One of the most famous Christmas quotes of all time is this one from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens: “I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.” Reflecting on this quote has made me think about resolutions a little differently for 2016. I would like you to join me in a different kind of commitment for the New Year. With apologies to the late Mr. Dickens…“I will honor Christ in my heart and try to be authentically Catholic all the year.” This is the kind of commitment that will cost us something for sure, but the reward is great. In the coming year let’s make every effort to acknowledge Christ before others and defend (as well as follow!) in a loving way the teachings of His Church. Let us refuse to be silent and passive. The instinctive response to this challenge may be “it’s not that easy.” Actually, it is that easy if we choose to think and act differently and place His will before our own.
Somewhere along our faith journeys, we all may struggle to place Christ first in our lives. We allow fear, lukewarmness, greed, pride and a host of other negative influences to affect how we think and act regarding our Faith and our relationship with Jesus. The opinions of others often mean more to us than our relationship with Him. It is ironic that for the sake of political correctness and a desire to not offend anyone with overtly Christian acts or statements, we wind up offending our Lord! We have been given crystal clear direction from Jesus and also the consequences if we fail to follow His instructions. Read carefully the words of our Lord in the Gospel of Matthew, “Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father. But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father” (Matthew 10:32-3).
In America today, we are faced with a battle that doesn’t involve tanks or airplanes. It is more insidious and subtle. It involves the twisting of words and intended meaning coupled with hidden agendas from our political leaders. This battle is about political correctness, culture clashes and moral courage. Families are under attack, our children are at risk, the rights of the unborn are ignored and atheists are one of the fastest growing groups in our country and in much of the world. We are often so concerned about offending people with our Christian values that we sometimes lose sight of the need to stand up for what is right, share our Christ-inspired joy and run the necessary risk of being criticized if we take unpopular stands.
If you are one of those who always acknowledge Christ in public and defend the teachings of the Church, I salute you and sincerely thank you for your example. For the rest of us who might need to make significant, heart-felt changes immediately, I would like to share a simple test. Please reflect on your answers to these questions:
- Do I make the Sign of the Cross and say a blessing over all my meals, regardless of my companions?
- Over the last few weeks, did I wish people a Blessed Advent and Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays/Seasons Greetings?
- Can people clearly see Christ at work in me?
- Do I reflect my Christ-inspired joy to others?
- Am I willing to be unpopular for taking stands in defense of Christ’s teachings?
- Do I share the beauty and truth of my Catholic faith with others?
- Am I a good steward of my time, talent and treasure?
- Do I help the less fortunate with love and compassion?
- Do I set a good example for others in how I practice my Catholic faith?
- Do I truly place Christ first in all things or is He merely contending for a piece of my time each day?
I don’t know how you answered these questions, but it was convicting for me to go through this list and remind myself of where I fall short every day. The results of this test and the discernment that will inevitably follow are between you and Christ in prayer.
Resolution and Commitment for the New Year
Yes, people can change. With the guidance of the Holy Spirit, personal commitment and courage we can alter the course of our life journey and make a difference in our own lives and the lives of others. Here are the commitments I am focused on for the New Year (and beyond) and I would prayerfully ask you to consider making a list for yourselves:
1. Start with Me
I humbly suggest to you that the best way to acknowledge Christ is to start with our own soul’s conversion. We have to begin with our own surrender and faith journey before we can ever positively influence others. Too often, we speak and act from our heads and not our hearts (a daily struggle for me). Sincere and daily surrender to Christ’s will is a necessary first step for others to see Him in us. Consider the words of Blessed Paul VI’s 1971 Letter, Octogesima adveniens: “It is not enough to cite general principles, make resolutions, condemn grave injustices or make denunciations with a certain prophetic daring. None of this will carry any weight unless accompanied in each person by a more lively realization of his own responsibility and by effective action. It is too easy to make other people responsible for today’s injustices, if, at the same time, we don’t realize that we too are responsible and that a personal conversion is therefore the first necessity.”
2. Find My Voice
I can’t always let others carry on the good fight against the Culture of Death, same-sex marriage or helping the neglected/hungry/homeless in our community. I want to start right now with a few words about the pro-choice movement. I am for different choices like adoption, raising the child and remaining chaste before marriage. I am against a choice that has already led to the death of over 60 million innocent children since Roe v. Wade became legal. I must hand it to the masters of doublespeak in the pro-choice movement as they have completely diverted the debate away from murdering innocent children to “protecting a woman’s right to choose.” Choose in this case is a misleading word as the choice often being made here is the death of a child. Tell me, who is standing up for the unborn if not those of us who say that all life is sacred? Consider the three human beings involved who need support and love-the unborn child, the pregnant mother and the father. We have an obligation, not only to the defenseless unborn, but in showing compassion to the mother in helping her understand the various options other than abortion. The father must also understand the options and his responsibilities to the mother and child. Also, you can’t have it both ways and say you are pro-choice, but personally opposed to abortion. Let’s get off the fence and either defend the unborn or accept the moral consequences of defending the charade that is the pro-choice movement.
3. Act with More Love
My family, friends, colleagues and the needy of our community deserve and require all the selfless, charitable love I can offer. I like to think that I am always willing to help others, but I can do more. Per my earlier questions in the “test” above, I have to let people see Christ’s love at work in me and I must learn to always see Christ in them. Our Lord said in the Gospel of Luke, “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Luke 13:34-35). By the way, I must also be willing to act in a loving way towards those whose views I oppose. I must speak up, but in a respectful and compassionate way even if I am not being given the same courtesy.
4. Pray More/Listen More
I always know how much better I feel after I pray. Praying the Rosary, the Morning Offering, the Angelus, the Daily Examen, weekly Eucharistic Adoration and prayer time with my children are my current efforts, but they are not enough and I struggle to be consistent. I need to stop making prayer conform to my day and make my day conform to my prayer life. I want to listen in prayer more and not ramble on about what I need. I want to let Him speak to me and I need to be still and ready to listen. As I learned a few years ago, prayer is every time you turn your thoughts to God and away from yourself and often the best form of prayer is simply offering sincere gratitude to Him for the blessings in your life.
What I am advocating is not easy, but it is necessary. The Catholic Church is under attack and we need to fight back with a loving attitude and a clear voice. There will be challenging times ahead, but is it not worth it? At the end of our lives, don’t we want to hear our Lord say “well done, good and faithful servant?” Consider Christ’s words in the Gospel of Matthew: “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you (falsely) because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12).
I have shared and committed to these four important, life-altering commitments for the New Year. How about you? What will your list look like? As added encouragement, I recently read this relevant passage from In Conversation with God by Francis Fernandez, “The best way of promoting justice and peace in the world is the commitment to live like true children of God. If we Christians really decide to practice the demands of the Gospel in our personal lives, in our families, at work and in our social life, we will change society, making it more just and more human.”
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I would like to conclude with a passage St. Augustine wrote in his Commentaries on the Psalms, 39:1.
“In former times, Christians were incited to renounce Christ; now they are taught to deny Christ. Then they were forced, now they are taught; then violence was used, now it is deception; then one heard the shouts of the Enemy; now, when he prowls around, gentle and insinuating, it is difficult to recognize him. Everyone knows how he tried to force Christians to deny Christ: he tried to attract them to himself so that they would renounce him; but they confessed Christ and were crowned by him. Now they are taught to deny Christ by trickery, because he doesn’t want them to realize that he is drawing them away from Christ.”
St. Augustine’s words describe our times and yet he wrote this over 1600 years ago!
By the way, I just thought of a fifth commitment. I will work at checking all the boxes on that test someday.
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