A Parent’s Perspective
Our family often attend Mass in the Dominican Priory of St Eustace in Newbridge, Co. Kildare. Following the example of St Dominic, the Dominicans seek to impart the truth to people who are living in a time of radically changed circumstances, an ancient Gospel truth that is forever fresh and relevant to their changing lives. Any parent, teacher or person who’s working with children and young people know how challenging it can be to make this message the priority in their increasingly busy lives. It’s no different during the season of Advent when the pace of activity gets more and more frenetic. Celebrating Mass in St Peter’s Basilica on the first day of Advent, Pope Francis urged Catholics to “resist the dazzling lights of consumption which will shine everywhere this month”.
Fr Harris went on to explain that the hectic, practical preparations for Christmas are very different to the spiritual preparation we engage in as we await the coming of Jesus”
Preaching to Congolese immigrants, he talked about consumerism being a virus that attacks the very roots of faith as it makes people believe that life is all about what you have and own resulting in you forgetting about God. On December 1 in St Eustace’s in Newbridge, the priest celebrating Mass, Fr John Harris, was imparting a related message. He recalled how the statute of Baby Jesus had been removed from the town crib during the lead up to Christmas last year. It was a deeply upsetting incident for many to hear the news that the crib had been vandalised and the statue of the infant Jesus smashed. Shocking as it was, I think the underlying message behind Fr John’s words reminded us of how much worse it would be if Christ himself was taken out of Christmas.
Fr Harris went on to explain that the hectic, practical preparations for Christmas are very different to the spiritual preparation we engage in as we await the coming of Jesus. He was joking about how he had been to Confession recently and was wished a “Happy Christmas” by the other priest to which he replied that he was sure that he’d be back again before Christmas. I was thinking later of how, on several Christmas eves over the years, I was racing back from some shop or another in time to rush to the church for the last possible chance to bring the children to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I think I’m not the only parent who struggles to make sure that the goodies in the Christmas stockings are secondary to what we’re doing to increase the spiritual good for our souls.
It can be like holding back the tide trying to keep alive the message that Advent is a time of waiting and conversion. Christmas party nights are getting earlier and earlier. My husband’s Christmas work event was way back in November and my two eldest daughters got their first Christmas party invitations weeks ago.
To ensure that the season of Advent doesn’t pass without any real focus on what’s it’s really all about, it’s a good idea to have a few key plans in place to stay on track. It’s never too late to start. One great suggestion is to log on to some of the online Advent calendars that contain great resources and ideas. I’m using the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference interactive one that the children love as there’s a little door to open every day leading into a selection of prayers, reflections, music and simple suggestions for various acts of kindness that can be performed each day.
In the midst of all the buying and selling, searching for gifts and celebrating, it’s good to escape the hustle and bustle and head to the nearest church to light a candle and say a few quiet prayers. Not only will it be a source of grace but it’s also a haven of tranquillity. St Teresa of Calcutta described the time spent with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament as “the best time you will spend on earth”. Advent is a great time to attend Mass more and to make a point of popping into a church or adoration chapel. Children of all ages enjoy lighting a candle and saying a little prayer to prepare for Baby Jesus. Visiting cribs in different churches and pointing out to children that Baby Jesus is not in the crib yet helps children to join in the watching and waiting. The shopping centres are packed the closer it gets Christmas, with many small children arriving in their droves to see Santa. I’d really recommend another less stressful excursion to visit the Moving Crib in St Martin’s Apostolate, Dublin. On the go for nearly 63 years, it’s a real favourite with young and old alike and has become somewhat of a tourist attraction as well. There are over 100 figures in the Crib arranged in 14 different scenes covering various episodes of the Old and New Testament. The figures themselves are about a metre high, moulded in papier-mache and dressed in miniature clothes.
Whatever we choose to do in the last weeks before Christmas and whatever gifts we buy, the best present of all is the gift of God’s love for each one of us. Even if everything else doesn’t end up going as smoothly as we’d hoped, all that really matters is that God is with us. St Therese of Lisieux, summed it up well: “A God who became so small could only be mercy and love.” What else do we need?