Advent often feels too short to me. Maybe it’s the fact that the fourth week usually isn’t a full seven days because of which day Christmas lands on that year. Maybe it’s the hustle and bustle of trying to get ready for Christmas and checking everything off our Christmas to-do lists that overwhelms the quiet and hopeful period that Advent is meant to be. The secular culture we live in insists that it’s “Christmastime” as soon as the Thanksgiving turkey is eaten, that the Twelve Days of Christmas happen whenever in December people feel like doing them, that the Christmas festivities end with Christmas, and that Christmas Day is a finish line toward which we should all be sprinting with credit cards in hand.
In our home, my husband and I have made a conscious choice to incorporate more of the liturgical calendar into our daily family life. For us, this means striving to separate Christmas from Advent: Our house during Advent is sparsely decorated until Christmas Eve, and we try to focus on Advent hymns like “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” instead of Christmas carols. And while at first it may seem like we are being Scrooges or intentionally avoiding Christmas cheer, maintaining Advent as a time of preparation helps us keep the liturgical Christmastide as a true season of celebration. It’s harder to maintain a sense of joy and wonder on Christmas Day when the festivities have already been going on for almost a month.
The more difficult thing for us, however, is not figuring out how to avoid celebrating Christmas in Advent, but how to maintain the spirit of Christmastide in a culture that throws out its trees and its traditions on the morning of December 26. It’s been difficult for us to keep the party going, so to speak, when everyone else is drafting New Year’s resolutions and bemoaning all the cookies they ate. The liturgical Christmas season deserves more attention in our homes. The span of days from Christmas Day to the Baptism of the Lord is a string of feast days and holy days—including St. Stephen (December 26), the Holy Innocents (December 28), the Holy Family (Sunday after Christmas), the Solemnity of Mary Mother of God (January 1), and the feast of the Epiphany (traditionally January 6). Christmastide is built for celebration!
Every year, as we approach the end of Advent, my husband and I ask ourselves: How can we embrace the celebratory season of Christmastide? Here are some of our ideas.
Question for Reflection: How are the Advent and Christmas seasons different for you? How do you celebrate Christmastide?
This weekend is the feast of St. Patrick—one of the most popular saints in the Archdiocese of Washington where I grew up and arguably in the entire United States. But two days later on March 19, coming much more quietly and with far less fanfare in American culture, slips in the Solemnity of St. Joseph.
It is easy to lose the Solemnity of St. Joseph in the rigors of Lenten observances or because it comes on the heels of the day-long party that seems to happen every year on St. Patrick’s Day. Perhaps we often overlook this feast because we know so little about who St. Joseph was and what his life was like. Nevertheless, St. Joseph remains an incredibly important figure, especially for parents.
Joseph is mentioned only a few times in the New Testament. We know from the Gospels that Joseph was a law-abiding and righteous man, and that he obeyed God’s will—especially when it was revealed to him directly by an angel. After these few mentions in the infancy narratives of Jesus, St. Joseph gently fades into the background and then disappears altogether from the Gospels. But the Church in her wisdom has made St. Joseph’s importance clear for those who are paying attention: he is mentioned in all four Eucharistic Prayers at Mass, as well as in the Divine Praises during Benediction at the end of Eucharistic adoration.
But what makes St. Joseph so special? From what we can glean from the Gospels, St. Joseph was an ordinary man of deep faith who was called to become the foster-father of Christ. He became the earthly guardian of the Messiah, responsible for his upbringing and tasked with protecting him in his early life. St. Joseph’s commitment to his vocation as the husband of Mary and the foster father of Christ was so strong that upon being warned about the murderous intentions of King Herod, he fled immediately—in the middle of the night!—to Egypt. He did whatever it took, even leaving his entire life behind him, in order to keep his family safe. The little we see of him in the New Testament shows us a devout man who always trusted in God and took care of his family.
St. Joseph, as the third member of the Holy Family, is the member who is the most like us—especially those of us who are parents. He was not born sinless, nor was he divine. He was a carpenter, a man of humble station who probably felt as though he had a monumentally important task thrust upon him. I think St. Joseph’s role in Christ’s life beautifully displays the role of a Christian parent in their child’s life. Parents are ordinary people who are tasked with the care and raising of new life. Like Joseph, we do not own our children or have sole claim over them; they are their own people, entrusted to our care and guidance until they grow old enough to do God’s will without our assistance. It is a difficult task, and at times overwhelming to ponder. And yet there is St. Joseph, who was tasked with raising the very Son of God. Joseph shows us that we do not need to be perfect in our roles, only willing to be guided by God as we place our trust in Him.
