I was recently conversing with a priest about a parishioner, Evelyn, at his parish who was turning 101 years old. We were discussing just how many changes had occurred in her lifetime and even our own. She has seen the rise of flight, the fall of communism. She had experience the advancement of computers, the recession of the stock market. The death of the horse carriage and the birth of self-driving cars.
With the new year, I begin thinking about all the changes I have seen in my few decades on this earth: The invention of the internet, the changes creation of a musical style called “ska” and the summer of pogs. We all live in a constant experience of change.
As each new year begins, we often look to the past to see where we were and to the future to see where we are going. While we all know with our minds that to live means that there will be changes, it is a challenge to live out those changes. As humans we long for something solid on which we can put our feet, something consistent that will be a rock for us in our lives...and far too often, we are left adrift. We desire a place where we can find a harbor and anchor our lives which will be a stable home.
This longing for all to have something consistent is a God-given desire, but what we often fail to remember, is that desire can only be fulfilled in God Himself. It is essential for all Catholics, all Christians to hear the words written in the Letter to the Hebrews. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever,” (Hebrews 13:8). That short phrase is both a statement of encouragement and a challenge.
Is it an encouragement when I want something onto which I can grasp, when I feel out of place, when I think that all is disorder. Remembering this reality and returning to Jesus gives me that stable rock on which to stand.
This statement is also a challenge. It is a spiritual challenge to all of us to review our lives and ask: “Is Jesus, always and everywhere, the center of my life?” We must remember to keep Jesus as the bedrock of our lives. Jesus reminds us in a parable of the wise man who built his house on rock, on that which is immovable, so that his house, his life, would not be shaken when the winds and rains of change occurred (Matthew 7:24-27).
Everything else can be changed, either by ourselves or by circumstances outside of our control. Thus, we will never find our contentment outside of Him. I am reminded again of those famous words from St. Augustine, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” (St. Augustine, Confessions).
As we enter into this new year, it is essential to remember that it will only be Jesus Christ who will be the constant and it is only Jesus Christ who is our life and our all. May God bless you in this new year and may you always remain in Christ.
I have enjoyed watching the TV show Doctor Who for quite some time. It is a science-fiction show from the BBC. Each year they have a Doctor Who “Christmas Special.” However, this year, it made the controversial move to have a New Year’s Special rather than a Christmas Special. While this has upset some fans of the show, I was not surprised, because the show, like many other secular adaptations of Christmas was forced to make a choice with regard to Christmas: Is it a religious event or is a “spirit of.”
What I mean by this distinction, is that I often hear people talk about “the spirit of Christmas” in a rather vague tone. It conjures images of Christmas trees, warm fires, red and green coloring, and chestnuts roasting on an open fire (which I have only eaten once...and not during the Christmas season). These are very pleasant and good images. However, it runs into difficulty when the question is asked: Why does Christmas matter? If it is merely a sentimental feeling or a particular color palette, why does it matter? What is its purpose? I think this is part of what the writers for the Doctor Who show encountered and understandably, they moved on to the next holiday. There was no reason to keep it, because it had no grounding other than the habit of having a Christmas Special since 2005.
So why does Christmas matter for Catholics? Why is this an important holiday for us? While Catholics will have many of the same elements found in a secular definition of Christmas, we have one more thing...a divine savior. Christmas matters because this is the time when God reaches down from heaven to embrace humanity. God has literally become one with us. And even more...God has become one with us to save us from our sins.
Christmas is where God shows us what love truly means. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that God became a human being, “so that we might know God’s love” (CCC 458). God sacrifices all of His glory, all of His comfort to become a human being, share the message of mercy and forgiveness for sins, and then to offer Himself as a sacrifice for all the sins of humanity. It is the greatest act of love.
We all have many beautiful and comforting traditions around Christmas, and these are good. We ought to decorate for Christmas and distinguish this time from others. And in the middle of these good practices, let us remember why all of this matters, why the spirit of Christmas matters...because we have a savior who loves us.
