Sunday, December 25, 2016
Dear friends of Old St. Patrick’s Church,
This Christmas weekend, we come together in this historic church where the mysteries of the Nativity have been celebrated continuously on this street corner of Adams & Desplaines since 1856.
Generations of families, all of whom immigrated to this land from around the world (most of the early settlers from Ireland), came to this holy place to give thanks to God for the Birth of Jesus and likewise the gift of our Faith. As you stand in this church today (or in the gym, cafeteria, or hall, as the case may be!), imagine just for a moment the person of faith who stood where you’re standing 20, 30, 50, or over 100 years ago! How blessed and grateful are we to be standing here on this Christmas Day celebrating in Word, Sacrament, and Song the treasured heritage of our Catholic faith that our ancestors handed on to us. Imagine, if you will, those moms and dads who stood with their children teaching them to sing O Come All Ye Faithful, Joy to the World, The First Noel, and all the other sacred sounds of the Christmas season. With all of you today, I not only give thanks to God for my parents and grandparents, but I am recommitting myself to handing on the beauty and hope which faith brings to the young people whose faith life I am responsible to help form.
Back in November I presided at a wonderful wedding for Alison and Joe. I had known Alison since she was a kid in the 8th grade class and the one student whom I had to drive home from the class trip to Great America because she was having an asthma attack on a cold, lousy day in May, 1996. When Joe and Alison met with me, I asked them a question I ask most couples preparing for the Sacrament of Marriage, “What from your own parent’s marriage would you like to bring with you into your own?”
Among the many customs and values Alison talked about, the one she mentioned that stood out for me was her reflection on the Christmas creche in their family home. She said that to this day, to this day, her mom sets up the Nativity scene near the front door of their home as a reminder of the importance of the Christmas message. Alison said that this custom is something she would like to continue in her new home with Joe. I love it. It’s much like “our house” here at Old St. Pat’s. The baptismal font is established as the first thing you see and literally bump into when you enter this sacred space. Why? Because the baptismal font and the simple gesture of blessing ourselves with holy water is the gentle reminder of who we are and who we are called to be as disciples of Jesus when we come in and when we leave this house of prayer.
The theologian Joan Chittister once wrote: “Every year of life waxes and wanes. Every stage of life comes and goes. Every facet of life is born and then dies. Every good moment is doomed to become only a memory. Every hope dims and every possibility turns eventually to dry clay. Until Christmas comes again. They we are called at the deepest, most subconscious, least cognizant level to begin to live again. Christmas brings us all back to the crib of life to start over again!!
What a great insight, Christmas indeed brings us all back to the crib of life to start over again. I hope and pray that you see this Christmas 2016 as yet another invitation to start over again. Let this entry into this house of prayer serve as a simple invitation and reminder that our lives of faith can always start over again. Though we stand in a historic church where many others have stood who came before us for many many years, we realize that family life is different; the church is different; the city has changed; the country is certainly different; and the culture of faith has shifted dramatically. Generations come and go and we may have countless memories of how Christmas “used to be.” Today, let the crèche and our celebration of Christmas in our Roman Catholic Tradition help to reimagine how we can start our lives as disciples over again. My prayer this Christmas is that just as the Star guided several of those first followers to the crib of New Life in Jesus, that same Star will lead us in 2016 to the crib of Hope, Love, and Peace for our city, our world, and our church.
I am overjoyed and thrilled and deeply grateful that all of you are here with us today. Thank you for choosing Old St. Pat’s as your place of worship to celebrate Christmas today. And to all of you who are traveling to be with relatives in other parts of the world, and you may be reading this later, Thank You! Old St. Pat’s is a really special place because of the people who find their way here, many of whom are trying to ‘start over.’ All are welcome in this holy place!
Peace and Blessings to all of you this Christmas and throughout 2017!
Father Thomas J. Hurley, Pastor