Earlier this year, conservative author Rod Dreher called for Christians to stage a “strategic withdrawal” from the secular world in order to preserve their values in a culture that is increasingly hostile to faith. He described this as “the Benedict option.”
Now, an Irish priest has proposed a sort of Benedict option for the holiday season, suggesting that Christians retreat to their own celebration of the Incarnation and abandon Christmas to the heathens.
Father Desmond O’Donnell told a reporter for the Belfast Telegraph, “We’ve lost Christmas, just like we lost Easter, and should abandon the word completely.” He continued, “We need to let it go, it’s already been hijacked, and we just need to recognize and accept that.”
The priest’s remarks came amid a new skirmish between the secular and the sacred, in which a British bakery produced an ad featuring a crèche in which three wise men gathered around a sausage roll instead of the infant Jesus. In that context, his argument is understandable—but wrong.
This is not the first time the British have had fun at the expense of the sacred. Comedian Rowan Atkinson, a.k.a. Mr. Bean, has a side-splittingly funny skit in which his trademark character plays with a store nativity set, bringing in a border collie, a robot, tanks, and a T. Rex to disrupt the peace.
I imagine even God laughs as an angel airlifts the baby Jesus to safety with a magnet.
The sausage roll image, however, strode baldly past cutting-edge humor to the realm of the extraordinarily tacky, and the public rose up with the internet equivalent of a bat covered in barbed wire, expressing outrage and calling for a boycott.
The company, Greggs Bakery, quickly apologized, with all the sincerity of Eddie Haskell, and continues to promote its “Merry Greggsmas” Advent calendars on Twitter, which makes Father O’Donnell’s lament all the more understandable.
The priest said he’s not trying to take Christmas away from the pagans (after all, Christians stole the winter solstice from them). Non-believers “deserve and need their celebration too; it’s an essential human dynamic and we all need that in the toughness of life,” he said. “I’m just trying to rescue the reality of Christmas for believers by giving up ‘Christmas’ and replacing it with another word.”
But a different—and more inspiring—strategy is playing out in Washington D.C., where the Archdiocese of Washington has sued the Metropolitan Area Transit Authority over its refusal to accept Christmas-themed advertising on its trains and buses.
The ads were to be part of the archdiocese’s “Find the Perfect Gift” campaign, which asserts on a corresponding website that “God’s perfect gift is Jesus and the hope He brings.”
The transportation ads, however, were merely a teaser, with a silhouette of three shepherds and two sheep under a starry sky, accompanied by the campaign tagline and a website address.
The ad may well violate WMATA’s policy that forbids “political, religious and advocacy advertising,” but in fighting the issue in court, the Archdiocese shows admirable backbone as well as marketing savvy equivalent (if not more so) than that of the tacky British bakery.
Unlike the Dublin priest, the Archdiocese refuses to cede “the reality of Christmas” to Victoria’s Secret, the local lotto or other merchants who profit handsomely from the season. Its fight recalls the “Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never” spirit of Winston Churchill, who was not a religious man, yet believed “over me beat unseen wings.”
Those who profess “Christ Jesus victor” must heed the admonition to turn the other cheek when cultural bullies mock their faith and traditions, but the gentle Nazarene did not say we also had to drop our armloads of holly and flee. Christmas—Christ’s Mass—is one of God’s greatest gifts to the Church, and one of the Church’s greatest gifts to the world.
We honor it, not by abandoning the fight against its desecration, but by keeping it sacred in our own homes and churches. Sausage-roll crèches not withstanding, it’s still the only day when the planet largely goes quiet, the only season in which “Tell all the world Jesus is King” plays on secular radio stations, the only time when churches worldwide are standing-room only.
It’s worth defending.
Churchill, again, from the same speech, delivered in 1941: “Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”
To which I would add, especially when his only weapon is a sausage roll.
Image: Courtesy of the Archdiocese of Washington
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