Every year I get a Christmas card from Darryl in which he encloses a personal little reflection about experiences of the past year or the meaning of Christmas. His comments are always beautifully written and insightful, profound even, and this year was no exception.
He begins with this: “Did you ever wonder if you were relevant? I mean with the population of the world as much as it’s ever been. So many people are born and die every year. There were so many natural disasters of late that life seemed to disappear en masse. And then there are so many forgotten people.”
My friend continues: “Even if we don’t have extreme misfortune, our insecurities plague us. We think we’re somehow ignored – sometimes forgotten. Relationships never live up to our expectations. We just want to be appreciated and listened to. How cool would it be if we were famous?”
Darryl goes on to relate his experience of looking up into the absolute darkness of the night sky during a local power outage. “The black canvass of the sky was painted with the three dimensional masterpiece bursting with planets, moons, stars and galaxies! God’s ebullient creativity was on display – just for me. And it was in that darkness I was made aware of my smallness, but stood in awe of my relevance all at the same time.”
Darryl’s reflections hit home for me in the wake of several pastoral visits I made during the Advent/Christmas Season. These visits included nursing homes and assisted living facilities of the Diocese, the Zambarano State Hospital, and the Emmanuel House shelter for the homeless. In these communities I found lots of people who, but for the care and assistance provided for them, could easily become the “forgotten people” Darryl mentions.
During my pastoral visits to the nursing homes I met with elderly folks in the twilight of their years, some with physical limitations but mentally alert. Others were completely mobile but imprisoned by dementia. Some were supported by loving and attentive families; others were not. Some were pleasant and fun to be with; others were not.
At Zambarano I visited folks with long-term disabilities, completely paralyzed, unable to move or respond in any visible way, lying in a bed or sitting in a wheelchair, totally dependent on the care of others. Some have been that way for decades; others have decades of profound disability and struggle still ahead of them.
And at Emmanuel House I met individuals, male and female, young and middle-aged, whose personal weaknesses or unplanned misfortunes had rendered them homeless. Some had struggled mightily and lost their battles with addiction or mental illness. Some had traveled that road and were now recovering, one day at a time. Without Emmanuel House and other places like it, they would have been sleeping on the street that cold winter’s night.
I came away from my pastoral visits, first of all, really inspired by the wonderful work of the staff and volunteers of those facilities. I visit on occasion and everyone makes a big fuss over the presence of the Bishop. But the staff and volunteers work hard all the time, with little or no compensation or public recognition, to provide meals, healthcare, and shelter – along with friendship and support – to their brothers and sisters in need.
In seeing the work of these Good Samaritans, I thought of the words of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta who said, “What the poor need the most is not pity, but love. They need to feel respect for their human dignity, which is neither less nor different from the dignity of any other human being.”
The staff and volunteers I met during my visits are indeed instruments of God’s love and human dignity for their brothers and sisters.
But there’s another lesson to be learned from the folks I visited, and this relates to Darryl’s question about relevance, and the lesson is this: Because we’re created in the image and likeness of God, no human person is irrelevant. We are all His children. We carry within us the spark of divinity and we are destined for eternal life.
The elderly, the disabled, the homeless – are not irrelevant in the sight of God.
The poor, the hungry, the unemployed – are not irrelevant in the sight of God.
The immigrants and refugees who have come to this land to secure a better life for themselves and their families, with or without proper documentation – are not irrelevant in the sight of God.
The prisoner, languishing for many years in a jail cell, even the one convicted of the most heinous of crimes – is not irrelevant in the sight of God.
The unborn child, conceived in a variety of circumstances, considered a problem by his parents and a burden by society – is not irrelevant in the sight of God.
The homosexual teenager, struggling with his identity, longing for understanding and acceptance – is not irrelevant in the sight of God.
I’ll let Darryl conclude my reflections . . .
“It was out of love that the universe was created. And it was out of love that Christ was born so long ago in darkness, in the still cold of winter. The first Christmas was made known by a bright light in the dark sky . . . If you are wondering about your place in the world – find a dark night and ponder your infinite worth in the eyes of God. Regard the stars that were created just for you.”