Plan to Enjoy Christmas

In the busyness of the season, it takes an intentional effort to focus on the true meaning of Christmas, so we have some suggestions on how to keep Christ in Christmas and how to plan a Christmas Day the whole family will enjoy.

Even if your Advent has not been very spiritual to this point, start now by reading through the Advent story in the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke. It is a beautiful story of trust in the Lord where we hear about two faithful women who were open to the miracles God gave them.

Two verses in this reading relate to the Hail Mary Prayer. In Luke 1:26-28 we hear the greeting from the Angel Gabriel to Mary, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.” This is the first line we use when praying “Hail Mary full of grace the Lord is with you.”

The next part of the story is when Mary visits Elizabeth and we hear the second part of the Hail Mary in Elizabeth’s greeting from Luke 1:41- 42, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”

Through these two faithful women, we can see that God works miracles in situations which humans would think impossible. Elizabeth was considered too old to bear a child, Mary became pregnant, even though she was a virgin. Instead of worrying about all the things you have to do this week, think about the miracles God has worked in your life.

Unfortunately, many people have a hard time seeing those miracles, and for them, Christmas is a very difficult time of the year. Some have lost their spouse. Some have experienced life changes that have thrown their world off balance. And how many single parents need encouraging friendships and financial help? It’s easy for them to feel all alone and consider Christmas as a time to simply survive.

It is easy for us to exclude these people from our celebrations—just as Mary and Joseph were excluded from the inn when they sought shelter in Bethlehem. I challenge you to make room for the lonely, the outcast, and the widow by praying that the Lord will bring one needy person into your life this holiday—someone who has a need for fellowship or financial assistance or someone who needs to feel the love of Christ in a real way.

Carry a care package in your car with handouts for the homeless, including water, granola bars, canned meals, disposable cutlery, and small toiletries. This is a great way to help the homeless without giving them money.

If there are people in your church who need transportation to Christmas Mass, go out of your way to help them. It’s easy to get caught up in the activities of your own family, but what better way to teach children about the real meaning of Christmas than to show them what it means to be a Christian.

Invite someone who is alone to join your family for a Christmas meal. Your table may be full, but there is always room for one more.

Maybe you know someone who is homebound, or in a hospital or nursing home. Take time on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day to visit with them, take them food (allowable on their diet) and pray with them. Fill Christmas stockings with simple items they’ll use like hand-cream, postage stamps, pens, pencils, a small notebook, magazines, socks or simple Christmas decorations.

Extend your outreach to your own family by planning some low key activities for Christmas Day that the whole family will enjoy. One of the problems is the headlong rush into Christmas Day, then suddenly it’s over as soon as the presents are opened. Christmas will be more meaningful if you find ways for the family to slow down and savor the day.

A leisurely gift opening on Christmas Day can foster an attitude of gratitude instead of having everyone tear into presents in five minutes of total chaos.

In our family, when it’s time to open gifts, the children pass out the gifts to everyone. When everyone has their presents in a pile in front of them, we start with the youngest, who opens ONE present, when that one present is opened, and everyone has oohhed and aahhed over it, the next oldest opens ONE present. We go through the family in rotation from youngest to oldest with each person opening ONE present when it’s their turn, till all presents are opened.

This slow process eliminates the ‘what’s next’ attitude when there is a big build up to Christmas presents, and the presents take less than 5 minutes to unwrap. Usually, the kids get interested in one of their gifts before their next turn, which gives them time to enjoy their gifts and appreciate what they received.

The other thing that happens is that the oldest people (usually parents and grandparents) generally have the fewest gifts and drop out of the present opening rotation earliest. This situation results in the kids being worried about how few presents dad or grandma got, so there are opportunities for talking about what’s really important as far as giving and receiving gifts

Another idea we’ve used to slow down the gift opening is to make a game of it. Hide the gifts and play “hot and cold” as the person gets near where their gift is hidden. Try writing a poem or playing 20 questions in order for them to guess their gift.  And the kids always love scavenger hunts where you hide clues around the house and send them scurrying around to find each clue which finally leads them to their gift.

Creating other family traditions will bring everyone together for fun and build memories that last a lifetime. Make a fire and roast marshmallows or make s’mores. Pick a favorite family game and have a tournament—Spoons; I doubt it; Monopoly; Uno, etc. Pull out pictures from Christmas past—especially pictures of the parents as kids or the children as babies.

