Saturday, December 31, 2016

New Year's Resolutions and Confession

There are five steps to making a great Confession.

First, I must examine my conscience. I must compare my life to the life of Christ. In an examination of conscience, Christ must be the standard I compare myself to and not my fellow man. I must sit quietly and ask God to reveal to me the times when I have failed, the times when He had difficulty recognizing me as His son.

Second, I must have sorrow for those sins that have been revealed during the examination. I must be sorry for having offended God, my neighbor, and myself for in sinning I have damaged my relationships with all three. This sorrow may be perfect (sorrow for offending God and others) or imperfect (sorrow out of fear of punishment). God wants me to have perfect sorrow or contrition for my sins but in His mercy may lead me to that perfect sorrow by use of imperfect sorrow.

Third, I must confess my sins to a priest. It is not enough to merely recognize my sins and be sorry for them. I must also confess them to one whom God has chosen to represent Him. The priest, who in the confessional is to be understood as the agent of Christ, reconciles me to both God and others thus restoring the relationship broken by sin.

Fourth, I must have the intention to never commit those sins again - with God's grace. I must have a firm purpose of amending my life. I must seek to separate myself from that which separated me from God and my fellow man. I must adopt the motto of the saints, "death rather than sin."

Fifth, I must do penance for my sins. I must perform some act that shows God, but more importantly me, that I am sorry for my sins. Like the sacrifices of the Old Testament, those sacrifices were for the people and not for God. They were like penances to bring the people back to God for He has no need of sheep or bullocks. This penance helps me to break my addiction to sin. It helps me to take that false idol of sin and destroy it by making a sacrifice through penance.

So, why the five steps on New Year's Day? Well, in my mind, the whole idea of a New Year's Resolution is a sort of primordial desire of the human race to confess. The resolutions made on this day have all the makings of a good confession though they lack sacramental graces and this is why they fail. It is a day that echoes the words of St. Paul, "What I do, I do not understand. For I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate."(Rom. 7:15)

It is a day when many follow the five steps for making a good confession but fail because the intention is not aimed at holiness. There is an examination of life but the world is the standard and not Christ. There is sorrow but it is a sorrow based on vanity. It is based on how one sees oneself with the eyes of the world. There is confession but not to God nor His representative but to one another implicitly through the "resolution". There is an intention to change but this intention has grown like a weed in the rocky soil of a poor examination, a vanity based sorrow, and a shallow confession, and will therefore bear no fruit. There is a penance and it is self-imposed. This penance is often short-lived since it lacks the grace to sustain it for long.

Am I against New Year's resolutions? No, but I must remind myself that in the Church, our "new year" began over 4 weeks ago with the First Sunday of Advent. The Church, in Her wisdom, has given me this time to make true resolutions, to get my heart in order, to prepare the way of the Lord, and prepare for this Christmas Season. What has been my resolution for this year and for all the years to come till eternity? To be holy. How can I become holy? Through prayer and participation in the Sacraments as often as possible. In the Eucharist I am sustained in my resolution. In Reconciliation, I am dusted off and encouraged to continue in that one resolution - "get holy or die trying!" Mary, Mother of God, pray for us!

Friday, December 23, 2016

Thursday, December 22, 2016

A New Ark of the Covenant

Luke 1:46-56

The new ark, house of gold
with haste unto the hills
to kinswoman, barren, now with child
Holy Spirit filled.

Simple greeting brings the grace
A new David dances unconcerned
Elizabeth filled exclaims aloud
blessed be thy womb

How can this be
Why me this grace
the mother of my Lord
of such familiar face.

Too good to me
is the Lord above
the fulfillment of the promise
in one I dearly love.

Enmity, enmity
garden, serpent, Eve
the crushing of his head
does now begin with thee

Magnify the Lord
chosen handmaid, fair
His mercy now forever
is entrusted to thy care.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Please, Oh Mary, Say "YES"

I read this Saturday in the Office of Readings and it really stuck with me. Fr. Hahn also mentions it in his homily for the Fourth Sunday of Advent.

