A message for these times: Christmas is in your heart

Last week I spent several days as a patient at Massachusetts General Hospital where the entire staff was working overtime in fighting the coronavirus. Visiting times were severely restricted for all patients, so we had a lot of time alone to think about what was going on in in the world and in our lives.
I certainly did, from growing up in a wonderful home and neighborhood, even if my family experienced some serious health problems and economic pain. Even with sickness and separation because of military service in during various conflicts, my mom always did her best to help make all the kids and grandparents feel happy during the Christmas season. One early Christmas Eve, I remember my mom coming home from work after cleaning office buildings downtown, then preparing our home for Christmas Eve, then taking the Dudley streetcar on Broadway to the TB Hospital in Mattapan to visit my father. She would fill him in on everything that was going on and reassure him that with God’s help, he’d be home with the family for next year.
Waiting for the bus on River Street in the freezing cold to take us back home was not fun. But one Christmas Eve, the other hospital visitors waiting at the bus stop with us broke out in singing Christmas carols to cheer everyone up. Those kinds of memories, even for a little boy, are impossible to forget. When we got home to South Boston, my mom would serve a delicious beef stew and Irish bread and exchange presents and we were joined by  a few relatives. A few of our neighbors would also drop by the house for a few minutes and leave us a little fruit or candy. They were real caring neighbors. Then it was off to the glorious midnight Mass with Father Murphy and listening to a beautiful Gate of Heaven Children’s Choir.
Everybody was busy making other people happy, they didn’t have time to feel bad for themselves. But one thing we did learn was every Christmas after that, we always figured out how we could give a little love to another person at Christmas, even if she or he was a stranger to us.
But because of the coronavirus this Christmas is the oddest holiday I can remember. The city is quiet, the news mostly negative, and you rarely  hear the beautiful voices of little children or Christmas music filling the air. But we we can either sit back and do nothing about it, or we can try and make as many people as we can feel good about the glorious birth of Christ. No political official or television personality can make Christmas for you, or take it away either. This is  the season of hope and love and we must let it begin with us.
I will always remember Pope John Paul II next to his last Christmas Eve Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica, as Kathy and I were sitting just in front of him when he smiled at the packed church and, blessing the people, he said clearly, “God Loves You. Go in Peace.” He was speaking to  everyone that evening, just as God is today.
Remember, “Christmas is in your heart.” And a word of kindness can make a big difference.
Ray Flynn is the former U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican and Mayor of Boston.

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