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Michael Simone, S.J.December 22, 2022
Photo from Unsplash.

A Reflection for the Second Day in the Octave of Christmas

You can find today’s readings here.

It will not be you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. (Mt 10:20)

The two most important days in the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar, Christmas and Easter, are celebrated as “octaves,” extended observances that keep the joy of the day alive for eight full days. They do that in different ways, however. The Easter octave sweeps away any other liturgical observance that falls during its run, focusing all attention on the resurrection. The Christmas octave, by contrast, highlights the saints whose memorials and feasts fall during its days, including the one we celebrate today, Stephen the martyr. In fact, in addition to Stephen, the Christmas octave celebrates other martyrs, including the Holy Innocents on December 28 and Thomas Becket on December 29. The paradox of turning so quickly from the joy of Christmas to the suffering of the innocent reflects an important aspect of the Incarnation. In assuming human flesh, Jesus added his own life story to the wider story of human violence and self-destruction. By entering our mess and making it his own, he showed us how to recognize the deeper reality of God’s presence, and to tell a new story of God’s saving work even in the midst of suffering.

When Christ took the mess of human existence on himself, he taught those who followed him how to find God at work even in the worst of times.

Early Christians recognized a unique power at work among them. Sometimes they identified it as the risen Christ, as we see in today’s first reading (Acts 7:56). At other times, they called it the Spirit (Mt 10:20; Acts 7:55), identifying it with the mysterious divine energy that inspired prophets, kings and patriarchs throughout Israel’s history. In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus emphasizes that the Spirit is not a magical power that solves the problems of persecution. On the contrary, it is a power that achieves its purest form in the midst of suffering. Jesus’ gift of the Spirit to his disciples included the ability to recognize God’s presence even when all reasonable hope was lost. The Incarnation deepened their ability to perceive God at work in any situation.

Without this awareness, human history is a depressing tale of small dreams and big defeats, of one step forward and several back, of decay and meaninglessness and annihilation. In every age, those who bear Christ’s Spirit can tell a different story, one of divine victory, of meaningful suffering, and of lives of eternal significance. This, then, resolves the paradox of the Christmas octave. When Christ took the mess of human existence on himself, he taught those who followed him how to find God at work even in the worst of times. The Spirit is always at work, and through the eyes of the incarnate Christ we can maintain our own awareness of God’s loving presence whether our days are ones of sorrow or joy.

Get to know Michael Simone, S.J., Contributing Editor

Favorite Advent or Christmas themed art? The carol “Watchman, Tell Us of the Night.” The lyrics and tune (Aberystwyth) are both haunting yet hopeful. The last verse never fails to choke me up, “Watchman, let thy wanderings cease / Hie thee to thy quiet home./ Traveler, lo! the Prince of Peace ,/ Lo! the Son of God is come.”

Favorite Christmas tradition? Old St. Patrick’s “Deck the Hall” concerts in early December. The music is magnificent and really helps to get people into the spirit of the season. The choir team does a good job, too, of choosing songs that emphasize Advent expectation even as they perform some Christmas pop standards.

What project are you most proud to have worked on this year at America? The Lilly Grant. This project will help America Media build an app that will assist anyone who preaches on the week’s readings. It has the potential to improve Catholic preaching in a measurable way.

Favorite Christmas recipe? My mother’s sugar cookies. Although one of my brother Jesuits describes them as “fussy” (the dough requires several steps, including an overnight stay in the fridge), to my mind, they remain the perfect cookie: crisp yet crumbly, and a mix of sugar sweetness and citrus tang.

Favorite Christmas photo?

My godson, waiting for Santa, Christmas 2021.

Author's god son lying on the ground in front of a Christmas tree with cookies and milk for Santa.

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