Christmas is approaching and that means more intense time for family life, which is where we primarily live and grow in virtue. This also means it is a wonderful time for the family to fulfill its mission to inculcate the virtues through their example of living them.
Christmas time gives us added incentive to live the virtues, because God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, the Word, who became man and dwelt amongst us in the family (cf. John 3:16; 1:14). His abundant love should move us to follow his virtuous acts of generosity, service, humility, gratitude, solidarity, peace, love, and reconciliation. We can also learn from the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph, surrounding the baby Jesus in the manger, as they exemplify virtuous family interactions that should be in abundance during the Christmas Holidays.
For example, generosity and service: God comes to us as a baby, giving himself completely to us by his presence. God the Son doesn’t hold onto the comforts of remaining in heaven with God the Father. No, he comes to make himself our brother so he could serve: “as the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).
Likewise, the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph don’t hold onto the comforts of their home in Nazareth. The two readily leave behind all their possessions in order to go to Bethlehem. St. Joseph finds a cave used for a stable into the birthplace for the Messiah. He does what he can to clean the place up—but there is only so much you can do with a cave. He uses his carpentry skills to put together a makeshift crib from a manger—feeding trough for animals. He also tries to make the Virgin Mary as comfortable possible. How much Mary would have done to prepare for the Baby Jesus and to meet St. Joseph’s needs.
Parents can help their children practice generosity and service during this time: “Let’s be Mary’s little helper” as we clean up the “cave” of our house—children love to imagine the cave and then can see why we would want it clean for the coming of Jesus. “Let’s help St. Joseph get the cave ready” as we put up the Christmas tree or lights, or do some house repair.
We also live generosity in exchanging gifts. But remember, everything you do and give to another person you really do for Jesus Christ (cf. Matthew. 25:40,45). That means we ought to give generously, without expecting anything in return. If we compare what we receive to what we give, then we didn’t do it for Christ. Rectify and renew our desire to give ourselves and our gift unconditionally.
When we do receive gifts at Christmas, let’s live out the virtue of gratitude. Gratitude is a wonderful attitude, bringing sparkle and joy to all. It moves us to want to renew our self-giving and appreciate what we have.
We can see how Christ’ birth is a great reason for celebration, because it makes teaching virtues comes alive in his humanity. God is not a distant entity to whom we cannot relate, but a little baby who brings out the best in us, who brings out virtues, who brings out our love.
Fr. John R. Waiss
The Holy Jubilee Year of Mercy will begin this Tuesday, December 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Pope Francis deliberately chose this day because:
“After the sin of Adam and Eve, God did not wish to leave humanity alone in the throes of evil. And so he turned his gaze to Mary, holy and immaculate in love (cf. Ephesians 1:4), choosing her to be the Mother of man’s Redeemer. When faced with the gravity of sin, God responds with the fullness of mercy. Mercy will always be greater than any sin, and no one can place limits on the love of God who is ever ready to forgive. I will have the joy of opening the Holy Door on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. On that day, the Holy Door will become a Door of Mercy through which anyone who enters will experience the love of God who consoles, pardons, and instills hope” (Misericordiae Vultus, 3).
The sinless Virgin Mary became the Mother of Mercy when she became the mother of our Redeemer, Jesus Christ, “the face of the Father’s mercy” (Misericordiae Vultus, 1). This occurred “In the ‘fullness of time’ (Galatians 4:4), when… he sent his only Son into the world, born of the Virgin Mary, to reveal his love for us in a definitive way. Whoever sees Jesus sees the Father (cf. John 14:9)” (ibid.).
As December 8th is also the 50th anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council, the Pope seeks to fulfill the hopes and aspirations of popes St. John XXIII and Bl. Paul VI for the council:
“‘Now the Bride of Christ wishes to use the medicine of mercy rather than taking up arms of severity… The Catholic Church, as she holds high the torch of Catholic truth at this Ecumenical Council, wants to show herself a loving mother to all; patient, kind, moved by compassion and goodness toward her separated children.’ Blessed Paul VI spoke in a similar vein at the closing of the Council: ‘We prefer to point out how charity has been the principal religious feature of this Council… the old story of the Good Samaritan has been the model of the spirituality of the Council… a wave of affection and admiration flowed from the Council over the modern world of humanity. Errors were condemned, indeed, because charity demanded this no less than did truth, but for individuals themselves there was only admonition, respect and love. Instead of depressing diagnoses, encouraging remedies; instead of direful predictions, messages of trust issued from the Council to the present-day world. The modern world’s values were not only respected but honored, its efforts approved, its aspirations purified and blessed… Another point we must stress is this: all this rich teaching is channeled in one direction, the service of mankind, of every condition, in every weakness and need’” (Misericordiae Vultus, 4, quoting St. John XXIII’s Opening Address and Bl. Paul VI’s Speech at the Final Session, 11 October 1962 and 7 December 1965 respectively).
