This article was written by the eminent Catholic thinker and man of action, Professor Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira on January 1st, 1979 for the newspaper, Folha de S.Paulo, in Brazil. Harkening to days of his youth in the early twentieth century, in then small-town São Paulo, he bemoans what rampant materialism and secularism have done to Christmas. With a few adaptations, we publish it here as still applicable, if not more so, to our day.
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In this day and age, Christmas accentuates a phenomenon that as such should not exist, but since it does, this phenomenon should at least spare the feast of the Savior’s Birth.
I refer to the widespread secularization of mentalities, relationships, culture, art, and all of modern-day life. And in this matter, secularization means paganization. For to the extent that the secular culture pushes the God-Man into the shadows, His vacancy is filled by concrete, tangible “values ” sometimes glorified as glamorous abstractions: Economy, Health, Sex, Technology, etc. These material “values ” are obviously bolstered by a Marxist, Freudian, atheistic propaganda.
Granted, unlike in classic paganism, these “values” do not take the shape of “gods” or statues. Still, they are the true pagan idols of our unhappy secularized world.
The influence of secular neo-paganism has gradually, but effectively, infiltrated modern Christmas in every conceivable way.
Let us begin with Advent. In Christendom, this period, which in the liturgical year spans the four weeks before Christmas, was dedicated to recollection, quiet contrition, and a growing expectation of the great joy that was the birth of the Messiah. Everyone prepared to welcome the God-Child Who, in the sacred tabernacle of His virginal mother’s womb, daily drew closer to the blessed moment in which He would begin His salvific life among men.
As Christmas drew near in this vividly religious atmosphere, the tone would gradually shift. As we approached the most sacred of nights, compunction gave way to joy until, in the festive pomp of Midnight Mass, families, peoples and nations felt anointed by the sacred rejoicing that descended from on high. Like a heavenly balm, the impression spread that the Prince of Peace, the Mighty God, the Lion of Judah, Emmanuel had just been born in every city, home, and soul. The strains of “Silent Night, Holy Night…,” which so embodied what everyone felt, rang around the world.
What is left of all that preparation? Who thinks about Advent, except for a tiny minority? And within that tiny minority, how many do so under the influence of the true, traditional Catholic theology rather than that of ambiguous, far-out theologies jarring the Christian world?
True, towns and cities indeed herald the approach of Christmas with colorful displays, lights and glittering shopping windows. However, the joy and feeling of warmth such displays generate obviously arise from a desire to buy, enjoy and party. Barely, if at all, do these lights and decorations recall the Messiah about to arrive. Instead, everything proclaims a geared-up economy, merchants look forward to sales, and industry multiplies products and profits by filling empty store shelves for sure consumption. In fact, the Economy-Idol is the main focus of expectations and desires. At the party that celebrates Mammon, the stomach and materialism, Jesus is the uninvited guest.
Finally, when Christmas arrives, does the holy day still gather families around a crèche? Sometimes, yes. However, in many cases, they do not gather around the manger where the Child-God opens his arms to a loving Mary, under Saint Joseph’s joyful, contemplative gaze, but around a table of goodies, champagne or punch, which occupy the spotlight. In many homes, ever more shrinking and transparent clothes generate an atmosphere of sensuality, deeply distorting the meaning of this night of unsurpassed purity.
In such celebrations charity tends to retreat, reaching out less and less to those who have little or nothing. In these homes, the largess once widely shared on behalf of true Christian justice and charity is often replaced by the hiss of “Catholic” subversion, which voiced by some guest, agent of Marxist philosophies, uses those who have less on Christmas as a pretext to further their nefarious agendas.
Secular Christmas has still another aspect. The typhoon of tourism draws countless families away from home, which, along with the parish church should be the specific setting for Christmas night. These families are scattered in hotels, beaches and country-sides in a mundane hustle and bustle which the angelic voices singing “Gloria in excelsis Deo” cannot penetrate.
But secularization does not stop there. It chases away Christ even in the feasts of the New Year, and Epiphany.
In religious terms, New Year’s Day is the Feast of the Circumcision of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Who, already as a Babe, in His love for mankind, sheds drops of His infinitely precious blood for the sake of men. Thus, the Circumcision of Our Lord, already points to the supreme sacrifice that will redeem them from sin, wrest them from eternal death, and open for them the way to heaven.1
Today this religious feast of the Divine Child is smothered by a nauseating celebration of a highly secular universal brotherhood, which, like all things secular, is a hopelessly empty fraternizing. Such “brotherhood” makes light of world conflicts that tore and continue to tear people apart, terrorizing them and hanging over them like a leaden cloud. Meanwhile, the cynical “party” goes on, increasingly laden with antagonism and hatred, incompatible ideas, and irreconcilable interests.
And in all this, secularism presents Jesus Christ, the true Sun of Justice, as a setting sun. Is it any wonder that all things nefarious and destructive multiply and spread in maddened cities, and dens of de-Christianized hearts, where increasingly sophisticated vice and crime lurk and multiply?
Why write thus in this joyful season? Why “grumble” at a moment when all would rather laugh and celebrate?
Why? To protest. There is nothing “grumbling” about a protest inspired by the love of Christ, who came as a victorious King and Who should not only be the center of Christmas, but the center of all of our lives and of our civilization.
This protest is a cry of reparation, a proclamation of nonconformity, and a harbinger of His ultimate victory, as predicted by His mother at Fatima when, foreseeing the upheavals of our era, she nevertheless said, “Finally, my Immaculate Heart will triumph.”
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The preceding article was originally published in the Folha de S.Paulo, on January 1, 1979. It has been translated and adapted for publication without the author’s revision. –Ed.
- When this article was written in 1979, January 1st was the Feast of the Circumcision of the Lord. Today, it is the Feast of Mary, Mother of God, and the Octave of Christmas. (See USCCB’s calendar)