The past few years when I was teaching second graders in the Christian Formation program the normal pattern was to spend the fall preparing for First (and hopefully not last!!) Reconciliation and then the winter and spring preparing for First Eucharist. It is an exciting year where the material is at the very edge of what the kids are ready to grasp. A few actually seem to get, most go through the motions but it will take another year or two before any of the preparation sinks in. Hopefully, the formation is going on well beyond the classroom.
This year I was asked to step into an older classroom but the curriculum contains a somewhat different view of familiar material, adapted for the minds of kids who have gotten a little taller and lot smarter. Opportunity knocks. We get to talk about stuff with a little meat on the bones and so we get to broach the subject of sins of omission. Oh, it’s easy to pick out the things we do that we ought not be doing. Even in a culture gone haywire with permissiveness, people of good will can largely agree on actions which cross the line.
But somewhere along the line we got lazy. Yes, lazy. I’m sure I was a lazy teenager. Seems to have always gone with the territory to some degree. Here’s the difference. Once upon a time we really did feel accountable for the world around us. We really did feel a need to do something about situations around us that didn’t seem right, didn’t seem fair. Don’t get me wrong, I still see it around me. But it has sadly become a notable exception. When I see young people around me that stand out now, it is with a tinge of regret that I have to wonder when things changed. Remarkable actions today were often just a way of life only a few decades ago. As a culture, as a society, we have largely institutionalized sins of omission. We are instructed in James, chapter 4: “Whoever knows what is right to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” (RSV). The Old Testament spoke of this as “complacency (Zephaniah). I think those same people of good will I mentioned above can probably agree that complacency crosses a line we ought not cross.
Like so many vices, complacency has a corresponding virtue. So let us open our eyes to the world around us and practice compassion. Parents, look for ways to put your childen in situations where they act with compassion. Young people, I challenge you to look up from that hand held rudeness enablement device and do something about what you see. Little things matter. Little things, done with virtue, set a pattern of behavior that steers us away from vice.
Next week, I’m taking my three oldest children to help serve meals at a shelter for the homeless. A little thing really, but never think that a little thing is of little importance. Many decades ago, I had my first experience with service to those in need. No doubt a little thing. A little thing that was life changing. Find a way today to do those things you can for others.
A Christmas Carol Poem by G. K. Chesterton
The Christ-child lay on Mary’s lap,
His hair was like a light.
(O weary, weary were the world,
But here is all aright.)
The Christ-child lay on Mary’s breast
His hair was like a star.
(O stern and cunning are the kings,
But here the true hearts are.)
The Christ-child lay on Mary’s heart,
His hair was like a fire.
(O weary, weary is the world,
But here the world’s desire.)
The Christ-child stood on Mary’s knee,
His hair was like a crown,
And all the flowers looked up at Him,
And all the stars looked down
A short sermon from The Spirit of Christmas, Henry Van Dyke (1905). Probably even more timely now that it was a century ago… while Mr Van Dyke almost certainly held a few beliefs that would be far from in step with either Catholics or Protestants of the modern era, he was a great thinker of his time.
It is a good thing to observe Christmas day. The mere marking of times and seasons, when men agree to stop work and make merry together, is a wise and wholesome custom. It helps one to feel the supremacy of the common life over the individual life. It reminds a man to set his own little watch, now and then, by the great clock of humanity which runs on sun time.
But there is a better thing than the observance of Christmas day, and that is, keeping Christmas.
Are you willing to forget what you have done for other people, and to remember what other people have done for you; to ignore what the world owes you, and to think what you owe the world; to put your rights in the background, and your duties in the middle distance, and your chances to do a little more than your duty in the foreground; to see that your fellow-men are just as real as you are, and try to look behind their faces to their hearts, hungry for joy; to own that probably the only good reason for your existence is not what you are going to get out of life, but what you are going to give to life; to close your book of complaints against the management of the universe, and look around you for a place where you can sow a few seeds of happiness-are you willing to do these things even for a day? Then you can keep Christmas.
Are you willing to stoop down and consider the needs and the desires of little children; to remember the weakness and loneliness of people who are growing old; to stop asking how much your friends love you, and ask yourself whether you love them enough; to bear in mind the things that other people have to bear on their hearts; to try to understand what those who live in the same house with you really want, without waiting for them to tell you; to trim your lamp so that it will give more light and less smoke, and to carry it in front so that your shadow will fall behind you; to make a grave for your ugly thoughts, and a garden for your kindly feelings, with the gate open-are you willing to do these things even for a day? Then you can keep Christmas.
Are you willing to believe that love is the strongest thing in the world-stronger than hate, stronger than evil, stronger than death-and that the blessed life which began in Bethlehem nineteen hundred years ago is the image and brightness of the Eternal Love? Then you can keep Christmas.
And if you keep it for a day, why not always?
But you can never keep it alone.
Henry van Dyke (1852 – 1933) was an American author, educator, and clergyman.
Yeah, it’s been a while .. we’ve been keeping up a blog elsewhere, but are now returning to offer up ideas from our family .. I (Jim) am the resident pseudo geek so no doubt will have the lion’s share of posts, but the (not so..) little ones have an interest in sharing ideas too so we’ll see what they can offer up ..
Been doing a lot of reading lately, both for school and beyond .. ran across this passage in a story that I just had to capture so I could return to it…
Of all the handicrafts in the world there is none cleaner, pleasanter, and more fragrant than that of the carpenter. He works in friendly stuff. If he knows it well enough and can feel its qualities, it yields readily to his working and takes the outward shape of his thought – chaor or table or bed, window-frame or shelf or beam.
Well-seasoned lumber he wants, that it may not warp. Knots and cross-grains trouble him, like orginal sin in man; but he takes note carefully, and avoids or conquers them. He judges his material with his eye before he measures it with square and foot-rule. His mind guides his fingers; his fingers fit his tools; his tools work his will in wood.
What good odors rise around him as he labors! From each tree its own fragrance: the resinous smell of the terebinth and the cypress; the delicate scent of the wild-olive with its smooth, curly texture; the faint, dry sweetness of the orange-yellow acacia with its darker heart; the clean odor of the oak with its hard, solid grain; and on rare days, the aromatic perfume of some precious piece of the cedar of Lebanon, king of trees.
Joseph, the carpenter of Nazareith, was proud of his trade……
Henry Van Dyke, from “Even Unto Bethlehem”
Ah yes, the carpenter of Nazareth (though we tend to think more about his little boy..) .. a good read this little story .. and well timed reading as I hit around the midpont of Advent. Good story indeed…
Okay, seven kids in the house .. from new driver to new baby .. and a lot in between. You’d think we’d seen (heck, I’m pretty sure we’ve owned..) every toy on the planet…
Nope… here is a new one…. the phoneless cord!!
Here is Jasper, showing off his creation…