Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Fr. Timothy X. Warnn misunderstands Christmas

Timothy X. Warnn is the fictional name I've bestowed on the new pastor of our parish. Well, 'new' as in he's been there two years already, and it seems like forever. We can talk about why I'm still going there some other time. For now, though, let's talk about the poor man's confusion over Christmas.

Fr. Warnn (don't ever call him Fr. Tim!) is one of the more negative people ever to survive to adulthood. And I say this as a registered Curmudgeon, and therefore not exactly a sunny optimist myself. My good wife, who tries to find something to like in everyone, says he's not really evil, or out to deliberately destroy our parish; it's just that there is no way he should ever have been appointed to lead any sort of congregation. He also seems good to his dog, she adds.

A week ago Sunday, on the Feast of St. Nicholas, Fr. Warnn was preaching that Catholics need to reject modern culture; if we're not counter-cultural, we're doing something wrong. (In Fr. Warnn's world, we're always doing something wrong.)

Did you know, he asked rhetorically, that in Japan they have a Christmas parade? He sneered, "Japan is not even a Christian nation!" -- I guess he thinks the United States is a Christian nation? -- but the Japanese Christmas parade only had Santa Claus and reindeer and elves and toys (no religious content at all, in other words), and this, apparently, is all wrong.

Except, of course, that it's Fr. Warnn who is all wrong.

We -- all of us, Catholics, non-Catholics, non-Christians, even non-believers -- can all participate in this kind of Currier & Ives, just-hear-those-sleighbells-jingling Christmas. A Jew, Irving Berlin, wrote "White Christmas." Santa Claus and Frosty the Snowman are non-denominational. Christmas trees and Christmas lights are not religious icons. The message of "Peace on Earth" is a universal one -- and one we all need to heed -- whether we are Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu or atheist.

There's nothing wrong with celebrating that sort of Christmas.

That's what Fr. Warnn should have said. And then he should have added that we -- Christians generally and Catholics in particular -- have a Christmas that is all of that and more.

We Christians know where the message of "Peace on Earth" comes from. We know that this message is part of the glad tidings proclaimed by the angels to the shepherds guarding their flocks in the fields by night, the angels telling the shepherds -- and all of us, down through the centuries -- that unto us, in the City of David, a Child had been born, a Child destined to save the world. Fr. Warnn should have said that the Star of Bethlehem is still shining overhead for all of us, waiting to direct us to the Manger, if we are willing to open our eyes, and our hearts, and follow.

And he should have encouraged us to share this kind of Christmas, too -- we should want to share this Christmas, too -- but we should also realize that not everyone is ready, or willing, to accept this full meaning of the holiday. That's OK. We will share our Christmas joy with our neighbors on any terms that our neighbors can handle -- we don't have to reject Santa Claus to welcome the Christ Child. We know there's more to Christmas than Rudolph's red nose or Buddy the Elf, or even the change of heart experienced by Ebeneezer Scrooge or the Grinch, but believers can enjoy the secular as well as the sacred. The world has something wonderful in the secular Christmas, Fr. Warnn could have concluded, but we Christians have all that and so much more besides.

Of course, Fr. Warnn isn't the only one who misunderstands Christmas. He has equally dense counterparts in the secular world. There are those who bristle at Santa Claus and reindeer and elves as if they were Biblical patriarchs. Who get mad if you let "Merry Christmas" slip instead of "Happy Holidays." These poor creatures think that, because "Christ" is contained within the word "Christmas," the entire holiday is an attack on the First Amendment. They imagine a slippery slope running straight down from "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" to "Adeste Fidelis." Idiots. Wednesday is derived from Woden's Day (after the Norse god Odin), Thursday is Thor's Day, and Friday is Frigg's Day (for Odin's wife) -- but no one claims that these homages to the gods of Asgard undermine our Constitution.

And don't even get me started on the allegedly religious dopes who got mad this year at Starbuck's for not putting Christmas trees or other secular symbols of the holiday on their plain red seasonal cups. As if this 'omission' constituted an attack on the deeper, religious meaning of Christmas. Who storm out of stores where clerks say "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas." Golly, weren't we once concerned about the effects of "commercialism" on our understanding of the holiday? Good heavens.

There are aspects of modern culture that Catholics need to reject, but we do not need to reject what is good and wholesome in our common culture in order to enjoy what is special in our religious heritage.

Merry Christmas to all.

1 comment:

Steve Skinner said...

A very Merry Christmas to you!