In St. Matthew’s Gospel this Sunday, we hear the parable that reminds us to “Stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” When our lives become so busy with earthly matters, our minds and hearts fall asleep to Jesus. We become so busy for the sake of being busy that we are silencing God’s presence in our lives. Our hearts need to stay awake and stay focused on God. God loves us and wants us to spend time in prayer with him. He wants us to sit quietly and engage in our relationship with Him. Silencing the busyness of our lives can open our minds and hearts to what God is trying to tell us. We can’t hear Him unless our minds are quiet.
By Diane M. Houdek Franciscan Media 144 pages, $12.95
The flurry of activity during Advent can be overwhelming. There are gifts to buy and wrap, cards to send, special meals to prepare, cookies to bake, homes to decorate, and a tree to put up. The meaning of the season can easily be lost. The Peace of Christmas is the perfect antidote to stress and busy-ness. This book of daily reflections helps the reader to focus on God’s greatest gift: the coming of his Son into the world as a human being.
Each entry opens with a good-sized quotation from an address or homily of Pope Francis that is related to an Advent or Christmas theme. Coincidentally, Pope Francis is named for St. Francis of Assisi, who began the custom of displaying a Nativity scene. The Holy Father dwells often on the simplicity and poverty of the child of Bethlehem and the great love God has for us and our response.
The author then elaborates on the simple yet profound thoughts of the Holy Father in a section entitled “A Christmas Reality.” Weaving her personal memories and experiences with information about the Christmas story, she offers much food for thought. Her observations are down to earth and reflect the world as we know it. She refers to the violence and poverty in countries, and she acknowledges that there are dysfunctional families. In fact, one entry is “When Our Families Don’t Seem So Holy.”
The entries conclude with a section called “Your Christmas Gift Today.” In it the reader is presented with a practical suggestion for action that flows from the theme of the entry. In the entry on gift-giving, for example, the author advises resisting the temptation to use Santa as a threat against misbehavior but instead encourage children to imitate his generosity. Another suggestion is crossing off an item on your to-do list in order to spend an hour with God.
The entries lead from Thanksgiving through Christmas and end with Epiphany. The daily reflections can be read in sequence, but Houdek advises browsing through it when you have (or need!) a few minutes of quiet. Either way you make use of this book, you will find it a calming influence that sets your sights on the real meaning of Christmas. You will enjoy a respite of heavenly peace.