Each year, I look forward to attending Midnight Mass on Christmas. It is one of those Catholic "hallmarks" that helps us to ring in the celebration of Christmas. This year was no different, and I was able to assist at my Cathedral's celebration of Midnight Mass. As we continue on in the great octave of Christmas, I would like to look back on the readings and texts from the "Mass During the Night," more commonly known as Midnight Mass.
“O God, [you] have made this most sacred night radiant with the splendor of the true light…” (Collect, Christmas Mass During the Night). Sometimes I scratch my head trying to make sense of the Collect prayer, the “opening prayer,” used during the Mass. The Collect prayer that we prayed during Midnight Mass, though, is quite fitting for this particular celebration of the Eucharist, as the Church throughout the world gathered together in the quiet stillness of the night to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, the “infant [found] wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger” (Lk 2:12). This “most sacred night” is indeed “radiant with the splendor of the true light," the light of Christ, the light that brightens not only the darkness of the night sky but also the darkness of our world, the darkness that often creeps its way into our own lives and our own hearts.
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” (Is 9:1)! When we find ourselves in a dark room, or when the sun begins to set at the end of the day, what do we do? We turn on a lamp; we turn on the lights. When we find ourselves in internal times of darkness, what do we do? We should turn to Jesus Christ, who, as we hear so beautifully articulated in the Proclamation of the Birth of Christ, is the “eternal God and Son of the eternal Father, desiring to consecrate the world by his most loving presence…”
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” (Is 9:1)! The words that the prophet Isaiah addressed to us in the first reading from this Mass are so filled with meaning for us, especially as we fumble and flounder in the darkness of our world and in our own lives. For upon us all, “a light has shone” (Is 9:1). We often walk in darkness: the darkness of our own worries and anxieties, the darkness of our own sins and shortcomings, the darkness of loneliness and isolation. Whatever burdens us, Isaiah invites us to be brought from darkness into God’s most marvelous light, which is found in the person of Jesus Christ.
Isaiah tells us that “upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone” (Is 9:1). The light that shone in the time of Isaiah is the same light that shone on the “shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock” (Lk 2:8). As the shepherds were keeping watch, “the angel of the Lord appeared to them” (Lk 2:9). On that holy night in Bethlehem, only the humble shepherds were aware of the Word becoming flesh—of Jesus being born of the Virgin Mary. Today, the whole world knows of the Light of the World, Emmanuel—“God-is-with-us,” “Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace” (Is 9:5)…our “savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to deliver us from all lawlessness” (Ti 2:14), to deliver us and grant us peace and consolation from all that causes chaos or disorder or stress in our lives.
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” (Is 9:1)! Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, reflecting on these beautiful words, talks about light—the permeating theme of the great solemnity that we celebrate at Christmas. Our Holy Father says, “The people who walked–caught up in their activities and routines, amid their successes and failures, their worries and expectations–have seen a great light. The people who walked–with all their joys and hopes, their disappointments and regrets–have seen a great light. In every age, the People of God are called to contemplate this light. … A light meant to shine on every corner of this city, on our fellow citizens, on every part of our lives” (Homily of Pope Francis, 25 September 2015).
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” (Is 9:1)! As we continue to celebrate the great Nativity of the Lord—Christmas—we rejoice with Isaiah: “For a child is born to us, a son is given us; upon his shoulder dominion rests. They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace” (Is 9:5). The Psalmist invites us to “exult before the LORD, for he comes; for he comes to rule the earth. He shall rule the world with justice and the peoples with his constancy” (Ps 96: 13).
The Lord is forever faithful. We are called to “[proclaim] the marvels of the Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Eternal Father, the Prince of Peace” (Homily of Pope Francis, 25 September 2015). We do this by serving as beacons of light amidst the darkness of our world, radiating the light, the “abundant joy” (Is 9:2), the love, the “blessed hope” (Ti 2:13) of Jesus Christ, proclaiming with “great rejoicing” (Is 9:2) the “good news of great joy” (Lk 2:10). “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” (Is 9:1)! “Let us all rejoice in the Lord, for our Savior has been born in the world. Today true peace has come down to us from heaven” (Entrance Antiphon). Let us join our hearts and voices this Christmas night and proclaim: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Lk 2:14).
“Silent night, holy night, wondrous star, lend thy light; with the angels let us sing, Alleluia to our King; Christ the Savior is born, Christ the Savior is born!” (Stille Nacht, Fr. Joseph Mohr)
Of all the observations on the nature of life I have come across from the popular comic strip Peanuts by Charles Schulz, there is one which I have been touched by the most. In a recurring plot, the main character, a fellow named Charlie Brown, falls for a beautiful peer of his known only as “The Little Red-Haired Girl.” Just being in the same room as her makes poor ole Charlie Brown tremble as he is enamored by her incredible beauty, talent, and personality… three characteristics he cannot possibly boast of his own. One day, he finds a pencil of hers and, to his astonishment, finds that it is covered in her teeth marks. This odd observation immediately causes Charlie Brown to find new confidence to pursue her and make her notice him, triumphantly exclaiming, “She’s human!”
