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Arkansas Catholic
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December 24, 1982     Arkansas Catholic
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December 24, 1982

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PAGE 2 ....... ........ THEGUARDIAN,DECEMBER 24, 1982 Editorial To some cynics, "do gooders" is a perjorative term, conjuring up an assembly of busy-bodies intent upon projecting themselves forcefully, if unwanted, into the lives of others. That there are people who make a mania out of such behavior, no one would deny. But they are a minority. Most "do gooders" are intent upon doing good without infringing upon privacy or intruding into another's "space." An example that comes to mind is the many support groups that have sprung into existence. Some, such as NAIM (for widows and widowers), are affiliated with the church. Others, like Alcoholics Anonymous, are built around belief in a Higher Power. All, however, attract people who are suffering similar pains. Together, they may succeed in getting a handle on the hurt and, as a result, learn how to live with it. Contrary to the shibboleth, misery doesn't like company. Those who find a perverse sense of well-being in that type of psychological en- vironment need psychiatric help. The people who turn to support groups are courageous and candid. They are prepared to face their own grieving and sorrow by recognizing that they are not alone. Since the church stands as a beacon of solace in a troubled world, it is only proper that its members help organize and participate in organizations that minister through such sharing. As the faith com- munity to which most Catholics relate, the parish can be an effective means of reaching out to those who may be hesitant about involvement. -T.J.S. The Catholic Herald Archdiocese of Milwaukee Essays in Theology Christmas By Father Richard P. McBrien SOME OF us complain, almost as a matter of course, about the secularization of Christmas. Not so many years ago, merchants at least had the decency to wait until the day after Thanksgiving before hauling out their Yuletide decorations and piping carols through store-wide sound systems. Nowadays, it seems that Halloween, not Thanksgiving, marks the beginning of the push for fourth-quarter profits. MANY READERS may not know that in the earliest years of the Christian era, the situation was the exact reverse of our own. Christmas was originallya pagan holiday in honor of the sun god. Not until the late fourth century, in fact, was Christmas generally celebrated as a religious feast. So, historically at least, the Christian feast of the Nativity is a sacralization of the profane, not vice versa. Indeed, we might imagine a group of non-ChriStian Romans, around the year 300, sitting around a table, lifting a cup or two, bemoaning the tran- sformation of their cherished holiday into something damnably religious. The decision to celebrate Christmas on December 25 rather than in late spring, when it is more likely that Jesus was born, illustrates again the Church's abiding capacity for imaginative adaptation. IN THE Middle Ages, the Thomists coined the principle, "Grace builds on nature." It is another form of the incarnational principle: God chose to redeem us through our humanity, not in spite of it. The Son of God took on flesh and became one with us. God chooses and uses what is already there, because what is already there came originally from God's own creative hand. Whatever exists is fundamentally good because it comes from God, is sustained by GOd and is destined for God. The Church's decision to place the new feast of St. Joseph the Worker on May 1, a day of world-wide Communist celebration, is simply a more recent example of the same pastocal approach. IN A sense, therefore, history may be reversing itself. Christmas began as a pagan feast, was transformed by the Church into a major religious feast and is now reverting to secular form, under persistent economic and acquisitive pressures. But there is nothing inevitable about the process. The history of the feast holds other sur- prises as well. How is it that almost three hundred years had passed before the Church even bothered to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ? For those of us living today, a liturgical year without Christmas is un- thinkable. For the early Christians, however, what was important was not the precise point at which Christ's earthly life began, but the events through which he was manifested to the world as God's beloved Son (Epiphany) and through which he redemptively achieved all that he came to achieve (Easter). A SPIRITUAL outlook which makes Christmas more important than Epiphany or Easter may be understandable in terms of modern life and developments, but it is not intelligible in terms of history, theology and doctrine. The first and oldest feast was, and remains, Easter. The New .Testament proclamation begins with the Resurrection. Everything written there is bathed in its light, even the crucifixion itself. " The Resurrection was not simply a reward given to Jesus for having submitted to the suffering of the cross, nor was it merely a proof of his divinity. IT WAS in and through the Resurrection that we are saved, for "If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins" (First Corinthians 15:17). But, of course, Jesus could not have been Fanter Jerome Kodel Ne Sublao Abbey Question: -- How does the Church know that Jesus was born on December 25? A. -- The month and day of Jesus' birth are not known. This