Like the Church, the Blessed Virgin Mary is “a loving mother to all.” She “wishes to use the medicine of mercy” to help us “with confidence [to] draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). She does this by helping each one of us, wounded by sin, to approach Jesus Christ in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
What a wonderful way to prepare ourselves for Christmas and to do a great work of mercy by bringing other “wounded” souls with us to Christ’s “Field Hospital” so that all may receive God’s mercy through this Sacrament.
Fr. John R. Waiss
In these four weeks of Advent, we are preparing for this great event of the birth of Christ. A document of the Holy See explains this to us:
“Over the course of the year, the Church celebrates the whole mystery of Christ, from the Incarnation to Pentecost Day, and the days of waiting for the Advent of the Lord.” (Cf. Second Vatican Council, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, no. 102).
“Advent has a twofold character, for it is a time of preparation for the Solemnity of Christmas, in which the Firs Coming of the Son of God to humanity is remembered, and likewise a time when, by remembrance of this, minds and hearts are led to look forward to Christ’s Second Coming at the end of time. For these two reasons, Advent is a period of devout and expectant delight.” (Daily Roman Missal quoting Universal Norms on the Liturgical Year and the Calendar).
We want to prepare ourselves well for the coming of Christ into the world and into our lives. Many events surround Christmas: gifts, parties, etc. Let’s be sure that we keep the true meaning of Christmas. Christ has come to save us —this is the source of our joy.
What are some of the ways we can prepare spiritually for Christ’s coming? Making a good Confession is one of the principal ways to prepare, and let us think about our relatives and friends, that we could invite to come along with us. People who have been away from the Church could start to come again if we ask them and pray for them.
Setting aside time for personal and family prayer is essential as well. Brief family prayers can help the children to prepare for Christmas. Reading the text of the daily Masses of Advent also helps us to get the spirit of Advent.
“Holy Mary, our Hope, will help us to improve in this Season of Advent. She awaits with hushed recollection the birth of her Son, who is the Messiah. All her thoughts are directed towards Jesus, who will be born in Bethlehem. At her side it will be easy for us to dispose our souls in such a way that the arrival of Jesus will not find us distracted by other things which have little or no importance in the light of the coming of God.” (In Conversation with God, Volume 1, First Sunday of Advent, Francisco Fernandez)
Fr. Hilary Mahaney
We have been exploring Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si’, trying to discern what he his trying to say. One thing is clear: the press doesn’t get it.
The Pope speaks about an integral ecology, which includes all aspects of life. As he writes:
“My predecessor Benedict XVI… observed that the world cannot be analyzed by isolating only one of its aspects, since ‘the book of nature is one and indivisible,’ and includes the environment, life, sexuality, the family, social relations, and so forth. It follows that ‘the deterioration of nature is closely connected to the culture which shapes human coexistence’” (Laudato Si’, 6 quoting Pope Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate, 51)
Since nature is one, it not only includes the environment, but also human sexuality, and the family. That is why this encyclical is so important: it speaks to us about the moral dimension of our actions towards the environment, towards other human beings, and towards God. It is extremely comprehensive. As the Pope confirms later: “Human ecology also implies another profound reality: the relationship between human life and the moral law, which is inscribed in our nature and is necessary for the creation of a more dignified environment” (Laudato Si’, 155). He then goes on to quote Pope Benedict XVI again, telling us “that ‘man too has a nature that he must respect and that he cannot manipulate at will’… [because our body] establishes us in a direct relationship with the environment and with other living beings” (ibid.).
