Midnight Mass Year C
As a newly ordained priest, well new in so much as it’s less than six months; it can seem that there is much pressure to preach well. Many good Catholics will come to Mass only at Christmas, or perhaps Easter if you’re lucky, so you have to make it count! Or so people say. This is the wrong approach. No matter my skill at preaching; it just doesn’t cut the mustard compared to the coming of the Son of Man as He does this night. And because He enters into the mess of humanity it requires not some great thoughts or pearls of wisdom but outstanding deeds! What Jesus asks of us is that we live good lives. Mahatma Ghandi said, “An ounce of practice is worth more than tons of preaching.”
St Paul tells Titus “what we have to do is to give up everything that does not lead to God.” But why must we give up anything? Why do we have to live our lives in a certain way? What’s wrong with how I’m living my life now? I’ll tell you why, because “today a saviour has been born to us; he is Christ the Lord.” The reason we have to change isn’t because of what happened in the past, nor indeed because of what is happening now or what may or may not happen in the future. It is not because of what, but whom! And if you don’t get that simple lesson: well, I’ve rather failed!
Listen to the prophet Isaiah, “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; on those who live in a land of deep shadow a light has shone.” Are we walking in darkness, do we live in a land of deep shadow? Well, I don’t know. Let’s think about? There’s war ravaging the earth, nations fighting against nations, economic catastrophe, and environmental catastrophe. Hmm, not looking so bright, the earth, is it? What about people losing their jobs, the growth in crime, burglaries, muggings, gang culture, the prevalence of drugs, teenage pregnancies, prostitution and people trafficking? We even have people who should know better saying its okay for us to rob a supermarket if it’s to stop us from starving to death!
It seems to me that we are walking in darkness and there is, indeed, a deep shadow over the land. We need that light more than ever, we need its shining glory and yet we find ourselves denied even to speak out about our Faith. There is terrible pressure that what we experience here tonight is not to be shared in the market place, in the work place or even amongst our own families! I want to share with you a true story that happened here in Coventry:
It was Christmas Day in the children’s ward and I arrived, an Anglican volunteer lay chaplain expecting to find at least two longer term patients still there. I was greeted cheerfully by the ward sister, a Roman Catholic, whom I knew. “No, David, they’ve all gone home for Christmas” she said. “There’s only one boy, an emergency, and you won’t want to see him: he’s from a young offenders institute and has two guards.”
Luke was in a four bed side room with his foot heavily bandaged and propped up. “I caught it under a heavy door” he said. Two Asian men, informally dressed, were sitting on two of the spare beds. One was a fine looking Sikh with beard and turban; the other shorthaired. Both welcomed me warmly. The later saw the badge first. “Hey, look at that, a chaplain. Luke was just asking me where he could get a rosemary, you know, prayer beads!” “I want to wear it for good luck” said Luke. “They’re more than that” said I, “people of many religions use beads to help them to pray.” “Yes, we Muslims use them to count our prayers and make sure we don’t leave any out” the guard contributed. “I personally have never used a rosary but the Roman Catholic Christians do and I could try to get one for you” I said. “I know all about that” said the Sikh, “I went to a Roman Catholic School.” “Wow, what a multi faith meeting this is!”
“I’ve got one at home” said Luke. “But where Luke is living right now he hasn’t got one” chipped in his guard. At no time did either of Luke’s minders reveal he was an offender from a detention centre: they had an impressive concern for his welfare and dignity.
At this point the ward Sister came in to give Luke some medicine. “Sister, Luke has asked me for Rosary. Do you know how we could get one for him?” “I think I have one in my handbag; let me go and look.” She returned almost at once with a beautiful wooden rosary with a crucifix hanging from it. “Here you are, Luke.” “But Sister this is your own!” “I’ve got several at home. You’re welcome” and she bustled out with a warm, thoughtful smile. The Muslim said “that’s very special, Luke, you must treasure that Christmas present. We can hang it on the bed head here.” As a sort of lucky charm?” “Much more than that, Luke; as you hold it, try saying your prayers” said his Muslim guard.
This beautiful story, written for me in a Christmas Card, highlights to truth of our Faith: it’s not perfect; it is sometimes confused but at all times it is for sharing!