Bishop Baker’s Christmas Homily
I join my brother priests and deacons in wishing you the blessings of that great event we celebrate on this holy day—the birth of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, the Son of God. May today’s blessing be with you all through the Christmas season and all through the New Year—2003!
Father Sam Weber and I visited a few parishes this past Sunday afternoon, and how wonderful it was to see the Christmas spirit in action. At one of the parishes people were bringing gifts to be distributed to the poor. At two other parishes people were cleaning around the front of the church or bringing in the Christmas decorations to help prepare the church for today’s liturgical celebrations.
Despite all the difficulties our church and our world are facing today, and they are many, and they are great, despite all of that, the Christmas spirit is very much alive.
For people of faith know deep down within that there is a bigger picture to the one we experience every day that gives it meaning and hope.
I received a Christmas card from a lady who is a very gifted poet who has published a couple books of poetry. Writer’s cramp is descending upon her. She asked me to pray for her. “Sometimes,” she writes, “I get so oppressed (you might insert here the word- “depressed”) with all terrible news, tragedies, etc. Satan’s works. I would be strong, not weak. Joyful, not sad.” Obviously she was having a little trouble being strong and joyful.
We all know the feeling. So let us today pray for the Christmas spirit to lift our spirits to rejoice in the hope brought by the Savior that first Christmas day.
In my Christmas message in The Miscellany, I wrote what I truly believe that by our own meager efforts to allow the Good News of Jesus’ birth to touch our lives daily, there is a spiraling cycle of goodness and generosity that goes beyond itself to envelop other people and other cultures with the end result that animosity, hatred, violence, and war have fewer chances to succeed.
Just one random act of kindness, bred of the Christmas spirit, can offset mountains of evil that are festering and fomenting all around us. Shouldn’t our Christmas celebration today remind us of that fact and help us truly believe it! I think so.
Let me give you a few examples of people who have been practicing random acts of goodness, bred of the Christmas spirit, fostered by their belief in the Messiah born in Bethlehem.
Ninety-one-year-old Bina Davis doesn’t let a little thing like age stop her from carrying out her duties as a Eucharistic minister to visit the sick.
Bina sees herself as having the time now, and how right she is when she says “it’s precious time!” Her husband died a couple of years ago just before Christmas. From 1975, the two of them used to visit nursing homes, bring the Holy Eucharist to the elderly and infirm people. She says they greeted people of all faiths and spent a few moments with each one.
The residents “seemed to become alive when they received a smile or greeting from anyone.” On occasion she would be with people, praying the Rosary with them, right up to the end. She could not tolerate seeing a resident all alone in a room until they draw their last breath.
Bina is one of those people who is contributing to the spiraling cycle of goodness, bred of the Christmas spirit, born of that first Christmas.
Another example is an Irish sister by the name of Sister Patrick Theresa O’Leary. She died back in 1995, but her legacy lives on.
When the magic age of retirement beckoned, following years of teaching three generations of children at a Catholic school, Sister Patrick Theresa refused to call it quits. She had been visiting the county jail on and off for years, and in “retirement,” she offered to reinaugurate a prison ministry for the parish.
Sister edited a wonderful newsletter that went to the inmates each month entitled “Network for Re-Entry newsletter.” It was an attempt to stay in touch with the inmates, provide them with a little reading material, and prepare them for re-entering society one day.
In her Christmas message one year she reminded them that “Jesus doesn’t expect you to create a palace for him in your heart: remember he was satisfied with a manger in a cattle shelter. Be creative,” she wrote. “Build the best crib for him in your heart. Speak to him daily about your plans, hopes, and dreams. Get some help from Mary, his mother. Sometimes, if not always, Mother knows best what her son would like. She did give hospitality in her heart and womb before she brought him to birth in Bethlehem.”
Though Sister Patrick Theresa never wanted to go to the sisters’ retirement home, a bout with pneumonia led to a more disabling illness that forced her eventually to give up her prison ministry and her independence and enter the nursing home. On November 24, 1995, she was found dead on her knees next to her bed. Sister left a mark on all who knew her. I too will never forget her.
And a last example I would like to give of people contributing to the spiraling cycle of goodness bred of the Christmas event is a young man, Gene Hamilton, who died two hours after his specially approved ordination to the priesthood at the age of twenty-four. The Daughters of St. Paul carry a book on his life entitled “A Priest Forever,” written by Father Benedict Groeschel.
Gene had been struggling with cancer, and toward the end of his life, he didn’t have the strength to reach the chapel. Instead he would shuffle down the hospital corridor, dragging his IV and oxygen, and stop at fourteen different hospital rooms, designating each one of them as Stations of the Cross, and recognize in each patient the suffering, bleeding Savior on the Way of the Cross. He saw Christ in the sick. Others saw Christ in him.
That is the kind of spirit that is bred of a deep faith in the Christ of the first Christmas.
I know there are so many other examples, among people like yourselves of this spirit that offsets the spiraling cycle of animosity, violence hatred and war that are fomenting all around us. I like to say the animosity-index seems to be rising in our world, but so is the goodness-index.
When I first came to the Diocese of Charleston as your bishop, I began to describe the Church to you as being like a “lighthouse.” Jesus is the great light in the lighthouse. We are the fresnel lenses inside that reflect back the light or the building that hold up the light. We all have some role in keeping that light shining brightly so it can lead people safely to the shoreline of life, of eternal life.
That lighthouse, our church, has been taking a beating lately, and in some ways for good reason. The reason is that people have not always kept their lenses spotlessly clean to reflect back the light of the Great Light, Jesus Christ. Sin affects how well we reflect back that light. Personal sin. The light still shines. The truth is still there. The Way, the Truth, and the Life—Jesus Christ—remains central to our church.
It is we leaders and members of the church who need to stay close to and focused on Christ as holy witnesses to the light. Then our church will reflect its meaning a role as the bearer of the light to the nations, the light to the world, the bearer of Jesus Christ.
I received a book entitled, “The Ultimate Book of Lighthouses,” with pictures of lighthouses throughout the country. But you know, the ultimate book about lighthouses is not this one. It is the Holy Bible. And we as Catholics would add to that, our Catechism of the Catholic Faith.
In those books we find the ultimate descriptions of the ultimate answers to light, hope, happiness, and peace. And the ultimate experience of that great light, Jesus Christ, is here around the altar of the celebration of the Eucharist. We can’t do any better than what we are doing today to touch base with the great light.
There is a lot of darkness out there, but a lot of light as well. There is the Light of Christ, in us by Baptism, nourished in our souls through the other sacraments, and especially by the Holy Eucharist, the Light of Christ that is the center of our church, will not be extinguished ’til the end of time.
Let us stay close to him so that our individual lights and lenses and those of our Church, may reflect the great light that is Jesus Christ to the entire world.
A blessed, hope-filled and happy celebration of the Feast of Christ’s birth.