The Pope’s despair about Christmas is unworthy

The Christmas and New Year holidays are important, but for most people the holiday season has ceased to be a celebration of anything religious a long time ago. The holidays are important primarily as the annual time of renewal, and in the Northern hemisphere, as a sign that the shortest day has been left behind, and the journey to summer has begun. It is a celebration of the Sun – Sol Invictus – and that custom goes back to long before the celebrations around the winter solstice were hijacked by Christianity. As a paean to the Sun it goes back into prehistory, and at least to the last ice-age some 20,000 years ago.

The annual renewal and the “proof” that this is a perpetual recurrence is the fundamental under-pinning of a primal human need. That, no matter how desperate it may seem, life goes on. That no matter how dark or painful or grievous the days are, the Sun will shine again. It is, above all, a reaffirmation of hope. With all the horrible things that happen around us (always have and always will), it would be all too simple, in the dark days of winter, to give in to hopelessness and despair. But the annual renewal is not, I think, a time for desperation and depression. In spite of Syria or Iraq or Mali or Lebanon or Paris, it is the time that is needed to rekindle hope and not to succumb.

If I have any belief, it is that the world will not end and the hope that humans can do better.  And we will need that belief and that hope again next year, and every year to come.

And so I find the Pope’s rant about Christmas to be a cry of despair and frustration – and unworthy.

Daily MailThe Pope has called Christmas a ‘charade’ during a sermon in which he reflected on recent atrocities around the world. Among the acts of inhumanity he denounced were the Paris attacks, which left 129 dead, and the bombing of a Russian airliner over Egypt, which killed all 224 people on board. Christmas festivities will seem empty in a world which has chosen ‘war and hate’, Pope Francis said yesterday at the Vatican.

‘Christmas is approaching: there will be lights, parties, Christmas trees and nativity scenes… it’s all a charade. The world continues to go to war. The world has not chosen a peaceful path,’ he said in the Mass at the chapel of the Santa Marta residence. ……. There are wars today everywhere, and hate, ……… God weeps, Jesus weeps’.

In the coming holiday period, and with all the barbarism and cruelty that is so apparent, it is all the more important to inspire hope, hope in the future and that things can be better. It is necessary in the renewal process that people are inspired to believe that they can act to make things better. We are talking about human behaviour and I refuse to believe that it is not possible to influence that behaviour. There must be a time to sorrow, but this coming holiday is not a time to wallow in tears. It is almost as if the Pope believes the hate and the barbarism are Divinely Inspired and are not subject to human influence. Is weeping the only remedy available? Is he just an observer?

In inspiring that hope and belief in the future that we need in large measures, I find the Pope wanting.

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