So, living a moral life is nothing else that respecting the environment; and one cannot respect the environment without respecting God, his plan for the earth, and the moral law he has established. So, an integral ecology means:
“The acceptance of our bodies as God’s gift is vital for welcoming and accepting the entire world as a gift from the Father and our common home, whereas thinking that we enjoy absolute power over our own bodies turns, often subtly, into thinking that we enjoy absolute power over creation. Learning to accept our body, to care for it and to respect its fullest meaning, is an essential element of any genuine human ecology. Also, valuing one’s own body in its femininity or masculinity is necessary if I am going to be able to recognize myself in an encounter with someone who is different. In this way we can joyfully accept the specific gifts of another man or woman, the work of God the Creator, and find mutual enrichment. It is not a healthy attitude which would seek ‘to cancel out sexual difference because it no longer knows how to confront it’” (ibid.).
If we don’t respect our body as it has been created by God, with its femininity or masculinity, then we do not respect the environment. If we don’t respect sexuality as reserved between a man and woman in marriage, then we do not respect the environment. Likewise, if we do not respect life from conception to natural death, then we do not respect the environment:
“Since everything is interrelated, concern for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion. How can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for other vulnerable beings, however troublesome or inconvenient they may be, if we fail to protect a human embryo, even when its presence is uncomfortable and creates difficulties? ‘If personal and social sensitivity towards the acceptance of the new life is lost, then other forms of acceptance that are valuable for society also wither away’ (Laudato Si´, 120, quoting Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate, 28).
Can one make it any clearer? Let us praise God in his wonderful creation: “LAUDATO SI’, mi’ Signore–Praise be to you, my Lord.” Let us praise God’s moral wisdom presented to us in this wonderful encyclical!
Fr. John R. Waiss
One way to better understand what Pope Francis is saying in his latest Encyclical on the environment is to look at how he quotes it throughout his recent trip to this country. In his various discourses the Pope not only addressed Catholics in the United States, but also government officials from this country and the world, often referencing the Encyclical, Laudato Si’. At the Mass concluding his trip, the Pope asks: “What kind of world do we want to leave to our children (cf. Laudato Si’, 160)?” He then tells us that protecting our common home:
“Includes the effort to bring the entire human family together in the pursuit of a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change (cf. ibid., 13). May our children find in us models and incentives to communion, not division! May our children find in us men and women capable of joining others in bringing to full flower all the good seeds which the Father has sown!” (Closing Homily, September 27, 2015).
When considering the environment, we need to think about what kind of world we are handing on to our children and to future generations. Will we have overcome divisions in order to develop a world in which nature’s beauty flourishes? Or will we leave a world filled with destructive environmental waste (such as what we inherited in the Gold King mine, which was abandoned in 1991 but leaked millions of gallons of toxic waste into the river last August)? These problems “can no longer be left to a future generation,” Pope Francis said to our President in the Welcoming Ceremony (September 23).
The Pope is not against business, but sees business as “a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving the world. It can be a fruitful source of prosperity for the area in which it operates, especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good” (Laudato Sí, 129, quoted when addressing Congress, September 24). Yet when individuals and businesses are irresponsible, “guided only by ambition for wealth and power,” disregarding God and his moral law in the misused of creation, then environmental destruction ensues (Address to the United Nations, September 25). He continued: “The poorest are those who suffer most… for three serious reasons: they are cast off by society, forced to live off what is discarded and suffer unjustly from the abuse of the environment. They are part of today’s widespread and quietly growing ‘culture of waste’” (ibid.) Such irresponsibility also leads to social fragmentation, increasing the risk for world conflicts.
Pope Francis encourages us to make a serious effort to change, to create a “culture of care,” directing technology and development intelligently, not only to protect nature but also to combat poverty, and restore human dignity (cf. Address to the US Congress, September 24). While human beings are part of the environment, we have a dignity that transcends the physical and biological: “Any harm done to the environment, therefore, is harm done to humanity” (Address to the United Nations, September 25).
Although it is hard, we need each other and to be responsible for each other (cf. Canonization Homily for Blessed Junípero Serra, September 23). To do this, we can count on our loving Creator who is in charge of our common home. He won’t forsake us, but moves us to work together to care responsibly for this common home (cf. Welcoming Ceremony, September 23).
The Pope is reminding us that our actions and decisions impact other people and future generations. Let us act responsibly, reflecting our God-given dignity and respecting the value and beauty of the world he has given us.
So, let us learn how to listen to Pope Francis and to the Holy Spirit who guides him.
Fr. John R. Waiss