Christmas Vigil Mass (24 Dec 2009) : Gospel – Lk 2:1-14

" Christmas – Commercial or True Meaning?"

Christmas Crib at Church of St Ignatius

Preached by Fr Philip Heng, SJ at Church of St Ignatius – Singapore

As a Parish Priest of this Church, I felt that one of my main responsibilities is to help our parishioners grow in their faith. For this Christmas, I gave it a lot of thought and asked myself, “How can I help the parish to grow more fully?” I came to the conclusion that perhaps we should create opportunities to help us deepen our spirituality for Christmas. Thus, I came up with several programmes for Christmas; one of which was to organise a Triduum; three days of Guided Contemplative prayer to reflect on and pray on the Gospel events from Mary’s betrothal to Joseph to the birth of Jesus at Bethlehem. These prayer periods were held a few days before Christmas precisely to help us prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ.

I felt our Parish needed a more spiritual programme, since we already had a major social mission Bazaar fundraising programme for the poor and needy. The first day of the Triduum drew a miserable attendance of about 80 persons, the second day’s attendance improved to about 120 persons and the third day to about 200 persons. Even at 200 persons, I was wondering where is the remaining 4,800 parishioners? This low turnout got me reflecting again. It seemed to me that our parish does not seem to need more spiritual programme.

Perhaps, there are other reasons causing the low turnout of the Triduum. I may be wrong, but could it be that it is because we lack the awareness of and do not see the importance and necessity for such spiritual growth?

If this is not the case,then what are the other possible reasons for suchlow turn out in our Triduum? Many of us would probably respond, “I am so busy preparing for Christmas . . . But,what is this preparation about? Is the mad rush of Christmas trying to buy the turkey and in trying to get the novelty presents, and not the run-of-the-mill presents for different people who mean much to us, and in the amidst all these hectic rush, put up the Christmas tree, and then to go for some parties and also organise some parties for different people, even before Christmas?

These are all very good and important, but I think these are the secondary reasons for celebrating Christmas. These are more the commercial reasons and ways of celebrating Christmas in the shopping malls of Orchard Road where Jingle Bell, White Christmas, Santa Claus is coming to Town songs are played . . . If you were to look back on your Advent preparations for Christmas so far . . . and what you have planned for tonight and tomorrow . . . how much place, space and time have you given to the spiritual and the core meaning of Christmas?

If I were to ask you, how many of us here do you think have a Christmas Crib of the Holy Family occupying a more prominent place in our homes than a Christmas tree surrounded with presents? Are we so mesmerized by the lights of Orchard road that we have forgotten the Light of Christ that reveals to us the true meaning of Christmas?

In our Archbishop’s Christmas letter to all Parishes recently, he reminded us not to leave out the child Christ in our Christmas celebrations, for he said, “Without Christ, there will be no Christmas.

Last Friday, on the 18 th of December, we organised a Filipino Dawn Mass called “Simbang Gabi”. Our church was packed with about 1,700 people; more packed than tonight’s crowd.I was very touched by the overwhelming turnout. There were hardly 30 cars in our entire parish church; the rest came by bus; they sang wholeheartedly during Mass and after that they all had a simple fellowship with sandwiches, porridge and packet drinks all organised by themselves. By 10.45 pm everything was over - the St Ignatius hall and whole compound was cleaned up and everyone left home enriched and touched by the Advent preparation. We have much to learn from our Filipino brothers and sisters.

We don’t need much to have a meaningful preparation and celebration of Christmas . . . if our eyes are gazing at and our minds are pondering on the Child Jesus in the manger in Bethlehem – that’s experiencing the spirit of Christmas. If our hearts are reaching out to the poor and needy around us, like the angels searching for the poorest of the poor and finding them in the shepherds (as in tonight’s Gospel), and announcing the Good News of Christ’s birth to them – then that too is experiencing the spirit of Christmas too!

Last night, our church had a Christmas healing Mass for the elderly and sick of our parish. If not for this Mass, these elderly uncles and aunties of ours would probably be neglected and left at home during Christmas. I was very touched by the pageant at the Mass. It was presented mainly by the elderly, sick and dying residents of St Joseph Home (run by the Canossian sisters). While there was a very dedicated supporting casts of younger people, some of the residents were in their 4 th stage of cancer others were in their late 80s, or early 90’s; one was blind, another was crippled from childhood, the rest were wheelchair bound. This was the cast we had; and they gave an excellent presentation. This was because each person in the pagaent took their roles and learnt their lines and sang their parts very seriously.

They gave their all in contributing to the proclamation of the Christmas message through the pageant. Indeed, they witnessed to me of how in many ways they were like Mary and Joseph - they gave of themselves so selflessly and generously; they persevered so courageously, just so that a greater good can be served and God’s Will be fulfilled. Many of them knew, especially the very sick ones that this is going to be their last Christmas with us.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, Christmas is the coming of Christ into our lives and our world. This brings deep “Joy” to all peoples who believe in Him. But, this “Joy” is not a “Joy without sacrifice;” if it is, then it is the superficial “joy” that is promoted by the commercial Christmas of Orchard road. The sacrifice that is demanded of us in the “Joy” of Christmas is spiritual so that we can get to the core meaning of Christmas.

We all somehow live such “busy” and hectic lives. Thus, our sacrifice could be to spend some quiet time in prayer each day; even for several minutes each day. This is how it can be done. When we wake up each morning, we could begin by anticipating the day. We would usually know who we will meet and what we would have to do, we could ask the Lord for the blessings we need to live in His ways.

Then, at the end of the day, we could spend a few minutes to look back on the significant moments of the day. For the times when we did not live in God’s ways, we could ask the Lord for His forgiveness. And, for the times when we were able to live in His ways, we thank Him for them. Through these simple ways of living our lives, we will be able to develop a more meaningful prayer life;God too would become more personal to us. This way, our faith will become more connected with God and our daily living would become more meaningful and fulfilling. This very briefly, is what St Ignatius call the “Consciousness Examen” prayer.

To sum up and conclude, let us remind ourselves that to celebrate Christmas more meaningfully, we don’t need much in life, as we can see from the lives of our migrant Filipino workers and our aged uncles and aunties of St Joseph Home who presented the Christmas pageant to us. What we really need is to put Christ at the centre of all our Christmas celebration. Daily we too ought to live a life that is more conscious of how Christ is fully present in all that we do, think and say. We can do this if we begin to develop a meaningful prayer life of spending some short quiet moments each day of the “Consciousness Examen” prayer of St Ignatius. If we are able to do all these, we can be sure that we will experience the true spirit of Christmas and find the deep joy of the Christ child who will be born in our hearts and homes this Christmas.

Fr Philip Heng, S.J.

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