A sermon of St Bernard

You have heard, O Virgin, that you will conceive and bear a son; you have heard that it will not be by man but by the Holy Spirit. The angel awaits an answer; it is time for him to return to God who sent him. We too are waiting, O Lady, for your word of compassion; the sentence of condemnation weighs heavily upon us.

The price of our salvation is offered to you. We shall be set free at once if you consent. In the eternal Word of God we all came to be, and behold, we die. In your brief response we are to be remade in order to be recalled to life.

Tearful Adam with his sorrowing family begs this of you, O loving Virgin, in their exile from Paradise. Abraham begs it, David begs it. All the other holy patriarchs, your ancestors, ask it of you, as they dwell in the country of the shadow of death. This is what the whole earth waits for, prostrate at your feet. It is right in doing so, for on your word depends comfort for the wretched, ransom for the captive, freedom for the condemned, indeed, salvation for all the sons of Adam, the whole of your race.

Answer quickly, O Virgin. Reply in haste to the angel, or rather through the angel to the Lord. Answer with a word, receive the Word of God. Speak your own word, conceive the divine Word. Breathe a passing word, embrace the eternal Word.

Why do you delay, why are you afraid? Believe, give praise, and receive. Let humility be bold, let modesty be confident. This is no time for virginal simplicity to forget prudence. In this matter alone, O prudent Virgin, do not fear to be presumptuous. Though modest silence is pleasing, dutiful speech is now more necessary. Open your heart to faith, O blessed Virgin, your lips to praise, your womb to the Creator. See, the desired of all nations is at your door, knocking to enter. If he should pass by because of your delay, in sorrow you would begin to seek him afresh, the One whom your soul loves. Arise, hasten, open. Arise in faith, hasten in devotion, open in praise and thanksgiving. Behold the handmaid of the Lord, she says, be it done to me according to your word.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Can I get a Witness?

John 5:33-46

According to Mosaic Law, testimony could not be given by one witness alone - "one witness alone shall not take the stand against a man in regard to any crime or any offense of which he may be guilty; a judicial fact shall be established only on the testimony of two or three witnesses."(Deuteronomy 19:15)

In this chapter of John, Jesus is basically establishing His credentials. He is telling us who He is, where He comes from, Who sent Him, and from where He gets His authority. In today's passage He even brings things down to a very human level. He goes out of His way to present His witnesses, those who can testify on His behalf and prove who He is.

Jesus goes above what is require by law and presents four witnesses -

John the Baptist, His miracles, His Father, and the Scriptures for His defense. John cried out, "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world", "I am not fit to loosen the thong on His sandal", and "I must decrease so that He may increase." John testified that Jesus was the "One who was to come."

Jesus' miracles testify to His authority, "Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them."

The Father witnesses to Christ, "this is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased."

Finally, the Scriptures attest to the authority of Jesus from Genesis onward.

Today these four witnesses still cry out to us. They take up the words of John the Baptist, "Behold the Lamb of God." Today, instead of the testimony of John, our human witness is the Pope and the Bishops pointing to Christ. Miracles happen even up to this moment, real, physical and spiritual miracles. Today, we see and hear the voice of the Father in all of creation, in His generosity, in His patience, in His constant call to "Listen to Him." The Scriptures too lead us to the authority of Christ and to his loving, transforming, power. The four witnesses still testify to this very moment.

What then, we may ask, stops us from accepting the witness presented to us? Why do we often not accept this testimony? In reading this passage we may be tempted to think of Jesus on the witness stand and we the prosecutor but that would mean we are more like Pilate than Christ. Rather it is we who are on the stand and depending on where we are in Christ, the four witnesses may testify against us or in our defense! We would do well to listen to the witnesses and believe their testimony now.

