Jesus’s birth, death, life and Resurrection have been called the greatest story ever told, and it truly is. The question for all of us is whether we fully grasp that in our Christmas preparation and celebration.

I love Christmas. I always have. It was a special time for me growing up, and it remains a special time for me as a priest. I love the energy in our parishes and the sense of giving that permeates this holiday season. I love how our volunteers and staff members at Catholic Charities are even more attentive and eager to lovingly serve everyone who comes our way. The festive spirit enhanced through worship, music, freshly baked cookies and gift-giving seems to lift all of us up to a new level of care and concern for each other.

It’s important that we renew that this year. In a world and a Church that continues to face ups and downs, let’s make this a season to enjoy God’s great gifts of Jesus and our faith and celebrating in special ways. Even amid the parties, receptions and social gatherings, may we go beyond the culture that says, “Let’s party,” and get in touch with our faith that says, “Let’s rejoice in Jesus and all He means to us.”

This Christmas season is indeed one of rejoicing for us at Catholic Charities. I have written in recent weeks about our spectacular fall season. Catholic Charities continues to expand its ministries and find more ways to serve all who come our way.

We love that, thanks to the generosity of so many, we can be there for the thousands of people who depend on us. We sometimes say that we are the last resort for the most vulnerable and needy, and I believe that is often the case. While other agencies and groups also ably serve thousands of people, it seems that those who fall through the cracks and can’t find the services they need come to Catholic Charities as their final stop. We ask them our most important question – “How can we help?” – and do our best to make sure they get what they need to survive the season.

We are now in hypothermia season, which means that we open additional shelters when the temperature is below 32 degrees to accommodate about 400 additional people. Other permanent shelters stay open around the clock on the frigid days. People on the streets without a home or a place to go are welcomed in out of the harsh elements and given warm food, a place to sleep, and the care and concern of others.

This is a great reminder of what Christmas is all about. When Pope Francis visited Catholic Charities four years ago, he met with our homeless clients in St. Patrick’s Church, right next to our main office. In his brief homily, he said that Jesus was homeless, too, and that Mary and Joseph were refugees, having to flee to Egypt to escape King Herod. It was a powerful message for the many homeless people sitting in St. Patrick’s that day to hear the Pope tell them that Jesus and his parents were also homeless.

Most of us don’t readily identify with being homeless. In this Christmas season, can we get a better sense of others who are struggling just to get by? Can we realize how we’ve been blessed beyond compare while others have so little?

That helps us understand the greatest story ever told. It reminds us that Jesus was born in a humble cave in Bethlehem – because Mary and Joseph had no place else to go – and that he took on our humanity in the humblest of ways so that we could share in his divinity in the most glorious of ways.

Let’s truly celebrate Christmas this year. Let’s put aside the animosity, anger and frustration that comes in politics and even in our Church. Let’s rejoice instead in the gift of the greatest message the world has ever known: Jesus, the Son of God, is born to us!

It’s time to sing Joy to the World and rejoice in the blessing of God’s love for every single one of us.

Merry Christmas!