Christ the Child, the Teacher

In his apostolic exhortation Catechesi Tradendae, Pope St. John Paul II reminds us that

“in catechesis it is Christ, the Incarnate Word and Son of God, who is taught – everything else is taught with reference to Him – and it is Christ alone who teaches – anyone else teaches to the extent that he is Christ’s spokesman, enabling Christ to teach with his lips.” (no. 6)

As we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus on December 25, this quote may prompt us to consider what lessons the Christ child teaches us.

That God condescended to become man — indeed, a child — demonstrates that he desires a relationship of affection and love with us. The Second Person of the Trinity cleaves to humanity in the closest way possible by taking on our flesh and blood. He is “God with us” and continues to reach out to each one of us by extending the love and mercy of the Father.

Jesus also came in poverty, foreshadowing his deep concern for the poor and marginalized. St. John Chrysostom says “His desire was not to destroy, but to save; and to trample upon human pride from its very birth, therefore He is not only man, but a poor man.” Today it is in the face of the poor and downtrodden that we see the face of Christ himself, and by serving them we truly serve Christ. (cf. Matthew 25:31-46)

Finally, in the infant Jesus we see the innocent victim who will one day be led to sacrifice at Calvary. Born in Bethlehem, the “House of Bread,” his sacrifice continues to refresh our body and soul whenever we receive the bread of life in the Eucharist, for he offers to us his very body and blood, soul and divinity which hung on the Cross for our salvation.

As we await the coming of the Christ child at Christmas, let us continue to reflect on the great gift of the Incarnation and the lessons taught by a little child.

Images for the “O Antiphons”

Tomorrow begins the great “O Antiphons” during Vespers (Evening Prayer) as the Church prepares to celebrate the Nativity our Lord.

To help mark this final preparation I have created some images for each of the O Antiphons; feel free to download them and post them to your personal or parish social media accounts. (They are formatted for Instagram, but can be used anywhere.) There is no need to attribute them to me; I release them to the public domain.

December 17:

December 18:

December 19:

December 20:

December 21:
12-21John 12-46

December 22:

December 23:
12-23Isaiah 7-14

Christ, the Eschaton, and Watchful Anticipation

Last Thursday our curial offices had our annual Advent day of prayer and reflection. This year our day was facilitated by our diocesan director for marriage and family life, Deacon Patrick O’Toole.

As one would expect, Deacon O’Toole talked about anticipating both the celebration of Christ’s nativity as well as his Second Coming. He challenged us to be prepared at all times — to live our lives with a sense of watchful anticipation, for “of that day and hour no one knoweth, not the angels of heaven, but the Father alone.” (Matthew 24:36) When Christ returns we must be prepared and not be too focused on our own designs, or else we may be passed by.

This is good advice — not just in preparation for the eschaton, but for life in general! The deacon’s admonition got me wondering how many opportunities I’ve missed because I was too intent on my own schemes — how many  opportunities  to evangelize or help someone in need  escaped  my notice because I couldn’t be bothered to put aside my own ideas and ambitions? If I can’t be prepared for these intrusions, how will I be prepared for Christ’s triumphant return?

As we approach the new year I am going to recommit myself to “watchful anticipation” and awareness that opportunities are always right around the corner. Hopefully, by practicing this in everyday life, I’ll be ready to give an accounting when Christ returns and asks me how I’ve been spending my time!

Keeping Advent

Every year it seems that the cultural observance of Christmas starts a little bit earlier. Stores are constantly seeking to lengthen the time they have to sell holiday items; this year I even saw some stores with Christmas decorations in stock before Halloween!

While this is understandable from a commercial point of view, it clashes with the Church’s observance and understanding of Advent — that time of both preparation for Christmas and anticipation for the Second Coming of Christ.

How can we keep Advent in a culture that has forgotten this important liturgical season?

  • Put up an Advent wreath in your home. Light it during meal time with your family.
  • Start each day in prayer and reflection. Many parishes provide a booklet of reflections for use during Advent; you can also purchase such booklets from a local Catholic bookstore or online Catholic supply store.
  • Utilize a site such as the University of Creighton’s “Praying Advent” page for daily prayers and audio reflections.
  • Don’t decorate your house or trim your tree until the week before Christmas and leave the decorations up throughout Christmas Time.
  • Attend the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation, either at a parish reconciliation service or at your parish’s normal time.
  • Find or download an album of Advent music (yes, they do exist!) to play during the season.

For the record: This year Advent begins on November 27. The Octave of the Nativity of the Lord begins on December 25 and ends on January 1 (the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God). Christmas Time begins the evening of December 25  24 and runs until January 8 (the Epiphany of the Lord) 9 (the Baptism of the Lord).

Have a very blessed Advent season. Come, Lord Jesus!

Your Advent Homework

There are many ways in which the Church is out of step with our secular culture, but I think in no way more obvious than at this time of year. While the wider culture seeks to rush us towards Christmas (carols on the radio before Halloween? Really?!), the Church asks us to slow down and wait. While lights are strung and increasingly outrageous decorations are mounted on the front lawn, we light candles on the Advent wreath. While television commercials entice us to buy more and bigger, the Church points to a child born in poverty in a manager.

This is a great time of year to remind ourselves — and the families in our Catholic schools and parish catechetical programs — about what is really important.

If I could make a small request, I would ask every catechist and catechetical leader to invite your families to Christmas Mass. Not with a note or Sunday announcement, but a face-to-face invitation. I know not every Catholic family is in the habit of attending Mass every Sunday. But if we could encourage them to start out the Christmas season on the right foot — not by tearing open wrapping paper, but by giving thanks to the God that has blessed them — we just might start a few more on that path. And what a glorious gift that would be.

Mary, Humility and the Incarnation

Yesterday I had the opportunity to participate in a day of reflection with other employees of my diocese. The day was led by Sr. Renita Brummer, OSF, from the Chiara Center here in Springfield.

The theme of Sr. Renita’s reflections was “pregnancy” and its relationship to the mystery of the Incarnation. Mary, in becoming the mother of the savior, bore him in the womb and gave birth to the physical form of God on earth (which is why she is honored with the title Theotokos, or “God-bearer”). In doing so, “God became Man,” lived on Earth, suffered, died and was buried. After three days he rose and his earthly body was taken into heaven.

But we would be mistaken if we assumed that this great mystery was confined to the 33 years of Jesus’ life on Earth, ending with the Ascension. The Incarnation is an ongoing mystery, one we encounter in the Eucharist, the Church (which is, after all, the Body of Christ) and in our own lives. Sr. Renita’s question to us was simple: how are we being called to make Christ incarnate in the world today, in our lives?

You would think that, for someone working for the Church, this wouldn’t be such a hard assignment. But the truth is that I felt uneasy about any answers that came to my head. I decided that I needed to step back and ask a more basic question: what do I need to do to prepare myself for the task at hand? This brought me to Mary’s example; the brunt of my reflection for the day centered on Mary’s answer to the angel Gabriel: “May it be done to me according to your word.” (Lk 1:38)

To receive the Savior, Mary prepared herself through humility and submission to the will of God. In giving her scent she made herself smaller so that Jesus could entered into her (both physically and spiritually); that is, she made room for the Christ in her life by seeking nothing but to do the will of the Father. Through her humility she was made worthy to receive the greatest of blessings.

My goal for the rest of Advent (and beyond) is to seek humility through prayer — to ask God to renew my heart and bring it more into conformity with his will. Today, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, seems an especially poignant time to ask for humility through the intercession of the Mother of God and for the blessings of the Incarnation to be made more present in our lives.

Virgin of Guadalupe, pray for us!