Jesus lists three things that keep us from believing the witnesses. The first stumbling block is a lack of love for God and His goodness. If we do not seek to love God who loves us more than we can ever fathom, then we will not believe those other three witness who exist because of His love. The second stumbling block is a preoccupation with the opinions of man. If we live in the minds of others, worrying what they think of us and our lives, we have no room nor time to consider the opinion of God. When we are so focused on ourselves and what others think of us the witnesses fade into the shadows. How many more miracles could Our Lord work, if we weren't afraid to acknowledge Him in the presence of others? The final stumbling block is a closed heart in the presence of the Living Word of God. If we do not approach the Scriptures with an open, child-like heart, we will never be able to hear or see the four witnesses to the authority of Jesus. "Indeed the word of the Lord is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart." (Hebrews 4:12)

Let us strive to seek out and believe the witnesses and seek to avoid the stumbling blocks.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Snow at Night (Poem)

thick quiet, hush
white carpet, plush
flakes soft, crush
wind sweeps, brush

soft glow, snow
cold caress, blow
tongue melts, know
cheeks red, go

hand held, tight
stars fall, night
white rain, light
steps fall, fight

house door, nigh
warm mug, sigh
fire mantle, dry
watch snow, fly

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

When God Says, "NO"

On this day, 7 years ago, my wife and I loaded up my Chevy Malibu and headed East to CHOP, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia leaving 4 kids behind with my parents.  It was a snowy day much like it is today here in Columbus and a very dangerous trip with plenty of wrecks and jack-knifed tractor trailers along the way.

We traveled to CHOP for a 2nd opinion by a world-renown eye specialist after our daughter Catherine was diagnosed with retinoblastoma, cancer of the retina.  We prayed harder than ever before.  We begged the intercession of St. Lucy, on this her feast day, after all what better way to glorify God than to have a cancer healing on the Feast of the Patron Saint of eye troubles.

God said, "no", and this is my reflection from shortly after that time....

Have you ever prayed for something only to have God say, "no"? Have you ever offered sacrifices, begun prayer chains, prayed novenas to every known saint in Heaven for an intention only to have God say, "no"? I have and I am willing to bet that you have too.

Most recently I prayed, as did many of you, that my daughter Catherine would be healed of the cancer in her right eye and that it would not need to be removed. We prayed hard everyday. We offered to God sacrifices and some of them heroic. We prayed novena after novena to Lucy, Peregrine and others. In the end, God said, "no".

Before that many of you prayed with us when Catherine was in the womb. You prayed with us during her first, second, and third surgery. You prayed for her healing. You prayed while she spent the first four months of her life in the hospital. You prayed for miracles and God said, "no".

So, how do we respond when our loving God says, "no"? How do we respond when unbelievers say, "where is your God?" I believe that our response depends on our relationship with Him. Like any human relationship, if the love between persons is shallow or superficial, it doesn't take much for the relationship to be destroyed or at least severely injured.

For the first few months of Catherine's life I viewed God as a miracle dispensing machine. I thought that if I asked hard enough, said enough prayers, offered enough sacrifices...He'd cough up a good 'ol miracle. After all, I reasoned, with the state of faith today, couldn't He use the attention of a bona fide miracle to get more souls on His side? I argued, pleaded, threatened. In short, I threw a good, solid, spiritual temper tantrum. He said "no" and I ran off to my room and vowed to never talk to Him again.

I struggled with my faith after that. I struggled with who I was and who He was. Through it all, He was a patient, loving Father awaiting my return. When I realized that He was a loving Father, I also realized that I was behaving like a spoiled child and that our relationship was not one of love and trust.

In His goodness, He helped me realize this shortly before Catherine was diagnosed with retinoblastoma. My prayers this time were different. I prayed earnestly for a miracle but only if it was His will. I vowed to trust Him no matter the outcome.

In prayer one day, like a little child I asked Him, "why do you say "no" so often?" He had two answers - 1) You ask for snakes, 2) I say "yes" far more than I say "no". Snakes? The answer came to me in an instant. He was referring to the passage in Matthew when Jesus says, "...if he asks for a fish, will you give him a serpent?" God was giving me the opposite and true statement saying essentially, "you asked for a snake, I want to give you a fish."

