The Perpetual Light of Christ Shines Amid the Darkness

EDITORIAL: The Epochal Event of Christmas, From 1941 to 2021

The perpetual Light in the darkness has come.
The perpetual Light in the darkness has come. (photo: Unsplash)

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined” (Isaiah 9:2).

More than 80 years ago, the United States was celebrating a somber Christmas in 1941, having been thrust into global war against two seemingly unstoppable powers. The Empire of Japan had shocked the U.S. with the Dec. 7 surprise attack on Pearl Harbor and launched an invasion of the Philippines. The Nazi war machine that conquered Europe had penetrated deep into Russia. Dark days overshadowed Christmas 1941, and even then, few imagined the darkest for humanity were yet to come. 

Before this menacing specter of an uncertain future and its attendant catastrophes for humanity, Pope Pius XII drew believers’ gaze back to the scene in first-century Judea. He invited them to place themselves “before the ineffable mystery of God’s merciful goodness” manifest in the newborn Redeemer, to whom belongs “the past, the present and the future.”

The Pope addressed the “bitter times of warlike upheavals” by which all of them — Pius XII included — found themselves overwhelmed. 

He confronted the “hostility against God and Christ that drags men to temporal and eternal ruin” and that had plunged the world into global conflict, and the Pope prayed that “greater religious knowledge and new purposes prevail.” 

Above all, he exhorted Catholics to “look today, beloved children, to the Man-God, born in a cave to raise man to that greatness, from which he had fallen through his own fault; to put him back on the throne of freedom, justice and honor, which the centuries of false gods had denied him.”

The themes Pius XII discussed are not dissimilar from the ones we face today. Aberrant ideologies abound, with human beings resorting to secularism, consumerism, narcissism, paganism, political tribalism and indifferentism to fellow human beings — to name only a few — rather than allow Christ to rule in the space only he can fill as Love Incarnate: the human heart. Those who want to achieve peace in our time should not look to the ideologies of this world and its logic of strength, but to those to whom the Holy Father gave a special blessing in 1941: those men and women who, by their sacrifices, helped the Church “to dry the tears, to alleviate the poverty of many, especially the poorest and most derelict among the victims of war, thus making them experience the goodness and kindness of God.”

The world’s problems in 2021 seem dauntless to us in our own time, as doubtless they did to Catholics 80 years ago. But Pius XII’s exhortation to look to Jesus Christ holds just as true. Asking, “What can we do?” is not as important as asking, “What can’t we do with the Gospel?” We can both acknowledge our world’s brokenness — even our Church’s brokenness — and take our cue from the great missionary St. Francis Xavier, who realized “there are no limits” to our horizon when we put it all in God’s hands. 

Take a look at the impact Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Virginia, Minnesota, made this Christmas, as you can read about here. One parish made the decision to help transform the life of one family in dire need. But the transformation of that parish, taking up its discipleship, is leading to conversions! They have given a tremendous witness to Jesus Christ, which is inspiring others with the joy of the Gospel. This is exactly what Pope Francis has asked of the Church since he wrote Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel). The parish took a step this Christmas by starting with one family, and by God’s grace, they have touched the lives of hundreds in the process. They put a light on a lampstand that has inspired people to want to be Catholic because, finally, they see Jesus. 

Holy Spirit parish did this by joining the “Best Christmas Ever” movement, which had 900 families in need but only enough groups participating to match 200 families. There are 17,000 Catholic parishes in the U.S.: What kind of change could this country see if every parish stepped up each Christmas to change one family’s life? We know this kind of witness would not just affect 17,000 families, but the hundreds of lives around each one of those families who participated in this witness or found themselves moved by it to embrace life in Christ. And it is only a beginning. 

With our parishes and dioceses working together, that kind of witness to Jesus Christ alive in the Catholic Church can last far beyond Christmas and bring forth real change. 

The hope and joy of Christmas can shine brightly through any time of conflict, disease and uncertainty if we each embrace the Church’s calling in our own sphere, as individuals, families and church communities. To truly change the life of one family is beyond the strength of an individual or any one family. But the parish, a family of families, can — they just need to start with one.

If every diocese brought this vision of the parish to the upcoming Synod on Synodality, our Church could usher in a truly epochal change in our nation and the world. 

And it starts with one family — one Christmas — at a time.

All this is possible when the results are handed over to the Lord. When Pius XII spoke of the “Christian civilization” that built Europe, it began with a group of people known by their love, even in the midst of persecution. 

The indispensable heart of Christian civilization requires love. Laws, police and prudent politics are important, but healing the brokenness we see depends on restoring a civilization of love, and it may crucially start with each local church’s witness of love. 

This is how Jesus Christ, the perpetual Light in the darkness, said the world would know that we are his disciples and that the Father sent him: that we love as he commanded.

Merry Christmas!