The best day of the year is behind us once more. December 25 has come and gone, the presents are all unwrapped, Christmas Mass is over, and soon the 12 Days of Christmas will be behind us too. As if that isn’t enough, Walmart and the gang are already moving on to Valentine’s Day.
BUT, no one is saying we have to ditch the Christmas Spirit.
In fact, it’s a pretty darn good idea to keep that spirit alive long after the tree is down and the lights are put away. Those Christmas songs talking about the baby Jesus and the newborn Savior of the world? They’re more than just sentimental tunes we turn on once a year. There’s power in those words, and there’s something greater–Someone greater–that we can attach ourselves to permanently, should we be up to the challenge.
Living out the Christmas spirit — literally the spirit of the Mass of Christ (from the Old English) — means simply to place Jesus at the center of our life, as St. John wrote in his First Letter, “to live just as [Christ] lived.” (1 Jn 2:6) It’s something we’re all called to do, but more importantly it’s something we’re all capable of doing.
St. Josemaria Escriva, in illustrating that saints are made, not born, wrote this:
Certainly our goal is both lofty and difficult to attain. But please do not forget that people are not born holy. Holiness is forged through a constant interplay of God’s grace and the correspondence of man. As one of the early Christian writers says, referring to union with God, “Everything that grows begins small. It is by constant and progressive feeding that it gradually grows big.” (Friends of God, 7)
Christmas, with the giving of gifts, the time spent with those closest to us or those most in need, is a time of growing in holiness, of growing closer to God, whether we see it or not.
To help keep the Christmas spirit alive in 2015, and to keep growing in personal holiness, here’s five ways to get started:
1. Come back to church this week.
And next week, and the week after that, and the week after that. This might already be the habit for many people, but there are also many whose last appearance at Mass was Easter, or even last Christmas!
Understandably, there are a lot of valid reasons why people have stopped going, but that’s no reason not to give it another shot. Believe me, I hear you if you can’t stand a poor preacher, bad music, an irreverent congregation, judgey stares from the pew across the aisle, or any other potential distractions or discouragements that keep you from coming back, and those difficulties are all too real.
However, Christ’s presence trumps all, and He desperately wants you back.
St. Thomas Aquinas once said, “The celebration of Holy Mass is as valuable as the death of Jesus on the cross.” This coming from a man who, after writing perhaps the greatest philosophical and theological works the world has ever known, had a vision of Christ and promptly declared all his earthly works as “straw” compared to the greatness and glory of God.
Come back to Mass, then make your time there a conversation between you and Christ alone, and your life will surely change.
2. Set aside 10 minutes of silence each day for prayer.
We live in trying times, these days. Sure, we live in the most medically-advanced and technologically-savvy society the world has ever known, but the temptation and availability that exists to constantly occupy ourselves with noise is spiritually killing us.
Pope Benedict XVI said this in a 2006 homily in Munich, Germany:
We are no longer able to hear God – there are too many different frequencies filling our ears. What is said about God strikes us as pre-scientific, no longer suited to our age. Along with this hardness of hearing or outright deafness where God is concerned, we naturally lose our ability to speak with him and to him. And so we end up losing a decisive capacity for perception. We risk losing our inner senses. This weakening of our capacity for perception drastically and dangerously curtails the range of our relationship with reality in general. The horizon of our life is disturbingly foreshortened. (3)
I’m among the guiltiest of parties. Let me tell you, the LAST thing I want to do is recharge my spiritual batteries in silence when I’d rather find something else to watch on Netflix. And yet, the thing that works the best is precisely that: silence and a conversation with the Creator.
Ten minutes is a good starting point, and it’s supremely doable for the most discouraged or disinterested of people. All it takes is getting up 10 minutes earlier in the morning, sitting in a quiet spot, and saying, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.”
3. Intentionally thank someone daily.
“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” -G.K. Chesterton, A Short History of England
The moment the wrapping paper is torn off on Christmas morning, and the euphoria of what’s inside the present passes, the next thing that usually comes out of our mouths is “Thank you!” to whoever graciously gave us the gift. Why not extend that process to the whole year?
Sure, we don’t open a physical present every day, but we don’t make it in this world by ourselves on any day, plain and simple. We get to where we are, from the smallest to the largest ways, through some assistance from another person, and giving an eye-to-eye “Thank You” to a person you might not otherwise think to thank can equal goodness for our souls.
Maybe it’s the barista at your favorite coffee shop who always has a smile on their face, the bag boy at the grocery store who brings your groceries, or the secretary at your office who works tirelessly without much recognition. Seeking out those opportunities each day, and doing it for that person, will keep you in the Christmas spirit, making your soul sing and bringing you that much closer to God each time.
4. Engage in your community.
Connection with something outside ourselves, particularly connection with fellow human beings, is something we cannot live without. Adam wasn’t complete when it was just he and the animals hanging out in the Garden of Eden–he needed Eve, an equal, a person, like himself, made in the image and likeness of God in order to find his full potential.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says this about man’s calling to be in community with others:
The human person needs to live in society. Society is not for him an extraneous addition but a requirement of his nature. Through the exchange with others, mutual service and dialogue with his brethren, man develops his potential … The human person needs life in society in order to develop in accordance with his nature. Certain societies, such as the family and the state, correspond more directly to the nature of man. (1879; 1891)
We’re called by God to be active people, called to pick the more difficult road of engaging with the people around us instead of the easy road of focusing on ourselves. This goes for the largest organizations we belong to–the nation we live in and the church we belong to–all the way down to the smallest ones–like the Catechism said, family counts as a community!
People are filled with treasure, and treasures are only found by those who are searching. Let God adorn your life with the ornaments of the people you’re surrounded by. Search faithfully for the treasures around you, and you’ll never be disappointed.
5. Keep reading (and sharing) stories.
We grow by learning, and, at least as far as God’s concerned, we never should stop growing. Constantly reading the stories and learning the truth about the things around us–traditions, rituals, saints, and what they mean for us–will help us to continually stay connected with the past and pass it on to the generations to come.
Reading the lives of the saints, in particular, can help us to keep our lives in proper perspective as well. Knowing that those the Church reveres as Her greatest examples of faith “have a past,” as Oscar Wilde once said, can help us to remember that we all “have a future” waiting for us in Heaven, should we choose to accept the challenge.
St. Augustine, for example, lived unmarried with a woman for 15 years and sought worldly fame, money, and honor, before his conversion at the age of 32. Finding himself supremely unhappy and unfulfilled while mired in the bondage of habitual sin, Augustine instead began to seek out ultimate happiness in Christ, and through a total surrender to the Father eventually became one of the greatest saints the Church has ever known.
A couple of great starting points for reading lives of the saints are the Laudate app and AmericanCatholic.org‘s Saint of the Day page, both of which provide a short recounting of a different saint’s life every day. In addition, the Catholic Encyclopedia at NewAdvent.org provides a much more in-depth look at the same content.
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