Chaplain's Comments

It was a nativity play at a Catholic primary school where all the parents of third graders were there. The teacher who organized the play had trouble with the boy who was playing the innkeeper because he had his heart set on playing St Joseph. Rehearsals had not gone well, but she was sure everything would be fine in the performance.

As Mary and Joseph knocked at the inn, the innkeeper gruffly yelled out, 'Who's there? "Joseph, and my wife Mary", came the reply. The innkeeper did not budge, so Joseph knocked again. The innkeeper barked, "Who's there?" Joseph, and my wife Mary," came the reply. The little innkeeper put his head around the door and blurted out, "Mary and the baby can come in, but Joseph, you go to hell."

With that, Joseph burst into tears, the shepherds bashed up the innkeeper and the three wise men started attacking the children who were inside the camel costume. The teacher said, "This wasn't the way it was supposed to go," and it took ten minutes to restore peace.

Reflecting on this nativity play, everyone thought it was human and real. For long enough we have cleaned up Christmas too much. The original Christmas must have been a terrible messy affair. After travelling for days in the last month of her pregnancy, the nineteen year old Joseph has to help his fifteen year old wife have a child in a cave where the smell of animals must have been shocking. This is far from the sanitized image we have on our cards or that we sing in our carols.

The Gospel on Christmas day tells us that God is Emmanuel. God meets us as we are and leads us to find the way to a life that has meaning and purposes and prepares for eternal life. No matter if we are sadly alone, or with family, if this happy time of year, or a stressful one, if there are fights at Christmas lunch or you have a great reunion of relatives and friends, as a result of the first Christmas, God meets us in our human reality.

Today also challenges the excessive money we spend and the excessive food and drink we consume to celebrate this feast. Nothing could be more inappropriate in marking the moment when Jesus crept in beside us. The real and long lasting way we celebrate Christmas every day is recognizing that as followers of the babe of Bethlehem we are sent to bring God's life to bear in our world, be it at home, at school, at work, with friends, in ordinary places, or even in the midst of utter chaos.

Most families are about being generous, loving, stable and faithful. They stand for security, roots and identity. Our world needs stable, strong families, more than ever before.

Families, however, also fight, can be envious, they break up, are under pressure from all sorts of social lobbies, and tragically the family home is the most common place for physical and sexual abuse in our society.

So what's the secret? Family's studies tell us that forgiveness is the key. In our complex technological digital age, with Facebook, Twitter and email on the iPad, iPhone, laptop or Kindle, no one can pretend that forgiveness is easy or that it is magic wand we wave over deep hurts and harsh words.

True forgiveness does not deny reality, it deals with it. One can deal with it in the practise of mindfulness the practice of maintaining conscious awareness of your mind. You try to get a grip on what your mind does during a seated meditation. Mindfulness has been touted by the internet generation's way to fight modern overstimulation. Mindfulness could become the "God time" and the hours in between reading, 'Agatha Christie time' and 'pub time'. But alone in the silence it becomes impossible to separate God from anything. Each moment offers us a window into where God has been in your day.

But forgiveness is necessary if we are going to follow Jesus. It is also necessary if we want to enjoy a happier family life style. Revenge and spite, so endemic in society, are the antithesis of what Jesus taught and lived out. When things get tough this Christmas with people checking their mobile phone 34 times a day, some double it, and in some houses, they have perfected the art of watching television, eating dinner, holding aggressive conversations and keeping one eye on social media at the same time. Then we need a blinding moment of enlightenment to snap into a spiritual shape. It could just be a few seconds when the mind had "tuned in".

As Daniel O' Leary puts it; "To be vulnerable is to become authentic and to tell the truth about our real motives, our fears, our terrors. To bring our spirituality of mindfulness into our bodies, into our lived experiences, is to be very vulnerable indeed. It is also to become free".

The present moment is where life can be found, and if you don't arrive there, you miss your appointment with life. My appointment with John XXIII College has been a fruitful experience in my journey as a Jesuit and I give thanks to God, for teachers, parents and students for giving me this opportunity to support and affirm our Catholic faith in the Ignatian tradition of finding God in all things. Parting will always bring pain to those involved as in death. As Henri Nouwen used the figurative analogy of acrobats leaving their circus swings and flying through the air and being caught by the catcher. Christ is our catcher and at such moments as transfers and new beginnings in places where the need is most, we have to let go and be caught.

May Grace and Radiance awaken in our imagination to what is true, deep, gentle, and beautiful in life and bless our families with the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, courage to change the things we can, and wisdom to know the difference.

May we welcome the Christ child and pluck courage to tell our families we love them. And when we profess our love for our families we get to glimpse the joy holiness can bring and respond to all we meet with compassion because that is precisely what God did for us in Jesus.

Happy Christmas and a Joy filled New Year!

Fr Gaetan Pereira SJ
College Chaplain