All practicing Christians have an interest in the legacy of St. Leo the Great. Living in the 5th century A.D., Pope St. Leo helped settle the date for Christmas and promoted its celebration in the Western Church.
We don't know the exact date of the historical birth of Christ Jesus, but a desire to celebrate the fact of Jesus' Nativity grew slowly from the desire of early Christians. In the first three centuries of the Western and Eastern churches various regions and localities celebrated the birth of Christ, but many on their own schedule and calendar (often within the Feast of the Epiphany in January). St. Leo encouraged the expansion of the Christmas celebration throughout the universal Church, himself observing it every year in Rome every Dec. 25. His extraordinary Christmas homilies remain with us to this day.
Within these homilies, St. Leo argued in part the appropriateness of Dec. 25 not because we are certain this is the historical date of Christ's birth, but because of its symbolic and instructional value.
Rev. Chris Kadrmas
You see, St. Leo points out that Christ is the Light that enters into the darkness of the world, of the human condition, and all of history. And in the third week of December the daylight is at its shortest (winter solstice!) and the darkness of nighttime at its greatest. Once this week passes, the daylight begins to grow again. As the daylight goes, so does Christ. Once Christ enters the scene, he who is our light, begins the victory over the forces of darkness leading us to new life!
Within the order of Scripture readings in the Roman Catholic Church (Lectionary for Mass) and many Protestant congregations (Revised Common Lectionary) one of the optional Gospels for Christmas Day is the prologue of the Gospel of John. It is a beautiful reflection on the divinity of the Son who entered into the human condition for our salvation, the divine light entering into our darkness. This happens to be one of St. Leo's repeated observations throughout his Christmas homilies. Eventually the Western Church, to illustrate the prologue's importance, would read it aloud at the end of every Mass (ending with the Vatican II Council in the 1960s). Yet the prologue of the Gospel of John remains important for us today, as the church places it on this important feast of Christmas reminding us that Christ is the light that came into our darkness for the salvation of the world.
Do we await the light of Christ as eagerly as we do the approach of spring? Let us make way in our lives and in our homes for this light, and not simply at Christmas, but all year round. St. Leo the Great, pray for us!
Reflections, a mini-sermon written by Minot and area clergy, will appear each Saturday in The Minot Daily News. Clergy interested in writing a mini-sermon should contact Religion Editor Loretta Johnson at 857-1952 or Debbie Sandvold at 857-1950. The toll-free number is 1-800-735-3229.
The Rev. Chris Kadrmas is associate pastor of St. Leo's Catholic Church in Minot.