Re-decorating the Church
It is hard to believe that nearly a year has passed since I wrote my Harvest article about “plugging into the light of faith,” a reflection that came to me as I un-decorated the rectory Christmas tree.
As I write this column, knowing that this issue of Harvest will arrive in your mailboxes a little after Christmas day itself, I cannot help but think about setting up the crèche, figuring out what present to give my brother-in-law Heath (coming from a large family, we draw names), choosing just the right Christmas card, and of course, anticipating the decoration of the Christmas tree once again.
Although decorating the tree is an annual ritual I do enjoy, I do not admit to doing it particularly well. However, I do admire another of my brothers-in-law, Rosaire, who has incredible patience in selecting a real and perfectly-shaped tree, setting it up in just the right spot in the living room, stringing the lights so that the tree gives off an almost mystical illumination, and decorating it with an array of ornaments that the family has collected over the years. Some of those ornaments they purchased themselves; others were created by my grandniece and their granddaughter, Emma; still others were gifts from family and friends in appreciation for the hospitality and shelter that he and my sister, Susan, have extended to so many over the years. It didn’t matter if they were living in a small apartment or townhouse, a larger gambrel or more modest ranch home … whether it was when they were just starting out or at times when they were already crowded with summer residents or seasonal company, the doors have been wide open to everyone, always with room for one more.
I look forward to visiting with them during the holiday season, taking time to step up close, look at, examine and admire all the ornaments—old favorites, even if they are tarnished … sentimental ones, because they stir memories of loved ones and happy occasions … and more recent acquisitions, because somehow, ornaments do tend to disappear or get broken.
It is popular for many households to select a “theme” when decorating their tree (a color scheme, a style of ornament, etc.). And while some might say that Susan and Rosaire’s Christmas tree does not have a theme, I would argue that the theme of their tree reflects the openness, inclusiveness, and richness of the people with whom they have shared their lives. I see that “truth” reflected not only when I am standing close enough to inspect the tree’s tiniest details but, most especially, when I step back and marvel at it in its entirety.
In some ways, their Christmas tree reminds me of Pope Francis’ vision of the Church. All are welcome! Together, as the family of God (or the members of the Body of Christ, to use one of St. Paul’s images for the Church), we make something beautiful for the Lord. Just as every ornament on their family tree contributes to the beauty of the whole, so every member of the Church is unique, special, and has a role to play. Without exception, every member somehow adorns and animates, embellishes and enhances the Church: we are the specially chosen ornaments, the softly glowing lights, and the strings of garlands, ribbons or bows; we are the bark and the branches, the prickly pine needles, and even the fresh scent of a Maine forest.
The Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ (Christmas)—not just the day but the entire season which stretches beyond New Year’s Day to the Solemn Feasts of Epiphany and the Baptism of the Lord—is a wonderful opportunity for all of us to evangelize … to invite and welcome a stranger as well as the estranged, the single person or an entire family, the sinner and emerging saint (aren’t we all the former striving to become the latter) … and to deck not only the halls but the entire sanctuary of our church buildings with the best, most precious decorations of all: every one of God’s children.
As we wish one another a very Merry Christmas, may we open our arms and hearts in embrace … may we open ever wider the doors of our churches … may we slide over and make room in our favorite pews … and like the Blessed Virgin Mary, may we bring Christ to birth in our world, especially by allowing other to recognize him in us even as we recognize him in them. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
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Monsignor Andrew Dubois
Moderator of the Curia