‘The joy of Christmas is contagious’

Archbishop Aquila sends message to faithful and non-believers

Archbishop Aquila

A group of atheists recently bought a billboard in Times Square and asked the provocative question: Who needs Christ at Christmas? They answered their own question with a one-word answer—nobody.

That is an interesting take on the holy day that is named, quite aptly, after Christ himself.

According to the billboard, Christmas can now be about anything you want it to be. For example, they suggested, it can simply be about family, friends, presents, parties and hot chocolate.

Christians obviously do not agree with this, but the atheists bring an important point to the forefront of the public debate. In recent years Christmas has been accompanied by a “war on Christmas,” which is rather strange: What does the world have to fear from the belief that God so loved humanity that he became a child and dwelt among us?

Just this month, in an exclusive interview with the Italian newspaper La Stampa, Pope Francis spoke with laser-like precision on the essence of Christmas. “It is the encounter with Jesus,” he said.

“God has always sought out his people, led them, looked after them and promised to always be close to them,” he continued. “This is a beautiful thing. Christmas is God’s meeting with his people.”

The appeal of the message of Christmas, even to non-believers, is present all around us. The encounter of Christ with his people sparks an incredible outpouring of joy, of consolation, of generosity and of hope. This can be quite contagious.

The parties, the presents, the gatherings with friends and family, and yes, even the hot chocolate, are wonderful demonstrations of this joy that dwells in our hearts. Nobody throws a party when they are fearful of the future. We don’t give presents if there is no movement of joy and love in our hearts.

These wonderful aspects of Christmas don’t define the holy day, but rather they are a part of Christmas because we know that God is with us and for us; there is reason to rejoice.

We Christians have a great responsibility to let everyone know that Christmas is about the infinite mercy of God, especially because this reality is what unleashes the deepest joy anyone could experience. And for those who don’t share the Christian belief, everyone should be at peace celebrating even the concept that there is hope in such a love.

To Christians, I encourage you to remember, as Pope Francis reminded us in the aforementioned interview, that “Christmas is joy, religious joy, God’s joy, an inner joy of light and peace.” We must be witnesses of such joy, and we must contemplate the great mystery of God, who came to dwell among us.

“With Christ,” he writes in “Evangelii Gaudium” (The Joy of the Gospel), “joy is constantly born anew.”

The Pope used the word joy in his letter more than 50 times, underlining the absolute centrality of joy in the life of a Christian. He invites Christians to “a renewed personal encounter with Jesus to Christ.” He urges us to listen intently to God’s voice in our hearts, and to experience the “quiet joy of his love.”

To non-Christians, I urge you to take another look at Christmas. Look at it again with fresh eyes. Look at what we celebrate: let the eyes of your souls go past the presents, the trees, the fat Santa and red-nosed Rudolph, and stop at the center of the manger. Listen to the everlasting message of love and peace, and you will know what Christmas is all about, the God who loves you eternally even if you do not wish to receive that love. It’s a message that benefits us all.

Most Rev. Samuel J. Aquila, S.T.L.
Archbishop of Denver

Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver will celebrate two Christmas Masses at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, 1530 Logan St, Denver, CO 80203: Midnight Mass, beginning at 12 a.m. (a Live Stream feed is available here); and 10:30 a.m. Mass on Christmas Day.

COMING UP: A last chance for Australian justice

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My late parents loved Cardinal George Pell, whom they knew for decades. So I found it a happy coincidence that, on November 12 (which would have been my parents’ 70th wedding anniversary), a two-judge panel of Australia’s High Court referred to the entire Court the cardinal’s request for “special leave” to appeal his incomprehensible conviction on charges of “historic sexual abuse,” and the even-more-incomprehensible denial of his appeal against that manifestly unsafe verdict.

Thus in 2020 the highest judicial authority in Australia will review the Pell case, which gives the High Court the opportunity to reverse a gross injustice and acquit the cardinal of a hideous crime: a “crime” that Pell insists never happened; a “crime” for which not a shred of corroborating evidence has yet been produced; a “crime” that simply could not have happened in the circumstances and under the conditions it was alleged to have been committed.

Since Cardinal Pell’s original appeal was denied in August by two of three judges on an appellate panel in the State of Victoria, the majority decision to uphold Pell’s conviction has come under withering criticism for relying primarily on the credibility of the alleged victim. As the judge who voted to sustain the cardinal’s appeal pointed out (in a dissent that one distinguished Australian attorney described as the most important legal document in that country’s history), witness credibility – a thoroughly subjective judgment-call – is a very shaky standard by which to find someone guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.” It has also been noted by fair-minded people that the dissenting judge, Mark Weinberg, is the most respected criminal jurist in Australia, while his two colleagues on the appellate panel had little or no criminal law experience. Weinberg’s lengthy and devastating critique of his two colleagues’ shallow arguments seemed intended to signal the High Court that something was seriously awry here and that the reputation of Australian justice – as well as the fate of an innocent man – was at stake.

Other recent straws in the wind Down Under have given hope to the cardinal’s supporters that justice may yet be done in his case.

Andrew Bolt, a television journalist with a nationwide audience, walked himself through the alleged series of events at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne, within the timeframe in which they were supposed to have occurred, and concluded that the prosecution’s case, and the decisions by both the convicting jury and the majority of the appeal panel, simply made no sense. What was supposed to have happened could not have happened how it did and when it did.

Australians willing to ignore the vicious anti-Pell polemics that have fouled their country’s public life for years also heard from two former workers at the cathedral, who stated categorically that what was alleged to have happened could not have happened how it did and when it did, because they were a few yards away from Cardinal Pell at the precise time he was alleged to have abused two choirboys.

Then there was Anthony Charles Smith, a veteran criminal attorney (and not a Catholic), who wrote in Annals Australasia that the Pell verdict and the denial of his appeal “curdles my stomach.” How, he asked, could a guilty verdict be rendered on “evidence….so weak and bordering on the preposterous?” The only plausible answer, he suggested, was that Pell’s “guilt” was assumed by many, thanks to “an avalanche of adverse publicity” ginned up by “a mob baying for Pell’s blood” and influencing “a media [that] should always be skeptical.”

Even more strikingly, the left-leaning Saturday Paper, no friend of Cardinal Pell or the Catholic Church, published an article in which Russell Marks – a one-time research assistant on an anti-Pell book – argued that the two judges on the appellate panel who voted to uphold the cardinal’s conviction “effectively allowed no possible defense for Pell: there was nothing his lawyers could have said or done, because the judges appeared to argue it was enough to simply believe the complainant on the basis of his performance under cross examination.”

The Australian criminal justice system has stumbled or failed at every stage of this case. The High Court of Australia can break that losing streak, free an innocent man, and restore the reputation of Australian justice in the world. Whatever the subsequent fallout from the rabid Pell-haters, friends of justice must hope that that is what happens when the High Court hears the cardinal’s case – Australia’s Dreyfus Case – next year.

Photo: CON CHRONIS/AFP/Getty Images