In the Spirit: Preparing for Christ
As Jesus' Birth Approaches, Bishop Tod Brown Reminds Catholics of Its Meaning.

By Bill Cunningham
The Orange County Register
December 21, 2007

As one of the holiest days of the Christian year approaches, Orange County residents are scurrying from mall to mall. Many of these shoppers have a great deal of information about gifts but few facts about the celebration itself.

Despite what Christmas pageants and popular hymns may indicate, the Bible never states that Jesus was born in a stable; or that three wise men showed up at the manger; or even that Dec. 25 was the date of Jesus' birth. We don't even know the year of his birth.

During the fourth century, the church chose Dec. 25 as the date for Christmas. Today, Roman Catholics are still the largest single Christian body in the world, with an estimated 67 million members in the United States alone.

And many still debate the facts, fictions, myths and misunderstandings that surround the Nativity, the virgin birth and other aspects of Christmas.

But at Marywood, home of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange, a pleasant holiday atmosphere prevails. In the main courtyard, there are red-ribboned wreaths, red and gold ornaments hanging from trees, and scores of poinsettias. The campus is prepared to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.

DEDICATION CEREMONY: Bishop Tod Brown blesses and sprinkles Holy Water on parishoners and the walls of the restored St. Justin Martyr sanctuary during dedication ceremonies Thursday.
Photo by Paul Rodriguez

"The key message is that Jesus' birth is very, very special," said Bishop Tod Brown. "It was extraordinary. It was way beyond what one would expect in human experience. This is all part of God's plan.

"I think Jesus' humble beginning was an effort by God to teach us the lesson that what's really important is our right relationship with God. ... We don't associate importance or power with poverty and a lowly state in society. And yet, that's the example God gives us with the birth of Jesus," Brown said. "God doesn't need the human standards that we associate with power in order to bring about what he wants to do."

The Roman Catholic presence in California began in the 1700s when Father Junipero Serra, a Franciscan friar, built a string of missions. San Juan Capistrano's mission was founded in 1776. Two hundred years later, in 1976, Pope Paul VI established the Diocese of Orange. And in 1998, Brown became the third bishop of the diocese.

As bishop, Brown is both pastor and the chief operating officer for the diocese. A difficult role, especially when dealing with parishioners angered over the recent sexual abuse cases and other legal matters that have entangled the church. Brown finds himself seeking guidance through prayers and advisers. "We continue to try to communicate our message and our concern for the victims and their families," he said.

There are now 55 parishes in the diocese with almost 300 priests serving over a million people.

But some have left the church in recent years believing that they can be good Christians without the church.

"I think you could be a good Christian and not be a member of the Roman Catholic Church," Brown said. "But I think you could be a better Christian if you are a member of the Roman Catholic Church, especially if that is your religious heritage. ... I think when we gather together, we can give more glory and praise to God as a community than we can as individuals."

Regardless of status, millions of Christians worldwide still eagerly await Christmas. Joy and hope remain the spirit of the season.

Pope Benedict XVI last week reminded the thousands who gathered in the Vatican's St. Peter's Square that "God is near. He is with me, in joy and pain, sickness and in health, as a friend and faithful husband. And this joy remains in essence, the same in suffering, and it remains not only on the surface but is in the depths of the person who relies on God and trusts him."

During this holy season, many of us pope and pauper alike will be remembering Christmases past. And some of us will be wondering about the religious mysteries that millions of people have embraced on faith alone.

"Jesus will come again at the end of time," Brown said with a slight smile. "We have no idea when that will be, or how it will be communicated to us, but he will come again."

Brown seemed to say it, not to convince me, but simply as a statement of fact.

Contact the writer: or 714-796-6940.


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