Especially as we approach Christmas, this simple yet amazing truth reflects upon one of the cornerstones of our Faith: “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1:14). How much more relatable is a God Who became human! Yet often we may forget this in light of His divinity, instead placing God on a high pedestal for us to approach and gaze upon but never quite reach. We may discourage ourselves with this thinking of authentic Christian living as merely lofty ideals and unreachable standards— “speech and day dreams” according to St. Vincent Pallotti. The question, then, “What is God really like?” is answered during an exchange between Jesus and His disciple Philip: “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us,” (Jn 14:8) Philip asks, to which Jesus responds, “He who has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn 14:9). Not only do the emotions of Jesus reflect a necessary component of the image and likeness of God that each of us is made in, His emotions also reveal the nature of God. Believing that the written Word and the Living Word give us a trustworthy revelation of God, we know that God is in fact emotional.
Jesus felt “compassion,” “pitied,” and was “deeply moved;” he was “angry,” “indignant,” and “consumed with zeal;” he was “troubled,” “greatly distressed,” “very sorrowful,” and “grieved;” he “sighed,” “wept,” “groaned,” and was “in agony;” he was “amazed;” he “rejoiced very greatly,” and was “full of joy;” he “greatly desired” and he “loved.” In our quest to be like Jesus, however, we often overlook his emotions. Jesus reveals what it means to be fully human and made in the image of God. His emotions reflect that Identity without any deficiency or distortion. When we compare our own emotional lives to His, we become aware of our need for a transformation of our emotions so that we can be fully human, as He is.
Christmas reminds us of the incredible, baffling mystery of the Incarnation—God, the Creator of the universe humbled Himself by taking on human form! From the time Christ lay upon the wood of the manger through His expiration on the wood of the Cross, we see and are able to relate to not just the idealization of humanity, but how to endure life’s pains, sorrows, and tribulations, as well as its joys and triumphs. If we are the body of Christ, created and redeemed to represent Jesus in the world, then we, like St. Paul, need to “gaze upon him” and learn to reflect the emotions of Jesus (Hebrews 12:2). Then we can know Him, and in knowing Him know God, and know ourselves as we were created to be.
May God bless you, and God love you! Have a blessed Advent and Christmas!
For more resources to prepare you for Christmas, please click here. This resource and more resources for Christmas and Advent can be found here.
"On this holy night, while we contemplate the Infant Jesus just born and placed in the manger, we are invited to reflect. How do we welcome the tenderness of God? Do I allow myself to be taken up by God, to be embraced by him, or do I prevent him from drawing close?" - Pope Francis (Christmas Homily, 2014)
The past year has seen many moments that called out for the "tenderness of God." Challenging moments of war, suffering, natural disaster, and human-caused neglect - seemingly harsh, rather than tender. Some might use the harshness of the world as an excuse to move away from God or render God irrelevant. Yet, there is still a seeking in the human heart given by God who desires to embrace us and draw us close. When we look at the scene of the Nativity, do we see the tenderness of God in the midst of the harsh reality that Mary and Joseph were not shown tenderness in their need, but instead were rejected? The Son of God came into the world in poverty. At the end of his earthly life, he was rejected once again. The Father, though, continued to show mercy, love, and tenderness by raising him up, opening the way to salvation, and leaving us a share in Christ's mission of love and mercy until he comes again.
During this Jubilee of Mercy and beyond, may we go about doing Christ's mission well through living tenderness, reviving faith, rekindling charity - living the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. These works of mercy are practical ways for us to welcome and share the "tenderness of God."
On behalf of the board, staff, collaborators, and advisors of the Catholic Apostolate Center, may you have a Blessed Christmas and a good New Year! You will be remembered by me at Masses during the Christmas season!
May the charity of Christ urge us on!
Christmas is on Friday. Wait, really?! Have we bought all of our presents? Are we ready for a Christmas feast? Is work ever going to end? These are the thoughts that plague us right now, but what we really should be asking is: are we ready for the birth of Christ? Advent is almost over - was there really enough time to prepare for the birth of the Son of God? The short is answer is 'no,' and the long answer is still 'no.’ But we know that as we prepare each liturgical year we take another step on the long journey toward Christ. Each celebration gives us the chance to refocus on that journey and draws us back into living out our faith wholly and fully.
