Sunday, December 27, 2009

Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph

Holy Family
C cycle

Reading 1. Sirach 3: 2-6, 12-14
Reading II. Colossians 3: 12-21
Gospel. Luke 2: 41-52 (in my Father’s House).

It is appropriate that we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family right after Christmas. Not only do we continue the narrative of the infancy of Christ but also at no time do families come closer together than at Christmas. However, there is a dark side. We all know that the Christmas season can strain and test family relationships.

Today's first reading from the Book of Sirach can be summed up in the great commandment to "honor thy father and mother." It would do us well to pay close attention to Sirach's words. He tells us that the authority of a father and mother come from God, and that it is ingrained in all of us. We would call it today a part of our genetic makeup. To depart from this practice violates our very nature and will only result in bitterness and unhappiness.

In our time when so many of our parents can no longer take care of themselves, the words of Sirach are more important than ever.

My son, take care of your father when he is old;
grieve him not as long as he lives.
Even if his mind fail, be considerate of him;
revile him not all the days of his life.

In our culture the roles of father and mother have come increasingly under attack. Television and movies usually portray fathers as ignorant simpletons or as brutal abusers. This only reflects a culture where men casually urge their girl friends or wives to abort their own children. That men should act as guardians and protectors of their wives and children is now regarded as old fashioned and laughable.

In today’s gospel St. Luke tells the poignant and significant story of the Finding of the child Jesus in the temple in Jerusalem. This familiar story reminds us of the Bar Mitzvah ritual that every Jewish boy must go through as he enters manhood. In preparation for the great event the young man must master a passage in Scripture, and after much study read and expound it in front of the congregation. His dedication to the Law or Teaching means that he has become a member of the community, Nevertheless, St. Luke tells us that Jesus still remained obedient to Joseph and Mary.

The role of father and mother is also the central theme of our passage today from St. Paul's letter to the Colossians. How are we to understand this reading especially that controversial passage where St. Paul says, "Wives, be subordinate to your husbands, as is proper in the Lord."

We could say that Paul, like so many of his contemporaries, was a "sexist" who thought that women were second-class citizens. We could also say that since Paul never married, he knew nothing about the actual relationship of a man and a woman in marriage or the way they would arrange responsibility in a household even then.

However, we could also say that Paul was dealing in this passage with a very practical problem that had arisen in the early Christian churches, especially among the Gentiles. It would appear that the new faith was especially attractive to women. Scholars tell us that in pagan families it was often the woman who first converted to Christianity, and then subsequently brought their husbands and families into the fold. This is not unusual even in our time.

However, there were cases where the husband would not convert, and women in this situation wondered what to do. Should they stay with their pagan husbands or should they leave? Paul always urges them to remain faithful to their marriage vows. He knew that there was no social safety net for these women outside of marriage but he also argued that they would be better able to bring their husbands and families to believe by remaining married.

Finally, I think we could say that St. Paul is preaching a revolutionary new doctrine here. For a minute, let's concentrate on his advice to the men. "Husbands, love your wives." It is hard for us to realize that in the ancient world, love of a husband for his wife was not the ideal. Our idea of a young couple falling in love and dedicating their whole lives to one another was an alien idea in the ancient world. At that time and for centuries after marriages were arranged between families. A young woman or girl might only meet her future husband, often an older man, for the first time at their engagement. A woman was little more than a child-bearing machine. If she could not bear children, her husband was obligated to divorce her. As far as romantic feeling or sexual pleasure was concerned, a man usually found that outside of the bonds of matrimony.

Despite today's popular opinion, Christianity elevated the role of women not only in society but also in the eyes of her husband. St. Paul understands the teaching of Christ to mean that Christian men must give up their whole lives for their wives and families, a rare thing in any time. Look at the first part of today's reading. St. Paul is telling the Colossians and us to put on virtue in the same way we would put on a suit of clothes. The relationship in a family should consist of "heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience." A family built on these virtues won't have to worry about who's the boss.

Today's feast is not just about "The Holy Family" but it’s about making our families holy.

And over all these put on love,
that is, the bond of perfection.
And let the peace of Christ control your hearts,...

Friday, December 25, 2009


C cycle

Christmas Vigil
Reading 1. Isaiah 62: 1-5
Reading II. Acts 13: 16-17, 22-25
Gospel. Matthew 1:1-25 (Genealogy of Jesus Christ).

