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The Gift of Gratitude
As Christmas approaches, Pope Francis exhorts Christians to live into the joy we’re called to.


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Kathryn Jean Lopez

St. Jude’s. Food drives. Toys 4 Tots. Coat collections.

’Tis the season for charity. All the world’s inspired by Santa once Thanksgiving comes around.

Be generous to those around you, one priest implores, guided by the reading of the day.

You can’t help wondering, though, about the rest of the year.

The word “solidarity” is a little worn and at times poorly understood, but it refers to something more than a few sporadic acts of generosity. It presumes the creation of a new mindset that thinks in terms of community and the priority of the life of all over the appropriation of goods by a few.

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The Sunday before we celebrated Thanksgiving here in the United States, that fascinating Pope Francis, who always seems to be reaching out in a posture of mercy and healing, held in his arms the remains of St. Peter, excavated from below St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome in the 1940s.

He did so as the Catholic Church was marking the close of the Year of Faith, a year meant to remind the faithful of some fundamentals, to reteach what has often been clouded by politics, division, and cultural upheaval in the 50 years since the Second Vatican Council. He did so in an outpouring, a plea, a prayer.

Pope Francis believes something, you see.

He teaches. He preaches. He grants interviews — even to atheist journalists who take some liberties with his words. He is in the business of opening doors and challenging people.

He does this because of the radical mandates of his conviction. Not only does he believe in Someone greater than himself or any earthly power, but he also believes that his faith is something that simply had to change him, his habits, his attitude, his actions, his words, his service, his outreach. One cannot truly encounter Christ without transformation.

This is the reason behind the riesignation of Francis’s predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI. It is nine months since that earth-rattling news came on February 11. Benedict did the unthinkable. He gave up temporal power. He did that so that we might see.

When Pope Francis held the first pope’s relics in his hands, he said, “I believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth . . .” He asks the world: Do you believe? If you say yes, then what are you doing about it? What is the world seeing of you? Do you know what you’re saying? Do your words have meaning? Do any words have meaning?

Earlier this month, a main street in Philadelphia was shut down as thousands walked from the Convention Center to the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in a Eucharistic procession, sponsored by the Magnificat Foundation, the sister organization to a beloved monthly devotional magazine.

“What are you protesting?” one woman asked me.

The answer is: Sin.

As the East Coast fought stormy weather going into Thanksgiving, Pope Francis issued an Apostolic Exhortation, rallying Christians to live lives that reflect the eternal joy they’re called to: to live as if they believe in Jesus Christ! As a civic matter, we should want them to, whatever we ourselves might believe. Men and women of virtue and character in our midst make for better politics, better culture, better lives.

In the streets of Philadelphia, on one of the first truly frigid nights of the season, the faithful gathered to bear witness to what Pope Francis would exhort by month’s end: “The Eucharist, although it is the fullness of sacramental life, is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak. These convictions have pastoral consequences that we are called to consider with prudence and boldness. Frequently, we act as arbiters of grace rather than its facilitators. But the Church is not a tollhouse; it is the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems.”

The world press covered the story of Pope Francis kneeling in prayer with his arms around the bones of St. Peter, adoring God, seeing Him in those we often prefer not to see. Unfortunately, many of the headlines missed the real meaning of that image: namely, that if Christ is at the center of your life, it is a different kind of life. It is other-centered, it is mission-oriented, it leads you to the peripheries, it is intolerant of indifference.

This is not new. But it is a reality that our predominant culture has loosened our grip on.

Black Friday. Cyber Monday. Sales. Purchases. The image of the Magnificat Day of Faith in Philadelphia was Rembrandt’s oh-so-lifelike Christ, which lives at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. “The entire canvas is covered in a dark brown background, like the shadow of sin that engulfs all humankind,” reflects Pierre-Marie Dumont, president of the Magnificat Foundation. “Then, from the very core of this abyss emerges a gentle light that warms without burning, that illuminates without blinding, that consoles without condemning,” he continues. “Thus, from the heart of sin, grace flows forth.”

This is a matter of faith. It ils also a pillar that buttresses and enhances our democratic republic, our culture, and our civilization. Pope Francis’s ode to the joy of the Gospel was issued on the same day that the Supreme Court agreed to hear the plea of Oklahoma’s Green family — the owners of Hobby Lobby — to protect religious liberty even among businessmen. Heaven knows we need good men in business.

“Do not be afraid” is a constant refrain of the recent popes — Polish, German, Argentinean. Would you rather live afraid of who or what might walk into your life today and tear it down, or live with and around the joy that hope in a life of purpose, from and with a merciful Creator, makes possible? It should be easy to choose. We keep the world in a darkness that our sparkling Christmas lights only mask, if we confine our understanding of Christmas to things purchased at a mall — or with an app — instead of perpetual, unmistakable gratitude.

Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online and a director of Catholic Voices USA, and she has been a consultant with the Magnificat Foundation. This column is based on one available exclusively through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.

 



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