Who better to help us refocus our sight on Christ than the Holy Family? The Holy Family is the PERFECT example for us as we share in similar struggles. Through the Incarnation, Jesus became man and we believe him to be both fully human and fully divine. In a beautiful way his humanity is formed by Mary and Joseph. Who better to relate to then Mary and Joseph themselves? They were there when they thought Jesus was lost in the temple and there throughout his adolescence. Mary was there to inspire him to begin his ministry at Cana and was there as her son gave up his life for us. During Advent and Christmas we are watching Mary, Joseph, and Jesus grow and become a family. We should take this opportunity to allow ourselves to walk in their footsteps and live a life wholly committed to Christ. We should take this opportunity to ask for their intercession and assistance on our journey to God.
Please do not think that their example only applies to families! Their example applies to each and every Catholic, Christian, non-Christian, and human being. The virtues that they live in the Bible are virtues that we should all be living. Look to how Mary and Joseph interact and form Jesus and open yourself up to them. No matter where we are in life we can learn from their unwavering commitment and their steadfast love.
I challenge you to think about someone in your life who embodies these qualities: “unwavering commitment” and “steadfast love.” I only have to think back to last week at my father-in-law’s funeral. My wife was delivering the eulogy and said, “[he] reminded me of the importance of the ‘virtue of selfishness,’ as he so called it. This means that you can take control of how you feel, and you must take care of yourself so that you can take care of others. If you have nothing to give, what then are you authentically giving?” He got it. He understood that God is calling us to form ourselves in our faith, to root ourselves in him because we cannot lead others to God without first opening ourselves to his grace. How do we do this? We commit ourselves to Christ with steadfast love.
This Advent, as we are preparing for the birth of Christ, let us remember to ground ourselves in his love so that as the new year comes we can go out and evangelize the world. Let us also remember Saint Pope John Paul II’s words on the Holy Family:
“I wish to invoke the protection of the Holy Family of Nazareth…it is therefore the prototype and example for all Christian families…St. Joseph was a “just man”…may he always guard, protect and enlighten families. May the Virgin Mary, who is the Mother of the Church, also be the Mother of “the Church of the home”…May Christ the Lord, the Universal King, the King of Families, be present in every Christian home as He was at Cana, bestowing light, joy, serenity, and strength”.
Nicholas Shields is a young professional working in Washington, DC.
You don’t need to spend a dime to understand Christmas is all about presence. The Church sings, “Emmanuel- God is with us!” God’s gift to the world is his presence, Jesus our Savior.
During the holidays, however, life tends to get busy and expensive. Presence yields to presents.
When this happens, as it always seems to, I think of Brother Lawrence. Like the great mystic and reformer, St. John of the Cross, Lawrence (1605-91) was a Carmelite monk. But unlike St. John, Lawrence was a lay brother who spent his “unremarkable” life cooking and cleaning. In fact, all that remains are some recollected conversations and a few scattered letters posthumously compiled by another monk into a short, now classic, spiritual work called The Practice of the Presence of God. His conversion happened one winter after “seeing a tree stripped of its leaves, and considering that within a little time the leaves would be renewed, and after that the flowers and fruit appear” (First Conversation)
We need Brother Lawrence to remind us that Christmas is all about presence. For Lawrence, this means having a sense of God’s love in the middle of our busy and distracted lives during the Christmas season, a way of “doing our common business purely for the love of God” (Fourth Conversation). He reminds us to be about God’s business during our busyness.
Three of Brother Lawrence’s key insights can help us practice the presence of God this Christmas.
Give Your Time
Christmas is more about being present than buying presents. The most precious gift we have to give someone is our time. As Christmas gets piled high with shopping, decorating, work, or final exams, the gift of time seems to have the highest price tag. Brother Lawrence reminds us that God is present to us in all times and places:
"The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees before the Blessed Sacrament.” (Fourth Conversation)
The Nativity celebrates the presence of God on earth, a God who came as an unexpected, untimely, and therefore unwelcome stranger. I think we all know people like that! Being present to God may mean letting ourselves be interrupted or making time for a family member we’d rather ignore, and letting God speak.
Celebrate Small Things
When we think Christmas, we think miracles. But the great mystery of the Incarnation reveals that God also shows his human face in the smallest, most mundane aspects of life. Brother Lawrence says:
“We can do little things for God. I turn the cake that is frying on the pan for love of him . . . who has given me grace to work . . . It is enough for me to pick up but a straw from the ground for the love of God" (The Practice of the Presence of God and The Spiritual Maxims).
Brother Lawrence points to the presence of God hidden even among life’s most unpresentable circumstances by faithfully doing unglamorous things for God’s glory.
It’s tempting to scoff at the more trivialized or sanitized secular symbols of “the holidays.” Rather than spending Christmas railing against materialism, we can imitate the example of Brother Lawrence, who presents a more constructive, creative way to counteract the consumer culture without pointing out other’s shortcomings.