Just as I strive to be like Mary in my vocation as a wife and mother, I pray that my husband will be like Joseph. St. Joseph is the ultimate husband and father, a faithful man of quiet strength, protector of Mary’s virginity, and guide of Christ’s earthly childhood. Above all, St. Joseph shows us the beauty of a life lived in obedience to God’s will.
Questions for Reflection: How can you grow closer to St. Joseph throughout this Lenten season? What can you learn from St. Joseph’s example of obedience and trust?
No one ever told me that marriage prep would be easy, but as I soon discovered, it involves sacrifice, time management, communication, honesty, and humility. It demands both patience and inconvenience, and perhaps an uncomfortable truth or two. There's work to be done, yes, but this cannot compare to the countless joys and the excitement I share with my beloved. Preparation for marriage, however, does not conclude with the certificate of participation. The work continues and never stops! Our efforts may not be recorded by the diocese but are a natural part of this holy vocation. That afternoon, my fiancée and I were thankful for the work and sharing that was accomplished that day, but even more so for the time afterwards we had in order to further share, process, and discuss the details of our sacramental future together.
While this time of year may call to mind Valentine’s Day, the bishops of the United States have designated the observances of National Marriage Week (February 7-14) and World Marriage Day (Sunday, February 11) as “opportunities to focus on building a culture of life and love that begins with supporting and promoting marriage and the family.” The Church is invited to reflect on the role of marriage in the world and its influence on each of us, no matter our state in life. Of course, no two marriages are the same—a truth that reflects the beauty and depth of the sacrament and this mystery of love.
Growing up, my parents were my first heroes. Their marriage was inspiring for a number of reasons, but I simply admired its endurance. Marriage, as they knew—and I am continuing to learn—is a lifelong commitment in the sight of God to offer the gift of self to one another in love and for the building of the domestic church, the family. Those called to marriage are entrusted with the awesome responsibility to answer God’s first command to humanity: be fruitful and multiply (Gaudium et spes 48). I was born out of my parent’s married love to bear witness to Love itself. Like my parents, my love is imperfect, yet I continue to offer it as they do: in order to sustain their marriage and continue to live out their vows to love each other in all circumstances of life. Seeing their efforts inspires and shapes my own for my future marriage.
Thankfully, I can look not only to my parents’ example, but also to a number of saintly married couples whose lives of holiness are models for the rest of us. The heroic virtues that they exemplified through their marital love are a great source of encouragement and hope to those who face similar circumstances in their lives. My favorite is St. Gianna Molla and her husband, Pietro, who throughout their journey of love composed many beautiful letters to each other. In an increasingly secularized world where marriage is little more than cohabitation, holy couples such as the Mollas are refreshing witnesses to the sanctity of marriage and family life. They model for us the surrendering of all difficulties and hardships to God.
Though marriage has its challenges and responsibilities, let us not be intimidated by the reality of this vocation! As in all the other sacraments, God’s grace flows throughout married life and sustains us through this calling. Yes, there are demands and difficulties, but these serve to purify our love in the example of Christ’s total and perfect love from the cross. As Pope Francis advised 10,000 engaged couples four years ago:
We are all aware that the perfect family does not exist, nor does the perfect husband, nor the perfect wife. We exist, and we are sinners. Jesus, who knows us well, teaches us a secret: never let a day go by without asking forgiveness, or without restoring peace in your home. If we learn to apologize and forgive each other, the marriage will last.
May the Holy Family pray for us as we continue to build the domestic church!
For more resources on Marriage and Family, click here.
Questions for Reflection: Can you think of examples in your own life of a married couple who lives out their vocation with joy? How has their witness impacted your understanding of marriage?
This is such a rich time for us as Catholic Christians! Within the past month, we’ve begun a new liturgical year, celebrated in praise and thanksgiving the Nativity of our Lord, the Holy Family, and the Blessed Virgin Mary, and we continue to celebrate as we approach the Epiphany of our Lord. It is quite difficult to wrap our hearts and minds around the richness that has been available to us over these past four weeks in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the holiday season.
