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Christmas Light in Winter's Darkness View Comments
By Kathleen M. Carroll

WE ALL KNOW the story of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem. In Scripture, each Gospel writer tells the story a little differently. Matthew begins his Gospel with “An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah...” before setting down his telling of the Nativity story. Luke gives the most detailed and comprehensive account of the birth of Jesus, with great emphasis on the Marian aspect of the story.

Mark and John both begin with Jesus’ encounter with John the Baptist, skipping over the story of Jesus’ life prior to the events that led to his public ministry. John’s Gospel, in fact, presents a mystical account of Jesus’ entry into the world with the words: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (1:1). For most of us, however, the Gospel stories, our traditions and even a few elements contributed by pious and not-so-pious authors have merged into one big story about the birth of Jesus.

We know that Jesus was conceived by the Virgin Mary and born in Bethlehem in the humblest of surroundings. We know that wise men from the East followed a star to honor the newborn king, that Joseph had dreams that helped him protect the child and his mother. Our songs and traditions incorporate some or all of these elements into our celebrations and occasionally embellish a detail or invent new stories altogether. “The Little Drummer Boy,” for example, will not be peeking at you from the pages of any Bible.

Christmas wasn’t quite “Christmas” that first year, though. It was simply Jesus’ birthday. While his mother and earthly father and a few foreign gentlemen had an idea that this was no ordinary child, most people were not attaching the word “Christ” to him just yet.

So while Jesus was growing up, he and his family didn’t celebrate Christmas. Their family life centered on the holy days of the Jewish faith they all embraced. Though the Gospel writers don’t always go to great pains to spell this out for us (there is really very little about Jesus’ childhood in Scripture), it is evident in the stories about the presentation in the Temple (remember Simeon and Anna?) and in the finding in the Temple (after Jesus’ three-day disappearance). We can’t say with certainty that Mary and Joseph didn’t celebrate Jesus’ birth day, but the word birthday appears just once in the Bible (Genesis 40:20), to refer to the pharaoh’s birthday.

When did the celebration we call Christmas really start? About 300 years after the birth of Jesus.


Kathleen M. Carroll is managing editor of books for St. Anthony Messenger Press.

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Marie-Rose Durocher: Canada was one diocese from coast to coast during the first eight years of Marie-Rose Durocher’s life. Its half-million Catholics had received civil and religious liberty from the English only 44 years before. When Marie-Rose was 29, Bishop Ignace Bourget became bishop of Montreal. He would be a decisive influence in her life. 
<p>He faced a shortage of priests and sisters and a rural population that had been largely deprived of education. Like his counterparts in the United States, he scoured Europe for help and himself founded four communities, one of which was the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary. Its first sister and reluctant co-foundress was Marie-Rose. </p><p>She was born in a little village near Montreal in 1811, the 10th of 11 children. She had a good education, was something of a tomboy, rode a horse named Caesar and could have married well. At 16, she felt the desire to become a religious but was forced to abandon the idea because of her weak constitution. At 18, when her mother died, her priest brother invited her and her father to come to his parish in Beloeil, not far from Montreal. For 13 years she served as housekeeper, hostess and parish worker. She became well known for her graciousness, courtesy, leadership and tact; she was, in fact, called “the saint of Beloeil.” Perhaps she was too tactful during two years when her brother treated her coldly. </p><p>As a young woman she had hoped there would someday be a community of teaching sisters in every parish, never thinking she would found one. But her spiritual director, Father Pierre Telmon, O.M.I., after thoroughly (and severely) leading her in the spiritual life, urged her to found a community herself. Bishop Bourget concurred, but Marie-Rose shrank from the prospect. She was in poor health and her father and her brother needed her. </p><p>She finally agreed and, with two friends, Melodie Dufresne and Henriette Cere, entered a little home in Longueuil, across the Saint Lawrence River from Montreal. With them were 13 young girls already assembled for boarding school. Longueuil became successively her Bethlehem, Nazareth and Gethsemani. She was 32 and would live only six more years—years filled with poverty, trials, sickness and slander. The qualities she had nurtured in her “hidden” life came forward—a strong will, intelligence and common sense, great inner courage and yet a great deference to directors. Thus was born an international congregation of women religious dedicated to education in the faith. </p><p>She was severe with herself and by today’s standards quite strict with her sisters. Beneath it all, of course, was an unshakable love of her crucified Savior. </p><p>On her deathbed the prayers most frequently on her lips were “Jesus, Mary, Joseph! Sweet Jesus, I love you. Jesus, be to me Jesus!” Before she died, she smiled and said to the sister with her, “Your prayers are keeping me here—let me go.” </p><p>She was beatified in 1982.</p> American Catholic Blog It is in them [the saints] that Christian love becomes credible; they are the poor sinners’ guiding stars. But every one of them wishes to point completely away from himself and toward love…. The genuine saints desired nothing but the greater glory of God’s love… <br />—Hans Urs von Balthasar

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