Christmas Midnight
Reading 1. Isaiah 9: 1-6
Reading II. Titus 2: 11-14
Gospel. Luke 2: 1-14 (she gave birth).

Christmas Dawn
Reading 1. Isaiah 62: 11-12
Reading II. Titus 3: 4-7
Gospel. Luke 2: 15-20 (the shepherds).

Christmas Day
Reading 1. Isaiah 52: 7-10
Reading II. Hebrews 1: 1-6
Gospel. John 1: 1-18 (the Word was with God).

There are four Masses that we could attend on Christmas. There is the Vigil Mass celebrated in the afternoon on Christmas Eve. Then there is the Midnight Mass. There is a Mass celebrated at dawn. Finally, there is the Mass for Christmas day. Each Mass has a different set of readings and so unless we get to church real early and read them all in the missalette, we will never hear the whole story.

All of the Masses begin with a joyful, exuberant reading from the prophet Isaiah. The reading from the Midnight Mass is typical:

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom
a light has shone.

In the gospels we hear the story of the birth of Christ as told by St. Matthew and St. Luke. Little by little the characters in the Nativity scene are introduced. In the vigil Mass on Christmas eve, Matthew presents us with Mary and Joseph and tells us of Joseph's decision to take Mary into his house after finding her pregnant. In the Midnight Mass we find the stable and the manger, and the angels appear to the shepherds. At dawn, the shepherds go down to Bethlehem to find the child "lying in the manger." Finally, the gospel on Christmas Day is the famous beginning of the gospel of John, where John tries to explain the significance of the great event.

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.

No matter what Mass we attend all the readings testify that something unique and earth shattering occurred 2000 years ago. From Isaiah to John we hear that at that moment the darkness was pierced by a shaft of light and that because this tiny shaft of light entered the world, the world would never be the same.

Years ago I remember reading a novel by a little known Russian author about a day in the life of a prisoner in a Soviet concentration or prison camp. The book was written by a man who had himself spent 20 years in camps such as the one he described. He wrote the book secretly while in prison on little scraps of paper which had to be carefully hidden from the watchful eyes of the prison guards. The book was called "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch" and its author was Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who would go on to become one of the greatest authors of the 20th century.

When Solzhenitsyn's book first appeared, it was like a shaft of light cutting through the darkness of the vast Soviet empire. Until that time there were still those who defended that empire as a noble undertaking, or as the dawn of a new era in human history. Once the light appeared it exposed the rottenness, corruption, and brutality of that regime. The world would never be the same. Twenty years later the whole edifice came crumbling down.

Whatever Mass we attend today the readings all say the same--the light has come into the world and the world will never be the same. For each of us this Christmas it can be the same. A light can come into our hearts and we might never be the same. In the Vigil Mass we heard how Joseph after his dream, "did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home." For each of us who will take Mary and her child into their house this Christmas there is the possibility that our world will never be the same.

In today's Masses the story begins. We'll hear the rest of the story in the weeks and months to come.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

4th Sunday of Advent

4th Sunday of Advent
C cycle

Reading 1. Micah 5: 1-4a
Reading II. Hebrews 10: 5-10
Gospel. Luke 1: 39-45 (Mary set out…).

Today is the last Sunday in Advent. Christmas is just around the corner. We can sense it in today’s first reading from the prophet Micah that sets the stage, so to speak, for the drama or play to come. The setting is Bethlehem, the little town outside of Jerusalem. We all know the lovely carol, “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” Here are Micah’s words:

You, Bethlehem—Ephrathah
Too small to be among the clans of Judah,
From you shall come forth for me
One who is to be ruler in Israel…

So, Bethlehem, the insignificant little town, will be the stage on which the drama is played.

Today’s gospel account of the Virgin Mary’s visit to her elder kinswoman, Elizabeth, does remind biblical commentators of a dramatic presentation, a sacred musical. One scholar calls the infancy account “a play consisting of two main parts…the annunciation scenes and the birth scenes.” The plural “scenes” is used because St. Luke’s account contrasts the story of the birth of John the Baptist with that of Jesus.

