The Grinch That Stole Oxford

England’s famous University of Oxford was formed almost a thousand years ago with an explicitly Christian foundation.

Why is this significant? Because earlier this month the city of Oxford decided to de-Christianize its annual display of Christmas lights by renaming it the “WinterLight” festival.

Along with purging Christmas from the display’s name, Christian themes have also been excised from the display itself “in favor of a 25-meter high mobile of lanterns in the shape of the solar system,” the Daily Mail reported.

Following protests against this secularization, an Oxford town councilor insisted, “We are not Christmas killers.” But even local Muslim and Jewish leaders — who protested against the apparent effort to repress the Christian meaning of Oxford’s annual Christmas display — don’t believe this claim, as the Daily Mail reports. 

In fact, the Oxford council is obviously motivated by the same political correctness that seeks to deny public celebrations of Christmas in communities across Europe and North America. In the United States there will doubtless be a spate of similar efforts this month, often triggered by the threat of ACLU lawsuits, to prevent seasonal displays from reflecting the Christian faith held by the vast majority of Americans.

I learned of the Oxford controversy yesterday at Mass courtesy of our pastor, Father John Laszczyk, rector of St. Andrew’s Cathedral in Victoria, British Columbia.

And although the tireless (and tiresome) efforts of atheists to remove religion from the public square are especially irritating around Christmas, Father Laszczyk reminded us in his homily that such attacks are no reason to become despondent. He noted that yesterday’s feast of the dedication of the Basilica of St. John Lateran marks the date from which Christianity emerged from its early persecution to become a legally recognized religion with a great cathedral to serve as its mother church.

But Father Laszczyk pointed out that those early Catholics knew their Church had already existed for 300 years before gaining this official recognition from the Roman Empire. They also knew, as St. Paul taught in yesterday’s second reading, that the soul of every Catholic who is in a state of grace is itself a temple of the Holy Spirit, whether or not Christians have any church buildings within which they are allowed to worship.

Father Laszczyk reminded us of something else about the harsh public persecution of Christianity in the Church’s infancy: Despite this persecution and indeed partly because of it, the Church spread like wildfire through the Roman Empire as Christian martyrs steadfastly bore witness to the supernatural virtues of faith, love and hope.

So be of good cheer when you read, in the Register and elsewhere, of this year’s attacks on public displays of Christmas. They actually provide a great opportunity to defend our faith in the public square. And it’s especially heartening to see the strong support we receive from our Jewish and Muslim brethren when we do so. 

— Tom McFeely