For the better part of a year now our lives have been completely turned upside down by the unexpected arrival of a new virus. Previously this virus was only familiar to laboratory researchers, it has now become a part of our everyday vocabulary: coronavirus.
One of the immediate after-effects of this virus is that for the past year our church has been essentially empty on Sundays. In recent months, we were granted permission to re-open our doors, but to no more than 25 parishioners at a time, which is, if we consider the dimensions of our church – an empty church.
During this period of confinement, I have often found myself walking up and down the aisles of my empty church, rosary in hand; the only sound to be heard: the echo of my footsteps. Recently, on one of these daily strolls through the aisles, I discovered something that was there all along: this silence is not empty, it’s inhabited! Occupied by all the saints depicted in our statues: The sacred-heart, Christ on the cross, the Holy Virgin Mary, Saint Anne, Saint Agnes, Saint Teresa and brother André. I see the light of the lamp in the sanctuary reminding us of the Eucharistic presence in the tabernacle and all the prayer candles lit by parishioners with special intentions; I feel the presence of all those who have graced our doorstep to unite with their neighbors and bow their heads in prayer since the church first opened in 1873. I feel the presence of all those who continue to find solace in our church just as their predecessors have and their descendants will for years to come: peace, contemplation, presence, silence.
Off to the right of the altar, we find the nativity scene with the newborn Christ reaching his arms out to us, surrounded by his mother and father, shepherds and kings, an ox, donkey and sheep. Representing all facets of a community: a family – mother, father and baby; the rich (depicted by the Magi); poor people (the shepherds); people who come from far away lands (the Magi) and ones who live nearby (shepherds) as well as familiar animals. All these people stood in awe and silence before the newborn – even the sheep, present but silent. Ready to listen.
Maybe this is what this forced confinement is calling us to do in our homes, our families, our communities: take the time to listen and really be there for each other without judgement or impatience; because Jesus is never far away. His message can be heard in the voice of a loved one who calls to see how we are doing, or the kind gesture of a neighbor bringing food or a grandchild offering us a hand made card. We are surrounded by His love. This is what the silence of that baby in the manger has come to say through his birth among us. Merry Christmas!