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A very merry and blessed Christmas to one and all!

What a marvelous, joyous, and wonderful season begins today on this feast of the Nativity of the Lord.  How fortunate we are if we know anything of the meaning and power of this holy day.

The name Christmas–assuming it is used at all and not displaced by the vague and generic “holidays”–has largely been stripped of that meaning and power.  What our society commonly refers to as “Christmas” has become a season which now begins even before Halloween and mostly involves spending money and decorating things.  Many people in our society will be giving one last Christmas hurrah tomorrow with bargain-hunting in the stores; many others will be eagerly taking down the decorations, having begun to grow tired of them after a couple of months.  At best, Christmas is a sentimental time, a holiday for children and family and feasting.

But today is the Nativity of the Lord.  Think on that name for a moment: the Nativity of the Lord!

Today is when God was born into human history, human nature, human experience.  He who created us and the entire universe from nothing, He who exists beyond all time and space in what we call Eternity, He who is revered by all the choirs of holy angels–it is His nativity on earth that we celebrate!  He did not come down in all His great glory, attended by legions of the Heavenly Host.  He did not appear as a mighty super-man.  If He had, we certainly would not refer to this day as His nativity.  No, He was born as creatures are born: as an infant.  Small, helpless, thoroughly dependent on others for survival.

Never had such a thing ever happened or even been dreamed of before.  Nor shall such a thing ever happen again in time and space.  It was a singular event, the Nativity of the Lord.  That alone should earn our respect and our amazement.  But like a drop of water impacting a still body of water, His Nativity changed everything–changes everything–and forever will change everything!  The mingling of the material and the divine, of history and eternity, of the finite and the infinite could not fail to change everything.  The birth of God in the world gave new birth to everything.  It elevated humanity and all creation to a previously unimagined dignity, while revealing in the almighty God a profound and previously unimagined humility.

Modern man may imagine that after more than two millennia, he is no longer affected by nor subject to that event.  He rationalizes away the holy season of Christmas as nothing more than a modern-day Saturnalia or Yuletide.  And so it has become!  While that is not entirely a bad thing, that isn’t the depth or breadth or truth of it.  While many modern men will be content to leave it at that and rush off toward the next big festival, the Christian can never be content with such a thing.

Instead, let us allow ourselves to dive deeply into the tremendous wonder of this holy season and be carried, transported, and transformed by it.  Let us appreciate and give thanks for the incredible thing our Lord did for us in His Nativity.  And let us not do so only today, but for the entire Christmas season: the Twelve Days of Christmas, the Epiphany, and up until the Baptism of the Lord–to my knowledge, this is what Catholics observe as the Christmas season.  While the rest of the world gets back to business as usual, let us persevere in the joy and wonder of Christ’s birth.

A blessed Fourth of July to my country and fellow citizens!  This day marks the birth of the United States as a free nation, determined not to suffer tyranny any longer.  It is a nation founded on the belief that man is free by nature and by the dignity bestowed upon him by his Creator.

Of course, like all human endeavors, the reality has not fully lived up to the ideal.  Many of the same men who declared that this was a free nation and that all men were created equal were also slave owners.  The nation was less than a century old when a massive civil war broke out, bringing extreme misery to people on both sides.  People who came here from many other nations in search of relief from poverty, famine, war, oppression, and other forms of distress and injustice often found themselves suffering from the very same things after they’d arrived here.  From the beginning of this nation right up until this very day, some people have been less free and less equal than others.  Of course, this is not only the reality of the United States; it is the reality of the entire fallen world.

But there is another reality both in this country and in this world.  A reality made up of saints and heroes and leaders and peacemakers and ordinary people winning everyday victories over afflictions great and small, public and private.  Mercy, justice, charity, steadfastness, resourcefulness, cooperation, humility, gratitude, grace, steadfastness, reason, ingenuity–these are some of the countless threads that make up the fabric of this reality.  And while this reality may seem more feeble than the other, though it may at times seem non-existent, this reality has in fact underlain all of human history.  While it may be difficult to discern among immediate circumstances, we will always find when we look back that it stretches away in a great swathe.  Oh, it may be battered and torn in some places, but in others it shines forth radiantly and completely intact.

What condition it will be in moving forward is for us to decide.  We always have a choice–always–which fabric we will lay down.  In times when other people are intent to impose the more dismal reality over us, even if they are able to do so in a very powerful way, even then, we still have a choice!  We have the choice to strive to overcome it!  The Founding Fathers were not wrong about man’s freedom and dignity.  They are ours by nature, and we exercise them every time we make a choice which path we will follow and every time we choose to stand against adversity!

It doesn’t matter if we be in chains or in prison, if we be poor or hungry, young or old, rich or poor, male or female–we still have our freedom and dignity.  Race doesn’t determine it, nor ethnicity.  No circumstance in this world determines it.  Our own choices and deeds determine it, and the eyes of our God, who alone can see clearly what is occurring inside a person.  A man may appear to others to be utterly worthless, defeated, and a failure–Christ appeared that way as He hanged dead upon the cross.  But it wasn’t true of Him, and it needn’t be true of us.  Because of Him, even death itself is nothing but a final obstacle to overcome!

Let us declare our independence from the harsh ways and harsh circumstances of the world–we may not be able to change them, at least not on the surface, but we can nevertheless declare independence from them and refuse to serve them.  Let us declare our independence from the Tyrant who seeks the deception, degradation, and eternal ruin of our souls, and from all who have chosen to serve him.  Let us declare our independence from all that troubles, tempts, misleads, and holds us captive.  Let us strive to become saints, heroes, leaders, peacemakers, and victors no matter what happens or who tries to exert power over us.

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are free to us all.  Nobody can give them to us or take them away from us.  We have only to choose them and strive for them.

I just love this time of year, from Halloween to All Souls Day.  I always find them to be such quiet and peaceful days.  Days of remembrance, days for sort of “reconnecting” with our loved ones who have gone before us.

Mind you, I have nothing against costumes and candy and the more festive activities associated with Halloween; if I’d been less under the weather, and more in the money, I probably would have gone out to a Halloween party myself.  Such things can give one a healthy joy and respect for being alive, in this very short amount of time we are each given on Earth, such a tiny droplet in the sea of eternity!  We all live earthly lives before going on to the next.  And in the not-so-distant future, people on Earth will be including our souls in their remembrances.  Some of us might even be canonized one day!

On All Souls Day, I pay special remembrance to the souls in Purgatory.  I pray for them and offer indulgences for them, that they may be delivered from suffering once and for all and enter Heaven at last.  I especially like to offer prayers and indulgences for the souls who perhaps have nobody to remember them and pray for them.  Perhaps they have no loved ones on Earth… or perhaps their loved ones on Earth do not believe in Purgatory or in praying for the dead… I think even some Catholics these days have fallen away from these beliefs.  It’s unfortunate–what about the souls who need their prayers?  I always try to “pick up the slack” in that regard, just to be sure.  If there’s even a tiny chance that my prayers can give a tiny bit of relief to a soul, then I am compelled to do whatever I can.

I know I should be terribly grateful to have my soul prayed for if I were in Purgatory!  I think that when I write my will, I might put in a clause asking any surviving loved ones to pray for me, have Masses offered, obtain indulgences… the works!

Along these lines, Father Longenecker has a lovely All Souls Story at his blog.

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(Image from a painting at St. Catherine of Siena Parish, Metairie, Louisiana)

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