A note from the Editor:
In celebration of this most joyous day, OC Catholic has asked several religious and diocesan clergy to share a favorite Christmas memory.
We at OC Catholic wish you and yours a most blessed Christmas filled with peace, joy and love.
This Christmas memory comes with a disclaimer: At the time, I was young and ill-informed. Having said that, I always enjoyed Midnight Mass at my parish, where, as a teen, I would arrive early enough to run upstairs and snag an open seat in the choir loft. This resulted from my Catholic school experience, where Mass seating was (and still is) assigned according to grade levels, from youngest to oldest. Accordingly, by the time we hit eighth grade, we had matriculated from the front rows to the very last ones. Once
we were in high school, we usually found our way to the stairwells or to the loft unless an usher made us clear out. I can’t recall now whether I was a sophomore or a junior, but that year, a couple of my Protestant high school buddies asked if they could attend Midnight Mass with me, to which I agreed. They were, of course, impressed with the beauty of the liturgy and the packed church, so when the Communion Rite began, they asked if they were allowed to join in. Being naïve and not fully informed, I just asked if they believed that it was the Body of Christ, to which they said yes, so I assumed it would be OK. I quickly showed them how to receive Communion, and off we went.
Over the years we lost touch, but I’ve often wondered how or if that experience affected their spiritual journeys. Of course, I later learned that I broke protocol that night, for which I eventually received absolution, but how fitting that the Nativity sparked a generous, albeit misguided, response in me. Bobby and Bill, if you’re still out there, I hope your hearts are still warmed by the mystery of the Incarnation and God’s gift of Himself to all humanity. Merry Christmas.
-Father Bruce Patterson, Episcopal Vicar for Priests for the Diocese of Orange
My first Christmas at St. Michael’s Abbey was in 1997. I was starting the seminary and in my first year of novitiate. I had received the white religious habit on Christmas Eve along with my new name in the religious life, frater Damien. We go by the title of “frater” at the Abbey which is Latin for brother. I was to put to death, spiritually speaking, the old Adam in me and put on the new man, our Lord Jesus Christ. So, under the patronage of Blessed Damien of Molokai, I was to have a new beginning, and this would be a rather memorable Christmas.
I finally experienced the beautiful Advent and Christmas liturgy with the Gregorian Chant that we would sing in choir and at Mass; before that, everything in December was from a commercial point of view. The television and the mall had formed my Christmas experience; whereas now the liturgy of the Church was giving me the formation
that I needed.
I am also sharing a family photo of snow around Christmas time in 1982 because it showed a level of joy that we had experienced as a family. This picture was from 40 years ago and both my parents have gone to their eternal reward; but my two older brothers and I remain here below to do our parents proud by the love that we show for one another during the Christmas season by prioritizing time for family first and foremost.
-Fr. Damien Giap, P. Praem. School Rector, St. John the Baptist School in Costa Mesa
FR. DAMIEN GIAP IS PICTURED WITH HIS FELLOW SEMINARIANS ON CHRISTMAS, 1997. COURTESY PHOTO
When asked to write about a favorite Christmas memory, my mind, for some reason, immediately recalled my time of ministry in Hawaii. The whole “island” experience was a blessed learning, however, Christmas turned out to be an invitation to expand my sense of the Incarnation. The first challenge was learning to say “Merry Christmas” in Hawaiian: Mele Kalikimaka. The rest of the experiences were not so much challenge rather more of a deepening revelation. Celebrating the Word Incarnate within a different culture from my own broadened my understanding and grew my appreciation of God’s incredible gift of God’s Self. God truly became one of us without limitations or partiality. Blessed be God forever . . . Mele Kalikimaka!
-Sr. Christine Hilliard, CSJ, Center for Spiritual Development, Orange, CA
NEWMAN HOLY SPIRIT PARISH, HONOLULU, HI, RCIA GROUP 1987-88. DR. CHRISTINE HILLIARD, CSJ IS FIFTH FROM RIGHT. COURTESY PHOTO
Looking back, I would say that my favorite Christmas memory was not when I was a kid but as an adult. Mainly, because as a kid, I only looked forward to getting presents and I was also disappointed when I didn’t get what I wanted. I think being in the convent has helped me to live out Advent and Christmas more fully. Last year, I was able to visit my family on the feast of the Holy Family. When I got home, I thought we would have a small family gathering but it turned out to be big family party because my parents were celebrating their 35th wedding anniversary. They were married on the feast of the Holy Family. What a blessing to celebrate the Holy Family and my own family! It was by far my favorite Christmas because I can see how our Catholic faith has kept my parents together all these years and how they strive to create a holy family for me and my siblings. The season of Advent and Christmas is a time for me to appreciate the Holy Family and my own family!
– Sr. Josephine Dinh, S. Praem.
SR. JOSEPHINE DINH, S. PRAEM IS PICTURED WITH HER FAMILY ON CHRISTMAS DAY, 2021. COURTESY PHOTO