US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Rejoice Sunday and every day

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Her autistic son brings joy to this mother on Gaudete Sunday and during all of Advent.

Guest blog post by Stephanie Niedringhaus

I admit that I love the traditional Christmas trappings. I find the music, lights, and decorations joyful diversions from the politics and stresses of my day-to-day life.

But that is what they are—diversions.

It is my autistic son who grounds me in the meaning of this season. For him, Advent and Christmas have never been about presents or shopping lists. When pressed for a gift suggestion, his yearly response is always a new pair of pants. That’s it.

His real focus at this time of the year is Advent. Each year, he makes an Advent wreath for our dining room table and reminds me every evening that it is time to “do Advent.” He lights the candles and we alternate reading from the Bible and a book of spiritual reflections. This is followed by his adding a new ornament to our little Jesse Tree and opening a new window on his Advent calendar.

His understanding of the spirit of the season far transcends that of anyone I know. This morning, Gaudete Sunday, he got up extra early without complaint so he could serve as co-sacristan at church. He helped bring in gift toys for children in need and fair trade items for sale to the community (proceeds to benefit Catholic Relief Services). He counted out communion bread and then stood beside the priest to distribute it during Mass. During announcements, he reminded the community about the fair trade items in back of the church. His brief announcement was received with smiles and applause throughout the church.

As I write this in our dining room, he is in the kitchen baking chocolate chip cookies for my office party. No complaints about missing a TV show. No requests for cookies. He is just happy to help.

What can I say? I am blessed. Our third Sunday of Advent has been nourished with Communion bread, Advent readings, and chocolate chip cookies. Not a shopping mall in sight!

Guest blogger Stephanie Niedringhaus is the Communications Coordinator for NETWORK, a National Catholic Social Justice Lobby.

Read more blogs about Advent and Christmas traditions at Submit a guest blog to We may put this together into a holiday theme Meditation Room for the magazine next year. Any reflections selected for publication will win $50!