The Greatest Place
According to a parable by St. Gregory of Nyssa, two people had been living in the dark. When one was given a glimpse of light, the two were no longer in darkness in the same way because the one who saw the fleeting light now knew there was a difference between light and dark, and he mourned the loss of the former.
The parable came to mind as I recalled that my family has a way of making a mental list and checking it twice about the selective memory I have of my childhood. Hence, this full disclosure: As a kid, I feared the dark as intently as I believed in Santa Claus.
My Cajun grandmother was also a seasoned believer in Santa’s legendary embodiment of Christian giving. All year long, while rocking me to sleep as a child (usually after I awoke frightened from the dark), she sang, “You better watch out, you better not cry…Santa Claus is coming to town.”
In the 1970s, the red and green glitter that she sprayed in her towering silver hair made it look like a treetop ornament. On her clothing, she wore a plastic battery-operated Santa face with an illuminated red nose. And on the stereo turntable was her favorite vinyl, which articulated the sentimental longing in her widowed heart—that perennial classic: “Please Come Home for Christmas” by blues artist Charles Brown, not to be confused with the legendary Peanuts character.
Holidays can feel like a Charles Brown Christmas, especially after the loss of a loved one. We can be awakened in the middle of the night by the empty feeling that there’s nothing or no one to live for. The temptation is to wallow in a “blue, blue Christmas” out of a sense of obligation to the deceased. But until that ultimate reunion in the life to come, would not departed loved ones want to see those they leave behind enjoy life fully?
Upon receiving news of his father’s passing, Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos wrote to his widowed mother and family that, before long, “we will…be joyfully reunited precisely because we were separated out of love for God or have borne the separation that he has willed with resignation.” A few years later, he assured his mother that her husband must “by this time already be in heaven; for me, that’s a foregone conclusion.”
Christmas greetings speak of peace on earth in general, but the specific location is never given. To skeptics convinced that hoping for world peace today is like believing in Santa Claus, I say, “Bah, humbug!” The greatest peace on earth is located in our hearts. “God is faithful and will not let you be tried beyond your strength; but with the trial he will also provide a way out, so that you may be able to bear it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). The greatest peace at Christmas is the assurance that we who once lived in darkness have now seen a great light in Christ!
To this day, I have my grandmother’s novelty light-up Santa. But all Cajun Christmas kitsch aside, she continues to be a light in my life. Kindly permit me to offer a holiday greeting to my grandmother: Your presence in heaven is a foregone conclusion that gives me peace; at the same time, I still miss you terribly after all these years. Please come home for Christmas this year. Please!