I write this column well ahead of time, so I have no idea if Pope Benedict
XVI will delight
Papal audiences have grown so large since his election that Paul VI Hall, where cold-weather audiences used to be held, can no longer contain them, so he weathers the outdoors each week right through the winter — sometimes dressed as the Santa Papa.
With or without the camauro, the Pope loves Christmas.
Joseph Ratzinger was appointed by Pope John Paul II
to head the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1982, he turned out
to be not only a stalwart defender of the faith, but an effective evangelist of
Bavarian Christmas traditions in
It’s interesting, isn’t it, that the cardinal who rose to the papacy urging Christians to practice an “adult” faith should retain a childlike appreciation for the trappings of Christmas? An essay he wrote in 1977 may explain why. He begins by noting that it’s hard for Christians to say anything nice about Christmas anymore; you’re expected to denounce the popular celebrations as excessive, tacky, and commercialized.
Of course, if you said that, you’d be absolutely right, the future Pope admits, but he wonders if in the midst of our pious efforts to “keep Christ in Christmas,” we might be missing the fact that he is indeed there.
Then Cardinal Ratzinger reflected that frenzied Christmas shopping and maudlin sentiments might mask something deeper.
“The sentimental framework often provides the protecting shield behind which hides a noble and genuine sentiment that is simply reluctant to expose itself to the gaze of the other.”
In other words, in our cynical age, no one wants to risk exposing a tender heart — so we keep our sincere love and affection under wraps. And tied up with bows. If Christmas frees people to love without fear of derision, we may wish to think twice about how hard we denounce the pre-Christmas frenzy, and even about the guilt we feel if we get caught up in it at times.
A well-lived Advent is the safest guarantee of a grace-filled Christmas, but even Mary and Joseph didn’t live it as a silent retreat. God demanded not only holiness, but practical preparations from them as well: traveling, hustling for accommodations, and eventually hosting surprise guests.
Christ into the world in the midst of the bustle of a census, after all.
Commercialism may contradict the simplicity of a baby in a cave in
“God, on this holy night, desired to make himself into a gift to mankind. ... The one genuine Christmas gift to mankind, to history, to each one of us, is none other than Jesus Christ himself.”
Christmas isn’t a private Christian feast to be protected against weak or non-believers who sully it. It’s Christianity’s gift to the world, and even its least celebration is a cause for joy.
This story also appears in the Advent/Christmas Issue of
Faith& Family magazine.
Rebecca Ryskind Teti is a contributing editor.