Dear Friends

By Most Reverend Steven J. Raica Fifth Bishop of the Diocese of Birmingham in Alabama | November 2021

Dear Friends

Dear friends,

The months of November and December are bursting with events that help us ponder the mystery of God. From the Feast of All Saints and All Souls through Christmas, including Thanksgiving, the Solemnity of Christ the King, and the liturgical seasons of Advent and Christmas, we are moved to reflect on our relationship with God in a variety of different ways. Through these events, we recognize the finger of God painting a masterpiece in our hearts. Beginning with the holiness of the saints, these two months awaken us to something more. The lights, carols, and artistic displays of our Lord’s birth in the stable in Bethlehem awaken our senses to respond in a prayer of gratitude, joy, and hope. The wafting aromas of Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners suggest a foretaste of the heavenly banquet awaiting us. Perhaps it is in something beautiful touching our senses that we catch a glimpse of “something more” than our eyes can see and our ears can hear. The powerful event of Christmas joyfully heralds the Word made flesh, Jesus Himself, our Emmanuel, God-with-us, a Savior born for us who accompanies us on our life’s journey.

On a wintery evening a few years ago, I attended a concert at a winery near Traverse City, Michigan, with about 30 guests. The pianist, himself a composer, joined by a couple other musicians in the area, shared some moving experiences that caught my attention. While in town, his little group visited a local nursing home to play for the residents. During the event, they learned that one woman in hospice care couldn’t come down to the common room. She had played the cello years ago. So, they visited her room to play for her. The cellist played some familiar songs on an instrument she loved. The beauty of the moment couldn’t hold back the emotion that welled up for the woman and the nursing staff. It was a moment of beauty that nourished the soul.

I couldn’t help but think how God shows up to us in a carol sung at Christmas, the candles on an Advent wreath, a seasonal greeting card from a friend or acquaintance, an artistic representation of the Christmas event, and even more in the Eucharist at Holy Mass. It is like a visit from someone for which my heart has been waiting. How much more beautiful is the Eucharist itself, coming to me in my deepest need.

St. Augustine was struck by a beauty “ever ancient, ever new” that helped his restless heart find peace. For truly, at the end of the journey, we will have true peace, knowing that the One we are searching for has found us and invites us to live for Him.

The great feast of Christmas reminds us that God showed up to play something for us that resonates and vibrates in our hearts. Occasionally, He plays in the drabness and humdrum of our lives to awaken in us something that is a reminder that He exists, that He cares for us, that He loves us, and that He accompanies us on the journey of life.

Sacred art, music, and architecture accomplish these lofty goals by complementing the written Word of God. Human talents and achievements cooperate with God to find the right key to rouse us to something new, something hopeful, and something truer than what meets the eye or ear.

The beauty of a painting, a lush symphony, or a soaring gothic Cathedral all play a role to stir in us something for which our hearts are made. When missing, we lack something as essential as food or water or air. As a result, while our bodies may flourish, our souls starve.

That’s why the Church is a patron of the arts. It is another way we can encounter Christ in the wonder of an experience that human words cannot capture. During these months of November and December, through the many celebrations of All Saints, All Souls, Thanksgiving, Christ the King, Advent, and Christmas, may we be drawn to adoration, prayer, and wonder at what God has done for us as we joyfully sing, “O come let us adore Him — Christ, the Lord.”