The magic of Christmas melodies, the twinkle of festive lights and the historic traditions of this wonderful season are a special treat for many folks around the world. But there are others who find this time of year quite difficult in spite of the joyful reason for the season – the birth of Christ who brings peace to all people. I recently became personally connected with some of these folks who are suffering quietly in our midst.
The clanging of the locked door and chained link fence reminded me that I was in a new environment. We ascended the hard metal steps, up three steep floors, until we reached the historic chapel which had been built in the late 1800’s. Upon entering it was a beautiful site amidst the staleness of the rest of the large building. Stained glass windows, a pretty altar and the whisper of prayers offered by countless women inmates over the years made me realize that I was standing on holy ground. I had attended Mass at a women’s prison years ago but this time, it was different. Maybe I was different. I had no fear, no anxiety, no worry. Perhaps time and suffering had taken its toll on me too and like the women who would enter the chapel to pray, I was just grateful to be in the presence of a God who offers unconditional love and mercy to all. During the homily, the incredible priest reminded us that St. Paul wrote his letter about “Rejoicing in the Lord always” from prison. He told us that we have reason to rejoice, despite our circumstances, because the love and mercy of the Lord is always available to us – no strings attached. As I looked into the crowd of women sitting in the pews, I could tell that they’d been touched by God and by the compassionate outreach of the priest. So had I.
Sometimes we think that we have it tough and many of us do carry a large cross in this life. But do we realize that there are many living in our country who are unable to pay their monthly bills, let alone provide Christmas gifts for their children? The women of our parish group provided gifts cards to a single mom who works very hard. When she received the package, she wrote “I cried and cried realizing I could now buy my kids Christmas gifts.” This act of kindness was such a small thing for our group, yet the impact it made on the family was huge. The love of God impels us forward in ways which brings his love in tangible ways to others.
Christmas is quite difficult for those of us who have lost a loved one. In 2016, the first Christmas after my mom passed, we were unable to breath. Despite our pain, we gathered as a family and celebrated the birth of our Lord and the gift of my mom. We celebrated Joanie – and all her virtues which she shared so willingly with everyone: unconditional love, forgiveness, beauty, honesty, humility, humor, courage, faith and many more. In some small way, this helped us realize how blessed we were to have been given such an incredible woman as our mom, Nona, wife, sister, aunt! But some folks don’t have large families and when they lose someone, they are alone. When we see this, my mom would encourage us to invite them into our home. She always set a place for another friend. We can too.
From the grieving to the imprisoned and struggling moms, let us all remember that there are many folks hurting this Christmas. Christmas is a time to be joyful but some find it hard to find the joy. Perhaps you can be the inspiration for their joy by reaching out to lend a hand, offer a visit or an invitation. Speaking from experience, it really does make a difference. I recall with love a dear friend who came to my home with flowers before that first Christmas without my mom. I will never forget that act of sheer love and kindness. We are all capable of loving more – the birth of Jesus reminds us of this.