was not one of the details preserved in Scripture or handed down by word of mouth. There was no feast of Christ's birth till the 4th century. The first mention of Christmas on December 25 comes in the Philocalian Calendar, representing Christian practice in Rome in the year 336. This date seems to have been chosen to counteract a pagan feast celebrated on that date, the Festival of the Unconquered Sun. The an- cients noted that the days grew shorter and shorter in fall and early winter, as if the sun would gradually be snuffed out. Then, in late December, the process reversed (the winter equinox) : days beganto grow again; the sun was still unconquered by darkness. Christians began celebrating on this date, instead of the pagan feast, the birthday of Jesus, the Un- conquered Sun of Righteousness, the real light of the world. This symbolism was also used in fixing the date of the feast of the birth of John the Baptist on June 24. This is at the opposite extreme on the calendar, the summer equinox when the days are longest and the process of diminishment of sunlight begins. Christians remembered that John had said, "He must increase, while I must decrease" (Jn 3:30). They called his feast the Summer Christmas. Question: - Why do Christians in Eastern countries observe Epiphany with more solemnity than Christmas? A. -- Epiphany is an older feast than Christmas and was the original Christian festival of this season. The word Epiphany is Greek for "appearance." It was a feast looking forward to Jesus' coming back in glory at the end of time, when his role as Messiah and Savior and King would be manifest to the whole world. Stories from Jesus' life foreshadowing this manifestation to the world were recalled to ex theme of the feast: particularly the the three wise men from the figuring Christ's revelation to the world), the baptism of Jesus in the (when God's voice identified Jesus beloved Son) and the wedding (where Jesus' glory began to be his disciples). These three illuminate the Mass and Divine feast. The season of Advent originally a preparation for this celebration of the glorious coming d I awaited at the end of time. The readings about the end of the world admonitions of St. Paul to be "day of the Lord" still emphasize in the Advent liturgy. When Western Christians feast of Christmas in the 4th placed it on December 25, theme of Advent applied as coming as to his second. In emphasis shifted toward preparation f birth of Jesus on Christmas, but the preparation for his second coming strong in the liturgy. Christians of still prefer Epiphany as the season, but they have introduced il (from Western influence) the Jesus' first coming. The result is tl I East and West have a balanced blend liturgy, at least) of the celebration first and second comings in the feasts a season. Both traditions emphasize most important coming for the Christian at this time is the personal of Jesus in the heart'. Father Jerome invites from Guardian s Questions should be addressed Rev. Jerome Kodell, O.S.B., Subiaco, Ark. 7 Letters to the Editor The Guardian welcomes letters to the editor. Letter writers should strive to and accurate. A letter must bear the writer's signature, but the writer's name withheld from publication on request. Letters will be edited to conform to requirements and standards of good taste. raised if he had not first died, for "unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit" (John 12:24). So, too, it is not of great importance that we know exactly when Jesus Christ was born into this world, but it is of the highest importance Decimation Dear Editor: I meant to write you last year and ask you to please stop decimating Christmas by making it Xmas. You are taking out, for whatever reason, the one and only reason for Christmas. I realize, coming from a newspaper family, that space for a headline makes a need to shorten words but not that word, please. The whole center of our Mass is Christ, our whole theme of the Church is based upon that name. Please do not, repeat do not, decimate it. Norma J. Sevet Hot Springs Contrast Dear Editor: A remarkable contrast struck me while I was reading the Dec. 12 issue of The Guar- dian. First, came the letter headlined "Hypocrites" and then Father Bruce Ritter's article, "The Corrupted Young." I wondered at the patience of Father Bruce -- and at the patience of the Lord Jesus who did to fulfill his purpose among us. THUS, EVEN as some of us reflect disapprovingly upon the growing com- mercialization of Christmas, we still have to keep things in some historical and theological perspective. The Easter bonny, not Santa Claus, is the said, "Judge not that you be not Back in the days when we Baltimore Catechism cannot judge people's motives, See Letters on Pg. 3 The00 identification No. (USPS 153-320) Published Weekly by the Guardlan Press, Inc. 2504 N. Tyler SL, Little Rock, " Entered as second less matter Nrch 21, 1911 office of Little Rock, Arkams, u Nrch |, 1897. Second cless postage iid M Little Rock, Arkansas S7.N ge year in rite Unittd St=let nada .N Foreipn $10.N PUBLISHER MOST REVEREND ANDREW J. McDONALD, D.D. lisho9 of Little Rock MANAGING EDITOR MR. WILLIAM W. O'OONNELL, K "S'w' PRIEST.COUNSELOR VERY REVEREND JOHN W. KORDSMEIER, v.F. EDITOR MR. KARL A. CHRIST Address All DeNrtments P.O. lies t4ff FORREST PARK STATION Zip/22' 1 Tehone 00 Business Houri. A.M. to 4 P.M. M through Friday. " on Saturdays, _. National HOolff:. Holy Days of O id Postmaster: send change d_.ts" form 3S79 to t,u, Press, PcL T417,Little that we know why be was born and what he culprit, t"It.