Emmitsburg Council of Churches

So, you ask: What is the meaning of Christmas?

Father John J. Lombardi

Last week while visiting our young, Grotto Latin Children's Schola, I asked if they had any questions. Little Sharon asked: "What do you think of Sadaam Hussein?" (This was immediately after his capture). I stuttered and decided to use Jesus' tactic and answer with a counter-question: "What do you think a Catholic should feel about him, or do?" She said immediately: "Pray for his soul." Amen. Thank you- "children make themselves known by their acts" (Pr 20:11).

Why did Jesus Christ come in the first Christmas--and in each Mass?: to save and sanctify souls ("to proclaim liberty to captives"- Lk. 4:18), to unite ourselves to Him ("I will abide in you and you in Me" -Jn. 6:56) , and help even the harshest, most despised sinners and souls. Remember, one of the greatest sinners--Saint Augustine-- became a greatest saint. Famous preacher Charles Spurgeon once said: "Sin is sovereign till sovereign grace dethrones it." Jesus does that thru Christmas event, in each moment of Grace, in each Mass.

A few nights after Sharon's enlightened answer, some friends and I were talking about "what to do with Sadaam Hussein"-- as Catholics. Fr. George Restrepo (a Jesuit) responded, immediately: "How would Jesus respond?" We talked about the former- dictator's harshness, some people's plea for the death penalty, and the Church's position on all this. Love, mercy and justice were key words in the conversation.

While driving back that night to Mary's Mountain I listened to a cassette tape, entitled "Spiritual Warfare." It was one of the most incredible, Christian, beautiful stories I've ever heard. Honestly. Read on and find out why, and yet one more reason why Jesus came to Earth! My paraphrase of the tape follows…

In 1981the FBI was on the lookout for one of the Top Ten Most Wanted Men-Stephen Marin, a murderer and rapist, prowling San Antonio, TX. That year he abducted yet another woman, named Margie Mayfield, who narrates, in humble, crystalline fashion her 'spiritual adventure" that day. (Listening to the talk you have no trouble believing not only in God but His acting in our world thru people; also, in a supernatural life of good and evil sprits; the captivity of souls thru darkness, and the need of Christian witnesses in everyday life).

Stephen Marin was on the run, evading the civil law and ignoring Divine Law while looking for one more victim. He came upon Mrs. Mayfield (wife, homemaker and mother of two) and abducted her in her van. Trouble was: she was a born again Christian, and had just had put a Bible into the truck before she went shopping. To protect himself he told her to sit on her hands, not do anything, or else he would kill her. She, though, was a unique individual and felt "Perfect love casts out fear"- I Jn.4:18, and, inspired, said: "Do You know Jesus Christ?" Except for one moment, she was calm throughout the whole ordeal (or, we should call it "witnessing"!-"Have no anxiety about anything…" -Phil 4:6). Jesus was telling her what to do. She was willing to be an instrument of Him, for him. ("Lord, make me a channel of Your peace"- St Francis of Assisi). The once-Divine Fugitive helped the human fugitive and this woman testify to Him (" 'You are my witnesses,' " says the Lord"- Is 43:10). She realized this clearly.

She said to "Stephen" (as she constantly refers to him in the talk, as almost a son and friend): Christ came for you, to save you from sins and eternal death…This must have been Good and yet surprising News to Him: No one spoke to him like that before. To "Stephen," women were always to be abused by, or abusive to, him; he probably rarely thought of God, but often acted out of godlessness. We may think of this man and Sadaam Hussein and other persons who do evil: "the godless are like thorns that are thrown away" - 2 Sam 23:6-and yet: "Where sin increased grace abounded all the more-Rm5:20). He was brought up in a broken family and learned to hate women and was hurt by them; he built and maintained the resentment in his childhood which later turned to violence. He was now on the run and avoiding prison. Mrs. Mayfield said: You already are living in a prison ("everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin"- Jn. 8:34) and that if you do not repent you will be living in a kind of Hell twenty times worse than the present. He said, dazed and amazed: You seem so calm, why aren't you nervous? She responded that Jesus was her Lord and was telling her what to do. (Observation: like the Blessed Virgin Mary, perhaps only a woman, in God's providential plan, can do certain things. Her softness and approachability, her femininity helped this hardened man trust and love again).

