Bishop Glen John Provost
Bishop of Lake Charles
Christmas 2014
Thursday, December 25, 2014
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
Lake Charles, Louisiana

"Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock.”  Luke 2:8

As Christmas approached one hundred years ago, Pope Benedict XV appealed to the nations engaged in war to declare a truce.   The Pope saw World War I as the suicide of Europe and Western Civilization.    As with other appeals for peace since 1914, government leaders and generals ignored the pope.  But the simple fighting men in the trenches, the boys from the country villages of England and Germany did not.  They followed his advice or at least embraced the spirit of what Pope Benedict XV had counseled.  As one Austrian soldier wrote in a letter to his Russian enemy, “We wish you … a Merry Christmas and hope that we can come to a peaceful agreement as soon as possible” (Catastrophe 1914 by Max Hastings, p. 557).   It was the last gasp of Christian civilization before the onslaught of 20th century modernism.   Archbishop Sheen once said, Christendom is dead but not Christianity.  Christianity is still quite alive and well in those who, against all odds, embrace Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace. 

We come to know this Prince of Peace through His mysteries.  The first great mystery is the Incarnation.   The Word of God was made flesh.   “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel” (Matthew 1:29).   

When we meet someone special in our lives, we always discover a mystery.   The mystery both intrigues us and invites us all at the same time.   For this reason, we stand in awe of friends and spouses, for as well and as long as we might know them, we revere their mystery.   Ignoring the mystery only frustrates us.   Explaining the mystery entirely on our terms cheapens it.    The quality of mystery that defies our complete comprehension is what we call sublime.  And it is the sublime that moves us to do extraordinary things. 

When the soldiers at the trenches put down their guns and fraternized with the enemy, they did so for one reason and one reason alone.   Christmas compelled them.  The mystery found in a winter night when Christ was born in Bethlehem moved them to such an extent that they forgot war.  This was not a celebration of the winter solstice or a saccharine “happy holidays.”   “[E]volutionary biologists, working with researchers in game theory,” might explain the Christmas Truce as “mutual restraint developed around shared needs,” as I read only recently in an article on the topic (Wall Street Journal, “When the Guns Went Silent,” Dec. 20-21, 2014).   I think the soldiers would describe it another way.  The combatants knew that Christ had come to change the world, but here they were fighting.  Their lives had become a contradiction.  It was not meant to be so.   Christmas night made them remember the sublime.

They were called to be one with each other.   And Jesus Christ made that unity possible with His peace, the peace of His person and His message, His infant presence and His mystery.        
The world of Caesar Augustus and his census, the armies of Rome and occupied territories, the crowded inns and crafty bureaucrats—all were forgotten, so that an infant cry could break the silence of the night.   “On earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14).   

To follow the example of the shepherds is all that is necessary.   “Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place” (Luke 2:15).    They were to meet someone special in their lives and discover the mystery.   The mystery would entice them and draw them in.    The mystery would introduce them to the sublime about Him and about themselves.   The Incarnation lay before them, “the infant lying in the manger” (Luke 2:16).   The simplest things can envelop a mystery and bring about silence and even stop a war.

A “Silent Night” can come to us, if only we embrace Word of God made flesh, renew our faith, let the mystery enrapture us and experience the sublime.  Merry Christmas!