Among the chaos of planning and celebrating, we have also rung in a new calendar year. 2017— with its successes, failures, struggles and triumphs—has come to a close and we stand at the precipice of 2018. We all know what that means: New Year’s resolutions. Are you hoping for more control over your health, finances, or career? Perhaps you are hoping to find more time to pray and manage stress in your life. What is it that you are hoping to gain control of this year or to do more regularly? As we prepare to choose and implement changes that we would like to make in our lives, let us not forget that we are still in the midst of celebrating the Word made flesh, Emmanuel. The change and possibility of a baby, born in a humble manger, is reflected in the beginning of a new year. Is our gaze still fixed on the babe in swaddling clothes?
What would 2018 bring if instead of resolving to gain control of our lives, we truly allowed the Messiah to be Emmanuel, God with us. Jesus is waiting for each and every one of us to echo the “yes” that was uttered by the Holy Family as they welcomed Him into their lives. What if instead of resolving to control everything, we resolved to say yes to that tiny baby born of a Virgin? During one of the Advent homilies at our parish, our pastor challenged us to think about times we have attempted to be the messiah of our own lives by trying to grasp or control various situations or circumstances. During this time of change and resolution, it can be tempting for us to forget that we are not the Messiah as we make plans and goals for the upcoming year.
As I reflect on this, I am reminded of the words of the hymn “These Alone Are Enough” by David Schutte, based on the Suscipe prayer of St. Ignatius of Loyola: “Take my heart oh Lord. Take my hopes and dreams. Take my mind with all its plans and schemes. Give me nothing more than your love and grace. These alone, oh God, are enough for me.” It is good and just to strive to improve our character and to foster good and healthy habits in our lives. However, instead of resolving to do it on our own, by the gift of that blessed Christmas morning, we have the choice to freely give all of these things over to the One who makes all things new. As you stand at the threshold of this New Year and envision your hopes and dreams for 2018, take a moment to reflect on what these possibilities could become if you allowed them to be infused by the abundant grace of God.
It is still the Christmas season. There is still time to approach the manger. Take the leap of faith. Instead of resolving to gain control, approach the manger and resolve to say YES and to be transformed! Resolve to offer the babe in swaddling clothes your mind, your heart, your body, and soul. As you boldly step out into 2018, my prayer for you echoes the words of Saint Paul,
“May the God of peace make you perfectly holy and may you entirely, spirit, soul, and body, be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will also accomplish it.”
Question for Reflection: What are some resolutions you can hand over to the Lord this New Year?
When my husband and I were preparing for marriage, we spent time in reflection and prayer carefully choosing our Mass readings. It was such an exciting decision to make, and we prayed that the readings would reflect and inspire us in our marriage and all whom we would witness to by our marriage. Some of these same readings will be read at Masses across the world on the upcoming feast of the Holy Family, serving as a reminder of how we can live as reflections of the Holy Family in our daily lives.
In the second reading, Paul tells the Colossians, “Put on, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience” (Col 3:12). Just like Mary, Joseph, and Jesus, we are God’s beloved, chosen and loved by God, and with that, we are called to live by these same virtues that Paul shares with the Colossians. The stories of Mary and Joseph consistently show us their lives of humility and gentleness. I think of Mary’s fiat (Luke 1:38), Joseph’s obedience to the angel of the Lord (Matthew 1:24), or how Mary and Joseph took Jesus to be presented in the temple in this weekend’s Gospel (Luke 2:22-40). Just like Mary and Joseph, we are called to serve and love God with faithfulness that is radical, but gentle and sweet.
What does this faithfulness look like? For the Holy Family, not only did it manifest in the stories we read about in Scripture, but also in the mundane moments of the every day. Mary nursed Jesus as an infant, Joseph taught him carpentry, and Jesus served his parents and brought them joy! Jesus carried this love in his ministry that nurtured all to whom he preached, and it continues to carry on in the legacy of the Church. These little acts of faithfulness yielded enormous fruits and carried the Holy Family through times of immense suffering.
As I feel overwhelmed with my day to day duties of family life as a wife and mother, or my job as a teacher, I find comfort in knowing that perhaps Mary and Joseph felt these demands, too. They were faithful to their vocations, to each other, and to the Lord. Life is a balancing act, but with “Christ dwell[ing] in you richly,” like the Holy Family, all can be done in love, “do[ing] everything in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Col 3:17).
You show faithfulness when you do the dishes, when you submit an assignment for work or school, when you make the bed. You show faithfulness when you play with your children, when you have coffee with a friend, when you stop and pray. You show faithfulness when you show up to Mass. Opportunities for faithfulness, humility, and gentleness are in the every day, both big and small.
