What Are We Celebrating?28 Dec

by Sister Mary Schmuck, RSM

Sr. Mary Schmuck

Sr. Mary Schmuck, RSM

The reflections below are presented in a Catholic Christian framework, but I have little doubt that persons in other faith traditions  and even our broader society will easily come to similar lines of thought and concern.

We are quickly moving through a time of year now broadly called “holiday season.”   I recently read that our national elected officials would not be allowed to call their greetings anything else now.

I hasten to note that various groups of people of faith around the world are severely curtailed by others in their respective societies, so in no way am I proposing that we Catholic Christians force our celebration of Christmas on everyone else. Christian experiences in Egypt and difficulties among sectors of our Muslim community are but recent reports.

It is indeed the fact that many things are being observed and celebrated this time of year and each actually has its point and merit. I for one am thrilled that the shortest day of sunlight in the year passed December 22, Winter Solstice. I grow in appreciating Muslim holy days and Jewish ones.  Kwanzaa is a wonderful newer one. Certainly love, peace, joy and a range of virtues all need raising up in our minds and hearts. Family and friends, actually being in physical presence with other human persons – all are great blessings worthy of celebration.

What gives me growing pause though is that many Catholic Christians – despite our official 4 weeks preparation and seventeen days of  Christmas feast celebration with their  public worship regulations and offerings  –  don’t seem to really celebrate Christmas itself…. enough.

Maybe I have been extra sensitized this year by the national unveiling locally of the religious Christmas postage stamp.   By my informal poll, those of us Christians using them seem to make up quite a minority.   Is our worship together especially on December 25 pretty much just one of the things we do that day – along with exchanging gifts, visiting/receiving visitors, eating, and watching those 5 NBA games? What are we celebrating first of all? What is the heart of our celebration?

Did we participate in any Advent waiting – or did we just celebrate the Holiday Season the whole time? Did we side-step any of it, preferring to wait a few more days to start celebrating?

A dear friend had a big flare-up of knee pain such that she will follow her doctor’s advice and ask for replacement surgery right after the first of the year. In the meantime, she has passed on hosting a Christmas Day gathering, gift buying and card sending. I suspect she will learn a lot from this experience. – including  new insights into what it all is about anyway, what the heart of our Christian experience is.

There is at least one organization urging us to “keep Christ in Christmas.” Back to Paragraph 3 in this column – I am careful about that call.   But a further thought:  why should we be urging our whole society along such lines when we don’t do a viable job either? Where would others expect to see vibrant faith and love in this feast??

As Amita Sarin wrote recently in her The Washington Post letter to the editor,  she is secure in her faith;  though reared in India , she is very comfortable in wishing others here a blessed Christmas. She sees this as wise sensitivity to others and respect for others in their celebrations. She urges us Christians to make a big deal out of our religious celebrations – while likewise being sensitive and respectful of others.

Maybe there is a call to us all that we truly celebrate and observe our faith with its special seasons and feasts. May others observe us and say, ‘Behold how they love one another and are so joyful and true to their belief!’

Sr. Mary Schmuck RSM works for Catholic Charities in the Archdiocese of Louisville as the Coordinator for the Bardstown area of the Catholic Identity and External Relations Department.

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