Christmas 2018: Challenged by the Child Jesus to Stretch Our Hearts in Love

This past year at St. Peter’s Parish, especially the past few months, has been a time of great transition and change. For those of you who may be visiting, or may be here only for Christmas, over the past few months the parish has welcomed the Sisters of Life to the newly renovated Centre for Life in the rectory. We have also finished the renovation in the rectory and moved our parish offices from the Centre and returned them to the rectory. For those who are unaware of this, our parish offices are now located at the door under the archway here at the side of the church. What surprised me about this move and the renovation project which came to a conclusion over the past few months was how much of my own time it consumed and how many problems could arise in the course of a project. For months we awaited the arrival of the doors which we kept being told would arrive next week—always next week for about six months. When they finally did arrive, we were told that they were the wrong kind and that the locks would not work. Often while commuting back and forth from Holy Rosary Parish, I would arrive at the church to find someone else was parking in my parking spot and that I would have to beg them to let me use the parking spot assigned to me. Some days, I spent hours on the phone trying to resolve issues about the transfer of phones and other services needed to run the office. Through all the delays and disruptions that had to do with the construction, I kept making myself promises that as I arrived at the parish each day I would not let myself get distracted by the construction and superficial affairs of the renovation. I vowed I would focus on being a parish priest and serving the community of St. Peter’s and not allow myself to become overly involved in the renovations. Sadly, I would arrive at the parish and find myself caught up with questions from the contractor and architect and find it a real challenge to visit the sick or be present to the parishioners. To those who caught me on one of my bad days, after a difficult conversation with the architects, my apologies. Things got so bad, that as we had to move our offices just last week during the busy season of Christmas, there were times that I was feeling so busy, I feared that I would not be able to get into the Christmas spirit this year. Concerned that I myself might become this year a Grinch at Christmas, one day I decided that I needed a little break from the renovations and move and I went to see the newly released version of Dr. Seuss’ “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.”

The Grinch Who Stole Christmas is a movie about a cantankerous green creature who lives just outside the town of Whoville on Mount Crumpit. His own life experiences have caused him to become jaded and joyless and his heart to shrink two sizes too small. As a result of his experiences, he has come to believe that all other people are selfish and that all they think about at Christmas is what they can get from others. His own sad view of Christmas is rooted in painful experiences of being unloved in his childhood. Because of his sadness, he does not wish anyone else to be happy or to celebrate Christmas. Hoping that everyone else will be as miserable as he is, he sets out to steal Christmas from the people of Whoville. He decides to be the Anti-Santa Clause and go down chimneys to steal presents from every home. As he and his faithful dog Max are robbing the homes of Whoville of their presents on Christmas Eve, he encounters in the course of his thieving a young girl by the name of Cindy Lou Who, who has stayed up all night in the hopes of making a special request of the Grinch. When, in the middle of the night, she encounters him, she makes her one request. When the Grinch learns that she has a special request, at first, he thinks of all the things that she might request for herself—like a bike, a dog or a toy. However, Cindy Lou’s only request is that Santa help her single mother to work less and enjoy life more. This selfless request so surprises the Grinch that at first he does not know how to react and he continues to steal the gifts. But as he reflects on the girl’s unselfish love for her mother and hears the people of Whoville still celebrating Christmas, even after their gifts were stolen, he realizes that Christmas is about a love greater than what he had first thought. The unselfish love of Cindy Lou Who causes the Grinch’s heart to grow three times and the Grinch is totally changed. The story of the Grinch is about a love that can change even the most jaded and cold of hearts.

In the story of the Grinch, the love which one girl has for her mother changes the Grinch’s heart. He is moved by her selfless love and concern for another person. This evening, as we celebrate Christmas, we celebrate the love which another child—the child Jesus—has for each and everyone of us. Jesus is born this evening to show us the extent to which God will go to love each of us. God leaves heaven to become a child so that we might know we are loved unconditionally by God. Born in a manger to a poor young women, Jesus shows us that He desires to be near us whether we are rich or poor. He could have been born as Caesar the Emperor’s Son and had his message announced to all parts of the Roman Empire by the soldiers of the Roman army. However, this would have left you and I, who are not the children of great Kings, unable to relate and open our hearts to a God we cannot relate to because of His noble status. Born in a manger, the message of this Christ child is that He has come to love us and save us no matter where we live or who we are. Christmas calls each of us to reflect upon the love which God has for us and to allow it to stretch our hearts. If the love of Cindy Lou Who could change the heart of a cantankerous green creature like the Grinch, then the love of the Son of God should be strong enough to save and change each of us. Christmas is a time to reflect upon God’s unconditional love for us and to challenge ourselves to ask if we are responding appropriately to that love.

In all of our lives there are things which distract us and make us too busy to be the people that we hope to be. Often, we can be quick with those we love and find ourselves totally ignoring the God who has given us every single thing that we have. Christmas challenges us to re-examine our priorities.  How has life shrunk our hearts and where do we need to challenge them to grow? Are we giving the proper amount of time that we should be giving to God, to our families and to looking after our own psychological and spiritual well-being? Where have we allowed our hearts to shrink and our patience with a loved one to become non-existent? It is too easy in the course of our day to day life to think that the business of life does not take a negative toll on us and that we are managing well enough. Very often, if we are honest with ourselves, we know that this is not true. We are frequently not the people that God calls us to be or that we desire to be. We can dismiss Sunday Mass and the time that we spend with friends and family as being insignificant and not important. And yet, we find ourselves ungenerous and cold to the people we love and care for the most. The Christ child that is born at Christmas tells us of God’s love for us and challenges us to love Him and our neighbour as much as He has loved us.

In the manger on Christmas Eve is born the Son of God who has come into the world to tell you how much He loves you. He has gone to extreme lengths to communicate and make that love known to you. Today Jesus invites all of us to let His love stretch our hearts. If the love of Cindy Lou Who could stretch the heart of a cantankerous green creature, like the Grinch, three sizes, should not the love of God stretch our own hearts at least that much. Like the love of Cindy Lou Who, who stretched the Grinch’s heart, Christ’s love can only work in our hearts if we take the time to reflect upon it and understand how profound it is. Christmas is a time to reflect upon God’s love for us. In fact, so is every Sunday. The reason why Christ asks us to spend time with him every Sunday reflecting upon His love is because life can be so busy and often we do need to take time to reflect upon all that God has done for us. Jesus has given us the Sunday Eucharist with the command “Do this in memory of me,” because he knows we need to be reminded of His love regularly and to be refocused on what matters. Think about how often you tell the people that you love that you love them. This is not something we normally do just once a year. We do it regularly because as human beings we need to hear these things over and over again to believe them. This is the same in our faith life. We need to be reminded over and over again how much God loves us so that our hearts will not shrink and we will continue to be challenged to stretch our hearts in love because of the love which God has for each of us.

This Christmas, and every Sunday, Jesus invites us to reflect upon how much He loves each of us and the effort to which He has gone to communicate and show us that love. Jesus has left Heaven and been born in a poor manger to show us His love. His love will ultimately cause Jesus to lay down His life for each of us on the cross. This unconditional and unselfish love challenges us to let our hearts be stretched by love. In the midst of this busy world and city, may the love of God for you, call you this Christmas to stop and reflect upon God’s love for you and stretch your heart to be changed and to believe in the power of this love. May Christmas challenge each of us to be generous because God has been generous to us.

May God bless you and your families this Christmas and throughout 2019.

Merry Christmas!

Fr. Michael McGourty
Pastor—St. Peter’s Church—Toronto.