BY CHRISTINE HOGAN
A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine asked me how things were going. I replied without hesitation that I was looking forward to Midnight Mass. I had meant that I was longing to have a break from the everyday, but in that moment something happened.
I was transported to a series of breathless Brisbane December nights. I felt the steamy clamminess of the season there, and smelt the promise of thunderstorms in the darkness.
I could hear again the sound of toads croaking a midnight chorus in the gardens surrounding our family church – the one where we were christened, and married and eventually farewelled from.
At those Masses, the cares of the year fell away. As the sounds of the carols floated away above the earth-bound toads, we remembered the message of joy, and faith, and love, which is the essence of Christmas past, present and future. Memories of childhood and children, of loved ones gone and those still here, were summoned by both the thoughts of those late nights and the services themselves .
I was looking forward to it, this next midnight mass, to the choir and the organ music, to the peeling bells and the incense, to the flickering candles and being in communion with a church full of people, many of them strangers. Most of all, I was looking forward to wrapping myself in our foundation story, the glorious mystery of the Nativity.
And I was looking forward to it, too, because this is the bonus Christmas... Last Christmas, my family and I were beside my mother’s hospital bed, as she was doing her best not to die – that would spoil Christmas for a long time to come, she insisted – and to make it one which was, despite the sadness, as full of the important things as she could possibly manage... the love of family, the joy in each other despite the petty squabbles, and the sweet, silly memories and that more sinister ones – who can forget the Christmas Day my brother saved me from drowning off Mermaid Beach? – of our lives together.
Last Christmas Day, out of necessity, I went to the nearest Christmas service I could find. It was held in the half-finished foyer of an inner-city hospital, and outside of the pastor, her husband (he played the guitar) and their beautiful little girls, I was the only member of the congregation.
It wasn’t what I was used to in a great number of ways. But I was grateful to be so warmly welcomed by them, and to hear again the timeless story which underpins the faith of Christians of every stamp.
This bonus Christmas will be different again in its form. My mother is now is a high care facility, all marbles still intact, sense of humour still splendidly mordant. So we will go there to her, and appreciate that this might be an unusual sort of Christmas, the underpinnings remain constant.
And even though there is a tremendous sadness at a life reaching its conclusion, there is a wonder, too, that we have been given the great gift of another precious Christmas together.
There will be others not so fortunate this Christmas. Around the world, people will be suffering. What sort of Christmas are they having in Haiti? How are the Pakistanis, flood ravaged only a few months ago, doing? What about our own farmers who saw good winter rains produce bank balance boosting crops, only to see all their hard work washed away the weekend before Christmas?
It is difficult at this time of great joy to think of people living in terror and darkness. It has been particularly hard for many of us to get past the horror of refugees being dashed against the rocks of Christmas (of all places) Island.
And there will be more lost to their families over the holidays, with untold suffering and despair as a consequence. When disasters happen at Christmas, the horror seems somehow more dreadful.
But in the end, does the timing matter? None of us knows when or how the end will come. For some it comes quietly, calmly and peacefully, surrounded by family. For others, it comes painfully when they are alone and terrified.
What is no surprise is that death is coming for all of us, and our obligation is to do the business of life that needs to be done. Nothing should be left unsaid. In this sense, every Christmas is a bonus Christmas, an opportunity to say the things which need to be heard and felt, and to show the love which is the central message of the coming of Christ.
A happy, Holy and safe Christmas to you all.... and a wonderful holiday season with those you love and who love you.
Christine Hogan is the Publisher at Church Resources and moderates the wild west of the discussion boards of CathNews.
Disclaimer: CathBlog is an extension of CathNews story feedback. It is intended to promote discussion and debate among the subscribers to CathNews and the readers of the website. The opinions expressed in CathBlog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the members of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference or of Church Resources.