“Behold, when the fullness of time had come, God sent His Son into the world.” Galatians 4:4
A major accusation of the Catholic Church is that it never actually happened. With “it” I mean Jesus coming to us and instituting His Holy and Apostolic Church—and that this, His tangible Church, has lived and worked ever since. I’m rather used to this accusation, in all its various forms, from my homeland (Sweden). I don’t know where I heard it, but something we used to say at home when confronted with these blatant lies about the Catholic Church goes something like this: “the bigger the lie, the more people believe it”. To simply eradicate the entire existence of Jesus Christ and the life and work of His Catholic Church in history with one sweep of the “myth-making wand” is a tactic all too familiar to me, and to anyone who has lived under a communist government. Although Sweden presents a situation vastly different than the USA, I am aghast at discovering the same tactic here, favored among those who would like to make moral norms different from those a “decency norm” used to uphold. Ignoring history altogether is the more radical way; instead of bothering to rewrite it, one ignores it. There is only the moment now. Even Catholic spirituality might seem to confirm this, so who needs the past?
While doing some research into missionary activities in America during the 19th century, I found astounding evidence of the living and tangible Catholic Church. At a time that is now largely forgotten, when Native Americans suffered greatly under the pressure of incoming settlers who threatened their way of life, the Catholic Church managed, by the efforts of tireless missionaries (such as Father Samuel Mazzuchelli, Father Pierre-Jean De Smet, and Bishop Frederic Baraga, just to mention a few), to create havens for them, where they were truly happy, and where they were able to maintain their dignity and their cultural heritage. This is obviously not something that is admitted by the general public. Everyone—so the story goes—was at fault, because they were unable to be as unbiased and as tolerant as our enlightened generation. Of course, in this scenario, there is no admission of the fact that Catholic missionaries were succeeding, precisely because they were not biased. Thus, it is essential to this version of history that Catholic missionaries did not succeed, because otherwise it would be impossible to say that “it was everybody’s fault”.
The reason for the tenacious longevity of this atheistic critique, even in the face of evidence, is the nature of a lie. As said, a lie is never more believed and impressive to the believer than when it denies an obvious truth. The greater the truth a lie negates, the more impressive and “true” the lie appears. I surmise this is because lying in such wise, on such a grand scale, seems to require a response of faith from the hearer, and believing in something is a deep-rooted desire in humankind. And, we seem to prefer having faith in lies, just to spread enough chaos around us to avoid owning up to anything, generating our own “freedom”…
During Christmas, the energetic suppression of everything Christian—in the name of tolerance—is just such an effort of preventing the reality of people of good will from making the Gospel known by their example, and by their humble celebration of Immanuel, God-with-us. We are not supposed to exist, so our existence is suppressed.
Nevertheless, Jesus and His Church do exist. Jesus has not failed to give us tangible evidence of Himself and the reality of His Church. It is for this very reason that Christianity is persecuted in our modern world. Present and active in the world is Jesus in His Holy Church that reaches out Her arms to the poor, the lonely, and the abandoned (despite those who try even within the very Heart of the Church to destroy Her and give false mercy instead of true mercy). The Church might be much smaller than we would like to claim in our defense. After all, only those who act on their faith and carry the Gospel like food to the hungry are truly Christian, and there are very few of those… Yet, they exist.
I think of those few when I read the messages from “40 Days for Life” and the remarkable evidence of just how effective their testimony is. It is “enough” that people stand on the sidewalk with a rather small sign, with a small message like “pray for life”, to convert hearts and save lives.
At Christmas, perhaps more than at any other time of the year, many give in to despair, and to the atheistic message: “you might as well do away with yourself, because you are alone, after all”. It seems like a merciful way out… Or, if one doesn’t wish to carry despair to this extreme, a smaller version of the same idea is absorbed. In effect, more than ever, Christmas becomes a dark time.
All the same, a little Child was born in Bethlehem, just as concrete as a baby can be. Christmas, then, is a time for us to give evidence of our joy that we are not abandoned, that God is with us—the very evidence that will be belied and suppressed, but which will give hope, mercy, and loving kindness to those who are abandoned.