Watch traditional family movies on Christmas Day—It’s a Wonderful Life; The Nativity Story, The Ultimate Gift, The Polar Express: A Christmas Carol.

Put together a jigsaw puzzle. Have it set up on a card table, so people can work on it sporadically throughout the day.

Read (or make up) a Christmas story—have different people read different parts in voices appropriate to the character.  Even the little ones can get involved if you have them say some key phrases during the story.

After Christmas dinner, go outside for a walk to get some exercise and use the excess energy the kids have from all the excitement. Play flag football. Play in the snow; build a snowman; have a snowball fight, make snow angels. Or if you are in a warm climate like we are, go to the beach and build sandcastles, play volleyball or simply walk and bask in God’s beautiful creation.

By consciously making plans to slow down and enjoy the holidays. “Then you and your family… shall make merry over all these good things which the LORD, your God, has given you.” Deuteronomy 26:11.

When you really think about it; what do want to accomplish during the Christmas season? You want to build memories you can enjoy the rest of your life. Memories centered around celebrating the birth of Christ, helping the less fortunate, and enjoying family and friends.

This Christmas season, don’t let the world make you discontent with its focus on buying. Instead, learn to be content by developing traditions that are meaningful and fun but not expensive. Use the Christmas holidays to make memories that will last a lifetime.

And most importantly, keep Christ in your Christmas.

Join the Compass Catholic podcast on thoughts on how to make conscious plans for a Christmas day you will enjoy.

Christmas Got Hijacked

Christmas has been hijacked and has become a heavily marketed secular event in which the pressure to wow family and friends with presents, decorations, and Christmas dinner is enough to cause stress for weeks beforehand as you prepare. And there is an additional stress for months afterward as you deal with the credit card bills.

Unfortunately, a beautiful holiday to celebrate the birth of our Savior has turned into one big sales event for retailers.

“Christmas creep” is the continued push to move Christmas buying earlier and earlier each year. Last year, I shopped at one of our big box stores 2 weeks BEFORE Christmas and there were two shelves of Christmas items. However, in October, the whole front of the store was filled with things to buy for Christmas right beside all the ghoulish costumes, decorations, and candy for Halloween.

For many retail businesses, Christmas has turned into a season of “make-it-or-break-it” financially. As the retailers try to reach their bottom line, they push more and more marketing strategies to manipulate us and make us want to BUY in order to boost their profits.

Another marketing ploy over the last several years is making Christmas NOT Christmas. After generations of growing consumerism, the spiritual aspects of Christmas have become the target of people who are intent on stripping away all religious references and symbols in our society. Robbing Christmas of its true meaning gives more focus to the buying and commercial aspects of the holiday. In the retail world, the word “Christmas” is avoided because a secular view means a better bottom line in a religion-free marketplace.

The good news of the Savior’s birth gets buried under all the commercialism.

As Catholics, we need to maintain the ideals of what Christmas is all about—peace, goodwill, charity, and love. These ideals are the total opposites of the consumer frenzy that characterizes Christmas today.

Consider the tradition of gift-giving. What began in the fourth century as giving essential items such as food and clothing to the needy has become the exchange of non-essentials among the not-so-needy. We’ve gone from a way to help the helpless to a tit-for-tat gift exchange. What’s more, driven by escalating expectations, too many of us end up spending money we don’t have to buy people things they don’t need, don’t want and won’t use.

Not only is that a bad exercise in Christian stewardship, but it also fuels the materialistic push towards a Christ-less Christmas. That is not to say that Christians shouldn’t exchange gifts. It only means that the Christian ideal should be balanced toward true charity and that any gifts purchased should be well within the financial means of the giver.

Reclaiming a Christian vision extends to other Christmas traditions as well, and we can move toward a more spiritual sense of Christmas by appreciating the Christian tradition behind some of our Christmas symbols.

Light is the pre-eminent symbol of Christmas. The Light Who is Christ was foreshadowed by the Advent candles and is now symbolized by the Christ Candle that burns throughout the Twelve Days of Christmas. We use this symbol in the lights on our Christmas tree, and in the lights strung around the outside of our homes. (Don’t even get me started on the Christmas “light fights” where neighbors compete to have the gaudiest displays. Another perfect example of hijacking the true meaning of Christmas.)

In ancient Rome, laurel, was used in wreaths as a symbol of victory. Christians adopted the practice, using a wreath to represent the victory of the newborn King.

