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
We are in this wonderful time of Advent, the time of preparation for Christmas. It is a time for more intense family life, which we always need to work at to make that family life more enjoyable and fruitful for all. Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Lætitia, certainly can give us some insights on how to do just that.
Love Is Not Boastful
Commenting on “love is not… boastful; it is not arrogant or rude” (1 Corinthians 13:4-5). The word for boastful is perpereúetai, which the Pope tells us “denotes vainglory, the need to be haughty, pedantic and somewhat pushy. Those who love not only refrain from speaking too much about themselves, but are focused on others; they do not need to be the center of attention” (Amoris Lætitia, 97).
To enjoy family life, everyone needs to focus on others and not on themselves. The worse thing we can do during holidays and vacation is to focus on what I want. When we don’t get what we want we become disappointed, angry, feeling sorry for ourselves. We become miserable and make everyone else miserable. When we serve others and try to make their life easier—to make them happy—we become happy and anything we get becomes a joy filled surprise. This is how to get the most out of our more intense time with others.
Another danger that arises with intense family interactions is physioútai—arrogance— becoming “puffed up” before others. The Pope warns us of this dangerous obsession of:
“showing off and a loss of a sense of reality. Such people think that, because they are more ‘spiritual’ or ‘wise,’ they are more important than they really are… Some think that they are important because they are more knowledgeable than others; they want to lord it over them… but in fact [they] are filled more with empty words than the real ‘power’ of the Spirit (cf. 1 Cor 4:19).” (Ibid.)
When there are discussions about politics or religion we may be tempted to push our opinions or even real knowledge on others, as though we were somehow better than they are. We don’t listen or let others speak; perhaps we are a bit afraid that we don’t have all the answers. As the Pope goes on to say:
“It is important for Christians to show their love by the way they treat family members who are less knowledgeable about the faith, weak or less sure in their convictions. At times the opposite occurs: the supposedly mature believers within the family become unbearably arrogant… The inner logic of Christian love is not about importance and power; rather, ‘whoever would be first among you must be your slave’ (Mt 20:27). In family life, the logic of domination and competition about who is the most intelligent or powerful destroys love.” (Ibid. 98).
Listening and asking thought-provoking questions is a humbler and much more effective way, because love “is marked by humility; if we are to understand, forgive and serve others from the heart, our pride has to be healed and our humility must increase” (ibid. 98). This approach also shows that we respect the other person and that we listen to him or her, who makes us think, because “what really makes us important is a love that understands, shows concern, and embraces the weak” (Ibid. 97).
So, as we approach the holy of holy days, and as we gather with family members and friends, let us foster some wonderful interactions with them, having a spirit of thinking about them and their needs, and with a humble, attentive listening attitude based on love.
Fr. John R. Waiss
Today we begin Advent, that penitential season in preparation of Christmas, that glorious day when we recognize the moment when God—in the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity—took human flesh and was born of the Virgin Mary. Children love Christmas, not just for all the bright lights and decorations, or for the gifts they will receive, but also because God becomes so real, tangible, and approachable to them. So, let’s take advantage of this.
As Pope Francis said in his interview with Fr. Spadaro, regarding the teachings of the Church:
“I say [that Church teaching cannot be the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently] thinking about the preaching and content of our preaching. A beautiful homily, a genuine sermon must begin with the first proclamation, with the proclamation of salvation. There is nothing more solid, deep and sure than this proclamation.”
Advent is a wonderful time to remind children that God loves us, that he became a little child to save us from sin. We can remind them what sin is all about, that we can be selfish and proud, and that when we do we hurt other people, and especially we hurt our relationship with God. Yet God doesn’t give up on us. He still loves us no matter how bad we have been. That is why he came into this world.
“But the proclamation of the saving love of God comes before moral and religious imperatives… [It] is the touchstone to measure the pastor’s proximity and ability to meet his people, because those who preach must recognize the heart of their community and must be able to see where the desire for God is lively and ardent.”
Like pastors, strong parents must come down to the level of their children, and meet them where they are in their spiritual journey, with the ability to see their children’s lively and ardent desire for God. Advent and Christmas is ideal for this, and a wonderful time to deepen the heart of their family.
Advent is a time of preparation, a preparation for the coming of our Savior. How do we best prepare for the coming of Christ who came to save us by becoming a little child? One very beautiful way is by going to confession. Even if the child is too young for this, seeing his mother or father going as a way to prepare for Christmas teaches the child the importance of saying, “I’m sorry” to God. Perhaps he too may wish to go into the confessional to ask for a blessing in preparation for Christmas.
Advent may also be a time to help children apologize for selfish acts they do to their siblings or friends, or for the disrespectful reactions they make do toward their mother or father. Taking a few moments at the end of the day to make an examination of conscience with your children before the Nativity scene (Crèche) can also be very beneficial to reach a child’s heart. Follow it up with a short Act of Contrition—we do this at the end of the school day with the children of St. Mary of the Angels School.
The Pope reminds us that the heart of the Gospel message that we must proclaim is Jesus Christ, a person who is God, who has become a little child. Ask the Virgin Mary to help us take good advantage of this special season to prepare well for the coming of her son, to prepare for him like she did.
Fr. John R. Waiss