In these weeks leading up to Christmas, you hear Christmas music no matter where you go. There are so many kinds of Christmas music — the more modern songs that tell stories of romantic relationships begun or ended during the holiday seasons and there are those that sing about the weather, the cold and the snow that comes with winter in the Northeast. I prefer the traditional carols where we sing of a holy night when Christ is born, come to bring us eternal life.
There is one carol that has a particularly interesting back story. “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” is based on a poem that Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote in 1863, in the midst of the American Civil War. Wordsworth’s poem — and the carol’s lyrics — make mention that when he hears the bells on December 25, he feels no joy but that “hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men.”
It would be easy to mimic Longfellow’s despair today, with migrants at the border and unsure as to whether they will gain entry into the U.S.; civil war in Yemen causing famine and starvation; the ever-louder shouts of racists. But we would be far better off to do as Wordsworth does by the end of the poem — find a renewed hope in the day that celebrates God becoming man: “Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: ‘God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; The Wrong shall fail, the Right prevail, With peace on earth, good-will to men.’”
I wish you peace and I ask that you be a representative of God’s peace, not just during this holy and blessed season, but throughout the new year to come.
Sister Barbara Jean Donovan, OSF