Monday, December 17, 2012

Naughty or nice?

It’s that time of the year when the incessant Christmas tunes are being played over the airwaves on the radio and in the stores.  You would find it a great challenge to go to any store or mall where you will not be hearing how “I saw mommy kissing Santa Claus” or songs about a crimsoned proboscis quadruped named Rudolf.  While they inevitably put some Christmas ‘spirit’ in the air, some of these seemingly harmless and saccharine-soaked songs can impart wrong messages and perhaps become the point where harmful theology surrounding the Christmas message can foment.  One particular song that most people know by heart comes to mind – “Santa Claus is coming to town”.

I am in no way suggesting that Santa Claus exists qua the image that most people have in their minds, although the person who he is supposed to take the moniker from did in fact exist in the person of St Nicholas, a third century Greek Bishop.  But when the image of Santa Claus becomes the most (at least commercially) recognized person of the Christmas season, and that message gets somehow interspersed with the fact that Christ came down to us to join us in our humanity on that first Christmas, what results could well become a mélange of mental images and ideas that are faulty, to say the least.  

When one gets inundated with a message that Santa Claus has a list, and is going to determine who gets a gift based on whether one had been naughty or nice, it is relatively harmless if it stays on that level – a simple song that at best, teaches that our actions have consequences.  However, the fact that this song is most heard around this time of the year, a time that celebrates the amazing goodness of God’s love for us, can give rise to a bad theology that will influence the way we live out our Christianity.  Let me explain.

One of the most insidious heresies that has affected Christianity from the moment it was identified is Pelagianism.  Pelagius was a British monk (some would debate on his country of origin) who lived in the 4th century, and one of the things that he taught was that the human will alone was sufficient to live a sinless life.  This meant that it was technically possible for one to attain heaven on one’s own merit, without any need for God’s grace and assistance.  The corollary of this would be that when one is good and lives rightly, it would be necessary for God to grant him or her heaven as a reward for a life well lived.  Pelagius and his theology was officially condemned at the Council of Carthage in the year 418, but sadly, vestiges of his poisonous theology continues in various forms right down to our time, often given the name semi-Pelagianism. 

Offshoots of this kind of erroneous theology result in the thought that one can earn God’s grace and mercy.  We see this in the mentality of the faithful who practice certain devotions so that they can earn or merit God’s grace in life.  Correct devotion will always steer clear of this heresy, but the Church has found it a very common human trait to either arm-twist or bargain with God in our acts of worship. 

When Catholic children at young impressionable ages are not taught the faith and its tenets well, and their minds are left to ‘figure’ things out themselves (or worse, to be left at the hands of hardly trained catechists) it is all too easy for them to enter into adulthood with a Pelagian or semi-Pelagian mind, carrying with them the erroneous belief that God himself has a list of who’s naughty and nice, and will only reward the ‘nice’ ones.  Having said this, it doesn’t mean that there will be no recompense required for transgressions committed on our part.

But the marvel and wonder of the incarnation is really an overturning of a quid-pro-quo or tit-for-tat idea, or anything close to it.  No one in humankind had been ‘nice’ to cause God to take on humanity in such a complete way.  In fact, it was just the opposite – because all of us had been ‘naughty’, that God came to save us all.  The result necessarily would be lifelong thanksgiving and praise for such an act of undeserved mercy shown by God who loves us, without our having to deserve it one bit. 

Perhaps it is in this light that we should really be thinking of giving Christmas presents to our enemies at this time of the year, and enter into the real meaning of Christmas.  In this way, we will be loving those who hate us, and those who make life a real challenge for us.  It is very easy to give Christmas to those whom we love and those who love us back, but let’s be honest – that was furthest from the true meaning of the first Christmas.    


  1. Thank you Fr Luke for such a meaning-filled blog which encapsulates the true meaning of Christmas.
    God Bless.

  2. Dear Fr. Luke,

    The way I understand it, there is nothing that we can ever do to “earn” the right to heaven. For all is pure gift, by a loving God who owes us nothing, yet is ready to give us everything.
    If indeed, we are capable of any good at all, it is by the grace of God; and the fact that we did co-operate with that grace. But even then, that co-operation must have been somehow inspired by divine invitation – so really there's nothing to boast about; no resting on our laurels, for there are none to speak of. Can any one of us really be called “good”? Only by the grace of God. Thank you once again and God bless !

  3. As Christmas approaches, the liturgical prayers and readings, especially on the Infancy narratives become more imbued with anticipatory excitement and joy. For example, today , I heard the priest intoned at mass that, ‘’John the Baptist sang and proclaimed His coming,’’ ........and there was ‘’exultation....’’ – it is therefore not surprising that some of this inexplicable joy overflows into the secular world – except that the world is not able to understand and express it fittingly .......... and so it has to seek ‘’refuge’’ in singing ‘saccharine-soaked songs’ – for, perhaps- it pines wistfully for a time of innocence, a time of the child-like..........( at least, that’s what I would like to believe)

    As Christians, we are called to be living ‘’in the world’’ though not ‘’of the world’’ – a very tall order- for how does one delineate one from the other? The norms and values of the world is always encroaching.......... and won’t we be overwhelmed? I feel that it is only through His grace and mercy that we can persevere and try to be faithful................

    God bless you, Fr.

    Wishing you a holy & blessed Christmas !