Christmas Pastoral Letter of Archbishop Hayes
Editor’s note: In this beautiful and hard-hitting 1921 pastoral, New York’s Archbishop (later Cardinal) Hayes1 treats of Christmas; the Holy Family; Christian Family life; and the evils of contraception and divorce. Oh for the days when an American Bishop would speak like this.
Dearly Beloved of the Clergy and Laity:
life after its inception is a horrible
Christmas comes again to bless us with heavenly grace and brighten with eternal hope our journey through this vale of tears. The vale, in many respects, was never gloomier, and the tears seldom less bitter. The world's material progress, rich in power and promise a few years ago, has lamentably failed, in the supreme hour of need, to stand the strain of the terrible affliction of war. We have been groping for the wall, as Isaias the prophet says, --and "like the blind we have groped as if we had no eyes, we have stumbled at noonday as in darkness" (Is. 59:10). Divine light and strength have been ever at our side; but man would have none of it. Being a law and guide to himself he has been groping in vain for peace and the solution of the world's appalling problems. Though God has visited the children of men with a scourge of their own making, He still loves us with infinite love and would comfort us with an all-forgiving and all-healing compassion.
Over the ashes of war, over the sufferings of mankind, over the distress of nations there appears on the world's horizon, with His exalted Mother and His humble Foster Father, the Divine Child of the ages of prophecy and fulfillment--"the Key of David and Scepter of the House of Israel; that openeth and no man shutteth; and shutteth and no man openeth; coming to lead out of bondage man sitting in darkeness and the shadow of death." Jesus, Mary, Joseph bring Bethlehem,--starry sky and sleeping hills; the shepherds and the sheep; the patient watches and the awing silence of the night; the darkness of the earth and the light of Heaven; the song of the Angels and the star of the Magi; the warm, cheery inn and the forbidding, bleak stable; the ox and the donkey; the straw of the manger and the bare, cold ground of the cave; and the gold, frankincense and myrrh from Saba with the dromedaries of Madian and Epha.
In the entire panorama of
There is nothing wrong with God's beautiful world--the universe formed and fashioned by His hand. Only the world of pride, lust and self, created by man and alien to God, has been judged and found wanting both by Heaven and earth. To redeem us from the bondage of sin Our Heavenly Father sends not the plagues of Egypt to afflict us, but His own Beloved Son, the Babe of Bethlehem, "for the fall and for the resurrection of many in Israel and for a sign which shall be contradicted" (St. Luke, II, 34).
On that holy night in
Let us first consider the Child. Christ, the Son of God, coming into the world as a babe has given to human birth a sacredness that compels the Angels to reverence. In Heaven He had His Eternal Father but no mother; on earth He would have a mother but no father in the flesh. The Christ Child did not stay His own entrance into this mortal life, because His mother was poor, roofless, and without provision for the morrow. He knew that His Heavenly Father, who cared for the lilies of the fields and the birds of the air, loved the children of men more than these. Children troop down from Heaven because God wills it. He alone has the right to stay their coming while he blesses at will some homes with many, others with but a few or with none at all. They come in the one way ordained by His wisdom. Woe to those who degrade, pervert, or do violence to the law of nature as fixed by the eternal decree of God Himself! Even though some little angels in the flesh, through the moral, mental or physical deformity of parents, may appear to human eyes hideous, misshapen, a blot on civilized society, we must not lose sight of this Christian thought that under and within such visible malformation there lives an immortal soul to be saved and glorified for all eternity among the Blessed of Heaven.
Heinous is the sin committed against the creative act of God, Who through the marriage contract invites man and woman to cooperate with Him in the propagation of the human family. To take life after its inception is a horrible crime; but to prevent human life that the Creator is about to bring into being, is satanic. In the first instance, the body is killed, while the soul lives on; in the latter, not only a body but an immortal soul is denied existence in time and in eternity. It has been reserved to our day to see advocated shamelessly the legalizing of such a diabolical thing.
In the name of the Babe of Bethlehem, Whose law you Christian fathers and mothers love and obey, stop your ears to that pagan philosophy, worthy of a Herod, which ignoring revelation and even human wisdom sets itself above the law and the prophets of the Old and the New Dispensation, of which the Christ Child is the beginning, the bond and end. Keep far from the sanctuary of your Christian homes, as you would an evil spirit, the literature of this unclean abomination. Sin not against children who, after all, are the noblest stimulus and protection to marital affection, fidelity and continency.
