Any sustained exposure to our secular media will show that the celebration of Christmas has little to do with Christ and everything to do with madcap escapades, debauched revelry, and wretched over consumption of just about every fleshly delight. Admittedly, these excesses were ever with us, but I think the difference now is that the debased view of the holiday is no longer lapping at the fringes of our culture but proudly ensconced center stage.
To be honest, though, there is a certain measure of peace in accepting the reality that the wider culture is no longer Christian, despite sundry leftovers on the calendar, in the vocabulary, and on the menu. In that regard, the best philosophy may be to approach the coming holidays in a single-minded, quietly subversive way — like the earliest Christians in ancient Rome, like the secret Christians in 17th century Asia, like the embattled Christians swept into hostile kingdoms and oppressive empires throughout the ages. Imagine! We have the extraordinary privilege of joining their religious struggle — but without prisons, shackles, or tortuous deaths.
Let’s not grumble over what people should do, or how things ought to be done. Whatever we wish on a personal level, we can do — praise God for that freedom! We have our customs, the tenets of our faith, and traditions inherited from every corner of the globe. We have a spiritual course of study at our fingertips: the long and cumbersome months pregnancy, the vicariousness of well-laid plans run amok, and holding fast to a promise made by one entirely trustworthy — isn’t that the essence of Christmas?
In keeping with this time of waiting, Advent should be marked by silence, reflection, and probing prayer — what exactly was that promise? How did the story go? Have I understood the details properly? Perhaps in our meditation, we could begin with how much faith we put in that promise. Does it matter? Does it penetrate daily life? Does it mitigate the sorrows and add depth to our joys? What activities will add to that understanding, and what will distract and diffuse? How can I arrange my schedule so that my faith can be nourished?
Granted, it is one thing to accept the irreligiosity of the wider world, but when our own loved ones reject this marvelous promise, it is painful — but what is to be done? The same thing that all men and women of faith have done throughout the ages: we live the truth with joy, and pray without ceasing for God’s great blessings on those we cherish. The faith is a proposal, an offer, a gift. We must live it that way so that it radiates as such to those who have yet to see what we have discovered: that life has a purpose, a trajectory culminating in union with the One who set all things in place.
So when the culture shouts, we whisper; when mammon crushes souls, we revive them; when the lost seek shelter, we offer direction; when chaos reigns, we offer stability, for as the Cistercian motto says, “the Cross is the still point in a turning world.” That promise to which we cling relies on wood, first a cradle, then a cross — both heavily veiled in a distracted world, but radiating hope for the humble of heart.
If our misguided culture serves to bring this saving truth back into focus, so much the better; and as we proceed confidently in this light, I believe firmly that we will actually discover myriad quiet souls strewn all about us. For in all actuality, we’re not alone — there are countless others who cling to the same promise, and soon we’ll band together in full-throated joy, singing the age-old hymns to the Infant King.
Mrs. Kineke is a parishioner of Our Lady of Mercy in East Greenwich, and can be found online at feminine-genius.com.