Often our society portrays Christian morality as something negative, a series of don’ts: Don’t kill… don’t miss Mass on Sunday… don’t lie or steal… In other words, don’t have any fun…
When morality is perceived as a list of arbitrary rules that only serve to restrict and control our lives then it is not very attractive… in fact, it is quite repulsive. In reality, Christian morality is a positive affirmation of love. It is the map that guides us to our goal, which is to know, love, and serve God in this life, and to enjoy a deep, happy, intimate relationship with Him forever in heaven.
Why Be Moral?
Morality is a way of living and not just a set of rules. True morality manifests what it means to be human, what fulfills our life and gives it meaning. Morality is our life’s goal: to be happy.
For Christians Christ is that way, the way of love, the way of blessed happiness, the way to be holy even as God is holy.
Happiness then should be everyone’s goal—we have a right to pursue it. But happiness seems so elusive, perhaps because we pursue it in the wrong ways.
How NOT To Be Happy
In an interview, Pope Francis identifies behaviors that really undermines happiness: some think they will be happy by controlling or trying to please others; some by withdrawing from others so as to not be hurt by them; some anxiously fill their lives with activity, rushing around in pursuit of fun or accomplishments; some seek happiness in possessions and consumerism; some fill their lives with news and entertainment, killing precious time and communication with family and friends; some are so down on themselves that they seek relief by cutting down others; some try to overcome their insecurities by manipulating others to their own beliefs, instead of trying to attract them to the truth.
One may try to pursue happiness by engaging in these behaviors, but they only cause angst and sadness instead. So the Pope encourages us:
- “Live and let live,” in other words, “Move forward and let others do the same.”
- Give of yourself to others, with generosity and openness, sharing your possessions with those in need.
- Live life calmly—like a pool of water, not a rushing river—moving with kindness and humility that exudes calmness.
- Enjoy the pleasures of art and literature, and of playing and singing with children. Turn off the TV.
- Make Sunday a holiday, because it is for God and family.
- Find meaningful and dignified work for all, especially young people. People don’t just need food, but also the dignity that comes from bringing home food from one’s own labor.
- Enjoy, respect and take care of God’s gift of nature, human life, and sexuality.
- Attract others to the truth of Faith, respecting others and their freedom of conscience.
Our Lord summarizes these suggestions in this: “Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest [and happiest] in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:4). A child is happy, because he knows he is not in control; a child pleases his parent simply by smiling, not by doing or following rules; a child is trusting and fears no one; a child doesn’t rush but enjoys the moment, especially in playing with parents and siblings…
- Work for peace, which is always proactive and dynamic, making society into a warm family environment.
If we strive to love like a little child—like the child Jesus—then our lives will share his happiness… the happiness of Christmas… of the first Christmas. We will also discover that morality is not about following rules but a way to a relationship that will fill and fulfill our lives.
 Viva (July 27, 2014).
Fr. John R. Waiss
Christmas is followed by a number of great feasts, such as Mary’s Divine Maternity, the Holy Family, and the martyrdom of the Holy Innocents. It reminds us what Jesus said: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34). The peace of Christmas is followed by Herod slaughtering the little boys, “two years old or under” (Matthew 2:16), trying to kill the newborn Prince of Peace.
Love Is Generous
Marriages and families are founded on this sacrificial love: “Love does not insist on its own way” (1 Corinthians 13:4), because love does not seek itself. As Pope Francis reminds:
“Paul’s hymn to love… states that love ‘does not seek its own interest,’ nor ‘seek what is its own.’ This same idea is expressed in another text: ‘Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.’ The Bible makes it clear that generously serving others is far more noble than loving ourselves” (Amoris Lætitia 101, quoting Philippians 2:4).
Love means setting aside our own wants and desires in order to seek what is good for others, what fulfills their needs. Sure we all want to be loved, but true love overflows in self-sacrificing self-giving. As the Pope goes on to say:
“St. Thomas Aquinas explains that ‘it is more proper to charity to desire to love than to desire to be loved;’ indeed, ‘mothers, who are those who love the most, seek to love more than to be loved.’ Consequently, love can transcend and overflow the demands of justice, ‘expecting nothing in return,’ and the greatest of loves can lead to ‘laying down one’s life’ for another. Can such generosity, which enables us to give freely and fully, really be possible? Yes, because it is demanded by the Gospel: ‘You received without pay, give without pay’” (Amoris Lætitia 102, quoting Luke 6:35, John 15:13, Matthew 10:8).
