It is Advent, which means to secular society it is "Christmas time," which means it is time for the "apologists" to caterwaul about commercialization and the "real meaning of Christmas," which was evanescing from living memory when Dickens walked the streets of London during the Darwinian and Industrial Revolutions. We make hot cocoa and watch movies with our families about snow and kindness on Friday night only to trounce our fellow shoppers in the toy aisles the next Saturday morning. Post-modern paganism has infiltrated "Christmas," but do many realize how deep the treachery goes?
Two ideas that were once fundamentally Christian now and inherently held to be positive, suffering and heaven, have evolved into new ideas more consonant with Egyptian and Hellenistic religions than the one Europe practiced from Charlemagne until Luther.
Suffering. Most egregiously, the idea of suffering is now devoid of any significant meaning. Suffering, for us Catholics, is a difficulty given by Christ for our sanctification and salvation. Suffering never exceeds our capacity to endure it with His help. Some may be weighed down by suffering while others experience it only in moderation, but there is no escaping it. I know one faithful Catholic who has led quite an unhappy life, at odds with his siblings, losing his parents, and his vocation crushed. This fellow calls the 1950s spiel about God's "perfect plan for you" a "bad sales pitch two generations old. The only real message I have found in life is 'Embrace the Cross'." Even the saint of joy, Philip Neri, suffered from his joy. After receiving the Holy Spirit as a ball of fire, his heart enlarged and broke some ribs, which remained broken and probing into his heart for the rest of his life. Suffering is a part of life after the Fall. Christ touched this ordinary part of life and made it extraordinary and a means to Him! Suffering to post-modern man means varying gradations of unhappiness, the lowest of which being crimes against humanity publicized on university campuses (campi?). The most common argument against God's existence or His goodness that I hear is "How could a loving God create a world with so much suffering?" to which I retorted, "He made the world. We made the suffering." Mankind is infallible, God is not. Suffering is an affliction visited upon man by some ulterior and impersonal force—like racial discrimination. To the Christian, this is irrational rubbish. The unhappy do not necessarily suffer. Those killed in great war crimes do not necessarily suffer either. They can die. They can be unhappy and miserable, but they may not be suffering. Suffering, in this writer's private opinion, partially consists of knowing something is not as God wishes it to be. A monk suffering under an oppressive abbot or a student failing a class or a man about to be killed by a warlord's militia can all suffer if they realize their predicament contravene's God's order and they recognize that God has offered them this irregularity to put their own lives right. The monk with take his prayer more seriously, the student will study harder, and the doomed man will repent of his sins and think of his family. For the non-believer, this is not suffering. It is worse. It is unhappiness.
St. Paul's words, "But we preach Christ crucified," have never been more relevant. Embrace the Cross. The rest follows. Retain the "Keep Christ in Christmas" bumper stickers by all means, too.