They drove around some more, talked, and after Mrs. Mayfield realized all the filth and pollution he had been thru, and accumulated, said: The Devil is all around you-has been for years, but you can get rid of him… "Our battle is not against flesh but against principalities and powers of present darkness" (Eph 6:12)…No matter what you've done, Stephen-anything--the power of Christ's Blood is more powerful than all that. "For God so loved the world He gave His only-begotten Son that whosesoever believes in Him may not perish but have eternal life".(Jn. 3:16).

She said he must be "born again". She explained how he had been born by his earthly father, by earthly seed; now he must be born of spiritual seed, of the Heavenly Father. (Christ's Birth gives us birth "not of perishable, but of imperishable seed" -I Pt. 1:23).

Later, even though the FBI couldn't capture this serial killer, amazingly, he emptied his gun bullets into this Christian woman's purse! He surrendered-(like the Good Thief, perhaps Stephen heard and said, "Jesus, remember me in Your Kingdom" - Lk. 23:42). And, eventually, after more discussion about Jesus, conversion and Christian life, he spontaneously raised his arms toward the sky, saying: Lord, I'm sorry for all I've done; please forgive me. He was a changed man. He was born again.

They then drove toward their next stop for Stephen to catch a bus. They spoke final words and this once-crazed-killer cried-like a baby--on her shoulder ("Blessed are they who mourn for they shall be comforted" -Mt. 5:4)--and they departed. For the first time all day, she noticed, he smiled. He was a different man.

The FBI later called her at home and Mrs. Mayfield, somewhat reluctantly for fear of a shootout- killing, and betrayal) told them where he was: in a bus station, reading a Bible. They didn't believe it: a Ten Top Most Wanted man, sitting in a bus station, reading a Bible? C'mon on! Sure enough: when they went there, there he was, sitting peacefully, reading the Bible: "Your word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path" (Ps. 119: 105). "Stephen" said: I met this lady. She changed me. If I didn't I would have…

Why did Jesus come?: He came to Earth for the largest, longest "search and rescue operation". Not only did He come for "mild sinners" like you and me, but also for "hardened sinners' like Stephen, Sadaam and those ensnared by Satan. Remember: "For whoever is begotten by God conquers the world" (I Jn. 5:4) Like Sharon: Pray for souls. There's hope…

For agnostics-people without enough "evidence" of God, and those who suffer in life--if you have not "met" Jesus, what will you do to believe like Stephen? ("Come to Me all you are weary, and I will give you rest" (Mt. 11:28). For those who struggle with pride, if He had not come, and "emptied Himself" (Phil 2:5), where would we be? For "fallen-away Catholics," if you have not met Him in the Sacraments on Sundays ("I am the Bread of life come down from Heaven"- Jn 6), come back often. For those who do not look for Him in today's world, find Him in others "I was thirsty and you visited Me" (Mt. 25). "Christmas is not only a date, it is a state of mind."

From this amazing story we may observe and conclude:

Witness: Do you want to tell- in words, actions, or silence,-- how good, loving and merciful, Jesus Christ is? Instrument: Be a vessel of God's communication. This didn't just happen overnight for Margie Mayfield, she prayed often and read the Bible. She said: "God has no body but yours." This is a paraphrase of St Teresa of Avila. God wants to use each one of us: Like Mary will you say, "Yes/Fiat-Be it done…" (Lk. 1:38). Obviously Mrs. Mayfield knew her Scripture and how to witness, only by her love, training and practice over the years. How about you? "You are either a missionary or a missionfield: one of the two." -Olaf Skinsnes

Spirit living within: we can't just "go through the motions"-we have to put our hearts into actions and disciplines and rituals-make them united, and have the Lord dwell inside: "Are you not aware you are a temple of the Holy Spirit?" (I Cor). Let the Lord take control of all your feelings, mind and passions-Lord of all within. "Christmas is a gift of God that you cannot keep until you give it to someone else." (Dorothy Smith)

Being born again? Sure, as Catholics, we believe in this--constantly: "Unless you be born anew/born from above, you cannot see the Kingdom" (Jn. 3:3). All are called to become holy, even saints. How will you be born from above, anew, especially this ChristMass? "This is the Will of God--your holiness" (I Th 4:3), and "till Christ be formed in you" (Gal 4:19). Whenever we pray, seeking communion with the Divine Trinity, we are born from above ( "Go away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while" (Mk. 6:31).

