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Holding on to Christmas

Fr. Lou DelFra, CSC | Friday, January 16, 2009

Christmas, 2004. I had just been ordained a priest, and was heading home. My family was excited I was going to say Christmas Mass at my home. My younger brother pointed out that, after six years in the seminary, he was finally starting to reap some benefits from my vocation. (When I had told him I was becoming a priest, his first words were, “Does this mean I don’t have to get out of my pajamas on Christmas morning to go to Mass?”)

As a new priest, I confess that I was pretty stoked about saying Christmas mass in the living room in which I grew up, my parents and brother and nieces and nephews all around. I was intent on leading my family into a deeper appreciation of the spiritual side of Christmas.

We would gather for mass two days in a row, as Christmas was on a Saturday, and the Feast of the Holy Family was the next day. So, newly ordained saint that I was, during my Christmas homily I suggested to my nieces and nephews that when they returned for Mass the next day, they should bring one toy they had received from Santa to donate to the poor. As my chest swelled at how holy I was making my family, I heard these words from the back of the living room, spat out by my 14-year old nephew — “This sucks!” (Gotta love the East Coast — I only reluctantly gave him communion.)

Having had four years to get over this, I now realize that there’s a couple ways to think about my darling nephew’s Christmas zeal. On the one hand, there’s the righteous side of me that says, “You know what, kid, suck it up. You’ve got more than 99 percent of the kids in the world. Now turn over the GameBoy, and we’ll all learn an important lesson about sharing and social justice!!!” And there’s clearly something to that.

But, at the risk of allowing my Christianity to be tainted by nepotism, I suspect my nephew makes an important claim, spiritually.

Growing up, Christmas is the most exciting time of the year — with nothing even a close second. Because, as we get closer to Dec. 25, kids start to think about all the things they really, really want, more than anything in the world.

True, kids are always thinking about what they really, really want, more than anything in the world. But at Christmas it’s different — because at Christmas, adults actually listen to them and take them seriously. A few days later, Santa comes, while they’re asleep, and gives them at least some of what they really, really want more than anything in the world. As a kid, it just doesn’t get any better than that! All you have to do is fall asleep. And then in the morning, oh yeah! There it is!

This moment, of walking into your living room as a child on Christmas morning, and seeing a tree, lit up and surrounded by all these things that you’ve been hoping for — given to you free, while you slept — that weren’t there the night before — is a very spiritually significant moment; really, a sacramental moment.

Because at that moment, Christianity’s claim about our existence becomes visibly, emotionally, and concretely present to us — it’s all a gift. Everything. Our whole life. One day, we were loved into being, and given our lives.

And the things that are our hearts most deeply desire — when we were little, it was toys; now, it is to be loved, to be whole, to be healed, to be one with our God — all these things are given to us, while we sleep in darkness.

What kids experience when they turn the corner of the living room and see their gifts, that’s how we are called to experience our lives, and all that fills them: with wonder and gratitude — “I can’t believe this has happened!”

So, what if some mean uncle came up to you, and said that now you had to give this gift away. What would you say to that.

As we begin a new semester, hold on to Christmas. This semester, and all it holds — it’s all a gift. Try to step into it with wonder, expectation, and deep thanks.

This week’s column is written by Fr. Lou DelFra, CSC, director of Bible Studies and chaplain to ACE. He can be reached at delfra.2@nd.edu.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not

necessarily those of The Observer.