Sunday, Dec. 17
Light the pink Advent candle tonight — the Joy candle. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) describes this as a turning point of Advent, with a heightened sense of anticipation.
If putting up a Christmas tree is part of your family’s holiday traditions, offer a blessing before plugging in the lights. Here is a blessing from “Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers”:
Lord our God,
we praise you for the light of creation:
the sun, the moon, and the stars of the night.
We praise you for the light of Israel:
the Law, the prophets, and the wisdom of the Scriptures.
We praise you for Jesus Christ, your Son:
he is Emmanuel, God-with-us, the Prince of Peace,
who fills us with the wonder of your love.
let your blessing come upon us
as we illumine this tree.
May the light and cheer it gives
be a sign of the joy that fills our hearts.
May all who delight in this tree
come to the knowledge and joy of salvation.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.
Monday, Dec. 18
Go on the social media website Pinterest and find instructions for religious-themed Christmas ornaments and have a fun evening crafting with family and friends. Some ideas: angels, saints, the nativity scene, the holy family and the cross. Discuss the significance of the people and moments depicted in the ornaments.
Tuesday, Dec. 19
Pray the rosary as a family or consider organizing a rosary prayer event at your parish. Luke Gregory, coordinator of lifelong faith formation for Sacred Heart Parish in Newton, shares this unique “living rosary” tradition from his former parish in Colorado:
Participants formed the shape of a rosary, with each person representing a different bead. On each person’s turn, he or she would begin with the first part of that prayer, and everyone else would join in on the second half of the prayer. Throughout each prayer, the priest held the Blessed Sacrament in a monstrance before the face of the leader of that prayer. “It was a tremendous blessing to be a part of such a remarkable form of prayer,” Gregory said.
Wednesday, Dec. 20
As Christmas approaches, reflect on these words from retired Pope Benedict XVI:
“Christmas is a privileged opportunity to meditate on the meaning and value of our existence. The approach of this Solemnity helps us on the one hand to reflect on the drama of history in which people, injured by sin, are perennially in search of happiness and of a fulfilling sense of life and death; and on the other, it urges us to meditate on the merciful kindness of God who came to man to communicate to him directly the Truth that saves, and to enable him to partake in his friendship and his life. Therefore let us prepare ourselves for Christmas with humility and simplicity, making ourselves ready to receive as a gift the light, joy and peace that shine from this mystery.” — General Audience, Dec. 17, 2008
Thursday, Dec. 21
Today is the winter solstice, the longest night of the year. Ponder the times you have waited in darkness, literally or figuratively.
Holidays can be a difficult time for people experiencing loss and loneliness; pray for those suffering this time of year. “Suffering grief and loss is difficult, but during a holiday, there is often a more intense sense of loss,” said Chris McCormick Pries, clinical director of Vera French Community Mental Health Center in Davenport and a member of St. John Vianney Parish in Bettendorf. “Everyone around us is busy, celebrating the holiday with long-standing traditions and loved ones, but for the one experiencing grief, a sense of darkness and despair can overshadow the holiday. Each holiday after a loved one’s death will bring new challenges, more memories and new questions of ‘Will it be any easier this year?’ Be encouraged that it does get easier.”
Friday, Dec. 22
Go caroling! If your parish does not have a caroling event planned, you could try organizing an evening where carolers sing for homebound or elderly parishioners at their homes. Adults and confirmation students from St. Mary Parish in Davenport have been caroling for many years. They call parishioners a day or two ahead of time to ask if they’d be up for hosting a group of carolers. For a few, “we just stand on the porch and sing; others invite us in,” said Kay Steele, the parish’s Director of Religious Education. “Many of them insist we take some cookies before we leave.”
Another idea: visit a nursing home or assisted living facility and sing, as St. Thomas More Parish-Coralville and St. Patrick Parish-Iowa City do. Make sure to call ahead to schedule a time.
Saturday, Dec. 23
For more than 20 years, youths at St. Mary Parish in Iowa City have been making and delivering cookies to home-bound parishioners and to those dealing with the loss of a loved one. This year, they baked, decorated and delivered 1,500 sugar cookies to area residents most in need of a little love and kindness.
Today, make some sweet treats and deliver them in person to someone you feel could use a little extra love this holiday season.
Sunday, Dec. 24
Light the final violet Advent calendar.
Christmas offers Catholics a unique opportunity to evangelize people from their parish or community who do not regularly attend church. Father Tony Herold, vicar general for the Diocese of Davenport and pastor of St. Paul the Apostle Parish-Davenport, shared his thoughts on how to make the most of the opportunity. “Obviously it is important that our liturgies are done well — good music, reverent gestures, insightful homily and comfortable atmosphere. Christmas has a lot going for it since our churches are decorated so festively. But I would suggest that a large part of spreading our faith during this time of the year rests in our faithful, dedicated parishioners/disciples who go out of their way to welcome those we ordinarily may not see. We hear often that the church must evangelize, that is, share our faith and create an atmosphere of encounter. During this time of year especially, but at all times, every one of us has an opportunity and privilege to reflect Christ in the warmth and hospitality that is shown through our words and actions.”
Pope Francis has said of evangelization: “It is not the mission of only a few, but it is mine, yours and our mission.”
Monday, Dec. 25
Read the Christmas story in the Bible and place baby Jesus in your creche. Let this segue into a regularly scheduled family Bible study. “This doesn’t have to be hard,” said Father Paul Appel. “If you don’t have access to a study program, simply open your family Bible — the Gospels are a good place to start — and take turns reading a passage out loud. If the Spirit moves you, mention which words are important to you and perhaps ask a question about it before handing the Scriptures to the next person for their turn.”