Pandemic Draws Attention to ‘Simple, Profound Meaning of Christ’s Birth,’ Bishop Says

By Martina Hart

Bishop Mark Brennan celebrated the Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord at the Basilica of the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Charleston on Christmas Eve. The Mass was livestreamed on the diocese’s and the Basilica’s Facebook pages and televised throughout the state at midnight. Due to current coronavirus restrictions, in person attendance was limited to 75 people in what would normally be a packed house. Bishop Brennan welcomed all who were “joining us on this festive occasion of celebrating Christ coming among us, God himself coming among us for our salvation.” In his homily, Bishop Brennan called the incarnation “God’s decisive intervention in history.” Compressing his infinite being into the confines of a baby’s body and soul, entering human history by engaging us “on our own turf” could only make sense because God is moved by an immense love that surpasses our ability to understand it. “That’s what we celebrate here this evening in the midst of a pandemic,” he said. Bishop Brennan recalled another Christmas Eve in 1223 when near the little town of Greccio, Italy, St. Francis of Assisi set up the first nativity scene in a cave with an ox, a donkey and a feeding trough. He invited his friars and the townspeople to come and see what the birth of Christ was like hoping that seeing the poverty, humility, and simplicity in which the Son of God was born would challenge the people’s materialism. “I wonder if our circumstances this year, as we make our way through the COVID-19 pandemic, might help us to see Francis’ point,” Bishop Brennan said. He went on to describe how the pandemic has reduced some of the pageantry that is ordinarily associated with Christmas: The lack of choir concerts and caroling, canceling of nativity plays, even church decorations being scaled down. “Here’s a little taste of poverty for us this Christmas,” he said. “And we are humbled, or should be, by the need to wear these masks all the time and to keep washing our hands and keep apart from other people, refrain from shaking hands and embracing. That’s a humility imposed upon us, but it’s an opportunity to give our attention to the simple, profound meaning of Christ’s birth.” Focusing on this reality could be the silver lining in this dark cloud. Bishop Brennan invited the congregation to praise God, like the angels and the shepherds, for his love made visible in the birth of his Son, and to “be confident that we can handle any other hardship we encounter, because ours is a God who is with us.” In addition, he said, loving one another is equally important and inseparable from the love of God. Bishop Brennan also encouraged the faithful to “proclaim the good news” to others who may not yet be aware of God’s love for them. “We do not have to bang on people’s heads or knock down their doors,” he said. “But we can share our faith with them when the opportunity arises. … We can prepare, like John the Baptist, … the way for the Lord to enter the lives of other people, praying for them daily, fasting for them once a week, offering up our sufferings and good works for them, and then if they give us an opening, we should tell them simply and personally why our faith in Jesus Christ and our belonging to his people matter to us.” “Be the shepherds who tell others of the Good Shepherd born for them, the one in whom all their hopes for true happiness lie,” he concluded. “That’s the best Christmas present you could give to anyone.” Concelebrating the Mass were Very Rev. Donald X. Higgs, Assoc. V.F., rector of the basilica, Father Binu Emmanuel, CST, associate rector, and Father Leon Alexander. Father Higgs thanked all those who had contributed to the celebration and especially Bishop Brennan for spending Christmas at the Co-Cathedral. “It’s great to have you in your southern home,” he said. “It really is a pleasure to celebrate this Christmas Mass with you,” Bishop Brennan responded. “Despite all of these restrictions, we are able to celebrate the sacred mysteries of our faith together and do so safely. … God will bring us through this. God is always faithful to his people and brings us through the hard times, and he will get us through this one.” Bishop Brennan also presided over the 9 a.m. Mass at the basilica on Christmas morning.

Martina Hart Photo Bishop Mark Brennan incenses the nativity at Christmas Eve Mass at the Basilica of the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Charleston.