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Seasonal Reflection: Christmas

by Steven Patti, OFM

pattiFollowing the custom of this newsletter, HNP Today offers a reflection on the season of Christmas. The contributor is a friar based at Immaculate Conception Church in Durham, N.C.

How, in the midst of the busy-ness of this Christmas season and its full advertising assault, do we enter in? How do we find Christmas in the middle of it all? I look around for fleeting signs of it, and here is one thing I see:

On the day after Thanksgiving, I was invited to a parish family’s home for a post-Thanksgiving dinner. I arrived with a bottle of wine and found two families there — four adults, and their kids, and a kitchen filled with pies, cheese and crackers, plates, cups, an oven with a ham inside, a stove with pan of shrimp and sausage. Wine is poured for the adults, and the kids are in another room playing games. It’s any family’s home at the holidays.

The host parents have a 16-year-old son named Owen, and he has Down’s syndrome. As I sit at the counter with my glass of wine, Owen brings me a piece of paper he wants me to see. It’s the printout of his score from a recent trip to the bowling alley. Owen cannot speak, but he can make sounds and use gestures. On the paper are his round-by-round scores from the bowling alley — a 7, some 3s, 8s, one spare, one strike. His total: 90. “Owen,” I say, “you got a 90, that’s terrific, that’s a lot better than I could do!” He smiles.

His mother shows me some artwork Owen has created — paintings of a bicycle, a truck, a self-portrait when he was four years old in which eyes, ears, nose are all out of place, and yet about which his mother tells me, it reminds us that all of us are imperfect in our own ways. That one is framed at the entry way to the house.

She tells me he likes to listen to opera before he goes to bed. He loves the UPS truck, and in art class made a papier mache model of one of the brown trucks. He likes the moon, and has a picture of it on the wall in his room. He has a framed poster of Monument Valley in Utah, the spare stone towers in the landscape and a light dusting of snow on the ground. He has a collection of small toy trucks.

Out in the kitchen, the kids are playing, the adults are talking, and from time to time Owen and his mother will communicate with each other using hand signals. “He’s a sweet, sweet child,” she tells me.

It’s beautiful to see all this up close, to see this gentle child and his mother who is attentive to him and loves him deeply, to be reminded of the fragile dignity of human life, to be shown a glimpse of what Incarnation looks like when it appears in an ordinary kitchen.

— Fr. Steve, a native of Massachusetts, is a member of the Province’s Ministerial Development Directorate. Several of his columns have been published by the Durham Herald Sun.