Sometimes what appears as an act of kindness is really a form of enabling bad behavior. I think that is the case when President Trump interceded with Chinese authorities to have the three UCLA basketball players released from their shoplifting charges. Experiencing the consequences of our behaviors is necessary to becoming mature, honest, and upright people. So for these three young men, who already have swollen egos because they are up and coming basketball stars, the next thought, after being saved by Trump, was “what else can we get away with?”. Rather than saving their future star status, they are now set up to make some really poor decisions that will most likely negatively impact their lives. After all, if they could get away with causing an international incident, what boundaries can they possibly place on their behavior?
Most young people start out thinking they are pretty invincible. When they don’t experience the logical consequences of their behaviors, the message they get is that they can get away with anything. The logic they need to make morally upright decisions and choices gets twisted. Since we learn logic by consequences, cushioning the fall doesn’t help us learn. Parents too often try to get in between their children and the consequences of their actions. Then as children grow, rather than owning their behavior, they become empowered to make choices that harm others and then claim victim status.
Maybe these three young men were scared straight by the experience. But somehow I doubt it. Most likely, they will turn out to be pretty egotistical men who insist on always having it their way. I would not want to be the coach who tries to discipline or correct them.
What does this have to do with Advent and Christmas? Well, lots of parents have traditionally used the image of Santa Claus to teach very young children some of the basics of behavioral consequences: “he’s making a list, checking it twice to find out who’s naughty and nice.” Maybe not always the best way to teach logical consequences but still effective for the very young. Obviously, as we grow, we should ideally learn that gift giving and receiving are acts of love. But we have to start somewhere.
The same goes for our spiritual behavior. The higher motivation is always love. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and strength. But still, even as adults, we learn from our consequences. Advent is a brief time to measure yourself against the teachings of our Faith. How well are you doing in practicing the basics of Catholicism? How is your Mass attendance? When’s the last time you went to Confession? Are you a generous giver of time, talent and treasure? How spiritually fit are you?
This year Advent is as short as it can be. Christmas falls on Monday so Christmas Eve is Sunday afternoon. That means two Masses back to back: the Fourth Sunday of Advent and then Christmas Mass. It also means two opportunities to give generously to your Parish. So please make note of both!
The good news this year is that as Advent is short, many of us have been doing extra spiritual work, including prayer. I am referring to the recently completed Jubilee Year of Our Lady of Fatima. Since Mary dominates the season of Advent, I hope that many of you can continue to reflect on her role in Salvation History as well as what she teaches us about her Son. Mary stands as a sign of hope for all people. Are you a sign of hope to others after her example?
During this short Advent season, I invite you to reflect on the name of Jesus. As St. Paul tells us, it is the name above all names. How well do you honor the name of Jesus in your life by your lifestyle? Do you share a family resemblance to Jesus? Jesus tells us in the Gospel, “his mother, brothers and sisters are those who hear the Word of God and keep it.” How well are you keeping the Word? Advent is pregnant with grace. Will you open yourself up to receive it?
Fr. John B.