COVID Christmas Survival Guide

During this most unusual Christmas season, be intentional about what you do.

By the time you read this, who knows what the COVID situation will be like in Colorado. Perhaps cases will have dramatically dropped and your Christmas will feel a little more like normal. Or we could be under another quarantine. Some Christmas, huh?

Regardless of whichever scenario we find ourselves in, there is one thing that remains constant: God wants your Christmas to be full of joy and renewal. Instead of fretting about the Christmas that could have been, why not make Christmas extra memorable this year by trying something new? Now is a time to be intentional about what we do and enjoy the company of our loved ones. 

While the usual Christmas activities may not be happening as normal, there can be a wealth of options if you get a little creative (and yes, in some cases, utilize the wonders of the internet). Here are a few ideas to make this COVID Christmas season one for the books.

At home

Cozy up with some books
Reading is something we should all be doing more of, especially in a time when attention spans are at an all-time low. Make yourself a nice cup of tea (or a hot toddy if you’re feeling adventurous), light the fireplace, cover up with a cozy blanket and grab those books you’ve been wanting to read but “haven’t had time for.” You won’t regret it.

Family game night
With Christmas parties cancelled, you’re going to be stuck with…well, the same people you’ve been stuck with since March. A little bit of friendly competition might liven things up a bit. Break out a deck of cards and play some Rummy. Partake in a marathon session of Monopoly. Get a heated game of Candyland going. Best of all, it’s an excuse to be present with those you love most.

Classic Christmas radio shows…on YouTube
Remember the good ol’ days when families would huddle around the radio and listen to their favorite Christmas story together? Well, thanks to the internet, a similar experience (albeit not quite the same) can be had in 2020. Search “Christmas radio shows” on YouTube, find your favorite Christmas story, then close your eyes and pretend like it’s the 1930s all over again. 

A home meditation on the Christmas story
When was the last time you read the Christmas story closely? With the normal hustle of the Christmas season virtually gone this year, maybe now’s the time to open your Bibles to the book of Matthew and/or Luke and meditate upon the Christmas story. This can be done individually or as a family. 

Outdoors

Go Christmas light-seeing
Putting up Christmas lights early this year was a simple way to spread joy, and we’re willing to bet people will leave them up longer than usual, too. If you find yourself with nothing to do one evening, make a fresh batch of hot cocoa, load the family in the car, and go find the house most worthy of the coveted Clark Griswold award. 

Socially-distanced family caroling  
Spread some Christmas joy in your neighborhood by going caroling with your family, COVID-style. Don your masks, make a sign that says, “Open your window and we’ll sing you a song,” and start knocking. It’s bound to put some much-needed smiles on your neighbors’ faces.

Build a snow Nativity scene
Have you ever seen a Nativity scene built out of snow? It seems like a no-brainer, but we don’t recall ever seeing one. This could be a great way to tell the Christmas story to kids in a way that they’ll never forget.

Visit a church
Even though Masses aren’t happening at full capacity, many churches are still open to pray in. Making a mini-pilgrimage to a church you’ve never been to is a great way to pass the time and offer special intentions to the Lord this Christmas season.

For others

Feed the hungry
Lots of people will be struggling to feed their families this holiday. Give to a food bank, prepare some meals for your parish, or freeze some meals to give away. A little goes a long way.

Give drink to the thirsty
Clean water is essential to human life. Locally, you can donate packages of bottled water to homeless shelters and food banks. Globally, you can donate to organizations that build wells for those in need.

Shelter the homeless
A chief calling of Christians is to help the poor. This doesn’t mean giving money to panhandlers, though that is an option. Rather, donating to homeless shelters, whether it be finances or material necessities such as blankets, socks or underwear is a crucial way to help those who are homeless.

Help the sick
Visiting those who are sick is not really an option right now, but there are ways you can still help. Donating blood and bringing meals to those who have COVID or are more at risk are two ideas.

COMING UP: Sin, suicide and the perfect mercy of God

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I love my hair stylist. 

She’s a devoted Christian. So, when I see her, we tend to have much deeper discussions than the usual gossipy hair stylist sessions. And, because it’s a small shop, the discussions often branch out to the other people within earshot, waiting for their appointments or waiting for their color to process. Because she tends to attract a smart and faithful clientele, the discussion is always interesting. 

