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Monday, December 27, 2010

The Cross in Christmas, Not the Nightmare Before!

by Susan Fox
Larry, James and I celebrated the week before Christmas at Disneyland. Excessive rain and crowds made the trip a little tough and drippy. The Haunted Mansion ride has been redecorated as the Nightmare Before Christmas with Sandy Claws. What a parody of the truth! The ride is designed to instill fear within children about Christmas, while the true message of Christmas gives us hope and courage. So the highlight of the week for me was the sermon on courage at Sunday Mass at St. Boniface Catholic Church in Anaheim, Calif., on Dec. 19, 2010.

The sermon's setting was significant. I attended first grade at this school in 1959-60. It was two years after my father died, my mother had to work and I went to daily Mass so she could get to work early.

St. Boniface recently celebrated its 150th anniversary. It was 100 years old when I attended grade school there. I remember they said three Masses simultaneously on all three front altars in Latin. I always attended the left altar Mass. That sounds very funny now because Vatican II ended that practice. We have only one Mass said at one time. The left altar at St. Boniface has been replaced with the tabernacle and the right altar with the Nativity crèche.

The church had been redecorated since 1960. So in order for me to recognize it, I had to exit through the door behind the left altar and look at the steps as I remembered rushing down those, running for the bathroom when Mass was over. I suffered during those Masses as I always had to go to the bathroom, but I was too young and shy to realize it was okay to leave during Mass. Somehow the Catholic understanding of suffering had been explained to me at the age of six, so I offered my pain in union with the sufferings of Christ, and I embraced the cross. What a gift. In subsequent years, I sometimes fled the cross. It's never easy to face our fear and suffering.

When I attended St. Boniface, I'm sure that most of the people were white. Now they are mostly brown and of various nationalities. The priest who gave the sermon was Vietnamese. My husband greeted him in that language as he has made a point of learning some phrases from our Vietnamese friends.

Actually, the young priest was once a child who escaped Vietnam as a refugee in a boat. Literally, the man saying Mass at St. Boniface was one of those suffering boat people! The reading for the day was about St. Joseph. You remember he discovered that Mary, his betrothed was pregnant and he decided to divorce her quietly. Why? Because he knew he wasn't the father. But an angel came to Joseph in a dream and told him not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife as the child within her womb was conceived by God not by man. Hence the sign promised to King Ahaz was fulfilled: A Virgin shall be with Child.

Joseph overcame his fear and took Mary into his home, and hence he became the foster father and provider for the Son of God. And so there was suffering in that first Christmas, but Joseph overcame his fear and trusted in God.

The Vietnamese priest said when he was a little boy he was very afraid of the dark. And his family had a very dark cellar. One day his mother asked him to get a can of tomatoes from the cellar, and he told his mother he was afraid of the darkness in the cellar. She told him not to be afraid because Jesus was in the cellar. So the little boy descended the stairs and stood at the doorway of the cellar and yelled, "Jesus! If you are in there, please hand me a can of tomatoes."

He was trying to explain how we can be very afraid in certain situations, but we have to learn to trust God. Later, this priest as a young boy was in a boat escaping Viet Nam and there was a terrible storm. The waves were rocking the boat, almost overturning it. One little boy was almost dying with fear, and another was so relaxed he was almost asleep. The terrified boy asked the relaxed boy why he wasn't afraid. And he said, "Because my father is the pilot of this boat!"

If we could all realize that Our Father in heaven is the pilot of our boat perhaps we would relax more and enjoy this life. It is short.

But I was amazed that God arranged for a sermon on suffering in the church in which I had suffered! I felt like I died and came back to earth to see the changes. All the suffering seems to have paid off as the liturgy at the St. Boniface was absolutely lovely. The music and chant drew me into prayer instead of distracting me as it does in other local churches. That's why I enjoyed St. Boniface. In prayer, Jesus and I can return to the St. Boniface of 1959 and converse about old times. I always wondered what Moses and Elijah had to say to Jesus at the Transfiguration. I guess they were discussing the cross. The Bible says they were discussing Jesus' exodus from Jerusalem. Moses led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt in their Exodus. Jesus led us from the slavery of sin by His suffering on the cross - His exodus from Jerusalem.

I faced the dark cellar in 1959 when I attended Mass in suffering refusing myself access to a bathroom. The young priest faced his fears in a boat when he came to America to grow up and preach the gospel. St. Joseph faced his fears when he took a pregnant Mary for his bride. This year, I feel like I faced a similar fear when I nearly died and had heart surgery. This issue of fear and suffering plagues us our whole lives long. The solution is to trust in God and to realize He doesn't look at suffering the way we do. To Him, it's a means to fulfill our purpose in life - to know, love and be imitators of God, Who Himself suffered and died on the cross.

There is a famous Italian saint, called Padre Pio. He suffered the wounds of Christ in his hands, feet and head for 50 long years. He also fought with the devil - literally. One night as the devil was pummeling him yet again, he noticed his guardian angels were happily flying around the ceiling and singing. When the devil left he asked his good angel why he didn't help him fight the devil. The angel said he did fight -- by praising God. That's the difference between this life and the next. We glorify God with our suffering in this life and with our happiness and singing in the Presence of God in the next life. To believe otherwise would make us bitter, angry and resentful.

We adore thee O Christ and bless thee because by the Holy Cross, You have redeemed the world!

God bless you.
Susan Fox

1 comment:

  1. This commentary was excellent. Your visit to your old parish church was very touching. We attend the Cathedral of St. Helena in Helena, MT each year. Our reactions to the liturgy were very similar to yours. Music contributes to the liturgy so very much.
    Disneyland is a one-time experience for most adults. I avoid the children's gifts that have a Disney copyright, as their fees are exorb. I noticed that the buckets used by helicopters to drop slurry on forest fires have the name of Bambi buckets.... do you suppose that triggers a fee for Disney? Peace, Mary Carol