Thursday, December 17, 2015

Christmas Bells Ring For Those Who Feel Excluded From Christmas Joy

This week, the students at the Boston University Catholic Center have been in lockdown mode as they study for and take the Final Exams of the semester. Amidst the studying, however, they have still remained faithful to the Daily Mass and to loving one another. In fact, during this time of stress and anxiety, you might think that nerves would have grown short, but instead they've outdone one another these past couple of weeks in loving each other.

The other day, a senior who is graduating at the end of this semester stopped by to see me. She hasn't been overly involved in our community, but she's been part of our extended family. She stopped by to tell me how much she wished she had been more involved. She said, "Father, I just wanted to say thank you. It's so beautiful to see how the people here are all friends with you and with one another and that you love each other so much. I just felt like I had to say that." She didn't know it when she told me that, but she made my week. 

When we live the friendship of the Church in a deep and profound way, it touches others and awakens in them a recognition that the Catholic life is truly beautiful. Every year around Christmas, I remember those who feel as though they are on the outside. The shepherds were on the outside. They were the people who dwelled in darkness and lived on the outside--both figuratively and literally. At Christmas time, there are many who feel on the outside. The experience of suffering or the effects of sin leave them feeling as though they are peering in the window watching others seated by the warmth and glow of the fire, enjoying the Christmas Feast while they remain in the darkness and cold outside. 

So many people feel this way. Some partially and others feel it almost completely. There are those who have lost loved ones, those who suffer loneliness, despair, hunger, war, betrayal, grief, illness, economic hardship, anxiety, broken relationships, the memories of past hurts, the regretting of the past, the weight of sin, and the list goes on. These experiences can make one feel as though Christmas  does not belong to them, that they are excluded from the graces that Christmas brings; that peace and joy cannot be theirs.

What a beautiful truth it is that it is precisely to these persons that Christmas truly belongs. It was to them that the good news of Christ's birth was first proclaimed. Christmas does not belong to those on the outside as by some exception. Christmas belongs to them firstly and by design. 

One way that we can announce to others the good news of Christmas is to live our Christian friendship with fidelity, joy, and love. When others see us living it together, they are drawn to it and feel included. We who live the Christmas Mystery do so not because we were always insiders. Those who live Christmas best are those who know that they are the people who dwelled in darkness and in the land of gloom, and to whom a light has appeared. When we live our friendship together, we become a sign to the world that no darkness, pain, sin, or suffering can defeat the grace that has appeared in Christ. When we live our Christian friendship together, it is a relentless, beautiful, and indefatigable song that announces that love is stronger than death.

In 1863, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow felt the weight of heavy sorrow. His wife had recently died from injuries received in a traumatic fire. Shortly afterwards, he received word that his son, Charles, an officer serving in the Union Army, had been seriously wounded in a Civil War battle. In the midst of so much pain and suffering, Longfellow penned a poem entitled, "Christmas Bells." later made into a hymn entitled, "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day." In the poem, Longellow struggles with how it is possible to live Christmas in the midst of so much pain and suffering. 

In our midst, there are many persons who feel as though they are on the outside. When we live our friendships together, we become like the bells of Longfellow's poem. Our love for one another becomes the indefatigable messenger of peace on earth and good-will to men.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
and wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said;
"For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.

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