Since the coming of God-made-man was something unprecedented in our midst, we could never have predicted what its consequences would be. Certainly, we could never have reasoned to the fact that it would mean bloodshed — that seventy-two holy and innocent babies would immediately be put to death as a result of such a birth. And certainly, we had no idea that if God were to be born into His own world, that world would demand the shedding of even His Blood, thirty or so years later.
Because we were totally inexperienced in the matter of an Emmanuel, a God-with-us, we had no way of telling, left to ourselves, that the memory of Bethlehem would go on more securely than ever, after the disgrace of Calvary. Nor, indeed, could we have guessed that by a perpetuation of this very Calvary, in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. God was arranging to abide with us as our Emmanuel, in the consecrated hands of His Catholic priests.
Fittingly, the Holy Sacrifice that is offered on the twenty-fifth of December, during which God comes to our altars on the anniversary of His coming to Bethlehem, has long been regarded as especially “Christ’s Mass” — which has abbreviatedly come to be Christmas.
The Christmas we are about to celebrate will be the nineteen hundred and fifty-third. And although its survival is ultimately secure, its challenging truth will suffer countless attacks.
Here in Boston (a town reputed to be well-disposed toward such considerations as birth and Divinity), Christmas will come as a foreign extravagance to our primeval Puritans, whose grandelders could recall how the December twenty-fifths of their childhood were dismissed as “popish feasts.”
From the more recent denominations of Boston Protestantism, Christmas will get a varied reception. The followers of Mrs. Mary Baker Glover Patterson Eddy, for example, who believe there is no such thing as death, will be quietly disturbed — realizing that if they allow Jesus to be truly born at Christmas, He will grow up to be a serious threat to their theology when He truly dies on Good Friday.
And we can count on local manifestations of the older, more artful rebukes to Christmas: those of the Masons and of the Jews.
Still — however much it will be scoffed at as the Birthday of God-incarnate from the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, this year’s Christmas will not be a failure. It will be a nineteen hundred and fifty-third commemoration of a Happy Birthday for Jesus.
For at “Christ’s Mass” this December twenty-fifth, Jesus, welcomed anew at the words of Consecration, will be wrapped in the swaddling clothes of bread-appearances, and laid in that most precious of mangers, a Catholic child’s Holy Communion heart.
If it is not an unqualified mortal sin for Catholics to attend a showing of Martin Luther, then it is utterly foolish for the Church to continue to demand that Catholics avoid occasions of sin and stay away from books on the Index.
“O Mary, mother of mercy and refuge of sinners! we beseech thee to look with pitying eyes on heretical and schismatical nations. Do thou, who art the seat of wisdom, illumine their minds, wretchedly involved in the darkness of ignorance and sin, that they may know the Holy, Catholic, Apostolic, Roman Church to be the only true Church of Jesus Christ, outside of which no sanctity or salvation can be found. Finally, complete their conversion by obtaining for them the grace to believe every truth of our Holy Faith, and to submit to the Sovereign Roman Pontiff, the Vicar of Jesus Christ on Earth, that thus, being soon united to us by the bonds of divine charity, they may make with us but one fold under one and the same pastor, and that we may thus, O glorious Virgin! all sing exultingly forever: ‘Rejoice, O Virgin Mary! alone thou hast destroyed all heresies in the whole world.’ Amen.”
O Love, and have you come to share
Our bones, our breath, our lungs, our air?
O Weightless, shall Your burden be
Our leaden Law of Gravity?
Within our fetters dare You, Fleet,
Go groping with our hands and feet?
And must our senses be assigned You!
Ears to deafen, eyes to blind You?
If I were God, I swear I’d loathe
Myself in measurements to clothe.
Were I the Father’s Word, no earth
Would straw and stable me at birth,
My tale would run — I must be honest —
Et Verbum caro factum non est.
When we betake ourselves to the crib on Christmas morning, it is not to see just another baby, nor even to see just another mother. This is the most different child and the most different mother who have ever existed. Nobody like them ever was before, or ever will be again. Take the mother.
Her child was born of the love of the Holy Ghost: sheer Love made her fruitful. She is the fulfillment of a thousand prophecies uttered in the Old Testament. As a special preparation for this most holy prerogative, she was herself conceived free from Original Sin, never tainted by the evil that beset our nature when Adam spoiled us all in Paradise ...
