Just give me a second here. I want to check my Facebook page.
Sorry for the interruption. Now as we gather on this Christmas morning… Oh sorry, someone just tweeted me.
Oh all right. Although at least one out of every fourteen people in the world has a Facebook account, I don't. And the only tweets I hear come from the birdbath in the rectory garden. I just wanted to get your attention!
Still, the movie "The Social Network," was definitely my favorite film of 2010. The picture is built around what one film critic calls "a melancholy paradox": a student named Mark Zuckerberg invented the social-networking internet site Facebook that now has more than 500 million members. But Zuckerberg himself "is so egotistical, work-obsessed, and withdrawn that he can't stay close to anyone."
Mark Zuckerberg is a peculiar fellow, if the film is to be believed, but he'll certainly go down in history for connecting people.
Facebook is just the most visible of the slew of modern ways of staying connected that started with e-mail, moved to instant messaging, texting, blogging, and then in the past eight years social networking sites like Friendster, MySpace, and of course Facebook.
Like much else in the modern world, these media are a mixed blessing. They allow families and friends to stay in touch despite great distances, and at little cost. But studies show that social networking has antisocial consequences for many.
One thing's for sure: social networking offers Christians both an opportunity and a challenge. The opportunity is obvious: used wisely, these media allow the Gospel message to be spread in a highly effective way. The Vatican offers a virtual library on its excellent website, while our own Archdiocese not only has a website but a Facebook page and a channel on YouTube for videos. You can even "follow" the Archdiocese on Twitter, the service that sends short updates to cell phones. The BC Catholic has its own website, and a blog called "the Busy Catholic."
And similar sites specifically for young people are hosted by the Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry.
The Archbishop thinks these media are so important that he's asked us to hand out cards with the archdiocesan website on them as a way of welcoming both visitors and regular parishioners to the Church's on-line presence this Christmas.
Even our own parish got into the act: we put an ad in the North Shore News this week promoting the website findtheperfectgift.org, which features the Archbishop of Washington DC talking about Christmas.
But all of these electronic developments—exciting to some, scary to others—are nothing compared to the challenge that faces each one of us this morning. Are we here to "connect" to Christmas?
Are we like Mark Zuckerberg, whose Facebook friends are more virtual than real? Or are we like the shepherds who want a face-to-face encounter with the child Jesus?
And the biggest challenge of all: are we opening our hearts like Mary did, so that God himself can communicate with us?
The Gospel this morning shows us how to connect with Christmas. The shepherds lead us in the way of action: "Let's go!" they say. "Let us go to Bethlehem." It's the road we also must take to meet Jesus—not in a dream world, not in theory, but in the concrete circumstances of our lives. We need to ask ourselves right now "Where should I be heading? Where concretely is Jesus waiting for me?"
The opening prayer for this Mass reminds us that Christmas has consequences: "Father, we are filled with the new light by the coming of your Word among us. May the light of faith shine in our words and actions." For some this means meeting Jesus in what Mother Teresa called "the distressing disguise of the poor." For others it's an invitation to turn away from sin and self-centeredness.
For each of us, connecting with Jesus requires persevering in prayer, like Mary did. We need to ponder the message of this day in the depths of our heart. Can we find ten minutes behind a closed door to let ourselves treasure what we have heard and seen this day?
It's possible, of course, that there's no door you can close today in the middle of your hectic family celebration—there's no real chance at home today for contemplating the mystery of the birth of Christ. We have an answer to that problem: with the bulletin you'll receive a brochure that offers twelve ways of celebrating spiritually during the traditional twelve days of Christmas between now and the Epiphany.
They are delightful suggestions that would help almost anyone deepen and prolong the joy of Christmas. They are simple ideas that will, in the words of our Prayer After Communion, "increase our understanding and our love of the riches revealed" in Christ.
Thinking, serving, celebrating—these are all ways we "connect" to Christmas. Even websites and social media can connect us to the message of good news and salvation, and draw us closer to the kingdom where God reigns. Yet the ultimate connection is with Jesus Himself, and for that there is no substitute for the Mass. At every Mass the Lord fulfills the promise of salvation, pours out His Spirit on us, and communicates Himself to us. He becomes our Friend in a personal and intimate way that no social network can begin to touch.
So let us hasten to Bethlehem every Sunday, to glorify and praise God for all we have heard and seen today.
A blessed and happy Christmas to all, especially to Rob and Mary and family, since he inspired this blog in the first place!