By FATHER JAMES S. BEHRENS, OCSO, Commentary | Published December 19, 2013
It is the season of Christmas, a time when lights, hymns, carols and perhaps a bit of snow help bring to mind that a Savior came into the world and changed forever the course of human history. Our histories are in him. He was born that we might someday live with him and each other eternally.
For most of us, the spirit of the season is uplifting. Everywhere we go, there are reminders all over the place that Christmas is near. I like the songs on the radio, the decorations in the stores and on homes.
But there are instances that give me pause and I ponder more deeply the true meaning and reach of what it is that we celebrate on Christmas Day.
I had to take one of our monks to the doctor a week or so ago. He had not been feeling well. Actually we had a stretch of appointments with different doctors—his cardiologist and his internist. All in all, it took three hours. There were several other people in the waiting room.
An elderly couple sat near me. The wife was reading and almost done with “Angela’s Ashes.” The book looked well worn. Her husband sat next to her, his head occasionally finding its way to her shoulder whenever his eyes closed and he dozed off. The door opened, and a woman came in.
She had a difficult time because she was using a walker. She had an aide with her, who helped her get through the door and to a seat. A kid and I presume a girl who was his sister sat across from me. The boy kept making faces at me until his sister turned and smacked him.
It wasn’t too long before a policeman came into the office, went to the window and chatted a bit with the receptionist. Then he went back outside and returned with a woman officer and a young guy in a brown prison uniform and shackles. No one in the waiting room said a word.
But we all stared. The guy was very thin and looked to be in his late teens or early 20s. The police were well armed—guns, tasers, little clubs in their belts. They brought the guy into the back offices. He could hardly walk because of the chains on his legs. He was also handcuffed. I felt badly for him. Everything he does must be monitored, I would guess. And he probably needs permission to do everything. Jail must be horrible. But then it is the only life a lot of prisoners know and it is one they apparently get used to. I wonder if there is any kindness in a prison. Is it a place where someone can be trusted? Or is it a place where one would need a pair of eyes on the back of his or her head?
I remember visiting a guy in a federal prison, somewhere in New York State. His name was Cookie. He was a big muscular guy, with a shaved head and earrings. His main problem was parole violation. He was a good man but could never adjust to a “normal” life on the outside because he never really had one. He eventually died from drug-related AIDS. He always returned to the streets where he felt more at home, a place where he knew the territory and the rules of the game. And, maybe, a place where he knew the only friendship that ever came his way.
Cookie was a good man. As far as I know, the only person he ever hurt was himself. I knew his sister. She loved him deeply all through his life.
And I hope that the young guy I saw just weeks ago will know the kind of love that awakens him and keeps him home, out of trouble.
I am sorry that I stared at him. He did not deserve that. He deserves the kind of gaze that comes from God, whose sight comes through us when we learn to truly love each other.
Christmas is a time to pray for the gift of seeing and loving life as God does.