Column: World is drawn to Gospel lived with boldness, authenticity

by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann

It seems that every year the effort to remove Christ from Christmas escalates. This year a group called American Atheists financed a billboard in Times Square that posed the question: Who needs Christ during Christmas?

The billboard answered its own question with one word: Nobody! It is their be- lief that Christmas is better without Christ!

Several of the nation’s most popular retail stores no longer sell Nativity scenes. Employees are instructed to wish people “Happy Holidays” as opposed to “Merry Christmas!” The Christmas crèches from two dining halls at the naval base at Guantanamo Bay have been moved to the chapel courtyard
as a result of complaints made by a group called the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.

Perhaps the most outrageous manifestation to ban Christ from Christmas was the rejection by ESPN of an ad for Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital in St. Louis which had the audacity to speak of this season
as a time when the birth of Jesus is recalled. The ad also confessed that the mission of the hospital is to bring God’s healing love to the children they serve. Fortunately, after receiving an outpouring of complaints, ESPN reversed its decision. I was relieved that I could still watch “Sports Center” in good conscience.

The effort to remove Christ from Christmas is part of a larger agenda by secularist extremists to at- tack Christianity in general, and the Catholic Church in particular. Recently, the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) filed a lawsuit against the bishops of the United States, because our Ethical and Religious Directives prohibit Catholic hospitals from performing abortions. The suit claims that our prohibition against killing unborn children makes the care of pregnant women at Catholic hospitals substandard.

In addition to the preceding, the A&E Network suspended indefinitely
Phil Robertson, a star of one of its most popular shows, “Duck Dynasty.” Phil Robertson is not Catholic, but a devout evangelical Christian. I confess that I have never seen “Duck Dynasty” nor have I read Phil Robertson’s interview in GQ (Gentlemen’s Quarterly) magazine. If the news reports are accurate, Phil Robertson was suspended because, in his response to
a question about what he considered to be a sin, he included homosexual activity among a larger list of sins. For gay activists and their secular extremist allies, this is the unforgivable sin — to even suggest that homosexual activity is immoral.

The assault against Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular has intensified in recent months. Certainly, the administration’s effort to coerce the Catholic Church and other Christian organizations to provide abortifacient drugs, sterilization, and contraceptives as part of the Affordable Care Act has emboldened other groups to attack people of faith and their beliefs.

This is happening against a backdrop where morally offensive language and images have become increasingly prevalent on cable and network stations. Christian parents have to monitor closely what their children watch. The pornographic industry strives to addict people to its materials that objectify women, not only harming those in the industry, but also those who become addicted, as well as their spouses and families.

Parents cannot allow their children to watch college or professional athletic competitions without being be prepared to explain what Viagra does. If the trend of recent years proves true, it is not even safe to have children watch the Super Bowl halftime show.

All of the above could make us hopeless, but it must not. In fact, these cultural battles make clear why we need a Redeemer and Savior — why the world needed the birth of Jesus 2,000 years ago! If you are on the verge of despair, remember who was Time magazine’s Person of the Year? Pope Francis is pointing us to the way to break through this dense cultural fog. The world is still drawn to the truth of the Gospel when it is lived with boldness, authenticity, and joy.

The radical secularists want us to think the situation is hopeless — that our American culture is completely lost. Yet, a culture is composed of the net result of millions of individual choices. The culture is a result of what artists and authors create, what viewers watch and what readers choose to read. It is important that we resist the efforts to marginalize Christians and the public expressions of our faith. We must fight to protect our religious liberty and conscience rights. However, we must not allow ourselves to become distracted by these cultural battles from the essence of our Catholic faith. Our faith is about a God who so loved us that he was willing to become one with us. It is about a God who does not just love us collectively, but wants to have a unique and personal friendship with each of us.

Though our human nature has been fractured by sin and we are drawn to what is evil — to what on the surface seems so appealing but, in reality, dehumanizes and harms us — the One born in Bethlehem has come to rescue us and liberate us. The good news of Christmas cannot be denied. The light has pierced the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it.

Sometimes, I hear it said that Christmas is for children. I understand why people suggest this. We all enjoy the enthusiasm and joy of children receiving gifts at Christmas. Yet, this is not the essence of Christmas. If we really believe this, we do not have to fear anyone removing Christ from Christmas — we have already done so ourselves.

Christmas is for people of all ages, because we all need Jesus. Moreover, those of us who have lived longer and spent more years battling our own vulnerabilities know better than any child can why we need a Redeemer. You want to help win the culture war? This coming year make sure Jesus Christ is at the center of your life.

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