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It might surprise you, but one of the greatest joys I experience as Archbishop of New York is visiting men and women in prison. It’s something I try to do several times a year in order to hear confessions, celebrate Mass, spend some time with the inmates.
And, I hope, remind them that they are not forgotten, that Jesus – himself a prisoner – will never abandon them. Their faith in a loving and merciful God never fails to inspire me.
POPE FRANCIS WARNS YOUNG PEOPLE NOT TO BE TEMPTED BY CONSUMERIST SIRENS
A prisoner behind the jail cell bars .
Last week I had the privilege of visiting a home in the Bronx, run by the Jesuits, for men who have been recently released from prison. These men on parole are all currently attending college in order to get their degree and break the chokehold which sees so many former inmates returning to old habits and eventually to prison.
It may seem odd to begin a column about the joy of Christmas by reflecting on prisoners and parolees. But in each of my visits to a prison, and with these college students, I find that they are men and women who know something that, sadly, many of us seem to ignore or forget: that the first step to any recovery and renewal is to admit, “I’m broken and need fixing! I need help! I need rescue!”
In religious language, that all translates, “I need a savior!” Which, of course, is what Christmas is all about.
This past year has had more than its share of difficulties, hardships, and moments of doubt, hasn’t it? The effects of the ongoing pandemic, continued partisan political gridlock in Washington, supply chain issues, the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, natural disasters like the tornadoes which ripped through Kentucky and my home region of the Midwest earlier this month, are just a few of the events that have left us feeling hopeless, bewildered, and, at times, even afraid of what the future might have in store.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan speaks during the traditional Ash Wednesday service, at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, in New York, Feb. 17, 2021. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, even nature seems to be conspiring against us, as we experience these shortest days of the year. We might be tempted to despair, thinking that the darkness – both literal and figurative – has won.
Instead, we can be consoled and strengthened by the words of the Angel who appeared to the shepherds that first Christmas night: “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord” (Luke 2: 10-11).
St. Patrick’s Cathedral at Christmas
There it is: our assurance that Jesus, our Savior, has been born. The despair, darkness, and death have been replaced by hope, light, and life! (Our Jewish neighbors share this faith in light conquering darkness in their annual commemoration of Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights.)
Christmas is more than a celebration of a historical event that occurred 2,000 years ago in a stable in Bethlehem. Rather, Jesus is reborn each day, at every Mass, as bread and wine are transformed – transubstantiated – really and truly into the body and blood of Christ.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, in 2015.
(REUTERS/Robert Sabo/Daily News/POOL)
Today, many millions of Catholics who ordinarily don’t attend Mass will visit their parish churches to celebrate Christmas, and we’re sure glad they do. Please, God, may many be inspired to recognize how much they need a Savior, that spirit of Christmas, every day, and will once again make attending Sunday Mass a weekly habit!
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I’m not generally big on Broadway musicals – my taste runs more to country music – but one song that has always stuck with me is “We Need A Little Christmas” from “Mame.” Can you recall it? “We need a little Christmas, right this very minute…For I’ve grown a little leaner, grown a little colder…and I need a little angel, sitting on my shoulder, Need a little Christmas now!”
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Yes, we all need a little Christmas – we all need a savior – right now! We’re all in jail, and need a powerful friend to get us out, to make us free. A blessed, joyful, and merry Christmas to all.
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