Yuletide fever dreams

So here’s how not to do Christmas: 

Three weeks before, go to Rome for a conference, leaving your wife the chores of putting up Christmas lights, shopping, gift wrapping, etc. Return from Rome two weeks before, and promptly get sick, leaving your wife to decorate the tree, bake the treats, plan the meals, etc. If you want to spice up the season even more, complain that she’s not really doing a very good job of nursing you back to health. Then duck. 

It’s been an odd kind of Christmas this year. I feel like the Grinch with a really bad chest cold. Cindy Lou Who? She’s dead to me. The roast beast? Fuggedaboutit. 

Holidays don’t always work out the way we want them to, and this year, I got taught this lesson in spades. 

While I’ve been huddled over a humidifier, loathing the print and TV ads of happy, bustling families, I have also had the chance to think about what really makes this season so important. 

Perhaps my sense of nausea has been compounded by the killing of 20 children and six adults in Newtown, Conn. What a heinous crime, to kill young children at this time of year. The slaughter of the innocents played out on our television screens. 

I remember as a child being horrified by the descriptions of Herod’s men grabbing all the babies under 2 years of age and killing them in a vain effort to root out the Messiah. What madness drove Adam Lanza to wreak havoc on such little ones? What was he trying to root out? 

Yet it underscores what Christmas celebrates: God becoming man in the most vulnerable fashion. God humbles himself and entrusts himself to his creation. As creations go, on these bad days we aren’t much to look at. This Divine Trust seems almost crazy and spectacularly glorious at the same time. 

Despite my grinchy grumblings, Christmas is particularly special this time of year because all of the children are home. I remember when I thought this day would never come, but now, three of my four have lives of their own. I look forward with giddy expectation to when all the bedrooms are filled again and the dining-room table is groaning with the amount of food it takes to keep these boisterously adult appetites satisfied. 

I get up early for a little quiet time to myself, and I invariably go to bed while they are talking, watching movies, exchanging favorite YouTube clips and heading out for late-night rendezvous with friends. It is, for too brief a time, wonderful. 

They were young and fragile once. I could hold them with one arm and bring in groceries with another once upon a time. Now we look at each other eye to eye, and they have become faster and stronger than their old man.  

In another blink of an eye, they may be taking care of me in my dotage, and I will be the helpless one. It hardly seems fair, yet this is the cycle of life. Unless death comes early, life takes us from dependence to independence and then back to dependence. This very cycle is a reminder that we are not the ones in control. Creation must trust its Creator. 

This has been a big year, not least because it was Our Sunday Visitor’s 100th anniversary. As the Christmas season continues with the feast of the Epiphany of the Lord, I want to take one final moment to thank everyone who made this anniversary year a success. All of my colleagues in Huntington and Orlando, all of our readers and customers, all of the bishops, priests and women religious who celebrated with us: You were all living reminders of the Church we were created to serve, and that will continue to serve, God willing, in our second century.  

Happy New Year!