The Little Way of Christmas

Don’t miss the moments of enchantment at family gatherings

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Dr. Michel Therrien, STL, STD is the  President of the Preambula Group.

For families at Christmas time, the Church’s celebration of the birth of Jesus offers three moments of sublime enchantment in this life — that is, if we are paying close enough attention. The first is when we are little children and starstruck by the romantic wonder of Christmas Eve and morning. Assuming your family celebrated Christmas when you were a child, you probably recall the deep sense of marvel that bordered on the edge of mysticism. The lights, the presents, the special foods, the music and the gathering of family all came together to leave a deep impression on the soul.

On the surface, if I may speak on my own behalf, I was definitely excited about the presents, but the deeper significance of the celebration was not lost on me. My eyes were wide open and the apparent magic of it all stirred deep within my soul, leaving lasting impressions and memories I have not forgotten to this day. As soon as the weather turned, it was impossible not to look forward to Christmas from the first weeks of November. When it was over, it was difficult not to be let down.

Photo: Lightstock

The second great moment of enchantment is when, if we are so blessed, we get to create the same experience for our own children. Part of the draw is recreating for them the conditions we remember from Christmases past when we were little; except in the role of parent, one begins to discover the many little acts of love that were behind those childhood memories. All the work! Christmas is quite the production for parents but the key is for parents to recollect themselves enough during Advent to remember what it was like to be a child at Christmas.

Even more, to rise above the laboriousness of the Advent season, parents have to become children (as it were) and maintain the enthusiasm and joy that the run up to the celebration warrants. My mother always became very sick after Christmas — not a good thing. Yet now I know why; she expended a lot of energy to make Christmas wonderful and special for the family. When it was over, she was exhausted and worn down. It is a kind of birthing experience actually, to bear one’s children once again into the mystery and meaning of life. It is essential to a good life as an adult to see Christmas with the eyes of a child — full of wonder and promise.

The third moment is when grandparents get to watch their children replicate the wonder of Christmas for the grandchildren. Christmas joy is not only about the blessing a child receives in the presence of grandparents, but for the grandparents to watch their own children carry on the family traditions and allow childhood to reign continuously across generations. The joy children bring to grandparents is the free and joyful spirit of “littleness.” Children are unpretentious and free to love and express joy and excitement at the simple blessings of life. Somewhat less encumbered by the burden of the Christmas production, grandparents are relieved to hand it over to their children and once again experience through their grandchildren a kind of freedom to relish in the moment of spiritual childhood.

Photo: Lightstock

Christmas is thus all about the child and spiritual childhood. It is about being able to see life through the eyes of a child, to allow God to fill us with wonder and joy at the simple gifts he places under the tree of our life. Every morning we can awake to these gifts, open them up and find the true joy of our existence. Yet we have to have the disposition of a child to experience wonderment at those gifts and not take them for granted. St. Thérèse of Lisieux called spiritual childhood “the little way.”

The little way is the way of love, which we discover in the little acts of goodness we give or receive from others. Joy is not complicated, but so often we miss this profound truth, especially during advent and at Christmas time. Joy is simple. It arises when we have the open eyes and heart of a child to appreciate the little gifts of God that surround us — and just rejoice at them. Children have to show us — or remind us as adults — that spiritual childhood is the Way of Christian discipleship. As adults, we often have to resist the temptation to grumbling and self-martyrdom in the service of family. The call is always to build up family life with a generous and joy-filled attitude, especially during the holidays, which are meant to be “holy” days.

Photo: Lightstock

Christmas teaches us one of the most important lessons of life. To grow up and get “big,” we have to learn how to remain childlike and little. We have to cultivate the sense of life’s wonderment and mystery. No better way exists for doing this than to contemplate the gift of the child born to us in Bethlehem. We have to contemplate the mystery of God’s own infancy. The God of the universe came to us by the little way of childhood. Yet as adults, we tend to make life so complicated and too sophisticated; or we give up on child-like-ness altogether. Jesus entered the world as a little one and grew up in a family. In many other ways, God could have made his entrance into history. He chose this way of human childhood. As a baby, he reveals the deepest mystery of God’s love.

The divine love for humanity is completely free, uninhibited, generous, wide open and full of wonderment. It is enchanted, romantic and ecstatic. As a culture, we hang onto to these elements of the Christmas season and continue to celebrate them year after year because they speak to the deepest longings of the human heart. To love as a child and to be loved as a child of God — this is the mystery of human existence and the salvation we celebrate at Christmas. The Christ child is a revelation of our path to God. We have to be children of our Heavenly Father, that is, we have to be childlike in our relationship with our Father. This is the little way of Christmas and the meaning of following Jesus in our lives.

COMING UP: What parents want most from their child’s school — and how Catholic schools fulfill it

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By Carol Nesbitt

What do parents of school aged kids want most of all from their child’s school?

Safety

Photo by Andrew Wright/Denver Catholic

It’s probably first and foremost to know they’re safe — not only from physical harm, violence, and drugs, but also other negative influences kids have to navigate in today’s complicated and confusing world, including cultural pressures to do what ‘feels good’ instead of what is right, just and moral.

