Have Yourself a Very 'Mercy' Christmas
The good news that wishing customers at retail stores "Merry Christmas" is making a comeback this year got me to thinking. ... While wishing others a "Merry Christmas" focuses on the reason for the season, it doesn't go nearly far enough for those of us who desire to live Divine Mercy as a way of life.
What if we decided during these remaining days of Advent to up the ante by preparing well to celebrate a very "Mercy Christmas"? What would that mean for each of us?
It might start with cultivating the right kind of attitude of mind and heart. Saint Faustina, the great Apostle of Divine Mercy, can show us the way. Consider these key points.
1. God wants to us to grow in joy and wonder at the coming of His Son, Mercy Incarnate. Then our hearts will be prepared to receive Him on Christmas.
As we consider with amazement the mystery of God becoming man in Jesus, we should slow down and contemplate His great love and mercy towards us in the Incarnation. Saint Faustina speaks of this mystery of "Mercy Incarnate" and tells us that even "heaven is amazed" by it:
The Word becomes flesh; God dwells among us, the Word of God, Mercy Incarnate. By Your descent, You have lifted us up to Your divinity. Such is the excess of Your love, the abyss of Your mercy. Heaven is amazed at the superabundance of your love. No one fears to approach You now. You are the God of mercy. You have compassion on misery (Diary of St. Faustina, 1745).
In quiet prayer, draw close to this God of mercy who has such compassion on your misery. Try to minimize distractions in your daily schedule. Spend time before the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament in an adoration chapel. Turn off the car radio during your commute to ponder the superabundance of God's love for you in sending His Son. As you wake up and fall asleep, take a few moments to thank God for the great gift of His Son. Ask Him to fill you with joy, wonder, and amazement as you prepare for the coming of your Savior at Christmas.
This kind of spiritual preparation will make your heart ready to receive the Baby Jesus on Christmas — to hold Him close to your heart. Consider the wonder and joy of St. Faustina as she encountered the Christ Child on Christmas Eve in 1937:
When I arrived at Midnight Mass, from the very beginning I steeped myself in deep recollection, during which time I saw the stable of Bethlehem filled with great radiance. The Blessed Virgin, all lost in the deepest of love, was wrapping Jesus in swaddling clothes, but Saint Joseph was still asleep. Only after the Mother of God put Jesus in the manger did the light of God awaken Joseph, who also prayed. But after a while, I was left alone with the Infant Jesus who stretched out His little hands to me, and I understood that I was to take Him in my arms. Jesus pressed His head against my heart and gave me to know, by His profound gaze, how good He found it to be next to my heart (Diary, 1442).
2. The awesome Lord of all left heaven and became a little child for our sake. Following His example, He invites us to become like little children, growing in childlike trust in God.
We all too easily forget that the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity laid aside His glory and majesty to become small for our sake. It is an invitation for us to trust in God's plan for our lives, too.
Saint Faustina was granted a powerful vision after Holy Communion in which the veil was lifted and she recognized the Child Jesus as the Lord of the universe:
... I suddenly saw the Infant Jesus standing by my kneeler and holding on to it with His two little hands. Although, He was but a little Child, my soul was filled with awe and fear, for I see in Him my Judge, my Lord, and my Creator, before whose holiness the angels tremble. At the same time, my soul was flooded with such unspeakable love that I thought I would die under its influence. I now see that Jesus first strengthens my soul and makes it capable of abiding with Him, for otherwise I would not be able to bear what I experience at such a moment (Diary, 566).
Notice how the Lord first strengthens Sr. Faustina so that she can abide with Him and bear this mystical experience. Put another way, it is her love and trust in the Lord that enable her to perceive the greatness of the Child Jesus precisely in His smallness.
It is no surprise, then, that the Christ Child comes to Sr. Faustina at Mass in another vision to teach her spiritual childhood — to ask her to become little like Himself:
... I saw the Infant Jesus near my kneeler. He appeared to be about one year old, and He asked me to take Him in my arms. When I did take Him in my arms, He cuddled up close to my bosom and said, It is good for Me to be close to your heart. ... Because I want to teach you spiritual childhood. I want you to be very little, because when you are little, I carry you close to My Heart, just as you are holding me close to your heart right now (Diary, 1481).