Brother Lawrence would turn everyday objects (like pots and pans) into an occasion to praise God. He did this by making them into little actionable reminders. For example, when you see Christmas lights, say, “Christ is my light.” Or pass a snowman and pray for a friend in need. In this way, we “re-symbolize” the world around us. There are a million possibilities. Come up with a few of your own and make it a habit.
Especially at Christmas, the whole world is a reminder of God’s love and presence. All of creation is a conversation starter with God, a conversation called prayer, or as Brother Lawrence would say, “the practice of the presence of God.”
For more ways to prepare for the coming of the Savior this Advent and Christmas, please visit our Advent Resources page.
Advent, the word in and of itself instills hope and builds anticipation for greatness, joy and peace. What is it are we waiting for?
It seems with the close of the year, we wait anxiously for those intimate times with our family and friends, a break from work and the routine and a time for closeness. Maybe, we are waiting for a Christmas party, presents and the holiday ambience. As a student, I always find it paradoxical that finals would be during the season of Advent. The hectic study and preparation of exams easily muddles the preparation I could be doing in my own heart for the King.
The anticipation, the excess and busyness I find myself in reminds me of the Gospel story where the disciples forget the presence of the Lord in their midst:
“And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but [Jesus] was asleep. And they went and woke him, saying, ‘Save us Lord; we are perishing.’ And he said to them, ‘Why are you afraid, O men of little faith?’ Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm” (Matthew 8:23-26).
Looking without eyes of faith, the disciples found themselves in a panic and disarray. With a focus on the storm and on the circumstance that assailed them, the disciples forgot the most essential truth that was right there with them on the boat: the Sleeping Christ. The answer to their cries for help was peacefully present in their situation ready to grace them with a great calm.
What is it, again, that we are waiting for during this Advent Season?
The gift we are waiting for is the sleeping babe, the sleeping Christ, in the manger. The Divine Son, who humbles Himself so greatly that He arrives in the stillness of night, in the quiet with shepherds and sheep alike. The Creator God comes in the stillness. What we are waiting for is the Prince of Peace.
My own hurriedness in finishing all of my papers and exams, finding the perfect gifts for my friends and family, making travel plans and somehow finding time to stop and recognize where I am headed resembles the experience of the disciples. I am awaiting His peace, but my actions reveal otherwise. I must intentionally make the effort to stop and breathe in what I am truly searching for this December.
May the anticipation throughout this Advent season bring us to stop and ponder the mystery of the Lord of the Universe resting in a manger who has come to encounter our hearts. May the peace of the Sleeping Christ invade our hearts, our minds, and our actions so we too may accept the true gift He wishes for us all this season: a great calm (Matthew 8:26).
Luke 21:34 states, “Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy.” As we prepare to kick-off the season of Advent 2015, Christ implores us to be alert to the dangers of a drowsy heart. I was flabbergasted when I walked into a store the week after Halloween to hear Christmas music floating through the air. I absolutely love Christmas music and, when the time comes, will listen to it right up through the celebration of the Epiphany. However, I find it humorous and a bit befuddling that it seems that we begin to hear Christmas music earlier and earlier each year and yet, on December 26th, it becomes a scavenger hunt to find the familiar, heartwarming tunes on the air and in stores. As Catholics, we have not even celebrated the visit of the magi yet and the Christmas airwaves have gone silent.
The holiday season is notorious for its stress, anxiety and drain on our time and energy. Our Advent calendars become filled with shopping excursions, parties, decking the halls and busying ourselves in the kitchen. All of these are wonderful ways to express our love for the season and our love for one another. However, I find that the older I get and the more responsibilities I gain, it becomes harder to latch onto, and maintain, the wide eyed childhood wonder and awe of the Christmas season in its entirety. By the time December 26th rolls around, my heart is drowsy. In the midst of the hustle and bustle, the Word speaks to us again. Proverbs 4:23 states, “With closest custody guard your heart, for in it are the sources of life.”
Let us take a moment to reflect on what has arrived for us as Catholics as we begin this season of Advent. Our salvation was made visible with the birth of a child. Isaiah 9:5 proclaims, “For a child is born to us, a son is given us; upon his shoulder dominion rests. They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.” The dancing harmonies of Handel’s Messiah begin to reverberate through my mind. The prophet Isaiah is speaking to each one of us. A child is born to US. The salvation of the world, the salvation of sinners was born to us as a helpless, dependent infant made of flesh and bone, nerves and muscle just as we are. Physiologically speaking, a newborn quickly learns to experience life and receive sustenance through one of the highest density of touch receptors in its wonderfully created body; the lips and tongue. As Catholics we are able to receive life, power, and renewal through the highest concentration of touch receptors in the body each time we receive the Eucharist.
