Bishop Glen John Provost
Bishop of Lake Charles
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
Sunday, December 25, 2011
Solemnity of Christmas

“In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the whole world should be enrolled.”  Luke 2:1

“Love for Jesus and His Church must be the passion of our lives.”  With those words, Archbishop Timothy Dolan began his address to the Catholic bishops of the United States at their most recent plenary meeting in Baltimore.  The words are those of Blessed Pope John Paul II.  I think they are fitting to repeat on this Solemnity of Christmas, because the Eternal Word of God became flesh for a reason, and this reason vitally and intrinsically involves us in the Church. 

The message of Jesus Christ is a dynamic message.  It has energy and power because it is God’s message of redemption.  As a matter of fact, it possesses energy and power because Jesus Christ is the redemption.  As He says to Martha, He says to us, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.  Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26).   The message of Jesus Christ has power to save, because Jesus Christ is the message. 

Christmas gives us once again the opportunity to unite ourselves to Jesus Christ in faith.  When we go to the manger and gaze upon the figures of the Christ Child, Mary, Joseph and the shepherds, our faith is enlivened and awakened.  Jesus is an historic moment.  St. Luke makes that point. 

The Evangelist reminds us of historic details to make the point that Jesus is a real person, at a real moment in human history.  He is not myth.  He is not a creation of a fiction writer with an overly fertile imagination seeking answers to his problems.  No!  Christ is born in the reign of Caesar Augustus.  Quirinius is the governor of Syria.  Nazareth and Bethlehem are real places.  As a matter of fact, everywhere we turn we encounter reality, a mother giving birth, a father looking for a place for his family to stay the night, and shepherds tending their flocks. 

It is fascinating that Jesus in born at a time when the Roman Emperor is taking a census.  The Romans called this time the Pax Romana.  The earthly king is to enroll the heavenly king in his kingdom, but the kingdom that the heavenly king comes to establish will surpass that of the earthly king.  The Roman Emperor may have brought about an earthly peace, but the Eternal King will bring about a peace that this world cannot know.  The kingdom of the Prince of Peace will embrace all.  It will extend to the ends of the earth and last forever in fulfillment of Isaiah.  “[U]pon his shoulder dominion rests.  They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.  His dominion is vast and forever peaceful, from David’s throne and over his kingdom, which he confirms and sustains by judgment and justice, both now and forever” (Isaiah 9:5b-6).

“Love for Jesus and His Church must be the passion of our lives.”  Why is this so?  Because if we believe that Jesus Christ came to proclaim a universal salvation, then it must transcend the world of Augustus and Quirinius, and for that matter the world of the everyday.  If the message of Jesus is to be proclaimed, then He must leave behind an instrument of His communication.  The Eternal Word is made flesh, and the Eternal Word becomes flesh in those who believe in Jesus Christ, adhere to Him with fidelity, preserve His Word, take His teachings seriously, witness to them and allow them to transform their lives.  For this reason the Church exists.  For this reason Christ established His Church.  As we read in the Letter of the Ephesians, “[‘The God of our Lord Jesus Christ’] put all things beneath [Christ’s] feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way” (Ephesians 1:22-23).

“Love for Jesus and His Church must be the passion of our lives,” because Jesus is the Good News and the Church, His Body, proclaims that message.  It always has and always will.  Not even the heavens can contain the joy of such a proclamation.  The angels must rend the heavens on that Christmas night and sing, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14). 

When you have a passion for something, the last thing you do is keep it hidden.  No one lights a lamp to put it under a bushel basket (Matthew 5:15).  You do not compromise the message.  You do not apologize for it.  From that first moment in Bethlehem, an obscure and silent town, the message of Christ, boldly and heroically, began its intrepid journey reaching out to the world.  It cannot stop.  The Spirit moves it along, so that martyrs can embrace it and die for it in Roman arenas, missionaries can preach it in far off lands, saints and sinners can hear it and repent, humble folk and kings can allow it to shape their lives. 

There was a great Catholic theologian who once asked the rhetorical question:  “For what would I ever know of Him, without her?”   Henri de Lubac was speaking of the Church, the bride of Christ, in the words of St. Paul and the Book of Revelation.  I would not be here now, if it were not for the Church who proclaimed Christ to me.  I would not know of Christmas or the Gospel or of love or of justice or of beauty. 

Think of these things as you gather around your dinner table or Christmas tree.  Consider who you are and why you are here as you sing your Christmas carols, as you receive the love of family and friends and break open your gifts.  Think of these things as we gather here around the altar of the Lord.  We are here because we are fed with the bread of angels.  The Church, whom we should love because she is the bride of Christ, has made it possible, because Jesus Christ, Her spouse, first made it necessary.  “Love for Jesus and His Church should be the passion of our lives.” 

“Joyeux Noël! Feliz Navidad! Merry Christmas!”