Sunday, December 29, 2013

Christmas

Why is it that, when we think of heaven, and of those who have gone before us and are hopefully in heaven - that we sometimes have the tendency to think of eternity as one big reunion for all of our dearly departed? We want more to think about our departed loved one greeting St. Peter with a raunchy joke, or playing poker with someone’s favorite uncle again, than to consider what heaven is really all about: seeing God forever.

I know that these things we say about our loved ones when they enter eternity help us make sense of the loss and grief we feel at their absence. Since none of us (presumably) have been to heaven recently, coloring it with our own ideas is comforting, perhaps - it gives the idea some familiarity, and takes the edge off of our mortality.


But is heaven really a great big reunion? 


Obviously, I can’t answer that question from personal experience, and I don’t claim to know what heaven is like. However, it seems to me that even if we recognize one another in eternity, if there is indeed that element of reunion - the most important thing in heaven is rejoicing in the eternal, divine worship of God. Maybe that's a rather esoteric thought, and understandably so. Sometimes it is struggle enough to grant an hour every week to the worship of God. Considering heaven as a place of eternal worship and not just an eternal pub that serves really good burgers and beer may be a bit jarring, rather unfamiliar. 


Most of you who read this blog, or used to read my old one, know me in "real life," and know that my grandfather died in July. 

He loved Notre Dame football, told his share of raunchy jokes, was known to give more than a few referees a hard time when my dad coached high school basketball, made the best tamales in the world - and he wasn’t perfect, but he was a deeply faithful Catholic. The only times I ever saw him outside of family gatherings, by himself, were the few times I’d happened to run into him, standing in line for midday Confession on a random weekday. He loved God, he loved his family, and was faithful to both through thick and thin. It was not until after his death that I learned he had prayed the Rosary every day, and I can barely begin to imagine the graces called down upon our family by his quiet devotion to the Mother of God. 

And I believe he is in heaven now. I don’t know if he made a stop in Purgatory first, or if he was, as we sometimes say, “a straight shot” - and that doesn’t matter. I know he is with Christ, in part because it is the only way to explain the incredible things that have happened since his soul left this world for the eternal. 


If those who are in heaven ever watch what we’re doing here, maybe he is watching me type this right now, and if so, I’m sure he is smiling - that is, if he is not just completely caught up in the glory of God - though there is nothing to say he can’t be doing both, simultaneously! 

There I go… coloring my own picture of heaven.

I knew this Christmas would be hard without him, but I was not sure what exactly that would mean. 


At Christmas Eve Mass, listening to Father talk about how Christmas, and the way we experience it, changes over the years, I found myself thinking of all the happy Christmas Eves I spent at my grandparents’ home - posole, tamales, fudge, biscochitos, aunts, uncles, cousins - food and family. 

And I thought of how this year, for the first time in my life, my grandparents’ old home on San Pablo sat dark and empty, with only memories of family life well-lived, left behind. 

And I cried. (That was not a bad thing! I needed to!)

Yes. Christmas has changed. And in particular, Christmas Eve will never be the same for me again. 


Even in the changing, there is still beauty and grace, and even in the sadness, peace: peace, because of the gift of the God-man, Jesus Christ, who chose to be born in time, that we might regain heaven. It is a paradox, and yet it is not: the difficulty of a first Christmas spent without a loved one - remembering the gift of salvation coming among us without them, because they have already attained the eternity Christ regained for us.



Sunday, December 15, 2013

Gaudete Sunday


We are three weeks into Advent; today is Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete translates from Latin into English as "rejoice," and so the third Sunday of Advent calls us to rejoice, knowing that the Lord is near. 

Advent is definitely not a season of the world. If you've spent any time in a Catholic church lately, you've seen this easily enough: our churches are dressed in purple - a color we associate with preparation, with discipline... with penitence. Since before Thanksgiving, the rest of the world has been decked out in red and green and silver and gold - when, as of today, the actual season of Christmas does not begin for another nine days! Like Lent, Advent is really a season of preparation and penitence - a season of "purple."

Advent and Lent have some interesting parallels - although we largely ignore the penitential spirit of Advent in favor of glittery Christmas decorations. However, Advent (ignored or not) and Lent recognize our need to prepare for very certain transitions: Advent, preparing for the coming of Christ into our temporal world, and Lent, preparing for Christ's death and resurrection... preparing for Christ's return to the non-temporal. BOTH should remind us to prepare for the second and final coming of Christ, at the end of time.

During Lent, we always talk about "giving things up." We usually don't talk about that during Advent, but maybe we should. If you think about it, what we term "the season of giving" is more typically perceived as the "season of getting." If we gave some thought to giving things up, instead of getting them at this time of year, we might help to remedy some of the vicious buy-buy-buy consumerism that has largely overwhelmed the Advent season in our culture. It would certainly help us focus on what's really important.

So what really is important during Advent? What should we be thinking about? 

Maybe what we should think about is about is not so much buying Christmas presents for ourselves or each other – but about finding an appropriate gift for Jesus. It is His birthday we are celebrating, after all.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record that we've all heard played before - the best gift we can give to Christ for his birthday is, of course: ourselves. 

Hypothetically speaking, if our Lord had a list of what he wanted for his birthday, I think what would be written on it would be the hope that every human heart would give itself, unreservedly, to him. This being true, hopefully we are using Advent as a time to make ourselves the best gift possible - instead of just spending it in the mall. 

And if we haven't done as well as we'd like to, there are still nine days until Christmas - but we shouldn't wait - there's no such thing as last-minute shopping for Christ's birthday gift. ;-)