Why Are We Keeping Christ in Christmas?

You’ve likely heard this slogan: keep Christ in Christmas. It’s the mission statement for the Knights of Columbus when they begin selling themed Christmas cards and bumper stickers, sending the proceeds to various charitable causes. It’s their annual effort to promote the true spirit of Christmas. It’s a slogan that’s typically echoed across social media, occasionally coming close to starting interweb and personal wars between “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Holidays” wishers. It is a movement to shift from an engrossment with materialism that intensifies in the weeks leading up to the holiday itself, and return to the light of Jesus Christ and the spirit of giving. We see it in giving gifts to others without expecting or asking for anything in return: gifts for children we’ve never met, their names hanging from the angel tree in the back of the church; gifts of donated food or funds or clothing for the homeless; the gift of bringing the spirit to the home bound, or simply providing the gift of assistance to those who have difficulty helping themselves. The Christmas season is also arguably the most highly anticipated and most festive time of year in the world, and everything gets a lot busier. Our lives become filled with Christmas pageants, recitals, home decorating, caroling, movie marathons, lots of holiday marketing and lots and lots and lots of shopping. Whether you’re a “Merry Christmas” person or a “Happy Holidays” person, it’s difficult to ignore that today’s fast-paced, consumer world creates a tremendous amount of stress and anxiety that can lead to a dreading of Christmas, a day which should be a holy, joyous occasion. “I think what people bemoan about the fast pace is not so much the fast pace, but precisely the materialism of it,” said Fr. Robert Presutti, Divine Mercy University’s chaplain and the director for Spiritual Direction Certificate program. “Unfortunately materialism itself, whether it’s Christmas or not, is deeply unfulfilling. It’s deeply frustrating because we were made for so much more than these material values. When you take Christ out of Christmas, what happens is just increased frenzy activity. I think the fact that people feel the way they do at Christmas is not so much about Christ being taken out of Christmas; He’s being taken out of human activity period. I think it’s a symptom of a much larger problem.” Perhaps, according to Father Presutti, we should try to disengage Christmas from the rural, slow-paced culture with which it has been historically associated, like a country setting where there’s plenty of space and snow is coming down. What does it mean to live it in the middle of a city? What does it mean to live Christmas in the middle of a lot of hustle and bustle? “When you think about the first Christmas, Mary and Joseph didn’t have a quiet time. They were going from place to place with quite a bit of stress. And yet, they were completely focused on it being totally for the Lord. And when the Lord came, that was the joy of Christmas,” said Fr. Presutti. Amidst everything that the season brings in our lives, do we leave any room to journey towards Bethlehem? Do we ever find ourselves capable of lowering our “Keep Christ in Christmas” shields, turn off the carols and marathons and remember how it all began and why we should be overjoyed? As we embrace, inhale and consume the season and spirit of Christmas in today’s world, what happens to us when we allow the Son of Man to be a part of it as well? “It’s something more radical than just keeping Christ in Christmas,” Fr. Presutti said. “I don’t know if illuminating the activity is going to somehow make Christmas more spiritual. But it is, in a certain sense, putting Christ in the center of the activity. Why do we go through the trouble of celebrating at Christmas parties? Why do we go through the trouble of actually making ourselves a little more tired to buy gifts? It’s because there’s a value--something so deep in this Christmas season-- that it’s worth it, and that becomes fulfilling.” Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, in his 2005 Angelus address for the third Sunday of Advent, reflects on how the world has turned away from the true spirit of Christmas, citing how our consumer society suffered a sort of commercial ‘pollution’ that risks changing Christmas’s intimate, authentic spirit, marked by recollection, moderation and joy. Benedict also shares that, to break through chaos and commercial pollution, all we have to do is turn towards the crib: “The crib helps us contemplate the mystery of God’s love that was revealed in the poverty and simplicity of the Bethlehem Grotto,” he says. “The crib can help us understand the secret of the true Christmas because it speaks of the humility and merciful goodness of Christ, who ‘though he was rich, made himself poor’ for us (cf. 2 Cor 8:9)’. Jesus’ poverty enriches those who embrace it, and brings Christmas joy and peace to those who, like the shepherds in Bethlehem, accept the angel’s words: ‘Let this be a sign to you: in a manger you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes’ (Lk 2:12).” “Go back to the root,” Presutti said. “Don’t live Christmas the way modern culture has over the last 200 years; go back to the root. What is this Advent season? It’s a time of preparation to receive the greatest gift of all. We’re not celebrating, we’re preparing.”   The Advent season and the approach of Christmas compels us to keep in mind two things. First, that Christ came to us over 2,000 years ago out of pure love. He came to us incarnate as fully God and fully man, and that he entered into our world, with all its associated ugliness, pain, discomfort, cruelty and sin, solely for the sake of us. Secondly, is that Christ told us that he will come again. “Some writers have also stated that in preparing for Christmas,” said Fr. Presutti, “we’re actually also preparing for the second coming of Christ. We’re orientating our lives towards the Lord Jesus. By preparing to celebrate His birth, we’re also preparing for our final encounter with Christ, and it also prepares us for Christ who comes to us today in many different ways.” Let’s go back in time for a moment. In the winter of 1914--the fifth month of World War I--hostilities were at a standstill. After the Race to the Sea and First Battle of Ypres, leaders reconsidered their strategies, leaving their troops to maintain their positions in the trenches. In the days leading up to Christmas, British, Belgian and French soldiers laid down their weapons, left the trenches and approached their German enemy, exchanging gifts of food, cigarettes and other items. The truce also allowed the sides to bury their fallen comrades, who laid dead on the land between the two sides. The truce took different forms across the battlefields. One account described a British soldier getting his hair cut by his pre-war German barber; others spoke of pig roasts and kickabouts with makeshift soccer balls. Graham Williams of the Fifth London Rifle Brigade recalled the Christmas Truce beginning in song. “First the Germans would sing one of their carols,” Williams wrote, “and then we would sing one of ours, until when we started singing ‘O Come, All Ye Faithful,’ the Germans immediately joined in singing the same hymns to the latin words Adeste Fideles. And I thought, well, this really a most extraordinary thing -- two nations both singing the same carroll [sic] in the middle of a war.” After over 100 years, the Christmas Truce--which has been immortalized and fictionalized in novels, films and even an opera entitled Silent Night--is still remembered as a Christmas miracle and a true testament to the power of hope, humanity, and good in each of us, even in the truly darkest hours of our history. “Somehow,” said Fr. Presutti, “the presence of Christ guarantees what’s good, authentic and well appreciated in human culture, period.”

