POINT OF VIEW: by Bob SantamariaNews Weekly
A Christmas reflection
, December 16, 2000
Every year, Mr. Bob Santamaria wrote a reflection on the significance of Christmas to the contemporary world. This comment was published in News Weekly in the early 1980s.
T o proffer a few thoughts appropriate to Christmas is a task always approached with reservations. When one's personal performance inevitably falls so short of one's philosophic professions, to say anything at all involves embarrassment. Yet what subject other than Christianity is appropriate to Christmas?
Christianity is basically two things rolled into one. It is a distinctive pattern of life in which the things of this world are merely a preparation for, and less important than, those of the next.
The validity of this offer of personal immortality depends exclusively on the truth of its pattern of beliefs. It is therefore both a pattern of life and a system of beliefs.
That great master of paradox, G.K. Chesterton, once wrote that Christianity had not failed; it had not even been tried. Were he alive today he might conclude that in addition to being untried, it is increasingly unknown, because its beliefs are not seriously taught.
The systematic knowledge of Christianity has largely disappeared for reasons not dissimilar from the progressive weakening of disciplines like history and mathematics. Where its doctrines are not taught, it is because they are regarded either as unteachable, or as not worth teaching, or because the methods of teaching religion are as defective as the rest.God exists
That God exists; that a historical figure called Jesus Christ has lived; that He was God as well as Man; that His teachings, being God's description of how He wants His creation to run, are not optional but are mandatory, that the Christian Church, which Christ established, is both their definitor and their guarantor: that is the framework of Christian beliefs.
As to the way of life which most practising Christians try to live, generally with indifferent success - Christian history is not the story of glorious success - it can in fact be summed up in one or two sentences.
A man's or a woman's personality attains its fulfilment in this world and in the next according to the closeness of his or her personal relationship with God. About that, two things can be said. It has to be worked for. It can be measured.
It is sustained by grace, which is fed by prayer, sacrifice and the Sacraments. It is attested not by windy rhetoric but by the degree of disinterested service to one's neighbour who, as the parable of the Good Samaritan so strongly insists, is Everyman, regardless of race or creed or colour.
In pursuit of that fulfilment, we are all drawn to different vocations: some to the vocations of teaching, preaching, nursing; some to the vocation of arms, others again to the vocations of law or medicine or of the other professions.
The test of whether it is a mere profession or a vocation is the disinterestedness of the service, not the size of the fee.
Some vocations are collective vocations. Among them is the vocation to "politics" not in the low and demeaning sense of the word - the business of self-interested manoeuvre merely to hold the reality or the appearance of power - but in the high and ennobling sense of the word's original Greek meaning: the art or science contributing to the good government of the community by wise policy and honest methods.
In terms of numbers there can be no doubt of the spectacular decline in Christian religious practice. It is difficult to say which factor is more important in that decline - the failure in the field of systematic teaching or the progressive disintegration of the institution of the family.
It is somewhat difficult to convince a child that an invisible God loves him, if to highly visible parents he is so often a damned nuisance, an obstacle to the gracious living of the post-jeans generation.
It is impossible to reconcile the Christian view of reality with that of twentieth-century consumerism with its assumption that the central purpose of life is the accumulation of an ever-increasing material affluence, a promise which will in any case look ever more threadbare as the chickens of inflation come home to roost.
Measured in purely numerical terms, two things seem to be true about the contemporary strength of Christianity. There has been a great numerical decline in seriously practising Christians - probably by 33% in the last decade and a half.Believing Christians
Nevertheless some 25% - and perhaps even more - of-most modern Western communities remain convinced and seriously practising Christians, and are therefore still the most important coherent force in these communities.
It is because of this, that a great Pope, John Paul II, to whom it appears that as many agnostics as Christians, Catholic or Protestant, look for leadership, is able to give a telling reply to the question once sneeringly asked by Josef Stalin: "How many divisions has the Pope?" Perhaps Stalin's successor, Brezhnev, looking at Poland and what it signifies, might conclude that he still has too many