During the second week of Advent, we went as a family for our annual trip to pick out the perfect tree. Having purchased the tree from the same place for over a decade, we knew the drill -- park near the side of the lot and walk around back before deploying one of the kids to hold the trees that were on the "maybe" list. We have this thing down to a science, or so we thought.
As we turned the corner toward the back of the lot, we were shocked at what we saw. There were no trees. Now, I don't mean there were a few trees, there were zero trees. According to the folks at the tree lot, it had something to do with the way Thanksgiving fell this year. I tried to figure out the math on that, but that involved math, so in the spirit of Christmas, I took their word on good faith.
We turned back around to the front of the building where we parked to look through the remaining dozen or so trees that had not made it to the big show. Sifting through the trees, we quickly found our tree. It was a little shorter than we would have liked -- not quite the perfect shape and not as full as we had hoped. In fact, we didn't even need to tie it to the roof, we slipped it right into the back of the van.
We pulled into the driveway and carried it inside. After the annual fight with the tree stand and debate about whether the tree is leaning too far to the left or right, we were ready to decorate. In minutes, this lonely tree became a collection of memories and light -- each ornament a special memory from years gone by, each string of bulbs a reminder of the light that Christ brings to our world and the blessings we receive from his presence. The tree that was sitting unwanted on that lot was now the centerpiece of our home. As we stood back, admiring our handiwork, it was clear that something was missing. Our tree is not complete until the angel is placed on top.
Our particular angel previously adorned the trees of my wife's childhood and that tradition has been passed down to our family since we were first married. Our angel serves as yet another memory to connect our children with their family roots and also as a powerful reminder of what this tree -- and this season -- truly stand for. The tree, like the angel Gabriel, is heralding the coming of our savior, Jesus Christ.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 336) teaches us that "Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life." Having an angel atop our tree is a reminder of this teaching and a reminder that we can be beacons of light in this world. We can act as angels, reflecting the love of Jesus Christ toward others.
At the Catholic Schools Foundation, we have dozens of donors who are Scholarship Angels. They are giving monthly as part of our Scholarship Angels program to provide the gift of a Catholic education to low-income students in our communities. Through their generous support, Scholarship Angels are beacons of light as they stand beside students, leading them on a path that will cultivate their God-given gifts and talents for a better world. They are truly living the spirit of Christmas.
So, as you gaze at the beautifully adorned Christmas trees this season, remember to also look for angels, both the decorative ones atop the trees and the very real ones in your lives. And as you pack away the lights and glitter of Christmas, remember that angels are everywhere, and the Christmas spirit lives within us all.
Michael B. Reardon is executive director of the Catholic Schools Foundation, www.CSFBoston.org.