It would seem odd that as Christmas draws closer, the Church makes a point of reminding us of Hell. There is no need of reminding if one is awake to the manifestations of great sadness and suffering along the city streets. The whole world is a hodgepodge of things we instinctively call “Hellish” and “Heavenly” and is rather like our own parish neighborhood that, years ago, was named “Hell’s Kitchen” but now is becoming a most glittering part of Manhattan. So long as we are in time and space, Hell and Heaven will be like opposites repelled by each other and nonetheless dancing together. Only in eternity will they be distinct forever, which is why Christ warns and consoles, with his loving admonitions and promises, that he would have none lost and all saved.
The Light of Christ pierces the soul’s vision most vividly in the darkest times, just as a city’s lights seem brightest at the Winter Solstice. As the late Yogi Berra said in his typical diction, which makes great sense in spite of itself: “It is getting later earlier.” In the same way, when “the days are waxing late” there is an intuition of something new coming into the world. That newness is the enfleshment of the Second Person of the Holy Trinity.
So if bad things happen at the time of festival, the feast becomes more powerful. Sometimes, those who mourn the death of loved ones at this time can hear more clearly than the giddy, the Voice that says, “So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” Likewise, just as the glory of Christ became most vivid in contrast to his crucifiers, so is the splendor of his Body, the Church, brightest in contrast to those who deface it. Cardinal John Henry Newman wrote to Lady Chatterton: “Our Lord distinctly predicted these scandals as inevitable; nay further, He spoke of His Church as in its very constitution made up of good and bad, of wheat and weeds, of the precious and the vile. One out of His twelve Apostles fell, and one of the original seven deacons.”
The brightness of Christmas is not the reflection of tinsel, for it is “Light from Light” rooted in reality and not fantasy. Paul Claudel said that “everything must be illusion or allusion.” Thus, superficial Christmases are illusory while the real Feast of the Incarnation alludes to Heaven in contrast to Hell.
The true Christian is not the harmless ingénue Pippa in Browning’s poem . . . “God’s in His heaven – All’s right with the world!” There are dark things wrong with the world, but the celebration is even greater for that, since the Divine Light has come from heaven, and “the darkness has never overcome it.”
Sunday, December 27, 2015
Christmas and Hell, from Fr. George W. Rutler
Fr. George W. Rutler, "From the Pastor" (December 20, 2015):