Why Values Fail & Virtues Succeed in Marriage

Personal values may be why 50% of marriages fail. Behind the smiles of the family portrait lies the stress from the trials of raising a family that can weigh heavily on the family as a whole, from economics and finances to the fast-paced environment and differing values. These trials can create a great tension within the family and, if they’re not addressed, could bring devastating complications and outcomes including troubled marriages, separation and divorce. Contributing columnist for Catholic Moral Theology suggests that the problem leading to struggling marriages and a decline in family and relationship values is a confusion between “values” and “virtues.” In his article “Family Virtues Not Family Values,” David Cloutier describes virtue as “a habit, a settled disposition, a kind of ‘second nature’ that inclines a person to respond in particular ways and not others.” Like most habits, they need to be repeated in order for them to become second nature, much like the professional athlete who constantly trains in order to maintain the ability to perform at the highest level. Virtues are crucial to marriage and family life, and can only really be developed through generating a culture of virtue that’s reinforced throughout the whole of life. In the Online Master’s in Psychology program, you can gain the skills necessary to decrease the alarming rate of divorce by getting an understanding of vocations and virtues and how they align with human behavior.  

Studies Find Postpartum Depression in New Dads

Preparing for the arrival of a child is an exciting time, and when that time finally comes and a baby arrives, the mother and father’s world simply stops to embrace this pure moment of joy. But despite the happy juncture, there’s still a plethora of new challenges that the new mommy will have to face, no matter how prepared she is: new and changing routines to adapt to, new responsibilities to take on, copious amounts of sleep to lose. Her life will never be the same, and that realization will challenge her mentally and can result in postpartum depression, a serious mood disorder that can affect new mothers. Some mothers experience this after giving birth, but it can also appear days or even months after delivering a baby, and can last for a very long time  if left untreated. But she’s not the only one. Experts say depression can also hit the new daddy just as hard. A study published in the American Medical Association journal found that 10 percent of new fathers can experience paternal postpartum depression--or PPPD--en route to becoming a father. That number jumped to 26 percent between the 3-6 month period after the baby’s born, especially if their partner is experiencing postpartum depression. Additionally, up to 18 percent can even develop a clinically significant anxiety disorder, including obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Paternal postpartum depression in fathers is not as widely discussed or screened for as maternal postpartum depression, and identifying its early symptoms, such as sleeplessness and lack of interest in the mother and baby, can be difficult. While some men can experience the classical symptom of sadness, most men will appear angry, anxious, fearful or irritated, and may even show signs of aggression through their thoughts, words and actions. "The fact that so many new and expecting dads go through it makes it a significant public-health concern—one that physicians and mental-health providers have largely overlooked," said James F. Paulson, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at Old Dominion University. Paternal postpartum depression is very serious and, if left unaddressed and untreated, can result in damaging, long-term consequences for the entire family. Spouses and close family members are the first line of defense in recognizing postpartum depression in new mothers and fathers. Being observant is incredibly essential while watching both mom and dad transition into their new roles. Research also shows immediate father-baby bonding offers several benefits, including a lower risk for postpartum depression. Click here to read the full study. Find out how you can help and counsel new moms and dads suffering postpartum depression and other mental health challenges. Learn more at Divine Mercy University.  
About DMU
Divine Mercy University (DMU) is a Catholic graduate university of psychology and counseling programs. It was founded in 1999 as the Institute for the Psychological Sciences. The university offers a Master of Science (M.S.) in Psychology, Master of Science (M.S.) in Counseling, Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) in Clinical Psychology, and Certificate Programs.