When I joined the Columban Lay Missionary orientation program in 2002, I knew that my decision entailed a lot of letting go. I knew that there will be special occasions at home that I would miss. This includes one of the most important gatherings, a time to be home, a time with family during Christmas. Since 2003, I have only spent two Christmases with my family: 2009 and 2016. Sadly, 2009 was my mom's last Christmas before she passed away.
For millions of Filipinos, Christmas is a celebration of the family. They come together from around the world; they delight in the togetherness and sharing of respect. They honor the aged, bless the children, and feed the hungry. They fill the churches with light, song and festival, and they have joyful celebrations. They recall the story of that astounding child who became the greatest person to influence the history of the human race for the good.
I am standing in the center of the spacious main hall, the atrium, of the new Preda children's home for girls. The light from the transparent roof throws its soft and gentle light on the children playing nosily, shouting in glee. They are happy, running about, playing games, and laughing, cheerful and joyful. They had a sumptuous Christmas dinner and gifts and new clothes. They are the lucky ones to have found refuge and protection and a chance to start their childhood over.
They come at evening, scenes from far away, The bitter-sweet of absence and of love, When memory opens her halls of yesterday, And draws her shuttered curtains from above.
Taken from the poem Mission Memories by Columban Fr. John McFadden (1894 – 1978), these lines capture his bittersweet mood as he prepares to celebrate Christmas back home in the U.S. after many years in foreign mission lands. During the long December evenings, memories of Christmas celebrations in those far away places flood his heart, bringing joy and sadness, tears and smiles.
As Christmas approaches, many people have similar experiences. At unexpected moments, memories of a childhood Christmas gift
I was reading a Biblical reflection when word came that my niece's baby had just been born. The author of the reflection pointed out that the first sound we hear in the Bible is God breathing in the darkness. My thoughts wandered to my niece's baby breathing in the darkness for nine months. Gradually I came to realize that both mysteries are related.
Today I officiated the wedding of my sister Karen, who is a talented nurse, to her forever Dodo, who is who is a mechanical engineer. In all the eight years they were together before the wedding, I only met the groom on the day of their wedding! I told him that I would listen to his confession before the wedding. The day was filled with love from both families. Marriage in the Philippines does not just bring two individuals, but two families are brought together.
This evening, I had a good chat with Sukh Deo as we drank yaqona together. Sukh Deo is Hindu, but his wife and children are Catholic. They live in an interior settlement, far from town. He is always pleased when a priest visits the family, and he sits respectfully and meditatively during the prayers. As we chatted about old times, he was reminded of an unusual cure that took place in his village when he was a boy.