By Father Dan Dorsey
Our families have so many wonderful Christmas traditions! There will be different memories, though, of Christmas 2020. Sometimes our best memories are born in life’s surprises.
Life before COVID-19 takes on a dream-like quality for me. Before lockdown I would go to a local nursing home and celebrate the Eucharist. This home serves only those who have memory issues. Many attendees would seem to be asleep while others might talk constantly! One resident would continually try to blow out the altar candles. Another would stand up throughout the Mass and attempt to wheel fellow residents out of the room.
The thought crossed my mind more than once: What is the point of this?
However, over weeks and months of ministering at the home I began to love the people who attended. I realized that I was less concerned about how much they were comprehending. Their vulnerability touched my heart, and their fragility spoke to my life.
One afternoon just after the consecration I looked at each of the residents and my eyes were opened to see that in most ways I am no different than those who made up the tiny congregation. I may function at a higher level but the person in the wheelchair is me—for I am oftentimes confused, vulnerable, lost and “sleeping” through life.
It occurred to me how all of us yearn for a place to call home, how relationships are so vitally important in our lives and how the simplest gesture can bring warmth and comfort.
I knew then that the light, the clarity, the joy, and the hope of Jesus Christ was shining brilliantly into the darkest corners in that room, indeed into the entire home.
The mission of Glenmary is to go to the “forgotten and neglected” people in the rural sections of our beloved country—to leave the 99 and go in search of the one. I fondly recall my first Christmas as a priest—there was one person at Mass, and he wasn’t even Catholic! The setting was not in a magnificent cathedral but in a simple double-wide trailer.
One might ask, “Why?” Why would you leave the security and certainty of the 99 in search of the one?
Glenmary’s missionary ministry is similar in many ways to my experience of going to the nursing home and celebrating Mass. It is difficult and challenging and often there is little response from the people you serve. But then grace overwhelms, your eyes are opened, and you see the face of Christ in those you serve. It then becomes clear what a privilege it is to serve.
In this most unusual of times, when it seems we are swallowed up by darkness and confusion, let our gaze never stray from the Word, who is Jesus.
Jesus is one tradition whose presence can never be changed by the circumstances of time and place. In fact, in the darkest of times, his light shines the brightest. Merry Christmas!
This letter from Glenmary President Father Dan Dorsey first appeared in the Winter 2020 edition of Glenmary Challenge magazine.