|Searching for Bethlehem|
|The Light at the End of the Tunnel|
Timothy J. Cullen
|REMNANT COLUMNIST, Argentina|
(Posted 12/15/08 www.RemnantNewspaper.com) The Year of Our Lord 2008 wanes. Worldwide trepidation reigns with respect to the year to come. There is a gathering global storm of pessimism that calls to mind Europe on the eve of the First World War and Sir Edward Grey’s quote about the lights going out all over Europe, except that on the eve of 2009 A.D., the lights are dimming everywhere.
Everybody knows, even those of us who have lived most unadventurously, what it is to plod on for miles, it seems, eagerly straining your eyes toward the lights that, somehow, mean home. How difficult it is, when you are doing that to judge distances! In pitch darkness, it might be a couple of miles to your destination, it might be a few hundred yards. So it was, I think, with the Hebrew prophets, as they looked forward to the redemption of their people. They could not have told you, within a hundred years, within five hundred years, when it was the deliverance would come. They only knew that, some time, the stock of David would burgeon anew; some time, a key would be found to fit the door of their prison house; some time, the light that only showed now, like a will-o’-the-wisp on the horizon would broaden out at last, into the perfect day.
The attitude of expectation is one which the Church wants to encourage in us, her children, permanently. She sees it as an essential part of our Christian drill that we should still be looking forward; getting on for two thousand years, now, since the first Christmas Day came and went, and we must still be looking forward. So she encourages us, during Advent, to take the shepherd-folk for our guides, and imagine ourselves travelling with them, at dead of night, straining our eyes towards that chink of light which streams out, we know, from the cave at Bethlehem.
There is nothing that can dim that light, never mind put it out, and it is that light which will see us through whatever storms and darkness may be gathering in global civil societies. As citizens, it is increasingly likely that we are entering into a deep and dark societal tunnel, and as Catholics we may be called upon to “go underground” in the catacombs, but we will have no difficulty finding our way around within them, because the glow of the altar lamp will always be there to light our way.
Christmas is coming and it is for Christmas that we must prepare our souls. Christmas is a holiday, as in holy day, and its approach should be measured by the number of windows left to open on the Advent Calendar, not the number of “shopping days” that remain. Advent is, after all, a penitential period preparatory to the celebration to follow. Perhaps it might behoove us to take a leaf from European tradition and celebrate “Kings’ Day” (Epiphany) as the day on which gifts are given to the young. The adults (and the children too, for that matter) are given the greatest gift they can possibly receive on Christmas Day: the birth of the Savior of humankind and His promise of the conquest of death; cashmere sweaters and monogrammed cufflinks can’t hold a candle to it.
Those who place no more value on the holiday than that of gifts and gluttony may be disappointed this year, and more so in the near future, but for those who know that Christmas is a Holy Day, this year has the makings of something special.
The material world may have begun—or may soon begin—to crumble around you, but be of good cheer, because the Lord is with you! There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and it is always lit! Never mind if this year the tree is lit by naught but the star and that the family feasts on chicken instead of turkey, the Holy Day is no less filled with promise!
“Take the shepherd-folk for our guides,” preached Msgr. Knox, pointing out that this is the guidance of the Church for Advent. No matter how dark our surroundings, keep our eyes focused on that beam of light reflected by the star above that guides the shepherds, guides the gift-bearing kings who are coming—they are always coming—to worship a humble Babe.
Four years after Msgr. Knox gave the sermon cited above, on Christmas Eve, a five and a half year old boy sat on the floor in a New York living room to watch a live operatic portrayal of a lame shepherd boy to whose humble home come the Three Kings bearing gifts for the Sacred Child they seek. Amahl (“hope” in Arabic) wishes to give a gift as well, so offers his crutch, is miraculously healed of his lameness and goes forth to follow the Star with the kings. The opera (in English) which premiered on that Christmas Eve is all I now remember of it, but I remember it well and play the recording every year, though the opera is no longer telecast as it was for fifteen consecutive years; I never missed a showing.
Amahl and the Night Visitors was written and composed by the late Gian Carlo Menotti (1911-2007), who was born in Italy but lived for many years in the United States. An apparently miraculous incident in the composer’s boyhood was clearly the inspiration for the character of the lame shepherd. Menotti himself was lame as a youngster, but his family had faith that a miraculous cure was possible, so they took him to be blessed at Italy’s Sacro Monte Sanctuary. Their faith was rewarded: Menotti was healed.
The opera is aired less frequently these days, but is available both on DVD and video tape; I recommend the 1955 performance. A family viewing or even a listening (there is a CD of the original 1951 broadcast) cannot fail to be inspiring. In fact, a parish performance of what is not in fact an overly demanding libretto—which can be recited rather than sung—would make for a worthwhile Christmas pageant piece.
