If Christ is celebrated for being born of the Virgin Mary 2018 years ago, what good does that do me if Christ is not born in my heart? The truth is that Christ came to this world to reclaim not only the world, but all that is in it, especially our souls, for we are made in the image and likeness of God. Christ came to conquer our hearts and souls, and so long as any part of us does not belong to Him, He will never be satisfied, He will never relent, He will never stop insisting on his singular right to be master of our entire lives. He comes to us at Christmas as a baby so as not to intimidate us, but make no mistake, He will come again as the Just Judge. What He will judge, the content of the particular judgment each of us will undergo upon death, is how we responded to His gifts, and most importantly, how we responded to the greatest gift in our lives, the coming of Christ. In the last analysis, Christmas reminds us that we either belong to Christ or to the evil one. Those who seek to belong only to themselves end up being slaves of their passions and appetites, which places them under the dominion of the evil one. Those who have been baptized and are living in a state of grace belong to Christ, but to what degree is this sovereignty of Christ a lived reality in our daily lives?
Let us inquire into our actual condition, which only God knows in full. Suppose we have been to confession, regularly attend mass, are striving to practice the virtues, follow the precepts of the Church, and obey the promptings of the Holy Spirit. So far so good. But living in this world, can we not discern areas of our life where we have lost our focus on Christ? Have we not slipped into certain patterns of behavior inconsistent with the Gospel? The general trajectory of our life may be towards God, but we may have regressed in particular areas. Perhaps our zeal has been watered down, our passion cooled, our love for Christ compromised? In this article, I am going to present some points that can hopefully help us to avoid our Lord’s rebuke directed at the church of Ephesus: “Yet I hold this against you: you have lost the love you had at first. Realize how far you have fallen. Repent, and do the works you did at first. Otherwise, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.” (Rev 2:4-5) May our Lord never tell us that we lost our first love or, even worse, come and remove our lampstand, that is, His Holy presence from us. Let us make more room in our hearts so that the radiance of our Lord’s love shines more brightly in us, so His Kingdom penetrates our hearts more deeply, so the traces of compromise with the world in our lives are removed.
Firstly, during Advent, we can look at how we use our time and evaluate whether that time is well spent as a whole in light of Christ’s calling upon our lives. It is nice to wrap presents, decorate the house with lights, put up wreaths, etc., but if we are spending hours upon hours upon hours on these external actions, we need to ensure that we are really doing these things for Christ and not for other motivations. Would it not perhaps be better to spend an hour reading Scripture than an extra hour decorating the house? Would it not be better to make daily Mass than prepare an extra dish? It may be that spending extra time prepping the house and cooking is your act of charity toward Christ, but be sure He receives the glory for your work, instead of you receiving the credit. The point here is not to insist upon one approach to preparing our hearts for Christ’s coming, but to recognize that all our activities should acknowledge Christ’s preeminence and centrality in our lives. For this to occur, we need to diminish, so that Christ can increase in us. As St. John the Baptist said so eloquently of Christ, teaching us by his example, “He [Christ] must increase, I must decrease.” (John 3:30) There is only so much time in our lives, so much room in our hearts, so much energy we can exercise, so we need to decrease our attention to ourselves and our desires so that Christ continues to increase in us. Every Christmas, we should draw closer to the fulfillment of St. Paul’s exhortation in Galatians 2:20, that I no longer live, but rather, Christ lives in me. Here we see clearly that Christ’s ascension as the morning star of our hearts requires that we give up the right to live as we want.