The candy cane legend started in the late 1800s when a candy maker in Indiana wanted to express the holy meaning of Christmas through a symbol made of candy. He took white peppermint sticks and bent them to suggest both the staff carried by the adoring shepherds and the letter “J” for Jesus.  He let the color white symbolize the purity and sinless nature of Jesus, and the color red is representative for the blood Christ shed for us.

Poinsettias are called the “Nativity Flower,” in Mexico. The shape of the leaves symbolizes the Star of Bethlehem. Their red color represents the Blood of Christ and the burning love of God.

There is so much about Christmas that has significant meaning in our faith. Yet we often take things for granted and follow along with our culture. We need to do all we can to fight the culture wars and keep Christ in Christmas.

In Joshua 24:15 we hear the following: “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” Don’t fall into the habit of calling Christmas the “winter holiday.” Teach your children the Christian meaning behind the Christmas symbols. Don’t spend more than you can afford in order to achieve a false sense of the Christmas spirit.

Do everything you can do to stay focused on the Baby in the manger—the true reason to celebrate Christmas!

Join the Compass Catholic podcast for more about reclaiming Christmas for Christ.

Christmas Isn’t Ever Over

advent-1897920_640It seems like we’ve been preparing for Christmas since Labor Day and on Sunday Christmas will be here.

Then it’s over.

By Monday, December 26th our secular world will have moved beyond Christmas to the next big shopping event—Valentines Day. Once December 26th arrives, there will be no more Christmas carols on the radio. Shortly thereafter, the Christmas trees will be dumped at the end of the driveway for trash pickup. All the ornaments and decorations will be packed away. The cookies will be nothing but crumbs and Christmas will be out of mind and out of sight for another 10 months.

However, when most people are finished, Catholics are just getting started with the Christmas season. For Catholics, the Christmas season begins at the vigil Mass on Christmas Eve and the season ends with the Baptism of our Lord (on January 10th in 2017).

What about us? When do we bring Christmas to an end? We are all very familiar with the saying “Keep Christ in Christmas” but do we also say “Keep Christ in February 23rd or May 15th or October 9th”? What do we do to keep Christ as the center of our lives beyond the Christmas season?

St. Augustine wrote that “our hearts are restless until they rest in him.” This year take a few minutes out of your Christmas celebrations to plan ways to keep Christ out of Christmas too! We need him every minute of every day, not just at Christmas time.

A great tradition to start with your family is to talk about the real end of the Christmas season on January 10th and tell the children about the baptism of Our Lord. This leads to discussions about their own baptism.

Tell them stories about their baptism. Did they cry or smile when the water was sprinkled on their head? What did they wear? If you have moved to a different location, which church did you attend when they were baptized? Who was the priest who baptized them? Which family members and friends joined with you to celebrate? What did the family do to celebrate?

Talk to your children about the saint’s name you chose for them. By choosing a saint’s name you asked a particular saint to assist you in bringing up the child and that saint became your child’s patron. Find ways to teach them about their patron saint.

You can remind them of their saint when we say the creed at Mass, acknowledging that we believe in the Communion of Saints. This means we are spiritually united with those who have died and are now in heaven. They can act as intercessors—they have the ability to assist us and pray for us—and they should be a role model for your child.

If your child also bears the name of a relative, you have another teaching tool. What do you remember about the relative? What good qualities did they have that you want your child to share? Are there any funny stories you remember about their namesake? If they have passed away they are also united with your child in the Communion of Saints.

During the year, you can return to the focus on baptism and faith by celebrating the anniversary of your child’s baptism. It can be something as simple as a cupcake with a candle. Or even lighting their baptism candle (if you know where it is) on the anniversary of their baptism. This is a very real way to help them bring their faith to life.

Children love hearing tales about when they were a baby and telling them about their own baptism is a great way to bring the Christmas season to a holy and meaningful end. It is also a simple way to keep the focus on faith throughout the year.

Another way to keep the faith in front of them is to say this simple prayer from St. Patrick each day. What a beautiful way to send them off for the day. Try learning one stanza at a time and recite it by alternating each line between parent and child:

Christ be beside me,
Christ be before me,
Christ be behind me,
King of my heart.

Christ be within me, 

Christ be below me, 

Christ be above me, 

never to part. 


Christ on my right hand, 

Christ on my left hand, 

Christ all around me, 

shield in the strife. 


Christ in my sleeping, 

Christ in my sitting, 

Christ in my rising, 

light of my life. 


Christ be in all hearts thinking about me; 

Christ be on all tongues telling of me; 

Christ be the vision in eyes that see me; 

in ears that hear me, Christ ever be.

Merry Christmas from Compass Catholic Ministries from now till January 10, 2017!

Evelyn Bean

The Dishonest Steward

cross-66700_640 (1)The Gospel reading yesterday always confused me, until I really concentrated on the details. Luke 16:1-13 tells the story of “The Dishonest Steward.” To summarize, a steward was fired because he had squandered the rich man’s property. He was left without a job and did not want to do manual labor, nor did he want to beg. But he needed a way to make a living. Finally, he decided to go to each of his master’s debtors and forgive a portion of their debt. And the master commended that dishonest steward for acting prudently.

The praise for a dishonest steward has always bothered me. Why is he being praised for being dishonest? In understanding this passage, it helps to remember that at this time in history, agents acted on behalf of their master. The steward was praised because he collected the full amount of the debt owed to his master. The debt that was reduced or eliminated was actually his commission. So even though he was guilty of squandering the rich man’s property, he was honest in collecting the master’s debt payments.

He was also praised for being prudent. By eliminating his commission, he charged the debtors less and made friends with them. Thus they became obligated to him. Instead of being a victim of circumstance, he turns a bad situation around to benefit himself by making friends with the debtors. The parable does not praise dishonesty, rather it praises the ability to use our material resources wisely in a time of crisis. The steward knew he needed friends more than he needed the commission money.

This same parable of The Dishonest Steward gives us the passage where Jesus mentions two kinds of wealth—dishonest wealth and true wealth. “If, therefore, you are not trustworthy with dishonest wealth, who will trust you with true wealth?”

In some Bible translations the word mammon is used instead of the phrase “dishonest wealth.” The root word in Greek is mammonas, which translates to “money, wealth, and material possessions.” In ancient times, the word mammon had a negative connotation, as it was used to describe gluttony, greed, and dishonest worldly gain. Ultimately, mammon described excessive materialism, which seems to continue to be a problem today.

Money, worldly riches, or wealth are not bad in and of themselves. These things are simply tools for us to use in our secular society in order to buy things we need (and maybe some items we want.) What becomes bad is when money becomes the driving force in our lives and takes on a level of importance it does not deserve. Money can be used to build churches and hospitals or to care for the poor and needy. It can also be used to for illicit purposes which destroy people’s lives.

The true riches in this gospel passage have nothing to do with money and everything to do with spiritual blessings, such as the seven fruits of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, and most importantly a relationship with God. These true riches can not be bought with any amount of money, no matter how wealthy you are.

Another meaningful passage in this parable is: “You cannot serve both God and mammon.”

If we are worshiping the almighty dollar, and money is the primary focus of our life, then there is no room for God. The verse says you CAN NOT serve God and money. It does not say you MAY NOT be able to serve God and money. Nor does it say it COULD BE POSSIBLE to serve God and money. It says you CAN NOT. Not much room for second guessing—serving God and money at the same time is impossible
There is nothing wrong with making money or being wealthy, as long as it is a result of being a faithful steward. Using money to serve God and help others indicates you love God and you are serving him with the material blessings he entrusted to you.

It is not about the amount of money we have. It is about how faithful we are with whatever amount we have been gives whether much or little. Look at someone’s bank account and you will see what is important to them – what they idolize.

Jesus calls us to have complete dependence on the Father, not on our own economic security. All the money and possessions we have here on earth ultimately belong to God and are to be used for his purposes.

This world is temporary, yet millions of people live their lives as if this world is all there will ever be. They devote their entire lives to getting ahead in this world and accumulating all the “stuff” that seems so important, but which is, in reality, useless.

If the reason you are living is to make money for the sake of the things money can buy, then money becomes your god, and you cannot serve the living and true God. The verse says we CAN NOT serve God and Money. To be dependent upon wealth is opposed to the teachings of Jesus who counseled complete dependence on the Father as one of the characteristics of the Christian disciple

Everything we have can be used as either an material idol to worship or a tool to spread God’s Kingdom here on earth.

Evelyn Bean

Are You Honest or Truthful?

church-783165_640Fifty or sixty years ago, if you had asked someone if they were honest or truthful, they would have looked at you as if you had two heads. At that time, there was no discernable difference between the two. Our attitudes have changed so much that today people often manipulate their words and actions so they are scrupulously truthful without being absolutely honest. Unfortunately, the act of being totally truthful without being absolutely honest is acceptable in our secular society.

A great example of this is the little boy who was playing soccer in the house. He kicked the ball and it crashed into a lamp. The lamp fell to the floor and broke into a million pieces. Mom rushed into the room and asked the little boy if he had broken the lamp. He looked at her innocently and said “No Mommy.” When questioned further, he admitted that HE did not break the lamp. The BALL broke the lamp. He was technically honest, without being entirely truthful!

Judges 17:6 reads, “In those days there was no King in Israel; everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” When we act in ways acceptable to the secular world, but unacceptable in our spiritual lives, we are acting as if our living Lord, Jesus Christ, is incapable of discovering our dishonesty.

It is human nature to try and avoid the feelings of discomfort, yet acting dishonestly is never an acceptable way to make ourselves feel better. When we act dishonestly, we take matters into our own hands and control situations to our own benefit.

Think of the Pharisees who were utterly meticulous in giving their tithe. They even made sure to include the smallest mint leaf in their offering. But they were giving their offerings from a sense of duty rather than a sense of love and their attitude was not pleasing to God.

By manipulating our actions and words to be totally truthful without being honest, or by telling “little white lies” to avoid conflict, we are just as displeasing to God as the Pharisees. Society’s acceptance of relative honesty is the opposite of what we learn in Scripture. The Lord requires absolute honesty from all of us at all times in every aspect of our life.

Think about the difference in attitudes related to honesty that exist in our secular society and in God’s eyes. Society says our decisions about being honest can be based on whether or not we will be caught, yet if we are making a godly decision, we must base all our decisions on whether or not they will please God.
All of us make many small decisions about being honest every day. Do you deal honestly in all areas of your life, even the smallest ones? Do you quietly smile and pocket the extra money if the cashier makes a mistake when giving you change? Have you ever sold something and not been entirely truthful because you may have lost the sale? Do you cheat on your taxes—even just a little? Do you bring supplies home from the office for personal use?

When we act dishonestly we are deceiving another person. We may fool ourselves into thinking it’s just a business, or the government, or an insurance company. We may talk ourselves into thinking we are just trying to avoid conflict, but the victim is always a person and ultimately it is the business owners, the other consumers, or the taxpayers, or your spouse, friend or family you are hurting. In these situations, we are directly harming one of God’s children.

Our actions speak louder than our words and acting dishonestly dims the light of Christ shining within us, erodes our faith response, and tarnishes the Christian life that others see in us.

Little white lies are easy to tell, but each one leaves a small chip in the foundation of your relationship with others, and too many small chips will result in a cracked foundation.

The Catechism teaches, “By its very nature, lying is to be condemned. It is a profanation of speech, whereas the purpose of speech is to communicate known truth to others. The deliberate intention of leading a neighbor into error by saying things contrary to the truth constitutes a failure in justice and charity.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2485)

And the Bible tells us: “Scoundrels, villains, are they who deal in crooked talk.” (Proverbs 6:12) and “Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who are truthful, his delight.” (Proverbs 12:22)
If you have been dishonest in any way, seek the Sacrament of Reconciliation for a fresh start.

Evelyn Bean

Reflections on Leap Year

tulips-1083572_640Finally, it seems that the cold snaps are beginning to melt away and Spring is here.

Due to the leap year effect, Spring is early this year—the first official day of spring is March 19.

I was doing some investigating about how Leap Year works, and learned that the Gregorian calendar we use (how we measure days, weeks, months and years) is different than the Tropical Year (how long it actually takes the sun to return to the same position in the cycle of the seasons as viewed from earth.) The Gregorian Year of 365 days is actually 6 hours shorter than the tropical year and thus the need for Leap Year and the addition of an extra day every four years.

However, when the difference between the Gregorian Calendar and the Tropical Calendar is calculated over centuries, the leap year rule needs further adjustment.  Thus any century year that can be divided exactly by 400 is a leap year. For example, the year 2000 was a Leap Year, but the years 1700, 1800, and 1900 were not leap years.

The whole Leap Year thing made me think about the differences between how God made the world, how the world actually works and the way man perceives the world. This is especially true when it comes to the Compass Catholic Ministries sweet spot—finances.

Most people do not think that God has anything to do with their finances and they are astounded to find that there are over 2,500 verses in the Bible that relate to money and possessions. The Bible contains fewer than 500 verses on prayer and about 500 verses on faith. More than half of the parables are related to money and fifteen percent of everything Jesus said had to do with money. Yet Jesus lived in a much simpler time with no TV, Internet, radio, magazines, catalogues, credit cards, smart phones, billboards, ATMs, debit cards or digital currency. 

Why does the Bible say so much about money? Probably because God knew how much we would deal with money and how tempting it is for us to misuse it. Think about how much time you spend on a daily basis making money, spending money or using something you bought with money—almost 100 percent of our time is somehow related to money. 

We live in a world defined by commercials. Advertisers tell us that we should get everything we want when we want it because we deserve it (and because they want us to buy it!). Most advertising is aimed at making us feel inadequate if we don’t buy what they are selling.  Our culture barrages us with almost non-stop advertising—it’s everywhere! We even pay big bucks to wear advertising on our clothes. 

So many commercials don’t even give us the specifics on the product they want us to buy.  How many car commercials have you seen that talk about safe, reliable, cost effective transportation?  Instead they show a couple kissing passionately in the rain with the car in the background.

The most popular television shows are reality shows that allow us to put ourselves in the place of the contestants as they vie for big money and exotic trips. If we could only own this or that, have more money, vacation there, or drive that car then we would finally be happy. But no matter how much money we have or how much we buy, we’ll never get the fulfillment that can only come from God.  The words of St. Augustine are true: “You have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.”

Our attitude toward money and possessions can be the lever to our hearts. Money can be what draws us closer to God or what drives us to put up a wall between God and ourselves. So many times, we hold on to our money as if it were more important to us than God. But using money wisely and with the right attitude will bring us many blessings. When we give, save and spend in a manner pleasing to God we can grow closer to him. If we are unfaithful with money and possessions, our relationship with him will suffer.

Whether we are rich or poor does not matter. In fact, there are many rich people in the Bible, such as Abraham, Jacob, Samuel, Job and David, all of whom God blessed. There are just as many poor people in the Bible, such as the widow who gave everything, the beggars, the blind and lame, and the dead, all of whom God blessed.

The problem is not how much or how little we have. The problem is our attitude when worldly things become more important to us than God. Society tells us that only things fulfill us and bring us true happiness. When we believe this, we forsake God for our possessions.

One of the most misquoted verses in the Bible is 1 Timothy 6:10: “For the love of money is the root of all evils, and some people in their desire for it have strayed from the faith and have pierced themselves with many pains.” Money is not evil—it’s the love of money that causes problems. Money is simply a tool we use as a medium of exchange. What can be evil is our attitude towards money.

Just as the Gregorian and Tropical Calendars work differently, our culture and God’s creation work differently. So we must decide which is more important to us—what the world throws at us or what God has planned for us?

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways—oracle of the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, my thoughts higher than your thoughts.”    –  Isaiah 55:8

The REAL Christmas Season

christmas-crib-figures-1080132_1920It seems like we’ve been preparing for Christmas since Labor Day and on Friday Christmas will be here. By Monday (or maybe even Saturday) our secular world will have moved beyond Christmas to the next big shopping event–Valentines Day. Once December 26th arrives, there will be no more Christmas Carols on the radio, the trees will be dumped by the driveway for trash pickup and the season will be over for another 10 months.

However, when most people are finished with Christmas, Catholics are just starting the Christmas season. For Catholics, Christmas Eve begins the true Christmas Season and the Christmas Season does not end until January 10th with the Baptism of the Lord.

What about us? When do we end our Christmas? What do we do to keep Christ as the center of our lives beyond the Christmas season? We are all used to hearing “Keep Christ in Christmas” but do we also say “Keep Christ in February 23rd or May 15th or October 9th?

St. Augustine wrote that “our hearts are restless until they rest in him.” This year take a few minutes out of your Christmas celebrations to plan ways to keep Christ out of Christmas too! We need him every minute of every day, not just at Christmas time.

Try this simple prayer from St. Patrick each day:
Christ be beside me,
Christ be before me,
Christ be behind me,
King of my heart.

Christ be within me, 

Christ be below me, 

Christ be above me, 

never to part. 


Christ on my right hand, 

Christ on my left hand, 

Christ all around me, 

shield in the strife. 


Christ in my sleeping, 

Christ in my sitting, 

Christ in my rising, 

light of my life. 


Christ be in all hearts thinking about me; 

Christ be on all tongues telling of me; 

Christ be the vision in eyes that see me; 

in ears that hear me, Christ ever be.

Merry Christmas from Compass Catholic Ministries!

Be Content on Christmas

angel-564351_1920Many people approach Christmas day as the one day when everything will be perfect.  The house will be totally clean, free of clutter and decorated beautifully. Everyone will receive a gift that is exquisitely wrapped and the perfect choice for them. The meal will be superb and everyone in the family will get along with no squabbles.

It’s hard to escape from this perspective as we have been barraged by these prefect images of Christmas since the middle of October.  Seriously – have you ever had a friend who was surprised when their spouse bought them a luxury car and it magically appeared in the driveway on Christmas morning with a big red bow? If either of us did that without talking to the other, it would be cause for much turmoil and angst in our marriage.

So in our house on Christmas, there will be no luxury car with a big red bow in our driveway, the house will be semi-messy, the presents will be wrapped as well as possible (considering my gift wrapping prowess), some of the food will be under done, over cooked or dried out and the usual family squabbles will eventually surface.  And that’s okay.

The people who go into Christmas Day with the expectation of absolute perfection will be disappointed. We are merely human and will never achieve perfection, yet we continue to seek it. In reality perfection is enjoying what you have, no matter how messy, disorganized, muddled and chaotic it may be.

One of the problems is that we have a months-long rush into Christmas day, then suddenly it’s over, leaving us with a dull sense of melancholy. In order to overcome this aura of sadness, practice contentment this year by adopting an unhurried pace during the holidays so you can savor the day.

One way to slow down is to draw out the gift opening on Christmas Day in order to foster an attitude of gratitude. We use a very elaborate present opening process: The children take each gift under the tree and pass it to the recipient. When everyone has their presents in a pile in front of them, we start with the youngest, who opens ONE present, when that one present is open, and everyone has oohhed and aahhed over it, the next oldest opens ONE present. We go through the family in rotation from youngest to oldest with each person opening ONE present when it’s their turn, till all presents are opened.

This slow process accomplishes several things. First the children know who gave them each gift and it eliminates the ‘what’s next’ attitude when there is a big build up to Christmas presents, then and the presents take less than 5 minutes to open. Slowing down gives the kids time to get interested in one of the presents before their next turn to open a gift. They are able to enjoy their gifts more and they appreciate what they have instead of racing frantically to open the next present.  We’ve even stopped opening presents for a few hours while they played with their gifts.

The other thing that happens is that the oldest people (usually parents and grandparents) generally have the fewest gifts and drop out of the present opening rotation earliest. This situation results in the kids being worried about how few presents dad or grandma got, so you have lots of opportunities for talking about what’s really important as far as gift giving and appreciating what you received, even if you received fewer gifts than others.

Giving children an opportunity to be grateful trains them in the verse from 1 Thessalonians 5:18 “In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.”

Here are some other ideas to develop traditions that are specific to your family to bring everyone together for simple inexpensive fun and take the focus off receiving presents:

  • Donate your time on Christmas day to work at a soup kitchen as a family serving meals to the homeless.
  • Bake a birthday cake for Jesus and retell the Christmas story before singing “Happy Birthday” and cutting the cake.
  • Build a fire and roast marshmallows or make s’mores
  • Pick a favorite family game and have a tournament – Spoons; I Doubt It; Monopoly; Uno, etc.
  • Look at pictures from past Christmases and recall memories of who was there and what happened that specific year. This is especially healing if you lost friends or family during the year.
  • Watch traditional family movies on Christmas Day.  Here are some suggestions form the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops: The Bells of St. Mary’s; The Bishop’s Wife; A Christmas Carol; A Christmas Story; Christmas with the Kranks; Come to the Stable; The Fourth Wise Man; Fred Claus; It’s a Wonderful Life; Joyeux Noel; Miracle on 34th Street; The Muppet Christmas Carol; The Nativity Story; The Polar Express; Prancer; The Shop Around the Corner; Three Godfathers; White Christmas.
  • Put together a jigsaw puzzle. Have it set up on a card table, in a corner where people can work on it sporadically through out the day.
  • Read a Christmas story. The kids love it when different people read different parts in voices appropriate to the character.  Even the little ones can get involved if you have them say some key phrases during the story–make it up as you go along for fun. The sillier the better.
  • Take a hike. After Christmas dinner, get out and walk as a way to get some exercise and also use that excess energy the kids have from all the excitement.
  • Play – flag football; build a snowman; have a snowball fight; make snow angels; volleyball; corn hole; bike riding.  The kids will love it if it’s outdoors and the adults are involved.

