By Br. John Castonguay SDB
"We are Easter people, and 'Alleluia' is our song." This quotation by St. Augustine that has been repopularized in modern times by St. Pope John Paul II describes our relationship as Christians with the Resurrection. However, as we enter into the celebration of Christmas as a Salesian Family, we recognize that, as we follow in the footsteps of Don Bosco, we are a Christmas people. The Christmas event provides us with a sign of hope to propose to young people in front of the challenges of our current circumstances and is a reminder to us of the gifts of our Salesian identity.
At Christmas, we are once again encouraged to cultivate a sense of awe in front of the gift of Our Lord as a child, specifically a poor child. The fact of Christ’s birth as a child is familiar to the point of unintentionally being neglected, but it is essential to our identity as Christians and Salesians. The longed-for Messiah, the King of the Universe, and Our Hope of Salvation, chose to be born as a poor child. The Word through whom the universe was created chose to enter the world as an infant, one who cannot speak. In performing this mystifying humble act, Christ offers holiness to all of reality and in a special way sanctifies childhood. His Sacred Infancy offers sacredness to infancy. The reverence of Don Bosco for the image of God in the presence of children is inseparable from this Christmas gift.
Every day in our ministries, we can experience Christmas as we receive the gift of the presence of hundreds of poor young Christs. As we minister to Christ in His most youthful disguise, we are reminded of the gift that God gives to us as Salesians. Jesus Himself chose to live as a child and proposed children as a model for trusting in God and holiness. He chose to be one of the little ones. God gives us the gift of a vocation in which we get to care for those who are closest to him. We have the responsibility of accompanying those whose very existence is a sacrament announcing that God continues to be with us. We have the opportunity to care for those through whom Hope continues to enter the world. Our Salesian life is a chance to give a daily Christmas gift to the One, who chose to become a poor, young person.
The current experience of many young people is one of isolation and fear. Young people, and all of us, are bombarded by messages of hopelessness, dread, and a sense of impending doom. The circumstances of the birth of Christ remind us that hope does not wait until all difficulties have passed. Christ’s birth was accompanied by the threat of death, including the death of many young people. The Holy Family was forced to flee from the threat of infanticide. The sanctification of childhood that takes place due to the birth of Christ is not a superficial idyllic erasure of all difficulties. However, it reminds us that the suffering of young people, in seemingly indefatigable circumstances, is not beyond the presence of God. He is us truly one of us. He is truly one of the suffering young people. He is the Truth that sin, fear, and death have already lost. These are the tidings that we can bring to the young this Christmas.
As Salesians, we are “signs and bearers of God’s love to the young,” giving us the role of the Angels in the Christmas narrative. We bring tidings of great joy to the shepherds and dispel fear. We announce the birth of Christ, and the fact of Emmanuel, God with us, to those who are on the peripheries. We fan flames of hope for the young to bring with them in a world that can seem too full of darkness. We are a Christmas people, and Gloria in Excelsis Deo is our song!