Merry Christmas, dear reader!
“On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, 4 calling birds…”
So sings the song, “The 12 Days of Christmas.” And, until a couple years ago, I thought it was a great song, without any thought that there may be a hidden meaning in the words.
However, Catholic lore (although debunked by Snopes) shares the tale that every day of this song has a Catholic meaning. The theory behind this lore suggests the four calling birds signify none other than the four primary messengers of Jesus’ life — the four authors of the Gospels in the New Testament — Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
Today, on this fourth day of Christmas, Catholics worldwide continue to celebrate the joyous season, commemorating God becoming man, as a tiny babe in a stable. We continue to recall the journey of the Wise Men toward the stable, knowing that our celebrations of this joyful occasion don’t end until Epiphany. As other families pack away their Christmas decorations and settle into a lull of post-celebratory elation, and perhaps exhaustion, Catholics are extending the party!
People throughout the world are settling into planning New Year Resolutions, and Catholics are not immune to the New Year planning.
Those words of the four calling birds provide the perfect opportunity to really build a solid spiritual New Year Resolution as we continue to look forward to 2018. However, if your house is crazy like mine, you may find some difficulty in finding time to truly dedicate to the Gospels and the treasure trove of lessons which lie within. Therefore, let us look at some distinct ways we can enhance our dedication to listening to, and learning from, those four calling birds!
First, pen the time in your calendar. Too often, when people pencil spiritual obligations into their calendars, there is a tendency for the eraser to find that sacred time. Therefore, settle on a day or time, and put it down in pen. It is much more difficult to erase that time from your calendar, and mind, if you are writing in ink.
Second, be a little flexible and realistic. If your schedule is crazy and hectic, allow for some flexibility. Within your calendar, write down a deadline time; for example, “by 9 PM, I will have read from the Gospels.” Don’t get hung up on having a designated prayer space — instead, be willing to sit in the car after a doctor’s appointment and briefly read the passage you have designated reading that day. Or, after kids fall asleep in their car seats, don’t hesitate to sit in the driveway (with the car running) and read what you had planned for that day. The location isn’t nearly as important as soaking in the words. If you can’t commit to reading a passage a day, then allow yourself what time you can afford — keeping in mind ideally, at a minimum, once a week should be the deadline for completing some time with God’s word.
Third, consider enrolling in, or attending, a study of the Gospels. There are some phenomenal studies available, meant to assist the reader in breaking down the meaning behind the words. These studies also typically assist in explaining the political and sociological background of the time period for Jesus’ life. Some churches host these studies through the year; others will assist in paying for the studies. Some are available with DVDs, while others may provide online support via YouTube videos and online forums.
Fourth, keep in mind that it’s all about quality, not quantity. To give the four calling birds their due attention, don’t plan to rush through the Gospels. Instead, read what you can digest. If it is only a sentence one day, take that sentence and ruminate upon it for the duration of the day. If you can read an entire parable, then by all means, take that time to read it, and more importantly, digest the parable. Allow whatever you read to soak into your heart, and shape your day going forward.
Finally, allow the Gospels to mold your heart and set you up for success in your day. The purpose of reading the Gospels is not to read them beginning to end as quickly as possible. Instead, have the focus that by reading the words, you will truly allow it to touch your heart, perhaps change your outlook on situations which arise during your day, and enable you to keep Christ centered in your life.
The Gospels weren’t written for the sake of needing words on paper; instead, they were written to encourage all of us — to find the beauty in the love of Christ, and to maintain the faith that Christ has not left us with His Ascension, but rather, promises to always be with us.
Don’t be afraid to seek interpretation from a trusted priest — understanding that while the stories of the Bible appear to be timeless, sometimes it is important to fully understand the context.
Furthermore, there are smartphone apps which assist in making the Bible handy, or my personal favorite, using “The Word Among Us,” which has the daily readings for Mass, as well as daily reflections upon which to contemplate.
The Gospels can be daunting. Yet, they are also richly rewarding! And, when we consider the mission of the Gospel — to share the life and times of Christ with His followers, it makes perfect sense as to why the Gospel writers were referred to as the “calling birds.”
Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were heralding the Good News, they were encouraging faith in Christ Jesus, and they were calling all of us to invite Jesus deeper into our lives on a more regular basis.
Catholics continue to look forward to the future, while others around us are focusing on the present. We are waiting in anticipation for “God as man” again returning to our lives. And, until that time, we are blessed to be able to continue to focus on the words of the four calling birds.
Do you have any spiritual New Year Resolutions this year? Will you join me on making a plan to read through the Gospels with quality, rather than quantity, during 2018?
Copyright 2018 Anni Harry