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Christmas by the Bay

All Hearts Need Christmas

By Columban Fr. John Burger

The snow outside is tapering off. There is a Christmas concert on public television. Surely it is time for me to reflect as Christmas approaches.

This December finds me having turned 70, continuing my priestly and missionary life at St. Columban’s, Bristol, Rhode Island. I have been here since 2013 trying to make myself useful. I am now the priest in charge here. That really means helping with the practical and personal issues that come up. And a lot of them come up in a retirement home! Mainly, I devote my energy to helping to keep this a happy house for retired Columban priests. Of course, many of the priests in the community are here because they are dealing with declining health and the many challenges that brings.

As has become the custom, we have a real tree in the dining room and an artificial one in the common room upstairs. For the last couple of years the trees have been decorated by high school students from the area. They bring a lot of energy with them. Both teams had beautiful ornaments to work with. The lady who runs the yard sale at the annual bazaar, Rosemary Silva, received a donation of many unique and expensive ornaments. Since some of the ornaments we had were looking pretty worn, it was a timely gift.

Last year the boys went upstairs to do the common room’s silver and blue themed tree, and the girls took on the red and gold dining room tree. That tree has an oriental theme, appropriate for a house where so many of us have lived on the other side of the Pacific.

Without anything really being said, a bit of competition got going. Of course, the girls thought their tree would naturally benefit from their superior artistic sensibility. So I think everyone was surprised by the great job the guys did, though I understand they had some coaching. We’ll see who wins this year, although a few of the key girls have left for college.

Of course, the trees are not the center of our celebration. We shop for a variety of sizes and colors of poinsettias for the chapel. And in the midst of all that color is the stable: Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus, the shepherds and kings to remind us that even in a house of old priests, we need to allow our hearts to be tenderized by the Christmas story.

Columban Fr. John Burger lives and works in Bristol, Rhode Island.