All of us have favorite Christmas articles.
“In the year of his Lord” has been republished by The Wall Street Journal since 1948. And the 1950 Midnight Mass homily by the historian Horacio de la Costa is another. May we share them with you?
“When Saul of Tarsus set out on his journey to Damascus, the whole of the known world lay in bondage. There was one state, and it was Rome. There was one master for it all, and he was Tiberius Caesar.
“Everywhere there was civil order for the arm of the Roman law was long. Everywhere there was stability, in government and in society, for the centurions saw that it was so.
“But everywhere there was something else, too.
“There was oppression—for those who were not the friends of Caesar: the tax gatherer to take the grain from the fields and the flax from the spindle to feed the legions or to fill the treasury from which Caesar gave largesse to the people. There was the impressor to find circus recruits, and the executioners—to quiet those whom the Emperor prescribed.
“What was man for but to serve Caesar?
“There was the persecution of men who dared think differently, who heard strange voices or read strange manuscripts. There was enslavement [for] tribes not from Rome, disdain for those who did not have the familiar visage. And most of all, there was everywhere a contempt for human life. What, to the strong, was one man more or less in a crowded world?
“Then, a sudden, there was a light in the world, and a man from Galilee saying: Render not unto Caesar the things that are God’s.
“And the voice from Galilee, which would defy Caesar, offered a new Kingdom in which each man could walk upright and bow to none but his God. ‘Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.’ And he sent this gospel of the Kingdom of Man into the uttermost ends of the earth.
“So the light came into the world and the men who lived in darkness were afraid, and they tried to lower a curtain so that man would still believe salvation lay with leaders.
“But it came to pass for a while in diverse places that the truth did set man free, although the men of darkness were offended and they tried to put out the light. The voice said, Haste ye. Walk while you have the light…
“Along the road to Damascus the light shone brightly. But afterwards Paul of Tarsus, too, was afraid. He feared that other Caesars, other prophets, might one day persuade men that man was nothing save a servant unto them, that men might yield up their birthright from God for pottage and walk no more in freedom.
“Then might it come to pass that darkness would settle again over the lands and there would be a burning of books and men would think only of what they should eat and what they should wear, and would give heed only to new Caesars and to false prophets.
“Then might it come to pass that men would not look upwards to see even a winter’s star in the East, and once more, there would be no light at all in the darkness.
“And so Paul, the apostle of the Son of Man, spoke to his brethren, the Galatians, the words he would have us remember afterwards in each of the years of his Lord:
“Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.”
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At the former St. Thomas More chapel of Ateneo de Manila on Padre Faura, the celebrant was a Jesuit priest who had just finished his doctorate at Harvard University.
Christmas is when we celebrate the unexpected; it is the festival of surprise, Horacio de la Costa said in a seven-minute homily that has been quoted time and again.
“This is the night when shepherds wake to the song of angels; when the Earth has a star for a satellite; when wise men go on a fool’s errand, bringing gifts to a Prince they have not seen, in a country they do not know.
“This is the night when one small donkey bears on its back the weight of the world’s desire, and an ox plays host to the Lord of heaven. This is the night when we are told to seek our king, not in a palace, but in a stable.
“Although we have stood here, year after year, as our fathers before us, the wonder has not faded; nor will it ever fade; the wonder of that moment when we push open that little door, and enter, and entering find a mother who is virgin, and a baby who is God.
“Chesterton has said it for us all: The only way to view Christmas properly is to stand on one’s head. Was there ever a home more topsy-turvy than on Christmas, the cave where Christ was born?
“For here, suddenly, in the very heart of Earth, is heaven; down is up, and up is down; the angels look down on the God who made them, and God looks up to the things He made. There is no room in an Inn for Him who made room and to spare, for the Milky Way, and where God is homeless, all men are at home.
“We were promised a savior, but we never dreamed God Himself would come and save us. We know that He loved us, but we never dared to think that He loved us so much as to become one of us.
“But that is the way God gives. His gifts are never quite what we expect, but always something better than we hoped for. We can only dream of things too good to be true; God has a habit of giving things too true to be false. That is why our faith is a faith of the unexpected, a religion of surprise.
“Now, more than ever, living in times so troubled, facing a future so uncertain, we need such faith. We need it for ourselves, and we need to give it to others.
“We must remind the world that if Christmas comes in the depths of winter, it is that there may be an Easter in the spring.”