As we are still in the twelve days of Christmas leading up to the traditional feast of the Epiphany on January 6th, Fr. Eric Schimmel, C.S.C., the director of André House for the homeless in Phoenix, spends his monthly column helping us unpack the true meaning of this holy season in a way only he can … through trees and cupcakes.
Holidays can bring out the best in people, and I find that holidays like Christmas and Easter at André House certainly can be holy days. Yes, these are the holiest solemnities in our Church calendar. But the way that I find love given to birth around Christmas and the way that people try to lift each other up at Easter around André House can truly inspire.
A couple of stories may show how the guests at André House buoyed my spirits this holy season. One day, about a week and a half before Christmas, one of our guests called me over to him as I was going through our parking lot. He was sitting next to his friend with a book open. The book was a book of Christmas carols. He wanted me to listen to them practice the harmony on a song they had been working on: a good way to get into the spirit of the season – and to resist other temptations that always seem to be around an area serving the homeless. They were truly lifting each other up by practicing together.
Another guest gave me an incredible gift this Christmas. This guest had stayed in our transitional housing program and sent me a Christmas card from her apartment in another state noting that she is doing well. To paraphrase the song “O Holy Night,” that card was a ray of hope in a weary world that made me rejoice – someone has made the step out of homelessness.
This year in our transitional houses, I asked the guests staying with us whether they would like to help decorate the Christmas tree in the Men’s House. One of them mentioned to me that he had not decorated a tree in well over a decade. That simple statement made me stop and think. How many trees have I decorated over the years? I have decorated one pretty much every year of my life. This holiday task has even at times seemed like another thing that had to get done before Christmas. But that chore was transformed knowing that this year I can share it with someone who did not get to decorate a tree for that long.
My favorite moment this Christmas was at Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. I had the joy of concelebrating the Mass at one of the parishes closest to André House. When we started the Mass, we first went in procession to the Nativity scene to bless it. As I got to the scene, I found something different that brought a huge smile to my face. There, in the middle of the scene directly in front of baby Jesus and next to one of the sheep, someone had put two cupcakes. I immediately thought of our guests at André House and wondered if one of them made this offering to the Lord.
Near the back door of André House where people leave after dinner, we have an altar with a statue of Mary. Many of our guests stop to pray there. A couple of our guests have been known to stop and pray there, leaving an offering behind. I get the impression that some think that Mother Mary is particularly fond of the bean burritos we serve on Thursday. More than once I have seen people prayerfully place one in front of her, say a prayer, and then leave. As we blessed the manger scene in the parish, I wondered whether the person or people who left the birthday gift of the cupcakes for Jesus had done so with the same care and intention – offering what little they had to the Lord. Most importantly, it reminded me to do the same – to offer the gifts that I have, whether they seem big or small, to the Lord.
Praying that you are able to enjoy what little remains of this Christmas Season, and that you have a holy and happy New Year.