Joy and Hope
Jan. 10, 2008
Let the Savior’s light shine in words, actions
By now, most folks will have boxed their Christmas decorations, tossed the dull green, brittle tree out on the sidewalk, put the Christmas CDs back on the shelf, mailed out the last few remaining thank you notes and sat down with a big sigh of relief. Then again, maybe not.
Others will be opening up the newspaper or scouring Internet sites looking for job opportunities. Others may be ignoring credit card statements arriving in the mail or shunning the bad news about their 401(K)s. There are those families for whom the dream of owning a home slipped out of their hands, and others for whom the falling prices make the dream of owning a home possible.
Some young people got into the colleges they wanted. Others did not. Some people still have a job. Others fear that the pink slip is only days away. In short, the Christmas holidays may or may not have held reality at bay but now life gets right into our faces. The confusing chaos of our lives rushes in where, if at least for a few brief days, there had been the familiar family rituals that gave us some measure of comfort and meaning.
In a parish where I once served, there was a reluctance to let go of the festive nature of Christmas. The feast of the Epiphany, or the feast of the Three Wise Kings as it was popularly called, was usually the traditional ending of the Christmas holidays.
There was the traditional candied bread that was served on that day. Called a “rosca,” it was bread that was kneaded into a large round donut shape with candied fruit spread throughout the dough as well as decoratively displayed on top. The rosca enjoys a better reputation than its American cousin, the “fruit cake.”
There is game associated with eating the rosca. Usually there was a little plastic doll hidden in the dough. As slices of the rosca are distributed among the guests, there is the nervous chatter about who will get the “muñeca,” the little doll. Inevitably someone got the unpleasant sensation of biting into the plastic doll at which point everyone laughs and then quickly reminds the lucky winner that they must throw a party for everyone on Feb. 2, the feast of the Presentation, “Candelaria”. So the parties continued and there was another social occasion for which to look forward.
In one particular family, the mother insisted on keeping the Nativity scene displayed in the front room of the house until the feast of the Presentation. Only then, approximately two months after it was first assembled, would the child Jesus and the manger scene be ceremoniously removed.
It was also very customary for some families to bring the image of the child Jesus to the church for a blessing on the feast of the Presentation because, after all, that is what Mary and Joseph did.
This may seem kind of corny to some and perhaps hinting of religious fanaticism. Much of these customs were far from fanaticism. They were habits that were done only because they had always been done that way. They brought a lingering, tender grace into the grinding daily routines. They also kept the imagination alive to the mystery of the Incarnation. The celebration of the Word becoming flesh and making his dwelling among us was extended as much as possible because this is what the Incarnate Word wished to do, to become part of our everyday life and not just a few days in December.
We may choose to incorporate such customs into the rituals of our homes. (Imagine trying to explain to your teenagers why the manger scene is still up (“Oh, mom!”). Whether we do so or not, we should take note of the underlying value of keeping our imagination alive to the Incarnation of Jesus. This is a yearlong Christian endeavor.
Let me give a couple of examples. In the month of January, we will have the opportunity to lift our voices again in the defense of human dignity and the protection of innocent life against the scourge of abortion. There will be a day of fasting and penance on Thursday, Jan. 22, the anniversary of the Supreme Court decision, Roe v. Wade.
There will also be the annual “Walk for Life” in San Francisco on Jan. 24. In concert with these activities we will be advocating against the “Freedom of Choice Act” (FOCA), that could not only threaten innocent human life but also compromise the religious freedom of many of our Catholic hospitals and social services. The mystery of the Incarnation that we have just celebrated can be further lived out by our participation in these activities.
Also in January and February, we will begin once again the promotion of the Annual Catholic Appeal, through which many of the important social services of the diocese are supported. Homeless men and women, those who suffer from mental illness, young mothers, their children and many of the forgotten throughout the Sacramento Diocese have the good news announced to them through the compassionate hearts and hands of many zealous ministers.
Your generous sacrifices extend the joy and hope that we have savored during these past weeks of Christmas. The Savior who has been given to us also calls us to share in his saving work. His light should continue to shine in all that we say and do in the weeks and months of 2009.