I am sitting at my desk on a snowy Wednesday after the Epiphany and have decided I better get next week’s Catholic Sun column done since I am on retreat next week. The snow has got me back in the Christmas spirit since the Christmas season doesn’t end until the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord this coming Sunday. Nonetheless, the disappearance of Christmas trees and their lights and ornaments, along with Nativity sets, leaves me a bit downcast. I prefer even that we refer to the upcoming liturgical season as “the Sundays after the Epiphany” vs. “Ordinary Time.”
It reminds me of the line of Scripture in Luke 24:21 (if I can be allowed to fast forward a bit): “But we were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel…” The setting is the road to Emmaus and the two travelers were reflecting on their hopes for Jesus that seemed to be dashed in the “blinding storm” of Good Friday. Such blinding storms and the whiteouts that accompany them are common to this time of year for us in Central New York. They bespeak also our own feelings at what we often refer to as “the holiday letdown.” I think in each of us there is still that harbored dream that the “most wonderful time of the year” will lead to a new year of new beginnings and then it hits — lake effect, the flu season, and winter doldrums.
Where has our hope gone? As I pose this question, I can’t help but think of one of my favorite Christmas poems, “Now the Work of Christmas Begins” by Howard Thurman:
When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart.
When I read these words, I feel my heart burning like did those sojourners on the road to Emmaus when the words of Scripture were opened to them. The words this poem echoes are the very ones Jesus used to inaugurate his public ministry:“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord” (Luke 4:18-19). Could the fire I feel when I listen to these words be because they stir into flame the gift that keeps on giving all year long… the gift that we are continually invited to unwrap until the ends of the ages… the gift of the Holy Spirit… of God present with us on the road of life?
As if meant to confirm my thinking, the morning after I wrote the above words, in The Word Among Us (a daily publication I like to use to accompany my prayer) I came across the following idea: “The kingdom of God only grows as we — bearers of his Spirit — love one another as he loved us, when we do for others what he has done for us. You may think you are woefully inadequate to the task, but that’s not what God thinks. He gave you His Spirit for just this reason.”
Wow! What another beautiful way of expressing that you and I have what it takes to keep alive the Christmas Spirit. But I have one more thing to share if you are not convinced. As I was cleaning up the piles on my desk, I came across a Christmas card and in it the sender had enclosed a reflection. It was titled, “It is Always Christmas” and it was composed by Rev. Andrea M. Brambilla, CRSP.
His basic message is that the Lord plays no favorites, that there is nothing to stop him from entering, and that he comes to us where we are at in life and always desires to be found. Father Brambilla sums up his reflection with the following words: “Lord, You always come, everywhere, for everyone, because You are the way to the Father, You are the bridge connecting with God, You are a friend who does not forsake… It is always Christmas!”
“It is always Christmas!” These words certainly brighten my day even though the skies may be gray, sunshine a rarity, and good news a seemingly scarce commodity. They point me also to the mission that you and I have been given by our Baptism, Confirmation, and sharing in the Eucharist: to be Christ-bearers in our world today. Again, we may feel a bit of helplessness in seeking to fulfill this mission, but the Christmas season we are leaving behind will live on in the days and weeks that are ahead because of what we have been celebrating: God is with us!
We certainly ask our ever-present God to be with our world in these days of turmoil, and so let me conclude with an Invocation for Peace by Pope Francis:
Lord God of peace, hear our prayer! We have tried so many times and over so many years to resolve our conflicts by our own powers and by the force of our arms. How many moments of hostility and darkness have we experienced; how much blood has been shed; how many lives have been shattered; how many hopes have been buried… But our efforts have been in vain.
Now, Lord, come to our aid! Grant us peace, teach us peace; guide our steps in the way of peace. Open our eyes and our hearts, and give us the courage to say: “Never again war!”; “With war everything is lost.” Instill in our hearts the courage to take concrete steps to achieve peace.
Lord, God of Abraham, God of the Prophets, God of Love, you created us and you call us to live as brothers and sisters. Give us the strength daily to be instruments of peace; enable us to see everyone who crosses our path as our brother or sister. Make us sensitive to the plea of our citizens who entreat us to turn our weapons of war into implements of peace, our trepidation into confident trust, and our quarreling into forgiveness.
Keep alive within us the flame of hope, so that with patience and perseverance we may opt for dialogue and reconciliation. In this way may peace triumph at last, and may the words “division,” “hatred” and “war” be banished from the heart of every man and woman. Lord, defuse the violence of our tongues and our hands. Renew our hearts and minds, so that the word which always brings us together will be “brother,” and our way of life will always be that of: Shalom, Peace, Salaam! Amen.
Have a good week and may the blessings