Have you ever noticed that people seem to get a little more irritable in the few weeks leading up to Christmas? I certainly notice other people being testier, and I can even notice it in myself when I take a good look.

Case in point, recently I attended a weekday Mass at one of the parishes near my apartment in downtown Cincinnati. As I walked into the sanctuary and situated myself in a pew, I noticed a homeless man lying on the pew just two rows ahead of me. At first this didn’t faze me at all because living downtown means that encountering the homeless is an almost-daily experience, especially when walking into a church on a very cold day in December. But this man did start to disturb me when he, as if on-cue, started snoring as the Mass began – and continued through to the final blessing.

It was so distracting! I couldn’t concentrate on the readings, nor could I listen to the homily. He got louder (of course) during the Liturgy of the Eucharist, and so I could hardly hear the words of consecration. His sawing logs made an interesting substitute for the bells.

It was exactly the opposite of what I had hoped Mass would be for me, given that I made an Advent resolution to get to daily Mass in order to quiet my heart and truly prepare for Christmas. This experience was certainly not quieting my heart.

It occurred to me, though, that this is exactly what Satan had hoped Mass would be for me.

I recently heard secondhand a snippet from a homily, in which the priest said that because Advent is an intensely holy season, Satan and his cohorts are working overtime to keep us distracted from its purpose. It’s true: These few weeks of preparation, even for the most well-intentioned of us, often become a string of stressful days filled with shopping lists, frustratingly-long lines and traffic jams. For some it’s a time of loneliness and for others a time of regret. The blues can get a lot more blue during this season.

And that, my friends, is by design.  So what can we do about it?

We can recognize it, and we can end it. The minute we feel the frustration, the anger, the loneliness – whatever the distraction may be – the best thing to do is stop and say a small prayer. I most often hear that that a good one to use is, “Lord Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Or, since we’re so close to Christmas, perhaps call on the intercession of the Holy Family: “Jesus, Mary and Joseph, help me.”

Isn’t it nice to know that something so simple and easy can render Satan powerless?  While he works overtime to try to defeat us during this holy season of Advent, we hardly have to lift a finger to defeat him.

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