Through these opportunities for faithfulness I have learned that God is never outdone in generosity. He wants to bless us and let us know His love, and He does this in the most profound way when we show Him our faithfulness and love, just as the Holy Family has modeled for us. As we continue to navigate the demands of our daily lives, let us cling to the intercession of the Holy Family, that we may be gentle and humble, showing radical faithfulness in all that we do.
Question for Reflection: What are some opportunities to show for faithfulness in your life?
For more resources on Marriage and Family, click here.
Alyce Shields is a teacher in Washington D.C.
When we think of this time of year, we may call to mind images of a family gathered around the hearth, presents under the tree, and perhaps a nativity set illustrating the upcoming celebration of the birth of Christ—one of the central events in salvation history. We are, however, not quite at Christmas; we are still in the final days of Advent—the holy four-week period of preparation and expectation. Around this time two thousand years ago, the Holy Family was facing the uncertainty of finding shelter before the imminent birth of Jesus Christ. They would not have been thinking of gifts or carols or greetings of the season; all that mattered was securing a safe place for Mary to deliver her child.
In his work, Life of Christ, the Venerable Servant of God Fulton J. Sheen observed, “When finally the scrolls of history are completed down to the last words in time, the saddest line of all will be, ‘There was no room in the inn.’” While the Roman census had decreased the amount of vacancies throughout Bethlehem, Sheen continued, there would always be accommodations for those who could pay a certain amount. The Holy Family carried with them not merely gold or silver, but the eternal King of Kings; however, all that was offered to them was a back-end stable. What king would ever be born of such humble origins? Jesus came into the world unknown to most scholars, rulers, and other great people, apart from the Magi. Yet His mission was infinitely greater than what the world expected.
In these final Advent days, I invite you to refresh the spiritual hospitality of your hearts. Our hearts are where our Lord comes to dwell in us. We hear the Word of God and see it in action every day, but if we are to build upon that in our lives, we must take steps to ready our hearts to welcome Christ. And since Jesus promised that He would “prepare a place for [us]” in His Father’s house, how faithfully should each of us take the steps to tend to the throne room of our hearts from which He shall reign over our lives?
“Prepare the way of the Lord,” the prophet Isaiah cries out. Spiritually preparing, refreshing, purifying, and maintaining our hearts is a process which endures throughout our entire life. It is a part of the universal call to holiness extended to each of us. Just as the Incarnation of God was first made known to the childlike and foreigners, so too are all people called to prepare their hearts as an inn to receive the Most High God Who humbled Himself and took on our human nature.
Jesus, the Son of the living God, earnestly and lovingly desires to dwell in our hearts. What an unfathomable honor and blessing this is! He will never force His way into our lives but patiently waits for us to invite Him into the place shaped by our faith, words, thoughts, and deeds. We must make room for Him in the inn of our heart. When Christ finally does come may we be vigilant and ready to welcome Him to dwell in our hearts and lives forever.
When was the last time you thought about St. Joseph? For many, he is a shadowy figure. And yet, he is recognized as the "protector" of the Church. His feast day is March 19th. However, we celebrate it this year on the 20th because the 19th lands on a Sunday.
What's your image of Joseph? Is he young or old? Is he alone or with someone? Is he working or sleeping? Is he rich or poor? Is he strong or weak? We invite you now to clear away all those images in order to see him for the first time. Let's meet Joseph anew, as he is presented to us in the Gospel of Matthew at the birth of Jesus.
Of course, the best thing to do is to pray with Matthew 1: 18-25. Here’s the cliff note version: Mary and Joseph are engaged. She is expecting. He intends to divorce her quietly but learns, in a dream, that she is carrying a son who will "save his people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21). Joseph is told to accept Mary as his wife and name the child Jesus.
In this passage, we see four qualities in Joseph - compassion, righteousness, fidelity, and decisiveness - that make him a saintly man and a role model for us today.
Imagine how Joseph felt about Mary's pregnancy. The marriage customs of his day were much different than ours. Were they "in love" or was the engagement arranged? Perhaps Joseph felt more hurt than angry; or disappointed given Mary's natural innocence. In any case, he responded with compassion; he did not want to see her hurt.