What happens when we make an effort to guard our hearts and offer our bodies as “weapons of righteousness” to open ourselves to fully experience the breadth of receiving the flesh of Christ, the power of Christ? What kind of change would that create in us? What kind of change would it create in our families, our communities and our churches? How would this change affect our experience of the Advent and Christmas season? This power can seem frightening, but Scripture speaks to us through 1 John 4:18, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment, and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love.” We have arrived. This is our Advent. It is time to prepare our heart, mind, body, and soul to celebrate the arrival of our Wonder-Counselor.
For more resources on this Advent season, please visit our Advent Resources page.
This past summer, I wrote a blog post on the importance of family. Having just returned from a two week Christmas visit home, I’m again reminded of the importance of love in our lives, especially the love of family. I live in Washington D.C., far away from the majority of my extended family. Most of my 40+ cousins live back in Wisconsin and I now only see them a couple of times each year. As we all grow up, we have become more spread out and family holidays often have significant numbers missing. This year, however, almost everyone made it home for some or all of the many traditional Christmas celebrations. We decorated my grandparents’ house for Christmas, had the chaotic frenzy of opening Christmas presents on Christmas Day, tried to find enough tables and chairs in my grandparents’ basement for Christmas dinner, and raced through the “Round Robin” dinner where we travel from house to house for different courses. I was able to connect with cousins I hadn’t seen since last Christmas, meet the fiancés, boyfriends, girlfriends and new babies who are becoming a part of the ever-growing family.
We see a lot of discussions these days on the “true meaning” of Christmas. We are reminded to keep Christ in Christmas and we can often get lost in the frenzy of the season. What struck me, however, was that celebrating the joy of Christ’s birth was magnified by the people who surrounded me: my family. Christmas is a time where we celebrate our Savior becoming human and coming to us on earth. We do this in many ways; we give presents, have special meals, and unique traditions specific to our families. Being with those we love makes tangible the love of Christ that we celebrate at Christmas.
Today’s first reading from the first letter of John says this:
Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another. No one has ever seen God. Yet, if we love one another, God remains in us, and his love is brought to perfection in us.
As this Christmas season draws to a close, I challenge you to take a moment to reflect on your journey this Advent and Christmas. I hope you were able to spend time with loved ones, be they family or friends. How can you carry this love into this New Year? For as today’s reading reminds us, it is through loving one another that God remains in us.
Rebecca Ruesch is the Blog Editor for the Catholic Apostolate Center.
Some time ago, I wrote about the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah. I mentioned how often times we hear that piece performed around Christmastime, although that portion of the Messiah is actually about Easter and the Resurrection. Now that the Nativity has arrived, perhaps it might be interesting to look at what Handel did use to interpret the Birth of Christ.
“For Unto Us a Child is Born” is taken from the words of the prophet Isaiah (Is 9:6):
For unto us a Child is born
Unto us a Son is given
And the government
Shall be upon His shoulder
And his name shall be called
The Mighty God
The Everlasting Father
The Prince of Peace
In that one verse, the prophet presents so much insight into the aforementioned Child to be born. He will be a son, he shall reign over a great dominion, and he shall bring peace. Well, only one child fits that description: Jesus Christ.
When Isaiah tells of a son being given to the faithful, he is not just talking about the neighbor’s kid. He foretells of a son presented as a gift to all who believe. And indeed, in Christ, we have not only a child but also the moment when the word became flesh and dwelt among us (Jn 1:14). And through that word, humanity is redeemed. Through Christ, death no longer has power. The gates of heaven are opened to all that would follow he who is called the Son of God.
“The kingdom of heaven is at hand,” declared John the Baptist (Mt 3:2). Yes, we believe that at the end of time Christ will establish his kingdom for all eternity (CCC 1042). But in the meantime, his kingdom exists on earth in the form of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church (CCC 763). Founded by Jesus with a mission to manifest the will of God, the Church waits in hopeful anticipation for the establishment of Christ’s eternal reign.
It is very appropriate, then, for Isaiah to foretell a Prince of Peace. Not only would Jesus go on to proclaim a kingdom of love but also, when he returns, establish a heavenly domain that knows no end. At Christmas, we celebrate both a beginning and an end. We celebrate the very beginning of Christ ruling the hearts and minds of the faithful while also looking toward the end when he will come again and his “kingdom will have no end.”
Victor David is a collaborator with the Catholic Apostolate Center and a staff member at The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC.
