By Jay Nies
Christ’s followers have the means and a clear mandate to help bring the words of two popular Christmas songs to life.
Toward that end, Father Stephen Jones, president of Helias Catholic High School, called on Christians of all stripes to make deliberate acts of service and compassion “a goal and priority” for the rest of the year.
“My brothers and my sisters, we need to spend the next five weeks truly striving to make it ‘the most wonderful time of the year’ — not just for ourselves and for the ones we care about, but for all who need to know the love of God and the love of our community the most,” he said in the keynote address at the 38th annual interfaith Cole County Prayer Breakfast on Nov. 22 in Jefferson City.
“Human beings were created for community,” he insisted. “It’s all about being a part of something bigger. All of us need community in some way, shape or form to become the people that God created us to be.”
Speaking the day before Thanksgiving Day, Fr. Jones asserted that this is a time of year when community takes on an especially important role.
He pointed to two songs that sum up the communal nature of Thanksgiving, Advent and Christmas: “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” and “O Holy Night.”
“It is a time to gather, a time to give thanks with family and friends,” said Fr. Jones. “It’s a time for the giving and receiving of gifts, a time for us to share blessings and material goods with those who are in need.
“It’s a time to visit the lonely, a time to uplift the forgotten, a time for twinkling lights and tinseled trees, a time to marvel in the wonder reflected in the eyes of a child, and the joy seen in the face of an old friend.
“In short, it really is the most wonderful time of the year!” he said. “If we can wade through a bit of the blatant materialism and consumerism that bombards us, we can see very easily the strongly beating heart of the spirit of the season.”
But the source of that spirit cannot be overlooked. That’s where the end of the first stanza to “O Holy Night” comes in:
“Long lay the world in sin and error pining, ’til He appeared and the soul felt its worth.”
“The sad reality is that we live in a broken world!” Fr. Jones acknowledged. “A world that is broken, a world that is characterized by disharmony, a lack of communion and unity, a world in which we are in a state of disorder, in our relationship with God, with nature, with one another, within ourselves.
“You don’t have to look all the way back to the Book of Genesis to see that,” he said. “You can open up a newspaper or watch an episode of ‘Dr. Phil’ and it becomes really, really evident.”
Fr. Jones insisted that from Thanksgiving through Advent, that brokenness and disorder — all of that sin — “must occupy a significant place in our thoughts and in our devotions.”
“Because as we gather around the table tomorrow to take part in the bountiful plenty of the feast, we have to remember those who have none,” he said.
“As we enjoy fellowship with family and friends, we cannot forget those whose lives are broken by strife, loneliness or grief.”
But only remembering and praying for them is not enough.
“That is where the emphasis on community comes in,” he said, “because we instead have to be active in reaching out.”
That means engaging in relationships and works of mercy, justice and love — “not just as individuals but as a people.”
The whole community must be united in caring about sharing the most wonderful time of the year with others.
“We can only do that — we MUST only do that — in light of the One Who came to show us the worth of our souls,” said Fr. Jones.
He asserted that there is no such thing as altruism without His example, “because God becoming incarnate for us is the greatest act of love in human history.”
“And we, too, are called to make that love — that love of the Word Made Flesh — overflow into the lives of others, through our lives,” he said.
“Alone, we’re just slowly dying embers, fading away,” he said. “But together, we can burn brightly with the fire of faith, mercy and love.”
Also at the breakfast, members of the Helias Catholic High School Concert Choir, directed by Jana Fox, sang two selections: a haunting spiritual called “Hold On,” and the ethereal “Mother Mary Full of Grace, Awaken.”
Emcee Rod Smith thanked state Sen. Mike Kehoe for sponsoring the prayer breakfast and helping to make it an important annual event for the community.