The true meaning of Christmas is the gift of helping others and being part of a community, not the "extreme individualism'' and pursuit of material satisfaction that permeates our culture, Cardinal Sean O'Malley said in his annual Christmas message.
In a nearly four-minute audio message, the leader of Boston's Roman Catholic Archdiocese cited the author Ayn Rand as an example of the "poison" elements of our culture "whose only antidote is community and solidarity."
O'Malley's address drew on the lyrics of Christmas carols, principally "O Holy Night'' and its description of a weary world pining for a better future, a world without darkness.
"To be able to hear we must be able to listen, and to listen there must be silence,'' he said, urging Catholics to follow the simple life of the shepherds who greeted Jesus Christ in the manger where he was born in Bethlehem.
There, he said, the shepherds where able to "glimpse God's love in the face of a child'' and did so by seeking out a child "in poverty and in humility.'' But that focus on faith, on love and community, should still be the dominant concern today, the cardinal said.
"Christmas is about joy; so often, people do not know the difference between being happy, and having fun. For some people their whole life is one long pursuit of having fun,'' he said. "The joy of Christmas is not the product of successful shopping sprees, of fantasy or fairy tales, or addictions to entertainment, drugs, or alcohol.''
O'Malley, who has written about the need for Americans to welcome immigrants and to support Muslims in the face of terrorism fears, said that the antidote to the misdirected attention is to become part of a community that supports one another.
"The Ayn Rand extreme individualism of our culture is poison,'' he said. Rand is the author of books that famously elevated the role of the individual in a successful society.
Instead, the cardinal said, people should seek each other, especially as they celebrate Christmas, which for Catholics marks the birth of Jesus Christ.
"Christmas joy is about discovering and building solidarity with our families, with our community, with the human beings on the planet, and with our creator. The first step toward solidarity is always reconciliation,'' the cardinal said.
Catholics, and the world at large, should remember that "the message of the angels'' in Christmas carols is that "God must be glorified, and there must be peace among peoples. Indeed we glorify God by being peacemakers, by being people of reconciliation and mercy.''
Now, during Christmas, the cardinal said, "we all have opportunities to be peacemakers in a world where there are so many divisions, so many tensions, so many conflicting interests. Christmas is an invitation to become a seeker, to journey into the night, to go to Bethlehem, and discover our hidden God who's in plain sight.''