Although Christ most certainly loves you, he reserves his exquisite and indescribable gifts for those who prove their love for him.
By Deacon Frederick Bartels
26 December 2017
Christmas is about the incarnate Son of God who became man, a little Child, vulnerable and exposed, born of the Virgin Mary and laid in a manger of poverty. This he endured for our sake in order to redeem humankind and open the way to salvation. What are some simple ways to grow closer to Christ this Christmas?
People are often busy and God certainly understands how difficult it can be to set aside prayer time when you’re struggling with getting through the work day and supporting your family. He understands how mothers are overwhelmed and exhausted, how fathers are stressed and overburdened. Try going to bed slightly earlier so that you can wake 15 minutes earlier. This will allow you some time to pray.
Pray differently. Here’s a few suggestions: Try the Liturgy of the Hours, Morning Payer, which is the prayer of the Church (go to divineoffice.org or get iBreviary or some other source). Perhaps the Rosary, if it’s not part of your routine (you’ll need about 20 minutes for that). Engage in some Lectio Divina. Also, it’s always highly profitable to simply talk to Christ and then listen. You could remain in bed in the silence, think about God and listen to his delicate voice. One mistake Christians sometimes make is they pray an Our Father or a Hail Mary, but do not really open their heart and communicate with our Lord. In the first place, prayer is primarily a communication between you and God. Don’t leave yourself and your heart out of it!
2. Attend daily Mass at some point during the week, if possible.
If you have not been attending Mass on Sundays, please go (yes, God requires it! It’s necessary for your happiness), but be sure to go to Confession before receiving the Eucharist so as to be in a state of grace. If you cannot attend daily Mass, spend some time meditating on some portion of the gospels. One sure way to grow closer to Christ is to get to know him. You cannot love who you do not know. All the more reason to meditate on the gospels and immerse yourself in the deeds and words of the incarnate Son of God. Start small and spend a few minutes reading about the life of Christ. Utilize Lectio Divina.
3. Receive the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation (also known as Confession or Forgiveness).
Give yourself over to Christ, rely on his strength and the aid of the Holy Spirit, then attack one of the larger sins in your life. One common mistake is that, while wanting to grow closer to God, people make little effort to stop sinning and live a life of holiness. All the spiritual mystics ( Saints/experts) of the Church agree that spiritual advancement is not possible without doing the work of eliminating grave sin in your life and seriously committing to avoid intentional venial sin. Of course, this is only possible with the grace of God; beg Christ to send his purifying Spirit to assist you. That type of prayer is always answered. Again, reception of the sacraments is essential to receiving grace.
4. Engage in some voluntary and innocent suffering (penance) to atone for your sins or the sins of others.
While it is Christ who forgives the guilt of sin through the sacrament of Forgiveness, it is necessary for you to willingly engage in acts of penance for sins committed. This shows contriteness of heart and sincere repentance. Also, it is a way to remit the temporal punishment due for sin. Christ voluntarily and innocently suffered for you and for others; you can suffer voluntarily for others as well by participating in Christ’s suffering. There are many ways of doing this: if you like butter on your toast, go without; turn off the hot water in the shower for a few moments; engage in fasting or abstinence from food. Remember, while we are not to endanger our physical health, penance is meant to be an integral part of the Christian life.
5. Turn off the electronics and do some spiritual reading.
Read about the saints. Learn something new about the Catholic faith. Read from the Catechism of the Catholic Church—just a paragraph or two at a time, and then reflect on and pray about what you’ve read. Prepare for spiritual reading by making the sign of the cross slowly and deliberately, saying the words aloud and contemplating the three Divine Persons of the Holy Trinity.
6. Love of God demands love of neighbor.
Reach out to someone. Reconcile. Provide for the poor in some way. Give alms.
7. Strive to be a good listener by putting yourself second.
Take an interest in others when they are talking by giving them your full attention. Withdraw from trying to be the center of a conversation, if that is a tendency of yours. Practice humility; begin to work on eliminating self-centeredness.
8. Spend some time in silence each day, even if only for a few minutes.
Perhaps you can eat lunch alone; perhaps you can go to bed earlier; perhaps you can go for a walk. Turn off the radio while driving. One thing is certain, noise, busyness, and distractions are relationship squelchers. Christ wants your attention. Give it to him. He deserves it!
You’ve by now noticed that many of these things are not so easy. Which brings me to something crucial to spiritual advancement and growing closer to Christ: you have to want it! God provides the grace; you have to do your human part.
God loves you. However, he reserves his exquisite and indescribable gifts for those who prove their love for him.
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Deacon Frederick Bartels is a member of the Catholic clergy who serves the Church in the diocese of Pueblo. He holds an MA in Theology and Educational Ministry and is a Catholic educator, public speaker, and evangelist who strives to infuse culture with the saving principles of the gospel.