The first chapter of St. Luke’s gospel begins with the annunciation of John the Baptist, which by no coincidence was actually yesterday’s gospel account. It begins with the introduction of the first set of players. Elizabeth and her husband, the priest Zachary, are introduced and we are told that their marriage has not been blessed with children. After this introduction an angel appears to Zachary while he is offering sacrifice in the Temple. Zachary expresses anxiety and is told not to be afraid. The angel announces that his wife, Elizabeth, will indeed bear a son but Zachary responds with a doubtful question. “How shall I know this?” Seeing Zachary’s doubt, the angel then introduces himself as Gabriel and reprimands him. “Behold thou shalt be dumb.” From that point Zachary cannot speak and departs from the Temple sanctuary. Elizabeth does become pregnant and six months later the same angel appears to Mary, a Virgin.

The annunciation to Mary follows a similar pattern. This time the stage is Nazareth, a town of Galilee, where the players are Joseph and his fiancĂ©e, Mary. We are introduced to them and given a little background. Then, the angel appears to Mary and she too expresses anxiety. Gabriel tells her also not to fear and this time sees acceptance of God’s will and not doubt. It is true that Mary also asks a question, “How shall this happen, since I do not know man?” Gabriel explains that the Spirit of God will come upon her and tells her about Elizabeth’s pregnancy. Rather than being struck speechless, Mary responds with those famous words, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done unto me according to thy word.”

Then the angel leaves her and St. Luke tells us that the next thing Mary does is to go immediately to visit Elizabeth who is already six months pregnant. This famous meeting, which we call the Visitation, is described in today’s gospel.

What can we say about this scene, one of the most beautiful in the sacred drama? Once again St. Luke introduces the characters. Even though, like Bethlehem, they might be considered small and insignificant, the Spirit of God is upon them. Even their names are significant. Mary or Miriam means “the exalted one,” and Elizabeth means, “God swears or promises.” The greeting by Elizabeth is the basis of the “hail, Mary.”

Blessed art thou among women,
And Blessed is the fruit of thy womb!

Then, St. Luke brings John the Baptist onto the scene, still in his mother’s womb. Elizabeth notes that her unborn child “leapt for joy” at the approach of Mary and her Son.
It is interesting that whenever great painters portray John the Baptist, he is usually shown pointing to Jesus. Even when John is an infant he is directing the viewer’s attention to Jesus, reminding us to “Behold the Lamb of God.”

In a few days we will witness the climax of this sacred drama, the birth of our Lord. What is the moral of the story? What lesson can we learn? It is usually the second reading each Sunday that gives us such instruction. When we read the Letter to the Hebrews, we should recognize that it is not just directed to the Hebrews but to all of us. What do the following words mean?

When Christ came into the world, he said:
“Sacrifice and offering you did not desire,
but a body you prepared for me;
in holocausts and sin offerings you took no delight.

The Letter is not just talking about ancient sacrificial practices. Maybe we should consider the gifts we give and receive each Christmas as modern day sacrifices and offerings. Don’t misunderstand. Who doesn’t love the giving and receiving of gifts at Christmas? But we should realize that even the smallest most insignificant gift is priceless if it expresses our love. Maybe little Charley Brown had it right:

Christmas time is here.
happiness and cheer,
fun for all that children
call their favorite time of year.

Snowflakes in the air,
carols everywhere,
olden times and ancient rhymes
and love and dreams to share.

Sleigh bells in the air,
beauty everywhere,
yuletide by the fireside
and joyful memories there.

Christmas time is here;
we'll be drawing near;
oh that we could always see
such spirit through the year,
such spirit through the year.

Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

3rd Sunday of Advent

3rd Sunday of Advent
C cycle

Reading 1. Zephaniah 3: 14-18a
Reading II. Philippians 4: 4-7
Gospel. Luke 3:10-18 (one mightier than I).

In earlier times the third Sunday in Advent was known as "Gaudete Sunday" because the entrance prayer or "Introit" began with the Latin words, "gaudete in domino semper." Translated the phrase means "rejoice in the Lord always." Today, as it has always done, the Church injects an element of joy into the penitential season of Advent. In many churches the priest will put aside the purple vestments which signify sorrow and penance, and put on rose colored vestments, a symbol of joy. The Church is asking us to look ahead to the glory of the coming of the Savior on Christmas.

