Ever since I first obtained my driver's license, I have enjoyed assisting in the decoration of churches for the celebrations of Christmas. Even in high school, I was found in the my local parish on evenings and weekends helping string lights on trees, hang garland from balconies, and wrap it round pillars. In college and in the seminary, I could found late at night in the church with the pastor making last minute tweaks to the poinsettias and other decorations. All of this took lots of time, but I thoroughly enjoyed and always saw it as an act of loving service to the Christ Child.
These last few years, not having been actively involved in parish ministry, I have not had the same opportunities to help decorate churches for Christmas. Thankfully, this Christmas in Honolulu has afforded me to pleasure of helping decorate the Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Peace. In particular, I was entrusted with the decoration of the niche for the manger scene:
As I sat and crawled around on the platforms trying this poinsettia here and that one there, trading a taller one for a shorter one, re-positioning an animal or searching for a brick or two, many happy memories of Christmases past flooded my heart. There's something very peaceful and comforting in the act of decorating.
Once the decorations were ready, I went to a nearby florist to purchase a lei to offer to the Infant King, as is the custom among some in these islands:
Following the blessing on the manger scene, I was invited to offer the first lei to Jesus as an expression of aloha:
Writing in his classic novel, A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens wrote that "it is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when the mighty Founder was a child himself" (Stave 3).
As I presented my lei to the Child of Bethlehem and kissed his feet, the childlike joy of Christmas welled up in my heart and I felt very much like a child before God and remembered these words of then-Cardinal Luciani (who later became Pope John Paul I):
Personally speaking, when I talk to God and the Blessed Virgin alone, I prefer to feel like a child rather than an adult. The mitre, the skullcap, the ring disappear; I send the adult off for a walk and even the bishop with all his grave and ponderous dignity, so that I might abandon myself to the spontaneous tenderness of a child with his papa and his mama. When I am with God, even if it be for a short half hour, I prefer to be what I am in reality, with all my wretchedness and any merits I might have. To feel the child I once was being reborn from the depths of my being, the child who wants to laugh, chatter, to love the Lord, who sometimes feels the need to cry so that he may obtain forgiveness – all this helps me to pray.
I've always felt the same, and sometimes the experience of my being a child of God is felt more keenly than at others.