Prepare Well for Christ

Advice for family preparation for Christmas

Christmas marks God entering time in a new, distinct way — in a way that fulfills all of his promises to his people to be with them and to save them. He chose to come through a family, and he invites all people to be a part of that family. “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman … so that we might receive adoption” (Galatians 4:4). 

Year after year, Christmas offers families a season to renew the sense of wonder at the way God entered time.  How will families allow him to enter their Christmastime this year? Catholic families should use the season to regroup, renew and revitalize their faith.

“During Christmas and New Year’s, which can be the most hectic and noisiest holidays, the Church offers us an opportunity for one of the most silent, peaceful and meditative times, which would be preparing for the coming of Christ,” said Ryan Hiaeshutter, a seminarian for the Diocese of Dallas.

It is a call to Catholics to “establish an alternate rhythm of life,” said Matthew Walz, a father of seven and a philosophy professor at the University of Dallas. He notices how the secular calendar is always forward-looking, but the liturgical calendar calls man to look to the past. At this time of year for the Church, the “underlying spiritual attitude is recollection and nostalgia in a good sense, a sense of home,” said Walz.

Both the secular world and the Christian world recognize family as a focus of Christmas — and it should be prepared for well.

“It really is a domestic feast. The preparation should be domestic. It seems fitting, as you are really celebrating the family — the Holy Family,” said Walz.

Consumed with parties at work and school, it can be difficult to retain the focus on the domestic celebration. Chris Smith, a seminarian for the Diocese of Austin, Texas, says two ways to retain this focus are giving something up and adding something extra to the regular family routine.

In the preparation, both parents and children must play an active part.

“Parents aren’t called to be thermometers; they are called to be thermostats,” said Greg Schlueter — a lay evangelist with Mass Impact Ohio, Image Trinity and Live It! evangelization programs, as well as a father of seven — in alluding to the sometimes-passive role parents take in determining their children’s environment.

“If the parents set that model of Advent as important to this family, as Christ is the center of the family, the coming of Christ will be the focus of this Advent. I think that will set a precedent to other Catholic families and ultimately to the world,” said Hiaeshutter.

Due to heavy use and the influence of technology on today’s society, parents might try limiting this distraction and focus on family with joyful preparation towards the coming of Christ.

“Things like the Internet or TV create a lot of noise and can dictate what you think about. When I actually go to pray, I am thinking about what I read on the Internet, heard on the news, read on a blog or this text message that my friend sent me. But the more we cut it out, the more we will be able to focus on hearing the voice of God,” said Hiaeshutter.

While recognizing the many resources that technology can provide when it comes to prayer and living one’s Catholic faith, Hiaeshutter says it needs to be recognized as only a tool and can be either beneficial or detrimental.

Suggesting ways to re-evaluate technology use, Cistercian  Father Bryan Esposito — of Our Lady of Dallas, the Cistercian abbey that serves the University of Dallas community — who teaches theology at the University of Dallas, said, “Ask yourself: Is my phone or the Internet serving my relationship with Christ? Is it bettering it? Or am I simply using it as an excuse to distract myself from what I should be doing or how I should be serving the Lord?”

Schlueter suggests giving “presence” for Christmas. “When you look at research of what kids most want, while they may want the exciting new toy, above all, they want Mom and Dad to be present to them. They want to have meaningful present time with their family,” he said.

To help fill this need, he created “Presence for Christmas” (PresenceforChristmas.com) that challenges families to set aside three nights a week for 30 minutes of talk and prayer. The purpose is building family community, understanding and love.

Whether one follows his program or not, Schlueter said that families should “talk; find things out about one another; be curious; be empathetic — open that door to love.”

Family prayer, activities, adoration and charity work are sometimes difficult to work into a family’s daily life, but Walz suggests a few simple additions at this special time of year. “One thing we have started doing now that the kids are a little older is [that] family prayer always includes some extended silence.”

He suggests building family harmony by having siblings pray in particular for another sibling with whom they do not get along well. As a way to encourage missionary zeal, he also suggests charity work, such as family visits to nursing homes.

In expanding the focus from the family to the Church family, Father Esposito said, “Christmas carols are where it is at.” Containing some of the most profound theological texts and providing insight into the mystery, he says that carols “bring the entire community together to sing loudly, and perhaps badly, but, nevertheless, they unite a community.”

Whether spending more time with the family, more time in prayer, limiting technology or doing good works, this Church time is a call for rebirth.

As Schlueter said, “Advent is a God-given open door to the beginning of the adventure.”

Bridget Weisenburger attends the University of Dallas.

Cistercian Father Thomas Esposito says of discerning one’s college choice, ‘There has to be something that tugs at you and makes you want to investigate it further. And then the personal encounter comes in the form of a visit or a chat with a student or alumnus who communicates with the same enthusiasm or energy about the place. And then that love of a place can be a seed which germinates in your own heart through prayer.’

Choose a College With a Discerning Mind and Heart

Cistercian Father Thomas Esposito, assistant professor of theology at the University of Dallas (UD) and subprior (and former vocations director) of the Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady of Dallas, drew from his experience as both a student and now monastic religious to help those discerning understand the parallels between religious and college discernment.

Cistercian Father Thomas Esposito says of discerning one’s college choice, ‘There has to be something that tugs at you and makes you want to investigate it further. And then the personal encounter comes in the form of a visit or a chat with a student or alumnus who communicates with the same enthusiasm or energy about the place. And then that love of a place can be a seed which germinates in your own heart through prayer.’

Choose a College With a Discerning Mind and Heart

Cistercian Father Thomas Esposito, assistant professor of theology at the University of Dallas (UD) and subprior (and former vocations director) of the Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady of Dallas, drew from his experience as both a student and now monastic religious to help those discerning understand the parallels between religious and college discernment.