Doing the Most With and For the Least This Christmas

I considered whether this post didn’t belong in November, the month in which Catholics traditionally remember the poor souls in Purgatory. Is a reflection on conversion, sacrifice, and the last things too melancholy for the pre-Christmas season?

But “pre-Christmas” isn’t really a season. A marketing device maybe, but not a true season and definitely not a liturgical season. The more I thought, the more I became convinced that Advent is a perfect time to meditate on sin and conversion.

  • Isn’t the Christmas season, despite its joy, a time when many experience sadness and longing for Christmases past and suffer anew the loss of those they loved?

  • What better preparation is there for Christmas than conversion of heart?

My brief visit to our hometown at Thanksgiving played like a succession of soft, if persistent, calls to a more profound prayer, sacrifice, and conversion on my part.

The pump was primed, so to speak, by what I’d been reading. I’d finally begun a remarkable little prayer book offered to me months ago for my review: St. Faustina Prayer Book for the Conversion of Sinners by Susan Tassone (aka “The Purgatory Lady.”)

I’d simultaneously been reading and critiquing a manuscript by my friend and fellow author Theresa Linden. Tortured Soul, which I can’t wait to see published, is a supernatural thriller, which deftly – and very creepily! – brings to life the plight of the poor souls in Purgatory. Especially those who have no one to pray for them.

As I shuffled through my mother’s recently vacated, nearly empty home, gazing at the remnants of a fifty-year marriage, four children, grandchildren, and decades more of life, I uncovered tangible reminders of a soul’s worth.

Family photos of my mother and father with her eight siblings (two were already deceased) and their spouses. My mother alone is still with us.

A rickety night stand drawer with banded stacks of memorial cards marking the entrance to eternal life of dozens of my dad’s family and friends. A necrology in blue pen on yellow legal paper of celebrities and movie stars from my dad’s youth. Tucked in my mother’s dresser drawer, a list of the family members she’d faithfully, annually enrolled in the Miraculous Medal Association. On her desk, envelopes marked remembering her husband, my dad, in perpetual Masses.

Veterans Cemetery

While we were in town, we took our children to the cemeteries to visit family members’ graves. Under gray November skies, no flowers decorated the graves. Only dead leave skittered in the wind, collecting in front of the headstones.

This is our end. Ours and everyone we love. Everyone we despise.

Death is a great equalizer.

We prayed for our family members, and my daughter, who had visited our parish cemetery with her classmates the week before, recited a traditional prayer for souls:

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord. And may perpetual light shine upon them. And may all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God,  rest in peace. Amen.

And then our son surprised us by repeating it, in Latin. (So maybe the staggering tuition bills for Catholic school are worth it.)

I’m convinced that though this may be the most financially-strained Christmas I’ve experienced, I am rich with treasures I can give.

  • What better way is there to remember our loved ones than by praying for them?

  • What greater kindness can we offer the stranger, those living and deceased, than to pray for them?

  • When has our culture, ravaged by violence, predation, hate, immorality, and cynicism, so desperately needed our prayers and sacrifices?

Even my easy, comfortable life is ripe with opportunities for simple prayer and sacrifice. I have here, on my desk, a printout of all of those killed by sniper fire in Las Vegas in October. A little photo and a little obituary. Every person and every grieving loved one left behind an opportunity.

When I ignore the urge to check my cellphone, stay in the slow lane, listen through the song I don’t like, or smile through a child’s ramblings, I can do good.

When I reject a handful of pretzels, keep a snide remark to myself, or squeeze in a decade of the Rosary rather than mindlessly scrolling through Instagram, I can do good. God can take those little things united to Jesus’s sacrifice and do something great with them.

For my own soul, I hope. For the conversion of my family. For the souls of loved ones who have gone before me. And for those in most need of my prayers.

I can’t cover that with tinsel or top it with a red bow. It’s not easily wrapped, doesn’t jingle, and won’t fit in a stocking.

But I’m pretty certain its value exceeds whatever any one of us will find under our tree Christmas morning.


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