Whenever we seek His pardon we are born from above: "Confess your sins to one another" (Jas. 5:18), and: "There will be more joy in Heaven when one sinner repents…" (Lk. 15: 17).

The next day I still felt joyful from the story, but also thought: How can Stephen-and I carry on after such a "spiritual high"? The age-old Catholic answer is Mass, Communion, Confession, Constant conversion.

Jesus said: " I came that you might have life, and life abundantly" (Jn. 10:10)

Blessed and Merry Christmas to you!

Padre Pio's Favorite Holyday? It's Christmas: he said, "Everyone loves a Baby!"… A man and I recently talked at the Grotto. His wife was recently diagnosed with ALS---Lou Gherigs' disease, which is a depletion of muscle skeletal tissue; I later found out some people basically die somewhat like Jesus: they suffocate to death. This couple was devastated when diagnosed. But: sometime later they went to Padre Pio's shrine in PA, and have met many people whom "God has sent to us and we have felt his presence in them. He has given us messages of peace, love and hope, even though all this is still very hard." Padre Pio, famous stigmatist, loved Jesus especially thru the Mass, Confessions and counseling people. This couple felt that he was helping them from Heaven to go thru difficulties for God. How about you?

Loss and Gain: A Catholic woman was just laid off from work. I responded, "How sad just before Christmas". She replied: "It's blessing in disguise…" She also said she took some pictures at the Grotto and said: "It's probably now a holy camera." It's your attitude that counts.

Christmas Reflections-Pray about them:

"God became man that man might become God." -Sts. Augustine, Aquinas, Athansaisus, et al.

"All things are now reversed: The castle is the cave,/ The crib becomes the throne, the night brings forth the day,/ The Virgin's bears a Child; Reflect, O Man, and say/ That heart and mind must be reversed in every way." --Angelus Silesius

Holy Poverty: St Francis of Assisi found in the Lord's Majesty a freeing Poverty. How about you?

Thinking about Christmas during Christmas Season (until Jan. 11): the beauty of this Season reminds us of the Beautiful One, the creations of the Creator. When you see Christmas Lights think of Jesus Who is "the Light of the world". When you see Christmas trees think of the Christ Who became "the tree of life"-(Rev 2:7). When you give and receive Christmas presents, think of Jesus Who gave us Himself (When you eat My Body and drink my blood, abide in Me and I in you" (Jn. 6:56). Let everything be a God-Manifestation.

The origin of the Twelve days of Christmas: Here's an actual Way to Celebrate the Season of Christmas from/copywrite: Catholic Online)

"You're familiar with the Christmas song, "The Twelve days of Christmas" I think. To most it's a delightful nonsense rhyme set to music. But it has a quite serious purpose when it was written.

Catholics in England during the period 1558 to 1829, when Parliament finally emancipated Catholics in England, were prohibited from any practice of their faith by law - private OR public. It was a crime to BE a Catholic.

"The twelve days of Christmas" was written in England as one of the "catechism songs" to help young Catholics learn the tenets of their faith - a memory aid, when to be caught with anything in writing indicating adherence to the Catholic faith could not only get you imprisoned, it could get you hanged.

The song gifts are hidden meanings to the teachings of the faith. The "true love" mentioned in the song doesn't refer to an earthly suitor, it refers to God Himself. The "me" who receives the presents refers to every baptized person. The partridge in a pear tree is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. In the song, Christ is symbolically mother partridge which feigns injury to decoy predators from her helpless nestlings. The other symbols mean the following:

2 Turtle Doves - The Old Testament
3 French Hens - Faith, Hope and Charity (the virtues)
4 Calling Birds - The Four Gospels and/or the Four Evangelists
5 Golden Rings - The First Five Books of the Old Testament, the "Pentateuch" which gives the history of man's fall from grace.
6 Geese a laying - The Six Days of Creation
7 Swans a swimming - The Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit
8 Maids a milking - The Eight Beatitudes
9 Ladies Dancing - The Nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit
10 Lords a leaping - The Ten Commandments
11 Pipers Piping - The Eleven Faithful Apostles,
12 Drummers Drumming - The Twelve points of Doctrine in the Apostle's Creed. Don't take your Faith-or Christmas-for granted!

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi