“I will rejoice heartily in the Lord, my being exults in my God.” — Isaiah 61:10
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
This weekend we celebrate the third Sunday of Advent — “Gaudete Sunday” — a time to rejoice because the Lord’s coming is near. With just one more week of the Advent season remaining, we eagerly anticipate the arrival of our Savior’s birth at Christmas.
Christmas is indeed a time of joy and celebration — a whole season, in fact, that begins Dec. 25 and doesn’t end until Jan. 8, the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. It isn’t surprising that the Church devotes more than one day to celebrate the wonderful gift of Christ coming into our world and into our hearts.
The Christmas season is about the hope that Christ brings into our broken world — the hope of love, mercy and forgiveness for everyone. He is the answer to all the challenges we face in this life, and he offers the gift of eternal salvation.
During this time of great happiness, however, there are days that don’t seem to fit the spirit of the season. On Dec. 26, for example, we celebrate the feast of St. Stephen, the Church’s first martyr, who was stoned by a crowd infuriated by his public preaching of the Good News. A few days later, Dec. 28, is the feast of the Holy Innocents, martyrs killed by King Herod. And Dec. 29 is the feast of St. Thomas Becket, who was murdered in his own English cathedral for defending the Church from royal meddling.
These days following the feast of Christmas remind us that being a witness to God’s great love born into the world requires some important work on our part. As Christians, we need to be the face of Christ to others. In the words of our diocesan mission statement, we must be his “heart of mercy, voice of hope, and hands of justice.”
We may never be called upon to witness to our faith in the same way as St. Stephen and St. Thomas Becket. But we are called to give up our lives for Christ in other ways — “by doing one’s duty with love, according to the logic of Jesus, the logic of gift, of sacrifice,” as Pope Francis once explained. The feast of Christmas challenges us to follow the ways of Christ, not necessarily the ways of the world.
How do we do that? By loving our enemies, forgiving those who have wronged us, promoting a culture of life, and putting the needs of others before our own, especially those of the poor and vulnerable.
I am particularly thinking of the immigrants and refugees of our nation and state who have come here seeking a better life. They face many difficult challenges at this time, including family separation. The Holy Family, which was forced to flee into Egypt for their own safety, understood the plight of migrants. As Catholics, we need to offer our prayers, welcome and assistance to these brothers and sisters in need. We also need to educate ourselves about their situation and the need for better immigration polices. In Minnesota, we will observe Immigration Sunday on Jan. 7, the feast of the Epiphany. Please watch for more information about this annual event in your parishes and on our diocesan website: stcdio.org.
During the season of Advent, we focus on preparing our hearts for the coming of Christ. These remaining days before Christmas are a good time to reflect on how that preparation is coming along. How are we getting ready for the birth of our Savior? And how are we preparing to celebrate that gift by conforming our lives more closely to his? How will we be different after the Christmas celebrations are over and we return to our day-to-day lives?
May you and your loved ones have a blessed Christmas! And, after Christmas, may we be effective witnesses of the “good news of great joy” that came to us in the manger at Bethlehem.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
+Donald J. Kettler
Bishop of Saint Cloud