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Catholic Voice
  January 7, 2013   •   VOL. 51, NO. 1   •   Oakland, CA
Bishop's Column

New Year challenge: What you see is what you get


Archbishop Alex J. Brunett

It is a great joy for me to be here in this beautiful Cathedral of Christ the Light to celebrate this Eucharist with you: for tonight a child is born, a Son is given. What are we willing to see in this birth we celebrate at Christmas?

Recently I visited an antique store and noticed a large sign over in the corner that read: "What you see is what you get." This got me thinking how true that is in most areas of our lives. What we see depends on who we are. It depends also on our level of awareness. Two people can look at a work of art and see totally different things depending on their background and perceptions.

At the same time what we are and what we are feeling certainly influences what we see in this Christmas celebration.

• For some people, Christmas it is a warm and joyful season … family, friends and meals together.

• For others, it is a time of nostalgia … memories of better days in the past — the so-called "good old days."

• For others, it is a time of sadness … remembering the death of a loved one who won't be here this Christmas, being a new widow and living alone, or facing a serious illness, or being newly divorced.

• For others, it is a time of dread … struggling with the conventional demands that Christmas makes on us … shopping, entertaining, sending cards, cooking meals.

• Still others approach Christmas with a deep hope that this Christmas season can turn their personal life situation around and become a time when they can discover a newness in their life.

All of us, I hope, can find at this time the possibility to respond to the powerful message we proclaim and celebrate tonight — a message proclaimed in the readings:

• For Isaiah, it is a time to tell those who live in darkness that there is a great light. For those whose lives are filled with gloom there is a new light that brings abundant joy and great rejoicing.

• For Timothy, it is a gift that God offers to us in Jesus Christ, a gift we spend our lives trying to appropriate to ourselves and influence the way we live.

• For Luke, it is the angels voicing the refrain that they are bringing Glad Tidings —"Good News," news that will help us give glory and praise to God and find peace in our lives.

I return to my original thought: "What you see is what you get." It's Good News if we can find something we can always count on. It's "Good News" if we know that God has sounded a clear note to let us know that he has revealed his love in a special way and things will never be quite the same again.

"What you see is what you get." There is a message here we can always count on. To know that in spite of the darkness, there is always the presence of light; in spite of difficult moments and discouraging events, hope is never out of style; in spite of the hatred and bitterness that seem to surround us at times, love still has the last word … In spite of our alienation from God and the Church we can always return and be united with the Lord and one another. We can be a family of faith.

For that to happen in our lives and community, we have to believe that Christmas is something special. Its meaning can and must change our lives because we profess the living presence of God's redeeming, enduring love in Jesus Christ. It means asking ourselves: Are we willing to do the things each day that give consistent meaning to what we believe? Christmas cannot be just an occasion to celebrate — but a real event that happens in our lives.

Christmas will mean to forget what we have done for other people and to remember what other people have done for us. It will mean to ignore what the world owes us and to think what we owe the world. It will mean to see that others are just as real as we are and to look behind their faces to their hearts, hungry for joy. It will mean to know that probably the only good reason for our existence is not what we are going to get out of life, but what we are going to give to life; to close our book of complaints against everyone, God, parents, children, etc. and look around us for a place where we can sow a few seeds of happiness.

If we are willing to do these things even for a day, then the Christmas child, "Emmanuel," God with us, will have meaning — a real meaning, an event of the living presence of Christ that takes place in our own lives. We will stoop down and consider the needs and desires of those less fortunate than ourselves! We will give our children the gift of principles to live by and examples to inspire them rather than just candy and toys. Our love for our children and our concern for them should not be just the material things of the world that light up their eyes for a few moments but that don't light up the paths of life they must follow.

We will remember the weakness and loneliness of people who are growing old! We will stop asking how much our friends love us, and ask ourselves whether we love them enough! We will bear in mind the things that other people have to bear in their hearts and try to understand what those who live in the same house with us really want or need without waiting for them to tell us! We will trim our lamps so that they will give more light and less smoke — and carry them in front so that our shadow will fall behind us! We will make a grave for our ugly thoughts and create a garden for our good thoughts — with the gate open.

Christmas asks us: Are you willing to do these things? Are you willing to believe that love is the strongest thing in the world — stronger than hate, stronger than evil, stronger than death, and that the blessed life which began in Bethlehem is the image and brightness of that eternal love?`

What you see is what you get! What you see depends on who you are. If you see that here tonight in this celebration, in this breaking of bread, in this Eucharist, that Christmas is happening now in your life and in the life of this community, then your life will make a difference.

It has often been said: "where there is no vision, the people perish." These days of Christmas, our lives will be filled with visions of sugar plums and all the other Christmas goodies and amenities. It is never too late to rejoice exceedingly in the real vision of Christmas. "What you see, is what you get." My dear friends, in the Christmas event we see God acting through Christ in us, to enable us to be whole, to enable us to love unselfishly, to enable us to be peacemakers — to enable us to proclaim anew:

Glory to God in the Highest.

Peace on Earth to those on whom His favor rests.

(This was Archbishop Brunett's homily on Christmas Day.)

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