He did, however, want to do what is right. While he never says a word, Joseph's actions continually said "yes" to God's will. He takes Mary into his home as his wife. He honors Mary's special relationship with God by not having "relations with her until she bore a son" (Matthew 1:25). He claims Jesus as his son by naming him.
Joseph lived a quiet fidelity - expressed in action rather than words. A kind-hearted man, accepting the mystery of salvation entrusted to him as his God-given purpose, his vocation, Joseph adopts Jesus and raises him as his own. He protects him, teaches him, and loves him.
Joseph's love for Mary and Jesus sharpened his awareness of the forces around them. When Herod threatens the life of Jesus, Joseph leaps into action leaving that night for Egypt. When the threat is gone, he brings Jesus back to his people. When he realizes some threat remains, he settles in Nazareth thus fulfilling a prophecy. His decisive action was always for the good of Jesus and Mary.
As we get close to Joseph, we meet a kind-hearted man, walking humbly with his God, as he accepts, protects, and raises Jesus so he can "save his people from their sins." He plays a quiet, but essential, role in salvation history.
Perhaps we, too, have a quiet role to play in salvation history. Perhaps Jesus is relying on us just as he relied on Joseph. Compassion, righteousness, fidelity, and decisiveness can help us live out our role just as they served Joseph.
St. Joseph, pray for us.
“Blessed be St. Joseph, her most chaste spouse” — these words, taken from the Divine Praises of our Church (a prayer that is often used at the end of Eucharistic Adoration), remind us of the important role that St. Joseph plays as the patron of the Universal Church.
St. Joseph is the foster father of Jesus, “most chaste spouse” of Mary, but he is also our guide. There are exactly zero words of St. Joseph recorded in all of scripture, yet the role that he plays is not to be underestimated. He teaches us how to live in obedience, persevere in holiness and chastity, and love well.
The obedience that this holy patron showed to the will of God is nothing short of extraordinary. He did this first by accepting the message of the angel to take Mary as his wife, then by protecting his family as he fled with them to Egypt, but most importantly, in those quiet, unlogged hours at home with Mary and Jesus in Nazareth. Although his life did not unfold as he would have anticipated, his obedience and docility to God’s will allowed him to play a crucial role in the life of Christ and ultimately in the story of our salvation.
St. Joseph’s perseverance in holiness and chastity sets a very clear example before us. His life is a compelling reminder for us that to do the will of God, we need only be obedient to the present moment and faithful to the higher calling that is ours by nature of our baptism. In a world that sees chastity as outdated and nearly impossible, he reminds us that pursuing it is not only important for our own lives of virtue, but salvific for others.
St. Joseph also teaches us how to love well. The gentle striving of St. Joseph, both as he led Mary and Jesus, and now as he leads our Church, can be summed up by these words of St. Josemaria Escriva, “God always asks more: His ways are not the ways of men. St. Joseph, more than anyone else before or since, learned from Jesus to be alert to recognize God’s wonders, to have his mind and heart awake.”
Several years ago, a spiritual director suggested that I start to pray every day to St. Joseph for my future husband. With the following prayer, I beg his intercession to not only allow me to persevere in obedience and chastity, but also with the sure knowledge that he will protect my future husband and family.
Guardian of virgins and father, St. Joseph, to whose faithful custody Innocents itself, Christ Jesus, and Mary, Virgin of virgins was committed; I pray and beseech thee by each of these dear pledges, Jesus and Mary, that, being preserved from all uncleanness, I may with spotless mind, pure heart, and a chaste body, ever serve Jesus and Mary most chastely all the days of my life. Amen.
May the intercession of St. Joseph allow us to persevere in obedience, chastity, and love!
*Ite ad Joseph is Latin for “Go to Joseph” and admonishes us to turn to St. Joseph’s intercession and guidance.
Question for Reflection: Following the example of St. Joseph, how might you grow in your ability to be obedient to the present moment?
In Pope Francis’ recent exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, he concludes with a prayer to the Holy Family. The first part of the prayer reads, “Jesus, Mary and Joseph, in you we contemplate the splendor of true love; to you we turn with trust.” In just those few words, we are reminded of the importance of the Holy Family; they are the perfect reflection of true love. They exemplify to us what it means to love God and one another.
Of course, it might be wise to first ask ourselves, “What is true love?” The dictionary defines it as a “strong affection for another” (Merriam-Webster). The author Victor Hugo once equated love to joy when he said, “The greatest happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved” (Les Miserables). For our purposes, let us take the definition straight out of the Gospels, that “no one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:18). True love, then, is self-sacrificial. Having true love does not mean that we live to seek the best for ourselves. Rather, it means that we actively seek the best for others.
