Another December, another War on Christmas. Every Advent, it seems, we must slog through a barrage of anti-Christmas noise commandeered by the usual suspects. Full of sound and fury, they engage in a grotesque and painful pirouette with spineless officials and misguided judges to cleanse any remaining whiff of religion from public life. The all-too predictable result: the crèches come crashing down, and “Away in a Manger” just goes “away.”
This author seeks an escape from this tawdry pretense of positivist legalism—but Lord, to whom should we go? Well, when in doubt, go to Mary. After all, this December we are celebrating Christmas because last March we celebrated the Feast of the Annunciation. In those days, Luke tells us, the angel Gabriel invited Mary to accept her divinely appointed role in Salvation History. She was invited to be the Mother of the Redeemer! But how? “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee.”
Mary humbly accepted: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to Thy word.”
But that isn’t the end of the story. Soon after the angel had departed from her, Mary “went into the hill country with haste,” to visit her cousin. There, Elizabeth, “filled with the Holy Ghost,” exulted that “the babe leaped in my womb for joy” upon hearing the voice of the mother of Our Lord. From his mother’s womb, John had seen the baby Jesus.
Saint John the Baptist had just administered the first Ultrasound.
That’s why volunteers at Crisis Pregnancy Centers like Expectant Mothers Care in New York and the Women’s Care Centers in the Midwest offer free ultrasounds to thousands of women every year. Again and again, as expectant mothers see the image on the screen for the first time, they exclaim, “Oh, look! Can you see the baby?”
Yes, as soon as she sees her baby, a mother’s world turns upside down. Or, perhaps better said, her upside-down world now turns right-side-up. Seeing that baby is the single most effective means of bringing life to the valley of death, of replacing fear with hope.
But hope is a supernatural virtue. That’s why the upside-down post-Christian West isn’t satisfied with merely taking Christ out of Christmas. The Culture of Death wants to take Christ out of the crib. It would take Christ out of Mary’s womb, if it could. “Happy empty manger!” they would cry. “Happy death without life!” “Season’s Greetings from the No-Reason Season.”
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Once we have seen the baby, our whole world changes. And the whole world would change, if only it could see. Before He was even born, Christ filled John the Baptist with joy. Even now, in Advent, the Christ Child longs to fill the world with his joy. He is dancing there, in Mary’s womb, inviting us all to join in.
“Yahweh your God is there with you, the warrior-Savior,” says Zepheniah. “He will rejoice over you with happy song, he will renew you by his love, he will dance with shouts of joy for you as on a day of festival. I have taken away your misfortune, no longer need you bear the disgrace of it.”
Ah, the misfortune. Ah, the disgrace of it. It is a timeless burden, a universal one that we all share since Eden. Christ came that we could escape it, to take all sin upon himself and breathe life back into the world. But still that dead world is too much with us. In 2008, when he was campaigning in Pennsylvania, Barack Obama was afraid. He feared for his family. “I’ve got two daughters,” he told the crowd, “nine years old and six years old. I’m gonna teach, em, first of all, about values and morals, but, If they make a mistake, I don’t want them punished with a baby.”
Fear. Misfortune. Disgrace.
Like any father, Mr. Obama wants his daughters to be perfect. He doesn’t want them to make a mistake. And for the secular world, a baby is a mistake until “choice” says otherwise. Alas, for the secular world the Christ Child is a mistake, and Christmas Cheer is sheer punishment. But this is nothing new. Luke goes on to tell us that the Pharisees weren’t all that pleased when John the Baptist, all grown up now, and blazing forth from the wilderness, called them a “brood of vipers.” And given what we’ve seen already, we know that, even as he levels that charge, John is overflowing with joy. What a mysterious pair—joy and prophetic, righteous anger! And love—because John baptizes the Jews, and calls them to repentance, and charity, and justice. And life.
What John told the Jews, Saint Paul told the Greeks. He puts it plainly in I Corinthians: “Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?”
Saul has seen the baby! And with that vision, the Pharisee that once ceaselessly persecuted the Body of Christ turns around, from darkness to light. But what should he do now? Ah! He has the answer: “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!”
Yes, Holy Mother Church encounters persecution today as never before in our country. But who today persecutes the Church with more zeal than did Saul the Pharisee? Saul was appalled to discover that he was not only persecuting the body of Christians, but Christ Himself. And persecutors, take note: that sad fact has not changed.
Now, these days, many Americans consider Obama to be the greatest persecutor of the Catholic Church in our history. And it is fair to say that his administration’s brood has attracted more than its share of vipers. But the figure of Saul towers over the hollow husks of today’s petulant persecutors. If Saul can experience true metanoia, why can’t they? After all, he was proud to torment the young Church until he met Christ. But when Saul saw the baby, he became Paul, Christ’s most fervent apostle.
Why can’t that happen today? It can. It’s hard to say what “morals and values” Obama teaches his two young daughters, but it’s clear that he can’t see the baby. Not yet. To him, an unwanted baby is the result of a mistake and a punishment to be eliminated. Well, was anything different in Christ’s own day? Herod tried to kill him when he was still in the crib. When he began to preach the Gospel, he was rejected, mocked, and spurned—and hated.
Yet Christ dances in Mary’s womb and invites us all to join in, to harmonize with his joy and love – even in the midst of persecution. Yes, the war on the Church is one with the war on the family. And like all wars, this one has a peculiar logic. The secular world spawns fatherless families because it rejects the Our Father. Then it inevitably turns its guns on all that is holy—the Holy Family, the Christ Child; the human family, and the unborn child.
Today the Church confronts powerful enemies. But we have hope! After all, greater men than Obama have seen the Christ Child and fallen to their knees in tears. We must “pray always,” that others may see. We can do so because we are inspired by hope, a gift of the same Holy Ghost that overshadowed Mary at the Annunciation and filled Elizabeth’s joyous womb.
And yet, for many, with Advent comes sadness, woe, even despair—the shards surround us all: broken hearts, broken homes; lost loves, lost loved ones, even lost souls. But once we have seen the baby, we can hope, keeping our eye always on the Cross—because the star that hovers over the Christ Child in Bethlehem will soon work its weary way to shine over Golgotha, where Christ is on the Cross, even until the end of time.
This is Dr. Manion’s “From Under the Rubble” column for December 20, 2012. It is syndicated through the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation and printed here with permission of the author. The image above entitled “Virgin and Child” was painted by Adolphe-William Bouguereau in 1888.