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Notes Gleaned From Christmas, 2010
The Peace of a Noisy Household
I wonder how real the peace of Christmas feels to most families the morning of Dec. 25. Especially in families with young children, it might seem that chaos overwhelms any possible sense of peace. With everyone talking at once and clamoring for attention, the clutter of wrapping paper and just-opened gifts strewn about — and, just possibly, the cries of a newborn — peace might seem unattainable.
Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller, the brand new archbishop of San Antonio, Texas, apparently knows something about households that are somewhat chaotic. A message of his for Christmas 2010 caught my attention.
In light of his own experience in a large family, the archbishop’s message focused on the meaning of peace — what it is and what it is not. Titled “A Christmas Kind of Peace” the message appeared in December on the archdiocese’s website and in the San Antonio Express-News.
“When there are 15 children in a family, as there were in mine, seeking a peaceful moment or a place of peace might seem an impossible task, especially for my mom and dad,” Archbishop Garcia-Siller wrote. Nonetheless, he said it was in his family that he “first learned what peace really is and where the first seeds of peace were planted in my heart.”
Looking back, the archbishop realizes his “parents weren’t just seeking a peace of passive silence, for they understood that peace could occur even in the chaos of a crowded kitchen or the conflict that comes from generations rubbing so closely together.”
How would people feel if they experienced the authentic peace of Christmas? Archbishop Garcia-Siller commented on this. He said, “The authentic peace which brings such joy to Christmas, as one writer tells us, ‘does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. Peace means to be in the midst of all those things and still be calm in your heart.”
The archbishop knows that people of all kinds “are longing for a peace” and “seeking answers to heal their broken hearts and darkened dreams.” Thus, he wanted to share an understanding of peace “that embodies both life’s journey and its goal,” but he warned “that this peace doesn’t guarantee all the answers.” Instead, it strengthens people, even when there do not “seem to be any answers at hand.”
The peace the archbishop described is a “heavenly peace” that guides people “through the pain, not avoiding it, but understanding it.” It is a peace that “doesn’t wipe away all the tears, but instead allows them to cleanse” the aching soul.
On Christmas, peace entered the world through a child “in the least peaceful of places, but to a mother and foster-father who had both heard the voices of an angel telling them they need not be afraid, even when fear seemed to be the only thing to feel,” Archbishop Garcia-Siller wrote.
Jesus, too, told his followers not to be afraid, the archbishop pointed out. But, he said, “Jesus didn’t tell us to not be afraid because there was nothing to be afraid of, but that his peace was all we would need, not to simply calm the rough waters of life, but that when his peace fills our hearts we can actually navigate through the storm of uncertainty raging around us.”
So, if your household was a noisy place this Christmas morning, might peace nonetheless have been at hand?
Archbishop Garcia-Siller viewed the peace Jesus brought into the world as “more than a technique to turn off the noise.” And this “peace is not one that only heals the moment, it is a peace that heals a life.” Moreover, it is “born of love.”
The peace that Jesus offers “is more than pointless or passive tranquility,” it is “a peace that calls us to action,” the archbishop insisted. He said, “In his peace we are empowered to love each other — changing hearts, breaking down barriers and building bridges.”
In fact, the archbishop concluded, having this peace within us “empowers us to also create a peace around us, knowing that its source is Christ himself. He is our peace.”
Grandparents Matter: Linking the Generations
Another church leader caught my attention this Christmas with a comment about grandparents and the link between the generations within a family – a topic of some interest to me as the grandfather of seven. Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster, England, was writing Dec. 26 for the Feast of the Holy Family.
There is wisdom within a family, he said, and this wisdom needs both to be shared and built up. The relationship between grandparents and grandchildren is one way this happens, he suggested.
Grandparents and grandchildren “need each other, for there is so much to give and receive across the family generations,” said Archbishop Nichols. His advised his readers not to “pretend that children are best left to find their own way, either at home or in school.” For, “life is not a blank sheet of paper waiting for each separate person to create their own story.”
Rather, the archbishop said, “across the generations we belong to each other,” and “within a family we share wisdom.” In this way, he said, “from our past we shape a future, as well as working so that the future can help redeem past mistakes.”