It has become a venerable American Christmas tradition to watch the movie It’s a Wonderful Life. James Stewart stars in this Frank Capra classic as George Bailey, an average American businessman who lives in a small, upstate New York town.
Delve Into the Mystery
Each Christmas we contemplate the mystery of our God who became man. He is born in silence, poverty, simplicity, and purity. Emmanuel is born in Bethlehem, the “house of bread.” Our God made man later takes bread and wine, transforming it into His Body and Blood, and thus the mystery of the Incarnation continues in the mystery of the Eucharistic God, made present for us. God becomes man. Bread and wine become God-man. Each time we come to the Eucharist, it is like a new Bethlehem. The one who rested in a manger now rests in our entire being as we receive Him in the mystery of the Mass. Gerard Manley Hopkins in his poem, “The Blessed Virgin Compared to the Air We Breathe,” meditates on this mystery:
Of her flesh He took flesh:
He does take fresh and flesh,
Though much the mystery how,
Not flesh but spirit now
And makes, O marvelous!
New Nazareth in us,
Where she shall yet conceive
Him, morning, noon, and eve;
New Bethlehems, and He born
There, evening, noon, and morn
Bethlehem or Nazareth,
Men here may draw like breath
More Christ and baffle death;
Who, born so, comes to be
New self and nobler me
In each one and each one
More makes, when all is done,
Both God's and Mary's Son.
Bailey's Uncle Billy, who assists his nephew with a struggling savings and loan bank, misplaces $8,000, thus catapaulting Bailey into a terrible crisis. The money cannot be found because Mr. Potter, played by Lionel Barrymore, has discovered the money and kept it. George Bailey becomes totally discouraged and considers ending his life before he defaults on his creditors and ends up in jail.
Clarence, George Bailey's guardian angel, comes to the rescue. He tells George that he has been granted a wonderful gift, the ability to walk through his life as if he had not been born. During the rest of the movie, Clarence is able to show George what a wonderful life he has had and how much of an effect he has had on the people of his small town; moreover, what their lives would have been like had he not been born.
What would our lives be like if Jesus had not been born? If the first Christmas had never taken place, there would be no Christmas memories, no Christmas mystery, and no Christmas majesty.
We all have wonderful memories of how we have celebrated Christmas in the past. Each Christmas, we relive our memories, create new ones, and cherish those vivid memories in the recesses of our hearts. The joy and excitement of opening Christmas presents; sampling the delicious foods and deserts that our mothers and grandmothers had prepared; the decorating of the tree; the manger scene; the Christmas carols; and of course, the gathering together of family members and friends make up the wonderful memories of Christmas.
I have many beautiful memories of Christmases past. From early childhood I remember how our entire family always attended Christmas morning Mass at our parish. Inevitably, somewhere along in the liturgy, the choir would sing Silent Night. My grandmother always began to weep uncontrollably as the beautiful Christmas hymn filled the church with harmony. Once, as a child, I asked my grandmother why she wept so much. “God loves us so much,” was her immediate answer.
The Christmas memory of my grandmother fills me with sadness at times because she died just a couple of years ago, but then I remember how she died. As she lay in bed taking her last breath, she said, “Dear God, I love you.” I am sure that she now contemplates the eternal face of the God made man born in Bethlehem.
There is another Christmas memory that fills me with profound joy; it is the memory of the first time that I celebrated the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass as a newly ordained priest. Yes, I was given the amazing privilege of celebrating my first Mass on Christmas morning. My family and friends gathered together with me as I had my first Mass in Rome, at a beautiful basilica dedicated to our Blessed Mother, on an altar containing relics from the manger of Bethlehem.
The Praise of His Majesty
And there is majesty: “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among men of good will” (Lk 2: 13-14). The Incarnate Word, even though He is born in humility, is heralded by angels and adored by kings.
“When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy; and going into the house they saw the child with Mary His mother, and they fell down and worshipped Him” (Mt 2: 10-11). This same Jesus will come again in splendor and majesty. “And I seemed to hear the voices of a huge crowd, like the sound of the ocean or the great roar of thunder, answering, 'Alleluia! The reign of the Lord our God Almighty has begun; let us be glad and joyful and give praise to God, because this is the time of the marriage of the Lamb” (Rv 19: 6-7).
Christmas memories, Christmas mystery, and Christmas majesty: they would all be absent had Jesus not been born.
But, oh, He was! And, yes, it is a wonderful life. Like George Bailey we need to discover that despite the many challenges and difficulties of our daily existence, it is the birth of Jesus that gives us the ability to journey through life with great joy. It is through His birth that we are able to experience the memories of Christmas, the mystery of the Incarnation, the majesty of His comings.
© Copyright 2004 Catholic Exchange
Father James Farfaglia is Pastor of St. Helena of the True Cross of Jesus Catholic Church in Corpus Christi, Texas. Originally from Ridgefield, CT, Father has founded and developed apostolates for the Catholic Church in Spain, Italy, Mexico, Canada and throughout the United States. He may be reached by e-mail at Icthus@GoCCN.org.