He has given us a new birth into a living hope. — 1 Peter 1.3
Many years ago, when I lived in Australia, I was excitedly preparing for a return home for Christmas. As an only child of parents who were struggling financially, I had managed somehow to choose what seemed to be the furthest place in the world to live. The cost of travel was prohibitive, so the December trip was a big deal, and the chance to catch up with my folks, who were my best friends in all the world, was truly special. A week before I was scheduled to fly home, however, I received a frantic call from my mother. “You need to come home now,” she sobbed, “your father’s had a heart attack.”
There is perhaps little need to explain how nearly impossible it was to change my flights at that time of year, the complexity of leaving my classes early, or the horrific journey that unfolded at a time when direct flights from Australia to Eastern Canada were non-existent. Suffice to say that my trip home required four separate flights, coincided with one of the worst snowstorms in Toronto’s history that grounded all planes, and necessitated my hiring a courier service to “ship” me from Toronto to Montreal.
When the 401 was closed down I convinced the driver to let me take over the vehicle, and we wound our way through back roads, dodging roadblocks and police. I arrived, after a 56-hour journey, to discover my father on life support. He never recovered, and I was never able to say goodbye. Shortly thereafter, just before another Christmas, my mother would be diagnosed with cancer and would slip quietly though painfully away. At least I was able to spend some time with her.
It is perhaps for this reason that whenever Christmas comes around, a large part of me braces for an unbearable sadness. It has been mitigated, over the years, by the presence of my children who unfortunately never got to meet their grandparents. But despite this, the sense of cheer, the sense of reunion, of family gathering, contrasts sharply with the sense of loss. It is not something I ever speak about, and I am careful never to raise this with my kids. And yet, how many, like me, wear the memory of sad tidings the event inevitably brings.
My faith life has always been the anchor at these times. Many write of the true meaning of the season and the importance of celebrating Christ’s birth amid the onslaught of commercialization. For me this takes on a special significance. The birth of Jesus is a reminder of joy, both in the moment (the birth itself), but also in the long term (what it represents for our salvation). It is here I can remind myself that my parents are not lost to me; that they have been saved and that I will be reunited with them. Our Lord’s sacrifice is equally a reminder of what giving truly is — at a level and scope that no human can ever undertake, and that we perhaps can only vaguely ever understand. But what a precious gift it is. For that we should be deeply thankful.
Merry Christmas and God bless, from all of us at St. Mary’s University in Calgary.
Turcotte is president of St. Mary’s University in Calgary.