December 25, 2013
Have you ever noticed that we focus lots of attention preparing for important holidays, but spend almost no time reflecting on them after they have taken place. We spend a lot of time preparing for Easter during Lent, but rarely spend time reflecting on the meaning of the Resurrection during the fifty days of the Easter season. Likewise, we prepare for Christmas during Advent, but most of us move back to ordinariness right away. Have you noticed that, starting on Thanksgiving, some radio stations play seasonal songs 24/7, but at midnight on December 25, it is back to the usual fare. And, of course, marketers start preparing for Valentine’s Day when the sun rises on December 26.
The Catholic tradition calls us to another way of celebrating. In our liturgical calendar, Christmas is an octave (eight days) that begins Christmas Eve and ends on January 1. There is the familiar tradition of the twelve days of Christmas, which begin on Christmas Eve and end on Epiphany, traditionally celebrated on January 6. And the Church’s Season of Christmas starts on December 24 and ends on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which we will celebrate on January 12, 2014. As we come to the end of these on-line reflections here at Boston College, I urge you to savor the extended days of Christmas during the weeks following December 25.
In North America, we give each other gifts on Christmas Day. In other cultures, people do so on the Feast of the Epiphany, which commemorates the visit of the three kings bearing gifts for the Christ child.
No matter what your family tradition, I recommend that you devote time in the next three and a half weeks to make a list (either literally or in your head) of the blessings you have received during this Christmastide. Open the gifts you have received, savor those gifts, and be thankful, always keeping in mind that the best things in life are not things. Remember the simple pleasures you experience:
- The quiet hush of the falling snow
- The lovely aromas that transport us back to childhood
- The loving embrace of a relative
- The look of awe and wonder on a child’s face
- The card from a long-lost friend
- The poignant memories of Christmases past
- The heart-warming smile of a neighbor
- The sound of the Salvation Army bell at the store entrance
- The familiar melodies of carols first heard years ago
- The deepest blue of a winter sky
- The stark beauty of naked trees
- The shimmering lights on the Christmas tree
Keep in mind also that some of God’s gifts don’t seem like gifts at first glance; with prayer and through the eyes of faith, learn to see things from God’s perspective. Thank God for blessings in disguise.
At the conclusion of the Spiritual Exercises (230-237), Saint Ignatius asks retreatants to engage in the “Contemplation to Attain Divine Love.” He recommends that the retreatant ask God for interior knowledge of all the great good he or she has received, in order that, stirred to profound gratitude, he or she may become able to love and serve God in all things. Having been loved, the response is to love God in return and to love others, those we know well and those we might not know but whom we are called to serve. Saint Ignatius reminds us that “love ought to manifest itself more by deeds than by words.”
To conclude, I am happy to have had the opportunity to spend some time with you during Advent, and now at Christmas. This year, may your Christmas last for many days. May you appreciate anew the many gifts that you have been given, especially the greatest gift, God Himself, Jesus Christ. And…
When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart. 
 Howard Thurman http://www.ignatianspirituality.com/8598/now-the-work-of-christmas-begins/
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