Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Socially and liturgically, this is going to be an unusual and challenging Christmas. For many, due to fear of spreading COVID-19, the traditions of gathering with family and friends in our homes and as families of faith in our churches will look, sound and feel different than those of Christmases past.
While our parishes are doing all they can to ensure that there is a place for everyone who wishes to celebrate Mass in person, other aspects of our Christmas celebrations, e.g., the pageants with school children and the concerts by choirs, are either virtual, taped, canceled or significantly limited in size and format.
Disruptions during this season are not new. Each of us can recall when illness or death of a loved one altered or suppressed our Christmas celebrations, when calamities and wars separated people from family and friends and muted the mood and warmth of Christmas.
While “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” was written and recorded in 1943 from the viewpoint of a GI stationed overseas during World War II, we can relate the lyrics to situations in our own lives, especially the final words: “I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.”
There was this underlying sadness about all the destruction to the familial bonds, and yet there was a longing to come home for Christmas, to be with one another. This is really what the Nativity was.
I am certain Mary and Joseph would rather have prepared for and celebrated the birth of their son in Nazareth with the support of their families instead of having to make a treacherous, 90-mile trip to Bethlehem where they were alone and unwelcome, not even being able to have a room at an inn.
While our Christmas cards depict beautiful scenes, the images of the Nativity have been romanticized, failing to show the hardship and pain Mary and Joseph endured. The result is that the harsh reality of the first Christmas has been hidden in the background.
However, with what we have experienced this year, that difficult reality has come to the foreground because there is a parallel in our day to what Mary and Joseph were going through. We have a better understanding of what they experienced — isolation, distance from family and anxieties about the future.
As COVID continues to impact our lives — personally and communally — we can approach it one of two ways. One is to react only in fear, to let frustration and gloom dictate how we live.
Or, like Mary and Joseph, we can be courageous, rooting our lives in faith in God and move forward with hope in faith and life. We can prayerfully reflect upon how they never wavered in their faith, how they believed, even in their most difficult moments, as we believe — God is always with us!
During the remainder of Advent, through the Christmas season and into 2021, let us hold fast to our faith as we confront isolation and separation, sickness, death of loved ones and concerns about the unknown.
For we know, as St. Paul did when he wrote to the Romans: “…that God makes all things work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his decree” (8:28). “…Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Trial, or distress, or persecution, or hunger…” (8:35)… (or pandemic, or quarantine, or social distancing?). “… Yet in all this we are more than conquerors because of him who has loved us” (8:37).
Sincerely in Christ,
Most Reverend Barry C. Knestout
Bishop of Richmond