Michael J. Graham, S.J.
The light in the Gallagher Student Center clock tower spire turned green this week. Given that the faces of the clocks themselves turn bright cherry red at the same time—and that every lamppost on campus was wrapped in sparkling white lights—it could only mean one thing: the holiday season is upon us. In short order, one of the larger evergreens in the middle of the campus will find itself bedecked as the campus Christmas tree, and it will be official.
Despite how holiday preparations and end-of-the-semester obligations always create a crush of work, I’ve always loved these weeks. And the older I get, the more I love them. The world around us and the world within us become beautifully woven together, as secular and sacred mix and mingle, reminding us of just how it is that God’s grace accomplishes its work. The end of the church year on the Feast of Christ the King ushers us up to Thanksgiving Day. Thanksgiving yields, in turn, to Advent. Advent prepares the way for Christmas. Christmas leads right into the New Year, which delivers us back again into Ordinary Time.
Indeed, there is much to celebrate here. But no matter what the celebration, I’m sure the context of the celebrating will be much the same for nearly all of us. Family and friends will get together over and over again—as if the turkey, the tree and the champagne toasts at midnight are just the props, excuses (and very good excuses) to do that which is most important to us by being with those who are most important to us.
In the context of those gatherings around tables and firesides, we will do the things that people who love each other do. We will laugh and reminisce, we will embroider stories and tease each other, and we will remember those who have gone before us and find our conversation suddenly stopped from time to time by the powerful and true emotions of love and affection that stir our hearts and remind us, after all, who we really are.
Time was when my brothers and sisters and I—like many of you—were much younger, and we heard the adults around us telling the stories of people we never knew. Now, we are the ones—as you are the ones—telling the stories in the hearing of a new generation as uncomprehending as we once were. But somehow they grasp the truths behind the stories, just as we once did, for it is in just this way that families and friends teach each other what it means to belong to one another, and what it means to be human, to love and to be loved.
Think of the Xavier magazine that you hold in your hands as such a holiday conversation, a collection of then-and-now stories that family members tell one another across the years, stories through which the family itself somehow becomes more perfectly that which it already is. Beginning in January, Xavier University will celebrate its 175th birthday. 175 years! Truly, this will be a year for many stories and much story telling, as together we look back upon the past and turn forward together to greet the future—just as we do in these luminous weeks of celebration as we let go of the old year so as to receive from God the new.
All families have their Christmas traditions. One way that my family knows it really is Christmas is when the 1951 version of A Christmas Carol starring Alastair Sim comes on the television. We watch it faithfully. And not wanting to leave it to chance, we bought the video tape for Mom and Dad several years ago. The voiceover at the end of the movie always delivers us into one of those moments of profound truth, the kind of moment that you cannot plan for but just receive, where the quiet tide of deep feeling overwhelms any sense of being frazzled by the work of holiday preparations, and you have to pretend to brush away something that has suddenly gotten in your eye:
“Scrooge was better than his word; and to Tiny Tim, he became a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master and as good a man as the good old city ever knew, or any other good old city, town or borough in the good old world. And it was always said of him that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us. And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless us, every one.”
To which all I have to add is: Amen.