Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Stealing of Christmas

A timely Christmas reflection by Fr. Shay Cullen. Fr. Shay's columns are published in The Manila Times.

For all true Christians, Christmas is the celebration of family values. It's when we strive to come together with parents, family and friends to be close to them and to renew bonds of friendship and be thankful to be alive, loved and wanted. It is the time when we celebrate the rights and dignity of women and children, Christian compassion, justice and unselfish love of neighbor, equality and peace making. These are the great values brought into the world by a humble son of a carpenter in Palestine 2000 years ago.

The real story of Christmas is all too often lost in the blaze and dazzle of twinkling lights, Christmas trees and the image of a very obese man in a red suit with a white beard saying "ho ho ho". While good Christians are remembering and living the values of the real Christmas story, the post - Christian society has stolen Christmas and turned the celebration of a humble Christian sharing and kindness into a commercial venture of materialistic madness.

It is now a business where millions are spent on alcohol and drunken orgies and unruly hedonistic extravagance while a billion people in the world go hungry and live on a dollar a day. Powerful nations, where 86% of citizens say they believe in God, spend US$170 million a day to wage war that can't change a corrupt regime or protect the people from wicked insurgents and terrorists. The real meaning of Christianity is the direct opposite of all that.

Such materialistic and selfish living is what Jesus came to change but with some great inspiring exceptions his followers have generally failed to make His love and values predominate in the world. What Jesus brought into the world was a spiritual revolution to convert people to a new way of living where people love and respect each other and protect the rights of all as sacred and inviolable. We believers are challenged to make them real everywhere. That is too idealistic and impractical, some say.

While millions of Catholics and the people of God do strive daily to be true to the real meaning of Christianity and follow and implement the values that Jesus taught, the institutional church struggles to walk closely in the footsteps of Jesus Christ.

Today, it is more a religion of personal piety and individual salvation rather than the spiritual movement to challenge and change the evil systems and unjust policies in the world that causes so much poverty and human suffering.

Church charitable development agencies do wander throughout the world with little funds. They have to turn to the civil governments to get funds to help the poor. The church should and could do so much more to inspire the youth with idealistic action for justice and share more resources.

It is no wonder that in the Western world the places of worship are almost empty and hundreds of churches are closing and some being turned into restaurants and commercial establishments. The Eucharistic celebration of the memory of what Jesus said and did is where the greatest inspiration for Catholic social action ought to come from. Implementing the social teachings of the church is to proclaim and implement the values Jesus taught but failure to do so is all too apparent.

Catholic practice in general, allowing for inspiring exceptions, has remained secluded in the 'temple of ritual worship', that for some reason does not inspire us to go traveling about like John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth challenging authorities and converting the world to embrace a way of life that has love, concern and compassion for the sick, the wounded, the hungry, the homeless, the outcasts and victims of injustice. The Vatican Council of the 1960's was supposed to do just that, bring the church into the modern world as a powerful, inspiring, and morally relevant force for goodness. It is still striving for that.

What is a relevant and powerful force in the world - it is the faith and action for justice and human dignity that we see in the lives of so many great self-sacrificing Christians.

They help the needy by sharing their wealth and what little they have with love and generosity. That's the real spirit of Christmas.

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