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Sharing Catholic Faith

Advent/Christmas

Waiting Room

It’s that time of year again. That holiday time when everything seems to go a little faster. Signs in stores announce the number of shopping days until Christmas, television commercials announce the new items the family “must have” this year, and the kids are full of energy in anticipation of their favorite holiday. When all this happens within the context of a culture that is driven by efficiency, immediacy, and newness, parents can go into high gear – the holidays can be stressful.

Contrast this with what is happening in our Church year. We have reached the end of Ordinary Time and have come to a period of quiet. We hear Scriptures about being prepared, not materially, but spiritually. We sing songs about waiting in darkness and longing for the light. Could it be that the antidote for holiday stress may be as close as our Catholic faith?

St. Paul tells us in Galatians 5:22 that patience is a “fruit” of the Spirit. Patience is difficult in a culture of instant gratification. We catch ourselves honking the horn when the light has been green for three seconds and the car in front of us hasn’t moved. We sigh and roll our eyes when were in line and the person behind the counter has to go to the back to get something. We even rush to end mealtime conversations with friends and family so we can check more items off the list. Could it be that in our rush to get things done, we are forgetting to really live? Jesus said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10, RSV). How can we make our hearts and homes open to the life that only Christ can bring as we prepare to celebrate his coming into the world?

Perhaps this year, it’s time to truly celebrate Advent. Place an advent wreath in a prominent place. Make a special effort to have meals together, and light the candles, praying together at these times. Be conscious of, and participate in, parish observances of  St. Nicholas Day (Dec. 6), the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe (December 12), and (if you are in an Hispanic parish) Las Posadas. Keep an advent calendar, and keep Christmas decorations to a minimum until Christmas arrives. You may even wish to save at least some Christmas gifts for Epiphany, when gifts are exchanged in many other countries. Consider doing good works as a family for the poor in your community, or help out a little extra at your parish. Spend some time making gifts for one another.

Being deliberate about our observance of Advent can send a powerful message to our children: This is not just a time to “wait it out,” but a time to grow.
When Christmas finally arrives, make it a point to share that the greatest gift of all was God’s gift of himself – Jesus Christ. Wrap the baby Jesus from your nativity scene in a gift box, and open that gift first when gifts are exchanged. If you have young children, you may wish to lead them in singing “Happy Birthday” to Jesus.
No matter how you celebrate, now is a great opportunity to teach your children the meaning of the old adage, “Good things come to those who wait.”

“They who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles” (Isaiah 40:31, RSV).

After the school shooting, how do we have a Joyful Sunday?

The tragic news of the shooting at an elementary school in Connecticut has shocked and saddened us all. Events like this bring us face to face with two of the most difficult questions of human existence -- Why is there evil in the world? Why do people have to suffer? Both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict have been asked this question, and both have given similar answers: We don't fully understand why there is evil and suffering in the world, especially when innocent children suffer, but we do know one thing for sure: God is always on the side of the suffering. Jesus' incarnation, which we are preparing to celebrate these weeks of Advent, is proof of God's solidarity with humankind. God himself became human, and though innocent, suffered even to death. And so we can know that God feels our suffering and loves us through it. God himself was in Sandy Hook Elementary in Newton, Connecticut, at the side of every child and adult who was injured or killed, and at the side of every parent outside who was afraid for their children. God is with us now as we struggle to understand what has happened and how to move forward towards a society where this could never occur.

The 3rd Sunday of Advent is Gaudete, or Joyful Sunday. But how can we have a Joyful Sunday after tragedy like this latest school shooting? 

Because the light shines in the darkness. Because the darkness of Advent will give way to the brilliant light of Christmas. Because God is with us.

It is this hope that we celebrate, and this hope that we must remember as we mark this third Sunday of Advent. God is with us, and invites us to reflect the light of Christ this Christmas. As his children, we must say, with God's grace, this light will not be overcome. We must renew our resolve to work together with God to build a culture of life, a civilization of love where every life is respected, nourished, and protected.

The light of hope shines brightest against the darkness of sorrow. For it is at this time that we must depend most fully on hope in order to claim the joy that is ours. God is with us, and all darkness, all mourning, every sorrow will one day disappear in the light of Christ. 

Christmas is about GIVING, not GETTING: Combatting the Culture of Materialism at Christmas

It can be hard to raise giving children in this materialistic culture. And this year seems worse than some, with all the emphasis on Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales that go on and on. What can parents do to make sure their kids don’t get caught up in this whirlwind o materialism? Here are a few ideas:   

Highlight Advent as a "getting ready" time. Have an advent wreath at home, and mark the weeks before Christmas. Discuss how we always know we are “getting ready” for a special time when the Church’s colors change from green to purple. Ask why this time of getting ready is so special for us.    

Ask, "What are you going to give this Christmas?" This is a tough one for young children, who tend to be quite self-focused. Avoid the temptation to always ask, “What do you want for Christmas?” and ask instead, “What special things are you giving others for Christmas? What gift would you like to give your mom? your dad?” Let them know that some of the best gifts don’t cost anything. A card that they make, a hug, offering to help with some of the busy preparations of the season are all great gifts for them to give.  

Let them know that Jesus is the greatest gift of all! For the first present you place under the tree, bring in a wrapped Christmas package with the baby Jesus from the nativity inside. Tell your children that inside is a reminder of God’s best gift to us. Make this the first gift you unwrap at Christmas.
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