Few men in history have been considered more proud and arrogant than Napoleon Bonaparte. When he declared himself emperor, he brought the pope all the way from Rome to crown him in Paris. According to tradition, as Pius VII was about to lay the crown on his head, Napoleon snapped it from his hands and crowned himself. Whether or not that episode is historically correct, it would have been quite in keeping with the character of the man.
After his defeat by the British in 1815 at the Battle of Waterloo, he was exiled on the small island of St. Helens, off the south west coast of Africa.
There, in his utter frustration and despair, he turned to the study of the Gospels. He had been born into a Catholic family on the Island of Corsica. But, for him, the Church was merely an instrument to be used or abused depending on how it served his political ambitions.
Can He be less than God?
However, with his empire in ruins and all his worldly ambitions frustrated, he found peace in reading the “Greatest Story Ever Told,” the story of how God became a Man. Having meditated on the Gospels this is what he is reported to have said: “Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Charlemagne and myself; we have all tried to found empires and our empires have crumbled in the dust, because they were founded on force. One Man alone founded an empire on love. And, today, nineteen hundred years after His death, there are millions of men who are ready to lay down their lives for His Name.” Then he asked the rhetorical question, “Can He be less than God?”
If Jesus Christ is less than God, he is the greatest deceiver in history. Christmas is a sham and the Santa Claus Parade is more important than the Crib or even the Cross. Christians, could benefit by re-reading the Gospel of Luke, particularly the first two chapters.
There we shall read, in language far from Shakespearean, how the Angel Gabriel appeared to the Virgin Mary and announced to her that she had been chosen to be the Mother of the Redeemer. And Mary answered, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done to me according to thy word.” That was, literally, the greatest moment in history – when God became Man in the womb of the Virgin Mary. In the words of St. John (Chap. 1:14) “And the Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us.” At that moment, also, pregnancy became sacred.
What does Christmas really mean?
On October 31, I was at the house of some friends in the evening. Many kids came to the door for the “Trick or Treat” ceremony. I could not help wondering what it meant to them. Had they any idea that “Halloween” means the Eve of the feast of All Saints, which is November 1. But, like so many other traditions with a spiritual origin, it has become a worldly occasion for fun and games.
And what about Christmas? In the minds and hearts of our children has it not also become an occasion for worldly and material celebration. Even for Catholic children, I wonder if the Santa Claus (St. Nicholas) Parade has eclipsed Midnight Mass and a visit to the Crib?
Of course Christmas is meant to be a time of rejoicing and even feasting. But, we should not allow the natural elements to overshadow the supernatural. The season of Advent – the word “advent” means “coming” – is meant to be a spiritual preparation for the great feast of Christmas. May I suggest reading – perhaps after the family evening meal – the first two chapters of Saint Luke’s Gospel, followed by a few moments of prayer, would be a fitting antidote to the rabid commercialism which has swamped this glorious Feast and made the saving of money more important than the saving of our souls.