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

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: Collegiality and eucharistic integrity

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The concept of the “collegiality” of bishops has been sharply contested since the Second Vatican Council debated it in 1962, 1963, and 1964. That discussion was sufficiently contentious that a personal intervention from Pope Paul VI was required to incorporate the concept of episcopal collegiality within the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church in such a way that the pope’s primacy and universal jurisdiction were safeguarded. The debate about collegiality has continued ever since. Now, however, it’s focused more on what kind of collegiality exists within national conferences of bishops. Is it an “affective collegiality” of mutual support and encouragement? Or is episcopal collegiality within bishops’ conferences “effective,” such that a conference has real teaching and legislative authority?  

Whether collegiality is “affective,” “effective,” or some combination of the two, it ought to be clear what truly “collegial” behavior isn’t.   

It isn’t individual bishops attempting end-runs around their national conference, appealing for Roman interventions that would forestall debates that their brother bishops wish to engage. It isn’t bishops trying to browbeat the conference chairman into changing an agenda to suit the tastes of a distinct minority — and misleading their brother bishops as to what they’re about when soliciting support for such a gambit. And it isn’t trying to filibuster a conference meeting so that no action is possible on an agenda item that the great majority of bishops wish to consider and act upon. 

If any of those three maneuvers qualifies as collegial, then “collegiality” has no more meaning than the claim that my poor Baltimore Orioles have a great starting rotation. 

For years now — and by “years,” I mean long before the idea of a “President Biden” entered the stream of national consciousness — the bishops of the United States have been concerned that ours is becoming less of a eucharistic Church than Vatican II called us to be when it taught that the Eucharist is the “source and summit” of the Church’s life. Pope St. John Paul II reaffirmed that conciliar summons when, in his final encyclical, he taught that “the Church draws her life from the Eucharist,” which “recapitulates the heart and mystery of the Church.” Yet all around us we see declining Sunday Mass attendance: a sadness that preceded the pandemic but has been further exacerbated by it.  Moreover, surveys suggest that too many Catholics think of Sunday Mass as essentially a social occasion, rather than an encounter with the living God in which Christ is offered to the Father and is given back to his people in holy communion — a communion in and through the body and blood, soul and divinity of Christ, received under the forms of bread and wine.

If the Church lives from the Eucharist and yet the people of the Church don’t participate in the Eucharist as often as they should, or don’t understand what they’re celebrating and receiving when they do, then the Church suffers from a serious eucharistic deficit. Those ordained to leadership in the Church are obliged to do something about that. 

That is why the U.S. bishops have been determined for some time to undertake a comprehensive program of eucharistic education throughout the Church. For the great majority of bishops, that determination has been intensified by the fact that our eucharistic deficit is being compounded by the eucharistic incoherence of public officials who, rejecting authoritative Catholic teaching based on both revelation and reason, nonetheless present themselves for holy communion as if they were in full communion with the Church. The longstanding episcopal failure to address this incoherence exacerbates the eucharistic deficit in American Catholicism by implying that the Church really doesn’t mean what it teaches about the sacred nature of the Eucharist. 

Those suggesting that this is all about “politics” are either ill-informed or deliberately misleading the Church and the gullible parts of the media. Concern for the eucharistic integrity of the Church includes, but goes much deeper than, concerns about the eucharistic incoherence of Catholic public officials who act as if the Church’s settled convictions on the life issues and on worthiness to receive holy communion don’t exist. That is why the U.S. bishops are forging ahead with developing a teaching document that will clarify for the whole Church why we are a Eucharistic community, what the Eucharist truly is, what reception of the Eucharist means, and why everyone in the Church should examine conscience before receiving Christ in the sacrament. 

The wheels of collegiality may grind slowly. In this case, however, they are grinding truly, and for the sake of the Gospel.

George Weigel is an independent columnist whose weekly column is syndicated by the Archdiocese of Denver. The opinions and viewpoints expressed by Mr. Weigel therein are his alone and do not necessarily reflect those of the Archdiocese of Denver or the bishops of Denver.