Celebrating the Spirit of Christmas

Fr. Thomas Cassidy’s Christmas letter

Fr. Tom is provincial superior of the U.S. Province of the Priests of the Sacred Heart

Christmas is not a time nor a season,
but a state of mind.
To cherish peace and goodwill,
to be plenteous in mercy,
is to have the real spirit of Christmas.

— Calvin Coolidge (1872 – 1933)

December 21, 2011

Merry Christmas,

It is that time of year again when our thoughts turn to an earth-shaking event that has shaped our lives in ways beyond our limited human comprehension. At its dawn no one would have guessed  that the birth of a child in a stable in far off Bethlehem would cause such a stir or cause us to yearly mark that day in song, food, gifts and family gatherings. I do hope this year will be for each of you a very special moment in which the grace of Christ’s birth will enrich your life and your very being.

December 25th has been celebrated in good times and in dark times. Celebrated when the world was at peace and celebrated in the midst of the ravages of war. In 1914, as troops prepared for the first Christmas of the war along the trenches of the western front as night fell, German and Allied soldiers put aside the killing to exchange carols, tobacco and coffee. It only happened that first year but what a remarkable moment it was!

It is sad that the reason behind that brief lull in the killing was not taken to heart or understood. The Christ Child came as the prince of peace. A prince-child foretold by the prophet Isaiah who said that someday: Wolves will live with lambs. Leopards will lie down with goats. Calves, young lions, and year-old lambs will be together, and little children will lead them.  Cows and bears will eat together. Their young will lie down together. Lions will eat straw like oxen (Isaiah 11:6-7).

One must admit that we are still a long way off from Isaiah’s vision becoming a reality, but each year in the midsts of all the hustle and bustle the Christmas season foists upon us we are reminded that someday it will happen, so long as we keep Isaiah’s vision alive. It is certainly my prayer that Christmas grace will touch you, your loved ones and those to whom you minister; and, if only for a brief moment, the prophet’s vision of a world turned upside down will be yours as you experience a foretaste of the peace offered to our world from Bethlehem’s stable.

As we prepare to put to rest 2011 and look forward to 2012 I am grateful for all that I experienced during this past year. I had the opportunity to visit our Indian SCJs for the first time. Since I was a part of the general administration that planted the seed of our presence in that vast and complex country, I was eager to see how in the brief time we have been there (16 years) it has taken root.

India was not the only international first for me. After attending a meeting last October of our European SCJ major superiors at Clarefontaine, Belgium, I traveled to Poland to see first-hand our SCJ Polish Province. While I only had a week in Poland it was a wonderful opportunity to see their many diverse works.

The year ahead also promises some more international travel. The congregation will hold its General Conference in Germany next July. The conference is held once every six years falling in the middle of a general administration’s six-year mandate. I also plan to visit the Philippines next March as SCJs there celebrate the birth of the Philippine district.

Next week we will lay Jerry Clifford to rest. Please remember him and his family in your prayers. Jerry touched the lives of many in our province, especially those of us who went through Kilroe Seminary. I have attended a number of universities and Jerry would rank right up there at the top of the list of great professors. He had the knack of breaking down complicated ideas and facts to make them readily understandable to us. Perhaps he learned that from Fr. Gole’s dictum: If you can’t explain it to your grandmother then you don’t really understand it.

Finally, next summer I will celebrate my 50th anniversary in vows.. It is hard to believe it has been that many years already! I am grateful for the countless opportunities the SCJs have given me. I am humbled by it all and can honestly say I would not trade those years for anything. And with that I will leave you with this thought from Pablo Casals: You must work, we must all work, to make the world worthy of its children. Certainly an appropriate sentiment for the day when every human heart is transformed into the heart of a child.

Merry Christmas & a Blessed New Year,

Rev. Thomas P. Cassidy, scj