Christmas as celebrated publically throughout North and South America, in non-Communist-dominated Europe, in Australia and New Zealand, during the 1950s was never a time of sectarian discord, even in legally secular societies; whatever hidden anti-Christian resentments there were had yet to show themselves openly; Western societies needed further brainwashing first. The Catholic Church had to be subverted from within so that misled Catholics could be convinced they had to apologize for their faith, customs and traditions. Christ had to be taken out of Christmas, and then Christmas could be barred from schools, shops and the public square of societies sunk in secular materialist spiritual death, their joylessness ever-more-apparent in their degenerate and barbaric “entertainment.”
Christmas in the catacombs: that’s what we’re coming to.
But that light continues to shine forth, never dimming, not for a moment; it just seems especially bright at this time of year.
The words “Happy New Year” come January 1st are likely to ring hollow for many, but in many cases, it will be because these unfortunates are hollow themselves, their lives defined by material goods, comforts and a shallow, narcissistic sensual self-satisfaction. You as a seeking shepherd are spared that, and your new year will be as happy as you choose to make it, because you have that miraculous Birth to celebrate just before the new year begins and you have it to look forward to once more as the new year grows old and ends.
Socially speaking, secularly speaking, there will be little to celebrate in the coming year. The “change” promised to the U.S.A. by the winning presidential puppet has already been revealed as meaningless with respect to the rule of finance capitalism over a cowed population. Wholesale murder of the unborn will likely increase as economic difficulties weigh heavily on the soulless libertines and the unwed and central government usurps the powers of the states, just as the transnational bureaucracy of the EU is usurping the power of nations.
All of fallen Christendom has fallen into the financiers’ trap and is compounding its error by believing the lies told by the political puppets the plutocrats have installed. Christ’s materialist enemies plan a symbolic wholesale massacre of the lapsed, “holy innocents” no more, but nonetheless naïve, stunned like cattle taking it between the eyes. This Christmas, simply banning the Crèche from public places won’t do; the plan is to smother the Christ Child in His crib with a pillow of debt.
The thing is: the Christ Child will not die! He will be born, and be born every year until the end of time, and it is that which gives cause for celebration, that which can make us endure any hardship as we grope our way through the gathering and deeper societal dark toward “that chink of light” which we can see and the spiritually blind cannot.
We are called upon to look forward; but to put things in perspective, one must also be able to look back and understand what one sees.
Just yesterday I was speaking with a university-educated young (26) Frenchwoman, well-travelled and multilingual. I commented to her that in terms of getting things done—and done properly—in this neck of the woods (rural Argentina), one must have “the patience of Job.” She had no idea, none whatsoever, who “Job” is or was. This ever-so-serious young woman, worried sick about global warming, worried not at all about the tragic fact that she had never read the Bible and knew next to nothing about it.
“Well, you’re…older,” she commented apologetically. “My parents probably know, and my granddad for sure. He thinks kind of like you do, that things are going to fall apart and that everything’s gone to hell. He’s even got me wondering!”
Always looking forward, but patiently, I reminded myself.
“Right now, we have Christmas to look forward to,” I said, smiling. “Could be it’s time for Catholicism to make a comeback. The Godless society doesn’t seem to be working any more.”
Patience, patience, I counseled myself, as the young tattooed lady began explaining that “God” was, maybe, a kind of force, you know, like, well, cosmic energy, or, maybe, a world soul, or, well, you know, not, like, a person, and the Catholics…, well, it was okay for older people, maybe, but, well, educated people wouldn’t... You know?
The Bible, Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquinas, classical music, opera… She had next to no acquaintance with any of them. Christmas was little more than a pagan feast: “An ominous sign is the conversion of St. Nicholas, the patron saint of sailors and children whose feast properly falls on the sixth of December, into Father Christmas, the buffoonish patron of the holiday.”
The above paragraph was written a year after Msgr. Knox’s sermon; little did its author know that sixty years later, the Christ Child would be barred from civic life and St. Nick would be portrayed (as was the case in some stupid, forgettable film or other) not just as a buffoon but as a lewd drunk. My young interlocutor had no idea who the real St. Nicholas was, and, French though she is, referred to “Père Noel” as “Santa Claus.”
As we plod on through the dead of night which shrouds the West, groping for the key that will open the door of the “prison house” within which Christ—the holiest of innocents—is being held hostage, awaiting the moment in which “the light that only showed now, like a will-o’-the-wisp on the horizon” would finally once more signal the dawning of the perfect day, we are of good cheer, eyes fixed on what it appears only we can see: the light at the end of the tunnel.
 Knox, Fr. Ronald A., Sermon on Advent, 21 Dec. 1947.
 Graves, Robert, The White Goddess, 1948, amended and enlarged, Noonday Press of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, NY, 1966, p. 458.