God's Present to Us

Fr. Timothy Mulroy

From the Director

By Fr. Tim Mulroy

Like the majority of Columban missionaries, it is usual for me to spend the Christmas season far from my family. For many years I had dreamt of the joy that I would experience if I could go home just once and join with family members for Mass at our local church, then gather together around the dinner table, and later exchange gifts. In my dreams it was going to be a nostalgic celebration filled with fun and laughter. However, a few years ago when I did have the opportunity to spend Christmas at home, it turned out very differently from my dreams.

In late November of that year my mother suffered a major stroke that left her critically ill. I rushed home to say a final goodbye to her. However, during the next few days her condition stabilized, though she remained seriously debilitated. She could not move, speak, eat or drink. She was totally helpless. It was heartbreaking. However, my family was grateful that she seemed to recognize us and understand to some degree what was happening around her.

As Christmas approached, my mother’s condition remained the same, so some family members arranged to have her favorite carols played and her hospital room made festive. On Christmas morning I celebrated Mass there with just my mother and my sister, Helen, present. When I gave my mother a tiny part of the sacred host, her face radiated a childlike joy. My sister and I spent the remainder of that day sitting by her bedside, chatting to one another at times, listening to hymns at times, but mostly soaking up the silence.

That Christmas Day, seeing my mother severely paralyzed made me feel deeply sad and very helpless. Since I could not fix the situation, I had to accept things as they were. Since I could not busy myself doing this or that, I tried to be truly present to her. However, by simply being together, we became a source of support, comfort and peace for each other. Indeed, I had a profound sense of gratitude that, rather than being thousands of miles apart, we could be together and hold each other’s hand. Besides, we were grateful that Jesus had come to be with us that day.

That experience led me to a deeper understanding of Christmas as the celebration of Emmanuel, meaning God-with-us. The Word of God became flesh in order to share firsthand the hopes and struggles, as well as the joys and sorrows of the human family. The Son of God came into our world not to fix our problems, but rather to be by our side as a friend who gives us support, consolation and peace as we face the challenges of life.

That Christmas season I came to realize that Jesus’ presence among us is God’s present to us, which we in turn share with others by being present to them.