Using this understanding of true love, it becomes clearer how each member of the Holy Family exemplifies those qualities. St. Joseph is commonly known as the silent man of the Gospels in that he is never quoted. Yet, we see episodes that testify to his goodness. Matthew’s Gospel tells us that when Mary became pregnant, Joseph wanted to divorce her quietly to spare her from any shame. Nevertheless, he ended up taking Mary into his home at the urging of the angel (Matthew 1:18-24).
During this period of time, Mary as a pregnant and unwed mother was extremely scandalous. Joseph would have had every right to publicly humiliate her and cast her aside; in fact, accepting her in her state would have brought notoriety to himself. Yet, he took her into his home. He was willing to sacrifice his own reputation to show his devotion to Mary and to her son, an act of true love.
Mary, similarly, shows sacrificial love at the message of an angel. Luke’s Gospel tells us that the angel of the Lord appeared to her and announced that she would bear the “Son of the Most High” (Luke 1: 32). Mary was a teenager, just betrothed to Joseph. Before the arrival of the angel, she was assured a quiet life, a peaceful life. Accepting this message would change everything; Mary’s life ahead would be a vast unknown. Nevertheless, she simply replied, “I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1: 38). Mary showed true love by sacrificing herself in order for the Son of God to enter the world.
And, of course, it does not take much effort to think of a moment when Jesus displayed true love. In dying on the cross, he destroyed death itself; as the tomb was closed, he opened the gates of Heaven. His willful sacrifice is the ultimate example of “laying down one’s life.” Thus, each member of the Holy Family demonstrates to us, what it means to truly love. In Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict reminds us that “Love is the light – and in the end, the only light – that can always illuminate a world grown dim” (Deus Caritas Est, 39). As we move forward into the New Year, let us use the example of the Holy Family as our inspiration and bring a bit of light to our world. By being willing to sacrifice some of ourselves each day for the sake of others, we too can become models of true love.
Victor David is a collaborator with the Catholic Apostolate Center and a staff member at The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC.
The story of Christmas illustrates that there are no perfect families (or parishes) but we can hope to be a holy one. Part of becoming a holy family at Christmas means turning our attention to the spiritually lost among our family and friends. Here are a few things to keep in mind as we look to welcome disconnected Catholics to our churches and homes this season.
Make Room for the Lost and Lonely
For some people walking through the church doors, the Christmas season is a difficult and lonely time, a reminder of the families they don’t have. How do we show hospitality to those without a human family? If you are on a church staff or volunteer, slow down and consider the place you are making for those who feel lost and alone. You could, for example, make sure that the elderly and handicapped are able to find seating appropriate to their needs. Or, personally invite those who are alone to join in any parish fellowship that might be happening after Mass. Perhaps you could even invite a few of these people to bring up the gifts during Mass. A special role in the Mass during this important liturgical season can show those who feel unloved how honored we are to have them as members of our parish family. The goal is not to expose or make a scene around these types of parishioners, but to consider their needs and communicate that they are valued.
Make Occasional Visitors Feel Loved, Not Judged
For those coming to church at Christmas for the first time in a long time, many already carry a mild feeling of guilt that they don’t go to church regularly and expect to feel a little judged. Let us welcome these occasional visitors with open arms and encourage them to return by modeling the joy of the Lord through our actions. Joy is persuasive. If we let the love of Christ beam through us this Christmas season it might just be enough to help these occasional visitors desire more frequent encounters with our Lord in the Mass.
Give a Gift to the Poor
The Christmas gift-giving tradition began with St. Nicholas giving a gift to a poor family. While many church budgets are spread thin during this time of year, consider making room in your budget to help the church provide a gift to a local charity or foreign mission. Not only is this celebrating the authentic tradition of Christmas presents, it a sign of generosity that encourages church communities to remember their brothers and sisters whose basic material needs often go unmet. When we demonstrate charity as a parish family, we send a powerful message about what it means to come together on Sundays. Our faith is what is called a “corporate faith,” meaning, that we are all working toward salvation together. For those who have never been to Mass, or haven’t been in a long time, demonstrating parish-wide charity can show how much we as a community care about individual members of the body of Christ who are in need. For those who feel unwelcome or unworthy of joining the Church, communal Christian charity is a great way to demonstrate that we want them with us on Sundays and that we will work together to make sure their needs are provided for.
