The Holidays come and gone so quick that it’s hard to catch one’s breath. On Sunday, December 27th, I decided to go with my father down to my grandmother’s old church. It is called Immaculate Conception and is not far from Downtown Cleveland.
Inside, the Neo-Gothic church was richly decorated for the Yuletide season; not only with masses of poinsettia pants on the altar but also trees decorated with lights and evergreen wreaths on the walls. My Dad and I went into the back to look at the stained glass window dedicated to his Uncle Johnny (John Teras) who died in 1962, the plaque still located right beneath it. As an inner city parish, it doesn’t even have half the number of parishioners it did when my father was a boy. However, there was more than enough today to sit in the pews and form a line at communion. The choir in the balcony in the front sang beautifully and the lit candles in front of the manger and statues lent a glow.
Every Christmas I would go with my parents down to her house on East 32nd Street. We would have dinner, play cards, sometimes visit my two great aunts who lived one street over, and then go to Immaculate. It would always be Midnight Mass when I was young until, in later years, it was switched ten o’clock. We would always sit in the pew which my grandma unofficially marked as her own; a quarter of the rows away from the front on the left side. There were times that my great-aunt Eleanor would come in from Parma, Ohio, with her husband and slip into the pew behind us; though they usually visited my grandma more on Thanksgiving. As for my grandma’s two sisters, they would go to the same church on Christmas Day, to the pew they marked for themselves much further back near the wall. All that ran through my brain as the two of us sat in that pew during Sunday’s mass.
I didn’t agree with the pastor in his homily (for example, in my opinion, Satan didn’t inspire the liberalization of birth control or the Irish electorate to vote for same-sex marriage). However, I do respect him for volunteering to go there more than a decade ago; having grown up in the neighborhood. The pastor was also successful in getting Immaculate spared the fate of many inner city parishes closed by Bishop Richard Lennon that triggered such rancor and lawsuits a few years ago. In 2016, Immaculate will celebrate its 150th anniversary as a parish, and he told everyone about the novenas that he hoped people would participate in for the parish; and to thank God in advance for all He had done already.
Knowing an array of people who go from telling me I’m crazy to believe in the concept of a Supreme Being to, on the other hand, some worrying about my soul for not having as personal a relationship with Jesus as they do, I’m in no position to pontificate; especially to my agnostic aunt and uncle in Virginia. Nevertheless, to take out the spiritual and just make Christmas a day of food and, well stuff, with people you mainly see only once a year leaves a bitter taste.
Doug Saunders’ article in the Globe and Mail triggered this revelry in a way. This is a thoughtful piece written by a man who is a foreign correspondent by training and, like many, spent time with his family and friends this week. He apparently also thought about the relevance of religion with all this yuletide cheer. I highly commend him and his friends on trying to help Syrian refugees find a home in the Great White North and will look into the book by Thomas Roemer he recommends. Yes, once again, war, misery, death, and refugees fleeing for safety, hoping somewhere they can be taken in, is occurring right now. Too many times in our history, regardless of which Monotheistic religion, wars broke out in His name.
As any History Channel Christmas documentary, or Sheldon of the Big Bang Theory, would tell you, people from Rome to the Vikings have celebrated the winter solstice in one form or another. One can argue that the Christians, or more importantly the Emperor Constantine, seized it from all those heathens. It must be remembered that for the Early Christians it was Christ’s Resurrection, not his birth, that was the great day of celebration. However, old habits die hard. Later attempts to get away from Christmas revelry, such as the Puritans celebrating a day of thanksgiving instead, never could wrest us from a need for some holiday cheer (and in turn only gave us another holiday). To paraphrase the French philosopher Voltaire, if there wasn’t a Christmas Season, mankind would have invented one.
Soon it will be New Years Eve and the next day is for Catholics the Solemnity of Mary, better known as New Year’s Day. For each one recovering from a hangover there will be another going to a church, doing both, or for so many others just beginning another year. As Mr. Saunders writes at the end of his piece, “Whether you love Him or leave Him, let it bring out the best in you.”
Amen to that.
Photograph taken by James Valentino. Christmas Unwrapped link and Big Bang Theory clip, courtesy of Youtube.