Bishop's Column

Advent, Black Friday, and the Sacramental Worldview

For many shoppers, "Black Friday" began this year on Thanksgiving Thursday. Lines formed outside stores while leftovers were still cooling in refrigerators. Sales figures suggest that the Thanksgiving-night retail blitz may become a permanent feature of the holiday shopping season.

Christian commentary often derides the commercialization of Christmas, which begins with Thanksgiving-time shopping.

Black Friday is an easy target. But we should look with charity upon our culture’s commercialized holiday traditions. In fact, I’m glad our society still wants to remember Christ’s birth at all! Perhaps our newfound traditions reflect a deeper, unconscious desire for the season’s real meaning.

The truth is that traditions are unavoidable. When sacred traditions of faith are lost, other kinds of Advent and Christmas traditions – like "Black Friday," or the new "Black Thursday" – easily fill the void.

Instead of looking down on our neighbors’ shopping habits, we should ask what causes people to seek the meaning of Christmas in something other than Jesus Christ himself. Surely, one of the causes must be our culture’s loss of a Catholic sacramental worldview.

Having a sacramental worldview means finding this world’s meaning in the person of Jesus Christ, and finding Christ in the holy sacraments he gave his Church. When we find our purpose and perspective in these sacred mysteries, God enters our lives. The Christian mystery becomes the lens through which we view reality.

The conversion of our culture must begin with our own deeper conversion to Christ. If we want to lead people away from Black Friday and toward Bethlehem, we should use this Advent season to cultivate a real sacramental worldview.

If we find the world’s meaning in Christ, and find Christ himself in the sacraments, we can announce his birth as something more than a historical event. We can proclaim the Lord’s presence in our world today, here and now, and show how he makes all things new.

An appreciation of the sacraments begins with gratitude for our baptism. In baptism each of us was reborn into the life of Christ, and given the grace to see the world through the lens of faith. We should reflect this Advent on a term the early Church used to describe baptism: "Illumination."

The sacrament of baptism allows us to view our present lives from the perspective of eternal life. Baptismal illumination helps us see our struggles, and our blessings, from an eternal perspective. We should strive to maintain this divinely illumined vision of life, during Advent and at all times.

Advent is also a time to take responsibility for the ways in which we have failed to live out our baptismal calling as "children of light." We have let darkness creep into our lives, or perhaps succumbed to it altogether in certain areas.

This makes Advent an excellent time to receive the forgiveness God offers through confession, the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

In confession, the light of Christ comes back into those dark places from which we have shut him out, dispelling the darkness. God restores the health of our souls, preparing us for the true spiritual joy of Christmas.

But the pinnacle of the sacramental worldview is the Eucharist, in which God continues to come into our lives, here and now. There is no greater gift, and nothing more desirable in this world.

A sacramental worldview sees Christ’s incarnation as both a historical event and a present reality. Christ was truly born, truly died, and truly resurrected. But the Church embodies Christ because we receive the Body of Christ. Its members are called to continue his redeeming mission in their own lives. The Lord, who was born of the Virgin at Christmas, is continually born in us as we receive him in the Eucharist. He wants to make his home in our hearts.

This worldview is endlessly rich, and immediately practical. And it is not optional. If God does not determine our worldview, something else will. If we want to move from our secular traditions to the Church’s sacred traditions, we must acquire the sacramental perspective that makes Christ ever-present.

This month, we face a choice between frantic consumerism, and the penitential season of Advent. The bargains of Black Friday – and Black Thursday – will soon be forgotten. But Jesus Christ, the Church’s inexhaustible source of joy and holiness; is the best gift we can attain, and he awaits us in the sacraments. 

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