Christmas as a Jesuit

Tia Flores, Staff Writer

Gifts. Music. Family. As the Christmas season approaches, preparations in the church are underway. This means that the church’s staff are busy preparing and participating for the celebration of Jesus’s birth. Mr. James Antonio S.J. and Fr. Rallanka S.J., Prep’s own Jesuits, are taking part in these holiday traditions.

Mr. Antonio, a math teacher and member of community ministry at Prep, tells The Panther about working during the holiday season: “Since I’m not yet a priest, I don’t have the responsibility of saying midnight Christmas masses just yet. 😊 I get to be in the congregation with everyone else. But just like everybody else at Seattle Prep, Christmas is a nice time rest from work. I do, however, like to do domestic things around our house that don’t get done during the business of community life – like cleaning out the refrigerator.” Fr. Rallanka, Prep’s chaplain, community ministry member, and theology teacher speaks on working during the holiday season as well. He says, “During this Advent season, we have reconciliation services that I am involved in at the school here. It’s common at a lot of parishes that have reconciliation to take place during advent, and as we approach Christmas it’s an opportunity to prepare their hearts and minds.” Fr. Rallanka also took a vacation last year to his hometown of Sacramento, in which he spent time with family and went to the mass of the cathedral.”

Like any other branch of Christianity, there are celebrations pertaining to Christmas. When asked if the Jesuit culture has any, Mr. Antonio says, “I’m fortunate to be missioned (assigned) to my hometown, where my family still lives. So, I get to have 2 Christmases.” Antonio also explained that one of the traditions Jesuits has is dinner and a gift exchange. Traditionally, the youngest member of the Jesuit community passes out the gifts. Depending on the community, the youngest one is usually called “Stanislaus” (after St. Stanislaus Kosta) or “the Holy Innocent.” Fr. Rallanka agrees, and claims, “Jesuits—we’re kind of like family too and in a certain sense like community, so we do things that any other family would do like gift-giving, have prayer together, Christmas dinner together, but sometimes we go off with our families too, like how I said I went to be with my family during Christmas last year. It really depends on the community you’re in, but every community I’ve been in have had gift exchanges like Secret Santa which is again like what families do.”

Both these Jesuits LOVE Christmas, but different aspects of it! Mr. Antonio’s favorite part of Christmas is that it’s an octave, meaning that it’s not just one day, but eight. He says, “Christ’s birth is something to rejoice and it takes more than 1 day to do it! It is really good news that He is with us!” Like many others who enjoy the holiday season, Fr. Rallanka’s favorite part of Christmas is the music. A part of it is all the recent, not very uplifting, news stories. “I’m reading stuff like the fires and the things that are happening at our borders and I’m seeing images of little kids getting shot by our government and getting hit by tear gas…. and it feels so hopeless. But what I appreciate about the Christmas season is that it reminds me that my faith is about hope and light. Getting into the Christmas spirit with music helps to remind me what’s important, what we believe in, what we strive for, what we fight for; to look ahead in our lives with a sense of hope and not hopelessness,” says Rallanka.

As Prep knows, Prep does a lot to incorporate the Christmas season during the school days, from the Giving Tree to Mr. Beyer’s Christmas concert. Mr. Antonio’s tells about his favorite aspect of Christmas at Prep, saying “I love that we do so much work to help people on the margins during Christmas. This is what we are all about as a Jesuit school. We don’t just learn to learn here at Prep. We learn so that we can help the world.”

In today’s society, many believe that there are certain things that are lost in the excessive commercialization of Christmas. Both Jesuits believe in that Christmas is all about Jesus coming into our lives as a human. “St. Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuits believed that every created thing is good and that we should use them so that we may glorify God. So perhaps it’s not about what is lost in the commercializing of Christmas, but who is lost. When Christmas becomes just about material things, we lose Jesus. It’s not that gifts are bad. They are great! But we should use them insofar as they help us glorify God by the living of our lives,” says Antonio. Fr. Rallanka believes that materialization within commercialization is what gets contradicts with the true meaning of Christmas. He says, “It’s the meaning that we give. It involves going out, spending money, all those kinds of things…I mean it’s with the intent to give gifts too, so in not all ways it’s not bad. It can be a detriment in terms of building relationships with family and friends. We live in America where there’s a separation between the secular and the religious. From a Christian perspective, it means being able to celebrate how Jesus came into the world as a human.”

As members of the church as well as the Society of Jesus, they both have opinions on “the true meaning of Christmas” pertaining to Catholic church beliefs. Mr. Antonio thinks that “the true meaning of Christmas lies in the fact that God became human just like us. That just blows my mathematical mind! (Like dividing by zero 😊)” As for Fr. Rallanka, “I say this as a Christian– the belief that Jesus became a human being. Ignatius has this meditation on looking on the world and the Trinity looking at the world and all its joys but all of its sufferings, so in that view, it’s raising that question of ‘Why did Jesus become a human?’ It’s so that Jesus sees that pain and suffering, so he chooses to enter into a reality to give us that light and hope. Christmas really is about Jesus becoming one like us, so that we as human beings are able to enter into a deeper relationship with Jesus because God through Christmas actually becomes more relatable.”

Celebrating the holidays as a Jesuit is a truly exciting experience.