Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Rejoice and Be Glad!

Rejoice and be glad! Sounds like a good idea to me! Celebrate, be pleased about, cheer, exult, delight that God is with us!

I’m doing my best to live out this part of the Christmas message, but it can be challenging at times. Friends and family have said they have lots to do to get ready for Christmas, and when I hear this, I know they’re talking about preparing their homes, buying and wrapping presents, sending out Christmas cards, hosting parties, and buying more gifts.

Not once have I heard people tell me they’re getting ready for Christmas has included slowing down to spend some quiet time to allow God to fill their hearts and minds with the magnitude of love and the unending joy He gave to us by sending Christ into the world.
We make time for what’s important to us. During the holidays, it often seems we don’t have as much time as we do other periods during the year. People seem more harried and hurried. A couple of the special things I made time for last Christmas season truly helped me to understand more about the love and selflessness, the awe and wonder, the generosity and compassion, that Christ coming into the world in the form of an infant illustrate to us.
On Dec. 6, 2008, the Feast of St. Nicholas, a group of Cursillistas and their spouses attended Mass at Little Sisters of the Poor, had a potluck lunch, and then sang Christmas carols to the residents at St. Joseph’s Little Sisters of the Poor nursing home, where my grandmother has lived for over a year now.
Fr. Leo Gagnon, the former chaplain at Little Sisters, was the priest and one of the spiritual directors on team with me and fourteen others for the Cursillo Women’s Weekend October 2008. Knowing that Fr. Leo lost his dear mother the previous year near Christmas, we wanted to come and spend time with him around the holidays and thought taking part in the celebrations surrounding St. Nicholas would be a good way to show him his Christian family cares about him.
Fr. Leo dressed up as St. Nicholas for the residents. He shared stories with us about the life of this saint, then he had each person come up for a blessing with the holy oil miraculously produced by St. Nicholas’ bones each year. This experience was the opposite of a visit to Santa Claus, who is of course, modeled after St. Nicholas. Instead of coming up and whispering what store-bought items you hoped to receive for your own satisfaction, we were asked to come up to St. Nicholas, receive an anointing, and tell him what we hoped God would give to the world this year.
Many of the residents came forward with the same eagerness and anticipation you see on children’s faces when they approach Santa with their wish-lists ready. It was beautiful to watch. I had the privilege of seeing all of this up close when I began helping pass out candy canes to the residents after Fr. Leo had blessed them and heard their prayer request for the world.
No one was worried about getting perfect pictures with St. Nicholas. Everyone patiently waited for their turn. The spirit of love and generosity were real, not part of an act a man in a white beard and some elf-helpers were getting paid to perform.
Soon after that day, my mom, my friend Barb, and I went to see my grandmother in the Christmas play at Little Sisters. What a wonderful experience! Men and women in their 70s and 80s were the stars of a play written by the activities director at the nursing home. They came out in full costumes and did a wonderful job in the production of “The Mouse and the Manger.”
My grandmother was the narrator for the play. In weeks leading up to the show, she would get really worked up telling us about the practices, because the others in the play would change the words or forget their lines, which she never did. She said the nuns never corrected them as long as they remembered the essential parts and didn’t change the meaning of the story, but it really got my grandma going. The funny thing is, it never occurred to her that she would be making as many omissions and changes if she didn’t have the role of narrator, which allows her to sit in her wheelchair with a microphone and read directly from the script.
The play was very touching, but I could tell what the cast of residents enjoyed most was getting compliments, hugs, and kisses from the nuns, staff, family members, and friends who had come to watch.
Often we hear that we need to be good stewards of our time, talent, and treasure. As the days until Christmas draw closer,

I’ve been asking myself some questions to try and keep on the right track: Am I spending time a significant amount of time listening to, conversing with, learning from God? Do I set aside time to pray and make it a priority, or do I put it on my list of things to do and allow other things I need or want to accomplish come first?
Do I spend more quality time enjoying the company of family and friends than I do shopping for store-bought things they may or may not want or need? Do I focus only on what I can do to make this a nice holiday season for me, or do I look to others who have less, who have lost a loved one this year, who are struggling in mind, body, or spirit, and offer them support? How can I live out the call to rejoice and be glad this holiday season?
I pray that you may experience the peace, love, joy, and compassion God wants to give you this Advent season.
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