A Christmas message from Brother James Butler, FSC.
Dear La Salle College High School Family,
Now spending my fifth Advent and Christmas season at La Salle, I increasingly enjoy receiving the family Christmas cards some of our alumni mothers are kind enough to continue to send. As I look at the pictures of our former students gathered with their various siblings and pets, I inevitably muse on the changes just a few years can bring: from the factual, "He's still getting taller in college"; to the positive, "He's filling out. This doesn't look like a UNICEF card anymore"; to the less than complimentary, "Geez, he's starting to lose his hair already."
In just a few hours, Christmas morning dawns. Think back for a moment on the various Christmas mornings in your experience and the changes they reflect:
- Those of your childhood, back when the horizon of gaming technology was the buzzing red nose in "Operation," when clothes were purchased at Snellenburg's if you're really getting up there, otherwise at Lit Brothers, Gimbel's, Strawbridge's or Wanamaker's, a time when people actually followed the opening of presents with going to Mass on Christmas Day, rather than having chosen from a half-dozen worship options the prior afternoon or evening;
- The time when you were first married, those few incredibly peaceful hours alone together before the balancing act between parents' and in-laws' holiday celebrations began;
- The period when the kids were little, and you couldn't hope to keep them upstairs and in bed much past dawn, no matter how late you had been up getting ready the night before;
- The inverse of those times, the high school and college years, when a disturbance registering on the Richter Scale would be required to get anyone in gear much before 11:00 am, when the struggle to get the presents opened, the wrappings disposed of, and gratitude expressed before the arrival of grandparents more than ready for dinner at 1:00 pm is all too real;
- The time of the empty nest, the experience of many alumni, dreaded by some of our current parents, its early morning Mass, "because there's room and it's quiet," followed by some crumb cake and coffee at leisure with the paper before the Tasmanian Devil in a snow suit comes bursting through the door to see "what Santa left for you at Grandma and Pop-Pop's."
Christmas mornings like these will dawn for most in our community. A pinch of stress, undeniably, but dissolved in a warm holiday punch of joy. For some, though, this morning will bring a dawn without light, one with joy rationed in the extreme:
- For those children of our families negotiating their first holiday with two trees (neither as grand as that of former years), two competing gift exchanges, being themselves exchanged by parents at a pre-arranged Christmas Checkpoint Charlie, its frostiness exceeding that of the December morning;
- For those whose morning must be arranged to include a trip to Children's Hospital, a place of hope where joy must of necessity compete with anxiety and apprehension, strange step-sisters indeed;
- For those who stop before dinner at a nursing home or "memory care village," whose blithe greeting, "Merry Christmas, Ma," is answered with a vacant stare or incoherent garble, no pause to the imaginary stitching occupying her hands, the calendar of joy no longer having relevance;
- For those who hear the whir of the blender all too early on Christmas morning, spy the handle of vodka on the counter, and can only wonder against hope, "Where is this all going to end come nightfall this year?";
- For the solicitous daughter, taking her father's coat, inquiring why he's a little late, at an aching loss for words to penetrate his practiced, stoical reserve, "I stopped by Holy Sepulchre to see your mother";
- For that couple caught up in their optimistic annual ritual, hoping this might be the Christmas where their estranged son actually calls or sends one of those cards with a picture of his family — "It's OK, it may come a day or two late. The mails are so heavy this time of year."
Truly, at La Salle we come to the manger this December 25, 2016, a disparate, ragtag crew, much like the one which stumbled across that first stable in Bethlehem. Among us are the well-scrubbed, wool tartan skirts and red camel hair jackets, presents impeccably wrapped by philanthropic matrons in the mall raising money for some hospital auxiliary, Christmas china completely intact, nary a saucer suffering a chip after a quarter century of holiday dinner cleanups. More whales on the children's clothing than there remain swimming in the entire Arctic Ocean. People who actually set every little butter dish with a little butter knife.
Then there are the rest of us, slightly rumpled, bedhead untamed, the cupboard devoid of right-handed gloves, hastily packed gift bags clashingly stuffed with last year's tissue paper, the cards left behind, scrambling on the iPhone to make sure that nephew we forgot gets some months' subscription to Spotify Premium popping up in his inbox before we arrive. Gift cards carelessly tucked in the wrong envelopes, resulting in a thank you note from his aunt the nun who's gamely looking forward to wing night at P.J. Whelihan's.
Whichever typology we identify with, whatever our reality, whatever our history, whichever stage of life's journey we travel, we are invited to enter into the mystery of this morning that is soon to dawn: Jesus, the Son of God, enters into our experience in all its dazzling imperfection and assumes it as His own human life. He embraces imperfection. From the moment He is laid in that rough-hewn cradle, He knows what awkwardness is all about. He is at home with awkward moments. Into a world of incredible geopolitical and interpersonal complexity — whether that world be the Palestine of 6 BC or yours in Doylestown or Harleysville today — He enters with the simplicity of a child and the vulnerability of an infant. He does not shy away from complex relationships. At ease with imperfection, awkwardness, and complexity, epitomizing vulnerability, He makes your family, whatever joys or difficulties this day may bring, a Holy Family like His own.
May the Holy Infant richly bless your family and our La Salle family this Christmas and throughout the year to come!
Brother James Butler, FSC