Sunday, December 18, 2011

It's Rummage Sale day at DOH

In honour of the Fourth Sunday of Advent, here is a column that was published in the December, 2009 issue of Catholic Insight. 

The Spirit of Christmas Present

I have an embarrassing admission to make: as a long-time devotee of 19th century English literature (and Dickens in particular), I have only just recently read “A Christmas Carol.” I can hear the incredulous gasp all the way from Ottawa, where my sister lives. (A decade ago, she gifted me with the book, and now I can tell her that I have finally got round to reading it.) I have no defence, other than to say that my procrastinator’s disposition knows no limits.

The story asks the perennial question: how can the “spirit of Christmas” live in us all the year round? Even for those who do not believe in God, Christmas remains a season of love, peace, charity, hope and goodwill. If we can rise above and beyond ourselves during this blessed and merry season, why can we not do so on a daily basis?

Dickens offers a partial answer: he advocates for self-knowledge (especially of one’s sins and shortcomings) and for good old-fashioned Christian charity. Modern film versions of “A Christmas Carol” trip over themselves in order to expunge references to God, but they still take the same tack of repentance and philanthropy. As the Spirit of Christmas Present sings in the musical version of The Muppet Christmas Carol, “Wherever you find love, it feels like Christmas.”

In the same version, the song “Bless Us All” (ironically) cuts out God entirely, although the song is certainly addressed to an entity. “Let us always love each other / Lead us to the Light / Let us hear the voice of Reason / Singing in the night.” Reason, of course, is juxtaposed to “faith,” (that entirely irrational entity) notwithstanding that any truly reasonable being ought to be sleeping at night instead of singing. They don’t teach logic (or for that matter, poetry) at school any more, especially film school.

Nor is there anything particularly loving or reasonable about what constitutes “Christmas” for many people (sadly, even for some who profess belief in Christ): excessive materialism and shopping-unto-debt, cooking and baking and wrapping; going to parties and stress and sheer exhaustion. Some people even throw in gluttony, drunkenness, and lust, which is sort of the devil’s grand joke: “celebrating” the Incarnation by indulging in sins of the flesh.

Relax, this is not about doing away with the gifts, the food, the parties; no one is advocating Puritanism. But as always, Catholics need to focus on the why and how of celebrating the Incarnation, and how we can carry it forth to the rest of the “rolling year” (I love that Dickens phrase).

Some two millennia ago, the Incarnation meant God coming to earth as man; today it includes something equally wonderful, but only for those who believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Tragically, many Catholics have lost faith in, and reverence for, the Eucharist. I won’t indulge in a lengthy blame-fest (a short one will do). In the last forty-plus years, we’ve been subjected to a great deal of poor catechesis, appalling homilies, ghastly liturgical practices, horrid church architecture and interior décor (you shouldn’t even use a word like “décor” to describe the inside of a church, but these days, you must). Eucharistic devotions have all but disappeared in many parishes. We are not ‘allowed’ to kneel for the reception of Holy Communion, and now (thanks to various bugs and viruses) we are “gently discouraged” from receiving Our Lord on the tongue.

The Eucharist is Christ, tangible and enfleshed, Almighty God Incarnate. My column title is a pun, of course, because “Present” does not just mean ‘today’; it means Gift. Emmanuel, “God-with-us” in the Eucharist is His Christmas present to us, the gift that keeps on giving. Christmas is, literally, “Christ’s Mass.” And it happens, at some point on the globe, every hour of every day.

Do we appreciate this incredible Gift? If so, our marching orders are clear: restore reverence to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass; love the Holy Eucharist with our whole being; worship and adore it; anticipate receiving it (doing so worthily—go to confession regularly!). In this, we may live the spirit of Christmas all year round.

“Come in, and know me better, man!” spake the voice of the Ghost of Christmas Present in Dickens’s tale. May we hear it as the voice of our Eucharistic Lord.

God bless us, everyone. Venite adoremus. 


  1. Yes, but isn't the Muppet version wonderful anyway? (or are you not among the cognoscenti who like the Muppets?) Also, there is a line from the song that Kermit sings with the Rats in the beginning that has an oblique Christian reference, something like "it's the season for the saints to employ us..." I haven't watched it yet this year so I don't know the complete line.

  2. Yes, Daria, you are correct: that "saint" line is in there--I'd forgotten about that. I do like the Muppet version (we have both the film and the soundtrack); I just find it irksome that they caved to the popular trend to expunge the blatantly obvious Christian references from the story.

    While I have always loved the Muppets (grew with Sesame Street, after all), and enjoyed the Muppet Show and movies, I do find some aspects of certain Henson films unattractive, for the sheer ugliness of the creatures and the darkness/ambivalence of the themes: think The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth. It makes me wonder if Jim Henson wasn't slightly disturbed or tormented on some level. I am no puritan, but many of the characters in the ballroom dance scene in Labyrinth struck me as almost satanic. Or maybe I watched it on a bad day...