I realized that God has other plans for me and for Catherine. A miracle cure of her eye was not part of that plan and that I need to trust that what he will do through her will be far greater. God only says "no" when we ask for snakes.

I thought long and hard about Him saying "yes" far more than He says "no" but just couldn't see it at the time but I accepted it. It wasn't until our family was returning from a long trip that I realized how often He does say "yes". As we pulled into the drive I was moved to give thanks for the safe trip we had and I asked everyone to say a prayer of thanksgiving with me. It was at that moment I heard Him whisper, "see, I said yes again." I thought of the prayers we had said 16 hours earlier asking for a safe passage and realized that yes indeed He does say "yes" far more than "no". The problem is that I am far less observant and thankful than I should be when He does say "yes".

As I write this I can think of hundreds of little prayers offered to God and the positive answers He gave. I am ashamed that I went on my merry way, like the other 9 lepers, not returning to thank Him each and every time. I pray for the grace to be more thankful. We all prayed for good results from Catherine's tests and that she wouldn't need Chemo, He said "yes".  In fact, the doctor called on Christmas Eve day to let us know that when she removed the eye, she had gotten all of the cancer and none had made it into her brain.  It was a big "yes".

God says "yes" far more often than He says "no" but I must retrain myself to see these little miracles and answers to prayer. He says "no" because He loves me and has a better plan for my life and the lives of those entrusted to me. God, give me the grace to be more thankful for both your "yes" and your "no".

Monday, December 12, 2016

A Mother Who Keeps Her Promises

Our Lady of Guadalupe
Luke 1:39-47

Over the past couple weeks I have witnessed the Rite of the Catechumenate at two different parishes. Those seeking admission to the Catechumenate are asked two primary questions. First, they are asked, "What do you ask of God's Church?" To which they reply, "faith." Second, they are asked, "What does faith offer you?" And they reply simply, "eternal life." Their responses are always firm and projected for all to hear. I admire their hunger and desire for faith and for eternal life.

Those of us who have been "in the Faith" for a while also know many of our responses by heart and often offer them from the heart. However, the question remains, do we believe what we profess? When we recite the Creed at Mass, do we believe what we profess? When the priest says to us, "The Body of Christ", do we respond with a resounding "Amen" thus confirming our belief?

I ponder these questions, these professions, these responses when I meditate on the words of St. Elizabeth to Mary, "Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled." God always, always, always, keeps his promises. We have to believe that. We have to trust that Our Heavenly Father will keep his promises to us. The Scriptures during this season are filled with promises from God. He promises Zachariah. He promises Mary. He promises Joseph. And all of these promises are actually fulfillments of previous promises (see Isaiah 7:14, 2 Samuel 7:12-16, etc). He truly is, as Scott Hahn would say, "A Father Who Keeps His Promises."

Advent is a time of "waiting in joyful hope" for the fulfillment of God's ultimate promise of redemption (see Genesis 3:15) and the final battle when the head of the serpent is crushed. We are reminded of this promise today on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe for the name Guadalupe actually means "one who crushes the serpent." We are also children of a Mother who keeps Her promises!

Blessed are you who believe that what is spoken to you by the Lord through the Church will be fulfilled! Come, Lord Jesus! Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us!

FROM THE SAINTS - “Hear me and understand well, my son the least, that nothing should frighten or grieve you. Let not your heart be disturbed. Do not fear that sickness, nor any other sickness or anguish. Am I not here, who is your Mother? Are you not under my protection? Am I not your health? Are you not happily within my fold? What else do you wish? Do not grieve nor be disturbed by anything. Do not be afflicted by the illness of your uncle, who will not die now of it. be assured that he is now cured.” - The Blessed Virgin Mary to Saint Juan Diego (and to us)

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Conceived without Fear

Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception

What do you think you would do if you were to come face to face with God this very instant? We all like to imagine what we would do, but if we were honest with ourselves we would admit that we would probably want to crawl under the closest rock. Even though we may have just come back from Confession and Mass, we would still know that we are not worthy to stand in the presence of God.

