Catholics come home for Christmas

Before the Cross - Archbishop Robert J. Carlson's Column

Lisa Johnston | lisajohnston@stlouisreview.com
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Archbishop Robert J. Carlson

This Christmas we are making a special effort to urge all members of the Catholic community to "come home" for Christmas. Why? Because Christmas is a time for the entire family of God to recall the beauty and the wonder of the Christ Child's birth.

Catholics Come Home is a collaborative effort of parish initiatives coupled with a regional media campaign of television commercials. The commercials have been specially developed to encourage people to come back to the Catholic Church or to learn about our Church for the first time. During their run (mid-December through mid-January), millions of people will see these ads -- most will see them multiple times!

We hope that this Catholics Come Home initiative will help all of us discover (or rediscover) the simple truth that God is with us. We are not alone. We have not been abandoned in a cruel and heartless world. The Lord is with us. As Pope Benedict XVI teaches, "He has drawn so near to us as a child that we unabashedly address Him familiarly and can have direct, personal access to the child's heart."

The mystery of Christmas speaks to every human heart. To those who have no religious faith, it reveals God's closeness, His intimacy. To those who have drifted away from their faith, Christmas is a vivid reminder of simple truths and better times. To those who practice their faith in a routine or half-hearted way, Christmas can help reawaken the flame of life in Christ. And even for those who are fervent in their practice of the faith, Christmas is a chance to deepen and solidify a childlike humility and a Christlike generosity.

Christmas helps each of us realize in new and life-changing ways the paradox of God's presence. Although He seems absent, He is closer to us than we are to ourselves. Although He is all-powerful and steeped in majesty, His coming is utterly simple, an act of supreme humility. As we pray in the Liturgy of the Hours, "A little child is born for us today; little and yet called the mighty God."

The feast of Christmas, as we have come to know it, was strongly influenced by the devotion of St. Francis of Assisi. "The special warmth we feel at Christmas," Pope Benedict writes, "did not develop until the Middle Ages. It was Francis of Assisi who helped bring this novelty about through his deep love for the man Jesus, for the God with us." Quoting an early biographer of St. Francis, the pope says St. Francis "celebrated Christmas more than any other feast with an indescribable joy." The saint's biographer goes on to say that St. Francis "embraced with great affection and devotion the images that represented the child Jesus and stammered words of sympathy as children do words of affection. The name of Jesus was sweet as honey on his lips."

St. Francis longed for the nearness of God. He wanted to experience the joy of Christmas directly. As Pope Benedict tells us, "He wanted to experience up close the birth of the child Jesus and to tell all his friends."

This Christmas I pray that the Catholics Come Home initiative will help us all experience the closeness of Christ's birth. I hope it will encourage us to tell our friends that God is with us!

Invite some of your family members, friends or neighbors to come to Christmas Mass with you. Share with them the indescribable joy that St. Francis experienced and that Christians throughout the ages have come to know in spite of all the distractions and the busyness of this time of year.

May the name of Jesus be on our lips this holy season. May His coming renew us all in our devotion to Him and to the Gospel message of hope and joy He preached for our salvation.

Catholics, and all who read these words, come home for Christmas. Come share the joy of our Savior's birth. God is with us, and we are glad in Him!

Archbishop Csrlson's Schedule for week of Dec. 25

Sunday, Dec. 25

10 a.m. Christmas Mass, Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis

Noon Lunch, St. Patrick Center, Catholic Charities, Downtown St. Louis

Thursday, Dec. 29

7 p.m. Fleur de Lis Ball, Hyatt Regency, Downtown

Friday, Dec. 30

10 a.m. - 3 p.m. weekly meeting with priests, Archbishop's residence 

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