Thursday, February 08, 2007

Christmas, domesticity, and time.

Christmastime is hard for me. My husband once observed somewhat crudely that I went "on the rag" at Thanksgiving and did not get off until after New Year's. It is at Christmastime that my deficiencies in homemaking nearly cripple me. I don't bake cookies, I have little sense of how to decorate a home, I sweat and fret over buying gifts that will not disappoint, I don't cook (but fortunately Bill does), and I get nervous about the rounds of parties and social affairs that I seldom reciprocate outside of the family.

Then there is the ubiquitous "meaning of Christmas" that tears at me because I have a great fondness for the religious customs and liturgies of both Advent and Christmastime, but my household is too theologically diverse to come together smoothly in the way I might idealize. When the children were younger, I made Jesse trees and lit the Advent wreath but it's harder to do now that my kids are older and are comfortable with family customs and rituals but not overtly religious ones. And that's as it should be, to some extent. Our household is not a religious community, we don't share a common faith and worship and the children still living here are adults. It is no longer appropriate for me to be their formal teacher and guide in the faith. Harmonious living requires mutual respect for the workings of the Holy Spirit in each family member's soul. On my part, that means rejecting any temptation to express or even entertain internally any disappointment that I didn't raise a passel of practicing Catholics. On their part, it means rejecting both the pressure to conform without real assent to my hopes for their involvement in the faith in which they were raised, and the pull to reject these simply as a part of the maturation and individuation process of reaching adulthood.

Pope Benedict, in a homily given at vespers on Thanksgiving, said something that resonated with this difficulty I have with Christmastime, which is after all only a magnification of the difficulty all Christians have in fulfilling that part of the Creed which states, "I believe in all that is, visible and invisible."


Two different evaluations of the dimension of time thus contrast each other, one qualitative and one quantitative. On the one hand, there is there is the solar cycle with its rhythms; on the other, that which St. Paul calls the "fullness of time" (Gal 4:4), namely, the culminating moment of the history of the universe and of the human race, when the Son of God was born into the world. The time of promises was fulfilled and, when the pregnancy of Mary had reached its end, "the earth has yielded its increase" (Ps 66 [67]:7) as a psalm says.

The coming of the Messiah, foretold by the Prophets, is qualitatively the most important event in all of history, to which it confers its own final and ultimate meaning. Historical-political coordinates do not condition God’s choices, but, on the contrary, it is the event of the Incarnation that "fills up" the worth and meaning of history.

- Pope Benedict XVI, November 2007. Thanks to
Fr. John Zuhlsdorf for the reference.

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