Fr. Patrick Magnor (right) and Fr. Ken Omernick present at St. Alphonsus in Greendale on Wednesday, Dec. 1, one of 18 Advent missions held across the Archdiocese of Milwaukee that evening. (Photo by Tim Townsend)

When Fr. Paul Hartmann was a child growing up in Brookfield, his family celebrated Christmas the same way every year.

“Mom and dad did not allow us downstairs until they were ready. We would gather at the top of the stairs … and dad would go downstairs, out of sight from us and check,” Fr. Hartmann said Wednesday, Dec. 1, at an Advent mission at St. Mary Parish in Kenosha. “Every year, he would yell, ‘Go back to bed. Santa didn’t come.’”

Responses varied depending on their age, from either “yeah right” to worry and tears. Their mother would reassure the children that Santa did indeed come. The children raced down the stairs, and one of the older boys would knock the younger six children over as he scrambled to the tree. The younger sister would cry from being knocked down. Eventually, the children would open their gifts from Santa.

“While Santa’s gifts were open in the morning, the other gifts were not opened until after Christmas dinner, and they would be opened from youngest to oldest, one gift at a time,” Fr. Hartmann said. “Of course, by the time the oldest boy opened his presents, he knew what he was getting, as everyone got a sweater, socks and a variation of the same thing but in different colors. I can’t tell you any gift I got, other than I remember getting a doctor kit and GI Joe stuff. What we had was a lot of family traditions.”

Fr. Hartmann’s talk was one of 18 Advent Missions held throughout the Archdiocese of Milwaukee that evening.

Discussing Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki’s theological reflection, “The Gift of Sunday,” Fr. Hartmann said the reflection allows each Catholic to unpack many of the same things: ritual, traditions, attitude and actions.

“These are very profound gifts here,” Fr. Hartmann said. “They are renewed to us every Sunday.”

Focusing on the Christmas song, “Do You Hear What I Hear,” Fr. Hartmann broke the piece into stanzas, sharing the imagery associated with each. In the first verse, “Said the night wind to the little lamb,” he compares the night wind with the Book of Genesis.

“The wind was the spirit that crosses over the waters, the land, the aspiration of the spirit, and the spirit speaks to a little lamb,” Fr. Hartmann said. “The lamb for us Catholics, with our great imagery that we draw from Scripture and tradition, is both the Lamb of Sacrifice and the lost sheep. The Spirit speaks to Jesus on behalf of the Father, with the Father, and the Spirit speaks to us. It is sometimes lost, sometimes worried, and sometimes confused and says, ‘Do you see, do you see?’”

Fr. Hartmann added that when speaking of the Gift of Sunday, one of the great gifts of our Catholic approach to liturgy is that we are about “smells and bells,” which are part of our tradition. As tangible, visceral individuals, we want this place, this gathering, the altar, the Body of Christ and the Blood of Christ to be consumed, received and seen.

“The experience of the Gift of Sunday, the experience of the community, the experience of a place with beauty and majesty is something the Spirit tells the little lamb, the lost sheep, that the Spirit offers through the Son, the lamb of sacrifice. The scriptures are very clear that the Eucharist is the Lamb of God,” he said. “There is a value in seeing what happens on this altar. There is a value in taking it in because, in the midst of the darkness of the world, this is a light.”

Fr. Hartmann asked the audience when the last time they invited someone to Mass was and encouraged them to do so. He asked when the last time they had a conversation explaining that the Eucharist is a gift we are tremendously thankful to have.

“The Gift of Sunday is the Gift of the Lord’s Word, Sacrifice, presence in the Body of the life in the Church. This is our moment to give from everything we have acquired from the Gift of Sunday, the Lamb of God, the Good Shepherd,” Fr. Hartmann said.

Fr. Hartmann shared a story about a gift he received: a painting done by a Muslim woman in secret, as she wanted to become Catholic but was not allowed to covert. He explained that it was his prized possession and a post-resurrection story of Jesus on the shore, encouraging his disciples to cast their line out one more time.

“I was so moved that she took her greatest skill, realizing it was given by God, and put it to work sharing images of Jesus and the saints,” he said. “Do you ever take your best skill and offer it as part of your response to the Gift that’s Sunday, with our God-given talents and skills? If we respond, if we evangelize with words and in our actions — we can bring them into that same Gift, and if it snowballs and rolls forward, it will bring peace, goodness and light. Look, listen, learn, pray and proclaim. If you want to make the most of the Gift of Sunday, that’s what you need to do.”