Christmas is perhaps the toughest celebration we priests always have. More tiring and exhausting than the nine-day novena popularly known as “Simbang Gabi”, Christmas is the most emotionally challenging for us especially at this age of social media. I felt it so strong the other night as I tried catching up with Facebook. As I looked at everyone’s Christmas greeting with joyous photos of their families and friends, I felt some sense of bitterness within. The pain was more intense than all the Sunday evenings after Masses I have had as I sat at my desk with my laptop, literally stuck in my parish until New Year’s Day when I would be done with all my duties to finally visit my own family, especially my sick mother and some friends. How I wished I did not check on my Facebook that night! But then, I also remembered my homily that Christmas is about making a conscious decision to choose Jesus Christ. That there will always be darkness in life, people who would make life difficult for us but despite all these troubles, Christmas reminds us of our power to let God touch our hearts, to always create that room or space within us where Jesus could be born and dwell the whole year through. The late American scholar of the Church of the Latter-Day Saints Neal A. Maxwell said it right that “Each of us is an innkeeper who decides if there is room for Jesus” in our hearts.
Indeed, the best Christmas gift we can ever have is when we open and allow our hearts to be touched by God. Since 2011 when I arrived in this parish of the “beloved disciple”, the Lord has always revealed to me new and wonderful things not only about Christmas but about life itself. After seven years of laboring in love with so many hardships and sacrifices, I still consider it as a failure on my part to unite my parishioners. Majority of them refuse to cut the umbilical cord with the mother parish at the town proper or bayan where they prefer celebrating all the sacraments while others are simply divisive by nature, feeling a sense of superiority over the rest of us that they preferred celebrating Simbang Gabi and Christmas separate from the parish without realizing that the Holy Eucharist is the sacrament of unity. It is the most painful cut, the deepest I have had in my 20 years of priesthood to see some sheep going astray led by a shepherd filled with messianic complex. I have chosen to bear all these in silence, praying for them all as I opened my heart to Jesus to come and comfort me, eventually to heal me.
As I nursed those wounds within, Christmas Eve came when the four choirs of the parish serenaded us with some Christmas carols half an hour before our Midnight Mass. My eyes were in tears as I listened to their angelic voices and most especially when I saw the different choir members mostly from poor families with nothing else to offer the parish but their very selves and beautiful voices. Most moving were the poor children who came wearing simple clothes singing their hearts out for Jesus. I felt so blessed that there are people, even kids who love our parish so much, willing to support me their pastor with their very gift of presence. They never asked for anything during their practices, not even snacks though I tried providing them with some simple refreshments even meals when they practiced until supper time. I have learned from them that when Jesus Christ is preached and shared with the poor, they forget their poverty that they start to share everything they have including their very selves because they have felt that they are blessed and rich.
During our Mass on the eve of the feast of our Patron Saint John the Evangelist last night, our guest celebrant Fr. Efren Basco shared in his homily how God touched his heart last Christmas after Mass at a housing project for the poor where he met a mother who could only afford one new pair of socks for her two sons – that is, one new sock for just one of their two feet! And when Fr. Efren saw the two brothers, they even boasted to him their new socks paired with an old one! Though Christmas is a reality, it is always a choice we have to make for we can only do as much in this world but only God can touch hearts to change the world. Let God touch your hearts to feel His Son Jesus born in your hearts this Christmas and the whole year through. A blessed Christmas and joyous New Year to everyone! (Photos from Google.)