Yesterday, at my bimonthly appointment, we somehow got onto the topic of suicide — specifically, the insidious way that it spreads among teenagers. One suicide often leads to another, which leads to another. I made the comment “It is demonic.” 

At that point, a woman in the waiting area chimed in. “I disagree. I’m Catholic. It used to be a mortal sin, but they changed it. It’s not any more. It’s mental illness.” 

If a nice Catholic lady at my hair salon could be confused about this, I figured perhaps some of you out there may be as well. Which made me think perhaps it’s time for a little review on the nature of sin — both in general, and specifically as it applies to suicide. 

First, sin in general. The fundamental point here is that the Catholic Church has no power to decide what is a sin and what isn’t. It’s not like there’s a committee that meets periodically to review the list of sins, and decide if any need to be promoted from venial to mortal, or demoted from mortal to venial, or dropped from the list entirely. 

Sins are sins because they are outside of God’s will. And they are outside of God’s will because they have the potential to do tremendous damage to people created in His image and likeness, whom He loves. We know they are sins because it was revealed to us in Scripture, or it has been handed down from the time of Christ in sacred tradition. Sometimes the Church must apply these timeless, God-given principles to new situations, to determine the morality of technologies undreamt of in ancient times. 

The Church has the authority to do that because she received it from Christ, her bridegroom. And once she does declare on a subject, we believe it is done through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. So the Church isn’t going to change her mind. Something can’t be a sin, and then suddenly NOT be a sin. 

“But,” you ask. “What about eating meat on Friday? That was a sin, and now it isn’t.” This is an example of a discipline of the Church. Eating meat has never, in itself, been an objectively sinful behavior — on Fridays or any other day. But the Church was calling us, as Jesus calls us, to do penance. And the Church selected that penance as something we could all, as a Church, do together. The sin was never in the ingestion of the meat. It was in disobeying the Church in this matter. This particular discipline has been dropped. But it doesn’t change our obligation to in some way do penance for our sins and the sins of the world. 

Now, on to suicide. It is obvious that something must have changed in the teachings of the Church. Because, in the olden days, a person who committed suicide couldn’t be buried with a Catholic funeral Mass. And now they can. So what gives? 

Here’s the situation. Taking innocent human life is always a grave evil. (I add the “innocent” qualifier to distinguish this discussion from one about self defense, or about the death penalty — which in a sense is self defense. But those are separate discussions.) God is the author of life, and it is He who decides when our lives will end. To usurp that power always has been, and always will be, a grave moral evil. 

But there is an important distinction we must understand. There is the objective gravity of the sin — the nature of it, and the great damage done by it. Then there is the question of the individual’s moral culpability of that sin. In other words: a great evil was done. But is the person who did it liable to judgment for it? Or were there extenuating circumstances that mean that, while the evil was indeed done, the person who did it was somehow functioning in a diminished capacity that reduces or eliminates their moral responsibility? 

For a person to be culpable for a mortal sin, three conditions must be met. First, the objective act must be gravely sinful. Second and third, the person committing the sin must do so with full knowledge of the sinfulness of the act, and full consent of the will. In the question of suicide, we have learned to much about the psychological condition of a person driven to such a horrible deed. The instinct to self preservation is strong. In order to overcome it, the mental and/or physical suffering is frequently very intense. There may even be, as my friend at the salon mentioned, mental illness involved. All of this can drastically reduce a person’s mental and intellectual capacity to make rational decisions. 

And so, while an objectively horrifying act has occurred, God may very well have tremendous mercy on that person’s soul, given the extreme states of agitation and pain that led up to the act. 

Know that I write all of this as someone who has lost one beloved relative and several friends to suicide. And I am tremendously optimistic in my hope that they are with God. Not because they didn’t do something terrible, or that what they did was somehow justified. But because the God who loves them sees their hearts, and knows that pain and suffering can drive people to acts they wouldn’t possibly consider while in their “right” minds. 

And this is why the Church offers the Rite of Christian Burial to those who die by suicide. Because they need the prayers. And their families need the comfort. And because the Church, too, believes in that the God who embodies perfect justice also embodies perfect mercy. 

And we live in great hope that they are with Him.