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 CNS Story:

WESTER-CHRISTMAS Dec-1-2010 (550 words) With photo. xxxn

Meaning of season lost by rushing Christmas celebration, bishop says

By Catholic News Service

SALT LAKE CITY (CNS) -- Salt Lake City Bishop John C. Wester has urged Catholics to hold off celebrating the Christmas season until it officially begins on the church calendar Dec. 24.

Bishop Wester (CNS/Bob Roller)

In his first pastoral letter as Salt Lake City's bishop, he urged the state's Catholics to keep true to the spirit of Advent -- a season of preparation which he said has been "neglected in many places" and often "overshadowed by the holiday season."

The bishop, who was installed in 2007 as shepherd of the statewide Catholic diocese, noted that in the rush and busyness of the Christmas season, many miss out on its true meaning. "By the time that the actual solemnity of Christmas arrives, many of us are burned out. We are already tired of all the 'Christmas hype.' Christmas has become anticlimactic," he wrote.

Issued Nov. 24, the letter is titled "Waiting in Joyful Hope." It was published in the diocesan newspaper, Intermountain Catholic, which is online at www.icatholic.org.

Some priests read the letter or referred to it in homilies during the weekend of Nov. 27-28, the first Sunday of Advent, which this year coincidentally fell between Black Friday and Cyber Monday -- customary shopping starts of the Christmas season.

In the letter, Bishop Wester described the Christmas holiday season as one where many "rush from one thing to the next," stirring momentum "to get all the decorations up, celebrate the event and quickly dismantle all the decorations" to move to the next event.

In contrast, he said, the church's liturgical season of Advent enables people to "witness God's profound love and mercy to the world" and can refocus Catholics and remind them that "Christ has changed the world."

He described the season as a time of preparation for Christ's coming into the world and a time to reflect on Christ's second coming.

"It is thus a season of joyful and spiritual expectation," he said noting that it is "not a penitential season" but a time to "gather and quietly wait in hope for the coming of Christ."

Bishop Wester urged Catholics to tap into this liturgical season noting that they should "celebrate Advent differently" and be less consumed with decorating and shopping than with prayer. He said the spiritual preparation should also be an "example of patience, silence, and joy to our hurried and anxious society."

"I know it is an enormous challenge to remain faithful to the Advent season when we are surrounded by a society which, while claiming to be Christian, does not take the time to reflect and prepare as the church calls us to do," he wrote.

The bishop offered some alternatives to typical decorations saying schools and parishes could decorate with just wreaths and greenery and families could highlight Advent wreaths and hold off on decorating Christmas trees.

Postponed Christmas celebrations need not be short-lived though. He said the season continues until Jan. 9, the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, and should be marked during that time with parish gatherings and events with family and friends.

"We should leave the decorations which are testimonies to our joy up for the entire season. There is plenty of time for us to celebrate our joy at Christ's birth and we should make the most of it," he added.


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