In this liturgical year the first reading for each of the Sundays in Advent is taken from a different Hebrew prophet. Two weeks ago it was Isaiah and last week it was the somewhat lesser known Baruch. Today, the reading is from the prophet Zephaniah. It is common for us to think of a prophet as someone who foretells the future but usually the Hebrew prophets just talk about their own time, especially its problems. No prophet deals with problems more than Zephaniah but in today’s reading he sings a different song.

Shout for joy, O daughter Zion!
Sing joyfully, O Israel!
Be glad and exult with all your heart,
O daughter Jerusalem!

Despite all their problems, there is reason for this joy. “The Lord is in your midst,” he says. He repeats it again, “The Lord is in your midst.” Zephaniah was speaking to the ancient Hebrews, but his words are also meant for us. If only we could realize that the Lord is in our midst.

In today’s gospel, John the Baptist, the last of the Hebrew prophets is trying to convince the people of his time that the Lord is coming into their midst. He says,

I am baptizing you with water,
But one mightier than I is coming.
I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals.
He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

The crowds ask John what they should do to prepare for his coming. His words could profit all of us this Advent. We could begin by sharing with those who have less than we do, especially in these economic hard times. John’s advice for preparation is not radical or impossible. He does not recommend that we give up everything; just that we share.

Consider the two groups who approach John in today’s reading. Tax collectors and soldiers, better to say policemen, were two of the most hated groups in Israel. Both were regarded as agents of the hated Roman conquerors. The tax collectors were notorious for gouging the people, and the police were noted for bullying and extortion. John doesn’t say that their occupations are sinful or ignoble. He doesn’t tell them to give up their careers. He only tells them to act with honesty and justice.

This last year has been an especially bad one for the rich and famous in our society. How could so many politicians, entertainers, athletes, and other celebrities who had worked so hard to get to the top of their respective professions mess up so miserably? Could it be that the success they sought was not that fulfilling? Could it be that the possessions they acquired did not make them really happy or joyful? Maybe they just thought that their success was due to their efforts alone, and that they failed to see the God in their midst.

We shouldn’t gloat when we hear their stories. Just because we fly under the media radar doesn’t mean that we can’t be self-satisfied. Most of us have homes that would be palaces to most of the world’s people. We have cars for each member of our family, not to mention TVs, cell phones, and computers. Still, it never seems to be enough.

Here we are only two weeks before Christmas. What are we looking for this season? What do we want for ourselves and our loved ones this Christmas? Why are we going out to the malls and the shopping centers? Aren't we all trying to find happiness? Aren't we all trying to cast away fear and darkness and bring some joy and light into our lives? Look at the way we light up our houses, look at the music we hear coming over the radio.

I've just read an article by a man who is a well known lecturer, TV personality, and author. He has a beautiful wife and son and is extremely successful. Yet he wrote, "I am almost 60. Time flies and it scares me. I don't want to die. I like being in good health. I don't want to be sick and have wires and tubes and scalpels in me. I like having enough money. I don't want to be old and poor. I sat in my car...shivering in fear. And then it struck me. I spend too darned much of my life in fear. I always have. You can't imagine how much of my life I have thrown away by being a slave to fear."

In today's second reading from St. Paul's letter to the Philippians he echoes the words of the prophet Zephaniah and urges his friends to “rejoice in the Lord always.” We should realize that “the Lord is near,” and that fear and anxiety are not the answer.

Have no anxiety at all, but in everything,
By prayer and petition, with thanksgiving,
Make your requests known to God.

No one is saying that we should give up our jobs and our homes but if we can only recognize that all we have comes form the Lord,

Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding
Will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Immaculate Conception

The Immaculate Conception

On December 8, 1854, Pope Pius IX promulgated the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Pope did not declare this doctrine out of the blue. It was promulgated only after years of study on his own part and on the part of learned scholars; centuries of debate among some of the greatest theologians in the Church; and almost a millennium of popular devotion to Mary on the part of the Church faithful.

Although immediately accepted by the faithful, the doctrine was a source of controversy in the time of Pius IX and today remains an obstacle to ecumenical efforts. Before we can discuss the doctrine and its meaning we have to clear up a basic misconception. The Immaculate Conception does not refer to either the conception of Jesus in Mary's womb or the subsequent birth and delivery of Jesus. In other words, it should not be confused with the virgin birth. Nor does it refer to Mary's own birth. She herself was begotten like any other child. Simply, the doctrine affirms the preservation or freedom of Mary from original sin from the first moment of her conception.