When you really think about it; what do want to accomplish during the Christmas season? Isn’t it all about building memories you can enjoy the rest of your life? Memories centered around celebrating the birth of Christ, and memories centered around being together as a family and memories centered around enjoying one another.

This Christmas season, don’t let the world make you discontent with its focus on buying and getting. Instead, learn to be content. Develop traditions for your family that are meaningful, fun and inexpensive.

By consciously making plans to slow down and enjoy the holidays. “Then you and your family… shall make merry over all these good things which the LORD, your God, has given you.” Deuteronomy 26:11.

What Will Your Christmas Miracle Be?

It seems like the whole world has been in one long frenzy of Christmas preparation since the back-to-school sales ended. We are barraged with Black Friday, Cyber Monday, free shipping, sales, coupons, catalogues and anything else you can imagine that will influence us to buy more stuff. And in all this messy busyness there does not seem to be any time or place for quietly anticipating the birth of the Christ Child.

It’s time to ignore the decorating; the baking; the buying and the parties. The most important thing you and I can do to prepare for Christmas is to remember why we’re celebrating Christmas—the birth of our savior, Jesus Christ.

In the chaos of this season, it takes an intentional effort to focus on the true meaning of Christmas. It takes an intentional effort to have a spirit that’s ready to worship the Christ of Christmas. It takes an intentional effort to keep this holiday holy and reverent.

So even if it’s going to take you until the stores close on Christmas Eve to finish everything, now is the time to stop the busyness by concentrating on Advent. Take a moment in silent contemplation to ask the Lord if you’re spiritually ready for Christmas.

The Advent season is a time of preparation that directs our hearts and minds to Christ’s second coming at the end of time and also to the anniversary of the Lord’s birth on Christmas. Liturgically, the Christmas season does not begin until the first Mass on Christmas Eve and until then we are in the season of Advent no matter what the world is throwing at us.  

One way to remain in Advent is to spend some unhurried time reading through the ‘advent’ story in Luke Chapter 1. It is a beautiful story of faith and miracles as we hear about the preparations for the coming of the Messiah.

The first part of the story is when the Angel Gabriel visits Zechariah in the temple and tells him that he and his wife, Elizabeth will have a child they will name John. Both Zechariah and Elizabeth were advanced in years and had given up the hope of having a child. Zechariah is so astonished at this news, he doubts the angel and is struck speechless.

The second part of the story is when the Angel Gabriel visits Mary in Nazareth:  Luke 1:26-28 reads: “In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.”

This is the first line we use when saying the Hail Mary: “Hail Mary full of grace the Lord is with you.” It is one on the most beautiful prayers of the Church and relates directly to Advent—the anticipation of Christ’s birth.

The story continues with Mary questioning the angel, and then declaring she is the handmaid of the Lord. Luke 1:38 reads “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Just imagine how peaceful our lives would be if only we would be like Mary and submit to God’s providence instead of following the ways of the world.  

The next part of the story is when Mary visits Elizabeth and we hear the second part of the Hail Mary in Elizabeth’s greeting from Luke 1:41-42: “When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, ‘Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.’” In these verses we hear the second part of the Hail Mary prayer.

Through these faithful people we can see that God works miracles in situations which humans would think impossible. Elizabeth was an older woman considered to be barren and according to the Bible, both she and her husband were “advanced in years.”  And in Mary’s case, she became pregnant, even though she was a virgin.

So instead of worrying about all the things you have to do this week, think about the blessings behind what we are celebrating. The miracle of Jesus Christ—the tiny infant in the manger—is the greatest gift we’ll ever receive and it’s all we really need.

Despite what the world is throwing at us, none of the chaotic preparations for Christmas mean much in the light of eternity, which is what Christmas is really all about.

Stay in the Advent season and put aside the busyness.  It’s the only way you can be open to the small miracles God has planned especially for you.