01 January 2014

Do You Get Christmas Presents?

[[Hi Sister Laurel, I don't think I could ever be a hermit. I like people and I like to talk too much! Is the silence and being alone all the time hard for you? What about during holidays? I guess you don't visit with your family or spend the holidays like most of us do. Do you get Christmas presents? Do you have Christmas dinner? I am in fifth grade. Thank you for answering my questions.]]

Hi there and thanks for your questions. I don't get a lot of them from students your age so it is terrific you decided to write. You know I also like people and I like to talk but it is true that I am an introvert. By that I mean that I am a person whose energy comes from quiet activities done alone more than from being with other people. I enjoy being with other people but it also tires me out and I need time alone to kind of recharge my "inner batteries." (The other kind of person is someone we call an extrovert, and they get their energy from being with people and even from partying; spending too much time alone is what leaves them feeling kind of wiped out or "needing others".) I know we think of hermits as never seeing other people, but I see friends at Mass sometimes during the week and on Sundays, and I also get together with one friend (a Dominican Sister) for coffee many Sundays after Mass. Christmas is a little different too. This last weekend I went to the De Young Museum in SF and saw an art exhibit with two friends (one was visiting her mom from Germany and was leaving the next day);  the weekend before Christmas I went to a Christmas concert (Chanticleer) in San Francisco with another friend. But you are right that I spend most of my time during holidays alone with God and in silence in my hermitage.

Like many Catholics and other Christians I spend some of the holiday time in Church --- more than usual anyway since the hermitage is like a "little church". I usually go to Mass late on Christmas Eve and again on Christmas morning. Apart from this Christmas is like most other days though. I pray several times a day; I do some studying and reading as usual and usually do some writing. I may also watch a movie on Netflix though or do something else I don't usually do. This year, as I mentioned, that meant a trip to the museum a couple of days after Christmas itself and it will also mean that I may go to the theater and see a movie like The Hobbit II or The Book Thief or Philomena with a friend. (I'm still deciding which movie that will be!) Christmas dinner is something I don't do anything very special for. Here in the hermitage all meals are supposed to be special (they remind us of Eucharist and are a time with God) so I do try to pay extra attention to the truth of that on significant feasts like Christmas or Easter. My family does not live near here so, unfortunately, we do not get together for Christmas.

Still, I am not lonely during Christmas as some people think I must be. I think that is part of what you are asking when you wonder if the silence and solitude are hard during holidays. Remember that I am called  by God through his Church to live this vocation and that God does not call us to something which makes us unhappy. Not only is God here with me in everything, but I have the sense that I am meant to be living this. I sometimes think that one of the things which makes people lonely during the holidays is the thought that others are enjoying time with family and friends so somehow being alone --- even if one chooses it --- is not okay. They feel left out and even unloved; sometimes they may even think that having no place to go during Christmas is a sign there is no purpose to their lives or that they have failed as human beings.

But you see I know that I live alone (with God!) for an important reason. My life says to others (at least I really hope it does!) that even if we are alone God is there too and that changes everything. Our relationship with God is part of being truly human; in fact, it is the thing which makes us truly human. Because of that witnessing to this relationship is a very important mission for any human being. More, I know that God loves me without limit and that my answering that love with my own self truly delights God --- just like your being present with your family delights them.  For these reasons the time I spend in solitude is not hard for me. If I were always thinking things like, "I should be with family" or "I should not be alone; it's not right," then I might make myself feel really empty and miserable. Instead I celebrate what Christmas is all about with the One who made it possible 2000 years ago and who makes it real now in my own life too --- just as I am called to do.

Do I get Christmas presents? Yes, in fact I do --- though I think my life is the greatest present I could be given; it and the people in it are the things I celebrate on a feast where God reveals himself in all of our stories as someone who brings life out of barrenness (like he did with Elizabeth) or where God makes people who have been frightened, grieving, or were mute into people whose lives are songs of great meaning and joy (like we hear about Zechariah or Mary)! But do I also get Christmas presents in the sense you mean? Yes. Those come from friends, family, and even from my parish or organizations in the parish.

One of these this year is a card entitling me to a movie and lunch with a friend --- which is why I am thinking about movies I might like to see. (The year before last I saw three movies and last year I might have seen one (I can't remember when I went to see the Life of Pi.). It looks like this year I will see at least two!) I also got several new books I haven't read (one, which I had on my wish list for some time, was left in the sacristy for me from "Santa"); I was also given a gift certificate for Amazon along with various treats like gingerbread, cookies, etc. One friend even got me several new shirts (2 white and 2 black!) because those are something I can always use; another good friend gave me two beautiful dark blue ceramic cups with Bible quotes etched around the center!  One says, "I am the Way and the Truth and the Life" and the other one says, "When I am afraid, I will trust in You." (I'll try to add a picture of these in the next couple of days. They are really special.) Next week I will have dinner here with my delegate (someone who serves me and my diocese to help make sure I live my life well) and we will celebrate Christmas too (we will use the ceramic cups for coffee or tea!). So, yes, I get Christmas presents and I even give a few too!

I hope I have answered your questions. Please feel free to write again if you have other questions or if I was not very clear about something. It is refreshing to hear from a fifth grader! Have a terrific Christmas season and a happy New Year too. All my best.