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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas message 2010

Yesterday morning, we had a Christmas party for the retreat house staff before they went home for their holiday vacation. It was a festive gathering as the retreat directors prepared a hearty brunch for the staff and their families. Throughout the morning of good cheer, light snowflakes blew delicately to the ground. A gentle wind made the flakes dance and swirl before landing on the bare ground. It gave us a preview of the white Christmas we long for. The purity of the snow makes us feel as if everything will be O.K. and that this Christmas will be like a happy day like the ones in our memories.

Throughout the day, the unexpected snow and winds picked up. Roads were slick and driving was somewhat dangerous. Fortunately, few cards were on the road. I think many people settled in early and enjoyed the safety of their homes. I drove a short distance to the blood collection center so I could give what may be perhaps a life-saving gift to someone.

Now I'm hunkered down in my room in a very silent retreat house. Guests are gone and I can hear the ocean's gentle roar. Occasional taps on my bedroom window tell me it is still snowing. A glance outside tells me the incremental snow will not pile up but that it will allow the earth to slumber. The lampposts cast a glow on the snow along the driveway that guides a person to the warm confines of this house. The presence of Christ is reserved in the adoration chapel directly below my room and his presence also recalls in my memory all the people who have graced the halls of this retreat house. We often say the prayers of retreatants are captured in our porous walls of wood. It thoughtfully holds their unexpressed longings. Though stillness deepens the silence, the stillness groans for its completion in God.

As I ready myself for Christmas, I am taking the time this week to appreciate the many stories I've heard during this past year. Finding time to listen to another's story is a profound gift to that person. I can't think of a richer way to live out my priesthood. I am enriched by a person's journey and his or her efforts to meet Christ along the way. With each story I hear, I find that I am more able to put on the mind and heart of Christ and to love the way God loves. I feel like I become a kinder, nicer man who can love more freely. I want to be in solidarity with those who are still searching, still seeking a more intimate relationship with God. I like who I am becoming.

I think of the powerful German movie "The Lives of Others" that shows the transformative power of listening. Lives are saved when we listen. We are forever changed.

I've listened to stories of many people across the world this year. I've developed a great affection for them and I want to honor them by remembering them well. I've directed many retreats and made my own 30-day retreat, which healed memories and opened my heart to Christ's abiding presence. I've grown in the ability to forgive others, and I hope this makes me more understanding and compassionate. I continue to be astonished with the miracles God has worked through my life. This week I intend to spend time recalling these significant events.

What do I want for Christmas this year? I want to hear more stories. The other day I passed by a shopping mall filled with thousands of people shopping for Christmas and I contrasted this with the 45 people residing at our retreat center. I want to hear their stories and I want them to hear the story of Christ. I want thousands more to come and spend time with the Lord. I want people to come and relate to God in a way that fits their unique style. May they discover Christ's presence in their lives as meaningful and satisfying.

I want people to be open to the possibilities of life. We close down too easily - often for petty reasons - and we shut out others with broad strokes. I want people to become enriched by others - by giving them positive regard, by honoring them and their positions (even if they fundamentally disagree), and engaging in a dialogue that allows a person to go beyond the words to deeper meaning and longings. We need this in partisan politics, in our fractured church, in our work and friendships, and in our broken families. When we give the gift of listening to one another, we create many new exhilarating possibilities for each other. We can see new potential and garner new hope when we allow Christ to liberate us from ourselves.

Our prayer can be flat or two dimensional. We think that our options are "either-or" instead of "both-and." We may go into prayer thinking that we want one thing and if Christ doesn't ratify what we want then he must not want us to have it. We lose sight of the fact that there might be ten other possibilities that we haven't yet considered. We can explore those nuances and dimensions that might further clarify God's will for us. Be open to new options that could surprise you. This openness will lead to greater satisfaction in your relationship with Christ. Conversations with your friends are not two-dimensional. Let your prayer conversation become as enriching.

Be bold enough to ask Christ for what you desire. As a child, you told Santa Claus what you wanted for Christmas and most of the time you received what you asked for. Try it out with Christ who is more generous than Santa Claus. It is not selfish or self-centered. Ask for what you want before your pray and check in at the end of prayer to see if you received the grace.

I want people to come to know Christ. He brings a lasting peace that we all want. He brings about a stillness within one's soul that helps make sense of all the swirling tumult of our lives. He brings about the real opportunity for us to be good and loving people who are generous and happy. He can do much more for us than we imagine.

Consider what our Christmas celebrations can be like if we can allow Christ into us as he would like. Our family gatherings could be meaningful, happy occasions marked with our listening to one another with respect and reverence. We will be delighted when it is reciprocated in return. If we listen for meaning rather than content, we become enriched and we develop a greater positive regard for the other. In honoring them, we become honored - and this is a tremendous gift.

If we can hear the stories of others and be moved by what we hear, imagine how our souls will be moved when the Word of God is born into the world and we listen to the soft voice that reaches out to us and tells us what we need to hear in the silent stillness amid the world's noise. Listening will fundamentally change you, and you will like it. I pray that I may grow in my ability to listen better to all who need to be heard.

Merry Christmas.


  1. Thank you for this. It is very moving to know that so many people have been helped by you and that your minsitry is so rewarding and that you are happy in what you do and where you are.
    Living in the UK, I am unlikely ever to get to your part of the world but I feel privileged to be able to receive your words here on the blog.
    I will take your words and reflect on them as there is much here as always.
    Godbless you; Peace and best wishes to you and all this coming Christmas.

  2. Thanks, Philomena. Thanks for your good words. I think I have been the one to be helped through my ministry. I have the honor and privilege of listening to many people.

    I was in London once and liked it very much. One day I will return there for a holiday.

    Christ's blessings and peace to you and your loved ones.

  3. Thanks for a beautiful Christmas reflection. Last year at this time I lost my voice, completely and utterly, and so spent the whole Christmas season listening. It was an unexpected gift, that spilled over into (silent) prayer. Thanks for the reminder to listen anew this year, to others and to God, even though my voice now carries to the rafters.

  4. Thanks, Michelle. I'm glad you have your voice back. I'm glad the silence was useful to you last year. It can be very instructive.

    Happy Christmas to you and your loved ones.

  5. You just mention it in passing, but your comment about giving blood reminds me of the time 25 years ago when I started making blood donations regularly. I've never read a theological reflection on blood donation, but if one starts with the text of the Anima Christi, or any focus on Christ's gift of his blood, it seems a strong encouragement toward willingness to share one's own blood, if it's possible.

  6. If you do come to the UK you are warmly invited to Cornwall ( in the far South West). We have surf and sea, wonderful beaches and coastline walks and a warmer climate than the rest of the UK although you wouldn't think so this winter !!

  7. Thanks, Philomena. One day I would like to go to St. Buenos retreat center as well. Cornwall seems like a nice place to be.

  8. Patricia, the comparison to the Anima Christi is marvelous. Well spoken. I always feel really good that my blood could save another's life.