To understand the meaning of the doctrine we have to examine the concept of original sin even though in our time the notion of sin, especially original sin, has fallen into disfavor. Today the only sin our culture seems to recognize is smoking. Concurrently, the very notion of evil has fallen into disfavor. Until the September 11, 2001 tragedy
the only people we were likely to recognize as evil were Nazis or people who behaved like Nazis. For our purposes then let us use the word imperfect rather than sin or evil. Instead of calling ourselves sinful or evil, let's just think of ourselves as imperfect.

To say that we have not been preserved from original sin means that all of us are merely imperfect--something few of us would deny. Where did this notion come from? Theologians and philosophers throughout history have tried to deal with humankind's imperfection. Some have called it the problem of evil. You can pick up a newspaper on any given day and never fail to be shocked by the evil in the world. War, terrorism, murder, rape, sexual abuse, theft of all kinds, lying and deceit on every level of society, all confront us daily. Where does it come from? Who or what is responsible for the world's imperfection or evil?

It is safe to say that in the Judeo-Christian tradition the origins of evil were to be found in each of us. As Shakespeare said, the fault lies in us, not in our stars. In this tradition it is clearly understood that there is something wrong with our nature. Although created in a state of perfection or good (another word for perfect is good), mankind has fallen into a state of imperfection.

In the story of Adam and Eve we find an attempt to explain the problem of evil. God is good; God is perfect; and His creation had to be good. It had to be perfect. Yet, when the biblical authors composed the Book of Genesis they lived in a world as full of evil and imperfection as ours. And so we have the story of the temptation and fall of our first parents to explain how we have all inherited a fundamental flaw, a kind of genetic defect. It had to come from our first parents because it is observable in all of us.

Long before Sigmund Freud wrote of the "ego" and the "id" and the psychic warfare that goes on in all of us, biblical authors like St. Paul and St. James alluded to this "psychomachia" and called it the source of all evil. What are the effects of this psychic or spiritual warfare? Basically, we have a divided nature--we lack integrity in the true sense of the word. We have knowledge of both good and evil. We can admire Mother Teresa but at the same time know that we are capable of understanding and committing the worst crimes that we read of in the newspapers. There but for the grace of God go we!

What is the cure for our imperfection? How can we attain perfection? As the song says, "We've got to be taught. We've got to be taught not to hate and fear but to love and trust. Our first teachers are our mothers and fathers; then our extended families; then our customs and traditions, chief of which is our religion with its guidelines or warnings
which we often mistake for rules and regulations; and then our governments and their laws that are supposed to keep us at peace with one another. This is why these institutions are so important and why when they become corrupted or perverted there is literally "hell to pay." Jesus always called himself teacher and promised that if we would follow Him, peace would be with us.

A few hundred years ago this Judeo-Christian tradition of original sin came under serious attack during the period known as the "Enlightenment" that immediately preceded the French Revolution. Philosophers during that period came to believe that human nature was perfect, that man had begun as a kind of "noble savage" who had become corrupted by human social institutions. For the intellectuals and the revolutionaries who followed them the source of evil was not in man but in institutions like motherhood, fatherhood, the family, religion, government, and the rule of law. In particular, they singled out the Catholic Church with its sacramental system, especially the Sacrifice of the Mass. They sought to destroy these institutions and build a new perfect society based on reason rather than on custom, superstition, and ignorance. Despite over two hundred years of horror and bloodshed these "enlightened" ideas live on today, and those institutions that are the sole protector and defender of mankind are still under attack by those who cannot accept the idea of original sin.

Ironically, those who do not believe in original sin unwittingly believe that they and the rest of mankind must have been conceived immaculate. The only person that they will not allow to have been immaculately conceived is Mary. On the other hand, for those who do believe in original sin and accept its corollary, the need to attain perfection or redemption, Mary is the Immaculate Conception.

If we view Mary in this way then her role takes on new meaning. The Church has always regarded her as the new Eve free from the knowledge of evil. We believe that through God's grace she was created without that fatal division in her being. She had integrity and she knew inner peace not war. This is why the angel at the Annunciation called her full of grace. This is why her assent at the Annunciation was so meaningful. She who through her nature could know no pain or suffering was asked to experience all the pain and suffering that a mother could know. At the Presentation Simeon said to her that this day "your soul a sword shall pierce." Since we've also forgotten the meaning of the word "soul" today, modern translations say that her "whole being" would be severed. Imagine a person created without flaw or imperfection living among us.

