What You Have

Originally published by Ministry & Liturgy Magazine, October 2011
– PDF version –

I unlocked the red steel doors of our parish building last Christmas morning, noticing a special holiday silence on the streets. The business executives were safely tucked in the suburbs and the night clubbers were sleeping off a Christmas Eve drunk. Only the drug dealers were roaming the city streets in the early hours on Christmas morning. More people purchase illegal drugs during the holidays because people have to spend more time with their families, I guess. I did notice one thing as I unlocked the panic bar of one of the heavy doors. A man was sleeping next to the door near the corner of the building. He was covered with blankets to protect him from the Christmas rain. However, his face was uncovered. I did not recognize him and there was no reason to wake him up and have him move from that spot. So I went back into the chapel to prepare for our simple Christmas Mass.

As the Eucharist ended, I processed outside to greet the humble assembly on the sidewalk. I noticed that my sleeping friend was awake with his belongings piled up and covered with plastic near the wall. He was bearded and exceptionally tall. He noticed me and I felt his energy standing behind some parishioners I was greeting. He approached me bashfully; his head swaggering from sided to side. He said to me, “ I hope you don’t mind, but I stood in the lobby and listened for about five minutes.” I immediately assured him this is the very reason why we are here on this corner. I then stopped listening. I started telling him that we were closed and would not open for clothing and supplies until after the New Year. He put up his hand to stop me. “No”, he inserted, “I am not here for clothing, I am here for what you have inside now. What do you call the service today?”

I was completely taken aback. I felt red embarrassment dance on my face. I was so quick to judge, so sure I was correct. Then I realized I had to explain what we have inside. I fumbled to explain the Eucharist, the God-made-flesh, the Christmas miracle among the marginalized of the city.

As I reflect on the Christmas scriptures again, his piercing question still unsettles me. I take what we have inside for granted. I now have a new sensitivity for people seeking God and who long for the simplest of praying communities. I was also tied up with my own Christmas loneliness, the holiday haze that still covers my heart and perspective on Christmas morning. His statement snapped me out of my holiday selfishness.

Christmas morning is time for John the Baptist’s testimony to the Light. Every parish community must give testimony to God even though we are exhausted trying to meet everyone’s spiritual expectations. Every worshiping assembly should stop mid-Christmas Eve and find the silence to understand what we are doing in our churches and try to articulate what we have. We have the Word becoming flesh even among the scraggly-bearded and the foul breathed. We have treasures of college students back home only going to church so to keep peace in the family. We need to feed people not only with the Bread of Heaven but also with words of welcome and actions of true acceptance. We need to sort out our disappointments and get over our hurts before we preside at the Eucharist or lead the tired, elderly choir. We have so much of what really matters.

Every worshipping assembly in every corner of the earth proclaims God’s saving power. Every corner may include a man tucked under a bridge or sleeping in the church entryway. Every corner may include a veteran just home from war and full of anxiety to be in a crowded church on Christmas morning. Every corner should include the lonely heart of the priest and the grief of a new widower sitting in the last pew of the assembly. Every corner may include the angry preteen that only wants acceptance from her parents after telling them of her first sexual encounter. Every corner may include the new gay couple that started coming to Mass after a friend’s suicide. These are the corners of the world in need on Christmas morning. People want so much of what we have but we do not see the miracles.

When I open the doors this Christmas morning, I will remember my friend from last year. I am sure I will not see him. I will be reminded of him when I meet the next stranger and invite him to join us inside the chapel. I will invite him to stay beyond five minutes and experience the treasure of all we possess inside our small community of people who believe God-with-us.

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