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December 17, 2012

We have reached the point in Western society where it needs to be asked whether we still celebrate Christmas. That is, is it Christmas – the revolution of the Word made Flesh – we celebrate or has a Bacchanalian, consumerist ritual taken over?

On one level, it is obvious that we do celebrate Christmas. We celebrate it in church with Christian ritual and we celebrate it at home with prayer, gift giving and feasting. We celebrate that the Son of God became human, put an end to the power of sin and death, and divinized the human.

Secular culture will grant us our rituals. "You can have your private celebrations of what you believe, just don't force your belief on the rest of society," the secularist says.

However, is that really Christmas? Do we truly celebrate Christmas if we grant that the power of the secular transcends the Word made Flesh? Can Christmas be a private celebration in a society that has systematically vacuumed the transcendent out of public life?

The answer to that must be a resounding "no." Christmas changed everything. When the Word became flesh, it meant that religion could never be stuffed into a compartment in one corner of life, leaving the foundation of life as secular. Grace permeates all of nature, all of life, and nothing is untouched.

The coming of the Word made Flesh is not something you and I celebrate in private, striving to be oblivious to a parallel consumerist orgy. We cannot be so escapist.

Christmas transforms the whole culture. Yes, its celebration at the winter solstice transforms the lives of turkeys, trees and shopkeepers. However, to isolate it to one season of the year – even an ever-expanding shopping season – is to deny its significance.

Christmas and secularism cannot co-exist. Either Christmas wins and the power of grace transforms everything – interpersonal relations, the economy, politics, everything – or secularism wins and grace is sucked out of society.

The consequences of the victory of secularism are obvious. Secularism is the victory of me-first autonomy, a dog-eat-dog economy, and politics without morality. Marriage is no longer sacred; it is a mere contract.

But secularism is a lie. It denies the truth of the human person and implies (but rarely says) that people are isolated beings stuck on the third stone from the Sun whose lives have no intrinsic value.

Truth, rather, lies in the ringing declaration of the Second Vatican Council that "Christ the Lord, Christ the new Adam, in the very revelation of the Father and of his love, fully reveals the human person to himself and brings to light his most high calling."

This is a liberating truth; it is also the truth that secularism denies by its barren trivialization of the great feast of the Word made Flesh.