Throughout Scripture we are given examples of how people react to encounters with the living God and His messengers, the angels. In the first chapter of the book of Revelation John encounters Christ and says, "I fell down at his feet as though dead" (Rev 1:17). Later on in the same book John is speaking with an angel of God and here John says, "I fell at his feet to worship him" (Rev 19:9). Now, of course all of this is in a beatific vision so we could excuse John in this case for he is at this point out of place. He is allowed to catch a glimpse of the Heavenly Jerusalem and the experience surely overwhelmed him.

However, we see the same reaction from John, James, and Peter at the Transfiguration. Here Jesus is transfigured, His divinity shines through His humanity like a light through stained-glass. The disciples see this event and hear the very voice of God and "they fell on their faces, and were filled with awe." (Matt 17:6). Again, we could excuse this behavior because of the magnitude of the event.

Yet, again, we see others falling before God, trembling in fear throughout the sacred writings. When the angels appear to the shepherds announcing "good news of great joy" the shepherds are "filled with fear." When Gabriel appears to Zechariah he "was troubled...and fear fell upon him."

In today's first reading, Adam hides himself from God out of fear, "I heard you in the garden; but I was afraid, because I was naked, so I hid myself."  Eve too was naked and afraid, hiding herself from God, right there beside Adam.

But there is one person who experienced a revelation of God's power and love through the message of an angel who was not "filled with fear" and who did not "fall on her face." In today's Gospel, Mary receives her visitor with wonder but not fear.  For the one who is "full of grace" could not also be "filled with fear." She does not fall on her face for she has been chosen as the Queen of the Angels, The Great Mother of God, Mary Most Holy. When the angel says to Mary, "Do not be afraid", the angel is not trying to ease her fears of himself or the glory of God that surrounds him. Rather, he is comforting her and helping her to overcome the natural, holy, and humble fear or awe that would arise with the announcement of this, her vocation, to be the Mother of God.

You and I would most certainly follow the lead of the Saints like John, Peter, James, and Zechariah in falling on our faces before the living God and His messengers. We would do this because unlike Mary, we have sin and it's effects to deal with. But let us remember that the Woman, the Great Queen of Heaven and Earth, is also our mother (Rev 12:17). She is our mother and she will pick us up and bring us to her Son if we only learn to imitate her beautiful example. "Fiat!" - "Be it done unto me according to thy word!"

FROM THE SAINTS - THE LORD IS WITH THEE - "He is more with you [Mary] than he is with me; he is in your heart, he takes shape within you, he fills your soul, he is in your womb." - Saint Augustine

Learn more about Our Lady with this wonderful, easy to read book by Dr. Scott Hahn (no relation) - Hail Holy Queen: The Mother of God in the Word of God.

Monday, December 05, 2016

Bringing the Paralyzed to Jesus

Luke 5:17-26

Have you ever been paralyzed? This could be physical, emotional, or spiritual paralyzation. I think many of us have been paralyzed at some time or another. We know the agony that comes with desiring to do something but not being able to will ourselves to do it. So there we sit, stuck in a rut or flat on a mat, waiting for something or someone to heal us.

Do you know someone who is paralyzed right now? Again, this could be physical, emotional, or spiritual. Do you know someone who is depressed and cannot lift themselves out of the darkness? Do you know someone who is deep in debt and cannot find his or her way out? Do you know someone one who has left the Faith and now wonders if God even exists? Do you know someone who has just been through surgery or is going to go through surgery and is losing hope, is becoming paralyzed by the fear of what life will be like tomorrow? Do you know someone who is paralyzed?

In today's Gospel we are given specific instructions on what to do with our paralyzed friends, neighbors, family, and co-workers. We are to bring them to Jesus. This doesn't necessarily mean bringing them physically into the Church building or asking them to accept Christ into their heart as Lord and King. This means to bring them before the Divine Physician in prayer. Like the friends of the paralyzed man in the Gospel - "they sought to bring him in and lay him before Jesus." By interceding for those we love who are paralyzed we are placing them before Jesus.

