Sunday, December 25, 2005

The Value of a Good Christmas Homily

It is Christmas day, a time when the many millions and millions of Christians come together to celebrate the birth of the Christ child. It is a time to be with family and friends, a time to be merry. Pessimist though I am, I will try to refrain from too much melancholy on such a joyous day.

From time to time I have contemplated a vocation as a priest. There are certain aspects of the job which I think I might enjoy, but the matter is more serious than that. There are not many shepherds for an increasingly needy flock, and I would hope that my priest signed up for more reasons than because it seemed enjoyable.

There is one task for which I do not envy the priest. Ordinarily, giving the homily seems like it would one of the more exciting details in the job description. Yet Christmas--like Easter--provide the Priest with a full church. Hand in hand comes much pressure. Dubbed C & E Catholics, the pews are full of families who come bi-anually to pay their respects to Jesus. I have long felt that Father must agonize over his sermonon these days; a good one just might bring back some lost sheep.

I attended Mass last night with my family, taking up an entire pew as per usual. As the homily drew near, my anticipation grew. Father began by recounting a story of a parishioner from a former parish who died at the young age of seven. The child's body was unable to fight off infection easily and so died young, but the "little trooper" was still a model of faith in God's will. The priest then read a children's book written in memory of the youngster.

He invited the little ones up front and took his place at the foot of the altar. The story was short and simple. St. Francis of Assisi was bemoaning the hustle and bustle of his little town, worrying that the people were missing the real reason for the extravagance. Fortunately, with a little help from his dear animal friends, Francis was able to create a manger scene for the people to view. The absence of a child in the manger, reminded them that they too, had been missing something in their lives. The story closes extoling the readers to share the message with their families. Of course, we had all heard the story as well, so sharing was a little redundant, but children have a way of reminding us of things we are so good at forgetting. If only for the one hour of mass, we could all concentrate on the "reason for the season". The fact that it is cliched does not make it untrue.

I was a bit surprised at the simplicity of the sermon, but pronounced it good. The Christmas story is quite evident, and a firm but gentle reminder is all the laity need on such an occasion.

After all, there is little Father can do to bring people back to the pews. An amazing homily may encapsulate the audience and compel them to attend the following week, but just as easily a stunning pre-game show may keep them away. Augustine reminds us that faith is a gift, but living that faith is a personal choice--even if God's grace helps therein as well. If Christ came to earth to save us from our sins so long ago, we aren't going to think twice about attending weekly mass. If Christ is not Lord, there is no argument anyone can make to ensure a surge in post-Christmas attendence. It should be noted, too, that mere attendance at Mass does not a good Catholic make. Faith in Christ plus good works is still the formula for salvation, protestantism notwithstanding.

It may be a bit silly to take this angle regarding the celebration of Christ's birth, but I have a penchant for silly angles. While it may be fair to criticize those who attend church as part of a social obligation twice a year, it is absurd to think that even casual attendance is worse than abstaining completely. In light of the recent scandals, it does good for people to see the Church in a good light for a change. If Christmas mass--complete with glorious hymns and with church in full celebratory decor--can't cast this light on Christianity, no sermon in the world can. Stuart Chase put it best when he said, "For those who believe, no proof is necessary. For those who don't believe, no proof is possible."

May the light of the world which has so graced my life one day grace all of yours as well. Merry Christmas.

No comments: