Saint Catherine of Siena said that all the way to Heaven is already Heaven for those who love the Lord. To keep Advent is to peek into Heaven especially on “Gaudete (Rejoice) Sunday,” when we rejoice at what is about to happen. This glimmer of light prefiguring the Light coming into the world has exquisite poignancy.
Let us not be selfish: Christmas is for the faithful departed as well as for those still in time and space. There need be no sadness at Christmas when we remember our forebears who are no longer at our table, for in the Holy Eucharist we are united with “the whole company” who are with the Lord.
This brings to mind one of our own, Bishop Jean Dubois, the third bishop of New York who died in 1842 on Dec. 20, after nearly 17 years of arduous labor serving the entire state of New York and much of New Jersey with the help of just 18 priests. He founded churches and institutions, including a seminary and two future universities.
Jean Dubois was trained in Paris just when the French Revolution rose up with diabolical furor against the Church. A chief architect of the Reign of Terror, which slaughtered countless priests and nuns, was Robespierre who tried to replace Catholicism with a “Cult of the Supreme Being,” declaring on May 7, 1794, that “priests are to morality what charlatans are to medicine.” Nonetheless, Robespierre had been a friendly classmate of Dubois in the Collège Louis le Grand and, old school ties being strong, he disguised Dubois and helped him to escape. Ironically, Robespierre would be beheaded on his own guillotine.
With letters commendatory from Lafayette, Dubois made it to America where he lived with future president James Monroe. There had been two bishops of New York, both Dominicans living in Rome: Concanen who was impeded by the Napoleonic blockade of Naples; and Connolly, who worked himself to death establishing parishes. The small but growing numbers of Catholics were opposed to a “foreign” bishop, for they did not appreciate that the Church Universal is also international. The Irish objected that their new bishop spoke French-accented English, this in spite of the fact that the English tutor of Dubois, Patrick Henry, had been impressed by his proficiency. The bishop’s claim that Saint Patrick was French further irritated his flock.
After many trials, Bishop Dubois asked to be buried under the front steps of the old Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, so that people could “walk on me in death, as they did when I was living.”
At Christmas, gift-giving also requires that we accept gifts from the Lord, and among them is the gift of those who served him in this world and who join us at the altar every day.
“Let us now praise famous men, and our fathers in their generations” (Sirach 44:1).