St. Teresa of Calcutta (Mother Teresa) once said of the Advent season, “Advent is the season of the seed: Christ loved this symbol of the seed...Advent, the seed of the world's life, was hidden in Our Lady: Advent is the season of the secret, the secret of the growth of Christ, of Divine Love growing in silence. It is the season of humility, silence, and growth. For nine months Christ grew in His Mother's body. By His own will she formed Him from herself, from the simplicity of her daily life. She had nothing to give Him but herself. He asked for nothing else. She gave Him herself. Working, eating, sleeping, she was forming His body from hers. His flesh and blood. From her humanity she gave Him His humanity. Walking in the streets of Nazareth to do her shopping, to visit her friends, she set His feet on the path of Jerusalem. Washing, weaving, kneading, sweeping, her hands prepared His hands for the nails. Every beat of her heart gave Him His heart to love with, His heart to be broken by love.”
When I came across this quote, I was moved to think about the importance of taking time to ensure that Christ grows in our heart. Often, we fall into the fallacy of thinking that becoming a Catholic is an instantaneous moment or a passive event. I just simply receive Baptism, and now I am a full-formed Catholic. However, the lived reality is that we must foster the growth of Jesus in our own soul. Mary was one who centered her entire life around Jesus, from the moment that he was conceived in her womb. As St. Teresa said, “every beat of her heart” was filled with love for her son, Jesus. And so, just as Mary actively centered her life around Jesus, so too, we are called to imitate her example and have Christ grow in our hearts. This season of Advent offers us a perfect time to do just that.
Advent is a season of anticipation, but not only a passive anticipation. Rather, it ought to be an active participation. Just as with the arrival of a child, there is the active anticipation that any parents will do, making the house ready, preparing a room, purchasing the baby clothing, so too we ought to be active in our anticipation of Christ in our lives. We need to “till the soil” of our hearts by more actively seeking Jesus in our lives. Create that “room” where Jesus will reside in our hearts.
This Advent, let us follow the example of the Blessed Virgin Mary and actively anticipate the arrival of Jesus with every beat of our hearts.
ay God bless you this Gaudete Sunday.
I have always enjoyed winter. As a child, I enjoyed the activities outdoor, such as sledding, ice skating, and tackle football without the pain. Into my college and seminary years, I enjoyed winter because of the way the campus would slow down due to the temperatures outside as well as the impulse to study and prepare for finals. And even into my priesthood, winter has remained my favorite season, not only because of the hockey season and Crashed Ice (which is sadly not in St. Paul this year), but because it is a season that seems to impose quiet upon the world.
When I use the term “quiet” in this context, I have several different meanings. First, the audible silence is present. Winter is a quiet time. Yes, we have the drone of snow blowers and plows, but once those have passed, it is much quieter outside, especially when we have a strong snowfall. Sound does not travel nearly as far. There is also the quiet in the visual sense as it becomes darker much earlier and stays darker much later. But there is also a quiet of the soul as well. People remain indoors more, they sit around fires, and they drink tea and hot chocolate.
The quiet of winter is not only in the natural realm, but also in our supernatural faith. It is during the winter when Advent begins anew each year. In Advent, we are called to anticipate and look for the arrival of Jesus Christ into our lives. It is a liturgical and spiritual season that beacons us to be a bit quieter. At mass, we skip the Gloria and we remain in prayer.
In last week’s homily, I mentioned that we ought to ask “What do I need to change in my life to allow the arrival of Jesus into my heart at this very moment?” I have a suggested response to my very own homily! To get the most spiritual grace out of Advent, we ought to become a people who cultivate a quiet in our homes for the purpose of paying attention to God. Do we intentionally change our patterns during Advent to create some time of quiet at the end of the day that is oriented toward receiving God? Or do we continue on our usual schedule of dinner, television, news, and then bed? Do we allow the quiet to be a part of our daily routine, especially in Advent? Do we pray the rosary or another contemplative prayer in a more intentionally slow manner, or do we race to through the prayers as normal? Do we turn down the lights a bit and allow the glow of our home-Advent wreath to brighten the house? Do we change the music in our cars from the hyper-active noise of pop and rock to something that encourages contemplation of God’s presence in our lives? Do I set aside the entertaining novels in exchange for books that will draw me to contemplate the infinite love of the Messiah who will be arriving at Christmas?
There are so many ways that we can use the natural and supernatural gifts of winter and Advent for our spiritual benefit. Let us not miss this great gifts from God and use them to receive the graces He has to give us, especially His mercy and love.