In these very difficult times, it is understandable that people want to attend Mass and especially at Christmas. There is a huge desire to worship on the feast of the birth of Our Lord, even by those who come to church occasionally or only on this day. However, it looks like it may not be possible for everyone this Christmas given the pandemic and our concerns for the safety of people who want to come to church and for those with whom they are in contact.
This Christmas, might we say that the Church is deployed, is out there in the community bringing hope and care, especially to the lonely, to older people who live by themselves and to the most vulnerable. Of course, many people are already doing this everywhere – loving Jesus in the disguise of their fellow men and women. We remember His words; “Whatever you do to the least…, you do to me”.
May I suggest that this Christmas our pastors and Church-leaders deploy us officially to celebrate the birth of Christ with prayer at home, because, He told us; “Where two or three of you are gathered together in my name there am I among you.” We would put prayer into action by seeking out and serving our sisters and brothers, particularly those who have nobody to spend Christmas with. We would do this carefully and safely using all the guidelines at our disposal. We could bring cards, gifts or something to eat to someone’s door, to a stranger or a neighbour. We might pray with them also, if they would like that. What a witness to faith that would be! Connection, relationship, the sacrifice of love; all of which we celebrate in the Eucharist. At the Last Supper, before He broke bread and shared the chalice with His disciples, Jesus washed their feet and told them to do this also for others as a sign of their love for Him. Perhaps this year, this Christmas, we, the Church might Wash Feet and forgo the Table, just this once.
We will have Christ in the Eucharist again and worship will recommence when it is safer. We need not be afraid… for “I am with you always…”, He said. This year we might intentionally look for Him in the discarded and the distressed, within our faith-communities and beyond them; seek Him out on our streets and in the suburbs of our cities, in the countryside and in our towns and villages where He waits for us; waits for love and companionship. Bethlehem could be just a few doors away where someone on their own waits to be recognised as the vulnerable Christ waited to be recognised by shepherds and strangers bearing gifts.
Pope Francis wrote in ‘Rejoice and Be Glad’: For in every one of our brothers and sisters, especially the least, the most vulnerable, the defenceless and those in need, God’s very image is found.
The buildings may be empty but the Church, the Body of Christ is deployed; alive in love and service… and the world waits.
Fr. Adrian Peelo, OFM
(This letter was originally sent to a Catholic newspaper in Ireland. Fr. Adrian Peelo, OFM was an Associate Pastor at our San Luis Rey Parish from 2008 for almost eight years. Currently, he lives at the Franciscan Friary in Galway, Ireland. He can be reached at email@example.com)