, liturgical events and seasons merely highlight the ever-present truths of Christianity. The truth and joy and beauty of Christmas express not merely the date, but who we are as Christians. As Pope Benedict XVI writes in Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives:
In that sense these two moments— the virgin birth and the real resurrection from the tomb— are the cornerstones of faith. If God does not also have power over matter, then he simply is not God. But he does have this power, and through the conception and resurrection of Jesus Christ he has ushered in a new creation. So as the Creator he is also our Redeemer. Hence the conception and birth of Jesus from the Virgin Mary is a fundamental element of our faith and a radiant sign of hope.
That “radiant sign of hope,” the “tidings of great joy,” endures in the hearts of men. Just as some Catholics have a particular devotion to Jesus in His Passion, some people have a tender devotion to the Infant Jesus. We need to encourage that love and affection all year and every year.
If the world ever needed a devotion to the Infant Jesus, it is our present world, which is hostile to both Jesus and infancy itself. We need to foster this piety not only among those who have it already in their hearts, but among those who would benefit from such a devotion. Especially for those who find the very idea of God intimidating, the Infant Jesus is an approachable and lovable figure. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why Christmas penance services are so well attended. Some with the hardest of hearts find it possible to approach the Baby Jesus, kneel before Him with love and affection, and ask for His mercy. Maybe we should leave crèche scenes up all year for that very reason—as a reminder that it’s never too early to celebrate Christmas. Nor is it ever too late.
Dr. Warren Carroll, my history teacher at Christendom College, was fond of saying: “Truth exists. The Incarnation happened.” Celebrating Christmas year-round is one way of saying, “Truth exists. The Nativity happened.”
Christmas is to be lived daily. And speaking of Christmas movies and books, a certain book of Charles Dickens comes to mind. When Dickens’ Ebenezer Scrooge finally sees the light, he realizes that the profundity and meaning of Christmas cannot be confined to a single day, or even to a season. Scrooge proclaims and professes: “I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”
I’m with Scrooge.