For many university students like myself, the semester is now over with exams completed and now enjoying the two-and-a-half weeks of ‘Winter Break’. For high school and elementary school students, the Christmas Break has been well underway. For workers, Christmas is beautiful time to spend with family, even if that means smaller gatherings in light of the Omicron COVID-19 variant. Yet, as we take some days off of the year, have we missed out on including the ‘Christ’ of Christmas?
Having taken some university courses that had more secular viewpoints this past semester, I was enlightened on what many of my colleagues thought about the Catholic Church specifically and religion in general. It was this past semester that I understood really what some thought about the Church: corrupt, old-fashioned, behind with the times, needs to get up-to-date, unable to live up to its beliefs… It was difficult for me as a Catholic to hear what my colleagues had to say, but I never did react to what I heard because it comes to no surprise. As a Catholic, I speak to ethics on a natural law foundation, one that is founded upon God and I know it is viewpoint that has and will continue to be challenged by those who follow and find ease in following a secular agenda.
“What does ethics have to do with Christmas?” you may ask. This year, my Christmas is a return to Christ Himself, and it also should be your return to Him. Here is why an ethics course prompted me to think so… it is more than just the debate on being pro-life or pro-choice. It is more than a debate on believing or not believing in religion. Rather, it is a discussion on being a Catholic with ground to stand in a society that vouches for secularism.
I have a deep respect for my colleagues who do not share in the same religion or beliefs as me. I respect them becuase I believe that they are my brothers and sisters. Thus, I speak of my faith, I speak from the perspective of a Catholic when I speak on matters of ethics. I speak from the persepctive of a Catholic when I speak of history, even admitting the mistakes of the Catholic Church. Despite the disagreements in that ethics course, never once did anyone judge me, nor I judge anyone. We hold different viewpoints, and the point of the unviersity classroom is to foster such as discussion.
However, that reality is not the same in society. I have a sensation that Catholicism and the viewpoints of Catholicism are less and less tolerated in a country that supposedly believes in the “freedom of religion,” as stated in the Canadian Charter of Human Rights. As Medical Assistance to the dying is made more accessible, pro-life doctors are faced with conflicts of consciencious objections. This past year, Catholic Churches were vandalized or burnt in light of revelations of unmarked graves at residential school sites. Catholic organizations and other pro-life parties were unable to obtain Canada Summer Jobs Funding for not supporting abortion rights in 2018, and I will not be surprised if that happens again in the future. It is not only with Canada, as cancel culture has even influenced the EU to be persuaded to drop the use of “Christmas” in its communications manual, but later (thankfully) withdrawn. But even so, why are Catholic views constantly being cancelled by a society infested by cancel culture? Why does the society believe in a “freedom of religion” but find ways to force particular groups to abide by the relativistic moral standards of society?
Some may say, the Catholic Church has had so many scandals, and so it might be better to place trust not in a Church, but in a government. As I mentioned, I cannot dismiss the grave mistakes of the Church (and St. John Paul II formally recognized mistakes throughout Church History in the Great Jubilee of 2000 on the Day of Pardon), nor can I dismiss the harm the Church has done to the Indigenous peoples of Canada (in which the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops have formally apologized again this past September 2021 and Pope Francis is to come to Canada to address these mistakes), the Catholic Church is consisted of human beings who are prone to failing, and find themselves in scandals of all sorts. Yet, to say that world governments, like that of Canada are not prone to mistakes, to scandal is a lie.
Yet, why has the Catholic Church been able to stand firm even in the midst of persecutions, scandals, the mistakes of members of the body of Christ, grave sins committed by members… throughout its 2000-year history? It is because the Catholic Church is not a governmental instution, nor is it an institution in a secular sense. Thereality is not one that can be seen from an institutional lens. Rather, the Vatican II document, Lumen Gentium speaks to this “complex reality”:
Christ, the one Mediator, established and continually sustains here on earth His holy Church, the community of faith, hope and charity, as an entity with visible delineation (9*) through which He communicated truth and grace to all. But, the society structured with hierarchical organs and the Mystical Body of Christ, are not to be considered as two realities, nor are the visible assembly and the spiritual community, nor the earthly Church and the Church enriched with heavenly things; rather they form one complex reality which coalesces from a divine and a human element.(10*) For this reason, by no weak analogy, it is compared to the mystery of the incarnate Word. As the assumed nature inseparably united to Him, serves the divine Word as a living organ of salvation, so, in a similar way, does the visible social structure of the Church serve the Spirit of Christ, who vivifies it, in the building up of the body.Lumen Gentium 8 (emphasis added)
In other words, the Church’s complex reality is complex, because it is a working of the Divine and humanity together. If the Church were of only a human element, then it would have been wiped out now but no… the Church continues to stand because we have Christ as its head.
Thus, Christmas then should be reminder that the reality of the Church is not as an institution within society. Disregarding what society says to dissuade us from the faith, we know that our faith is not in the Pope, Bishops, Priests or lay people, but it is in Our Lord, and Saviour, Jesus Christ, who is True God and True Man, came down to earth, took on our human flesh, embodying the things of this world in all things but sin. He was later crucified, but resurrected to save us all.
Jesus Christ – that is the one whom we celebrate at Christmas, the One in whom we place all our trust in. While society strives to sell us that trust is found in Santa Claus (hence his figure in front of homes on every block, at least near where I live) to get you the gift that you wanted, not in a mayor, premier or prim minister. Our hope and faith should be in Jesus Christ alone. Let nothing dissuade you from believing and affirming that this Christmas.
Where is the ‘Christ’ of ‘Christmas’? That Christ whom we celebrate at Christmas is present every time you celebrate the Eucharist, every time you gather in His name. Make Him known by virtue of your very lives. Let nothing, not even a government or secular society dissuade you otherwise.
Wishing you a holy Christmas season – may God, the ‘Emmanuel’ be with you always.