A per­sonal jour­ney

Clarke’s Beach writer dis­cov­ers true mean­ing of that first Christ­mas

The Compass - - NEWS - BY BILL WEST­COTT “And when they en­tered into the sta­ble, they saw the young child with Mary, his mother, fell down and wor­shipped him: and when they had opened their trea­sures, they pre­sented unto him gifts; gold, frank­in­cense and Myrrh” (Matthew 2:11).

Christ­mas trees

Early cu­rios­ity tweaked

Back in the 1950s I served as an al­tar boy at St.Teresa’s Par­ish in St.John’s. That was in the days when mass was said in Latin.

“Our fa­ther, who art in heaven, hal­lowed be thy name, be­came Pater Noster, qui es in Cal­lis, sanc­ti­fice­tur nomen tuom.”

While im­pos­si­ble to un­der­stand and re­quir­ing blind faith, it later be­came the foun­da­tion of my spir­i­tual quest.

My in­tro­duc­tion to the Christ­mas story was a rather spe­cial one. As al­tar boys we were charged with the re­spon­si­bil­ity of cut­ting Christ­mas trees for the church and for the con­vent and for the as­sem­bly of the Na­tiv­ity scene (usu­ally po­si­tioned to the right side of the main al­tar).

Af­ter tramps­ing through the nearby for­est on our spe­cial day off, a few of us, led by a se­nior who was a high school teacher, sought out, cut and trimmed a num­ber of nicely shaped fir trees, piled them aboard our to­bog­gans, roped them and hauled them about two miles back to the church yard.

We car­ried the stat­ues and the tall fig­urines from the Pri­est’s garage (stor­age space) into the church ves­tary. On the weekend be­fore Christ­mas-week vig­ils be­gan, the Mercy Sis­ters from the nearby con­vent would take over. They cleaned and pol­ished the stat­ues and as­sem­bled them in or­der of their im­por­tance with the cen­tral fo­cus on the manger hold­ing the small mar­ble statue of the baby Je­sus. The fol­low­ing day the men of the par­ish po­si­tioned the trees to form the na­tiv­ity scene.

It was around that time my cu­rios­ity with the time­less Christ­mas story and all it rep­re­sents tweaked. I had to know what all this meant to me? What is it about that na­tiv­ity scene that each De­cem­ber draws so many to­gether, all over the world and in par­tic­u­lar in our small iso­lated par­ish in a cor­ner of St. John’s? It would take years be­fore I fig­ured it out.

For any young al­tar boy, mid­night mass was a priv­i­lege to serve.

The taber­na­cle would be draped with rich linen and white silk while the pri­est’s vest­ments were brightly coloured and joy­fully dec­o­rated with spe­cial touches suit­able for the Christ­mas celebration.

The choir sec­tion was filled. Pews packed with well re­hearsed singers (in­clud­ing my sis­ters) bel­lowed out those time­less hymns and car­ols. It was as if time stopped and the world stepped

Bill West­cott

back, all was calm and the search for mean­ing took on greater sig­nif­i­cance. “O Holy Nite” was my favourite carol. It still is to­day.

Christ­mas meant hol­i­days from school and at­tend­ing con­certs here and there. It meant nicely dec­o­rat­ing our homes with lights and the cus­tom­ary Christ­mas tree. It meant gifts and good food and friends who came to visit and of course Santa Claus.

Chris­tian­ity is born

Of­ten I won­dered why Christ’s birth was so poor and so hum­ble that it took place in a sta­ble in Beth­le­hem.

Why not a cas­tle suit­able for a king? The Son of God was born into the world, not as a prince, but as a pau­per. It was there with no fan­fare that Chris­tian­ity was born. In one of most volatile cor­ners of the mid­dle east that to this day is in con­stant tur­moil with threats of war ever present.

For a very long pe­riod it seemed I searched and even­tu­ally, as if a bright light was switched on in my psy­che, the cen­tral mes­sage and true mean­ing of that first Christ­mas be­gan to slowly il­lu­mi­nate my mind.

What I dis­cov­ered was as a re­sult of read­ing gifted writ­ers and lis­ten­ing and watch­ing well-ed­u­cated evan­ge­lists. It slowly be­came clear to me and then it hap­pened.

I was cap­ti­vated by the in depth thoughts of famed Bri­tish au­thor and states­man, the late Mal­colm Mug­geridge. He con­verted to Catholi­cism in his lat­ter years af­ter many pe­ri­ods of ag­nos­ti­cism.

For those of you who want to dis­cover or, like me, re­dis­cover the true mean­ing of that first Christ­mas, Mug­gridge de­serves a look. Let me share a few para­graphs from his in­sight­ful book, “Je­sus re­dis­cov­ered,” pub­lished by Collins Fon­tana Books.

What child is this?

Mug­geridge wrote:

“It was some­where here, in the neigh­bor­hood of the present day Beth­le­hem, that Christ’s birth took place; on any show­ing, the most mo­men­tous event in the his­tory of our Western civ­i­liza­tion.

In the ex­po­si­tion and por­trayal of it, lit­er­ally bil­lions of words, oceans of paint, acres of can­vas, moun­tains of stone and mar­ble, have been ex­pended, not to men­tion, in re­cent times, miles of film (and nowa­days video­tape I sug­gest).

Is there, then, any­thing left to say? I ask my­self, rather dis­con­so­lately, and de­cide that there is; not be­cause of me, but be­cause of him. The man and his story are in­ex­haustible, and con­tinue to at­tract the minds and the imagi- na­tion of the pious and the un­pious, of believ­ers and un­be­liev­ers, alike; mine among them.

Christ’s mother, Mary, con­ceived him out of wed­lock, but be­lieved when an in­ner voice, or an­gel, told her that her preg­nancy was di­vinely or­dained. Joseph, a poor car­pen­ter from Nazareth who mar­ried her, like­wise un­der­stood that the child to be born to her had a spe­cial des­tiny in the world. Ev­ery son of ev­ery mother is a son of God, but Mary knew that her son was to have a unique re­la­tion­ship with God and a unique role in the lives of men.

She ex­pressed her joy in the knowl­edge of all the songs of moth­er­hood; the more won­der­ful be­cause, in her par­tic­u­lar case, the cir­cum­stances of the birth-to- be were so du­bi­ous and so lowly: My soul doth mag­nify the Lord, and my spirit hath re­joiced in God my saviour.”

The rea­son for the sea­son

From those early days as an al­tar boy to to­day (and I am in my early 70s now) I have re­lent­lessly searched and fi­nally found and ex­pe­ri­enced what for me is “the es­sen­tial mes­sage” about events that be­gan at that lowly sta­ble in Beth­le­hem where Christ was born over 2,000 years ago.

For that I am eter­nally blessed and for­tu­nate.

May you, too, dis­cover the true mean­ing of that first Christ­mas.

– Bill West­cott is a res­i­dent of Clarke’s Beach

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