CHRISTMAS SHINES IN ANTE’S EYES

Every Advent people of St. Jerome Croatian Parish in Chicago are participating in a pre-Christmas charity project to help the most vulnerable among the needy - poor children. In our church there is a Advent giving tree full of beautiful ornaments. What is unique about this tree are the handmade ornaments, and each ornament contains a Christmas wish of a child who, because of many reasons, will not get his Christmas present in the same way as most other children get it.

Reading all these Christmas wishes make you sad! Because, these kids aren’t looking for anything special: no expensive gifts or toys they don’t know what to do with. They usually ask for a warm jacket or sweater, gloves or a scarf, boots, and only a few children want a toy, tablet or something similar. Our parishioners regularly prove to be very good. Last year alone, more than 300 children were recipients of their love. May God repay them!

It was second Sunday of Advent last year. After the Mass, while I was greeting the people in front of the church, a boy who was at the Holy Mass with his mom and dad approached me. Arriving at the church, he noticed that several ornaments were left on the tree and - in the purity of his noble heart - he feared that there were some children somewhere who would not get any gifts this Christmas. This moved him to tears. He quickly asked his mother if they could ask the priest after Mass to take all these ornaments, buy and wrap the gifts for all those children and bring them back to church tomorrow so that each child receives its gift this Christmas.

As I listened to these words in front of our church in the cold December air, my heart warmed with joy, warmth, and happiness. I admired the heart of that child who noticed what so many did not and who was willing to do anything to prevent the worst case scenario from happening. Christmas thus took place in Ante’s heart two weeks before December 25, and through his tears and his words Christ came to all of us who heard his story. In his eyes Christmas was shining than day.

I explained to the boy that all the gifts the children were looking for were prepared, and that these on the tree were the ones that were placed afterwards. After each child got what they asked for, our wish was to prepare some extra presents - I said - and so we can be sure that those who come later get a little token of attention these Christmas days. And while there were more presents than needed, I received such a huge present from this child that it is impossible to put into words.

And as I explaining all of this the tears from the boy's face receded, and the tears in my eyes — and in the eyes of a few of us adults who were listening to it all — were gathering. We didn’t even try to hide it. We were stripped of the sincere love of one child, we were stripped of the depth of his feelings, the purity of his heart, and the compassion he showed.

Christmas is the celebration of God who is being close to the mankind. In Christmas, God becomes Emmanuel - the one who is with us. After meeting this boy, I too was with the Lord that Christmas season. How little it takes for the Mystery of Christmas to fills our days! A little suddenly, about ten days before Christmas, while I was not even ready for it, Jesus came in silence and - through this boy - knocked on my heart. I thank him for that!

Merry Christmas!

Fr. Antonio Musa