Such was my inner response to the unexpected blessings this Christmas brought.
‘Twas an Unfamiliar Christmas Eve
Florida is where my family spent Christmas this year. I was unhappy to leave my beautifully decorated Maryland home, but it was the right thing to do.
My mother is in assisted living - in Sarasota, where my husband hopes to retire soon. She cannot travel to visit us anymore, having lost the use of her left side in a stroke and being wheelchair bound. We had to fly out and visit her, because we're her only family in the States - everyone else lives in England.
It upset me that the closest thing to midnight Mass locally was at 10:30 p.m. Back home we have a true 12 o’clock Mass, but I reckon the older generation couldn’t stay up that late!
Offer up your sadness, I told myself. I expect Mary was a tad dismayed when she saw where her baby was supposed to sleep! And I bet she didn’t give St. Joseph a hard time about it, either. She will have smiled through her disappointment and focused on the positive.
When Christmas Eve dinner was over I reminded the family that I was going to ‘midnight’ Mass in half an hour.
My twenty-one year old son smiled. “Mum, I’ll come with you. It’s a tradition and it won’t feel like Christmas if I don’t.”
You can imagine how overjoyed I was to hear those words! Not wanting to set myself up for misery, I’d not even secretly hoped he would come.
Although this would have been the first year without his company, I’d been careful not to bring it up. He is no longer a regular church goer, which I pray will change. But he's too old to have his mother tell him what to think and do.
He pulled out the ironing board, and pressed a clean shirt to wear to greet Our Lord at His birth.
Graces, Godsends & Gratitude
The church was twenty minutes away, and while he drove, my son talked to me about personal things which don’t usually get discussed in the hurried life we lead. Another blessing.
I had forgotten about the carol service immediately preceding this Mass, and the parking lot was chock full. Yet we found a space and once in the building, were lucky enough to get two seats next to each other half way up the aisle.
The pews were just regular chairs, without any kneelers. During the times in Mass when Catholics would normally kneel, the congregation had to stand.
(I’ll skip over my aggravation - as soon as I’d sat down - at seeing a parishioner walk in with two large, takeaway cups of coffee. I deliberately looked no more in their direction, as I didn’t want to see whether or not they had the audacity to drink it during the service!! Judge not lest ye be judged, I told myself.)
My son remembered all the prayers and responses during Mass, which was another wonderful surprise. The priest then incensed the offerings, and after a short while that distinctive aroma reached us.
Ross beamed. “Ah! Now it’s Christmas!”
I was so grateful to God that my son still embraced Catholic tradition. I pray this will lead him fully back to the Church one day.
After Mass, as we were returning our hymnals, he noticed that a free book was being handed. The title was on my ‘to buy’ list: Rome Sweet Home by Scott and Kimberley Hahn. Another unexpected bonus, which I voraciously read over the next three days.
Merry Christmas to Us, and to Us a Good Night
Our cozy chats resumed during the trip back to the semi-darkness of my mother-in-law’s house, where everyone else had gone to bed.
Traditionally, after midnight Mass Ross joins me in a glass of mulled wine and we eat a minced pie each. Sadly, he was unable to do so this year, having been recently diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. God willing, he will share these things with me again next year.
Instead, we hugged and wished each other “Merry Christmas!” before he retired to bed.
In a happy daze, I sat alone at the little breakfast table, sipping my hot spiced wine and munching on a minced pie - baked in Maryland for this very occasion - past the hour of 12 a.m.
My heart was full as I pondered this evening’s miraculous events and contemplated Mary’s wonder on beholding her child in the manger that first Christmas night.