Monday, February 12, 2018

Christmas in a workaday world

I recently made a quick trip to Chicago, and among other things I visited the Our Lady of Sorrows basilica (before trying for the first time a delicious meal at the soul food institution MacArthur's, which I also highly recommend).  Our Lady of Sorrows is a breathtaking church built in 1874.  Visiting it is like visiting one of the historic churches in Europe.  Elegant artistry throughout, and some 10 or 14 side chapels, each with intricate sculptures, paintings, stained glass, and floor mosaics dedicated to one saint or another.  And it's all right in the middle of a pretty blighted neighborhood in Chicago, East Garfield Park.

We picked up one of the newsletters published by the Franciscan order that runs the church, the Friar Servants of Mary or Servites.  It had an article that I liked, and that links to a recent reflection of mine about how often we are so harried and rushed by the Christmas season that we don't manage to enjoy it or to get into the Christmas spirit.

Quoth the Servites (one Robert Warsey) about the Christmas season:
"At no other time of the year are so many expectations placed upon the season.  And at no other time of the year are so many people frazzled, frustrated, and depressed because those expectations have not been met in a lasting or life-giving way.
"As much a tradition as anything else of this season are the religious reminders to keep Christ in Christmas, to wait with Advent hope and to maintain the true spirit of the season.  All of these admonitions are true and valuable--but when they do not happen in our lives at this time we may feel a tinge of guilt, a sense of hollowness.
"But let us consider the Christmas story from another perspective, apart from the serenity presented by the scenes on Christmas cards and the sentiments of the carols.  When we look carefully at Luke's account of the birth of Jesus, the world is in turmoil and people are on the move.  The Emperor has decreed the census and the roads are crowded with travelers returning to their hometowns--not for holiday festivities but for purposes of taxation and bureaucracy.  Without an advanced hotel reservation, you are lost.  Amidst all of this chaos and personal business, who has the time to really pay atention to another poor couple looking for shelter?
"And what about the shepherds?  The breathtaking announcement of Jesus's birth by the angel did not happpen for the shepherds while they were on a thirty-day retreat or attending a workshop on 'How to Prepare for the Coming of the Messiah' -- they were working the nightshift, guarding the flock against predators. 
"As Luke unfolds his telling of the story of Jesus, we see a very specific pattern develop:  the extraordinary moments of divine encounter erupt in the ordinary moments of our workaday world.  People are surprised by God's message in the midst of their daily lives.  In this great season celebrating the Incarnation, maybe that can be the message we try to carry in our minds and hearts:  that we try to recognize and bless those people and moments that challenge us to be a little more patient, a little more aware of others, a bit kinder.  Like Mary, we are invited to take these treasured moments and reflect on them in our hearts. ...
"... During this seaons that may place so many demands on time and energy, maybe we can bring some of that awareness into all that we do and to all that we may meet so that there may be fewer frazzled edges and a little more hope."  

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