Evangelize Through Beauty
The Advent and Christmas seasons are rich with light and melody, in both a sacred and worldly sense. Advent is the liturgical season when we encounter beauty in the sparseness and fragility of the barren winter. The Christmas octave and season is full of color and sounds. Beauty has the effect of lessening our defenses and heightening our receptivity to the message of Jesus. What are the elements of beauty present in your church and home? How can you enhance them? Consider playing some soft sacred music in your home during the holidays or decorating your home with a nativity scene or poinsettia plant. It doesn’t take much, just something small to celebrate what a miraculous time Christmas is for all Christians.
Jesus was born in an “irregular” family situation - not a perfect family by worldly standards, but a holy family in God’s plan for the world. Would we Christians today recognize and welcome this same Jesus? He is among us. He is knocking at the doors of our hearts, homes, and churches in the form of family, friends, and strangers in need of peace and hope. Let us welcome Jesus in!
On Sunday, we celebrate fathers. When I was young, my three siblings and I would use this day to thank our dad by giving him a few things he loved. We would let him sleep-in, make a full breakfast (sometimes corn muffins with icing writing) with a new “#1 Dad” mug each year, give him the cards we had made, go to Church as a family, pray the Memorare prayer to St. Joseph, and then leave him to fall asleep watching the NASCAR race on the couch (and not even change the channel while he was sleeping). It was a great day to make my dad feel appreciated. Since I moved away from home, I still try to celebrate Father’s Day by sending a card or two, giving my dad a phone call, and keeping in touch. Most importantly, I have realized that my dad has taught me three important lessons about life: to always keep your head up, that family will always be there for you, and that a Catholic should live in service to the community and with faith in God. In thinking about my dad’s example, I can’t help but feel that his life also modeled that of St. Joseph, the foster father of Jesus.
I’m pretty optimistic, and I get it from my dad. He has a thing about quoting movies. Some of his favorite lines are Dory’s “Just keep swimming, Just keep swimming” from Finding Nemo and The Lion King’s “Hakuna Matata.” During challenging times in my family, silly reminders like these helped teach my siblings and me about perseverance and keeping a smile on our faces. Even now, I use these phrases as mottos and words to live by, and have been able to pass along a similar optimism to the students I teach and my own friends.
My dad also taught me about love and support with family. He was the one to encourage my siblings and me to be nice to each other, reminding us, “You’re going to want to keep in touch with each other, because one day you might actually be able to stand one another.” Turns out, he was right. Three of the four of us live in Washington, D.C. and appreciate each others’ company more than ever. St. Joseph also modeled a steadfast commitment to family, even in the midst of hardship. He remained loyal to Mary in their betrothal after finding out she was with child; he guided the expectant Mary into Bethlehem and took care of her despite not finding room at an inn; and Joseph led the Holy Family into Egypt for safety as a result of the persecution implemented by King Herod.
The final lesson to consider is my dad’s faith and devotion to the Gospel. When I was young, he would start the day by praying with the family through a passage in either the New Testament or the Psalms and say an “Our Father” together before leaving to teach for the day. My dad has always been big on service and helping others, too. He was the one to initiate the Kirby’s into parish hospitality and we began to run a monthly “coffee hour” where we would serve coffee and doughnuts to our fellow parishioners. Around this same time, he also became a city councilor to further help the community.
Through his faith and commitment to service, my dad reminds me of St. Joseph. My dad’s continued positivity, the prioritization of our family in his life, and his life of faith and service model the life of the foster father of Jesus. The Memorare of St Joseph was prayed on Father’s Day in my house growing up:
“Remember, O most pure spouse of the Virgin Mary, my beloved Patron, that never it has been heard that anyone invoked your patronage and sought our aid without being comforted. Inspired by this confidence I come to you and fervently commend myself to you. Despise not my petition, O dearest foster father of our redeemer, but accept it graciously. Amen.”
St. Joseph, patron of fathers and workers, was a humble man who said “yes” to God. After finding out that his betrothed was pregnant with God’s son, St. Joseph continued to protect and care for his family, knowing that there would be hardships and danger in the future. Although not much is written about St. Joseph besides what is in the Gospels, he is remembered for his commitment to Mary and Jesus and his simply-humble nature. As we celebrate Father’s Day this Sunday, we can remember St. Joseph in prayer and thank him for his respectful obedience in service to God’s plan in our lives though faith, service, and focus on the family.