This past year, some news media outlets questioned the safety of students in Denver’s Catholic schools because of sex abuse from decades ago. The reality is that the Church and all of the Archdiocese of Denver’s Catholic Schools have worked diligently to ensure the safety of all students. In fact, many parents say they specifically chose Catholic schools here because they feel their children are safer than the alternatives. But the term “safe” is much broader in today’s society.

“Their physical safety, as well as the safety of their souls, is something that is always on our minds as parents,” said Kelsey Lynch, a parent of two school-aged children. She and her husband, Michael, said that knowing their children were safe in school was one of the main reasons they chose St. Mary’s Catholic School in Greeley.

“St. Mary’s has proven over and over that our children’s safety is on the forefront of their minds,” she said. “They are taking every preventative step possible to keep our children safe from the evils that are so prevalent in our world today. With open communication, facing the hard topics instead of shying away from them, and vetting all people that our kids will come in contact with, we feel a Catholic school is the safest place for our kids to receive an education.”

The safety of their children’s souls is equally as important to mom Kelsie Raddatz and her husband, Justin, who have five children. Their two oldest attend St. John the Evangelist Catholic School in Loveland.

“There is truly no greater lesson to learn than to know that you are so incredibly loved by God and that God is so good. These crucial lessons aren’t allowed to be spoken in public schools,” Kelsie said.

Faith

Photo by Andrew Wright/Denver Catholic

That’s why the Raddatzes make the financial sacrifice to send their kids to St. John’s, with the strong belief that not only will their children be physically safe, but that they will fully understand that their purpose in life is to share Jesus’ love with others through everything they do; whether it be in the classroom or on the playground, speaking to others the way they would speak to Jesus.

“Every single moment is an opportunity to see Jesus present and to serve Him as well,” Kelsie continued. “What a blessed environment for our kids to learn and practice such crucial lessons!”

The Lynches say they can’t do it alone. For their children to become the saints they are called to be, the Lynches know that they need to work in partnership with their school community.

“Our kids’ teachers and classmates get more time with our kids during the week than we do, so it’s important that the people they are surrounded by are also helping them grow into the individuals God created them to be,” Kelsey said. “Our kids are learning what it is really like to have a strong faith family and the importance of a community that stands together in prayer and action to serve each other and the world around them, in both good and trying times.”

Kate McGreevy Crisham and her husband John echo the Lynch’s in their desire to have a strong faith foundation in their children’s education. That’s why they send their kids to St. Vincent de Paul in Denver.

“We are so fortunate in Denver to be able to choose Catholic schools because they are academically excellent AND thoroughly Catholic,” Kate said.

She and her husband wanted their faith to surround their children at home and at school. “We wanted God to be a part — actually the center — of the educational process of drawing out, igniting curiosity, working with challenging concepts and, as important, failing, struggling, and building resilience,” Kate shared. “Catholic schools value that process, encourage it, and love kids through it.”

Character

Photo by Brandon Young

She said she can see Jesus incarnate on a daily basis at St. Vincent de Paul.

“I see Jesus when I see an 8th grade boy stop to high five a group of kindergarteners. When I talk to the teachers of my kids, I see Jesus in their pure interest in what is best for my child — not what I want to hear — yet their words are delivered with professionalism and yes, love.

“From the maintenance staff to the principal, hearts are aligned in the work being done to educate the whole child.”

After exploring various options for preschool for their eldest child, Christy and Scott Kline toured Blessed Sacrament Catholic School, and although there was a free public school across the street, there was no question where they would send their kids. The decision was about so much more than simply educating their child.

“We have a ‘caught caring’ award (at the school) that is multi-faceted,” Christy said “Children are recognized for doing good — not academically — but in ways that benefit society and communities as a whole. Teachers and administration are ‘looking for the good’ in the school and finding it. When you look for something, it stands out.”

She feels that by looking for the best in people, you bring out the best. Kline also believes that strong parental involvement helps keep the school as safe as possible.

“The onus is on all of us to create an open, safe, transparent culture going forward, not just in Catholic organizations, but in all organizations and activities where children are involved,” Christy said.

Academics

Photo by Brandon Young

That same responsibility is on parents to choose schools that will reinforce the values they’re working to teach their children at home. David and Kathy Silverstein have had four children in Catholic schools in Denver over the past 20 years. Although there were many options for schools, including a charter school near their home, once they stepped foot inside St. John the Baptist Catholic School in Longmont, they knew it was the ‘only choice’ for their kids. As their children transitioned into high school, the Silversteins found that Holy Family High School was another perfect fit.

“In today’s world, finding a school that excels at education, sports and extra curriculars is challenging enough, but to find a school, particularly a high school, that prioritizes kindness, morality, personal responsibility, strength of character and just plain old being a good person — that is the uniqueness of Holy Family High School,” said Kathy. “An atmosphere of respect lives within the halls, between teachers, between students. It’s expected.”

For these families and countless others, they have experienced that it is the overall commitment by Catholic schools to keep students safe, to help them truly know they are loved by God, to incorporate faith into every subject area, and to set high expectations for students which reinforces parents’ decision to choose Catholic schools for their kids.

“My greatest desire for my children is for them to know how deeply they are loved by Jesus (and us, too!) and that their whole purpose in this life is to share Jesus’ love with others through every single thing they do,” Kelsie Raddatz said. “The classrooms are such a beautiful example of Jesus’ presence!”