How can we grow in appreciation of the joyous solemnity of the Resurrection of Our Lord during this Easter Week? We need to connect it in our minds to the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. We see this most clearly each Christmas.
The below article of mine was published last Christmas as a printed newsletter. It talks about the demise of the true meaning of Christmas in our culture, as well signs of hope for a new awakening of Christianity.
I’m sharing the article with my Catholic 365 readers at the suggestion of a Poor Clare community here in the Chicago area who thought it should be given more publicity.
Have you ever gone shopping as a child and stared in wonder at the Christmas displays?
Maybe your parents took you to see the sights during the busy shopping season.
If you’re a Chicagoan, you may have been awed years ago by the famous Marshall Field’s display windows downtown.
Continuing a tradition that is more than half a century old, the store – now owned by Macy’s – features a different theme each year told in a progressive series of windows. You’ll find animated mannequins that cheer a child’s heart - all displayed amid lavish settings.
Over the years, the stories have sported fanciful themes, such as that of Mrs. Field Mouse, Uncle Mistletoe, or the more recent Snow White.
In each window was a huge book with a page opened to the episode, told in poetry. One year, viewers were given the account of a mouse family that welcomed four little ones into their home. When the mother visited the doctor, he said in rhyming verse,
"Yes, Mrs. Field Mouse, I confirm your suspicion.
You can expect more than just one small addition."
The windows, even today, are a rite of the season, a shared experience, something that parents do to share the joy that they felt in their youth.
There is a sense of theater with the windows. Each year you’ll find a small flock of onlookers clustered around each arrangement as the holiday shoppers walk around them. The cold and sometimes falling snow are not obstacles to what forms a civic bond among all who experience it.
Older residents recall the window that always appeared last in the line, just as you turned the corner of the massive store: a beautiful Nativity scene with the shepherds, Mary, Joseph and the Christ child, all tastefully displayed. Placed as the final act of the windows, the nativity seemed point to the deep meaning of Christmas, and the Christ child who came among us to share with us God’s life.
The window, being the last one, gave a sense of finality, prominence, and of completion to the story of the day – indeed, of all of our life stories.
Even if some onlookers of the Nativity window missed the religious themes of redemption, salvation, and God taking on human flesh as a child, they certainly thought about the human virtues of peace, forgiveness and kindness. You certainly recall these themes in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.
But sometime in the 1980’s the Nativity scene was abruptly removed.
The local public TV station, in a feature made years afterwards, summarily dismissed it, “Times changed, and the first to go was the Nativity scene….”
Religious Fans Miffed
But at that time, I remember that many Chicagoans were not so easily mollified.
A campaign of sympathetic organizers at the time urged Chicagoans to write letters to Dayton Hudson, the new owners of Marshall Field’s, to restore the homage paid to the Gospel story.
It came to no avail, however.
I don’t know what they are putting in the last window these days – reindeer, elves, talking snowmen? It seems anticlimactic for me. Never equal to what was there before. A feeling like the whining song of long ago, “Is that all there is?”
Baby Jesus Snatched Away
Another more recent Nativity story may shed some light on Macy’s sad omission.
A few years ago, when our children were small, we set up a simple Nativity scene - the figures of Mary, Joseph and the Christ Child in our front yard. The figures stood just in front of our picture window. It was meant to be a simple spectacle conveying joy to passersby.
One day the baby Jesus was gone.
There was no explanation for it. No Christ Child was found nearby. Mary and Joseph looked forlornly onto an empty space between them.
My thoughts were that this was not an ideological theft. Just a prank of say, a middle-school-aged boy who wanted to show off to his friends. You can imagine it as a scene from a Flannery O’Connor novel, with the young ruffian snatching the simple plastic form from the Velcro attachment that I had put on.
The young culprit dashes away from the crime scene, the baby Jesus held firmly in his grip as he giggles and shrieks over his jaded victory. A couple of sophomoric friends trail after him, in obvious admiration of the theft.
This adolescent was able to pull off what King Herod could not do.
Was the pilfering of this tiny innocent form a result of our cultural rejection of the Christmas story? Maybe. After all, the Nativity was expelled from Marshall Field’s.
Prayers of a Worried Mother
If we continue our possible story, maybe the thief, due to the prayers of his worried mother or father, regrets his action and turns from a rebellious lifestyle. Maybe the baby Jesus in turn puts a grip on his heart and the boy changes his ways.
Is the disappearance of the Nativities in our lives something that we should just simply ignore as a kind of natural evolution to the secularism of today? Or will the prayers of others turn around this crazy world of ours to embrace lofty, and even holy ideals?
Let’s hope for the latter.
Resurgence of Faith
On a happier note, at least in the Catholic world of which I am a part, one sign of a resurgence of faith is the Fellowship of Catholic University Students. Its annual conference, held each January, draws as many as twenty thousand youths for a few days of prayer, song, and lectures by top speakers.
I attended one such meeting at Chicago’s McCormick Place a few years ago. It’s not fluff. I was truly impressed by the solid religious teaching as well as the genuine enthusiasm and wholesomeness among the students.
This is a great turn of events over the hears. When I was young, no such movement existed among young Catholics. Many of us back then, without real spiritual leadership just went down the wrong path. It’s a good thing that grace is always available to us, if we only accept it.
As far as the Christmas season, the parties and holidays are enjoyable.
But if you take away the Baby Jesus, you are only celebrating the birth of a field mouse.