A Christmas nudge

nchtduCMy former pastor sent us a Christmas card last year. Inside he wrote, “May Christmas be more than a  pious memory.”

Not your typical Christmas greeting. But thank goodness that someone will issue us that challenge lest, like Will Ferrell’s Ricky Bobby of Talladega Nights, we get overly fixated on baby Jesus to comic effect.

So what did our friend mean about the pious memory? Jesus Christ is not a dead person whose birthday we happen to be celebrating (like how we in Chicago, with its huge Polish population, celebrate with a city holiday on March 6 for the birthday of Casimir Pulaski, Polish hero of the Revolutionary War). Jesus Christ is alive—in fact, alive more powerfully now than when he walked the hills of Galilee. That’s what our faith tells us.

We even call Christ “the King”—meaning he’s the king of Paris and Buenos Aires and Miami Beach. That’s plenty to ponder as Christmas approaches. If we took to heart that Christ is actually king of our town, what might we do differently?

If Pope Francis could chip in some advice, I bet he would suggest we start with the poor, about whom he has been talking nonstop.

“In a world where there is so much wealth, so many resources to feed everyone, it is unfathomable that there are so many hungry children,” he said, “that there are so many children without an education, so many poor persons. Poverty today is a cry. We all have to think if we can become a little poorer, all of us have to do this. How can I become a little poorer in order to be more like Jesus, who was the poor Teacher?”

Perhaps we’re fortunate enough to be able to afford to buy all the Christmas gifts for a poor family this year—the local Catholic Charities organization would be happy to let us step in. Or if not, we could contribute an armful of toys and books to a charity collecting gifts for kids whose families have fallen on hard times.

For our New Year’s resolution maybe we could plunk down the price of 10 Starbucks lattes a month to sponsor a child. My daughter bugged us about this for years, I’m ashamed to say, until we finally got our act together and contacted the Christian Foundation for Children and the Aging. Our sponsored child in the Philippines sends us letters occasionally. Thankfully so far she has had the graciousness not to ask us, “What took you so long?”

We could set aside a certain percentage of our take-home pay every month for those in need, and let our children help us decide how to give it away. That would show our kids that poor people are not an afterthought who occasionally get our leftover stuff or excess cash (as if we had any) but people who, as Jesus tells us, have a true claim on us.

The Advent readings certainly do not point us to a pious memory but to something momentous coming right now: “Stay awake!” says Jesus. “For you do not know on which day your Lord will come” (Matt. 24:42). Paul echoes him: “It is the hour now for you to awake from sleep . . . . Let us then throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light” (Rom. 13:11-12).

Sounds like we better get a move on. Come, Lord Jesus.

By Catherine O’Connell-Cahill, from the pages of At Home with Our Faith, Claretian Publications’ print newsletter for parents on nurturing spirituality in the home. Winner of the Best in Class award in 2014 from the Associated Church Press, as well as a First Place General Excellence award from the Catholic Press Association for  four years running. Here’s a sample issue.

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