Advent is a wonderful time of year. It’s that special season when families huddle together around the TV (or alone, on their various devices) to watch hundreds of greed-inspiring ads and listen to Xmas carols with rewritten lyrics that sell lottery tickets, and cars, and smartphones.
That’s Option A. Option B is this: We can make Advent 2017 something much deeper and much better. We can live it as the season was meant to be lived.
C.S. Lewis, the great Christian scholar and storyteller of the last century, had a particular dislike for the yearly pagan blowout called “Xmas” (now “the holidays” – even Xmas was too religious for mass marketing purposes). Lewis wasn’t a Scrooge, and he certainly knew the beauty and joy of gift-giving rooted in love. But he always led his readers to remember what Advent and Christmas are actually about.
In his novel The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Lewis describes the fear and sadness of an imaginary world (Narnia) ruled by an evil witch; a world where it’s “always winter and never Christmas.” And in that world, when Father Christmas finally does arrive, he’s the sign of an even greater arrival: the coming of the lion Aslan, son of the Great King over the water, and Narnia’s savior and liberator. A more vivid Christian allegory is hard to imagine.
The joy in Christmas (“Christ-Mass”) has its source in the birth of Jesus Christ, redeemer of man. Advent, the start of the new Church year, is the preface or prequel to that world-changing event. It readies our hearts to receive the Child Jesus at Bethlehem, and also Jesus the Son of God and Lord of history at the end of time. It’s a season to reflect, repent, put aside our sins and failures, and begin again in hope as true disciples.
How do we do that? Christian life involves a balance of contemplation (prayer, worship, and the sacraments) and action (the practical works of discipleship that flow from our faith). Thus, there’s no such thing as authentically Christian action unmoored from a personal faith in, and relationship with, Jesus Christ.
This is why putting ourselves in God’s presence through daily prayer, frequent Mass and Confession, and regular reading of Scripture are so important: These things are life-giving waters in the desert of our daily challenges and distractions. Reading and praying over the first and second chapters of Luke’s Gospel each day during Advent are a great way to experience the richness of the season.
But the seed of faith is meant to grow into a life of apostleship. That means engaging the needs of others. Mary and Joseph were strangers to Bethlehem, travelers, poor, and without shelter the first Christmas. Recalling that is a good way to direct our thoughts away from ourselves to the hopes and worries of others this season. And plenty of people do need our help.
To take just one example: Despite the kindness of so many Philadelphians, and the great work of our Catholic Social Services and other organizations, our city ranks among the 10 most distressed large cities in the United States on issues like unemployment, median income, poverty, housing and education.
Hunger – astonishingly, for a nation as wealthy as the United States – is also a major problem. One in five Philadelphians can’t afford enough food, according to the group Hunger Free America. This makes the work of our archdiocesan Nutritional Development Services (NDS) – especially the NDS Child Nutrition Programs and NDS Community Food Program – doubly vital.
Meanwhile, our metro area is home to thousands of young adults living in limbo this Advent due to the shutdown of the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. These persons arrived as children with parents who illegally immigrated. They’ve grown up in the United States knowing no other nation or home.
To put it more bluntly, America is their home but they’re not citizens. And starting in March 2018, up to 1,400 DACA recipients a day of the 800,000 countrywide will become subject to deportation.
Both of our political parties, as well as the White House, sympathize with the plight of these young people. But the devil (or God) is in the details. Good intentions in Washington often founder on partisan bickering.
Among the greatest acts of kindness we can do this Christmas is to write our U.S. senators and congresspersons. We need to urge our federal representatives to pass the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act without delay. The DREAM Act is a good solution to this significant problem, and it has my strong support and the support of America’s bishops.
In the end, we’ll be judged by the depth of our faith and how it shaped our lives – or didn’t. It’s a simple truth, but a good one to keep in mind in the remaining days of Advent.
Editor’s note: Information about archdiocesan Nutritional Development Services can be found at NutritionalDevelopmentServices.org. Tax deductible gifts can be sent to: Nutritional Development Services, Archdiocese of Philadelphia, 222 North 17th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19103.
Information about the DREAM Act can be found here.
Contact information for U.S. senators and congresspersons can be found here.