Even as we are all here today to celebrate Christmas as a community in this Parish, each of us will experience this liturgical celebration differently. We might like to ask, “Will this Christmas celebration make a real difference to my life?” Many of us would probably react skeptically and subconsciously say to ourselves, “Well, based on my past Christmas Masses which I did not really find any significant changes in me, I would likewise, at most find this Mass to be inspiring, but soon after the Mass, I would probably not find too much changes in my faith, as in all my other Sunday Masses.”
If we continue to think and react like this subconsciously, we will never really get much out of any Feast Day or Liturgical celebrations. Today is Christmas and God would want to transform everyone one of us on this special once a year Feast Day! God desires that from today, you and I will no longer be the same. That from now on, we will tell ourselves, “Our trials and pains of my life are now, challenges that I take on with peace and strength because God, Our Lord, at Christmas today has come into my life, once and for all. For the first time in my life, I am able, with God’s graces, to open my heart fully to God to turn me around and change me for the better, and in Christ-like ways.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, believe me, this transformation is truly possible because the Light of Christ wants to dispel all the darkness we have in our hearts and homes. But, this is possible only if we personally want it to happen to us. Mary and Joseph were both tormented by fears of what would happen to them when they accepted to obey God’s Will. Such fears are very human. Yet, they were able to go beyond their fears and find strength in God in all the challenges they faced in their lives.
Last night, before the Vigil Mass, we had the aged, sick, dying and migrant workers present the Christmas pageant. It was truly the most beautifully and profoundly presented pageant that I have seen. I am not talking of a professional presentation like what we find in the Esplanade theatres with world class actors and actresses. I am referring to the Light of Christ literally filling our whole church through the powerful presence of these aged, sick, dying and migrant workers, and more importantly witnessing to us through their lives.
Let me share with you what I mean. At the pageant, we distributed a booklet of the programme and cast. The booklet too there is the very brief sharing of the faith of the cast. Let us take Bertha who acted as one of the shepherds in the pageant. She shares that she was orphaned when she was a baby; due to some illness, both her arms and legs had to be amputated; she is at present living in St Theresa’s Home for the aged. She says, “I accept my condition as the Will of God; I am grateful for God’s gift of life and I do not allow myself to be overcome by self-pity.”
However, a St Cecilian music therapist tells me that when someone in St Theresa’s Home quarrels or is down and depressed, Bertha even as she herself is sick would always try to bring peace and reach out to the person with much compassion. Bertha has not only no bitterness in her heart; she is a person that exudes joy and is life-giving. Bertha is always smiling and always expresses great gratitude even for the little things that you do for her; she never takes anyone for granted.
Then we have Elizabeth; she acted the role of Mary in the pageant. Like Bertha she was also orphaned when she was a baby. She too is not bitter and angry towards her family who gave her away. She said, “Probably, they were too poor to bring me up.” In the pageant booklet she shares very openly, “I was very depressed when I was first diagnosed with colon cancer. Though it was a stage 4 cancer which spread to my lungs, I have lived for one full year. When I agreed to play the role of Mary, I did not know that my cancer had relapsed. But, now I play the role of Mary because I want to take Mary as my role model. Like her, I just surrender myself to God’s Will.
When asked, Elizabeth shares further, “Some days I feel down or have fears, but when I pray, I find peace again as I know that God is always there caring for me. Actually, I am not afraid to die. My wish is that my illness would not drag on for too long as I would become a burden to others who would have to care for me – (even in such desperate condition, Elizabeth is still so caring of others.)
During the rehearsals, last night, as I could see that Elizabeth was in much pain; even to stand up to rehearse her role took much out of her. I was deeply touched by her calmness and peace amidst her excruciating pain when she said, “It’s okay Father, I will try, I think I can kneel when Angel Gabriel appears to me.” She then rehearsed her role again with great dignity and strength that only God can give.
Then, we also have Elsie who played the first prophet. This is what she shares in the booklet, “I am at peace with myself and the world. I am ready to leave the world when the Lord wants me. I would not live my life any differently or do anything differently if I were to live my life all over again. Still, we have Mary Chua who is blind. She was meant to be acting in the pageant, but has fallen very ill in the past weeks. She says, “Although I am blind, I am happy and at peace with myself and I accept what God has given me.”
My sisters and brothers in Christ, you will agree with me that we have much to learn from these aunties of ours in Betha, Elizabeth, Elsie and Mary as their hearts are clearly filled with the Light and Peace of Christ. They are exemplary witnesses to us and the world of how we can allow the Light of Christ to shine into our hearts and dispel all the darkness of sins and fears of pain and suffering that we have.
In the eyes of the secular world, they have nothing to be proud of; in fact these people are often ignored and uncared for and marginalised in the world as “dependents” and even burdens of society. Our secular society has often easily forgotten that, if it were not for our aged parents who have sacrificed much of their lives for us would we not be what we are today; ought we not be grateful to them and honour them?
If we reflect on their lives more deeply, we will find that their secret of overcoming the darkness of their trials and pains of life come from their deep trust in God. God is their sole strength, meaning and purpose in life. God is so present to them in their trials that they are able to “see and feel” and then draw strength from God in their pains and suffering.
As we reflect on these aunties’ lives, we too begin to realise that our secular world, regardless of how brightly lit Orchard Road is for Christmas, it is still in “darkness”! The neon lights do not and cannot in any way help anyone overcome the darkness of their lives. The darkness of our hearts are the fears of loosing: our social status, of how we look, our financial wealth, our family needs and the like. These fears of the secular world inevitably create insecurities within us.
If we over focus on our social status, we have to remember that one day we all have to retire; if we over focus on our looks, we too have to remember that one day wrinkles will appear and we have to grow old; if we over focus on our financial wealth, we have to remember that one day we will have to leave all our money behind; and if we over focus on our family needs, we too have to remember that one day our children too would have to move on in life without us, while we die and face God alone.
However, Bertha, Elizabeth, Mary and Elsie on the other hand show us through their lives that if we really want to find the deep peace of Christ in our hearts as they have, then we must learn to let go of these securities of the world which do not and cannot give us the deep peace and security that Christ wants to give us at Christmas.
My sisters and brothers in Christ, as I conclude, let me remind ourselves that: our true and only security in our life can only be God; the God who has come into this world today as we celebrate Christmas. He wants to enter our hearts and homes more fully, but do we want to let Him in? If we do, then we are truly celebrating the essence of Christmas, but if we don’t, then once again the fears of this world and our lives will continue to dominate our lives, and eventually rob us of the spiritual strength that Mary and Joseph found true hope, peace and joy in the coming of the Christ child in spite of the trials they went through.
What would Christmas be like for you and me this year? Whether it is going to be routine or transforming Christmas is a choice that you and I have to make personally. Remember: God wants all of us to be transformed today! As we can see that this is possible for our aunties Bertha, Elizabeth, Mary and Elsie, this Light of Christ that gives them all the strength to dispel the darkness of pain and suffering, as in the lives of Mary and Joseph, is also the same Light of Christ that is waiting to penetrate and make a home in our hearts. What is our choice going to be this Christmas?.
Fr Philip Heng,S.J.
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