Good spouses have the kind of love that moves them to be so generous that they are ready to die for their beloved. True love helps us to “endure all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7) with the generosity of laying down our lives in martyrdom. Pope Francis continues:
“Panta hypoménei. This means that love bears every trial with a positive attitude. It stands firm in hostile surroundings. This ‘endurance’ involves not only the ability to tolerate certain aggravations, but something greater: a constant readiness to confront any challenge. It is a love that never gives up, even in the darkest hour. It shows a certain dogged heroism, a power to resist every negative current, an irrepressible commitment to goodness (Amoris Lætitia 118).
Marriage and family life must be ready to endure difficulties, both from without as well as from within, to put up with external challenges and the quirks and defects of the other members of the family. We never give up on people, especially on family. And we do this for love.
“In family life, we need to cultivate that strength of love which can help us fight every evil threatening it. Love does not yield to resentment, scorn for others or the desire to hurt or to gain some advantage. The Christian ideal, especially in families, is a love that never gives up. I am sometimes amazed to see men or women who have had to separate from their spouse for their own protection, yet, because of their enduring conjugal love, still try to help them, even by enlisting others, in their moments of illness, suffering or trial. Here too we see a love that never gives up” (Amoris Lætitia 119).
May all spouses and families embrace their share of the cross, which is the ultimate expression of love, knowing that they are never alone… that God has loved them first and that he will give us the strength we need to endure it all.
Fr. John R. Waiss
Christmas is a wonderful time of the year, especially for children. It is their favorite, because it usually involves receiving gifts. How children look forward to the gifts they will receive under the Christmas tree!
But it is really about God’s gift! He wants to give us a baby brother—How many of you would like a baby brother for Christmas… a baby brother who is God? Yet that is God’s gift to us: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should… have eternal life” (John 3:16). God gave us his only Son today as a baby, wrapped in swaddling clothes.
Along with the wonderful gift of the child Jesus comes the gift of hope: “you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). This gives us hope that my mistakes and failures don’t define me and that God still loves me and wants me to be with him in heaven forever: “whoever believes should have eternal life!”
Who wouldn’t like to have Christmas every month? Every week? Every day? You can! God wants to give us the gift of his only son… and we can receive that gift of the baby Jesus, as well as the gift of hope every week—even every day—in the Mass!
Isn’t that what takes place in the Mass? There we experience how “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son…” God gives us Christ’s body and blood, soul and divinity. We can experience what the shepherds experienced, when they went to the cave of Bethlehem and they saw God in the flesh, along with his mother, Mary. We can look at him at Mass and marvel… like the Shepherds did!
They “laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7). If we receive Holy Communion, the priest lays him in our hands and in our mouths. Let’s make room for him and become totally one with the child-God.
We put lights on our houses to tell Jesus: “we have room for you in our house.” Some have the tradition of setting an extra place at the Christmas table to tell Jesus, we have room for you at our table. We try to make our church beautiful—although to God it is no more than a cave—to tell Jesus that this is for you; we welcome you and all your people. We go to Reconciliation to spruce up the cave of our hearts, to make them spiritually welcoming.
Listen to God’s voice and welcome Jesus! Mary and Joseph did and they became the mother and earthly father of Jesus Christ. The shepherds in the field listened to God’s voice through the angels and came to worship the Messiah in the cave of Bethlehem, and could hold him in their arms. We come to Mass to listen to God’s Word—to God’s voice—so as to become God’s children, Christ’s brothers and sisters.
Can you imagine what the world would be like if every Catholic listened to God’s voice? If each one of us became an active listener, it would lead us all to the baby Jesus! We would begin to see things differently, through the eyes of God, through the eyes of the baby Jesus! What joy it would bring us.
Do you want to try it? We have a Christmas gift for you! Each person who is old enough to write, please take a Mass Journal. Let’s pray this simple prayer together: God, in this Mass today, show me one way I can be better… one way I can see you in my life… one way I can give myself to you.
Don’t write a lot, just one thing! And if this one thing can make you and your life this week a little bit better, come back next week—with your Mass Journal—and pray that prayer again: God, in this Mass today, show me one way I can be better… one way I can see you in my life… one way I can give myself to you. You will see how that baby Jesus—Christ in the Eucharist—begins to transform you, our parish—St. Mary of the Angels—and how he begins to transform the world, too, through you and me!
Merry Christmas from all the priests and staff of St. Mary of the Angels!
Fr. John R. Waiss
Christmas helps us to realize what is truly valuable—not gold, fame, or power, but family relationships. The Incarnate Word was born not in a palace, mansion, or even in an ordinary home, but in a cave; he came into the world with nothing, except an earthly mother and father who loved him with all their heart. That was all Christ wanted, nothing else. May we discover this treasure in our own life and foster the conditions to make our own relationships grow.