Today marks one week until a great man comes to visit us, bringing joy to all. Given the nature of this blog, I’m guessing you think I’m talking about the coming of the newborn Jesus Christ. But I’m actually talking about Santa Claus! The jolly old man himself, bringing loads of goodies on his sleigh to the girls and boys on his twice-checked list. Yes, indeed. What else is special about Christmas? It is interesting to see the secular meaning of Christmas intersect with the glorious birth of our Savior to yield a sort-of confused holiday. The world seems to forget that during this season of Advent when Catholics are preparing their hearts to welcome Jesus on the 25th, many are just preparing themselves to welcome elves and anxiety. This year in particular, I have had to take a step back from all the noise and busyness, and enjoy the peace and joy of this Advent season. Can we still find God with us?
The Gospel today helps us anticipate God’s Promise through faith. In Matthew 1:23, Joseph is visited by an angel to fulfill what the prophets had written, “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel” (which means, God with us). Joseph had extraordinary faith to believe that Mary was filled with the Holy Spirit and that he would care for the One who was being sent to save the world. This was no small feat for a simple carpenter, but Joseph understood the importance of Christ’s birth.
This last part of this passage, God with us, caught my ear when I first read it, and reminded me of a Theology class from freshman year in college. We learned that in order to redeem the world from Original Sin, God had to dwell among us on earth. God could only do that by becoming fully Divine and fully Human, and only through a stainless virgin could Jesus be stainless himself. The world has truly been saved because of a small child, born in a stable and laid in manger over 2,000 years ago. Each year we have 4 weeks to ready ourselves for his arrival again. The joy of the season is not packages, ribbons, and bows, it’s realizing that God is here to love us and save us.
In my classroom, we have an elf named Chester who comes to visit during the weeks of Advent. He arrived on the first day back from Thanksgiving break, and we have found him in a new spot every morning. According to the book he brought with him called, Elf on the Shelf, he returns to Santa to relay messages about whether or not the kids in my class were naughty or nice each day. Based on this report, my students will have a visit from Santa on Christmas morning. What if instead of Santa visiting us with things, we visited God with full hearts and open arms? Although Chester the Elf is here throughout Advent and will disappear after Christmas, God is always with us.
Krissy Kirby is a Kindergarten teacher for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.
To learn more about Advent, please see our Advent Resources!
This past Sunday, we celebrated the First Sunday of Advent, the time of preparation for the coming of Christ. This Advent season also signals the beginning of the liturgical New Year. Now, I’m the kind of girl that has been secretly listening to Christmas Carols since mid-November (with headphones and lowered volume so no one knows my secret!) so Advent is one of my favorite times of year. As a little girl, I loved the buildup to Christmas and loved helping my mom prepare our house for the torrent of annual Christmas events. From decorating the tree to baking cookies, I loved it all.
When we were little, my mom modeled an activity we did in school, placing an empty manger on our mantle with a bowl of straw. She explained to my brother, sisters, and me that Advent was about preparing for Christ’s birth and we had to prepare a comfortable crib for him by filling the manger with pieces of straw. She encouraged us to do kind things for those we knew and when we did to place a piece of straw in the manger. Throughout Advent we delighted in finding ways we could add more to the manger. The one rule that she had was that we could only place straw in the manger quietly, without bragging of our good deeds to each other, and we had to decide personally what qualified to place straw in the manger. The straw grew and grew and by Christmas the manger was full, ready for Christ. Although this activity seems small in the hustle and bustle of the Advent season, it taught my siblings and me a lot about what the season was really about.
Even as children, my mom strove to make sure that while we could get involved and excited about preparing for Christmas, we had to understand the true meaning behind the season. Advent, she always explained, was about preparing for the coming of Christ and not simply getting excited for Santa to visit. While we celebrate Advent and Christmas in many different ways, the important thing to remember is just how miraculous the Incarnation truly is. The miracle of the Incarnation is that Christ was made known to us in human form, to ultimately sacrifice Himself for us.
While this time of the year has many stresses as we try to prepare for all that is expected of us, keeping the “true meaning of Christmas” in mind throughout Advent is a good habit to get into. As you begin this Advent season, I encourage you to take some time to remember what we are preparing for. The selfless love that Christ demonstrates is what we celebrate this Advent season. Take a moment to step back and reflect on how you can prepare yourself for His coming.
Rebecca Ruesch is the Blog Editor for the Catholic Apostolate Center
For more information, check out the Catholic Apostolate Center's Advent Resource Page!
This past Tuesday, the Church celebrated the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord. This feast, which commemorates the moment Gabriel appeared to the Virgin Mary to announce the plan of salvation God intended to bring forth, can seem a bit odd to celebrate during Lent. The Annunciation is a moment that we would usually associate with Christmas, as it introduces us to the official incarnation of God as Man. While March 25th is exactly 9 months before December 25th, I believe that celebrating the Annunciation during this time has more meaning than simply the significance of 9 months to December. In this post, I hope to share with you my thoughts on a few of the many beautiful features of this event in Christianity and how it pertains to our mission in the Liturgical season of Lent.
