Jan 08

A friend shared this with me last week:

“When the song of the angels is stilled,

When the star in the sky is gone,

When the kings and princes are home,

When the shepherds are back with their flock, The work of Christmas begins:

To find the lost,

To heal the broken,

To feed the hungry,

To release the prisoner,

To rebuild the nations,

To bring peace among people,

To make music in the heart.”

It is a poem called “The Work of Christmas” by Howard Thurman.

We usually think the work associated with Christmas comes before the holiday, not after. Jesus came to bring us hope, yes. But He also came to challenge us. If He can sacrifice and be born, a human in a stable in an animal’s food trough, only to suffer through crucifixion, all for our sins, then I think we have a responsibility.

On Wednesday night, I taught a religious education class to teenagers about the Nicene Creed, and what we believe. After doing this, I know the future is bright. They were challenged to create their own “I believe” statements which they presented to the class. Their statements included “I believe there is good in all people” and “I believe in kindness.”

I also presented Lectio Divina [a form of prayer] to them and we looked at Ephesians 2: 17-21. What words or phrases did they highlight during meditatio?  It was “preached peace,” “fitted together,” “no longer strangers,” and “built on the foundation” and “cornerstone.” During oratio, one student wrote, in her response to God’s Word, “help me to be myself, and make people be able to be themselves around me.” These are 15 and 16 year olds!

We talked about people who say one thing and do something else. We talked about checking ourselves, and not being those people. We talked about understanding that words having meaning, and how important it is to say what you mean and mean what you say.  This includes our prayer life because we all recite prayers, including the Creed, but how often do we really slow down, hear and reflect on the words?  Then during “actio” we talked about taking God’s Word and His message out into the world – outside the church building and into homes and their classrooms at school. It all ties together as we discussed the four marks in the Nicene Creed – one, holy, catholic (small “c” J) and apostolic. Their textbook pointed out that Jesus, in the Garden of Gethsemane, did not pray that His pending crucifixion would not happen. He prayed for the Apostles; He prayed for us. He prayed the Church would survive, continue and thrive. He prayed for us to remain one in faith and mission and anointed to go forth – to get out there and live the faith. Stand up for and demonstrate what we believe.

It ties into “The Work of Christmas.” Our words matter and our actions matter more. Do they match? It has made me really think about what I believe, what I stand for, what are “deal breakers” for me. The students, in their statements, showed me the variety of responses people could have when asked “what do you believe?” For me, I believe in truth. I believe in trust. For me, truth and trust are the foundations, or cornerstones. I have come to focus on these during my life by really hard, painful life lessons. What are your cornerstones? I think we need to know the Creed as Catholics and practice our own creeds as individuals. Then we can take up the work of Christmas, because Christmas did not end December 25th and its spirit and message did not end last Sunday on the Feast of the Epiphany or this Sunday on the Baptism of Jesus. He came as a baby for us, to save us. What is our response to Him, or for Him?

I told the students, when creating their own statements, that they should feel strongly enough to say “Amen” after speaking them. Then we truly have, as Scripture tells us in Matthew 16, a rock on which to “build my Church,” an anchor for our lives, and a place to begin our work.

Sheila Hellermann is a member of St. Mary Parish in Melrose. She works at St. John’s University as a program and department coordinator for several academic departments. Read more about Sheila on the “Meet Our Bloggers” page.

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(2) comments

Ronald Pagnucco January 9, 2022

So very interesting and inspiring! Thank you for sharing Sheila.

Sheila Nelson January 10, 2022

How encouraging are the responses of these young Catholics… What great hope they give me for the future of our church! And how very blessed they are to have you for their teacher and mentor, Sheila… You do such a fantastic job of challenging them to truly live their faith, not just go through motions… THANK YOU!

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