Happy memories of the Christmas season:
1.) At dinner on the Tuesday following Christmas, our family gathering was as full as it gets these days. My sister and brother-in-law hosted their five daughters and two of their spouses, all seven of their grandchildren, our friend Bishop Howard Hubbard and me. (I should add to the guest list Kathleen’s babe-in-womb, whom she will deliver in March).
Since it was the one day in the season when all 17 of us would be in Waterford together, Helen and Jim arranged for the dual celebration of a belated family Christmas and an early birthday celebration for Jane, who is a New Year’s Eve baby.
It was a great time. We feasted on spaghetti, meatballs and sausage and a wonderful array of desserts including Jane’s favorite birthday cake. It was a wonderful time to catch up with one another and to remember friends and loved ones who were not at table with us.
When the meal came to an end, we put our collective, close-to-40-year friendship with Bishop Hubbard to the test. We asked him to take a picture of our family.
Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? But think about it for a moment. Arranging 17 people so that we would all fit in the picture in some balanced way. Getting seven children 9 years of age or less to be still and face the camera, much less to say “cheese,” all at the same time.
Howard was patient through it all. He breathed a deep sigh of relief when he finally clicked away and lowered the camera with a contented smile. It probably wasn’t fair that we waited until then to ask him to repeat the process with four other cameras.
But, good sport and good friend that he is, he stuck with it, and I am grateful and glad that he did. I have already received a picture electronically and look forward to seeing the rest. By next week, I’ll have on my desk — many thanks to Howard — a framed copy of a photo that will bring me great delight all through 2006.
2.) It was a great joy to celebrate midnight Mass for the first time in our renewed cathedral. There was something deeply peaceful about it. The church was well-filled, and those who came participated prayerfully and joyfully in the caroling before Mass and in the liturgy itself. My only complaint is that I was so exhilarated by the celebration that I did not fall off to sleep until well after 3 a.m. on Christmas.
In the morning, I kept the tradition of all of my years here by celebrating a 9 a.m. Mass at the Monroe County Jail. This year, about 60 inmates — men and women — joined in the celebration. As you can imagine, it is not an easy time for them. But, they participate in the liturgy and pray in a way that always leaves me stronger in faith for having been with them.
Judy Greene, SSJ, who serves as Roman Catholic chaplain to that community, was present for the liturgy. One of the graces of the gathering for me was to notice the respect and affection shown Judy by the people whom she serves. Clearly her commitment and gifts make a big difference to them.
And I cannot forget the gentle and gracious ministry of Jesuit Father John Carriero, who celebrates Eucharist with the community twice a month.
Rounding out the assembly were a group of Sisters of St. Joseph who are there every Sunday to lead the music for liturgy and to pray with and for those who are serving time there.
Home. Our cathedral. The county jail. Three experiences interwoven with the Christmas Feast. Three memories that still inform, inspire. I am grateful for them all, and hope that you have received similar gifts these days.
Peace to all.