At this point, we are almost a week into Lent. Many are still wondering, “What am I doing differently this year?” Have we given up chocolate again? Have we promised to be nicer to our brothers and sisters for the 3rd year in a row? Have we committed to give up cursing for all forty days? These are all good questions and ones that we should consider as we continue our Lenten journey. However, the real question is: “is what I am doing now preparing me for Christ?” For me, this is not an easy question to answer. In fact, every year I hate thinking about it. Why? Because it reminds me that I haven’t done enough. It reminds me that I do not have Christ at the center of my life.
It is no secret that we all struggle to keep Christ at the center of our lives, but Lent provides an opportunity to pull back the curtains, open the door anew to Christ, and walk with him. This sounds great, but many of us dread it. We dread committing too much to this Lenten journey, which is why we often turn to giving up candy or junk food instead of giving ourselves wholly and fully to Christ on the cross. Despite this dread, we have nothing to be afraid of. We have only to look at this past Sunday’s Gospel to see that we are not alone: “Jesus returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days, to be tempted by the devil” (Lk. 4:1-2). Personally, this reminder that Christ also went on a “Lenten journey” of his own helps me to commit more fully to my own journey. Jesus is willing to walk this path with us, so why not commit and walk with him?
As reassuring as this is, I still find the Lenten journey difficult. And it should be, for what will we really gain unless we have to work hard to be true followers of Christ? Journeys have their ups and downs, high days and low days, successes and defeats. Our Lenten journey is not any different. When the journey gets tough, we need look no further than the Holy Family for reassurance that we are on the right path. When we look at Joseph, we are reminded to be silent and to listen to God’s word, to find strength in work and family. When we look at Mary, we are reminded that despite the pain and suffering, she said “Yes” to God and gave everything to Him—all the way to the foot of the cross. Finally we look at Jesus and we are reminded of why we take up the cross.
In January, Pope Francis said “Let us not waste this season of Lent, so favourable a time for conversion! We ask this through the maternal intercession of the Virgin Mary, who, encountering the greatness of God’s mercy freely bestowed upon her, was the first to acknowledge her lowliness and to call herself the Lord’s humble servant.” During this season of Lent, let us embrace the journey, the good days and the low, because every day is a new opportunity on the path to Christ.
For more resources to guide you through Lent, click here.
Nicholas Shields is a young professional working in Washington, DC.
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.
What do you do when you are feeling sad, scared, or anxious? Where do you turn for a source of comfort?
The Blessed Mother knows all about sorrow. She is always ready to comfort any one of her children who come to her in prayer. But, have you ever thought about offering comfort to her?
The Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows is today, September 15, 2015. Perhaps you might be able to find a little bit of time to spend with her. Much less familiar than the Rosary is the Chaplet of the Seven Sorrows. The chaplet is made up of seven groups of seven beads. Each group is separated by a single bead. In praying the chaplet, you would meditate on each of the seven sorrows while reciting one Our Father and seven Hail Mary’s. If you would like to pray the chaplet, this webpage can be of help.
The Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary:
The Prophecy of Simeon
The Flight into Egypt
The Child Jesus Lost in the Temple
Mary Meets Jesus Carrying His Cross
Mary at the Foot of the Cross
Mary Receives the Body of Jesus
Mary Witnesses the Burial of Jesus
The seven sorrows span from the earliest days of Jesus’ life to His final hours. All of the Blessed Mother’s sorrows tie back to her Son. For a mother, very few things compare to watching the child she loves hurting. Although the Blessed Mother certainly put her entire trust in God, she still would have known terror when the Holy Family fled to Egypt to escape the threat of King Herod to save their precious newborn Son. Not only was the Holy Family far from home, but they had no idea when it might be safe to return to Nazareth. Any parent can tell you how scary it is when their child is lost. No words would be adequate to describe how scared Mary must have felt as she and Saint Joseph spent three full days searching for Jesus before finding Him teaching the elders in the temple.
The next time you ask the Blessed Mother for her intercession before God, remember that she understands sorrow and anxiety. During her own life, the Blessed Mother understood suffering; just like all of us today understand the experience of suffering in our own lives. She is always there, more than happy to pray for us. Perhaps you might return the favor, and find a bit of time to spend with her.
Our Lady of Sorrows, pray for us!
Jennifer Beckmann is an Administrative Secretary for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.