The Babe of Bethlehem comes
also to restore reverence for parents--as much needed today as reverence for
childhood. If parental authority is fast becoming a byword, it is because
parents have failed in their reverence and guidance of childhood according to
spiritual standards. Their own children have turned to punish them. God is the
supreme sanction of all authority. Neglecting God's law by irreligious or
indulgent lives parents have lost, to an alarming degree, their God-given
authority over their offspring, who in nursery and school, in sport and
society, in literature and art, see, hear, talk of, and, too often, live a
freedom of thought and action that knows neither the conventions nor the moral
restraint of Christian society. Parents to rule wisely should obey reverently
the higher law of God and by example and precept teach their children how
elementary in life is the duty to obey authority, Divine and human, domestic
and civil. Not the Church alone, but thoughtful men and women, leaders in many
spheres of life, are lamenting the deplorable and rebellious spirit of our
youth against the restraints of home and family life. It is not within the
power of human fear or selfish interest to secure obedience, except it be a
servility that cannot be trusted in the building of character. The one lofty
motive to inspire the young to reverence and obedience is Christ's own
obedience to Mary and Joseph; to them, the creatures of His own hand, the
Creator and Lord of the universe was willingly subject in
Many of humanity's gravest problems would cease to be, if the leadership of Christ, as the Little Child leading, were more fully recognized and followed in the care and training of children and in the upbuilding of the Christian home.
Our Holy Father, Pope Benedict
XV, in the Motu proprio on St. Joseph, sounds a solemn note: "The sanctity
of conjugal fidelity and respect for paternal authority have been grievously
transgressed by many during the war; the remoteness of one spouse served to
relax the bond of duty in the other, and the absence of a watchful eye gave
rise to freer and more indulgent conduct, more particularly amongst the younger
members of the female sex." Christmas is a Divine call to woman. The
Virgin Mother is placed by God before all womanhood as an example of purity,
devotion, and duty. Her whole being is consecrated to the exalted office of
motherhood. Christ not only would be a child, but He would have a mother--and
an immaculate one, that man might know the mind of God with regard to woman's
place in the world.
Another Christian lesson the world needs to learn is God's law against divorce. The Gospel tells of Mary's severe trial when "Joseph, her husband, being a just man, was minded to put her away privately. But while he thought on these things, behold the angel of the Lord appeared to him in his sleep" (Matt. I, 19-20) and prevented him doing so. Divorce has become a national curse; and the evil is spreading. Verily it is a deadly disease in our body politic, not to speak of the moral and spiritual harm born of broken homes, broken hearts, seared souls, abandoned children and unholy alliances.
Disastrous beyond possibility
of description to society is the condition when women measure their lives, not
by the number of their offspring but by the number of their husbands. Pagan
Let us thank our Heavenly Father for the valiant women we all know--and their name is legion--who with the highest ideals of wifehood and motherhood carry on heroically the honor of the family. Neither height nor depth, nor sorrow nor pain, nor sin of husband nor ingratitude of children, nor privation nor loss, nor opportunity of comfort nor lure of pleasure can tempt such noble women to shirk their duty or break up their home. Silently, patiently, cheerfully and holily they spend themselves and are spent for the spiritual and temporal welfare of their own flesh and blood in their children. Mary, the Mother of Christ, strengthens with the grace and fortitude of Heaven such wonderful mothers, who are one of the most sacred benedictions on this earth.
Since Our Savior, the only
begotten Son of the Eternal Father, deigned to be called the "Son of the
Carpenter," and since Mary, the Mother of Christ, rejoiced to be known as
the "Spouse of the Carpenter," we may readily understand the dignity
of the person and office of Joseph in the Holy Family. God evidently would
This Christmas pastoral I place most humbly in the hands of St. Joseph, whom the clergy, the religious and the faithful are honoring in our churches and chapels this day, at the very hour I am writing the final words of this message to my beloved children in Christ.
Praying the Infant Savior to bless most abundantly with every Christmas grace the entire flock, I am, Faithfully your Shepherd,
In Commemoration of the 50th
Anniversary of the
December 14, 1921.
1) Archbishop Hayes became a Cardinal in 1924.
the December 2008
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