The Immaculate Conception has nothing to do, as is commonly supposed, with Our Lady’s chastity, nor with the chastity of her father and mother. The Immaculate Conception refers to Our Lady’s Christianity. Its meaning is best studied, not in connection with the Nativity or the Annunciation, but in connection with the third chapter of Genesis and with the discourse of Our Lord at the Last Supper; for there is a world of difference between the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception and that of the Virgin Birth. The Immaculate Conception refers to Our Lady at her own birth and the sanctified condition of her soul in the nine months that preceded it. The Virgin Birth refers to her at Our Lord’s birth, and to the fact that she conceived Him without the aid of man. The Immaculate Conception refers to Our Lady as a child: the Virgin Birth has to do with her as a mother. The Immaculate Conception has reference to the condition of Our Lady’s soul at the instant of its creation; the Virgin Birth to the condition of her body before, during, and after the time that she became fruitful with the Divine Child. This is the woman, the miracle woman of all the centuries, who stands so quietly by her Infant in the cold of the first Christmas Eve, and at whose side stands meekly her husband, Saint Joseph, marveling at the Child of predilection which was not his own.
NOELWhen I said Mass at midnight,
And candles were aglow,
I saw a white old woman,
Two thousands years ago,
My very great grandmother,
Who spun me flesh and bone,
Who felt my fingers aching,
In the atoms of her own,
In whom my eyes were shining,
However far away,
When Christ was in His cradle
And it was Christmas Day.
As he stands staring about him, there is a sudden shout overhead. A figure comes hurtling down through the trees and lands upright in front of the Missionary.
Missionary (greatly excited) — Can it be? Look at me. Do you know what I am? Have you ever seen anyone like me?
Ignorant Native (emphatically) — I should say not.
M. — The Ignorant Native! At last have found you! And just in time. Come, we must hurry.
I. N. — Where are we going?
M. — I have been sent to bring you to America, to a huge celebration being given in your honor. A plane is waiting in the lagoon to fly us to New York.
I. N. — What did I do?
M. — What did you do? My dear man, as though you didn’t know. You have the distinction of being the very first person in all the world ever to have received Baptism of Desire.
I. N. (impressed) — You don’t say!
M. — Why, you are the very foundation of Baptism of Desire. It was invented in order to answer the question, “How is a native on a desert island, who is completely ignorant of the Catholic Faith, going to be saved?” Today, millions of people have Baptism of Desire, including almost every Jew in America. But it all rests on you. You were the first, and you opened the way to the others.
I. N. — And so you’re going to have a celebration for me?
M. — The greatest celebration we have ever had. As soon as we arrive in New York, there will be a ticker-tape parade down Fifth Avenue. There will be banquets and ceremonies in your honor all over the country. The week of your arrival is being declared National Native Week. Bishop Sheen is going to have you as guest of honor on his television program, and simultaneously he will begin a new series of talks, “Ignorance is Worth Having.” You are to be invited by Father Francis Connell to give a course of lectures at Catholic University on “Living Up to the Natural Law.” Father Keller wants to make a Christopher film short of you playing golf with Bing Crosby and Bob Hope. And, oh, I could go on and on.
I. N. — Will I be asked to make many speeches? I’m not too good at that.
M. — No, people will expect you only to affirm a few of the basic principles which the theologians agree are responsible for your having received Baptism of Desire. For instance, if you are asked to say something, you might simply declare your belief in the fact that God is, and is a remunerator.
I. N. — Oh, yes. I might simply do that ... (confidentially) What’s a remunerator?
M. — Never mind. Perhaps we had better just ask you questions. Try this one — it expresses Baptism of Desire in a nutshell: Do you feel an inchoate longing to be implicitly united to whatever it is you would want to be united to if you knew what it was?
I. N. — Awww, now you’re teasing me.
M. — I most certainly am not teasing you. This is a very serious matter. Why, I’m beginning to wonder if you have Baptism of Desire at all!
I. N. — Of course I have Baptism of Desire. That’s why you’re going to have a celebration for me. Of course I have it ... Except, there’s just one question I would like to ask.
M. — Yes?
I. N. — What is Baptism of Desire?
The Missionary hurries off, mumbling to himself; he is obviously in a state of great agitation. The Ignorant Native turns and climbs back into his tree. A kangaroo scurries across the stage. And the curtain falls.