He dwells among us: Cartoon lessons

Advent is a time to draw closer to Him; He is our true peace, but also a sign of contradiction

Gone now are the Bob Hope Christmas specials as well as other Christmas shows, including my most memorable one in 1977 when David Bowie joined in a song with none other than “Mr. White Christmas” himself, Bing Crosby, for a rendition of “Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy.”

These Christmas specials always seemed to add to the days of joyful expectation during the season of Advent leading to Christmas Eve. But now we’ve gone from Charles Schulz’s A Charlie Brown Christmas to the likes of Nightmare before Christmas and Bad Santa.

I still can remember the first time several decades ago when I saw the TV cartoon special, The City That Forgot About Christmas, and I thought to myself, “How could anyone forget about Christmas?” But if Hollywood has forgotten, it also seems as if the whole world has, too. I’m not even sure if “forgotten” is the right word, for I cannot help but think of another city and its reaction when asked, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews?” Scripture tells us that “When they heard this, [Herod] was greatly troubled, and all Jerusalem with him” (Matthew 2:2,3).

The reaction to the question of the Magi would seem no less disturbing than the question of Charlie Brown today—“Can anyone tell me what Christmas is all about?” Should even a city or an institution be bold enough as to permit an opening prayer and the mention of the name Jesus at some public event, legal action would be quickly threatened by various groups. But Jesus told us to expect as much, for all four Gospels record his words reminding us that, “You will be hated by all because of my name (Luke 21:17).

Whereas there are some who do not want the name of Jesus to be publicly mentioned, or to have a manger scene displayed in a public area, I think there may be an even greater number who are uncomfortable with permitting the name of Jesus to be silently present in their heart. If sacred silence before and during the appropriate times of Mass causes us to be uncomfortable, we should be asking ourselves why. The season of Advent though is truly a time to ponder in the quiet of our heart the meaning of the coming of the “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6) into our world and our lives.

Advent particularly has special meaning to me as the anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood falls on Dec. 14. As I prepared for that day 27 years ago, my devotion to St. Joseph grew stronger. And though Scripture records no words of his, we would do well to call upon him, for as Mary bore in her womb Our Savior, St. Joseph bore in the silence of his heart the name that God had entrusted to him—“you are to name him Jesus for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). St. Joseph, then, helps us to keep the name of Jesus always in our heart and to make his birth present in all our actions.

The day following my ordination I celebrated my first Mass, and with those words of consecration I held in my hands, as St. Joseph did in that “Silent Night” of Bethlehem, the “Prince of Peace.” And at that moment, the words of Scripture that Blessed John Paul II would repeat throughout his long pontificate came to mind—“Be not afraid.” Do not be afraid to receive Christ into your heart and to contemplate him silently.

So it is my fervent prayer during this Advent season that you will make room for Jesus in the “inn” of your heart, and that with the help of Mary and St. Joseph you will bring Jesus to others in all that you do so that they might not forget who it is that truly brings them peace of heart.

In the name of Cardinal Rigali, and of all our priests, deacons and religious, and all the good people who strive to serve and help the people of East Tennessee, I want to wish everyone a fruitful Advent, and a very Blessed Christmas. May you make the New Year of 2013 a continuation of the Year of Faith that is meant to help lead us deeper into the mystery of “Christ among us.”

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