At this time of year, I always remember a dear friend of mine, long since gone to God, and how she decorated her Christmas tree. She was as blue collar as they come, worked in a Factory and pretty much lived paycheck to paycheck. Though she always had a little stashed away, just in case. And those just in case times were usually for someone else who hit a hard time.
She would put up her Christmas tree and put the lights on but no decorations. Instead she would make, and I mean make, anyone who came over to her house, decorate the tree with money from their wallet. And everyone in the neighborhood knew that at some point between Christmas and Epiphany you’d better get to her house and pin something on the tree. And if she saw you on the street or on the bus or in the Grocery store, she would let you know that her Christmas tree was waiting to see you.
After Epiphany she would take all the money off the tree and give it to the Franciscans Friars who ran a Soup Kitchen in the neighborhood. And it was usually a nice gift. It was one of those “look forwards to” that became part of my Christmas and a whole lot of other people as well.
What my friend was doing was something that Mother Teresa liked to point out in a story she often told. Once when she was giving out food and bread to some very poor people, she ran across a single mother with four children who had been without food for a few days. So, she gave the woman food and bread and then she said what happened next really surprised her. This mother took half of what she had been given and gave it to her neighbor who was in the same situation as her. Mother Teresa remarked that what surprised her was not the woman’s generosity. What surprised her was that in her own need she could even notice someone else in need.
And that’s how it was with my friend. She had to work every day to make ends meet and didn't have a lot to spare yet she still had the awareness that she was not the only one in need and that there were others who were worse off than her. And that is not as easy as it seems. When we are caught up in our own pain, needs or moments of suffering it is easy to not see the beggar at your gate. Even more it’s easy to justify not seeing by telling yourself repeatedly how awful your circumstances are. In other words, to play the victim, demanding everyone else’s empathy but giving none yourself. Or to tell yourself: “somebody else has to do it after all they are much better off than me”.
The best example we have at Christmas is the Blessed Virgin. The circumstances surrounding her pregnancy, you’d better believe were challenging. God had let Joseph know what was really happening but what about everybody else? The neighborhood gossip must have been devastating. Still, Mary did not hide in seclusion, she went immediately to her cousin Elizabeth and helped her through the remaining weeks of her pregnancy. And what about that anonymous person, who showed Joseph, after he was told “there is no room at the Inn”, where he could "nd a spot for his wife to birth her child. It wasn't much but it worked.
So, whatever your circumstances are, force yourself to look outside and see the person in need. For many, this time of year can be emotionally challenging for all sorts of reasons. But know that there is someone else who is feeling lonely, depressed or sad too. If you reach out to them you will be amazed at how quickly your problem is cut in half.
When Jesus starts off His public ministry, He does so with one simple but not easy statement. One statement that is perplexing, confounding and utterly true: “Blessed are the Poor in Spirit for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs”. The Poor in Spirit are those whose eyes are not focused on themselves even in the worst of times, especially in the worst of times but rather whose eyes are open to the suffering of those around them.
The darkness that naturally occurs this time of year is lit up by the lights of Christmas. The darkness that surrounds us often is lit up by the Christ who walks with us. This Christmas may He “open the eyes of our hearts”.
When asked what the definition of a Christian is, Mother Teresa replied, “one beggar showing the other beggars where to find some bread.”
Fr. John BBACK TO LIST