After the liturgical splendors of Christmas night and Christmas morning, comes the quiet of my annual Christmas afternoon alone. It was a very festive Christmas, with the Christmas Eve Masses especially well attended - even Midnight (once the stellar Christmas celebration, but which seems to have fallen on hard times in our contemporary convenience-store approach to Christmas scheduling). Then, after the morning Mass, my Paulist brothers and I actually enjoyed some quality time together at a festive Christmas brunch at the hotel right next to the church.
Usually, I end up spending my Christmas afternoon alone with the TV for companionship. This year, however, the TV offered a special treat - A New York Christmas to Remember, produced by Paulist Productions and filmed earlier this month at the Paulist "Mother Church" in New York (and then shown nationwide on CBS on Christmas Eve). Thanks to contemporary technology, I was able to record it at home while celebrating Midnight Mass and so enjoy it at leisure on Christmas Day afternoon.
Set in the splendid beauty of "Hecker's Basilica," the Paulist "Mother Church" of Saint Paul the Apostle in New York City, where I served for 10 eventful and happy years as assistant pastor, the show was really a sight to behold. The beauty of the church speaks for itself at any time, but especially when filled with worshippers and when gloriously decorated for Christmas. St. Paul's has always been a kind of institutional incarnation of Hecker's vision and the Paulsit mission - and perhaps seldom more so than at Christmas when so many seem to take advantage of its grandeur to connect (perhaps for the first time) or maybe to reconnect withe the gospel story.
Narrated by Regis Philbin, who was baptized there decades ago, the event was punctuated by eloquent personal reflections by various parishioners and by glorious music by New York’s Fordham University Choir, the National Children's Chorus, and the Saint Paul the Apostle Parish Choir. It revolved around the telling of the Christmas story as recounted in Luke 1-2, and Matthew 2 - beautifully brought to life by puppet performers inspired by the late Jane Henson. The artistry of the puppet presentation was evocatively impressive. Visually moving, the performance demonstrated once again how powerful the Christmas story still is, its incredible ability to reach people and to move them.
The puppet characterizations of Mary and Elizabeth were especially powerful, with the emphases on the dynamic relationship between the two women, thanks to their miraculous pregnancies. In a society which sadly so radically devalues childbirth, it was a poignant reminder that the divine-human encounter which is the Christmas story is very much a story of pregnancy and childbirth.
A sincere thank you to Paulist Productions and to its director, Paulist President-Elect, Father Eric Andrews, for putting together something so special and so suitable for contemporary evangelization. And thank you too, of course, to "Hecker's Basilica" and its pastor, parishioners, and staff, for providing the vibrant pastoral setting within which such a spectacular event could glorify God.