This morning as I was walking back to our Kingsmead Hall residence, I met our usual local Indian man, let us call him “Samy.” Samy who would come to our parish monthly for some $20-$30 or so. Our parish staff was initially reluctant to give him any money as they say “He is smelling of alcohol and he would only use the money for drinks!” Upon taking to Samy more, we found out that he is sickly; he has no family to call his own, no home to live in and he would simply sleep in a corner or a bench of any wet market places he could find at night.
However, to my pleasant surprise, this morning, Samy was dressed in clean clothing. As usual, he would ask me for some money. When I gave it to him $30 Samy took the money and gave me a big smile that I had never seen on his face before. He said, “Thank you, Father.” He then added, “Father, I have forgotten your name, what’s your name?” So, I said to him, “I am Fr Heng.” To that Samy gave me another big smile and said, “Thank you Father.” He then added, “The other man who is in your office, he has swollen legs.” I then headed for my office to look for the man. As I was some distance away from Samy, I shouted out to Samy, “Samy, pray for me.” Samy shouted back loudly, “Okay, I will pray for you.”
My brothers and sisters in Christ, in this simple encounter with Samy, we will never know why Samy is so different in the way he dressed and spoke today. Samy is a Hindu, but could it be that he is celebrating Christmas in his own way today, because he had found support and a sense of dignity in our parish Church? Could it be that Samy has at last regained his self-respect and dignity through our respect for him? Why would he happily shout out loudly that he would pray for me? Why was he so neatly and cleanly dressed today?
The answers to these questions will probably remain unanswered, but my spontaneous inner feelings that welled up within me in my encounter with Samy this morning was somehow an assurance that “this is the spirit and meaning of Christmas.” All these several years of relating to Samy is after all bearing fruit . . . the fruit of restoring the dignity of the human persons in this world.
When the Christ-Child chose to be born into this world, He chose to be Born in the poverty of a stable and the humility of choosing the poorest of the poor, the shepherds whom people of the secular world despise, to announce the Good News that the Saviour of the World is born in Bethlehem today.”
What is very clear about the Gospel of Christ’s Salvation that begins on Christmas, is that God has a very special Compassion Love for the poor and those who are suffering in any way, in this world. And, if we in some way are able to sense the profound presence of God amongst the poor, needy and suffering in this world; in a person like Samy, or perhaps in someone we live with or know, then we will also be able to encounter the God at Christmas in the special graces of the Christmas season.
In Pope Francis’ recent Mass at St Joseph all’ Aurelio parish in the diocese of Rome, he shared that, the “joy of Christmas is a special joy.” Pope Francis explains that this is a “serene and tranquil joy that always accompanies a Christian; in times of difficulties, such joy will become moments of “peace.” As Christians, we should have such joy and peace in our hearts.
He then added, “"I knew a Sister – far from here! – this Sister was good, she worked hard, but her life was a lamentation, a lamentation of the many things that happened that upset her. In the convent she was called “Sister Complaint.” Pope Francis was trying to explain that while we can understand that pain and suffering is not easy to bear but, such ongoing complaints about life and people are not very Christian. When we meet such a Christian with restlessness and sadness, we know that the person does not have the “Peace” that God wants to give them. Pope Francis says, “Have you come across “a man or woman saint with a mournful face, never! Saints always had joyful faces or, at least in suffering, peaceful faces, including Jesus who endured the greatest suffering.
Pope Francis then advises. There are three ways to experience the joy of Christmas, not only at Christmas, but every day of our lives. I will adapt what Pope Francis has said for my homily this evening. Pope Francis emphasises that to experience the “Joy of Christmas” we must first be persons of prayer. We must beg God to give us the graces to live this Christmas with true joy; this is not the joy of consumerism which brings us the anguish that I am lacking this or I am lacking that …' No, this isn’t God’s joy." The Christmas joy is having the joy of Jesus in our hearts that can overcome any trials of life because Emmanuel, God-is-with-us.
Second, we must have Gratitude to God in our hearts and never take His Goodness for granted. Thus, we must never fail to “Give thanks to the Lord for the good things He has given us. For we will always find Christian joy in our prayers of thanksgiving to God. "Remember your life," he said, "Even though bad things may have come our way . . . think of the good things too;" always be grateful to God.
Third, Ponder on this truth of, how I can reach out to others; to those who have difficulties and problems" and "where I can bring some relief, peace to those who are suffering?"
My brothers and sisters in Christ, Pope Francis is emphasising that to experience the “joy of Christmas in our daily living,” we need to be compassionate and caring persons who sees Christ in others especially in those who are suffering in today’s world regardless of who we are. To help us enter into this spirit of the Christ-Child that has come to save us, I would like us to ponder on this poem.
I knelt to pray when day was done,
And prayed, “O Lord, bless everyone;
Lift from each saddened heart the pain
And let the sick be well again.”
And then I woke another day
And ceaselessly went on my way.
The whole day long I did not try
To wipe a tear from any eye;
I did not try to share the load’
Of any brother on the road;
I did not even go to see
The sick man just next door to me.
Yet once again when day was done,
I pray, “O Lord, bless everyone.”
But as I prayed into my ear
There came a voice that whispered clear,
“Pause, hypocrite, before you pray;
Whom have you tried to bless today?
God’s sweetest blessing always go
By hands that serve him here below.
And then I hid my face and cried,
“Forgive me, God, for I have lied;
Let me but live another day,
And I will live the way I pray.”
(cf: ‘Happiness Manufacturers” by Hedwid Lewis,SJ, Pub: Gujarat SAhitya Prakash: 2001; pg.63.)
And so, my brothers and sisters in Christ, if we want to experience the spirit of the Joy of Christmas the our Lord, the Christ-Child has shown us by choosing to be born in the poverty and humility of a stable, then we too must pray for the grace and wisdom to be able to enter affectively into the poverty of peoples suffering and empathise with humility their pain is to experience as Jesus did.
In short, when God comes into our world; when Jesus is born to us, He wants everyone of us, without exception to experience the happiness, peace and Joy of life; which what the spirit of Christmas is about. But, this “Joy” cannot be experienced on our own; we need God to be our “Joy” thus, we need to be praying person. Second, we also need to be people who are big hearted; people who knows how to be grateful to God and knows how to thank Him, and not be lost in our self-love. Finally, to be “Joyful in God” we need to see and share Him with others especially those who are experiencing the pains and trials of life; the “Samy’s, the migrants, the sick, the depressed, the broken-hearted of this world; when we are able to be bring God’s Joy and Peace to others, more fully we in turn will surely experience the “Joy of Christ” at Christmas.
Msgr Philip Heng,S.J.
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