I would like to share a few thoughts with you on the kind of preparation each one of us is personally responsible for when receiving Christ into our hearts and lives on this coming Christmas day. The preparation traditionally, in the keeping of the Church, starts during the first Sunday of Advent.
If you read many of the latest psychiatric and psychological journals concerning this season of Advent and the month of December, you'll find that in recent journals many of the psychiatrists are telling us that Advent, or the month of December, for many people despite the festive occasion that all of us experience, are filled with an awful lot of sadness for an awful lot of people. They explain it this way by saying, "Well, it's the end of the year, people have had a lot of unfulfilled dreams, people haven't achieved a lot of their goals that they set at the beginning of the year, people have had great problems, have lost loved ones." And so they give you a whole litany of explanations as to why this time of the year accentuates and exacerbates the loneliness and the depression of many people. This kind of theme was highlighted by another psychiatrist years ago by the name of Fr. Ignace Lepp, a famous Jesuit psychiatrist who wrote a beautiful paper, and the theme of it was that the Church created Advent to take the moodiness out of the month of December, and he said one of the reasons why we have Advent is to say to lonely people and depressed people, "Hey wait a minute, you really can't be depressed. You really cannot afford to be lonely because you'll miss the most unusual event of the year -- the Birthday of Jesus Christ." What he's really saying in the beautiful article that he wrote is, Christ is coming on Christmas day. Be alert to what's ahead of you during the next few weeks and be on guard as the gospel tells us and be prepared. When you analyze it, you can say, "Gosh, I have the loneliness, I have that kind of depression that I can't shake off, how do I, when everyone else is experiencing a lot of joy and I'm a shut-in or am confined to an institution or I have no one who visits me, how can I control the loneliness and the depression that seems to be the lot of so many people during this season?
If you really want to make mental and spiritual preparations for the feast of Christmas during the time of Advent you have got to look at it two ways. Advent is a time to enable us to externally prepare or internally prepare for the coming of Christ.
The external preparation, all of us are familiar with, for example; the shopping, the Christmas tree, the Christmas gifts, all of the things externally associated with making Christmas a happier day. The internal, the more difficult, in order to learn those internal qualities that will enable us to have a happier Christmas day, you have to go back to the time when Christ walked this earth. He taught two qualities; the quality of compassion and the quality of charity.
Personal compassion and personal charity. If you go back to a beautiful poem written years ago by Dr. Thomas Dooley, he was talking about the agony of mankind and one of the verses goes something like this, "Listen to the agony of mankind, I who am fed, who never went hungry for a day, I see the children starve for want of bread. I see them and I want to pray." That was a poem extended to all of the peoples in the suffering lands of South East Asia. If you are a shut-in, if you are in an institution, if you're all by yourself, you are not going to go to South East Asia, but there is someone who needs the compassion that can only come from you. Be it in your family or your own neighborhood. Compassion has been defined as love as work in a crisis. Too many of the people right within the confines their own homes get a sense of compassion when you, no matter how lonely or depressed you might be, offer them an encouraging word or perform a small incidental act of kindness.
Personal charity. If you go back to the life of Christ, Christ didn't escape loneliness or depression. When you look at His words when He said, Amy soul is soulful unto death, my God, my God, why have You forsaken Me." Those were the words of a man who experienced loneliness. But if you understand the lesson that Christ taught primary throughout his life, it was a lesson of love. When he said, a new commandment, no matter how lonely I am, no matter how depressed I might be, a new commandment I give you that you love one another." Love one another, how many of us have a sense of depression because we have been let down and disappointed and hurt by so many people, and yet this same quality of charity Christ repeated over and over right up to the last few moments on the cross when he said, Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.
Preparation for Advent for each one of us can be reduced to two kinds of essential preparations, personal compassion especially to those who are in need. Personal charity that enables us to imitate the charity that Christ brought into this world.
External preparations. If that's all you have for the feast of Christmas, Christmas is going to be a disappointment. With internal preparations, you not only spiritually prepare yourselves for the feast of Christmas, you bring greater light into your own life. You bring greater joy into the lives of others, and really this is our way of staying awake and making our preparation for the feast of the incarnation of Christ.
May God bless you.
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