“Christmas lights are still up? The holiday is over!” whined Richard Roeper in a recent online blog. I wrote back to him and explained that the Christmas season is not over, and will continue until the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6th. It seems quite a few people are weary of Christmas, but it’s not our fault that the secular media decides to start putting up Christmas decorations after Halloween and won’t let us enjoy Thanksgiving first. There is a time and place for Christmas season, starting during Advent, but they don’t seem interested in promoting it during the correct dates.
Look further than this column. It’s my final article for 2012, but I’ll be continuing to spread the holiday cheer after I ring in the New Year. This past weekend, the Chicago Tribune reported on an interesting find that I’d like to share with my faithful readers. In a December 28, 2012 headline, they announced “Chicago's second-oldest church has finally found something that may predate itself.” Looking ahead to 2013, it seems the biggest news story unfolding this week is about objects that may date from 2,013 years ago.
What’s that, you say? Holy Family Parish – a Catholic Church in Chicago and one of only the five public buildings in the city that survived the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 – is unveiling relics to the public this week that are over 2,000 years old. Befitting the parish name, the relics are items believed to have actually belonged to St. Joseph and the Virgin Mary. Although they are scarcely bigger than a crumb, the fragments are believed to be from the manger where Jesus Christ was born, the cloak of St. Joseph and the veil of the Virgin Mary. As we prepare for the feast the Epiphany, what better way to celebrate than to view the items that were actually present at Jesus’ birth?
The relics have been in Chicago since the Vatican made them available in 1972, but have not been on display to the public. This Christmas, they were loaned to Holy Family from nearby The Shrine of Our Lady of Pompeii church, and were officially opened to the public on Sunday, December 30, 2012, starting 9:45 a.m. The exhibit was opened in honor of Holy Family Parish’s 155th anniversary Mass.
Although none of the items is larger than a fifth of an inch in diameter, the fragments "help us remember that these were real people," noted Fr. Jeremiah Boland, the pastor of Holy Family parish. "They really lived. They influenced their culture and their society, and they made a contribution that we're still benefiting from many, many years later…the Holy Family is not just a pretty statue or something you see on a Christmas card"
Along with the fragments, Holy Family parish is also displaying several crèches of the Nativity scene from around the world. They include a traditional Nativity scene that is more than a century old; another set from Kenya made of stone; a ceramic tile of the Nativity, and a scene of the Holy Family's flight into Egypt. The latter is a replica of an 18th century piece from the Cathedral of St. James in Jerusalem.
To those who would doubt the items authenticity, there is no way to “prove” (or disprove, for that matter) that they were the actual objects from the Nativity when Jesus Christ was born, but there is little doubt the items date back many centuries and originate from that region of the world. The manger fragment, for example, is documented with certainty to be the same item that St. Helena of the Cross, the mother of Emperor Constantine, brought from Jerusalem to Rome in the 5th century, along with many other sacred objects. During that same century, fragments from the Nativity were brought to Rome and Pope Sixtus III had the items preserved, where they have been maintained by the Catholic Church to the present day. The items also fit historic accounts of the event – for example, many accounts of Jesus’ birth state that St. Joseph wore a cloak and his mother, Mary, a veil.
But the bottom line is still the same: whether you’re a faithful believing Catholic or a highly doubtful skeptic, there is plenty of historic interest in visiting a pre-civil war Chicago church that was built way back in 1857, in order to view objects that originated in the middle east over 2,000 years ago. Why not take advantage of this once in a lifetime opportunity? Once the largest English-speaking congregation in the U.S., Holy Family has served as a place of refuge for generations of Chicagoans of many races and ethnic backgrounds. Now you can commemorate the Christmas season by viewing items that might have been present at the very first Christmas. Holy Family parish is located at 1080 W. Roosevelt Road, Chicago, IL. The Nativity relics of the Holy Family can be seen in an enclosed small glass compartment inside a decorative cross on Holy Family Church's altar.
How about looking into it, my faithful readers?