Bishop’s December Reflection: Stop Blaming and Start Living for Christ

by Bishop Michael G. Duca

Before I was Bishop of Shreveport, I was Rector of a college seminary in Dallas. Every year I welcomed new seminarians who wanted to discern their vocation to the priesthood. The new seminarians were usually refreshingly idealistic and committed, but also brought some naïve ideas with them about seminary formation.  One idea was that seminary was such a holy place that simply because they were now seminarians and living in the seminary they would not have any more problems with the temptations that bothered them in their previous lives. It is true that seminary is a holy place, just like a church, because of the presence of Christ in the Eucharist in the tabernacle, but their understanding of a holy place was different and bordered on magic. I often needed to teach them that the seminary became a truly holy place when we, the seminarians and faculty, were holy in the way we lived our lives. When we strived each day to take on the mind of Christ and lived the love of Christ in our seminary community, then the seminary became a truly holy place.

We have entered the Christian season of Advent and are waiting with hopeful expectations for the celebration of Christmas, the Nativity of the Lord. This time of year is unique because our religious observance of the seasons of Advent and Christmas correspond with a secular observance of the Christmas holiday season.

As we face the tensions between the secular and religious I know we all try to stay spiritually focused. But as much as we want to keep Jesus as the “reason for the season,” we are continually pulled into more mundane and secular activities. We blame so many things for this tension. We say we are trying to live up to the demands of our individual “ideal” of what Christmas should be shaped by our history, ethnicity, our childhood experiences, our hang ups, our traditions, our children’s pleas, our worries about getting the right gift…and on and on.  We blame our consumer society that tells us we need to spend more.  We lament that our children are too materialistic. We might even blame President Obama. Enough. Enough.  We will not find the answer to our existential stress in blaming anyone or thing.  The answer to our search to rediscover the joy and hope of Advent and Christmas season is the same as it has always been: Jesus, the light of the World.

Every one of these things is real for us, except maybe for blaming President Obama, but they do not cause our stress.  What causes our stress is that we have failed to put Christ at the center of our Advent and Christmas seasons. Not everything about our “Christmas ideal” is bad.
In fact all those quirky aspects of our “ideal” Christmas contain wonderful family traditions, fun inside jokes and comforting familiarity in a world where so much is always changing. In our prayer we should see that all the effort in creating these familial traditions are an act of love and reflect the love of Christ to our family.

When we are frustrated with the way the marketplace seems not to respect the real meaning of Christmas, we should take a prayerful breath and remember that the stores would not open on Thanksgiving Day if we did not shop.  The stores and malls create the schedule that we want and if we want to change the way our secular society treats Christmas, then we need to live as believers in Jesus who was born on Christmas morn.

Christ changed the world by living and teaching His Good News of the love of God. He directed us to love one another as he has first loved us. Jesus witnessed that the love he preached was a love that cares for the hungry, the lonely, the prisoner, the immigrant, the marginalized and always seeks to serve and not be served.  He handed on this wondrous revelation by proposing not imposing. In fact the way the Word of God entered the world was not in a display of power meant to overcome, but as a baby, powerless, inviting all to come and see. The way we as believers find our way in this confused world is to invite the Light of the World, the Child of Mary, into our hearts and recommit ourselves to being His disciples of love. It is not the secular world’s responsibility to bring the true Christmas spirit into the world; it is our responsibility to bear witness to Christ, the Light of the World.  It is like I told my seminarians, the Church, our parish, our world will be truly holy, when we, the disciples of Jesus, are living holy committed lives taking on the mind and heart of Jesus.

May the peace of Christ reign in your hearts this Christmas and bring with it a renewed joy and hope in your lives.  Merry Christmas!

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