On Black Friday, I was out with a very, very dear friend. We walked downtown San Jose, and turning a corner, we saw that the Christmas festivities had already begun. About a block away from the San Jose Cathedral, we saw that the median had a forest of trees filled with lights, each tree decorated by a particular society or group in the area, this youth group, this charity, that business. Blues, reds, greens, whites, and other colors shone off against the dark. There were stands for churros and hot chocolate. Even an ice skating rink. Even more, a glut of children and their parents walked all over this Christmas Park, all taking in the nascent holiday spirit. We looked at each other, grimacing.
We eventually decided to walk through the park. Overheard, we hear songs about Frosty and Rudolph, good cheer and good will towards all men and women. Effectively, the secular side of today’s Feast Day. All of these people, feeling glad and giddy—Christmas is finally here!
It made me ill. These people happily zombie-like, taking in the manufactured Christmas spirit of plastic reindeer and mechanical Santas. Wishing everyone a Merry Christmas. Hoping all families to be made one.
Yet not one reference to Christmas. No reference to the true meaning of Christ’s-Mass. Christmas, for this park, was about fleeting good feelings and juicy foods. Sweet treats, like candied apples. Reindeer games and melting men of snow. Things of fancy that dissipate at the dawn of something dark.
Yet the other day, I presided over a communion service at a nearby nursing home. These men and women who have fought the good fight, counting their last breaths. Almost nonresponsive, with vacant eyes and lethargic bodies. Occasional notices and glances, yes, but fewer and fewer, and farther in between. After I distributed communion to the patients, I spoke with the activities director, who is as devout as the peace lily that sits in my office. We spoke about Christmas celebrations, Ferguson, amongst other things. We talked about her family, and I talked about mine, for just a little bit.
Then one of the patients walked up to me, drooling “Father.”
I looked at her. An older woman, standing up, stared at me. She wore a pink cardigan and a white, floral hospital gown. On her feet were a pair of slippers you would find at Walmart. Her bronze and white hair was nicely tied back against the sides of her head. She held out her hand. “Thank you for today,” she said.
I shook her hand, feeling that she was giving me something. She smiled, slightly, and walked away. Looking down at my hand, I felt my jaw drop.
This old woman, giving me one simple dollar for Christmas.
I looked at the activities director. She crossed her arms and smiled, shrugging. “That happens.”
Suddenly, I remembered that moment in Mark’s Gospel where Jesus sees an old woman giving a pair of coins into the temple collection. Jesus marvels at her, saying that she will be great in heaven because she had given of her poverty, whereas most of us give of our wealth.
Now, for all I know, this woman could be the beneficiary of the Hilton Empire. Or the mother of a major real estate mogul. But nonetheless, here was a woman—at least in my eyes—that had nothing. Not a proper wardrobe. Not a proper sense of cognition. Not a sense of what time of year it was. Or so I thought. Here is this woman, who is giving of herself, giving thanks for receiving Jesus in the Most Holy Sacrament.
Is this not the true meaning of Christ’s-Mass? Acknowledging the Great Gift of the Son of Man. The Great Gift of Jesus? He was born in order to give us a true example of how to live and how to die. Is this not what we celebrate today?
It’s not about fleeting emotions or men made of snow. It’s about that eternal promise given to us by our Compassionate Creator Father that he will always provide for us, to the point of sending His most precious prize of His Son. For us. So that we too may live in God’s light.
So Merry Christmas, everyone. May we receive the Gift of Jesus within our hearts this day, and all of our days, so that we may become the saints that we are called to be.
Holy Father Dominic, pray for us!
Thank you for your Christmas reflection.
Have a Holy Christmas and a blessed New Year!
“Virtues are formed by prayer. Prayer preserves temperance. Prayer suppresses anger. Prayer prevents emotions of pride and envy. Prayer draws into the soul the Holy Spirit, and raises man to heaven.”
St. Ephrem of Syria
Merry Christ-Mass to you also Father. Thank you for writing these blogs during Advent and now on Christmas Day — what a blessing to be able to read these words from you. Please let us pray for all of us during those times when we are caught up unconsciously in the secular celebration you describe — presented to us to take part in by our family and friends. Let us pray for our sons and daughters and grandchildren who are living, unconsciously, at the center of the music and alluring presents. Much prayer is needed for our society during this time. Thank God that we have those at St. Dominic’s truly celebrating the day of the birth of our Savior. Merry Christmas to the priests, brothers, and sisters of St. Dominic’s. We need your presence and guidance!