Christmas Eve in the hospital, on a ventilator

It seems almost incomprehensible that the Advent season will soon conclude and we will celebrate the great feast of Christmas this week. As we move into the final preparations we might find ourselves filled with anxiety as we attempt to get things ready for Christmas. Often people struggle to get their homes ready for Christmas, but fail to get their hearts ready for Christmas. While the trappings and trimmings are important for the celebration, they are not the most important things. The most important preparation is to have a heart that is ready for Christmas. A Christmas heart recognizes that the greatest Christmas gift ever given was the Son of God himself. When the Christ child was born he had no place to lay his head, and the manger trough became his bed. Today, the manger is the human heart. Is your heart ready for Christmas?

Christmas has always been a special celebration for me. I have celebrated the Christmas Feast in the cave at Bethlehem (True), in some of the most magnificent Basilicas in the world, and even in Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, Philadelphia. I think that Christmas in Jefferson Hospital shall forever be burned in my memory.

I had been hospitalized since July and remained in the NICU (Neuro-Intensive Care Unit) for what seemed an eternity. Having been reduced to quadriplegia, and remaining ventilator dependent, I could only lie there, steeped in my own thoughts of what the future would hold — if there would be a future. It was Christmas Eve; hospital personnel exchanged cards and gifts, they set up their hospital stations for little parties, and many wore Santa Claus hats. When my last visitor had left earlier that day, I asked my nurse to simply turn out the lights, but leave the door open a little bit. It was approximately 8 p.m. and I found that Christmas Eve to be one of the loneliest places in the world.

There was so much festivity outside that room, but inside my room I was alone, pondering, with no festive music, and only the percussive rhythmic sound of a ventilator.

Suddenly, the room slowly began to be filled with light. No, this was not a source of divine revelation (or was it?). It was just a little 9-year-old boy, with a magnificent soprano voice.

During the Advent season, his parents were trying to teach him the importance of the season, and asked him to do something special for people at Christmas. He decided he would go Christmas caroling to sick people on Christmas Eve, and no one but his parents would go with him.

As the door slowly opened, a warm light filled the dark room. I heard the angelic voice singing “Silent Night, Holy Night, all is calm, all is bright….”

In my world, not all was calm nor was it bright. The young lad finished his carol, reached into his pocket, and placed a small bag of Christmas cookies on the foot of my bed. He attempted to put a small card in my hand, which physically could not move. Realizing his dilemma, he placed the wallet sized card on my hospital tray, and gently left the room. Since the door remained open, the hallway light sent a small glow into the room, just enough to read the message on the little boy’s card. “The Miracle of Christmas can make all things calm, and all things bright, if you make room in your heart for Jesus.” Love, Christopher.

Opening my heart to the Lord that Christmas made all the difference in the world. After Christopher left my room, I began to ponder what it really meant to make room in my heart for Jesus. That night, I thought about God’s profound love, to even send us a Savior. And what a Savior he sent. Who would have thought that the innocent baby in the trough would hang so painfully on a cross? From the wood of the crib, to the wood of the cross, he remained faithful. I realized that night that the Lord sent a gentle reminder for me to remain faithful, despite the circumstances in my life. If God could send a small 9-year-old boy to the hospital room of a young priest on Christmas Eve, to remind the priest to remain faithful, imagine what else he would do. And that is the meaning of Christmas, for God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that all who would believe in him, would have everlasting life. To make Christmas really meaningful this year, make your heart his manger this year.

I strongly encourage you to prepare your heart this week for the great Christmas feast. Make the effort to keep Christ in Christmas. Have you made provisions to attend Christmas Mass? Did you avail yourself of the sacrament of reconciliation? If you cannot go to confession before Christmas, make a promise that you will go before the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which closes the Christmas Season on Jan. 9, 2011. During this season of giving, be generous to the Lord and to others. Although time is precious, devote a few hours of service to make a difference somewhere.

I have often wondered if Christopher ever realized how God used him on that night. To be quite honest, Christopher gave me the hope I needed, which fundamentally transformed my life and my priesthood. Mother Teresa once told me, “Little things are indeed little, but to be faithful in little things is a great thing.” And so I give you an early Christmas message in order that this feast will transform your life too. “The Miracle of Christmas can make all things calm, and all things bright, if you make room in your heart for Jesus.”

Msgr. Louis A. Marucci is pastor of St. Andrew the Apostle Parish, Gibbsboro.

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