Secondly, we can look to see how we can better incorporate Christ into our celebration of Christmas. That may mean a lesser focus on Santa Clause, gift giving, and other secular traditions that remove the focus from Christ. Instead of gifts from Santa, perhaps gifts from Saint Nicholas are in order. Perhaps we can incorporate Christ into our gift giving by giving things that are likely to draw others closer to Christ, such as a crucifix, a Catholic book, a holy icon, or a sacramental. Or may be we spend less time in the store or watching news, and replace that time with more prayer. These sacrifices may seem small, but every little effort done for Christ merits a reward. As our Lord taught us: “And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink because he is a disciple—amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward.” (Mt 10:42)
Thirdly, we can look for opportunities to help others in their relationship with Christ. This may mean acts of service at a soup kitchen, talking with someone about who Christ is for you, acts of kindness that point to Christ, teaching someone about Christ and His Church, giving encouragement to those suffering, and otherwise seeking ways of helping others in their relationship with Christ. Each of us, no matter what gifts we have received, has opportunities to sow seeds of Christ’s love in the hearts of others. If such assistance is rejected, God will use our good works in a way that efficiently builds His Kingdom in our hearts. This focus on the needs of others removes the focus on ourselves that is proper to concupiscence, and enables us to imitate Christ who paid no heed to self but sought all His life to love those His Father entrusted to Him.
Fourthly, we can examine the blessings and gifts in our lives and see how we can better use these to make a return to the Lord for his investment in our lives. If we have a beautiful voice, how do we use it to glorify the Lord? If we write well, how do we write to serve the Lord? If we have the gift of generosity, how do we use that gifting to advance the Kingdom of God? If we are blessed with material prosperity, are we generous with the Lord? Any gift or blessing becomes an invitation to advance the Kingdom of Christ’s reign in our hearts. If we can identify gifts/blessings that we are underutilizing, not using at all, or even worse, misusing, then we need to focus on reorienting the use of these gifts/blessings to advance the Kingdom of Christ.
Fifthly, we can look at the resources available to us to make our hearts a fit habitation for Christ. These include the Sacraments, sacramentals, the Word of God, Catholic resources, good counselors, and any other opportunities to deepen our union with Christ. Are we really maximizing these resources, gleaning every last drop of grace we can from them? We have to take full advantage of what God is giving us, for there is a reason these gifts are available to us. God knows we need them. Let us take full advantage of God’s mercies.
MICHAEL VACCA is a devotee of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and St. Therese of Lisieux. He graduated from Hillsdale College with a B.A. in English and Political Science, holds a J.D. from Ave Maria School of Law, and is a licensed attorney in Michigan. He currently serves as Director of Ministry, Bioethics, and Member Experience for Christ Medicus Foundation CURO. He worked for the Pontifical Council of the Family in Rome, where he advised the Church on pro-life and pro-family issues and advanced Catholic social teaching throughout the world. Michael is the Managing Editor of the International Center on Law, Life, Faith, and Family, which produces and provides resources on these issues, www.icolf.org. He is a founding board member of Sidewalk Advocates for Life, and currently serves on the board of the Casa Vitae Foundation. He is author and coauthor of various articles on bioethics and law, including: Michael Vacca, A Reexamination of Conscience Protections in Healthcare, 62 MEDICINA E MORALE 78 (2013) ; Jane Adolphe & Michael Vacca, Best Practices: Laws Protecting Human Life and the Family Around the Globe, 2 AVE MARIE INT’L L. J. 1 (2012); Michael Vacca, Talk About a Human Rights Violation: How Heterologous Assisted Reproduction Harms Children and Violates International Human Rights Law, 7 AVE MARIE INT’L L. J. 53 (2018); Michael Vacca, Natural Law as Guardian of the Human Person, 4 BAKU ST. UNIV. L. REV. 149 (2018); and Michael Vacca, Education and Religious Freedom in the Toledo Guiding Principles: A Comparative Analysis Between the Holy See and the United States 36 ARIZONA JOURNAL OF INTERNATIONAL AND COMPARATIVE LAW 2 (2019). He is also a co-editor of two published books, ST. PAUL, THE NATURAL LAW, AND CONTEMPORARY LEGAL THEORY (2012) and EQUALITY AND NON-DISCRIMINATION CATHOLIC ROOTS, CURRENT CHALLENGES (2019). More than anything, Michael is grateful to know the love of Jesus Christ and for his beautiful and holy wife Sarah.