Bishop Glen John Provost
Bishop of Lake Charles
The Nativity of the Lord - Christmas
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
Lake Charles, Louisiana
December 25, 2016
“And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God.” Luke 2:13
Singing is part of Christmas. Nothing can evoke the joy of the season more quickly than the melodies that proclaim the birth of the Savior. Always on Christmas Day we gathered around the piano as a family and sang carols. Each had a favorite. “Oh, Little Town of Bethlehem” was my mother’s.
One of my fondest memories of Christmas as a child was the prelude to Midnight Mass. Just minutes before the Bishop entered the Cathedral, the lights were extinguished and a soloist sang Minuit Chrétien. The moment was both magical and mysterious.
In my first pastoral assignment, the priests of the parish had the practice of visiting the homebound with our youth group and others to go caroling. It was always a joy to see the faces of the elderly and the sick light up with the strains of “Silent Night” or “Angels We Have Heard on High.”
Many years ago I read an account written by a Jewish professor of his experience at the end of the Second World War. I regret that I have since misplaced the article which appeared in a magazine but remember enough of the details to repeat them here.
This Jewish gentleman and his sister were placed as young children in a Catholic orphanage run by nuns in Czechoslovakia when the Nazis took over that country. The Catholic nuns gave them false identities and the children remained undetected for the duration of hostilities, until the last Christmas of the war. The German commander came to visit the orphanage bearing gifts for the children and asked them to sing for him. The children sang carols in Latin and in their native Czech language. At the end of the performance, the commander asked, “I would like to hear ‘Silent Night’ in German. Does anyone know that carol in German?” The Jewish boy was older and knew that in this region of Czechoslovakia German was not a language well-known except by the Jewish population. So the boy thought it best not to volunteer. However, his younger sister missed that subtlety and naively raised her hand. Her brother, not wanting her to be alone in revealing her true identity, joined his sister to stand before the German commander. In effect, in singing a German carol they were being exposed as Jews. For over four years they had remained anonymous until now, this Christmas night, the last of the war. When the children had finished “Silent Night,’ the commander gestured them to come closer to him. The boy trembling approached with his sister, convinced of their inevitable doom. The German commander bent over and said quietly, “Thank you. It will be a silent night for me also.”
Christmas is a time for singing. Spoken words just do not express the joy of what is happening here. The Word of God made flesh is born into the world. The Eternal Word has torn open the skies and revealed itself in all its fullness. Angels appear to poor shepherds and proclaim “good news of great joy” (Luke 2:10). Once they have shared this message with the shepherds, “a multitude of the heavenly host” shouts “Glory to God in the highest” (Luke 2:13). The Catholic liturgy takes those words, as it does so many other lyrics, and places them in our mouths as an expression glorifying God.
If I may paraphrase St. John of the Cross, there comes a time in the life of faith when words are simply unnecessary. Christmas is one of these moments. This great mystic will remind us that since Jesus Christ is the incarnation of God’s Word, then God through His Son has said all that needs to be said (The Ascent of Mount Carmel, Book II, Chapter 22). “He [God] has no more to say,” St. John of the Cross concludes.
We well might ask ourselves the question: Does anyone have difficulties with this? Who would deprive us of this joy? We have only ourselves to blame if we permit someone to rob us of our joy.
And so we break into song. The family gathers around the piano. Out of the darkness and silence of a great Cathedral comes a melodious voice that announces peace to the world. The Christmas carolers bring some joy to the otherwise lonely homebound. And even the commander of an occupying army is silenced, so special is the moment, so profound the mystery, so deep the joy, and so holy the night.
Bishop Glen John Provost