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Pray With Wonder and Awe

December 17, 2009

Pray With Wonder and Awe

A lot of people had told me about it, since my arrival here as your archbishop last April.

They had described its joy, elegance, color, sparkle, and entertainment, and termed it the real "opening of the Christmas Season." (Sorry, Macy's Day Parade, and lighting of the Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center!)

And the best part, they all went on to explain, was that it all went for such a grand cause: Catholic Charities.

Sure enough, last week's 64th annual Archbishop's Christmas Luncheon was dazzling! The crowd was tremendous, the decorations awesome, the spirit merry, the entertainment—featuring Lisette Oropesa, and the St. Ann's Choir—uplifting, and the honorees—Carla Hendra and Mr. and Mrs. William Frank—inspirational.

But, here's the punch lineÉthe highlight of this festive luncheon came at the end. I had the honor of reading the "most famous story ever," the Gospel passage of the first Christmas, the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, from the second chapter of St. Luke. While I was doing so, the children of St. John Chrysostom School in the Bronx, dressed as angels, shepherds, wise men, Joseph and Mary, slowly and reverently formed a silent "Christmas Tableau" of the Nativity on the stage.

The huge crowd was mute, the silence was thick. When the Gospel was finished, all simply gazed upon the scene with wonder. All of us became children. From my place on the stage, I could see every person in the vast hall, eyes riveted, some tearful, upon the scene. It was simply awesome.

What I propose to you is that this was a moment of prayer for all of us at the luncheon. All 800 of us were uplifted in prayer, conscious of God's presence, grateful for the mystery of Christmas, filled with faith, hope and love.

"In His love, Christ has filled us with joy as we prepare to celebrate His birth, so that when He comes He may find us watching in prayer, our hearts filled with wonder and praise."

That's what the Preface for the Masses of this Advent exclaims, and that, my friends, is precisely my Christmas wish for you.

I simply wish that these final days of Advent, and the grand holydays of Christmas, may find you, like that big gathering of people at the Archbishop's Christmas Luncheon, in prayer before the crib.

Back when I was Archbishop of Milwaukee, after Midnight Mass at the Cathedral, we were closing up. As I went to lock the main doors, two policemen peeked in, and asked if they could make a visit to the crib. Of course I let them in.

The officers went on to explain that they had hoped to come to Midnight Mass after their shift had ended at 11 p.m., but had two unexpected emergencies: a domestic violence call, where a drunken man had beat up his girlfriend, in front of her children; and a homeless man nearly frozen to death in a gutter.

As the two policemen knelt in quiet prayer before the manger, one of them looked up at me:

"We believe this baby is God's Son, and the Savior of the world, right?"

"Right!" I whispered.

"Well, I'm sure glad we got a Savior, 'cause this city sure needs one tonight," he replied.

That, my friends, was one of the most moving Christmas prayers I've ever heard.

The crib scene will do that to you.

So, once again, here's my Christmas wish: pray! Pray before the manger! Maybe the Nativity scene in your parish church or beneath your family tree, or, better yet, the image of the first Christmas in your imagination. Let wonder and awe guide you. Enjoy the silence, as did the crowd before the children's live Christmas tableau; let your heart acknowledge Jesus as our Savior, and let God know we sure need one, as did those two cops. Tell Jesus you love Him, you believe in Him, you need Him, you thank Him.

The Nativity happened, everybody. Christmas is true. It's not just a myth, a legend, a story. God did become one of us. His name is Jesus. He is our Lord and Savior.

Come, let us adore Him!

Let us pray!

A blessed Christmas!

My first with you in New York!

Thank you for making me feel like family!