Christmas Eve Mass
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Fort Wayne
I give thanks to God that we are able to gather tonight for this beautiful Christmas Eve Mass. During the flu epidemic in 1918, Midnight Mass was not celebrated here in our cathedral. Though churches had been closed for a couple months by government order and public Masses suspended, the ban had been lifted by December, but with the government enjoining churches to have shorter services. There was no Midnight Mass, I presume, because too large a crowd would have congregated. At Masses on Christmas Day in Fort Wayne in 1918, there was no music. Like tonight, people would have worn facemasks and kept physical distancing. The important thing, however, was that the faithful gathered to celebrate the Nativity of the Lord, like we do tonight. And we have the added blessing of technology. Many of the faithful are praying with us tonight via livestream video. I extend Christmas greetings to all who are watching this Mass, especially those who are elderly or sick, and those who are lonely on this Christmas Eve. Let us pray especially for all who are in the hospital or who live in nursing homes. In our prayers tonight, let us also remember our doctors, nurses, health care workers, EMT’s, police and firefighters, all those who are working so hard to keep us safe. I think of their exhausting work and of the tremendous sacrifices they have been making these past several months. On this Christmas Eve, may they know of our gratitude and be uplifted by our prayers. In their selfless service, they are serving the One whose birth we celebrate tonight. And let us not forget to remember in prayer all those who are mourning the loss of loved ones this past year, particularly those whose hearts were broken by not being able to be with their loved ones in their final days on this earth.
A few weeks ago, Pope Francis encouraged us to go beyond the symbols of Christmas and to embrace their meaning. Christmas lights are one such symbol. They represent Jesus, the light of the world, prophesied by Isaiah in our first reading tonight: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.” This past year, many have felt that they were dwelling in the land of gloom: with the Covid pandemic and with the anger and polarization during the election season. Tonight we must come out of that gloom. Because as Isaiah prophesied: “For a child is born to us, a son is given us.” God revealed His infinite goodness and love on this night – He made His light shine on the world. And, as Pope Francis said, “there is no pandemic, there is no crisis that can extinguish this light.” Christmas shows us “the light of good that triumphs over evil, the light of love that overcomes hatred, the light of life that defeats death” (Pope Benedict XVI). May our souls be open to this light, the light that emanates from the dark cave of the stable, from the infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.
Christmas is a feast of love, the self-emptying love of God who sent us His only-begotten Son so that we can share in His divine sonship. To save us, He assumed our human nature. He became Emmanuel, God-with-us. Because of Christmas, we can walk the journey of our life and endure its sufferings, knowing that God is with us. God is close to us, in solidarity with us. This is the great gift of Christmas: Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us. This is the good news of Christmas: the love which flooded the hearts of Mary and Joseph and the light that guided the steps of the shepherds and the magi, also shines for us today. But we need faith and humility to recognize it, the faith and humility of Mary, Joseph and the shepherds who bent low over the manger and were the first to adore the infant Son of God.
Tonight we contemplate God’s loving mercy in sending us a Savior. We see God’s tenderness in the infant Jesus. It is a mystery for us not only to ponder, but to imitate. We’ve seen this imitation in those who have served the sick during this pandemic, as I mentioned earlier. I’ve seen so much goodness in the people of our diocese who have reached out with love to those who are sick or economically devastated during this pandemic. In the midst of pain and suffering, so many have made sacrifices to help and assist those in need. They have focused on others and not themselves or the inconveniences that the pandemic has caused. They have lived the Gospel of Jesus during this challenging time. Sadly, in the midst of this crisis, others have focused on themselves, on their rights, but not their responsibilities. They have angrily embraced an ideology of personal autonomy, rather than our Catholic teaching on the common good. A crisis like this pandemic reveals what is in our hearts. It is a call to conversion. Christmas is all about solidarity, God’s solidarity with us in becoming a man. To live the true meaning of Christmas is to live in solidarity with others, especially with the poor, the sick, the suffering, and the marginalized. We will not experience the joy and peace of Christmas if our hearts are hardened, if there is no room in the inn of our hearts to welcome Jesus, the truth who sets us free, who teaches us that true freedom is the freedom to love. We need a revival of kindness and tenderness in our nation and in our world, beginning in our own families and in the Church. Enough with bickering and criticizing, gossiping and attacking. God calls us to be close to each other as He became close to us in the Incarnation.
We’ve seen a lot of pessimism during this pandemic. We need to overcome it. We must not allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by sadness or gloom that reflects a worldly mentality. We are a people of hope because the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. This truth of the Incarnation is the cause of our joy, even in the midst of trials, sufferings, and failures. When we pray before the Christmas creche, may we become more aware of the closeness and tender love of God, who took flesh for our salvation. May we be filled with wonder at this mystery of love, the mystery of Christmas, which brings us the joy, hope, and peace for which our souls long! And then may we, through the witness of our lives, spread this joy, hope, and peace to others! May God bless all of you and your families with His grace and love on this holy night!