Dear Parish Faithful,
The Nativity/Advent Fast is underway, and I addressed some of the (many) challenges that we are thus facing in the "Fragments for Friday" from last week, and in yesterday's homily at the Liturgy. I will try to avoid repeating myself, but I would again like to remind everyone of the existing tension between an ascetical approach to the Nativity and a consumer-driven approach to Christmas.
There is a genuine spiritual "tug-of-war" inherent in that tension. If consumerism eclipses the ascetical in us, then when we complain that "Christ has been taken out of Christmas" we, as Christians, must accept our responsibility in allowing that to happen. (And what kind of example is that for our children?) We must acknowledge that the commercialization of Christian happened within a Christian society! We may not be able to change the surrounding secular culture and its "allergic" reaction to anything "religious," but we can change ourselves and some of our own patterns of behavior.
So, when we bemoan the commercialization of Christmas, we can only look first at ourselves and try and honestly analyze our own "contribution" to this seemingly irreversible trend. I periodically bring up a wide-ranging study from the past, that concluded that there are no discernible distinctions that can be made between the consumer patterns of Christians and non-Christians. That just might say it all. And I highly doubt that that has changed since I first became aware of that study. I also remember Fr. Alexander Schmemann's perplexity and disappointment that in our contemporary cultural milieu, human beings are defined as "consumers." That is far from the "Eucharistic being" that he envisions for "the life of the world!"
Therefore, when I hear about "Christ being taken out of Christmas," I must ask myself: To what degree am I responsible for that happening? Now, what can I do to bring Christ back into Christmas? I believe that this type of self-examination can protect me from judging or complaining about others. It is this propensity to judge others - the secularist, the humanist, the atheist, etc. - that gives non-Christians the impression that "Christians" are narrow-minded moralists.
I would like to briefly summarize three questions that I posed yesterday in the homily:
1. What can I/we do to be less distracted as we pass through this season of preparation? What are my habits or obsessions that demand my undivided attention and from which I can "fast" as a way of recovering a sense of balance or even a touch of inner stillness? That may begin with the prescribed fast from certain foods and drink, but it probably entails a great deal more. Is it Facebook or is it bookstore browsing? What will that, in turn, leave me with more time and energy to do that is truly meaningful?
2. What can I/we do to be less consumer-driven as we move toward the Feast of the Nativity? Can I look over my Christmas spending budget honestly and realize that perhaps I am over-spending? Can I make that qualitative shift from being a consumer to being a Eucharistic being? A consumer seeks to get something out of Christmas (and may get exhausted in the process), while a Eucharistic being will be overcome with a sense of awe and thankfulness before the great mystery of the Incarnation.
3. What can I/we do to be more charitable? Can some of that money directed to my Christmas spending budget be re-directed to others who are in need at this time of year? Besides the issue of money, can I use my time and energy in a more productive manner that embraces the neighbor in need? Since God "gave" us His Son, can I "give" of myself to others?
This is a wonderful time of the year. We don't have to spend a great deal of that time playing bumper-car in overcrowded mall parking lots. We could use some of that time to become more Church-centered in our choices. And that will depend upon just how Christ-centered we are in our lives.