In reading the scriptures and prayers for the Christmas midnight mass I couldn’t help but be captured by the responsory which we sing together: “Today is born our Savior, Christ the Lord.” These words are adapted from the Gospel of Luke, where the angel announces to the shepherds tending their herds outside of Bethlehem: “Today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord” (Luke 2:11).
Magnifying the glorious news expressed by the angel, the very word “today” lends power and relevance to its proclamation by reminding us that while the sacred event we celebrate—the birth of the child Jesus on Christmas—took place generations ago in human history, it has a very real relevance in our lives at present. Ancient history and our contemporary lives are brought together; Christ is indeed born in Bethlehem, but he is just as truly born anew in the heart of every believer here and now. This linking of history with the present moment is what we do in the liturgy every day, but it is especially apparent in this Christmas season.
What struck me next was the heaviness that is on the hearts of many Catholics “today” as the result of decades and more of the abuse of children who are the most innocent and helpless members of the Church. This has brought shame and darkness upon us, especially upon the clergy, and has caused many Catholics to no longer walk in fellowship with a Church they see as corrupt or hypocritical.
The prophet Isaiah’s words resounded within me as I thought of this tragic time in our Church’s life: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.” In purely human terms one might say that those words betray a naïve view of life, since to suggest that the pain and mistrust caused by abuse can be overcome appears far-fetched.
At the same time, in terms of our Christian faith this movement of healing is possible, for the source of hope for the people of Israel two thousand years ago is still the source of our hope “today,” as we hear at mass from Isaiah once more: For a child is born to us, a son is given us; upon his shoulder dominion rests. They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace” (Isa 9:1, 5). No matter how dark the sins of the leaders of the Church were and remain, they are ultimately overcome by the hope we have through the birth, life, death, and glorious resurrection of Jesus Christ, who is just as much today our “Wonder-Counselor” and “Prince of Peace.”
The Letter to Titus expresses the same hope-filled thought in different words, referring more directly to Jesus as the source of our hope: “For the grace of God has appeared, saving all… he gave himself for us to deliver us from all lawlessness and to cleanse for himself a people as his own, eager to do what is good” (Titus 2:11, 14).
Isaiah’s prophetic expectation and Titus’ confirmation of its fulfillment together represent an invitation for us to honestly acknowledge our deepest needs, whatever they may be—for forgiveness, for repentance, for healing—and to find in the Christ child whose birth we hail on this holy day the hope we need to move forward “today” and every day.
My sincerest prayers are with all of you for a peaceful and holy Christmas and a new year filled with the hope that comes from Jesus Christ.
Father Edward Mazich, O.S.B.