Fr. Stephen Van Lal Than

A Nativity scene donated by the cathedral of Turin, Italy, is on display as part of the “100 Nativity Scenes at the Vatican” exhibit under the colonnade in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Dec. 20, 2023. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)

Let us continue the hope and promise of Christmas into the New Year

My Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

As the first edition of The Western Kentucky Catholic of 2024 arrives in homes across the Diocese of Owensboro, most of us have all but left Christmas 2023 behind. I am struck every year that homes and businesses that have been brightly lit with holiday lights for weeks or even months are suddenly dark on December 26. We will not hear Christmas songs or carols playing in stores or on the radio. The Salvation Army Christmas kettles have been stored away. The Christmas trees that brought such excitement to our homes are cast aside or stored in a basement or an attic.

One exception is our churches. Wreathes still decorate the doors and more focally the Christmas nativity scene still enjoys a place of prominence. However we may feel about the overnight disappearance of all things Christmas, for the most part it is good indeed that our churches choose to continue to tell the story throughout a proper season.

Christmas in our Catholic liturgical tradition envelops several stories and lessons.  The feast of the Holy Innocents is on December 28 and serves as a stark reminder of the cost of discipleship. In recent years this feast has given us an opportunity to remember the modern day slaughters of the innocent, most notably the legal  execution of the unborn through abortion.

The Sunday that falls between Christmas and New Year’s Day is observed as the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Though lost in the fatigue that the holidays can bring, it is good to honor the family as the cornerstone of society and civilization and to honor the holiness of the family. Ironically, with children out of school, adults home from work, and perhaps relatives still around we might all be a little burned out with family by this point in the holidays. Nonetheless, the church provides a moment to say thanks and to look to the perfect family for hope and guidance.

On the octave day of Christmas, the eighth day, the Church recalls the centrality of Mary in the story of salvation. The title of the feast celebrated on New Year’s Day is Mary, Mother of God. Though Mary is hardly overlooked in Christmas art, it is important that we highlight her and her role as Mother of God with a special feast. For the past half-century this feast has also been observed as a universal day of prayer for peace. With each year we hope that New Year’s Day might find the world at peace – but war and violence always seem to prevail.

The Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord is best noted by most of us for the appearance in our church manger scenes of the Wise Men, the Magi, presented in Matthew’s Gospel. The characters are richly dressed and bejeweled, they are said to have come “from the east” and “followed a star,” and often a camel is positioned with them. Maybe one facet of this story easy to overlook is that if these men have come from the East, they likely did not share the Hebrew faith and would not have been familiar with the Hebrew prophets who had foretold the coming of the Messiah. The Gospel tells us that these men came to follow a star, came because of an extraordinary light. Epiphany represents the manifestation of Jesus Christ to all the world.

So the tinsel and lights are gone – but the message of hope and promise and salvation carry us into a New Year.

May God bless you all,

Most Reverend William F. Medley
Diocese of Owensboro

Originally printed in the January 2024 issue of The Western Kentucky Catholic.

Current Issue

Publisher |  Bishop William F. Medley
Editor |  Elizabeth Wong Barnstead
Contributors |  Riley Greif, Rachel Hall
Layout |  Rachel Hall
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