Wednesday, December 21, 2011
We Are The Bells of Christmas Day
Yesterday, after making some communion calls, I answered the rectory door and found a middle-aged woman standing before me. She whispered, "Can you talk to me?" We went into the parlor and in an almost inaudible whisper and with an ashamed look, she explained that she needed just enough money to wash her clothes and a couple of other items. A few hours later, I was with two teenage boys at their father's casket. He died suddenly and tragically. In a few hours, we will offer his funeral Mass.
In both of the instances above--and in countless others--I experience my own incapacity to solve the problems that confront the people whom I meet. For some, I can provide some temporary relief. For others, perhaps some word of encouragement or consolation. But, I do not possess an endless supply of money to help those who are poor and I do not possess the power to make sense of a senseless death.
At the Midnight Mass on Christmas, the words of Isaiah will announce that it is to the people who dwell in darkness and the land of gloom that a light has shone. This year, when I place the Christ Child in the manger at Midnight Mass, I will be thinking about these persons who dwell in the land of darkness. I will be thinking of them and many others--known to me and unknown to me. People suffering from depression and addiction; abandoned spouses and children who feel they are at fault for their parents divorce. I will be thinking in those few moments of time of the unemployed who are feeling like they have no self-worth. I will pray for those who are overwhelmed by a sense of failure, fear, and despair.
In front of all of these hardships and sufferings, everything seems to be impossible. And yet, people still show up at the door of the Catholic Church in the midst of these sufferings. They must know that even if we are able to provide some temporary assistance, it is unlikely that we can solve these terrible situations. Then why do they come?
At Midnight Mass, we will hear that the shepherds were watching over their flocks by night. They were surrounded by the darkness. It was to these shepherds that the angels announced Christ's nearness. It was unto them that a Savior is born. Maybe these people come to the Catholic Church in these great moments of sorrow and need because they still have hope that Christ is near to those in darkness.
Sometimes, at this joyful time of the year, when we see the suffering and darkness that is present in the world, we have difficulty reconciling the contrast. Tragedy seems all the worse when it occurs near Christmas. We often think that these moments of darkness and sorrow steal from the joy that rightfully belongs to Christmas. But, it is actually the other way around. The news that Christmas brings is that those who dwell in darkness and in the land of gloom are not alone. God has drawn close to them and He loves them.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote a Christmas hymn entitled, "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day." When he wrote it, he was deeply sorrowed after tragically losing his wife and because of his son's terrible wounds from the Civil War. Longfellow basically asks how we can be joyful when there is so much pain and suffering. But, the bells of the church won't stop their ringing. They become more persistent despite all of the sorrow. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M7670CXvPX0
We Christians have a vital task in the world: By our Faith, Hope, and Charity we continue the work of the angels. We are like the bells of Christendom who announce to those who feel alone, cursed, and forgotten that God is near. Peace on Earth and Good Will to Men.