In Amoris Lætitia, reflecting on 1 Corinthians 13:7, Pope Francis suggests that loving relationships require a love that “hopes all things”:
“Panta elpízei. Love does not despair of the future… this phrase speaks of the hope of one who knows that others can change, mature and radiate unexpected beauty and untold potential. This does not mean that everything will change in this life. It does involve realizing that, though things may not always turn out as we wish, God may well make crooked lines straight and draw some good from the evil we endure in this world” (Amoris Lætitia 116).
We can all “change, mature and radiate unexpected beauty and untold potential,” and the same is true with others. God loves each one of us unconditionally, even before any change is seen in our behavior, so we should learn do the same and love before seeing the other person change. Sometimes God waits for years, even for a life-time, before he sees any change in us, but he always finds ways to draw good from evil of our sins, failings, and defects, whether in this life or in Purgatory. Hope helps us to endure the hardships we experience in physical ailments as well as the hardships due to personal failings and defects in difficult relationships; we can endure these hardships because we have the expectation of the peace and joy that will come with eternity. This is hope. As the Pope explains:
Here hope comes most fully into its own, for it embraces the certainty of life after death. Each person, with all his or her failings, is called to the fullness of life in heaven. There, fully transformed by Christ’s resurrection, every weakness, darkness and infirmity will pass away. There the person’s true being will shine forth in all its goodness and beauty. This realization helps us, amid the aggravations of this present life, to see each person from a supernatural perspective, in the light of hope, and await the fullness that he or she will receive in the heavenly kingdom, even if it is not yet visible” (Amoris Lætitia 117).
What makes family relationships most frustrating is that we expect to see changes in others on our terms and within our time constraints. Yet God is more merciful than we are and has a much bigger picture of things. This is exemplified in the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) where Christ shows us how God waits for us to come to our senses, and to bring about the changes that respects our free will. Thus he helps us understand that “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7).
We can and should have the perfect love that “hopes all things,” with the patience that respects God’s time, God’s terms, and each person’s freewill, as we wait for changes in ourselves and in others. Then our joy will be complete.
Fr. John R. Waiss
As we prepare for Christmas, and this special time of more intense family interactions, we ought to focus on building up family relationships based on true love. Reflecting on 1 Corinthians 13, Pope Francis tells us:
“Panta pisteúei. Love believes all things. Here ‘belief’ is not to be taken in its strict theological meaning, but more in the sense of what we mean by ‘trust.’ This goes beyond simply presuming that the other is not lying or cheating. Such basic trust recognizes God’s light shining beyond the darkness, like an ember glowing beneath the ash” (Amoris Lætitia 114).
It is impossible to have a relationship with someone you cannot trust. All relationships depend on trust. We need to be able to take the other person seriously, to know that the person is not just telling us what we want to hear, playing our emotions, and manipulating us in order to get what they want. No, we need the sense that we are safe, that the other person truly wants and seeks our good and the family’s well-being, not just their own whims.
To develop this trust and build up relationships, the Pope tells us that it is important to respect the freedom of others, whereas we destroy trust when we try to control, possess, and dominate others:
“This trust enables a relationship to be free. It means we do not have to control the other person, to follow their every step lest they escape our grip. Love trusts, it sets free, it does not try to control, possess and dominate everything” (ibid, 115).
When we ask for something (a parent asks a child to do a chore, a child asks a parent for a gift, a spouse asks the other to do a favor, etc.) then it is important to respect the freedom of the one asked—they are not my slave! If a child does a chore in response to a request, then it should be because that child freely chose to do so out of love, not just to get mom or dad off their back. If a parent gives a child a gift, it should be due to the parent’s love and not just to stop the child’s tantrum. This requires trust, to believe that the other person will use his/her freedom wisely for the good of the relationship, especially the person does so in a way we didn’t expect. This builds up the relationship on trust.
Respecting the freedom of others is so key: “This freedom, which fosters independence, an openness to the world around us and to new experiences, can only enrich and expand relationships” (ibid.). Relationships thrive when people act with freedom and spontaneous creativity for the good of the others. Trust and respect for freedom foster transparency and does away with suspicion and fear since one doesn’t have to worry about protecting him/herself:
The spouses then share with one another the joy of all they have received and learned outside the family circle. At the same time, this freedom makes for sincerity and transparency, for those who know that they are trusted and appreciated can be open and hide nothing. Those who know that their spouse is always suspicious, judgmental and lacking unconditional love, will tend to keep secrets, conceal their failings and weaknesses, and pretend to be someone other than who they are. On the other hand, a family marked by loving trust, come what may, helps its members to be themselves and spontaneously to reject deceit, falsehood, and lies.
We all seek such transparency, closeness and intimacy in family relationships. Let’s strive for that and learn to apologize and forgive when we have failed to believe all things.
Fr. John R. Waiss