Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register
(From the Dec. 16, 2010 edition of the Inland Register)
God forbid! Ė but if your house were to catch fire and everything were lost, what would you miss the most? Itís interesting that the people who have experienced this unfortunate tragedy often identify family photographs as the greatest loss. They simply cannot be replaced. At first, this reflection makes intellectual sense. Of course, the clock cannot be turned backward and situations re-created for retakes. History is history Ö and time marches on.
I surmise that more is missed, however, than just the possession of family photographs. Looking at family pictures cannot make history repeat itself, but photos do play an important role in the family consciousness. Photographs inspire and connect us more than we may realize. Even if packed away in cupboards, there remains a consciousness that pictures can be brought out at a momentís notice and the stories surrounding them can be retold. In a sense, history can be repeated. The past catches up with the present.
In point of fact, thatís exactly what happens with photos. A family gathering moves its conversation to the family history and out come the pictures. Or a friend visits, and the pictures tell the family history. Pictures anchor us in time and place. They give us a sense of history, an anchoring point which helps us make sense out of the present. Pictures help us know who we are in terms of who we were. It may sound a bit philosophical, but letís face it: Our future is found in our history. This is the part about pictures that is missing when those photographs of Grampa, the 1989 vacation to Washington, D.C., and the kids, etc., are totally destroyed in a fire. Somehow the validation of the memory loses a bit of its anchor. The loss is not just material; it is spiritual.
As we near this yearís celebration of Christmas, it strikes me that an important part of our annual celebration is much like dragging out the family photo album of the Christian faith. Our entire Christian walk is rooted in the historical reality of the life, death and Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, the child born of Mary. No actual photographs of the event exist, of course, but through Scripture and especially in the liturgy of the Church, the story is anchored in time and place. Year after year, the family of faith gathers for the telling of the story of the Incarnation. Even for those for whom the memory is stuffed away in the closet of neglect for the yearís other 364 days, the search for the pictures happens again. Is this perhaps why churches witness overflow crowds for the Christmas celebration?
So much of the business of life seems to consume the memory of Christ, and as a result he gets lost in the midst of the business. Sometimes, too, personal sinfulness obliterates the reality of Godís unconditional love made flesh. There is a tug at the human heart to come home for Christmas Ė to check out the family photo album, as it were, and to be embraced once more by the Good News that God has entered into human history in the person of Jesus.
Itís time to drag out the family photo album Ė in this case, to hear again the proclamation of the Word of God made flesh for the salvation of the world. Yes, it is true; it has happened. Here are the pictures Ė the Word and the liturgy Ė which anchor us there. From our past we know who we are. In returning to the Christmas scene, we celebrate with grateful hearts that we are part of Godís family, the Church, rooted in the One who was sent to us nearly 2,010 years ago as our Savior. Jesus, born of Mary, is the source of our life and salvation.
Pictured alongside him, we recognize that, indeed, we are Godís sons and daughters. We are brothers and sisters, brought together in peace and love in Godís covenant love. We are part of the picture of what God has done Ė and continues to do Ė for the salvation of the world. If we look closely at this one Ė the living picture of Christís celebrating family Ė we should be able to see ourselves standing there. The ones with the happy faces. Fortunately for us, our faith does not rely upon actual pictures. The story we re-tell year after year has happened in Jesus Christ, in time and place, and continues to be a living reality for us today. God grant us, one and all, a truly blessed Christmas.
(Father Savelesky is the diocese's Director of Deacon Formation and pastor of Assumption Parish in Spokane.)
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