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Make this Christmas about forgiving

By Steve Stricker

Sunday, Nov. 29 was the first Sunday of Advent. Advent, or “coming” in Latin, refers to the coming of Jesus into the world. Advent originated as a penitential fast for 40 days in preparation for our Lord’s birth; much like Lent prepares us for Christ’s rising from the dead at Easter.

For a plethora of reasons, I’m not that fond of Christmas, but something happened to me that first Sunday of Advent. I like to arrive an hour early for Mass and just sit, pray, be still, say my Rosary, or browse my I-Phone — my introvert-Jesus-battery-charge time. Being the only one in church, it was lovely, quiet and softly raining outside.

As I gazed upon the Advent wreath on a wood stand just to the right of the altar with its three purple candles, one pink for the third Sunday of Advent, (or Gaudate “rejoice” for passing the midpoint of Advent), and one large white one in the center with greenery and ribbons, a wave of nostalgia hit me unexpectedly and I suddenly felt a deep peace, forgiveness, and like a wee lad again in my boyhood church of St Henry’s in the Bootheel of Missouri, gawking wide-eyed as an altar boy lit the first candle of our large Advent wreath in the back of church signaling that in four weeks it would be Christmas and assuring that time for me would pass like honey trying to flow down that frozen pole on, ”A Christmas Story.”

In the spring, Pope Francis announced a “Jubilee Year of Mercy” to begin on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, Dec. 8, and end on the Solemnity of Christ the King, Nov. 20, 2016. Its motto is, “Compassionate like the Father.”

“Let us not forget that God forgives and God forgives always,” Pope Francis said when announcing the year. “Let us never tire of asking for forgiveness.” This Holy Year is a time, “to bear the weaknesses and struggles of our brothers and sisters,” an occasion to, “open our eyes and see the misery of the world.”

The Pope said, “I am convinced that the whole Church — which has much need to receive mercy, because we are sinners — will find in this jubilee the joy to rediscover and render fruitful the mercy of God, with which we are all called to give consolation to every man and woman of our time.”

Our world is struggling for peace and mercy and we can feel somewhat helpless as to what to do. Peace and mercy must begin with each of us — first to forgive ourselves, to reach out to those in our family to whom we are not speaking, mend broken friendships, drop our defenses and help at least three other people every day; volunteer our time to visit those in hospitals or retirement homes, and in doing so experience the warmth that can change our lives and hopefully our world. 

Prayer of St. Francis de Sales:

Be at peace

Do not look forward in fear to the changes of life; rather look to them with full hope as they arise.

God, whose very own you are, will deliver you from out of them.

He has kept you hitherto, and He will lead you safely through all things; and when you cannot stand it, God will carry you in his arms.

Do not fear what may happen tomorrow; the same everlasting Father who cares for you today will take care of you then and every day.

He will either shield you from suffering, or will give you unfailing strength to bear it.

Be at peace, and put aside all anxious thoughts and imagination.

For the first time in so very long, I am once again excited about Christmas this year, as there is peace in my life, with my three sons, Stephen, Scott and Shane, my house is decorated inside and out. Buying gifts for my sons and family has been joyful and fun.

I’m not sure where I’ll be this Christmas as my sons are in Kansas City, Morgantown, and Florence, Kentucky and although Oxford becomes a ghost town, that’s okay as this is my “Camelot” and I’m eagerly anticipating Christmas, our Lord’s birth, and — Santa Claus!

Merry Christmas, PEACE, and GO REBELS in the Sugar Bowl!