Focus on Presence this Christmas

By The Beacon | December 1, 2010 9:00pm

(The Beacon)

By Fr. Jim Lies, Guest Commentary -- The Beacon

There is no time in one's young life when one more longs for Christmas, for family and for home, than as a college student in the days before final exams. It is a remarkable thing. With all that stands between now and the end of the semester, one cannot help but look to the other side, and long for it. Not since childhood when one waits for Santa, and to open gifts on Christmas Eve, has the anticipation for anything been so real; and never again will the longing be as palpable for the coming of Christmas as it is in these days. And yet, what are we waiting for?

That waiting which you do in these days before Christmas, heightened as it is by the seemingly secular circumstances of this academic milieu, only proves to highlight the waiting which we do as a Church during these Advent days. Many of us in this community call ourselves Christians, and as Christians we wait. We wait and we long for the birth of Jesus. We wait and we make ready for the coming of the Christ child into our hearts and into our homes.

In both cases, we long for the other side of Advent. In both cases, we long for Christmas. But these are very different waitings, very different longings. What we need to do is translate our longing, our burning desire for the other side of term papers and final exams into a burning desire for the Lord Jesus. Our palpable longing must surely be for something more than just a break from the academic rigors of college life.

The peace that we seek on the other side of finals, if it is truly to sustain us, must surely be something more than a respite from our present circumstances, because there will always be "present circumstances." There will always be something that we long to get just beyond; something that somehow gives us permission to wish away our days for a better tomorrow. The ultimate truth, however, and that to which Advent points, is that the only peace we will ever find beyond our present circumstances, and even in them, please God, is found in the Lord Jesus.

The great irony in it all is that if we do manage to translate our longing for the one into a longing for the other, we will find the peace now that we assume that we have to wait for until then. Advent is a time to wait, yes; but for what? For the Lord who has already come? We make ready during this time not only for the coming of Jesus at Christmas, but in every moment of our lives, at every moment that Jesus would be the peace that we seek if we were only to welcome him in. Thus the question: What are you waiting for?

There are all kinds of ways to welcome him. They are different for each of us. For some, it means readying ourselves through more frequent participation in our communities of faith; for Catholics, it may mean seeking out confession and attending daily Eucharist. For others, it means spending more time in prayer, either alone or with others. For still others, it means being attentive to those among us who are in particular need, because to welcome them is to welcome Jesus.

I will not presume to say what you must do, but faith compels us to do something. May you find in the midst of all the busyness of this season time to do something.

Father Jim Lies, CSC is the Executive Director for Catholic Intellectual Life and American Culture. He can be contacted at