Sister Ann Heath, I.H.M.

Some people just love Christmas and I happen to be one of them! So yes, I delight in the concept of Christmas in July. I tend to keep some reminders of the season around all year. If you came into my room, you would discover on my bookcase, a little four-piece nesting nativity set with an all-embracing Angel, Joseph, Mary, and the Baby.

On the wall behind my dresser hangs a hand-painted card designed by one of the I.H.M. sisters with the Christ Child in the crib surrounded by angels with the encircling inscription, “Love divine all loves excelling, joy of heaven to earth come down.”

These echoes of Incarnational Presence never find their way to the attic storage boxes. Assuredly, they are gifts I treasure which speak symbolically of the true gift of Christmas.

As I was reflecting on the meaning of this sixth-month July re-awakening to Christmas, I was reminded of one present I received this past year on December 25. On the surface, this gift was quite simple, a box of 365 hand-made cards. The cards have lovely, often playful and colorful images of the associated months.

Written on each card is a prompt inviting me to count my blessings for some unique gift. One day the card might invite me to count my blessing for something inside, outside, or upside down. Another day the card suggests counting my blessing for something outrageous and another for something found only in summer.

I find that responding to the prompt brings something invisible into focus or creates an engagement with a living treasure normally hidden from view. The blessing that struck me profoundly in recent days read, “count your blessing for what makes you special.”

As I pondered, I realized that the real blessing comes from what makes others special to me, and that each of us possesses some special quality of being that makes our presence on this earth a part of the incarnational love story of God. What a blessing to share life with people who in some way differ from me in background, experience, temperament, ethnic/racial origin, education, preferences, and styles!

I started to count my blessings for others by name who have opened their lives and hearts to me so I could share in their life story and, in turn, reflect profoundly the diversity and grandeur of God’s creation.

The idea of learning from life brought to mind a commencement speech delivered by Dr. Carolyn Woo, past president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services, when she spoke about the simple life lessons of the ABCs. She shared this acronym for easy recall: A for attentiveness, B for bravery, and C for compassion.

Attentiveness to people plays a vital role in a world filled with distractions and activity; she proposed that “interactions are the birthplaces of understanding, love, loyalty, and intimacy.” Bravery implies a looking into one’s soul to see that “it takes honesty to recognize the burden we place on others and grace to apologize.” For compassion, Dr. Woo suggests that having a sense of the “other” is “indispensable training for our journey of success.”

She concludes by suggesting that success is not about our power, position, or possessions, but rather “how low we bend to heal those broken down by life; not what we do for our own good, but what we do for the common good.”

Perhaps as we reflect on the true meaning of Christmas we can revisit the lessons of our ABCs, the lessons of our past and present to re-awaken or re-affirm our belief in a future full of compassion, hope, and goodness to be shared by all. Now that would be a blessing worth counting!

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Sister Ann Heath, I.H.M., is a professor of higher education at Immaculata University.