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By BENEDICT AUGUSTINE
“He gives strength to the fainting;
for the weak he makes vigor abound.
Though young men faint and grow weary,
and youths stagger and fall,
They that hope in the LORD will renew their strength,
they will soar as with eagles’ wings;
They will run and not grow weary,
walk and not grow faint.”
Although good and wise people will call for peace during the time of Advent, for most people, Advent—“holiday season” for the unchurched—simply equates to unbridled consumption and heavy anxiety. Instead of cleaning out their souls and reconnecting with loved ones, people usually spend their December cluttering up their houses with goods and tacky ornaments while finding an ideal excuse to resent their loved ones who simply add to the burden of the holidays rather than give it meaning.
At the stores, where the holidays are truly celebrated, not in churches or homes, idols to Santa Clause, the jolly god of retail and fake cheer, are raised and songs are played, never actually sung, in his honor. The dismal young seasonal employees have to endure the tasteless renditions, done and redone, of Christmas pop ditties that have absolutely nothing do Christmas and are played ad nauseam from the beginning of November to the first weeks of January. Adherents of the Santa cult, which includes most modern Americans, do their part by swarming stores, knocking down displays, cluttering (and sometimes soiling) fitting rooms, chewing out cashiers for coupons not working, and renewing the unpleasantness for yet another season.
At home, little children follow the example of their elders and cultivate an unhealthy lust for new things as well. They do not look forward to spending more time with their parents or playing outside with their siblings; they look forward to the new iPad, which will save them the trouble of bothering with family.
Naturally, television and mass media do their part toteach the meaning of Christmas since true Christians make such a mess of it. They recount the inspiring stories where people learn the eternal lesson of being nice, at least for a few special days in December. Santa, Rudolph, and Frosty, the new holy family, usher in a spirit of senseless cheer and bland sentimentality. These movies and television specials appeal to people’s consciences in such a way that they can feel the warmth of Christmas and littlemore.
Despite its wealth of traditions, Secular Christmas—for lack of a better name—tends to bring out the very worst in people. Perhaps in this way, it illustrates a very important lesson on detaching holiday (holy-day) from its holy purpose. A sensitive soul looking out into the palpable darkness of Black Friday can catch a glimpse of what would happen if Christ were not only separated from Christmas, but from the world altogether: infinite materialism, heedless hedonism, unchecked selfishness, and wretched music. Those who profit, or think they profit, from this arrangement do all they can to promote it all year round with increasing success. They conjure up the demons of old pagan religions and dress them up in modern packaging. To assuage the subversion, they make their paganism wholesome and kid-friendly, even as it corrupts people and turns children into hateful brats. As more people turn away from the Church, this new religion gains new adherents and the spirit of Secular Christmas spreads.
This revelation, even in its current limited form, should make the Catholic pause and reconsider the words of their priest, of Isaiah, of Jesus: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.” Jesus and His Church offer the rest so desperately lacking today, rest from work, rest from shopping, rest from hate, rest from oneself.Approaching Jesus thus means retreating from the world, especially during Advent. It means converting that heightened materialism into heightened spirituality, adoring Christ in the chapel instead of watching movies and playing videogame, going to Mass instead of going to the mall, adopting the profound mystery of the Nativity instead of the hazy confusion of holiday cheer. Doing this will rejuvenate the Christian; neglecting this will deflate him.
Advent can be the most beautiful season of the year, or the most ugly. Faith will make the difference.