In the age of materialism, Christians often hear how we need to avoid the pitfalls of the consumer driven world. Commercials on television lure the viewer to purchase items that we do not really need. We work endless hours so that we can spend and our unbridled spending causes us to toil even harder. Another “holiday season” has commenced and we once again have embarked on another month long spending spree in order to satisfy our shopping lists for Christmas.
In class this week, my lessons focused on Chapter Six in George Weigel’s, Letters To A Young Catholic. In this chapter, Weigel utilizes the favorite pub of G.K. Chesterton, The Old Cheshire Cheese in London. When I show my students a picture of the rotund Chesterton, they understand why Weigel chose this Catholic writer to illustrate the sacramental imagination. The sacramental imagination is defined by Weigel as “the core Catholic conviction that God saves and sanctifies humanity through the materials of this world.” G.K. Chesterton’s enjoyment of earthy pleasure is clearly evident. Chesterton believed that God could be found not only in church, but also in his favorite pub, in the company of good friends and in the pleasure of fine food. As Chesterton sat at the Old Cheshire Cheese, his favorite port only enhanced the conversations with friends and colleagues. A sizzling steak made his company even more glorious.
The premise of the sacramental imagination seems to contradict the Christian concern of being consumed by the unhealthy attraction to material possessions. Weigel and Chesterton both want us to utilize ordinary, earthly things to find communion with God and others. As we celebrate Christmas, all of us exert a lot of energy during an exhausting time of year. We do not seem to mind preparing a meal for several hours that takes only minutes to eat. The laughter at the table, the stories of days gone by and appreciating time with the people we adore eases the aches and pains of peeling turnip, apples and potatoes.
Catholics are sacramental people. The outward signs of inward grace nourish our lives. Advent and Christmas become the perfect time to celebrate the sacramental imagination. The meals enjoyed during these times take on a whole new meaning when we focus on their importance. Jesus is constantly depicted at the dinner table during His ministry. The profound speeches were not reserved for the temple or in the midst of the crowds. His best sermons mesmerized the people seated across from Him. A simple meal disarmed those hostile and resistant to His message.
If we were to receive any advice on how to get the most out of this time of year, Jesus would remind us to direct our attention to the people around us. This special time of year can help us recapture the magic of our relationships:
- A ten-minute phone call can rekindle a bond that has been lost but not forgotten.
- Ringing the bell of a neighbor can break down the walls of loneliness.
- A spontaneous invitation can make an outsider feel included.
- A simple compliment can heal the scars caused by the careless words of others.
During the frenzy of December, we can inject the spirit of Jesus Christ into all of our activities. We may demonstrate Christ in the chaos of the crowded mall, in the kitchen and selecting our Christmas tree. But no matter what we do, we must integrate the love Jesus into every action in order to truly experience the joy of Christmas. Just like the Incarnation, Christmas must become an other-centered event. God was certainly not focusing on Himself when He became one of us.
Use every moment and gesture to teach during this season of grace. Show others the presence of Christ in your decorating, entertaining, wrapping, baking and shopping. The material things of the world can and will bring you and your loved ones into communion with God when used in the proper way. Infuse your celebration with His love.
May you and your families experience the profound joy given to the world by the Babe in Bethlehem. Have a Blessed Advent and Merry Christmas!