by Fr. David May.
Saturday morning is cleaning day in my part of Madonna House, otherwise known as "The Main House." I have a hallway to vacuum, a bathroom to clean, and then my office and bedroom to do. I usually look forward to it: it’s nice to do something with such clear-cut results!
Run that ear-deafening vacuum cleaner over the rug, and voila, the dirt disappears, and the rug looks a little brighter. Use a bit of cleanser, disinfectant, and soapy cleaner in the bathroom, and it takes on a fresh smell and a bit of a shine.
Vacuum, dust-mop, and dust the office and bedroom, and do some filing to complete the task—and you get a sense of order restored and a certain measure of domestic tranquility.
I like to clean on Saturdays because it’s the day before we celebrate the Resurrection. It’s a simple way of preparing oneself for the coming of the Risen Lord as he comes to us at the sacred liturgy on Sundays.
The place looks a little bit "dressed up" for the coming of such a Distinguished Visitor. Top that off with the weekly shower on Saturday night—and one is all but ready for the Kingdom!
However, none of my weekly efforts even remotely compare to what is done here in The Main House for the coming of Christ at Christmas.
Baking by both men and women goes on to the late hours of the night for several weeks before the great feast. The smells waft their way upstairs where I live and work, causing some distraction from other duties such as spiritual direction or writing Restoration articles or trying to get to sleep before midnight.
And because of the way Restoration is put together, in December I’ll be trying valiantly to think up an article about Lent or Holy Week—something on the symbolism of ashes or the hidden meaning of the color violet perhaps. We are always about two months ahead of ourselves when we write articles for the paper. It’s all very unsettling.
Then there is the gargantuan Christmas Cleaning Operation that takes place down below, downstairs from my office and bedroom, an operation which dwarfs my very best Saturday morning efforts.
Those gauzy white curtains on the windows are removed, washed, straightened out somehow, and re-hung.
Some years, the thousands of library books that fill the dining room shelves are dusted. (Other years they are done after Christmas.)
Of course, not much can be done with the windows after autumn due to the freezing conditions, but the floors are scrubbed, and secret corners that harbor cobwebs and spider webs and dust devils are duly exorcised, wiped, and shined up.
All of this is but a preparation for the next project, which has a deceptively simple one-word title: Decorating.
Decorating in The Main House has to do with making sure that there is not a single square centimeter or inch that does not speak somehow of the glory the earth experiences through the birth of our Savior.
This means that lights, banners, a tree or two, greens, baubles, tinsel, drapery, crèche sets, angels and stars made of straw, dolls and donkeys made of anything and everything, and eventually real poinsettias as well as a couple of artificial ones suddenly multiply themselves everywhere in the house—in the kitchen, the back porch where the dishes are done, the little library, main library, the stairwell leading up to the reading room over the dining room, the reading room itself, the adoration chapel.
There are at least 59 crèche sets of one kind or another, by my own careful count. (Crèche sets are what we always called in America: the stable, including Jesus, Mary, Joseph, a manger, animals, a star, an angel, etc.)
The end result of all this is that it is practically impossible to not notice that something special happens at Christmas.
And that "something special" appears to have had religious connotations, judging by the themes chosen room by room and corner by corner, all having to do with the glorious fact of the birth of Jesus Christ in our midst.
He is presented by God and by the Church as the divine answer to the darkness that curls itself around every human heart.
Our house, which also has lights and greens over the door and a candle burning in the window, cries out from very crook and crevice: "Christ is born! Glorify him! Be of good cheer!"
We have learned through the years that the considerable and burdensome problems of our age, not to mention the darkness that lurks within each of us, is best overcome by rejoicing like a child in God’s gifts.
This is not as easy as it might seem. First, it takes a lot of effort to maintain and dust 59 crèche sets.
It takes tremendous energy to put on beautiful festive meals, to pray longer, sing more, imbibe rich food and drink, stay up later celebrating, and do all the dishes so that everything is in readiness for the next festive meal a few hours away.
Even more, it requires quite an effort, even heroic at times, to rejoice in God’s gifts when inside or around oneself, those gifts do not seem very effective in resolving what troubles us: sadness, injustices, sickness, loss of loved ones, irresolvable problems, unemployment, war and crime, disintegrating family values, etc.
All the same, celebration of God’s gifts is the cure for what most deeply ails us: the conviction that we are abandoned by God through our sins and/or his displeasure.
The heart is renewed in hope because the truth greater than all this world’s sad "truths" is that God is with us.
And since the mercy of God has embraced each one of us and all of us together in the coming of his Son, there is always a way through, always the possibility of a changed heart, sincere repentance, and other miracles. In short, there is hope.
And it is celebration that assures us that this hope is true. Hope that Love will ultimately prevail, and that resurrection in Christ will one day heal every wound and turn every suffering united with his into a glorious offering that was not wasted, but placed in the treasury of the world to come, like brightly shining jewels.
Or more mundanely, like the brightly colored Christmas lights glowing bravely on the tree in our front yard overlooking the partially frozen Madawaska River.
They look best when fresh snow lays heavily around them, multiplying their color a thousand-fold and magnifying their brightness in the long winter’s evening.
In its own way, every Christmas tree cries out that the Tree of Life, the Cross, is brilliant with a mystery we only dimly fathom on this earth.
Well, that’s what occurs to me when on December nights I gaze out my bedroom windows overlooking the river and that Christmas tree.
As long as we choose to clean up things a bit and to decorate, to put on our best clothes and to celebrate his Gift in prayer and in festival, our hearts will not forget his great promise: I am with you always, until the end of time (Mt 28:20).
That reminds me: before Christmas, I must remember to dust off the 45 framed photos of Madonna House priests on my office wall, not to mention the one of St. John Vianney and that of Catherine Doherty. Then there’s that end-of-the-year filing I should do to be really ready…
Blessed Christmas to you all!
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