It was a week before Christmas, and I found myself anxious and angry. I was paying more attention to minute-by-minute politics than I had on any other day of the year.
It was impeachment day, and I was seeing all kinds of “Impeachmas” references and merrymaking. At the Mass I went to that day, the Franciscan friar nonpartisanly prayed during the petitions about the “grave” matters in Washington. The priest called upon St. Joseph to intercede so that there might be wisdom there. That seemed like a countercultural act of faith at a time of such cynicism.
Absurd rhetoric was everywhere — a Republican invoking the crucifixion of Christ comes to mind, but there were offenders on both sides of the aisle. I fear we are complicit, too, when we become addicted to national politics. It’s the reality TV we can’t turn off, almost drowning us in a cacophony of rage.
So, I stepped away from my phone — possibly the greatest gift we can give ourselves, and others, for Christmas. And immediately, I started to think of what’s given me hope in the last year. Right from the start, I thought of 17,000 young people taking over the Indianapolis convention center for days of prayer and challenge at the Fellowship of Catholic University Students SEEK conference.
The conference gets inspirational talks from some real lights in the world, such as my friends Sister Bethany Madonna from the Sisters of Life and bestselling author and radio host — and standup comedian and mom — Jennifer Fulwiler. The heart of the thing is the common ground of wanting to do something beautiful with the gifts of their still-young lives — to give glory to God with how they live.
Everything FOCUS does is rooted in prayer, sacraments and fellowship. FOCUS has a model where young people become missionaries on college campuses as a way of giving thanks, and each missionary gets people investing in the mission. In the United States, with its own history of missionaries’ arrivals, we are having to rethink so much today because we don’t value faith-based medicine, education and other institutions as we should. And so there’s a sense of renewal about these young people.
Speaking of renewal and rebuilding: In a midtown New York convent once essential for parish life, the Sisters of Life live with pregnant women, new moms and their babies, burping and bouncing and embracing as the arms of Jesus in the world. And the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal reach children in some of the most trying of circumstances, giving them a taste of something pure.
There are more missionaries in our midst. Justin Fatica’s Hard as Nails ministry proclaims that no one ever suffers alone. The group’s missionaries work primarily with middle schoolers and high schoolers, but goodness, could we all use a little time in their loving care! Part of our problem in the world is not just our fear of suffering, but our fear of reaching out to those in misery. We all suffer; it’s a part of our lives. How about we stop pretending otherwise? How about we start to look at people with the kind of love we want in our lives?
At one Hard as Nails youth rally I attended in November, a girl talked about how she came to know Christ after her own father used her “as a prostitute.” She radiated a profound peace, which revived the faith of the adults in the room and heightened our sensitivity, once again, to the darkness present in the world. It’s as if God picked her up and held her to His heart.
God does that in the world today. Sometimes the most tender hearts are the ones that have suffered the most. To bookmark the year, I saw that in action at a FOCUS missionaries retreat I helped with this month. I think the boost from being around all those young people with generous hearts helped get me across the finish line to the recently published book “A Year With the Mystics: Visionary Wisdom for Daily Living.”
When we give God time, he can work some unexpected miracles. My prayer for everyone this Christmas is a little time in silence, pondering creation — especially human life and the family, as we see in the Christ Child and His Holy Family — and encountering the Creator.