The most tender scene of all
Isat in the church on the evening of Christmas Day with just the lights of the crib shining. and I felt peace flood over me. I hope it was a gift from heaven and not just the natural reaction that comes from having finished a race or achieved a difficult objective.
It was the simplicity of the crib scene which occupied my thoughts this year. Nothing in our technological age, nothing in all the business and bustle and sorrow that have preceded these few days can compare with the beguiling of that most tender of scenes; the mother and father kneeling in single adoration and love; a peace so profound and complete it radiates like the light to touch even the furthest shadows. Only now do I feel able to lay all the past few days here, to empty my hands and surrender their burden into the gentle embrace of God with us.
Here I bring the little Down's syndrome child I saw in the children's ward, breathing through a mask. She was named after one of the shepherd children of Fatima and I noticed the mother wore a beautiful medallion of Our Lady of Fatima. The poor mother had stayed with her child overnight and throughout the day, and wanted to receive Holy Communion. She did so, and we prayed for her child, hoping she would be home for Christmas. I saw the mother again on Christmas Eve, bringing her four other young children to visit their sister, including what looked like a twin to the little girl, also with Down's. The mother just radiated peace and goodness, the children were beautiful. What courage and respect for life was witnessed to here. Little Jacinth did make it home for Christmas.
I bring all those Masses I celebrated in the days leading up to Christmas when my mind would not stop running off at a tangent, suddenly remembering the order of service for Midnight Mass and the bottle of Scotch I mean to buy for Ted who does odd jobs so faithfully all year round and to hunt out the four-part edition of In Dulci Jubilo for the carol service.
We had a beautiful carol service and benediction on the Saturday evening before Christmas. In the half-hour or so between the finish of the evening Mass and the start of the 730 service I was called to a mother who had lost her 20-week-old baby. There is the usual problem of space; not just the inability to be in two places at once, I mean there is no space spiritually or emotionally to process such things before having to be present to something else demanding, and the emotional register must change from the tragic to the festive. Now at last before the crib there is time to let such things find a counterbalance, to let them be drawn into the powerful matrix of Divine love, vulnerable and weeping in our midst for our frailty.
Here at last is space, and peace and stillness. How badly I need that to somehow work retroactively to ease the angerl have felt. Called out of the confessional on the morning of Christmas Eve to anoint a dying woman in the hospital, I am in the middle of the Litany of the Saints then the ward is rent by "Hello, I'm Debbie, your physiotherapist".
Debbie has developed one of those "I am talking to an old person"-type voices, which clearly irritates the patient in the next bed who argues loudly with Debbie as I try to commend a poor woman to God. "I don't want to walk up the stairs, dear. What I want, what I need, is two strong ambulance men to carry me up the stairs. why can't you understand? Why does nobody understand?" And so back to the confessional, and people who come to lay heavy burdens down and receive forgiveness.
There is so much to give thanks for too. On the morning of Christmas Eve one of our lovely new Korean parishioners presents me with the most beautiful rosary made of knotted silk, and some socks. She has come to offer her services in the sacristy helping with all the cleaning, and despite having little English, seems to keep up a lively conversation with the sacristan as she polishes the candle sconces.
And then four Christmas Masses, with a packed church for all, save the Mass of Dawn at 8 am, which is wonderfully peaceful and meditative, There were many, many visitors there is even a Kenyan banknote in the collection, I see, but ray impression from distributing Holy Communion is that many of them were "churchedl" and not just here fora yearly remembrance. After the last Mass it is back to the hospital. I give Holy Communion to 20 patients, including a woman mho will be 100 next week.
Back home there is a smell of cooking and my nephew and niece have covered the floor with their presents. No more call-outs today. bank God.
And so I come in the evening to find peace at the crib, and I hear in my mind the words of my favourite carol: In Dulci fulfil°, let us our homage shew, our heart's joy reclineth in praesepio.