[This is a re-post of my Christmas message 2011, the year I started my blog.]
My parents were not church-goers. They never forced me and my four siblings, baptized in the Roman Catholic Church, to attend Sunday Mass. But they made sure we got a good Catholic education by sending us to schools run by the nuns.
As a result of my religious school education, the Christmas Season was much more than time for family get-togethers; Santa Claus; exchanging presents; Christmas trees and decorations; and our traditional Christmas dishes and black cake. Christmas Day was the celebration of the birth of Jesus – the Savior born to us.
The Christmas Novena was an essential part of preparing for the coming of our Savior. During nine days before Christmas Day (December 15-23), I had to get up at four o’clock in the morning to be sure to get a good seat at the five o’clock Novena Mass. A religious custom of the early Portuguese immigrants from Madeira, the Novena has become a part of Guyana’s Catholic tradition.
I recall walking through drizzle towards the rear entrance of our parish church. The raindrops, slanted by the wind, glistened in the light streaming from the large open doorway of the church. When I entered the church, the choir in the alcove overhead, was singing Bemdita Sejaes, the traditional Portuguese hymn to begin the Novena Mass. I did not know what the words of the hymn meant, but it filled my soul with joy.
Christmas Eve Night, at 11:00 p.m. before the Midnight Mass, was the time for the highlight of the Christmas Season: the live enactment of the Nativity of Jesus at Sacred Heart Church on Main Street. (The church, built and funded by the Portuguese immigrants in 1861, burned to the ground on 25 December 2004.)
The year of my first son’s birth, the parish priest at Sacred Heart Church invited me and my husband to play the roles of Mary and Joseph. Our two-month-old son played Baby Jesus. Lying in the manger, he slept through the entire performance. I was relieved. Even a young angel, as she cuddled him at the end of the pageant, did not succeed in waking him.
As recorded in the Gospel of Saint Luke, on the night that Jesus was born, an angel appeared to shepherds guarding their sheep to tell them the good news. “Do not be afraid,” the angel told them. “Today…a savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.”
Our planet is in dire need of a Savior. Christ our Savior empowers me to keep up the struggle in the face of injustice, adversity, and hopelessness… and to triumph.
Christ our Savior empowers us with love. Regardless of our religion or non-religion, love runs deep in the heart of each one of us. Let us manifest love. Love conquers all.