This is a guest post by Jan O’Hara.

the-birth-of-christOne time, over 40 years ago, when I was a brand new mother, I decided to travel out-of-state with my husband and six-week-old infant to visit a priest-friend at Christmas. The only time this busy man could give me was at the Christmas Eve Mass he would be celebrating at midnight—at a very small, inner-city homeless shelter for men which he founded and ran.

My husband and I and our sleeping baby sat in the shelter’s tiny, make-shift chapel along with a small congregation of grizzled-looking men, vulnerable, poor, wounded by addiction, whose world was often violent and filled with suffering and condemnation.

As the Mass began, I was feeling so different and apart from my pew mates. Then, as my friend began to deliver his homily about that first Christmas Eve, describing the sudden appearance of angels that frightened poor shepherds, emphasizing the stillness, the silence of that dark night, my baby woke up squalling loudly.

crying babyThe irony of a “silent night” with an infant—whether two thousand years ago or in the twentieth century—was received with broad smiles. We all knew that baby Jesus cried for his milk, too.

And in that not-so-silent night in 1972, our differences disappeared. Somehow, God was really and truly with us, showing us our sameness. In the growing laughter, we suddenly belonged in the story of that first Christmas with a Hungry Infant who would grow up and teach us how to expand our hearts and belong to each other. On that not-so-silent night we became our own small holy family.

And as a family, we moved to a small reception area after Mass, enjoying donuts and coffee and my friend’s naïve “silent night” sermon. The men were eager to see the Christmas Eve baby who had shouted down their priest, and some shyly asked to hold her—and did so, very tenderly, playing with her fingers. Some produced tattered, bent photos of their own families. That Christmas changed what I believe Jesus’ face looks like.

Jan O’Hara is an enthusiastic ailurophile, wife, mother, and grandmother currently living in Quincy, MA. She has worked at a humane society animal shelter for over two decades and has maintained her own business as a graphic artist for over 40 years. She was recently knocked off her horse by Pope Francis and credits a dynamic Ignatian spirituality with reawakening her prayer life.

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