“GOOD NEWS OF GREAT JOY WHICH SHALL BE TO ALL PEOPLE!”
“Tell me some good news,” I found myself saying frequently during the past weeks. Too many stories of tragedy, violence, callousness, illness, death, dreams dashed, efforts for the greater good thwarted. Enough!
Advent’s readings from Isaiah shook me awake with their rich promises: rough ways to be made straight, mountains brought low, deserts in bloom, humans and beasts living in peace, food and shelter for all, no hurt or harm on God’s holy mountain.
And then I got a glimpse of those promises of God on their way to being fulfilled. Thirty-one people – Sisters, Sisters-in-process, lay Associates, ministry colleagues and friends – traveled from Guatemala to join the Sisters of Charity of New York as we celebrated the closing of our 200th anniversary year. Our guests came with deep faith in Christ and ancient Mayan wisdom, listening ears and hearts, creativity and energy, and quiet dignity. For two weeks, during an Advent unlike any other I’d ever spent, I saw and heard the Good News as never before.
Our Guatemalan guests, like the sages in Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth, came bearing gifts. To name a few:
Living in the fullness of time: We New Yorkers are obsessed with time. We measure distance not by miles but by minutes. I was gently reminded to stop and smell the flowers (or their winter equivalent) as our guests marveled at not one but three snowfalls, or delighted in the crunch of fall leaves, or posed for photos by city lights sparkling in the night.
They gave me the gift of living in the moment, close to creation, with feet on the sacred ground of our Mother Earth. In them I met modern-day shepherds abiding in the fields, and saw the face of Mary contemplating the wonder of her Child for hours on end.
Patience with events outside our control: The two weeks brought subway delays, traffic jams, wrong turns, changeable weather. “Hace mucho frio!” was heard frequently. For all our careful planning, the daily schedule or assigned driver often had to change midstream. In the midst of it all, our guests lived the angels’ message of “Fear not.” They showed me how to go with the flow, as Mary and Joseph did when a census uprooted them from their home at the most inconvenient time in her pregnancy, or as migrants today must do when poverty or violence drives them to seek a better life in a foreign place.
Love at the core: Our guests taught me that the heart of the Christmas message is love: first, God’s for us, embodied in the gift of a Child, mirrored in the love we share with one another, person to person, familia to familia.
Love, beyond language and culture, spoken by smiles, hugs, gestures, and everyone’s humble attempts to learn a few phrases in English or Spanish.
Love, not restricted by age. When our guests visited Sisters in our retirement homes, the first thing they asked was, “Please introduce us to Sister X or Y who prays for us!”
Love, stronger than death. At the graves of Srs. Barbara Ford and Mary Meyler, our guests spoke tender, grateful words to the women who had mentored and inspired their own work for the people of Guatemala.
Love, focused on the littlest and the least. Our youngest visitor was a 14-month-old whose wondering eyes and infectious smile lit up the room, and who learned to walk during her time here, to the delight of all. In the presence of a child, everyone stops, laughs, softens, sheds masks. How clever of our God to know that!
Goodness that multiplies: Eight of our community houses and a priest-friend made room at their “inns” to give our visitors a place to call home. Food was abundant everywhere they went. Sisters Jane, Mary Ann Daly, Mary McCormick and 2 CMSV students, Nicole and Owen, fixed breakfast at Le Gras at 3 a.m. when our visitors arrived from JFK. Another day, the staff of the SC Center prepared a lunch smorgasbord of typical American foods and the immigrant women of Casa de Esperanza cooked tacos de papa. In Nanuet, Sr. Ceil bought hot, freshly-made corn tortillas from a market she had searched out. Sisters who hosted other gatherings at Seton Center-Manhattan and MSV Convent went out of their way to make our guests feel welcome.
Friends knitted warm hats and donated fleece tops, down coats, and insulated gloves to folks who had never felt the bite of a New York winter.
At the Dec. 9 closing Mass for our 200th anniversary year, people of every culture (including Bahamian) shared in the pride of the historic moment when Dr. Jose Miguel, one of our Associates, offered a petition in Quiché (one of 21 Mayan languages) for the first time in the Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral. Dressed in colorful Guatemalan trajes (native dress), Sisters Rosenda and Maria Pablo offered petitions and readings; lay Associates Francisca and her husband Joel carried the candles; Eva, another Associate, was a gift-bearer.
True, this Advent brought plenty of bad news: a pipe bomb explosion in Times Square station, powerful men accused of preying on women, escalating distrust between nations, worsening effects of climate change, the fifth anniversary of the Sandy Hook shootings with still no success in controlling gun violence. It can all too readily seem, as the carol says, that “hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will” to all.
But I know that I felt tidings of great joy. I found God-with-us in unexpected ways, from people I had never met before. I learned new lessons in the meaning of Incarnation. This year I heard – really heard – the Good News.
Each day of the New Year, as we bear witness to God’s promise, taking flesh, coming true before our eyes, may we too rejoice at the Good News. May we live as though we believe it with all our hearts. For “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not – will not – overcome it.” (John 1)
–Regina Bechtle, SC
Sr. Regina, a retreat leader, speaker, writer and spiritual director, serves as Charism Resource Director for the Sisters of Charity of New York.