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Ordained in 2011, Father Friel served for five years as Parochial Vicar at St. Anselm Parish in Northeast Philly. He is currently studying toward an STL in sacred liturgy at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
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“We wish therefore and prescribe, that all observe the law of the Church, and that at home or in the church they shall always wear the cassock, which is proper to the clergy. When they go out for duty or relaxation or on a journey, they may use a shorter [coat] which is to be black in color, and which reaches to the knees, so as to distinguish it from the dress of the laity. They should reject the more elegant and worldly styles of garments, which are found today. We enjoin upon our priests as a matter of strict precept that, both at home and abroad, and whether they are residing in their own diocese or outside of it, they shall wear the Roman collar.”
— Third Plenary Council of Baltimore (1884)

Not One of Aesop's Fables
published 6 December 2015 by Fr. David Friel

OTS OF THE STORIES we remember from childhood have a stock beginning. They often start out, “Once upon a time.” That’s quite different from the opening line of St. Luke’s narrative about John the Baptist:

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert.

What’s the point of a story that starts out like that? It’s tempting to ask who cares about all that. I believe, though, that the point isn’t so much about any of these tetrarchs or high priests, themselves.

The point is that Jesus is real. Jesus isn’t made up. The Christmas story isn’t just a fairy tale we read to children. It’s not one of Aesop’s fables. Christmas actually happened. Jesus was actually born on Earth.

When? “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee.”

Where? In Bethlehem of Judea.

Who were His parents? A young woman named Mary and a man named Joseph.

This isn’t all just “based on a true story.” It actually happened! This is the point that St. Luke makes so pointedly at the outset of his story about John the Baptist.

Some of our most beloved stories are associated with Christmas: The Polar Express, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, A Christmas Carol, Elf, A Charlie Brown Christmas, etc. But the story of how Jesus was born in a stable outside of Bethlehem is not just another story among all these others. It’s the real deal.

In our Advent meditations, let’s not romanticize the Nativity of Our Lord too much. After all, we’re not preparing to retell a cherished fairy tale from our youth. We’re preparing to enter into the timeless reality of the Christmas mystery.