The Annunciation emphasizes both the importance of Mary and how the Annunciation brings the Incarnation of God into the realm of human history. I have noticed that people, when discussing this crucial event, typically compartmentalize these two aspects while forgetting their interconnectivity. I also find that this can result in one compartmentalizing their relationship with Mary and their relationship with God, failing to recognize how the two are woven together. I say this because I am certainly guilty as charged! Seeing the beautiful harmonization of the New Adam (Jesus) and the New Eve (Mary) can help us better understand the correct approach to bringing our hearts closer to God during Lent.
You might then ask how this interconnectivity between Mary and the Incarnation occurs. Yes, Mary did give birth to Jesus, and many people stop there. However, I believe the harmonization is more than the mere act of Mary giving birth. This is where the Annunciation comes into play, as Mary agreed to submit herself fully to God’s will. The nature in which such agreement is founded on remains an open question. With this, however, I have found that the best answer to this question (in the span of my short, and continuously developing spiritual journey) lies in the spirituality that is the source and foundation of the Catholic Apostolate Center. In a blog I wrote some while back, I talked about God as Infinite Love, and I reference this again because I am referring to a spirituality of collaboration, where the Love of God is a collaborative invitation to participate in His will, which subsequently leads to being one with His love. We walk on our journey together with God, and this connectedness is why such a harmonization between the role of Mary and the Incarnation of Christ exists.
The answer to how this harmony exists lies in the gift of free will. I mention free will because of it is important in the understanding of a collaborative relationship with God, one where we are free rather than forced to conform to His will. Another way of saying this is that God could have entered humanity, without our consent, into a new order where the original graces and gifts would be restored. However, God wanted us to love Him, and such love requires an act to freely choose Him while simultaneously rejecting something else (i.e. sin, worldly pleasures, and so forth). If God were to redeem humanity through the Incarnation of Christ, it would then be by human consent, in order that our dignity is maintained and we are ably to participate in this Infinite Love of God, and that God would offer the Incarnation (and therefore the opportunity to regain access to full participation in such Love) by means of collaboration with humanity. It is only through such collaboration that participation in the Love of God can occur.
This is where our Blessed Mother, Mary, enters into the conversation. In the Annunciation, Mary is asked by the Angel Gabriel if she would freely consent to God’s plan to take humanity out of the abyss and to let him be completely enraptured by God’s Love (See Luke 1:26-35). Her response was the greatest act of liberty the world has ever seen: “Be it done unto me according to thy word” (Luke 1:38). This freedom is perfect because her Son was willed, and not merely accepted in any unforeseen or unpredictable way. There was no element of chance, but a desire of the Father to enact His will of salvation by means of collaboration. Mary, having full faith and love for God, essentially said “yes, I am willing to collaborate with Your will in order that I may participate in your Love.” Her willingness to collaborate is an act of harmonization, one that we cannot ignore in our lives of prayer and charity.
With this being noted, how does this pertain to our journey of faith during the Lenten Season? Like Mary, we are called by God to collaborate with His will in order that we may grow in holiness and be ravished by His Love. The Annunciation reminds us that we have this gift of freedom to participate in such collaboration. After all, it would not be collaboration if we were forced to participate! We are shown that we can choose God and reject the things that keep us away from Him. This choice is deeply rooted to the extent that God would offer such a choice pertaining to our very own salvation, the Incarnation of His very own Son. Fortunately, we have an example, a role model who perfected this very act of freedom. That role model is Mary, as she collaborated with God’s will. Because of such a harmonization between Mary and God’s plan, the same harmonization can occur with us and God. We can pursue this harmonization with God by asking for Mary’s intercession. She can then us respond to such an invitation by saying: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done unto me according to Thy Word.”
Andrew St. Hilaire is the Assistant to the Director of the Catholic Apostolate Center
Ever since I was a little kid, I have loved Midnight Mass. As a student of the Church's liturgy, some of the externals certainly contribute to this: darkness, incense, singing, a full church. Yesterday was no different. The outside air was cold, the church full, the music beautiful as always. With the exception of a blaring fire alarm because of of a smoking thurible being placed too close to a sensitive smoke detector, Mass went off without a hitch!
But why do we gather in the middle of the night on one of the longest nights of the year? Why do we celebrate this great solemnity year after year? What can we continue to learn from "Jesus Christ, eternal God and Son of the eternal Father...born in Bethlehem of Judea of the Virgin Mary" (Proclamation of the Birth of Christ)?
The collect (opening prayer) from the "Mass during the Night" beautifully illustrates the reason that we gather on that holy night:
O God, who have made this most sacred night
radiant with the splendor of the true light,
grant, we pray, that we, who have known the mysteries
of his light on earth,
may also delight in his gladness in heaven.
