Rembrandt, The Flight into Egypt
Friday, December 27, 2013
IT STARTED OUT WARM AND FUZZY
Our abbey church looked beautiful for “midnight” mass: poinsettias, evergreens, candles on the walls. The traditional organ music was punctuated by African drums and guitar, encouraging the congregation to sing out with gusto. It was a storybook sort of experience. The next morning sung Lauds (morning prayer) was more subdued but joyful as well as we monks sang the praises of the newborn King amid flickering candles and glowing poinsettias.
I then drove to nearby
full of Christmas good cheer to celebrate the nine o’clock mass. I was fifteen
minutes early, so I went and sat in a pew among the little children who had
just arrived in two vans after being picked up by the Missionaries of Charity
and brought to Church. I wished them a merry Christmas and then asked those
nearest me, “Did you get anything for Christmas?” The kids, who are normally
chatty and full of life, just looked away,wearing deadpan expressions. I asked
one or two of my favorite nine-year olds individually. No response. Then it hit
me: As unbelievable as it sounds to many of us in our affluent culture, these
children had actually not received any presents for Christmas! St. Augustine
Luis, a boy of five or six, was sitting at my right elbow in the crowded pew; I turned to him and whispered, “And what about you, Luis?” He put on disappointed, old-man expression as he looked up at me and said with a sad matter-of-factness “Mi padre es borracho” – “My father’s a drunk.” To him that explained everything. What do you say to a five-year old when he tells you that on Christmas morning?
My warm storybook Christmas spirit had cooled in the face of the reality faced by these little children.
THE STRUGGLES OF CHRISTMAS
Yet even the Church does little to encourage the storybook happiness. The day after Christmas she has us celebrate the feast of St. Stephen, the first martyr. Then on the 28th the feast of the Holy Innocents, those tiny victims of the psychopath Herod (matt 2:13-18).
So, the Church’s Christmas turns quickly into a rather somber affair, with martyrs, slaughtered babies and the Holy Family fleeing to a foreign land. But all of this serves to highlight the glorious truth, the news of great joy that the angel speaks to the shepherds: God has now become one of us, sharing in our every struggle and sorrow.
GOOD NEWS OF GREAT JOY
In one sense nothing has changed with the birth of the Babe, but in another sense everything has changed. Because the Word became flesh and came to dwell among us, all of creation has been lifted into sacredness, all of time is now sacred time, and all of our suffering and pain have been given a meaning, they have become the source of our redemption. Now that’s “good news of great joy which shall be to all the people!”
I hope that some day little Luis, who barely knows his borracho father, will none the less experience the fact that he is loved by God unconditionally, just as he is, and may be able to love his father just the way God does – just as he is.
I pray that the families who are exiled from their own land and their own language will identify with the Holy Family this Sunday and be strengthened by the example and the prayers of Jesus, Mary and Joseph to bear up under the hardships of their life as “outsiders.”
These Christmastide prayers of mine are not very warm and fuzzy, but at
’s church they ring out with Truth and
ultimate Joy. St.