December 17, 2010

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Live gratefully for God and each other this Christmas

Christmas Day is not just another day. One would have to be pretty hard of heart not to be touched with a little of “the Christmas spirit,” no matter what our circumstances may be.

The long and beautiful tradition of the season, enhanced by joyful music and beautiful decorations, and the custom of sharing gifts and bountiful meals all lend a romantic air to Christmas.

Yet, being hard of heart or indifferent to the feast is not out of the question for any of us. Being without faith and hope is not beyond any one of us.

Indeed, Christmas is meaningless if we are without faith and hope. If viewed as a mere secular celebration, it can even be a burden. Some of our folks find the Christmas holiday a time of depression.

And so we must pray because we are fragile and culpable.

In an audience with young people early in his pontificate, Pope John Paul II said, “We need to admit humbly that we are poor creatures, with confused ideas. … We are fragile and in constant need of interior strength and consolation. Prayer gives us strength for great ideals, for keeping up our faith, charity, purity, generosity; prayer gives us strength to rise up from indifference and guilt, if we have had the misfortune to give in to temptation and weakness.

“Prayer gives light by which to see and to judge from God’s perspective and from eternity. That is why you must not give up praying! Don’t let a day go by without praying a little! Prayer is a duty, but it is also a joy because it is a dialogue with God through Jesus Christ!” (Audience with Young People, March 14, 1979, In Conversation with God, Volume One).

In fact, Christmas time should give us pause to measure the quality of our faith.

Are we willing to see that the holiday tinsel decorates a spiritual meaning of Christmas? Can we trace all that we know as the Christmas celebration to the birth of Jesus? Can we genuflect to the Jesus, who is born like one of us? Do we believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God and our Savior? Do we understand that prayer is a conversation with the Son of God?

The Christmas season gives us an opportunity for a timely boost to our faith. Is it a live flame that warms the heart or perhaps is it merely a spark?

Through every liturgical season of the Church, God offers us special graces, special helps, to deepen our faith. Our challenge is to look for and to accept the gift that God offers us through the ministry of the Church. It would be unfortunate if we miss a gracious opportunity, if we ignore the inspiration that comes our way, at Christmas time.

Surely the tradition of giving gifts at Christmas time finds its roots in the fantastic gift that God gave the human family when he gave his only Son for our salvation from sin and death.

In the spirit of God’s gift-giving, we are led to give as a sign of our love for each other. The whole evolution of the tradition of Santa Claus is rooted in a spiritual tradition of giving because of our love for each other.

And God’s gift of his only Son is our model. The spiritual call of Christmas is to live gratefully for God and for each other. The spiritual gift of Christmas is the help we need to do that. In different ways, a special Christmas gift awaits each of us.

We may find it in the sacrament of penance and reconciliation. Mercy is God’s greatest gift. We surely find it in the celebration of holy Mass.

Wherever we are, on Christmas day and throughout this season of special love, however distant we may be from loved ones—I think of our loved ones who have recently gone home to God or loved ones who may serve the military in Iraq or Afghanistan—however separated we may feel from loved ones, we can truly meet them in Church, in the spirit of our prayer, especially at Mass and holy Communion.

Let’s remind ourselves that spiritual reunion is real reunion, too. I make a special point of praying in spirit with my deceased parents and relatives. I also meet my close friends in a prayer of the heart at Christmas Midnight Mass.

Know that I shall meet all of you and your loved ones in my Christmas Masses and prayer. If you like, please come and join me in the celebration of Midnight Mass at the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul in Indianapolis.

May the peace and joy of Christ be with you all! And God bless our New Year 2011! †

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