Joy to the world, the Lord is come! Let earth receive her King! Merry Christmas! It is a wonderful time as we celebrate our Savior’s birth with friends and loved ones. It is also an appropriate time to focus on what is most important and reject the siren call of our culture.
I enjoyed this past Advent season, perhaps more than any other, as I prayed and focused intently on preparing my heart and mind for Christmas day. I don’t know about you, but I rarely get through the day without feeling beaten up a little by the demands and pervasive negative influence of the surrounding culture. It is difficult to find peace and block out the noise. I am challenged to avoid committing the same venial sins over and over each day. When I am weak and under the influence of the surrounding culture, I tend to rely on myself rather than the strength of Christ, my prayer life is dry, I am unfocused in Mass and I am not grateful for the blessings in my life. These are the times I feel the farthest away from Heaven. Does this ever happen to you?
In those quiet moments of self-reflection when nobody is around, I wonder if we acknowledge to ourselves (and God) our frequent tendency to blindly follow the false pleasures offered by the world instead of the path which leads to Heaven.
Just take a moment and consider how many times a day we are influenced to desire or buy something we don’t need because of an advertisement or commercial (the littered gift wrappings under the Christmas tree a few days ago might be an example). How often do we allow work and our pursuit of an illusory better life offered by modern culture divert us away from more meaningful time spent in prayer, investing in our families or serving our communities. Do we sometimes try to fill the emptiness we feel inside with alcohol, drugs, sex, shopping, gambling, pornography or a host of other sinful band-aids rather than seek the good and satisfying things Jesus has in store for us?
I am reminded again of the insidious siren call of our culture and how it is leading us away from the heavenly home God wishes for us. If we are honest, we will likely admit we allow this to happen through our pride, fear, ignorance and lukewarmness. How do we get back on the right track?
First, let’s have a reality check and be clear about the issues:
The world offers celebrities to idolize…the Church offers Saints to follow.
The world offers noise…the Church offers Peace.
The world offers false dreams…the Church offers the Truth.
The world offers and celebrates vice…the Church offers a life of Virtue.
The world offers earthly pleasures…the Church offers eternal Heaven
Second, we need to focus on taking clear and actionable steps to redirect our course. Here are five suggestions:
Practice Detachment. Let’s ask ourselves if we really need “it”, whatever “it” is. Let go of the material things that are in the way of our prayer lives, church attendance, charitable giving, volunteering and certainly our relationships with Christ.
Live a Sacramental Life. Specifically, let’s focus more time and attention on the Sacraments of the Eucharist and Reconciliation. Try to be mindful of the incredible blessing and miracle we are receiving through Christ’s Body and Blood in Mass and by praying before the Blessed Sacrament during Eucharistic Adoration. We should go more frequently to Reconciliation to confess our sins after a thorough examination of conscience and make a sincere commitment to not have the same sins to confess each time.
Be Courageous. Christians are meant to stand out, not blend in. Blending in speaks to conforming and making sacrifices so our faith becomes part of the mainstream…and we need to fight it! We live in difficult, trying times, but we have an opportunity to be beacons of light and good examples of Christ’s redeeming love. We will be judged one day on the fruits of our apostolate and hope to hear Jesus say the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
Recognize the need for Daily Surrender and Ongoing Conversion. I learned early on in my faith journey that my surrender to God’s will and subsequent conversion was not a one-time event. We must always put His will before our own and experience a “dying of self” in order for Christ to be in charge of our lives. I often find direction and inspiration in my favorite quote from St. Ignatius of Loyola: “Few souls understand what God would accomplish in them if they were to abandon themselves unreservedly to Him and if they were to allow His grace to mold them accordingly.”
Prayer is the key. If we are faithfully praying each day we are less likely to fall under the world’s spell. It’s not as difficult as we might think. Start the day with prayer. Before we check email or read the morning paper, offer the day and our burdens up to God, thank Him and ask for His forgiveness, help and blessing. Try praying the Rosary in the car on the way to work and seek the intercession of our Blessed Mother. Pray the Daily Examen throughout the day. Pray for the courage to resist the temptations and distractions the world offers us each day.
In today’s hectic world, we are almost always moving and going somewhere, but are we going in the right direction? We will encounter obstacles to living out our faith, but we must be strong and overcome these challenges. If we are following the five actions above, please also consider enlisting the help of trusted friends to hold us accountable and speak truth into our lives. Please remember our Enemy and the prince of this world is the Devil and he will stop at nothing to keep us from Christ and our heavenly home.
But, do not despair or worry as God is with us. Today is a day of hope, rejoicing and celebration. In the Gospel for Mass at midnight, we heard of the encounter of simple shepherds with an angel of God and the heavenly host, “The angel said to them,’ Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying: ‘Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:10-14).
In the days ahead as we celebrate the remaining days of Christmas and prepare for a new year, we may find this day fading in our memory as the siren call of the worldly culture again calls us down the wrong path. Please pray for the strength to resist that call and remember that God came into the world for us. Let us not forget the priceless gift of Himself that God gave to each of us on that first Christmas nearly 2,000 years ago. This is the entire reason we celebrate Christmas and we should carry this understanding in our hearts and minds throughout the year. I pray we will always remember.
We are made for Heaven and not this place. Let the powerful memory of this blessed day serve as a welcoming beacon of light to help us find the right path when we stray or get lost.
Merry Christmas to you and your families!
Editor’s Note: Would you like to learn more about “regular Catholic heroes” and the joyful witness they give for Christ and the Catholic faith? Randy Hain’s exciting sixth book, Joyful Witness: How to Be an Extraordinary Catholic (Servant Books) is now available through Amazon and all Catholic bookstores!