One of the main reasons the Puritans separated from their Protestant churches and set sail for the New World was their objection to the materialism and general debauchery of the Christmas season. If 17th Century Europe was on the road to perdition over Christmas extravagance, do we have a prayer?
Is it a bad thing that, from the first fun-size Snickers on Halloween to the last drop of champagne in the wee hours of the New Year, we are high on expectations, low on willpower? Are heartfelt gifts to family and friends, parties with lavish food and drink and general holiday cheer reasons to seek the confessional? Can you have a humble and holy Christmas and still have fun?
“For God, all things are possible,” said Jesus in Matthew 19:26. This statement comes just after He finishes telling Peter and the Apostles that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the gates of heaven. The secret is detachment from your camel of materialism. If you get off your camel, God’s mercy will squeeze you through the gate.
But God is not a killjoy. Jesus began his ministry at a wedding party so grand that the host ran out of wine. Instead of preaching abstinence, Jesus brought even better wine to the party. And perhaps that is the small paradigm shift we could bring to this year’s holidays. How can we bring better wine – that warms the body and lifts the soul? Wine that lasts long after the broken ornaments are swept away.
In his Christmas address last year, Pope Francis said, “In a society so often intoxicated by consumerism and hedonism, wealth and extravagance, appearances and narcissism, this (Christ) child calls us to act soberly, in other words, in a way that is simple, balanced, consistent, capable of seeing and doing what is essential…Amid a culture of indifference which not infrequently turns ruthless, our style of life should instead be devout, filled with empathy, compassion and mercy.”
As we wind up this Jubilee Year of Mercy, let us begin our holidays by reviewing the past year in terms of how much we gave of our devotion, empathy, compassion and mercy. If we are short on a few items, there is still time. These gems we give to our family, friends and even strangers will last longer than any present, regardless of its cost. Even better, these are gifts that give back in terms of true joy. Santa understands this joy of giving when he says “ho, ho, ho.” He is a happy giver – even though he does not get any presents on Christmas morning.
There is a fine line between gift giving and using material things as a placeholder for real love. According to Katie Dawson, director of Parish Faith Formation for the Diocese, “All things should be used in the context of being drawn closer to God. When we adopt a lifestyle of unrestrained consumption, are we really using things to draw us closer to God? Or do we shop as a means of diversion, seeking to be filled?”
We wake up on Jan. 2 to credit card bills and a house full of stuff that often gets tossed or put in the donation basket before the cycle begins again.
Thanksgiving, Christmas and all the holiday gift giving should not be stingy or Puritanical, but extravagant with meaning. The secret to holiday happiness is to keep all these things in the spirit of what truly matters. The spirit of the world is wrapped in the material, God calls us to take His magnificent world and use it to direct our lives to Him. But it is not easy. Dawson adds that with all good things, the material can be used to divert us, or worst still, it can become our god. When material possessions and physical comfort are as important as or more important than spiritual values, we abandon our God for a much lesser one.
So this Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve bring a better wine to the party. Focus more on the love and less on the lavish. The best part is it will be the lead up to a vintage year.
Pope Francis gave the Vatican employees a suggested list of New Year’s resolutions that might prove helpful.
- Take care of your spiritual life, your relationship with God, because this is the backbone of everything we do and everything we are.
- Take care of your family life, giving your children and loved ones not just money, but most of all your time, attention and love.
- Take care of your relationships with others, transforming your faith into life and your words into good works, especially on behalf of the needy.
- Be careful how you speak, purify your tongue of offensive words, vulgarity and worldly decadence.
- Heal wounds of the heart with the oil of forgiveness, forgiving those who have hurt us and medicating the wounds we have caused others.
- Look after your work, doing it with enthusiasm, humility, competence, passion and with a spirit that knows how to thank the Lord.
- Be careful of envy, lust, hatred and negative feelings that devour our interior peace and transform us into destroyed and destructive people.
- Watch out for anger that can lead to vengeance; for laziness that leads to existential euthanasia; for pointing the finger at others, which leads to pride; and for complaining continually, which leads to desperation.
- Take care of brothers and sisters who are weaker … the elderly, the sick, the hungry, the homeless and strangers, because we will be judged on this.
- Making sure your Christmas is about Jesus and not about shopping.