Christmas Day Reflections
“Let Earth receive her King...”
Father Kenneth Lasch is an 81 year old retired Pastor and a good friend of mine. Raised on the hard-boiled streets of Jersey City, his formal Seminary training took him to Rome, where he would go on to become a Canon Lawyer. But that accomplishment pales in comparison to what would come to be the very essence of his priestly journey.
You see Father Lasch would go on to become a victims‘ rights advocate for those who fell prey to the rampant scourge of pedophila that has enveloped our Lord’s Beautiful Bride, the Catholic Church, this by virtue of the fact that he inherited a Parish led by one of the most notorious pedophile priests of them all.
Lives were ruined, destroyed even. One young man, a friend of mine, stepped in front of an oncoming train in the waking hours of a rainy Sunday morning in October of 2003 so as to end his anguish. I had seen him out at a local tavern just a few weeks ago; he seemed for all the world to be on the road to recovery, whatever that means in light of what he had endured. So it goes when such insidious criminal acts are perpetrated on innocent children. Few bounce back from them. Very few.
Father Lasch himself was silenced, bullied intimidated and slandered in what was a blatant cover-up effort by the Archdiocese of Patterson, NJ. It took its toll on him. Profoundly. PTSD, hour upon hour of grief counseling, psychiatric counseling, these were just a few of the horrors that this man would go on to endure. All for seeking out and defending the truth. On this the day we celebrate Christmas, we’re reminded of the similar fate of Jesus as Lent approaches in a few months. Persecuted, all in the name of the truth. Father Kenneth Lasch will never be canonized a Saint, this despite the fact that a Saint is precisely what he is.
He comes to mind on this the day that we celebrate Christmas, the coming of our Savior. The day in which we celebrate all good things, for it is from our Lord that all good things come. I’m blessed and grateful to count Father Lasch not only as a friend, but as one of my greatest inspirations.
“Christmas is a door opener” he would oftentimes say. “In essence, Christmas is an invitation from God to everyone in need of a fresh start and a new attitude. But it’s just a door opener. There is something in the feast for everyone of good will no matter what the past, no matter our tradition or the circumstances that brought us here today or the place in which we find ourselves on life’s journey.“
There are different Scriptural texts for midnight, dawn and midday. From the decree of Augustus and the birth of Jesus in the cave at Bethlehem at midnight to the arrival of the shepherds at dawn to the prologue of John’s mystic gospel of signs at midday. Every word is a door opener to a new day and a new way.
From Isaiah at Midnight: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light...for unto us a child is born… They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Prince of Peace…” And from Isaiah at dawn: “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of those who bring glad tidings, announcing peace, bearing good news.” And from the Psalmist throughout the day: “All the ends of the earth have seen the saving power of God.”
There is so much to be grateful for. For me among other things, it’s the Communion of Saints. Saint Padre Pio’s tremendous devotion to the Baby Jesus for instance. His constant reminder to us to “pray, hope, and don’t worry” resonates as well.
A year ago on this day I would give my father, who was suffering immensely albeit courageously and silently from the ravages of stomach cancer, a Padre Pio Medal for Christmas. Upon helping him open it, I immediately put it around his neck as he flashed a frail smile. It was the last gift I would give him. He would die 11 days later. That medal is now chained around my neck today and every day, and will continue to remain there until the day comes when I die of stomach cancer, or heart disease, or however God wills it. Sound flippant? Perhaps, but when your life is rooted in the joy and hope of Jesus, you pray, you hope, and you certainly don’t worry.
I’m grateful for those who vibrantly seek out the Catholic Faith, particularly the RCIA Team at my my local Parish. The young man I’m sponsoring, at the ripe old age of 26, is on the verge of obtaining a PhD in Theology. He hopes to teach at the College Level as his wife is expecting their 3rd child early in the new year; I certainly hope he’s learned from me a mere fraction of that which I’ve learned from him, a reminder of the mystical body and blood of Christ moving among us as the Spirit destines it. Whenever you volunteer, you always get back far more than you give. Funny how that works.
Speaking of growing families, another young man and his wife who are going through our RCIA Program together are expecting their 5th child. His co-workers constantly chide him over his burgeoning family. “Use birth control” they tell him. Rather then getting combative he seeks to remind them ~ teach them perhaps ~ that the greatest gifts in life aren’t things, but indeed life Itself. Who knows, perhaps he occasionally penetrates the dull heart of one of these coworkers? Wouldn’t it be great if we once again became a nation that truly respected and cherished life for the joyous gift they it is? What if this was what we taught our children? He’s doing his part to return us to that place, to open a door that somehow, in the most prosperous country in the world, got closed along the way.
“What would it be like if you and I became door openers for true dialogue among the wary and weary?” Father Lasch would go on to ask, “What would it be like if we engaged one another in the pursuit of human understanding and the healing of those who have been abused or estranged by indifference, those who continue to suffer the stigma of bias and prejudice of race or gender; color or creed?”
Christmas is a feast for children because children are often better able than we to see light in the darkness. Only in time do they learn to fear the dark and note the difference in the color of a man or woman’s skin. Santa Claus is not a pagan myth or a childish figure, but instead a lens through which the spirit of divine giving and receiving is made more concrete and therefore more human.
And so on this feast in which we celebrate the mystery of God with human skin so that we might become more human with divine ‘skin,’ we are invited to reestablish our identity in Christ, focusing not only on the past but also on the present and future.
“Oh come let us adore him....Christ the Lord.”