A true Christmas

“Madonna Benois,” or “Madonna with a Flower,” was painted circa 1478 by Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519). (Public Domain/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

We must wonder how many will truly celebrate Christmas this year, making it the best ever.

What is meant by a “true celebration”?

Leonardo da Vinci’s painting “Madonna and Child with Flowers” — also called “Benois Madonna” — contains one answer. In it, we see the Christ Child fully absorbed with a cross-shaped flower that Mary is handing Him. In the book “Leonardo Da Vinci,” author Walter Isaacson points out, “Jesus carefully (focuses) on the flower, as if just learning to discern the form of an object from its background.”

To truly celebrate Christmas is to become fully absorbed in its awesome meaning, to allow that meaning to touch us inwardly, to wonder about an omnipotent God choosing to enter time as a baby, to wonder why we are so favored and to marvel about the message of love and humility Christ’s birth sends. Why choose this means and not another means?

When we fall asleep, there is a letting go of self and entering into a dream world. Christmas encourages us to dream about God’s decision to enter our world and to let go of that which militates against our reverie.

Christmas music sings of peace on earth. But are we truly peaceful? Isn’t it truer that we are hurried by urgencies like, “Few days left to purchase your presents: a limited time offer.” How, then, can we cultivate true peacefulness?

Father Eugene Hemrick writes for the Catholic News Service column “The Human Side.” He is the director for the National Institute for the Renewal of the Priesthood. (Bob Roller/CNS)

The answer may be in our own backyard, but most important, it is within us.

I am constantly edified by the large number of young, middle-aged and elderly people who attend our morning Masses. Even though the rest of their day is filled with nonstop activities, they start the day by entering a blessed temple and momentarily leaving the mundane world behind them.

This is but one way to prepare for a true celebration of Christmas: to repeatedly center on God at the beginning of the day in a holy setting.

Not everyone can attend church daily, but all of us can create time to let go of our concerns and turn to a spiritual awareness.

A Benedictine friend told me, “I make it a point throughout the day to remind myself I am in God’s presence. It doesn’t take much, just turning one’s thoughts to the moment and realizing God is concerned about me.”

To follow the example of sensing God’s presence and to start the day in that presence is to live a daily Christmas leading to Christmas Day.