In the Gospels the Apostles represent us with all of our faults and failings. Some were silly, some were vain, some doubted and disbelieved, and even St. Peter denied the Lord three times. They were what we are. When the Church proclaimed the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, however, it was saying that Mary is what we once were and could be again through the grace of her Son, Jesus.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

2nd Sunday of Advent

2nd Sunday of Advent
C cycle

Reading 1. Baruch 5: 1-9
Reading II. Philippians 1: 4-6, 8-11
Gospel. Luke 3:1-6 (Prepare the Way).

In this liturgical year the first reading for each of the Sundays in Advent is taken from a different Hebrew prophet. Last week it was Isaiah and this week it is the somewhat lesser known Baruch. It is common for us to think of a prophet as someone who foretells the future but usually the Hebrew prophets just talk about their own time, especially its problems. They also stress the need for change. Isn’t that what Advent is all about? It is a time for us to take stock of where and who we are; and to realize what we need to do to get back on track.

Baruch begins by urging Jerusalem to take off its “robe of mourning and misery.” Now, whenever we hear an Old Testament prophet use the word “Jerusalem”, we should realize that he is not speaking about a city or place. Jerusalem means the whole nation or people of God. In the same way, we speak of the Church today as the people of God. In Baruch’s time the people had been scattered and dispersed by foreign conquest. As he says, they have even been forcibly led away into exile and captivity.

He does, however, predict a return, a restoration of the Kingdom, in words similar to those used by Isaiah last week,

For God had commanded
That every lofty mountain be made low,
And that the age-old depths and gorges
Be filled to level ground,
That Israel may advance secure in the glory of God.

These words are echoed in today’s gospel account and St. Luke sees their fulfillment in “the baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” preached by John the Baptist, the last great Hebrew prophet. In other words, all this business about leveling the mountains, straightening the roads, and filling in the gorges has to do with our own personal lives.

John the Baptist was a real historical figure who appeared at the appointed time to point the way to the One who was going to change everything. But notice, he does not say that God will do the heavy road construction work. It is up to us to prepare the way, make straight the paths, fill the valleys, and level the mountains and hills.

When John speaks of repentance, he is talking about looking over our lives and taking stock of who we are and where we are going. Advent is a perfect time for us to do so. It is the beginning of a new year so to speak. For centuries the Church has advised us to examine our conscience. In particular, such a review might examine a dominant fault and work on ways to correct it, or it might consider a particular strength or virtue and consider ways to increase it.

Even though the phrase may sound strange to us today, the idea is not outmoded. At the end of each year business people are advised to look back on the past year and consider what worked and what didn't work. They spend hours examining their strengths and weaknesses. For the upcoming year they are urged to prepare a business plan where they will work on developing their strengths and overcoming their weaknesses.

Athletes do the same thing. Every week coaches spend hours examining game films to see what they did right and what they did wrong. Whole practices are devoted to making the necessary corrections and incorporating them into next week’s game plan. Why do we spend so much time preparing for games but so little time preparing for the game of life?

When it comes to the most important things in our own lives we fail to examine our conscience? As the old saying goes, people don't plan to fail, they fail to plan. What did we do wrong last year? How did we hurt ourselves and our loved ones? Can we begin now to rid ourselves of bad or destructive habits?

On the positive side what strengths or virtues do we possess? What can we do to build spiritual muscle memory so that good behavior becomes easy and natural to us? The word virtue merely means a good habit, while a vice is a bad habit. Now is the time to kick the bad habits and concentrate on the good.

In today's second reading from St. Paul's letter to the Philippians he ends with a little prayer in which he urges his people to reflect on their lives and consider what they really value:

And this is my prayer:
That your love may increase ever more and more
In knowledge and every kind of perception,
To discern what is of value,
So that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ…

The biggest criticism against Christians today is that we are no different than anyone else. Rather than being a light to the nations, the darkness in our society seems to be overwhelming us. We don't have to go about wearing our religion on our sleeve but in our homes, our schools, and in our businesses we should be producing good fruit. We don't need laws and judges to bring Christ back into Christmas. All we need is for Christians to act like Christians.