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Light for darkened souls
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There she sat on the bench alone.  She’d appeared out of nowhere at the end of last Sunday’s mass.  We were closing down operations for the afternoon, having celebrated five masses already and having one more to go at 6:30.

She had first approached me at 2:30 p.m., as the last of our faithful exited the church.  “Uh…Father…could I talk to you?”  The poor kid looked as if she hadn’t slept for three days.  In fact, as it turns out, she hadn’t.  Some smooth talker borrowed her from her parents’ home on Friday afternoon, promising something which the 17-year-old soon figured out wasn’t going to happen.

“Could you get me a ride back to Sacramento?”   No, her parents didn’t have a car anymore, and no, she couldn’t take the bus, because they lived too far from city center.   And no, please don’t call the police or a shelter.

By the time we began talking, any potential helpers had left the property.

“I’ll come get her,” promised a generous friend from Elk Grove.  “But it will be at least two hours before I can pick her up.”   It took some effort, but I found a place for her to crash, then drove off for my afternoon business.

At 6:15 my friend told me it wasn’t going to work out.  Could I possibly find someone else?  The girl fortunately was still sound asleep.  “Don’t disturb her,” I begged.  “She won’t notice the delay.”  In fact, she didn’t, as we had to rouse her at 9 p.m. when a ride miraculously materialized out of nowhere.  A friend who’d returned Friday from Seattle was heading back to his lodging in Sacramento after attending our mass and posada celebration.

How providential that Hector and his mother delivered the lost young lady home to her parents.  A Mexican doctor building a community health clinic in 2001, he’d dropped everything to head north when his sister rolled her vehicle and was paralyzed from the neck down.  I became friends with the family as we vigiled, prayed and advocated for Maria.  Three longs months tested everyone’s patience, faith, and willpower, as the halo remained attached like a crown of thorns.   By Christmas of that same year, despite the gloomy medical prognosis, she had regained partial use of her hands.  One day, she would walk again and even give birth to two more children without surgery.  Maria’s determination for life stood in sharp contrast to this girl.

Hector had come for two long days to attend the funeral of a distant relative.

Alejandro had fallen ill with pneumonia.  Not realizing its seriousness, and reluctant to risk his employment or forfeit needed income, he had kept right on working.  The disease progressed rapidly.  He died at the age of just 32.

His fiancée would sit there motionless at the funeral vigil, which I helped to celebrate the following night. Her light skin and freckled face would conceal the darkness of the journey she had only now begun.  Like Maria following her accident, or our homeless kid sitting by herself in church with the lights turned off, she would have to face the loneliness of a less secure existence.

As we closed up the church Sunday night, shooing the stragglers over to the posada activities, while our Sacramento runaway was still deeply sleeping, a young man stayed silently in his place.  “Pues, atiéndelo,” our nighttime volunteer urged me.   By that time, I really wasn’t enthusiastic about getting involved in any more complicated cases.  But I couldn’t simply lock him in, much less kick him out.  “Are you O.K.?”   Looking forward, his face still expressionless, he said, “No.  Pero estoy aquí para agradecerle a Dios.”

“You’re here to thank God…for what?”  “Por que mis hijos y mi esposa no se lastimaron.”  (Because my children and my wife were not hurt.)   With glazed eyes still gazing at our crucifix, Noe explained that, the day before, the home which he and his wife had been building for three years in Mexico City had burned down entirely.  Separated from his family so long, in order to make the money to provide them a home, and now unable to spend the somber holidays with them, he had only one recourse: the presence of God.

From outside, the song of the Posadas echoed into the emply church. “En el nombre del cielo, os pido posada, pues no puede andar, mi esposa amada.”

“In the name of heaven, I beg you for lodging, for my beloved wife can’t go on…” These words of Joseph which we repeat night after night remind us all not only that there are lonely and homeless people out there, but that the Lord of all Creation himself had no place to lay on the day that he was born.

Jesus’ parents looked desperately for a welcome.  “He came unto his own,” John would lament in his Gospel (1:11), “but his own received him not.”  In the Posadas, we pledge ourselves to receive the Holy Family.  In doing so, we commit ourselves to all those wander about looking for consolation.

These seven people I’ve mentioned above: the lost child, the heroic doctor, the paralyzed young mother, the home-builder whose family is now home-less, the hard worker who died because he kept on working, his widowed wife who’s now six months pregnant with a boy who will never get to see his daddy, and our Lord Jesus Christ all have something to teach us about the mystery of Bethlehem.  There, in a world crushed under the Roman boot, when the prophetic voices had been silent for five hundred years, and when the night was half-spent, a poor, struggling family brought into the world a child who would freely assume all of our misery - and nail it to the cross.