However, we should also be prepared for obstacles in our intercessory prayer. The men in the Gospel faced what appeared to be an insurmountable obstacle, a crowd around Jesus. Yet, they found a way to "lift him up" even higher so that they might place him before the Lord.

As we draw closer to Christmas, let us seek those in our life who are paralyzed in some form and let us work to bring them before the Lord. Let us lift them up in prayer and let us pray that we may all hear the words of Christ, "Your sins are forgiven, rise, take up your mat and go home." And when we are healed or when our neighbor is healed let us also follow the example of the formerly paralyzed man and go "home, glorifying God!"

"A Christian fellowship lives and exists by the intercession of its members for one another, or it collapses. I can no longer condemn or hate a brother for whom I pray, no matter how much trouble he causes me. His face, that hitherto may have been strange and intolerable to me, is transformed in intercession into the countenance of a brother for whom Christ died, the face of a forgiven sinner.” 
― Dietrich BonhoefferLife Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community

Friday, December 02, 2016

Jesus' House of Healing

*The Advent Scripture Challenge is hosted by Real Life Rosary.  During this season of Advent we are using the book 4 Simple Steps to Better Meditations (FREE PDF DOWNLOAD) to dive deeper into reading the daily scriptures.  Please click any of links for more information.  Join our Facebook Group to stay up to date.  What follows are my thoughts and prayers from today's readings using the 4 Simple Steps Method and Worksheet.

Step #1 - Clear the Mind.

Today I am distracted by the things I need to get done around the house but don't have the time due to my current job situation.  A hoop house needs to be built.  My second job needs more attention.  Rosaries need to be made and sent out before Christmas.

Step #2 - Read the Scriptures

Today's readings can be found here.  While reading the readings this morning particular words seemed to permeate all of the readings and caught my attention - eyes, blind, healing, faith, light, and house.

Step #3 - Join the Story

As I watched the events of the Gospel unfold I was struck by something I'd not seen Jesus do before.  Many folks had approached Him before asking for healing.  They too approached Him boldly, in the open, though some had "stolen" a touch or sought Him under cover of darkness.  When they asked for healing for themselves or others, He had given it almost instantly.

However, today, He did something different.  These blind men cried out to Him and He continued on as though He didn't hear them until He entered the house.  Only then did He address them.  Why did He not turn to them while they were still out in the open?  Why did He not ask them His questions while they were still out in the sun and air?

Then I thought, how painful it is when I awake and the morning sun is streaming directly into my window.  Or, how long does it take my eyes to adjust to the full summer light when I emerge from my dark basement.

Was Jesus concerned about how their eyes would adjust to the "new" light they were about to receive?  Did He want to give them some sort of shelter that would allow their eyes time to learn to see again and not be instantly "blinded" by the intense rays of the sun (Son)?

Step #4 - Talk/Listen to God

Dear Lord, during this time of Advent, please reveal to me the areas of my life where I am blind.  Lead me to the house (real or spiritual) that I need to be in so that you may heal me.  Help me to overcome my fear of following you into that home and simply trust that you want to heal me.

Lord, you know that my ears need healing, that I have struggled with this for years.  I feel that you are leading me to a house of cleaner living (physical and spiritual).  Give me the
grace I need to follow you and please don't ask me to keep my healing quite.  I'm not sure I could manage that either ;-)

Step #5 - Bonus Step - Thanksgiving

Dear Lord, thank you for this time of prayer and meditation.  Thank you for another day to know you, to love you, and to serve you.  Thank you for all of the people joining us during this Advent season.  Help us all to grow in our love for you and one another!  Open our eyes and our ears!

Today is Friday, I would encourage you to pray the Sorrowful  Mysteries of the Rosary.  Here are the Sorrowful Mysteries of Advent & Christmas.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

How to not feel Upside Down this Christmas!

This is a post from my website that I wrote about 11 years ago. We still practice these things today. This year however, Sean, my brother-in-law helped us all draw names using Evite which made things much less complicated since we live all over the country - Ohio, Oregon, and Louisiana.  Read on...

