By Brother Damien Price
Many of us have a favourite Christmas carol. I have many memories of sitting in St Catherine’s in Proserpine on a hot humid December 24th night belting out with some gusto “Oh Come, All Ye Faithful” or “Silent Night” accompanied by the occasional mosquito and beads of sweat. They are good memories.
I know it is not politically correct but one of my favourites is “Little Drummer Boy!”
My years working on Eddie’s Van taught me many things. Eddie’s Van is a hospitality van with and for the homeless.
One Christmas, the Eddie’s Van volunteers and I were chatting about what ‘gift’ we could give to our homeless brothers and sisters.
They had given us so much. They had welcomed us into their lives, they had accepted us, they had laughed and cried with us, they had taught us the beauty and simplicity of story shared and time wasted.
What could we give them in return?
They did not need us to give them anything! But a small gift at Christmas would honour the relationship that we had collectively built. So, I found myself in K Mart and then Target, buying up their whole supply of thick woolly socks.
We wrapped each pair and, in most cases, were able to add a small gift card with the homeless person’s first name.
It was a very special Christmas week as the volunteers went up to our friends and guests and said: “Peter / Mary / Charlie … happy Christmas!”
Thick Woolly socks are like gold for the homeless – they love them.
But in many cases it was the ‘calling by name’ and the small card with their name on it that meant so much to them. For those few precious hours at Eddie’s Van they were loved and known by name!
At this time of the year we are all quite tired and long for the beach, for a break, for time just to be.
Sometimes as we approach Christmas we can be a little hard on ourselves and think that the year has been wasted or that we did not achieve much or that we wished we could do it all differently.
Now I know that there were no drummers there in Bethlehem or Nazareth and that the ox and lamb did not beat time.
But I resonate with the small boy whose only perceived gift was that he was a little drummer boy. This was all he could bring to the ‘newborn King!’
“I played my best for Him – par rum pa pa pum!”
Perhaps all we can do is look back upon our year – and be gentle with ourselves. Did we – humanly speaking – try out best?
And before ego and guilt jump in and say “No way!”, Allow the voice of gentle love from deep within whisper “Yes!”
That young parent who gets up in the middle of the night for their child, the believer in justice who marches in a rally for asylum seekers, the parent of a child with a substance abuse habit whose sleepless nights are countless but still leaves the door open to their prodigal, the nursing home staff member who gently and lovingly tends to someone with Alzheimer’s, the person fighting some form of mental illness and yet still tries to smile, the Orange Sky or Vinnie’s volunteer or that parish worker whose generosity goes unnoticed.
All of these and a thousand faces more “play their best for him!”
And, in response, yes, Mary nods and Jesus smiles.
Our year may have been full of small, hardly noticed acts of giving. Our year may have been full of attempts at love, honesty and forgiveness – attempts that at times we felt did not go far enough.
Our year may have been full of the ordinary – like woolly socks – but when given with love, when motivated by love however fragile, those acts are greater than all the gold, frankincense and myrrh that Kings from the East may bring.
Brother Damien Price is a former teacher in Brisbane schools including St Joseph’s, Gregory Terrace, St Patrick’s College, Shorncliffe, and St Laurence’s College, South Brisbane. He continues to work with schools across the country.