Last week I traveled to Toledo, Ohio for a talk with the priests on their annual day of sanctification. Invited by my friend, Bishop Daniel Thomas, I was delighted to see Toledo and its magnificent cathedral for the first time.
I arrived the evening before in time to celebrate Sunday Mass at a local parish, Little Flower, and give a talk following Mass about our church’s outreach to persons with disabilities. I was in for a surprise before Mass started. I had the opportunity to visit a group home called Sunshine Residence, located right on the grounds of Little Flower Church. Sunshine Residence consists of two group homes, each with eight adult residents who have severe disabilities. These facilities just opened last year, and the buildings and spirit within are tremendously attractive. What a wonderful opportunity for outreach as the parish shares available land so that a nonprofit group could form a residence! This act of generosity also reveals a parish being shaped and formed by the wonderful presence of people with disabilities, who fully participate at the parish Eucharist.
The surprise was that I received my first Christmas gift, given to me by a young man named Cameron. Although he was born with severe disabilities that made his hands unable to hold anything, he has become quite an artist. In fact, he gave me a beautiful watercolor, filled with rustic oranges and yellows reminding me of the sun shining through multi-colored leaves before they fall from a tree. It is strikingly attractive. I turned the framed print over to find a picture of Cameron in his wheelchair. On his head is a specially prepared harness containing a paintbrush. Cameron expresses his creative impulses in watercolor not by the movement of his hand but by the careful motions of his head – creating wonderful art! All I could think of is the mysterious creative spirit God places in our hearts – always surprising us!
During the season of Advent, we earnestly pray that God’s gift of hope will break through like sunlight into our lives. In our hearts, we want God to prepare us for a deep remembrance of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem and for His coming at the end of time. Cameron’s gift made me aware that each day God creatively breaks into our lives, especially through special people that he places as his angels announcing the good news. These modern day Gabriels allow God’s gracious reign to be made present, not simply in the distant future but also right here and right now.
I told those I met that this is my first Christmas gift of 2018. Certainly, this watercolor will find a special place in my office and remind me of my new friends in Toledo. At a deeper level, it will remind me that God’s promises to be with us emerge in the least expected way and at the least expected time. Be sober and alert, sacred scripture tells us, for your God and your redemption are near at hand.
I invite you to look around your room for evidence of God’s creative mystery breaking through into your life – especially through the people who will enter your life this day. Search for those moments in which God breaks through in His creative way. You will recognize the signs, for they will bring you to a halt and slow you down. Before you know it, you will be walking at the pace that Advent requires – slowly enough to be attentive.
In Toledo, I spoke a good deal about my brother George. I related how after our mother died, and he and I began to live together, I would get up on a Saturday morning and very quickly begin to announce a long list of things both of us needed to do that day. He would slowly turn to me and calmly smile and brightly say, “Good morning!” – bringing a touch of civility into our lives. It was enough to bring me to my senses, put aside my list momentarily and enjoy the love of a brother.
May you have an early Christmas present in the midst of the bustle of these December days. Perhaps someone like Cameron or George is already at your doorstep ready to be noticed.