by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
The great feast of Christmas is almost upon us. I love this season. It is so beautiful to witness all the love that the birth of Jesus still inspires.
Even though there is so much about our cultural celebration of Christmas that has been corrupted by consumerism, even though each year the radical atheists and secularists attempt to eliminate the name and images of the One whose birth we celebrate, still Christmas each year spawns a great outpouring of love.
I am so pleased with the long tradition in the Archdiocese of using the Christmas collection in our parishes to help fund the ministry of Catholic Charities in bringing the love of Jesus to the poor and the vulnerable of our communities. I encourage your generosity again this year to help provide the necessary resources to make the love of Our Lord tangible for many who are hurting and suffering.
During my prayer throughout the Christmas Octave, I try to recall images of the people of the Archdiocese drawn from my visits throughout the year to many of our parishes, schools and ministries. Unfortunately, it is impossible to pray for all 200,000 of you by name, but I ask the Lord in his divine economy to distribute whatever fruits from my prayer to each of you. In particular, I ask the Lord to grant each of us the special grace during the coming year to grow in our friendship with him and love for his body — the church.
Frequently, I have told our Catholic school presidents, principals, teachers and school board members that no matter how high our ACT or SAT scores, no matter how many Merit Scholars our schools produce, no matter how many of our students go on to college, no matter how many championships our teams win, no matter how many awards our students receive in science, art or debate competitions, no matter how many scholarships our graduates are awarded, we will have failed in our mission (we will have failed our students), if they graduate from our schools without a close personal friendship with Jesus and a love for his spouse — the church!
Some have asked me: “Archbishop, what do you mean by a personal friendship with Jesus and a love for his church?” This is a great question. I expect that any young person who graduates from one of our high schools, because of what they have been taught, but even more because of the examples they have observed from their teachers and coaches, will converse with Jesus every day. If Jesus is our friend (not just any old friend, but our best friend), then each day we will speak to Our Lord and, even more importantly, several times during each day, we will listen to him.
To have a close personal friendship with Jesus means that Jesus is more important to us than any movie star, professional athlete or recording artist.
It means that Our Lord is as real to us as our classmates, our teachers, our parents, and our neighbors.
It means first thing in the morning, we praise the Lord for the gift of another day and ask him to give us whatever we will need that day to serve him well and to bring his love to others.
It means consciously getting to know Jesus better by reading and praying over the Gospels daily.
It means allowing ourselves the time to listen to Our Lord speak to us through the words of the Scriptures.
It means checking in with Jesus throughout the day — more frequently than we text, tweet or call our friends — by acknowledging his blessings and asking for his assistance.
It means concluding each day by giving thanks for the blessings of the day and pondering how Our Lord revealed himself to us through the events of that day. It means acknowledging our sins — the things that we did, said or thought that were inconsistent with our identity as living temples of God. It means asking forgiveness from Our Lord for the things that we failed to do — opportunities missed in bringing his love to others.
If we know Jesus Christ, if we are aware of his great love for us, then we can face any trial and overcome any problem. I want our Catholic school graduates to have the kind of relationship with Jesus Christ that allowed Immaculée Illibagiza to survive the Rwanda holocaust and the brutal murders of her parents and two brothers without becoming embittered or a psychological basket case. I want our young people to have a friendship with Jesus that will help them make good choices in life and will give them the inner strength to contend with anything the world may throw at them.
Pope Benedict XVI has spoken and written often that fundamental to our Catholic faith is not a set of dogmas or doctrines, as important as our creed is. It is not even about living a high moral code or a virtuous life, although this is certainly a necessary fruit of an authentic Catholic life. At the core of our Catholic faith is an encounter with a person — the person of Jesus Christ.
My prayer for each of you this Christmas is that you know the One whose birthday we celebrate. I pray that you not only know about Jesus Christ, but that you know Jesus as a friend who also happens to be the redeemer of all humanity.
If you already have a beautiful friendship with Jesus, I pray that it will grow stronger in 2012. If you are wondering what it means to know Jesus in such a personal way, I pray that you will be given the grace to embark, in 2012, on developing the friendship with Jesus that he desires to have with you.
We are blessed with many incredible resources to assist you with this endeavor. Many of our parishes offer Christ Renews His Parish or Light of the World retreats. Cursillo retreats have also been a means for many to encounter Jesus in a beautiful and powerful way. Parish Bible studies, as well as School of Faith classes offered at many of our parishes, also are great aids in developing a deeper friendship with Jesus.
Mike Scherschligt will be offering his own reflection on knowing and encountering Jesus in prayer, reflection on the Bible and participation in the Eucharist at his Jan. 6 first Thursday of the month free lecture at Holy Spirit Parish in Overland Park at 7 p.m.