How is the Lord inviting us during these remaining days of Advent to become little in His presence? Perhaps He is asking us to abandon our own plans of the perfect Christmas and focus more on loving Him and our families in a spirit of simplicity and humility. That might mean letting go of having the house perfectly cleaned, all of the gifts wrapped to our liking, and preparing all of the holiday foods on our list.
Or maybe Jesus is inviting us to remember the friend or family member that we tend to neglect over the holidays — perhaps due to some slight. If so, can we swallow our pride and make a point of contacting them?
Whatever our situation, if we become little, the Lord Jesus on Christmas will be able to carry us close to His Heart — just as He did with St. Faustina.
3. As we become little and humble before the Lord, we can seek to delight His Heart by performing works of mercy for others in need. If possible, we can even keep them secret so that they are known to the Lord alone.
Opportunities abound to perform works of mercy at this time of the year. There is still time during these last days of Advent. Check out your local newspaper, parish bulletin, or the bulletin board at your place of employment for such opportunities.
Here, at the Marian Helpers Center in Stockbridge, Mass., we give staff the opportunity to donate and wrap gifts for a needy family. We also sponsor a 50/50 raffle in which half of the proceeds provide certificates that needy families can redeem for children's clothing.
In my parish of Sacred Heart in Pittsfield, Mass., we have the tradition of a Christmas Giving Tree with ornaments that specify gifts for residents at an area nursing home. Parishioners take down an ornament, purchase and wrap the gift specified, and then place it under the tree at Sunday Mass. There's also a Christmas Prayer Tree on which the ornaments offer the opportunity to remember a nursing home resident in prayer over the holidays.
A great work of mercy caught my eye in the Dec. 8 edition of The Berkshire Eagle, my local newspaper. A story ran about a 42-year-old northern Berkshire woman with end-stage lung disease planning to take in the holiday sights with her husband and 5-year-old child.
"She wants to see the Christmas lights in the county one last time," said Shawn Godfrey, an EMT-paramedic and the operations manager of Village Ambulance in Williamstown, Mass.
The woman's ride around the county with her family — which took place on Dec. 11 — was the first trip in "Sentimental Voyages," a program that allows hospice patients to take a trip, via a Village ambulance, to local destinations of their choice.
4. Present your gifts of the heart to the Baby Jesus on Christmas Day. And here are some tips for celebrating the big day and the entire season of Christmas.
After preparing spiritually for Christmas and then performing works of mercy out of love for the Baby Jesus, enter into the joy of the season on Christmas day. Offer him the gift of your heart — your very life — in gratitude for His great gift of Himself to you.
Share in the same joy of the shepherds on the first Christmas:
Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock. The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear. The angel said to them: "Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger." And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying:
"Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom His favor rests" (Lk 2:8-14).
Here are some tips for celebrating Christmas Day and the entire season:
â€¢ In the rush to make your final preparations for Christmas, don't forget to prepare well for Mass on the big day. Whether you are attending Holy Mass on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, plan to spend some quiet time reading and then reflecting on the Christmas Mass readings.
â€¢ When you celebrate at home with family and friends, remain Christ-centered. Before you open any gifts, place the Baby Jesus in the manger. Sing Him "Happy Birthday" and perhaps even provide a cake. Give each person the opportunity to offer a prayer to the Baby Jesus.
â€¢ Consider inviting someone over — especially someone in need — to share part of Christmas Day with you and your family. You may want to consider extending an invitation to Christmas dinner.
â€¢ Remember that Christmas is a season that extends to the Baptism of the Lord. So, continue to celebrate throughout the entire season — perhaps with parties and special dinners with family and friends. Whatever you do, make it a joyful and festive time for the entire season.
In closing, let me wish you and yours a very "Mercy Christmas," filled with the joy and wonder of the season. And don't forget to thank God the Father — again and again — for the greatest gift of all: sending Jesus, Mercy Incarnate, to save us from our sins.
David Came is the executive editor of Marian Helper magazine, the flagship publication of the Association of Marian Helpers, which is headquartered in Stockbridge, Mass.