Christmas Eve here in Oceanside. A half hour of confessions in the early afternoon-–a nothing assignment compared with the hours we used to spend in the box in Chuuk and the afternoons of penance services on Pohnpei. Mass at 4 PM in a crowded church, with Christmas mass celebrated in two other locations at the same time. Here as everywhere there are crowds who haven’t seen the inside of a church in months, but people who seem to cherish even these occasional ties with the parish. The traditional Christmas hymns, a homily that tries to speak to our lives on the day after Christmas as much as on the day itself, and communions that seem to go on forever.
Right after mass a visit to the hospital here in town to see a woman with one leg amputated and another seemingly on the way. She asks for the sacraments, which she receives, but what she really wants is someone to talk to for a while. Christmas is lonely for her–no visitors, no gifts, no special Christmas meal. She is unmarried and estranged from her own family. She asks for the oils on her leg and the stump of the other, both of which pain her, and she chatters after the anointing is over. We talk for a while, but finally I have to leave her to her loneliness. There are some aches that prayers can’t remedy.
Fr. Rich Zanoni, an old buddy from Xavier High School days, is at the table when I get back to the rectory, so we chat for an hour or longer on the old times in Chuuk. He readily admits that, as mysterious as Chuuk seemed, his time at Xavier was one of the richest experiences in his life. When he goes to prepare for his 7:30 PM mass, I head upstairs to work on an article on FSM migration I’m writing.
Soon there’s a call that goes to me since I’m on duty. It’s a woman who sounds nervous and tells me that she’s worried about her marriage, about her child, about everything. She’s left the house and is trying to escape the bitter cold at Dunkin Donuts near the train station. A few minutes later, she and I are talking about her situation. She’s hungry but has no money, so I get her a sandwich and some donuts to take home with her. She’s warm and eating something but still confused on what she should do when she starts getting text messages from her husband. He’s sorry, she tells me as she looks up from her smartphone. After an hour I’ve run out of words anyway, so we say goodbye and she goes home to reconcile with her husband (I hope) and take care of her small child.
The Christmas song we all sing has it right: the world is weary alright. At least that little part of it that I’ve seen this evening. I hope that it finds some place in its heart to rejoice, at least for a little while tonight.