Sunday, December 24, 2017

Fourth Sunday of Advent - December 24, 2017

Christmas, they say, is a time of miracles. So rather than trying to offer a spiritual or theological reflection, I would like to offer a true story from about 2002 or 2003. You are welcome to take a spiritual insight from this story if you’d like, or to see it as my Christmas miracle. At the time, I was pastor of Guardian Angels Parish in the West End. Guardian Angels is now part of St. Philip, which is part of our “grouping” in On Mission for the Church Alive.

As a background, I learned as a young boy serving mass that each priest had his own chalice, and it seemed that a priest’s chalice was an expression of his own personality. When I first started thinking of the priesthood, I thought a red chalice would be a good expression of the Blood of Christ. When I was in the seminary and getting close to ordination, I saw a chalice that I knew was what I wanted. It was a hammered gold with a black onyx node around the middle. I had just ordered that chalice when the priest who had first inspired me to the priesthood, Fr. Robert Murphy, told me that he wanted to pay for it so that it would be his ordination gift to me. In my first two assignments, I used that chalice for just about every mass. In my third assignment, I was in a merged parish with four different churches, so I got in the habit of using it only on Sundays rather than carrying it to a different church every day. I did the same at Guardian Angels, where we had two churches. Then I had a chance to buy a red chalice from a seminarian who had decided not to continue to the priesthood. I could then keep one chalice (the gold one) at our St. James Church and the other (the red one) at our St. Martin Church.

On December 18, one week before Christmas, I went into our St. James Church in the afternoon to set up for a Penance Service we were having that evening. When I got into the sacristy, I found a total mess. Someone had broken in and taken whatever he thought was of value. The chalice Fr. Murphy had bought me for my ordination was gone. We called the police, but I had very little hope of ever seeing that chalice again. One of my parishioners said she was praying to St. Anthony and that she was confident I would have it back for Christmas, but I didn’t get my hopes up.

At the time we had some Franciscan Sisters living in the former St. James rectory, and one of them was doing some last minute decorating in the church on the morning of Christmas Eve. There was a back hallway that we never used, and there was no reason for her to go back there. But she decided to see if any Christmas decorations might have been stashed there. Something shiny caught her eye, and she bent over to find my chalice. I suspect that the thief was walking out when someone came in to pray. He must have figured that it would be hard to explain why he was carrying a chalice. What was he going to say, “Someone said I could have this”? So he apparently threw it into the hallway and ran out. Meanwhile, there was no reason for Sr. Margaret Ann to go back there on Christmas Eve, but I think that St. Anthony must have pushed her in that direction.

I still use both chalices, but I will definitely use the gold one on Christmas. When you see it, know that I am very thankful for my own Christmas miracle. With that story, I offer my wishes to all of you. May you have a blessed and joy-filled celebration of Christ’s birth. And if God sends you a Christmas miracle, may it help you to remember how truly blessed we all are.                                      
                                                                                             Father H