Christmas Moments

Sometimes we take the simple things in life for granted. We are constantly hearing how self-centered and selfish this present generation of young people is. It is true that many teenagers and young adults are ...

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Sometimes we take the simple things in life for granted. We are constantly hearing how self-centered and selfish this present generation of young people is. It is true that many teenagers and young adults are self absorbed and self-centered, but so are many adults. Too many young people believe that because of who they are, they are guaranteed certain entitlements.

It amazes me how this sense of entitlement drives a destructive sense of self-righteousness and an attitude of arrogance that is so disrespectful and insensitive to basic human kindness.

However, despite this troubling landscape, it is refreshing to meet young people who are grateful for the simple things in life and are respectful and mannerly. "Please" and "thank you" are not absent from their vocabulary. They actually hold the door before you and greet you when you pass them by.

This present generation questions more than any other generation that has gone before them, and they should! They should not really accept the status quo. They should challenge what they do not understand and should seek a reasonable explanation and clarification.

The present generation should not be passive listeners, but rather active ones. As adults, we should not expect our kids to be seen and not heard or to put up and shut up! Our children have a right to know and understand. They should seek this understanding in a respectful and polite way.

Recklessness too often characterizes this present generation of teenagers. In recent months, this concern has been underscored by the escalation of reckless teenage behavior. However, it is also important to note that there is an increase in the number of teenagers doing positive things. During this holiday season, volunteerism among high school and college age students was exceptionally high.

Before Christmas, an exceptional number of high school and college students were involved in special Christmas drives to help the poor and the needy among us. A rather large number of college students from local colleges have given part of their Christmas break to work in Appalachia and New Orleans. The students who have committed themselves to the New Orleans project are working with the victims of hurricane Katrina.

In addition to giving up their valuable time during their semester break, many of our college students have used their Christmas gift money to purchase plane tickets to fly to New Orleans to participate in that hurricane relief effort.

Over the past few weeks, I have heard countless stories of compassion and community service expressed by an exceptional number of our local high school and college students. Many of the students engaged in the human service activities did so on their own initiative. They participated anonymously, with no intention of getting acknowledged or having any community service hours applied to their graduation requirements. Now that's real generosity!

Probably, my most touching holiday experience happened the Saturday before Christmas. In early November, I became aware that a former employee of mine, a Dominican Sister, who retired at the age of 75 after ten years of working as an advocate for the homeless, was not doing very well. Mentally, she is astute and sharp. Unfortunately, physically she is battling a wide range of health issues that have severely impaired her mobility.

Sister B. lives in Amityville at the Dominican Sisters' Mother House with more than 150 other religious women who have retired from active ministry. These women are in their 70's, 80's and 90's. The oldest sister in residence is 103 years old and gets around with a walker. Most of these women are retired from education, healthcare and human services. The holidays can oftentimes be very difficult for them because most do not have families and are wrestling with other health issues due to their advanced ages. Loneliness is probably their greatest burden.

As part of my Christmas preparation, I thought it might be nice to celebrate their Saturday midday Mass and bring a group of young men along to sing Christmas carols.

A week before our visit, I sought to recruit some volunteers from the young people who live at Hope House. I thought maybe five or six young adults might be willing to give up the Saturday before Christmas to do the caroling. To my surprise and amazement, twenty young men volunteered. A good number of these young men were not even Christian. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir they were not, but I must admit they were filled with passion and enthusiasm!

Our journey began early on the Saturday before Christmas. As we drove, I described in great detail where we were going, who we were visiting and why. I expressed that it was important that they sing their hearts out. I explained that their presence would be more of a gift than they could ever fully know or realize; that these aging women would be forever grateful for their time and presence.

After Mass, we all assembled in the sisters' large dining room. The young men, all of whom have their own burdens to manage, stood before this large assembly and sang their hearts out. The audience joined in. It was clearly a wonderful moment. The sisters throughout the room applauded after each carol. Clearly, they were thrilled at the young men's performance. They treated them like they were superstars and the guys were so proud.

After they sang their last song (We Wish You A Merry Christmas), on their own without any prodding from adults, they went among these aging women, hugging, kissing and wishing them a Merry Christmas. It was a picture of goodness and kindness that I will never forget.

As we were leaving, one of the young men came up to me and thanked me profusely for giving him this opportunity. He said he had never celebrated Christmas in this way before. He indicated that it was such a positive experience for him and that it really made his Christmas.

Probably the most touching comments that day came from a 103-year-old Dominican sister who was in her walker. She was leaving the dining room, beaming from ear to ear. She grabbed my hand to express her gratitude for bringing the young men to bless their Christmas with song. Then she pulled me down to her, gave me a big hug and a kiss on the cheek and said, "Please tell the boys thank you for making a group of old ladies feel alive again."

And that they did!