I’m sure you’ve heard of the latest rage for this Christmas season. It’s the newest thing everyone is talking about and everyone must have. It is an upside-down Christmas tree. I’m not joking! Hammacher Schlemmer was selling these trees for almost $600 but now they are sold out. The ad states, “this unique 7' pre-lit fir is inverted to ensure a smaller footprint for less-spacious areas, and allowing more room for the accumulation of presents underneath.”  These trees are now available everywhere from Amazon to Walmart.

This is a very popular item and many people buy them either for the shock value or to display ornament collections and I see no “evil” connection or anti-Christmas message. Instead I see a perfect symbol of how the culture has turned Christmas upside-down.

Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth who is not only God’s only begotten Son but God Himself in the flesh. Giving gifts during this celebration of Christ’s birth is supposed to remind us of God’s generosity (see John 3:16) and encourage us to imitate our heavenly Father (see Matthew 5:48). During this season we often place a pine tree in our home and call it a Christmas tree. A Christmas tree is meant to remind us of Christ. It is a symbol of Christ. It is evergreen to remind us of God’s endless love and the gift of eternal life. Its shape points toward heaven, our true home. Since it is a symbol of Christ we place our gifts beneath the tree asking for Him to bless them and accept them because the gifts we give to others are the gifts we give to Him (see Matthew 25:40).

The culture, however, sees Christmas not as a time of giving gifts, in the name of Jesus Christ, to those we love and those in need but a time of getting. It is a time of material gluttony. It is a time to reinforce and perpetuate the “one with the most toys wins” mentality. Most retail stores make approximately 80% of their annual income during this season. This should tell us that without Christ they would be broke and we obviously don’t need all of the “must haves” the remainder of the year.

So, how do we truly practice what we preach and “keep Christ in Christmas”? Pope Benedict XVI recently suggested the simple practice of families placing a Nativity Scene in a prominent place in the home. I have three more suggestions to not only counteract this materialistic mentality but to also make Christ the focus of Christmas once more.

First, if you must buy gifts make sure they promote the faith. We almost always buy gifts for our godchildren and when we do, we make sure that they are faith oriented, learning oriented or both. We try to buy Catholic Christian gifts, books, games, and videos.

Second, make your own gifts. Everyone has some natural ability or talent that they can use to create a gift. It can be anything from a painting to a birdhouse or baked goods to quilts. Last year our family filled Christmas tins that we had collected over the years with homemade biscotti, bourbon balls, Kentucky colonels, candied nuts and chocolate covered pretzels and gave them to friends and family. This year we will fill collected glass peanut butter jars with different flavors of homemade hard candy and give those away along with a few bottles of my home-brewed wheat beer.

Third, give a gift that has eternal value. On Thanksgiving we always draw names on both sides of the family to choose who we will be giving our gifts to. From that day forward we begin gathering spiritual gifts for the person we have chosen. We say extra prayers like the rosary. We go to Eucharistic adoration and pray for their intentions. We offer to God special sacrifices like not drinking coffee for the entire Advent season or fasting one day a week for the other person. Throughout Advent we keep that special person close to our hearts in prayer and continually offer to God all our prayers, works, joys, sorrows, sufferings, and sacrifices for their intentions. During this time some of us keep a journal of our acts of love and on Christmas present the person we chose with a letter or card explaining how we continually brought them, their intentions and well-being before God.

This has practice has become everyone’s favorite gift every Christmas. We cannot help but recognize the power of intercessory prayers offered for us throughout Advent. It is a powerful, beautiful, gift that no material object could ever replace. Our cards and letters fit wonderfully beneath the tree but the gifts that those cards and letters symbolize couldn’t fit under any tree even if it were upside-down!

* Contains affiliate links.  No, that doesn't mean that the kids should leave the room.  Rather, it means that if you click on a link, and if you purchase something, I may get some financial remuneration for that click and buy.  All that means is that my kids will finally get to eat, just kidding but I may get something, just so you know...

Mother's Day Weekend.