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Gifts from the Heart

LongIsland.com

The holiday season is an amazing time of year. No matter how tough the economic landscape might be, peoples generosity continues to amaze me. This year I have been amazed at the generosity of young ...

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The holiday season is an amazing time of year. No matter how tough the economic landscape might be, peoples generosity continues to amaze me. This year I have been amazed at the generosity of young people. A record number of high school and college age students have volunteered to assist Charlie Russo with Christmas Magic. Christmas Magic is a program that reaches out to thousands of underprivileged children during the holiday season. Most of the children are living in shelters across Suffolk County. These high school and college students sponsor countless fundraisers to raise money to respond to these children s Christmas lists. They purchase and wrap gifts. Many of them even volunteer to deliver them.


T.J. is a courageous junior high school student, who on his own energy began raising money for a friend who has a rare blood disease and no insurance. His friend told him that if he did not have certain medical procedures, he would never graduate from high school. T.J. s act of compassion has become contagious in his community. Many of his friends have stepped up to support his charitable initiative.


A junior high school in Western Suffolk made a commitment to collect gently used coats for a local homeless shelter. As of this writing, they have collected more than 500 coats for the poor and the homeless.


Probably among my most touching experiences this holiday season occurred after Thanksgiving at a Mass I presided at. The message that Sunday was one that spoke about sharing not out of one s excess but rather from one s need. It was the children s celebration, so I asked a few hundred little young people that were present to think about toys and clothing they didn t need. I suggested that they ask their parents if they could give those things to the poor and needy.


At the end of Mass a little boy no more than seven or eight came up to me and said here I don t need this anymore. I have an extra one at home. This little guy had listened to the message, had another coat at home and wanted me to give his coat to a poor boy for Christmas.


He was with an older brother. I thanked the little boy profusely for being so generous and suggested that he needed to discuss that gift with his mom. I was touched with his willingness to share.


Imagine if everyone this holiday season shared just a little with another. How much richer and brighter the world would be because of people s kindness.


My most touching experience this holiday season happened at a convent for retired nuns. Most of the women that live in this residence range in age from 80 to 105. Roughly 150 women live in this convent. They have served the Catholic Church for 50, 60, 70 and 80 years.


There is a retired Dominican Sister who lives there, that at one time worked at a local hospitality center that I run. She came to work there in her late 70 s, an age when most of her peers were retiring. She was a retired schoolteacher. She was a brilliant teacher. I know firsthand because I had her in class. Her passion for learning was infectious. When she approached me about the position, she said she was willing to do anything. And she did everything! She cleaned toilets and bathrooms and made beds. She listened for hours to the most broken and wounded among us. She offered them compassion, hope and gave voice to their struggle.


She retired a few years ago and moved to this retirement convent. I decided each holiday season that I would go and say Mass for these elderly women who have been so generous to our larger community. This year I decided I would try to recruit some young men to sing Christmas carols for this community.


At this time of year, many of young men at Hope House are in the middle of final exams, some are working and others had volunteered for Christmas Magic. So when I posted a sign-up sheet for caroling, I didn t expect to get a sellout crowd. It was a Saturday before Christmas. They had to be up and ready before nine o clock on a day when they could sleep in, and had to be dressed appropriately.


Needless to say I was shocked that 21 young men in their late teens and 20 s signed up for this adventure. They were on time and dressed appropriately. I said Mass for this very grateful group of religious women. After Mass, we gathered in the sisters dining room. Close to 100 nuns gathered for their midday meal that day.


We began singing Christmas carols. It was amazing to see the expressions on these women s faces. You would have thought we gave them a million dollars. They were singing, clapping and smiling. It was a wonderful moment.


The young men were not the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, but I must admit they sang with all their hearts and souls. When they finished, without any provocation, they walked among the nuns hugging and kissing them and wishing them a Merry Christmas.


The young men left, and boarded the vans. I thanked the Sister in charge for her hospitality. As I was leaving two nuns stopped me. One Sister was ninety-two. She said the boys made her Christmas. With a twinkle in her eye, she said, Give them a high five and a hug from me and a big thank you!


The other Sister that stopped me was ninety-eight. She stood as straight as an arrow. With tears streaming down her cheeks, she said this was the best Christmas she s had in years. She said it was the first time in 18 years that a young person had hugged and kissed her. Long ago her family had died; even the sisters she worked with had died as well as many of the students she was close to. She said more than we could ever realize that the young men s generosity of spirit, for her was her Christmas miracle!


As I drove the van into New York City, I listened to the young men talk about their experience with the old nuns and how it touched them. I couldn t help think about how a simple touch made all the difference in one person s life. It wasn t an expensive gift, it was a human touch.


Isn t that what this time of year is genuinely supposed to be about||? People touching people from the heart. Merry Christmas and a Blessed Holiday Season to all!