‘Silent Night’: more than a carol at our house

Matt and Mindy Dalton

As our evening as a family comes to a close, look at all of the technology that distracts us from just “being” together as a family. Mindy is searching for a pair of boots online, while Matt is on the other laptop replying to a few more emails. The kids have finished their homework, and Levi, the youngest, is playing Kinect Sports (because this is at least keeping him active, is our excuse) and the older kids are listening to their favorite country music songs on the iPad.

The noise and faces glued to screens brings this realization: we need to quit all technology by a certain time of night and just be together. Mindy asks everyone to turn off the technology, gather in the living room and “just talk.”

Puzzled looks on their faces, some rolling of the eyes. Levi, the youngest, swings a light saber, imitating the sounds it used to make before the batteries stopped working. How about one minute of silence? That doesn’t sound like too long, but with a 4-year-old still wound up, a minute seems like 10!

A sense of peace starts to permeate our living room and all of us together quiet down. Levi settles in Mindy’s lap and makes the sign of the cross to begin our prayer time together.

Do we take the time to encounter one another?

Advent is upon us, and most children have a Christmas wish list that more than likely includes technology. Technology in and of itself is not bad, but it’s become such a norm for our children and us adults, that we can’t detach ourselves from it. Constantly connected to our job, picking up our phone to Google the latest score of the football game, looking up the name of an actress that comes up during our dinner discussion, or checking our friends’ latest tweets distracts us from encountering one another. We think we are free. Rather, we are imprisoned by our technology, and we are unable to say no to it, to put it down and turn it off.

Free to do what? Free to love as God has called us to love. Truly encountering another person is giving others our full attention; not just simply hearing the other, but listening to them with intention. Being genuinely interested in who they are, where they are coming from and what is going on in their life.

May we encounter one another as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Our Lord. That is the ultimate encounter, where the King of the Universe, the Creator of All, comes in the form of a precious innocent baby and longs for us to pay attention to him above any and all other things.

Our challenge to all families, including our own, is to put down the technology; collect it prior to dinner and have the kids turn in their phones by 8 p.m. each night. Join us in turning it completely off from the last Sunday of Advent through Dec. 27. Day one and two may be difficult, but I’m guessing that an overwhelming sense of peace and unity will come about by just simply being together as a family.

We have been made a promise by Jesus Christ that wherever two or three are gathered in his name there he is, God in our mist. In the still, quiet and uninterrupted silence of our family, may we find peace listening for the voice of that little babe in the manger.

COMING UP: Healing hatred and anger after Charlottesville

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The confrontation in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the nationwide reaction to it are clear signs of the tensions simmering just below the surface of our society. But we know as people of faith that these wounds can be healed if we follow Christ’s example, rather than the path of revenge.

It was with a heavy heart that I learned about the Aug. 12 clashes between white supremacists and counter protesters in Charlottesville that resulted in the injury of around 34 people and the death of Heather Heyer. It was an “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” melee.

These events remind me of Pope Francis’ 2017 World Day of Peace message, in which he pointed out that “Jesus himself lived in violent times. Yet he taught that the true battlefield, where violence and peace meet, is the human heart: for ‘it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come’ (Mk. 7:21).”

What we witnessed in Charlottesville was an outward expression of hundreds of hearts, and as a shepherd of souls, I cannot stand by silently while people allow hatred toward others rule their hearts. Particularly reprehensible were the derogatory words the neo-Nazis and their white supremacist allies shouted toward African Americans, Jews and Latinos. This is not how God sees his children!

Every human being is bestowed from the moment of conception with the dignity of being made in the image and likeness of God, and we are all loved by him, even amid our sin and brokenness. Satan seeks every opportunity to twist these fundamental truths in the hearts of human beings and we can see the devastation it brings throughout history.

It can be tempting to respond to these attacks on our fellow man with violence, just as the members of the Anti-fascist movement (known as “Antifa”) did in Charlottesville. But this is not what Christ taught, since it allows hatred to gain a foothold through a different avenue. It is worth repeating: the human heart is the true battlefield.

Jesus’ response to violence and persecution stands in contrast with the way of hatred and anger. Instead, he taught his disciples to love their enemies (Mt. 5:44) and to turn the other cheek (Mt. 5:39). Christ’s radical answer is only possible because God unconditionally loves every person and is ready to forgive us when we repent. God’s love is the only thing that can cut through the hatred that is bringing people to blows, heal the human heart and form it after his own. As people of faith, we are called to bring the truth of love to these festering wounds so that hearts may be healed by Christ.

Joseph Pearce, the Catholic convert and former white supremacist, is a perfect example of this. In a recent article for the National Catholic Register, he recalls how it was his encounter with the objective truths of the faith that demolished his race-centered identity and seeing his enemies love him when he confronted them with hatred that changed his heart. We must pray for the grace to love as Jesus loves, to love as the Father loves.

“The way out of this deadly spiral,” Pearce says, “is to go beyond the love of neighbor, as necessary as that is, and to begin to love our enemies. This is not simply good for us, freeing us from the bondage of hatred; it is good for our enemies also.”

May all of us follow the great example of Mark Heyer, the father of the woman who was killed after the white supremacist rally. His daughter’s death, Heyer told USA Today, made him think “about what the Lord said on the cross, ‘Forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.’”

Jesus desires that every person have a heart that is whole and free from hatred, anger and pride. He desires to form our hearts, and that only comes about when we are receptive to his unconditional love, for only in receiving his unconditional love will we be able to give it to others. I pray that all the faithful will be instruments of healing for our country by bringing Christ’s forgiveness to their neighbors and their enemies.