God's light came to earth as an infant over two thousand years ago. The Incarnation is miracle and pure gift, but it is also human. "Et Verbum caro factum est et habitavit in nobis—And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us." The Word, Christ himself, was, as the Nicene Creed says, "incarnate of the Virgin Mary and became man."
In his Midnight Mass homily, Pope Francis said, "The grace which was revealed in our world is Jesus, born of the Virgin Mary, true man and true God. He has entered our history; he has shared our journey." Emmanuel, God with us, was born in a manger fully human and fully God. Jesus Christ is not some distant, historical figure. He experienced the joys and sorrows of daily living just as we do today, and is as alive today as he was in Bethlehem two thousand years ago.
As we celebrate the octave of Christmas, let us not forget the great miracle of the Incarnation of the light of the world. "The Word became flesh, and we have seen his glory" (John 1:14). May the glory and joy of Christmas remain alive in our hearts and in our lives today and every day.
Alex R. Boucher is the Program & Operations Manager for the Catholic Apostolate Center. Follow Alex on Twitter at @AlexBoucher.
Tomorrow, we arrive at Christmas Eve. In the rush of all of the “things we must do” do we stop and reflect on the one who is the true must for us, the Incarnate Son of God, Our Lord Jesus Christ? Stop for a moment and look at a Nativity scene. I mean really look. What do you see? Do you see simply art, or a depiction of a past event, or do you see the one who is the Incarnate Son of God? Our God, who created us, came to us, is with us, is for us, to save us! We are not alone in the vast universe, left adrift. No, our God came to us in a way that we would not expect of one who is all-powerful, he came in the innocent helplessness of a baby. This baby was not born in a palace or even a house, but in a borrowed spot out back where only animals lived. The first people who visited him and his parents were not friends and family, but poor shepherds. The King of Kings came as the Poorest of the Poor. He came to save us not just in the future, but now. We are to assist him in his mission as the third verse of the
Christmas carol “O Holy Night” tells us:
Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother;
And in His name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name.
Like the shepherds and all who have gone before us in faith, our encounter with the Prince of Peace offers us the opportunity to be freed from all that oppresses us in life and the mandate to help others to find this freedom. As Pope Francis teaches us:
“The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew… I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since “no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord.” (Evangelii Gaudium, 1, 3).
This Christmas and always, our prayer as the team of the Catholic Apostolate Center is that your encounter with Christ today and every day brings such joy that you must share it with all!
Fr. Frank Donio, S.A.C. is the Director of the Catholic Apostolate Center
This Sunday is the Fourth Sunday of Advent, the last Sunday before we celebrate the birth of Christ at Christmas. These four weeks are an opportunity for us as Catholics to take time to reflect on our spiritual lives. As we’ve seen in posts throughout this Advent season, we must look at Advent as a journey, both as a time to prepare for Christ’s coming this year, but also as a way of looking at the future to prepare for Christ’s second coming. Advent is a time filled with joy and introspection, where we strive to find the quiet moments within a busy season.
This Sunday, the first reading from Isaiah tells of the eventual birth of Christ. Isaiah prophecies that the Lord will give mankind a sign, a son born of a virgin mother, to be called Emmanuel. St. Paul, in the second reading, reminds us that Christ was put here on earth “as Son of God in power, according to the Spirit of holiness. (Isaiah 1:4) Then in the gospel reading from St. Matthew, we hear the story of the nativity, referencing the fulfillment of Isaiah’s words. Here it is reiterated that Christ will be called Emmanuel, which means “God is with us.” This is a good reminder at the conclusion of the Advent season. The gospel tells us that Christ’s coming is the true manifestation of God here on earth, and the name Emmanuel is a literal representation of this.
The name Emmanuel is also a reminder to all of us that God is with us, even now in our everyday lives. It is easy during Advent or other important liturgical seasons to feel God’s presence more strongly. During the Christmas season we hear stories of incredible generosity and kindness, many in the name of Christmas spirit. Food banks and Homeless Shelters and other social welfare institutions report higher donations and volunteers during the holidays. Generosity and volunteering of time is always a rewarding way to live out the gospel, but to truly embrace the spirit of Christ as Emmanuel, we must do our best to keep God with us throughout the entire year, not just during holiday seasons. Pope Francis’s message of the importance of ministering to the poor and marginalized is applicable here especially. The Holy Father encourages us to see the face of God in everyone, especially in those who are most in need. We must remember that God is with us, in every aspect of our life, and we must strive to carry the spirit of kindness and generosity throughout the whole year.
Rebecca Ruesch is the Blog Editor for the Catholic Apostolate Center