Dear Friends in Christ,
Christmas is not just one day on the calendar. Christmas is an entire season, although a brief one, of the Church’s liturgical year. The season of Christmas Time or Christmastide begins with Vespers on Christmas Eve and ends with Vespers on the Feast of the Baptism the Lord, this year on Sunday 13 January. And along the way, Christmastide includes the Solemnities of the Maternity of Mary and the Epiphany and, among others, the memorials of the first martyrs: the Holy Innocents of Bethlehem and Saint Stephen, murdered at the feet of Saint Paul.
Moreover, as with Easter, Christmas Day is not simply one 24 hour period; rather, Christmas Day is celebrated as an Octave for eight consecutive days from 25 December to 1 January, on which we rejoice that blessed Mary, Ever Virgin, is the Mother of God. And when the Octave of Christmas includes a Sunday, as it does this year, then that Sunday is kept as the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.
In 1964 Pope Paul VI made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and one of the places he visited was the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth. There he gave an address which spoke about the theme of today’s celebration:
“Nazareth is a kind of school where we may begin to discover what Christ’s life was like and even to understand his Gospel. Here we can observe and ponder the simple appeal of the way God’s Son came to be known, profound and full of hidden meaning. And gradually we may even learn to imitate him.
“Here we can learn to realize who Christ really is. And here we can sense and take account of the conditions and circumstances that surrounded and affected his life on earth: the places, the tenor of the times, the culture, the language, religious customs, in brief everything which Jesus used to make himself known to the world. Here everything speaks to us, everything has meaning. Here we can learn the importance of spiritual discipline for all who wish to follow Christ and to live by the teachings of his Gospel.
“The silence of Nazareth should teach us how to meditate in peace and quiet, to reflect on the deeply spiritual, and to be open to the voice of God’s inner wisdom and the counsel of his true teachers. Nazareth can teach us the value of study and preparation, of meditation, of a well-ordered personal spiritual life, and of silent prayer that is known only to God.”
In the midst of this Christmastide, let us all learn from the Holy Family how to live together in forgiveness, mutual understanding and loving-kindness, and how to place the living God at the center of our lives – as individual disciples, as families, and as a parish, a spiritual family in the Lord Jesus.