Mons Yennock's Christmas Homily

Christmas story 2013 (December 25, 2013)

In a little town in the Midwest, whenever pageants are talked about someone is sure to mention the name of Wallace Purling. Wally’s performance in one of the town’s annual Christmas pageant will never be forgotten. The old-timers who were in the audience that night never tire of recalling exactly what happened? 

Wally was nine years old and in the second grade. He should have been in fourth grade. Most people knew that Wally had a hard time keeping up with the rest of the kids. He was big and clumsy, slow in movement and mind. Still, Wally was well liked by the other children in his class. They were all smaller than he was.

The boys had trouble hiding their irritation when Wally would ask to play ball with them.  He was so uncoordinated.  Most often they’d find a way to keep him off the field, but Wally would hang around anyway—not sulking, just hoping.

He was always a helpful boy—a willing and smiling one, and the natural protector of the underdog. Sometimes if the older boys chased the younger ones away it would always be Wally who’d say, “Can’t they stay? They’re no bother”

One year when the Christmas pageant came around Wally wanted so much to be a shepherd with a flute. But the play’s director, Miss Lumbard, assigned him to a more important role. After all, she reasoned, the innkeeper did not have too many lines, and Wally’s size would make his refusal of lodging to joseph more forceful.

And so it happened that the usual large, audience gathered for the town’s yuletide extravaganza of crowns, halos and a whole stageful of squeaky voices.

No one on stage or off stage was more caught up in the magic of the night than Wallace Purling. They said later that he stood in the wings and watched the performance with such fascination that from time to time Miss Lumbard had to make sure he didn’t wander onstage before his cue.

Then the time came when Joseph appeared, slowly, tenderly guiding Mary to the door of the inn.  Joseph knocked hard on the wooden door set into the painted backdrop. Wally the innkeeper was there, waiting.

“What do you want?” Wally said, swinging the door open with a brusque gesture.

“We seek lodging.”

“Seek it elsewhere.” Wally looked straight ahead but spoke forcefully.  “The inn is filled”.

“Sir, we have asked everywhere in vain we have traveled far and are so very tired.”

“There is no room in this inn for you” Wally looked stern and serious.

“Please. Good innkeeper, this is my wife, Mary. She is heavy with child and needs a place to rest. Surely you must have some small corner for her. She is so tired.”

Now for the first time, the innkeeper relaxed his opposition. He looked down at Mary. When he did that there was complete silence—a long pause—long enough to make that audience tense with embarrassment.

Just then the prompter in the wings whispered “No, begone”.

Wally repeated automatically: “No, begone”!

Joseph sadly placed his arm around Mary and Mary laid her head upon her husband’s shoulder and the two of them started to move away.

Now the innkeeper did not return inside the inn as he practiced. Wally just stood there in the doorway, watching Mary and joseph walk away sadly. Wally’s mouth was open, his brow creased with concern, his eyes filling with tears.

And suddenly this Christmas pageant became different from all the others.

“Don’t go, Joseph,” Wally called out. “Bring Mary back.” And Wallace Purling’s face grew into a bright smile. “You can have my room”.

Some people in town thought that the pageant had been ruined. But there were many, many others who considered it the most Christmas of all Christmas pageants they had ever seen.

This is one of my favorite Christmas stories and I chose it this year because Wally’s invitation to the holy couple reminded me of the compassion of Pope Francis. He would say the line just like Wally:   “You can have my room.”

His focus on compassion has made Francis something of a rock star. More than 3 million people turned out to see him on Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro last summer

Ever since he stepped out onto the balcony of St. Peter’s and uttered the words: “Buona sera” on the evening of his election, Pope Francis has been a source of fascination and speculation for Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

The crowds in St. Peter’s square have been ecstatic. Francesco is the most popular male baby name in Italy. The press cannot get enough of him. There seems to be no end to the stories about him.

Pope Francis’ message of compassion—whether it’s kissing a modern day leper, making telephone calls to those in distress or his  understanding attitude toward the weakness of human nature—has made him an appealing figure.

In a cynical city like New York, where it’s cooler to worship professional sports teams than to practice an organized religion, the Pope’s fresh approach to the church’s teachings has helped Catholics come out of the closet. There are signs that lapsed Catholics are returning to mass and confession. 

A man on long island, said to a priest: “Forty years I’ve been away from the church, Father. And I am back because of Pope Francis.” Another man said: “When I read the story about him being a bouncer, I thought, ‘this is so awesome.’ I love that, at one point, he was just like us and feeling his way through.”

On the night of Dec. 4, more than a thousand eager young Catholics packed into St. Patrick’s cathedral in New York City. As they were walking out after mass a young man said: “There’s a new spirit in the church right now. Young people love Pope Francis. After all, he’s taking selfies with them”.

A young man from the Bronx said: “He’s made Catholicism cool in 2013.” Earlier this month MTV’s college channel MTVU named him man of the year.

On December 11 when Time Magazine named Pope Francis person of the year it made this statement: “In a very short time, a vast, global ecumenical audience has shown a hunger to follow him. And so

For pulling the papacy out of the palace and into the streets, for committing the world’s largest church to confronting its deepest needs and for balancing judgment with mercy, Pope Francis is time’s 2013 person of the year”.

The Savior of the world came in humility—born not in a palace, but in a simple dwelling in a small town.

He focused on the poor, the sick, the dying. He embraced the outcast and, through his parables and lessons, challenged us to do the same.

He taught us how to live and how to die, and he promised us eternal life.

From such humility and sacrifice arose a movement that we know as the church of god.

The Catholic Church is one of the oldest and largest institutions on the face of the earth. It numbers over a billion people. At it’s best it inspires and instructs; it feeds the hungry and heals the sick; it calls the faithful and the world to be the best version of itself.

At the same time it has been weakened by scandals; it has a shortage of priests and religious; it is being challenged by the declining culture, atheism, and the tyranny of relative morality.

Pope Francis, the humble successor of st. Peter in the twenty-first century has been called by the Holy Spirit to lead the Church of God out of the valley onto the mountain with the newborn savior, where angels sing triumphantly: Glory to God in the highest heaven and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.