I was intellectually offended to read an article written by a Jesuit priest that talks about Mary and Joseph referring to angelic messages and dreams in an attempt to understand the significance of their child’s birth.  First of all the angelic messengers and the dreams are parts of two different, non-historical versions of Jesus’ birth story written by two different authors with two very different theological agendas to two different communities.  The author of the article knows that.  Yet he puts the two pieces together just as they are in the children’s version of the Christmas Story that has become the popularised version.  And this article is published in America Magazine and in the Huffington Post.

I was Jesuit educated and I am offended by this lack of academic honesty. Though a beautiful story, Matthew’s Infancy narrative is a vehicle for communicating late first century beliefs about the identity and role of Jesus, not a historical record of events of his birth. Written decades after his birth to a community of primarily Jewish converts to Christianity, the story teaches that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah and fulfillment of Jewish prophecies. His birth, like his death, is part of the plan God had to save us. The Magi’s homage throws light on Jesus’ kingly, Davidic ancestry, again emphasizing his Jewishness. Luke’s Infancy Narrative, more poetic in style, is likewise not a history but communicates the faith of a primarily Gentile-Christian community, that Jesus’ came not just for Jews but for all of God’s children, including the lowliest and poorest (represented by the shepherds).

The Gospels are documents of faith not history. It is time for priests to stop aiming Catholic homilies and articles at the lowest level of theological sophistication and to use the knowledge that good scholarship has provided to help people better understand the scriptures as adult thinkers. Why is it that priests like this one and countless others feel it necessary to put aside their education when they enter the pulpit or sit down to write a reflection on the birth of Jesus? Are they worried about offending? If Catholics can’t deal with the fact that the Christmas Story is an amalgamation of two totally different, theological not historical, Infancy Narratives, then they are obviously not reading their own scriptures or the footnotes provided in Catholic Bibles, and it is high time they did so.  Catholics need to be challenged to grow up not encouraged to remain infantile in their faith. Maybe if priests began to preach Christmas homilies based on their theological education and current scholarship, and not on children’s versions of the Christmas Story, we would see more “Christmas Catholics” return for another homily the following week and not just the following Christmas.

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