I think of two different experiences when I think of Christmas. One of them is how my family celebrated Christmas. I remember setting up the Christmas tree every year on my mom’s birthday, December 9, untangling the lights with Uncle Robert, and how every ornament was unique. I remember attending Nanny’s family Christmas party on Christmas Eve, playing with Big Mac boxes to see who could stack them the highest, and seeing Christmas carols. I remember waking up on Christmas morning to open presents, going to the noon Mass at St. Clement of Rome, and having Christmas dinner with Aunt Pat, Uncle Paul, and my cousins at my house because we had the biggest dining room.
On the other hand, I think of my Christmases since I’ve been a priest. I think of all the Christmas parties for the different Church ministries, the PSR Advent Program, and setting up decorations in the Church. Mainly, though, I focus on helping people prepare spiritually for Christmas. Christmas has become such a huge thing in American culture that it’s easy to overlook the religious significance of the day as the turning point of human history. There’s a reason why the calendar changes from B.C. to A.D., or B.C.E. (Before the Common Era) to C.E. (Common Era) at the birth of Christ. Some scholars have switched from using B.C. and A.D. to B.C.E. and C.E. either to keep from offending non-Christians or to deny the importance of Christ, but we don’t number the year from the ascension of Augustus Caesar to Emperor of Rome, or from some major military battle or great invention, or from anyone else’s birth. When Jesus Christ was born, salvation came into the world and the Kingdom of God (not Caesar or Rome) was inaugurated. The promise that was given in the birth of Jesus Christ was fulfilled in His Resurrection. That’s why celebrating Mass on Christmas is one of the most meaningful moments in my priesthood. On the day that Jesus Christ came into the world in the flesh, I am privileged to make Jesus Christ present on the altar, body and blood, soul and divinity.
12 days after Christmas, on January 6, we celebrate the Epiphany (although the celebration is moved to the nearest Sunday, January 5 this year). The Epiphany is the celebration of the “Light of Christ” coming into the world and spreading to every land and people. May we never forget that Christ is our light, that we cannot truly see unless we have His light in our lives, and that He is calling on us to spread His light through acts of faith, hope, and love.
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Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.