Two Iraqi boys hold candles as they pray for peace in Iraq and Syria during Mass at a Chaldean Catholic church in Amman, Jordan, Dec. 23.
JOLIET, Ill. — I was a rock 'n' roll boy. It's the music of my era. But along the way I've also developed an appreciation for jazz and old big-band melodies.
Recently, a friend gave me a couple of CDs labeled "World War II Favorites." They're full of big-band tunes and more favorites of the war years. But more than the music, I found myself listening to the sounds of an era before my birth. Sometimes we get so involved in our own cultural "bubble" that we forget our history and the unbreakable association we have with it.
The discs had the usual patriotic and lovey-dovey stuff, nothing really special. But two of the songs -- now mostly forgotten except by the very elderly -- gave me an emotional link to that very dark period. "Comin' in on a Wing and a Prayer" and "When the Lights go on Again all Over the World" gave me a glimmer of the combination of deep despair and the great hopefulness that punctuated those early 1940s years.
Sure, every generation has its iconic moments: Pearl Harbor, the Kennedy assassination, 9/11. They help ground us in a history, but the emotions don't always translate well across generations.
Sometimes the same thing happens with religion.
Catholics too often live only through the touch points of their faith, the events on the church's liturgical calendar -- endlessly repeating the cycle of Christmas, Lent, Easter, Ordinary Time and Advent as well as the various holy days along the way. The problem is that we don't always live as though we understand that those high points are interconnected, strung together like a rare pearl necklace.
Christmas, for instance. Oh, it's a fine holiday, with gifts and jingle bells and angels and reminders of the birth of the Savior. There's good cheer, good liturgies and good feelings all around. But far too often we pack up that good cheer, good spirit and the rest until the next tick on the Catholic calendar.
Too bad for us. Because the challenge of faith is to celebrate and live the meaning of the holiday even after the toys are broken, after Aunt Ethel's ugly sweater is returned, the tinsel is put away and the plastic Santa lies deflated on the front lawn.
Christmas is more than presents under the tree and even more than celebrating the birth of Jesus. When that event remains isolated from the rest of our lives, Christmas becomes impotent. Properly understood, Christmas is endless.
Endless because this connection of God and humanity should be what powers a life of faith. Christmas, portrayed so often as a time of caring about others, is how we should live all year.
When we forget our connection to the touch points of our history -- whether secular or religious -- we risk losing a sense of who we are. And, perhaps more important, who we are called to be.
As a people, we didn't spring from the womb fully grown. We were formed and molded in the crucible of our history. World War II and other vital moments in our past shouldn't be relegated to the dry pages of history books. The music on those two CDs reminded me of what those times were like for the people who lived them. In the same way, faith has a history. Christmas and Lent and Easter and the others must be more than ritual, more than the here-and-now.
Christmas is how we try to understand an unfathomable truth: God connected to humankind. It began of a Gospel story whose ending is not yet completed. It continues, providing endless opportunities to bring the kingdom of God to a hungry and hurting world.
The writer is a former editor of The Catholic New World, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Chicago and a deacon ordained for the Diocese of Joliet, Ill.