Merry Christmas! As the holiday season finds us in uncertain circumstances this year, I hope that you’ve been able to receive the joy, hope and peace of the announcement of the birth of Jesus Christ in a very special way.
I’m delighted to share with you some happy news. For some years, I’ve been working toward an advanced degree. The Licentiate in Sacred Theology (STL) is an ecclesiastical degree, granted by universities or faculties who are specially designated by the Holy See. In the summer of 2014 I began studies for an STL in the New Evangelization from Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. To my knowledge, no other institution in the world is offering an “online STL.” I spent four consecutive summers on campus, and took various online classes during the year. (Then it was rare—now almost everybody is taking online classes!) The topics were fascinating and the fellowship with other priests was stimulating —though, to be honest, I sometimes had trouble balancing my academic work with my pastoral obligations. In November, after years of dialogue, my thesis entitled “The Continuing Relevance of the Liberation Theology of Gustavo Gutiérrez in the New Evangelization” was finally approved. Then, last Friday, I gave a final lecture entitled “Challenge from the South: Implications from Explosive Pentecostal Growth in the Global South for the Future of Catholicism in the Global North.” The lecture went very well, and the panel of three professors announced that I had completed it successfully. I am relieved to have completed all the requirements of this degree—now I need to see how God is calling me to use it!
With our Christmas celebration we begin the Christmas season. The Church invites us to observe an Octave of Christmas, so we keep the joy of Christmas Day itself alive for eight days until we celebrate the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, on January 1. The Christmas season extends a little longer, until the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which we’ll celebrate on Sunday, January 10.
While the world is eager to pack up decorations and shift to Valentine’s Day merchandising, as Christians, we should be different. The season allows us to reflect on the profound significance of the Incarnation of our Lord, and to remember the various events of His earthly life leading up to the beginning of His ministry at His baptism. So, please don’t abandon Christmas too quickly! In your family prayers and personal devotions, and even your seasonal decorations, don’t forget that our Christmas celebration extends for several weeks. Here in Church, we’ll keep our Christmas decorations up until January 10, and the readings and Mass prayers will all reference the amazing mystery of the Incarnation. I hope you will find meaningful ways to keep the presence of the newborn Jesus alive in your hearts and homes in special ways, too.
Know of my prayers for a healthy, safe and peaceful new year for you and your family.