by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
The good news is: After Dec. 21, daylight increases every day until June 21. The bad news is that it is officially winter. Of course, this means we should expect cold, snow and ice for the next few months.
In C. S. Lewis’ imaginative set of allegorical stories for children, “The Chronicles of Narnia,” one of his characters describes Narnia as a place of perpetual winter without Christmas. Winter without Christmas — what a horrid thought! Christmas cards with loving messages from family and friends, the many beautiful efforts to assist the poor and vulnerable, and the joy of festive gatherings brighten and warm the dark, dreary days of winter.
Worse than winter without Christmas is life without Jesus, life without God! In her autobiographical book, “Something Other Than God,” Jennifer Fulwiler chronicles her conversion from a hardcore atheist to an on-fire Catholic. Jennifer grew up in a family where God was not present. With her father, a committed atheist, and her mother, an agnostic, Jennifer was formed and taught not to believe in God. Growing up in a very Christian part of Texas, she was proud of her ability to resist the cultural pressure to believe in God.
However, Jennifer describes as an 11-year-old coming to the disquieting realization of her own mortality. It happened while she was admiring fossils with her dad in a creek bed on her grandparents’ ranch. Gazing at a fossil of a once-living creature now dead for thousands — perhaps even millions — of years, Jennifer realized that she was destined for a similar fate.
She wrote: “I had always thought of these creatures as being fundamentally different from me. They were dead things, I was the alive thing, and that’s how it would be forever. Now I wondered what had kept me from understanding that to look at these long-dead life forms was to look at a crystal ball of what lay in store for me — except that, unless I happened to die by falling into some soft mud, I wouldn’t end up a fossil. Ten million years from now, there would be nothing left of me.”
For the first time, Jennifer felt a heavy, almost unbearable, sadness, recognizing life’s fragility and death’s cruelty. Fortunately, she discovered that she could distract herself from these thoughts for long periods of time by immersing herself in stimulating activities. However, these dark thoughts about the cold reality of the absurdity of life would surface unexpectedly and envelop her in a deep sadness.
Jennifer describes experiencing an internal conflict: “Part of me wanted to give up on everything and sit frozen in despair, but another part of me felt like I should do my math homework instead. My mind was split between the side of me that said nothing ultimately mattered, and another side that felt certain that the little moments of daily life did have a lasting significance, even though I couldn’t explain why.”
From this seminal experience, Jennifer entered upon a journey of inquiry that eventually convinced her first of the reality of God, and, subsequently, of the truth of Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God. Her search for truth eventually brought her to the last place she wanted to be — namely, the Catholic Church.
Those of us, who have been blessed to grow up in faith-filled families, can easily take our faith for granted. Sadly, our experience is becoming less and less common. More and more young people are being raised in secular, unbelieving environments. Their winters may still have Christmas or at least a remnant of it. They appreciate Christmas as a time when you receive and give gifts. They enjoy the holiday decorations and the special Christmas music, but they are clueless about the deeper and much more important meaning of the season.
What a blessing has been given to us as Catholics! We know and believe in a loving God. We know that Jesus was a historical person who walked this earth, but, more importantly, we know that he is still alive today, animating the hearts of his disciples to follow him on the path of servant love. We know that we can communicate with him in prayer and encounter Our Lord in a powerful way in the Eucharist.
We know that the One born in Bethlehem more than 2,000 years ago formed a community of believers whom he empowered to continue his mission and pass on to others the truth of God’s love for them. To the apostles, Jesus gave the authority and the responsibility to guard and protect his teaching so that it could be handed on authentically to others. The teaching authority he gave to his church gives clear guidance to his disciples on how to apply the truth of the Gospel to new circumstances.
What a blessing it is to know God’s love for us revealed most powerfully in his Son, Jesus! What a gift to know that life has a meaning and a purpose! What a grace to know that we are destined to live with God for all eternity.
How can we fail to attempt to pass on this gift of faith in Jesus and his church to others? How can we allow family members, friends and co-workers to experience winter without Christmas, to go through life without knowing God and his love?
I encourage you to give thanks this Christmas for the amazing and awesome gift of faith in God, in Jesus, in his church, in his Gospel and in his sacraments. Give thanks for those who helped you to know Jesus and the joy of his Gospel.
As we conclude this year, ask the Lord to help you discern whom he wants you to help come to experience the truth of his love. Your first and most important task is to pray, fast and make other sacrifices for the spiritual welfare and growth of those whom God has placed upon your heart. Pray for them at Mass and at times of eucharistic adoration.
Ask the Lord to help you understand how he wants you to assist and accompany others on the great and life-changing adventure of discovering his unique and personal love. If you need guidance, ask your pastor or members of your parish staff to help you. Also, know that Emily Lopez at (913) 647-0323 or by email at: email@example.com, or Kimberly Rode at (913) 647-0357 or by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org who serve in our archdiocesan adult evangelization office are eager to assist you.
What a joy it is to introduce another person to Jesus and to the truth and beauty of his Gospel. You can be God’s instrument in bringing someone else out of the cold and dark winter of the loneliness of unbelief to discover Jesus Christ and the beautiful meaning and purpose he alone can bring to one’s life.