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BEFORE THE CROSS | Allow the grace of Christmas to carry you longer than one day

Let’s respond to the gift of Christmas with deeper faith, love and obedience

The readings throughout this week have a consistent pattern: God makes a promise, and God follows through. The promises are made through the prophets — God gives His word. The follow-through is made in history — God’s actions confirm His word.

How about us: Do we follow through?

The day after Christmas, the Church celebrates the feast of St. Stephen, the first martyr. Stephen received grace from God, and followed through with the faithful witness of his life. The next day, the Church celebrates the feast of St. John, apostle and evangelist. He also received God’s grace and followed through, giving witness to his relationship with Jesus for the rest of his life.

In this sequence of feast days, the Church raises a question for us. On Christmas day we experience God’s love. Will we follow through on that gift — receiving it with gratitude, and responding with our lives — or not?

Father Raniero Cantalamessa has been the preacher to the papal household since 1980. In other words, when the pope wants to hear a good homily, he asks Father Cantalamessa to preach. Citing a mystic from the 1300s, Father Cantalamessa speaks of a boat anchored to the beach. The tide comes in, and the water lifts the boat up. Then, when the tide recedes, the boat just sinks back down onto the sand and stays where it was.

Our Christmas might be like that. God’s love lifts us up for a day, and then afterward nothing changes. That’s certainly how our culture treats Christmas: The day after, it moves on to the next thing. Will we do better — following through on the gift of Christmas, allowing its grace to carry us for more than just one day?

On Saturday, Dec. 29 — the fifth day of Christmas — the reading from the first letter of St. John states: “The way we may be sure that we know Jesus is to keep His commandments. Whoever says, ‘I know Him,’ but does not keep His commandments is a liar and the truth is not in him.” (1 John 2:3-4)

In other words, when we proclaim our faith with words, we need to follow through with deeds.

Similarly, we shouldn’t just celebrate Christmas Day and let it drop. We need to follow through in our lives.

We follow through when we respond to the gift of Christmas with deeper faith, love and obedience — taking time to read Scripture, serving people in need, or reaching out to mend a broken relationship. We also follow through when we renounce what St. Paul calls “the works of the flesh” — lust, jealousy and outbursts of anger.

Again and again in history, God makes a promise, and then follows through. What will be the story of our Christmas this year: Will we follow through?

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