They canceled Easter. Is Christmas next?” Matthew Hennessey asked this question in the Wall Street Journal on December 8. Lockdown regulations did indeed cancel Christmas gatherings and festivities for many. We bishops have been hearing variations on Hennessey’s cry from our people as we approach another pandemic-dominated Lent, barely a month away.
At Easter last year, the coronavirus was still a relatively new phenomenon. Not much was known about it. As painful as it was at the time, temporarily closing the doors to our churches seemed the prudent thing to do.
Many people found this traumatic, including me. I remember when I first had to lock the doors of our cathedral in San Francisco and livestream the Mass. The cathedral doors are made of glass. I could see people walk up, try to open the door, and then stand there peering through the glass to try to follow the Mass. My heart sank. I felt sick to my stomach. That went on for a few days. Eventually, no one showed up at the door anymore.
I made the decision this past Christmas to let my people inside if the weather made it necessary. I did this because I knew that we could celebrate the Mass safely. More important: I did this because I knew that my people needed Christmas. Whatever their hardships or challenges, they need the Body and Blood of Christ. And they need to be together.
Christmas each year celebrates the foundational Christian truth of the Incarnation. God becomes man. This moment sets the pattern of the whole Christian ethos: renouncing claims to power and riches not simply to help the poor, nor simply even to serve the poor, but to be one with the poor. Theologians call it kenosis: God’s self-emptying in order to be born as a human being in our limited human world, into a working-class family that was homeless when their son, the God-man, was born.
We see this ethos of the Incarnation in the lives of our saints and holy people through the ages.
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