Father Eric J. Banecker

Each year, it seems the “Holiday Season” becomes more of a Rorschach test of the anxieties and concerns of our cultural moment.

This year, the big controversy is over the song “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” which has been censored by some radio stations in this era of #MeToo. Admittedly, the song sounds a bit creepy in 2018, Dean Martin’s smooth voice notwithstanding. One gathers that the couple in the duet is not married – so why exactly is he so insistent that she stay?

Whatever one’s opinion of the song, this whole episode speaks to our larger bout of cultural anxiety. The song is entirely secular. It is not the product of a great composer, a rich folk tradition, or worshippers of God. It emerged from the clouds of mid-20th century Showbiz. Yet now it has come under fire from a different wing of secularism – a more moralizing version, but one in which the first commandment is not “love the Lord your God,” but “consent is king.”

In a similar way, President Trump – with his three marriages, shady business dealings, and self-marketing prowess – is the embodiment of a certain brand of secularism. And yet his most vocal criticism comes not – perhaps surprisingly – from people of faith, but from a different kind of secularist: the feminist, globalist, moralizing version.

The benefit for Christians is that the curtain is rapidly being pulled back from our “Holiday Season,” and from our culture more generally. More and more, Christians are being made to understand that their solemn feast is nothing more than a vehicle to help drive the economic engine.

Christians has been stiff-armed out of the Christmas wars. The skirmishes are now being fought in Hollywood, Madison Avenue, and Washington between people who largely could not care less about Bethlehem, Magi, or the salvation of souls.

The sad fact is that much of this secularizing trend – which is nothing new – has decimated the inside of the Church in the United States. As of the latest statistics, fully 13 percent of the American populace are former Catholics. That’s over 30 million people who used to sit in our pews as children on Christmas – gone, no longer even considering themselves Catholic. And that doesn’t include the fact that many of those who still consider themselves Catholic only come to church for Christmas and weddings.

As the various secular groups fight, Catholics have a different battle to wage – one for the hearts and souls of their own brothers and sisters who have walked away.

As much of this responsibility for this decline lies here in our parishes and schools, we Catholics – especially members of the clergy – should pray deeply this Christmas for those who aren’t with us. At the same time, we must not lose sight of the seeds of renewal present in our midst. These will be the instruments of the new evangelization as we seek to win back our own people.

The early Church – even before she had any power – had a political side, insofar as living as a Christian involved making some public decisions. What might seem to us like a small thing – whether or not to offer incense to the image of Zeus – was for the first Christians a matter of eternal significance. Saying yes to the Son of God born in a manger meant saying no to the old gods, to the political cult of the emperor, and to the slavery of living according to the pagan ways of immorality.

Yet while these were “political decisions” insofar as they took place in the public square, these matters were first and foremost about living according to the truth of the Gospel. In other words, the Church’s mandate is religious, not political. Its goal is the salvation of souls, not winning the news cycle.

This Christmas, we can let the powers of our age fight their battles without us. We can – we must – focus instead on renewal of the Church’s life in every way, both for the sake of the faithful and for the sake of those who have walked. The warmth of Christ’s love broke through the dark night of the first century, far from the self-aggrandizing gaze of the emperor and tetrarchs. May it break through into our hearts anew, so that we might share it with others. Because while the Church is always in need of renewal, the world outside is cold, baby.

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Father Eric J. Banecker is parochial vicar at St. Pius X Parish in Broomall.