Next, is an essay I wrote for the multicultural newsletter at my workplace a couple of weeks ago. It was reprinted in my parish's bulletin, and I didn't exactly ask permission to publish it here, but I'm pretty sure it's okay.
I do not like Christmas. I grew up in one of those families that gets referred to as “dysfunctional.” As an adult, going “home” for Christmas was a source of such trauma that I would frequently try to induce illness during the month of December as a way of avoiding the whole thing. My mother’s death several years ago meant that my sisters and I had to learn new ways of celebrating the holiday as a family, and we have since evolved newer, more peaceful traditions.
Over the years, though, there is one tradition with which I was brought up and which I have come to cherish more and more as the years go by, and that is Midnight Mass. It is an utterly illogical thing to gather people in a public building in the middle of the night– and, yet, it is a profoundly human thing to band together on one of the coldest, darkest nights of the year, light some candles, tell old stories, and share a simple meal.
In my parish church, my husband and I arrive before 11 p.m., and it is my task to light bottle candles (bottles with wick and wax – very sturdy and breeze-proof) and put them behind the Stations of the Cross sculptures along the walls of the church. With very subdued lighting from the high ceiling and the candles flickering, the church is quite dim and induces a state of calm. People speak in hushed voices as they arrive and greet family and friends.
At 11:30, with the lights still down, we have a service of lessons and carols in which we hear the marvelous stories about the kingdom that is and will be - about lions and lambs lying down together, about a world in which all people are seen as moving toward their best selves, and about finding joy within the present reality. These words below from Archbishop Oscar Romero are read each year.
(First, some context: In December, 1978, in the midst of civil war the only Christmas Eve Mass in the nation of El Salvador was at the cathedral in San Salvador, and Romero, the nation’s archbishop sent these words out over the radio. As you read them, please recall that the bishop was talking to his people out of the deep well of a particular shared culture. I am not putting these in this newsletter to exclude anyone.)
These words remind me that I am part of a vast family of humanity that is not bound by time, geography, language, or creed. These words creep into my heart and heal the broken places, and each year, I leave the church in the middle of Christmas Eve night feeling a little more whole, a little more human, a little more free. I am not sure that I will ever love Christmas, but I do love these moments of peace and simple fellowship.This is the Christian’s joy: I know that I am a thought in God, no matter how insignificant I may be – the most abandoned of beings, one no one thinks of. Today, when we think of Christmas gifts, how many outcasts no one thinks of! Think to yourselves, you that are outcasts, you that feel you are nothing in history: “I know that I am a thought in God.” Would that my voice might reach the imprisoned like a ray of light, of Christmas hope – might say also to you, the sick, the elderly in the home for the aged, the hospital patients, you that live in shacks and shantytowns, you coffee harvesters trying to garner your only wage for the whole year, you that are tortured: God’s eternal purpose has thought of all of you. He loves you, and, like Mary, incarnates that thought in his womb. http://www.beyondborders.net/Christmas/Romero-Advent.htm (translated from the original Spanish)