Christmas trees are down and stored away until next year or waiting curbside to be picked up. Holiday decorations are packed away. Little remains visible of Christmas 2016. Stores have moved on from Christmas bargains and are prepared for the next holiday. Walking into a store the other day, I saw Valentine displays and cards! Yes, for many the Christmas season has ended.
Not so, however, for the Church and the Liturgical Year. The stable and manger remain in our churches until after the Feast of the Epiphany. Christmas hymns continue to be sung and decorations of the season are still evident. The meaning of Christmas is too profound to be exhausted in one day. The Church lingers on the Christmas season and asks us to do the same.
Prompted by world and national events, my thoughts during the Christmas season have turned often to the Christ Child, the Prince of Peace. Perhaps many of you are concerned, as I am, about the violence that continues to erupt on our streets and most recently in our shopping malls, and the continued devastation of war, particularly in the Middle East. In addition, the lack of peace and harmony is experienced among our friends and family members, not to mention the unrest and discord that may reside within our hearts.
As people of faith, we believe the coming of the Prince of Peace is cause for hope and joy. His coming among us drove out the darkness of sin and ushered in the time of light and grace that opened the way to peace and reconciliation with God and one another. “Whoever accepts the Good News of Jesus is able to acknowledge the violence within and be healed by God’s mercy, becoming an instrument of reconciliation. In the words of Saint Francis of Assisi: ‘As you announce peace within your mouth, make sure that you have greater peace in your hearts’” (Pope Francis, 2017 World Day of Peace Message, 3).
As we move away from the Christmas season, let’s not waver in our responsibility to announce the Gospel as instruments of peace. An instrument of peace:
• is patient: How many heated conflicts could be avoided if we took a breath and patiently thought about our words before we spoke them aloud? “Sticks and stones can break my bones but words will never hurt me.” Personal experience has taught us the fallacy of that statement. Words have power. They can build up or tear down. Hurt feelings, retaliatory speech, and actions that escalate anger can be avoided when we practice patience.
• encounters Jesus daily: No encounter is more important than our daily encounter with Christ. When we are open to this encounter, the Lord does not disappoint us. “Whenever we take a step toward Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms” (Pope Francis, Walking with Jesus, p. 15-16). Whoever has encountered Christ cannot keep this experience to himself or herself, but feels the need to share it and lead others to the beauty of the Gospel. An instrument of peace seeks the Lord daily and is open to His grace.
• is attentive to others: No one likes to be dismissed or ignored. Good relationships with a spouse, friend, neighbor, coworker, and even among nations, require consideration and thoughtfulness, an attention marked by kindness, courtesy, and genuine interest in the other. Noticing and paying attention to others shows respect, supports harmony, and lessens discord.
• realizes the need for conversion: We often think of conversion as turning away from sin and evil. Surely it is. But as we turn away we are also turning toward someone — an ever faithful and merciful God. In this life, we will never be perfect instruments of peace but if we are consistently turning more fully toward Jesus and becoming more Christ-like, we can be effective witnesses to His peace.
• is joyful: Gloomy news announced by gloomy people does not inspire hope and joy! Joy is a hallmark of the Christmas season. The angels announced the good news with song! Those who announce the good news must do so with joy — even in the midst of an imperfect world where violence and tragedy seem to overpower the Gospel.
In the words of a popular song, “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.” We entrust our efforts to be instruments of peace to Mary, the Queen of Peace. “At the birth of her Son, the angels gave glory to God and wished peace on earth to men and women of good will (cf. Lk 2:14). Let us pray for her guidance” (Pope Francis, 2017 World Day of Peace Message, 7).
If you have a prayer intention you would like me to consider during the weeks ahead, please mail it to my attention at 240 E. Onondaga St., Syracuse, N.Y. 13202.