Advent, a time of waiting and preparation, often gets a bit of a short shrift. It’s hard to not think ahead to Christmas, and our school and church activities begin to transition to the Christmas spirit sooner than Dec. 25. Waiting is difficult, especially when you’re excited about something, and for most of us, Christmas is a joyful time of family, friendship and fun. I hope that deep down inside it is also a time of faith.

For the young, family and fun clearly lead the way. I’ll never forget our family gathered together on Christmas Eve. There were 15 of us, so there were presents galore! We exchanged our family gifts on Christmas Eve and then opened Santa’s presents on Christmas morning. We always had a casserole type of meal before opening presents, which I think was mostly to let my mother and others complete last-minute activities or preparations.

Those were great times being together as a family, and I remember my mom and dad enjoying the gift of boisterous, happy, loving children. I’ll never forget one of my Dad’s favorite sayings, which we could count on every year. At some point as we were opening the presents, he would say rather loudly, “Isn’t this fun?” Just three words, but they said so much, and that simple question became almost a mantra for all of our family celebrations. It made such an impression on me that I mentioned it in my homily at my father’s funeral over 41 years ago.

Our family time continued in the days after Christmas, too. Back then, most churches blessed families individually on Holy Family Sunday, the Sunday after Christmas. All 15 of us would gather around the altar to receive our blessing for the year to come and to thank God for the blessings of the Christmas we just celebrated.

This was a season of friends as well. My parents hosted an eggnog party for relatives and neighbors on that same Holy Family Sunday. Thinking back, it was a pretty simple way to entertain – eggnog from the store, cookies and treats – and it allowed all of us to be present to one another. We would have an open house for three or four hours, and friends and family would stop by to say hello, visit and catch up. This annual gathering along with the blessing at church made Holy Family Sunday special for all of us.

There was a lot going on at Christmas in a family the size of ours, but amidst all the activity we knew that deep down inside it was all about our faith in the Lord. We were taught clearly that Christmas was first and foremost the gift of a God who loved us so much that he sent us his only Son, and we were reminded that Jesus is the greatest present of all. Every year, our Christmas dinner ended the same way – with a birthday cake and all of us singing “Happy Birthday” to Jesus. Our faith was nurtured, strengthened and practiced, and we felt blessed to be Catholic and to be believers in the gift of Jesus.

As you can see, I’m filled with wonderful memories of Christmases past, and decades later the season is still one of fun, family, friends and faith. For a lot of us, Christmas has become a more secular feast. I’m grateful it wasn’t for the Enzlers, and I hope it isn’t for you, either. I’m saddened that so many people come to church on Christmas and then we don’t get to see them again until Easter. They’re missing out on the gift of faith and the chance to live it and celebrate it throughout the year.

I know that amid all of the joy, Christmas can also be a time of sadness for those for those who have lost loved ones. I pray that all who feel the pain of separation will find peace and joy in the promise of eternal life with God and our loved ones that we miss so dearly.

At this time of giving, I want to express my heartfelt thanks to all who make Christmas so special at Catholic Charities and for those we serve. You helped more than 800 children receive Christmas presents this year. You helped with meals and special holiday dinners. More people came forward to volunteer, and we received numerous donations. We have seen God’s blessings through you and your efforts, and I have been moved by your concern for the poor and vulnerable among us.

Merry Christmas! All of us at Catholic Charities thank you for your support and wish you a blessed season filled with fun, family, friends and faith. Jesus has come! May we make room for him in our hearts and in our lives every day.