The Essence of Christmas
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By Christine Cregan

What a joy to celebrate Advent and Christmas in Medugorje!  As Christmas approaches the village bustles with the excitement of the birth of the Baby Jesus. Yet before the joy of the Feast, there was work being done.  Not the work of shopping until they drop, but prayer work, the work of the soul.  As a friend and parishioner in Medugorje recently commented, “I could say that Christmas is a peaceful time for the parishioners…as a parishioner I think it is good that we have some quiet time…it is hard to fulfill our spiritual needs when the crowds are here.”  It was quiet indeed, during the week before Christmas week the English speaking Mass was celebrated in Adoration Chapel with only eight people in attendance.

The St. James Parish prepares for the coming of Our Lord with a Novena consisting of a special Mass celebrated at 6 a.m. for nine consecutive days.  Each morning before any glimmer of light shines on the village the Church is full with local parishioners preparing the way for Our Lord’s birth.  One could detect the absence of pilgrims at this Mass as you could find a seat in one of the front pews of the Church.  It seems the local parishioners don’t rush to the front of the Church and it felt more like a local parish than a Marian Shrine.  Yet, I am not sure where another local community would pack its pews for 6a.m. Mass leading up to Christmas.  During each afternoon of the nine day Novena, the parishioners climbed Apparition Hill while praying the Rosary.  At all times of the day the extraordinarily long Confessional lines illuminated the local parishioner’s custom of going to Confession before Christmas.

The tradition of children receiving gifts is reserved for the Feast of St. Nicholas rather than Christmas Day. Why would we receive gifts on Jesus’ birthday which remains the day to give Jesus a gift, the gift of ourselves.  The Feast of St. Nicholas was originally the day our ancestors gave gifts to the children before St. Nicholas, an early bishop of the Church, later became the legend of Santa Claus.  In Medugorje they continue to celebrate St. Nicholas’ Feast and I was blessed to be at the home of Nancy and Patrick Latta, Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, who received nearly 100 children from Mother’s Village.  There were angels bearing sweets and gifts for the children and even St. Nicholas arrived, thanks to my father, Greg Hammill, who became St. Nicholas for a day with the Bishop’s mitre and crozier blessing the children and giving them gifts.

The Christmas Eve celebrations at St. James began with a live nativity play performed by the male and female Cenacolo communities.  During the weeks leading up to Christmas the space near the pavilion where Mass is celebrated in the warm weather had been transformed into the village of Bethlehem.  All the benches were removed and a stable was built with a small village for the live nativity play which included live animals and a donkey for Mary and Joseph!  Following the play and before midnight Mass we opened our hearts to Christ during two hours of Adoration which seemed to fly by in a few minutes.  Words can’t express how beautiful it was to prepare for a Mass celebrating the Feast of all Feasts with two hours of Adoration. There wasn’t an inch of unfilled space in the Church as local parishioners together with a few pilgrims warmed the Church with joyous exaltations.

Following midnight Mass on Christmas Eve the locals visit with friends and family and taste the homemade goodies and family grown wine prepared from their vineyards.  As for me, it was a grace to spend it at the home of Nancy and Patrick Latta with Anthony and their family.  On the days leading up to Christmas I shared in creating wreathes, stuffing chickens and making homemade treats for the local communities.  The week before Christmas felt like a visit into the past, where everything was prepared at home with love and care.  Intermittingly someone might have an outburst of joy in anticipation of the birth of the baby Jesus, like when Chrissy exclaimed, “I am so excited for Jesus’ birthday!”

Christmas Eve we communed with an evening of singing and festivities with locals and those who have made Medugorje their home.  There was a Baby Jesus held and adored and loved by the old and young sitting around the fire.  Sister Emmanuel shared her basket of Saints, which included small pieces of paper with the name of a Saint, a quote and an intention of that Saint.  We called on the Holy Spirit and reached into the basket to meet our Saint who would be our ‘protector’ for the year; it is the Saint who chooses us to be our Saint.  We contemplated the Saint who chose us and wondered what we would learn from our Saint in the coming year.  The Eve turned into Christmas morning and it was 5a.m. before I arrived home to sleep.

On Christmas Day we attended the English speaking Mass at noon in Adoration Chapel, and I then joined my Medugorje family, the Tunin Vasilj family, for a lovely meal.  Sharing time with loved ones was a joy and a gift to be included with their immediate family.  After lunch they visited with their neighbors and Anthony and I went to Apparition Hill.  What a blessing to be on Apparition Hill on Christmas Day!  We went to St. James’ Church and by chance at the time of the Apparition, 5:40 p.m., when Our Lady appeared to the visionaries with the Baby Jesus, Anthony and I were in the little town of Bethlehem built by the Cenacolo community.  We walked along the path to the Cross of the Risen Christ pausing to admire the mosaics and recite the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary.  We then shared Christmas dinner with Sr. Emmanuel and family and were graced with gems of wisdom and love.  Sr. Emmanuel shared a statue of the Baby Jesus which had been blessed by the Baby Jesus during the Christmas Day Apparition.  The celebrating continued through the New Year with more prayer, peace and love.  On New Year’s Eve Anthony and I received the special grace of love as we united our lives and got engaged to be married. 

It couldn’t have been a more perfect Christmas celebration.  Although it would be a blessing for all of us to experience the essence of Christmas in Medugojre, I share this with the invitation to integrate Medugorje into our lives at home.  Perhaps this Christmas season we could prepare in a more spiritually meaningful way and truly prepare a way for the Lord, with fasting, a Novena, Adoration of Christ through a Holy Hour at our Parish, or adoring the Baby Jesus in our arms at home.  Perhaps this Christmas we could initiate a practice more aligned with our faith and the celebration of the coming of the Savior of the World, like sharing a basket of Saints with our loved ones.  The way to peace and love that Our Lady has been teaching us through prayer for the past 26 years is not meant to remain in Medugojre but is meant to be lived in our lives wherever we are.  Have a truly blessed Christmas this year and a Medugorje style Christmas at home!

 

Last Updated ( Friday, 07 December 2012 )