A Christmas Story


caroling
I looked up through the trees that lined the street to the small patch of sky above our convent on the west side of Manhattan. No snow. Amidst the hustle and bustle of the city, the night sky was still and peaceful, and it filled my heart with an anticipation of what would be here in a few short days – Christmas, the birth of the baby Jesus.

With the glow of the Christmas lights, the smell of hot chocolate and homemade cookies, we gathered on the sidewalk outside our front door to sing Christmas carols. A woman walking by stopped to take in the sight. Her hair was dyed bright pink but there was a sad searching in her eyes. I greeted her and asked her name. “Casey,” she responded.

Talking about familiar carols segued into conversation about how much her life had changed since she’d sung those songs as a child. She was working as a “dancer” and shared some of the pain and burdens she was carrying and the lack of confidence she had in herself, in life, and in God. And her eyes spoke further, of her desire to know it could be otherwise.

I was happy to be with someone with such an open and searching soul. It’s a strikingly beautiful thing in this world, and I told her so. I prayed, “Dear Lord, love through my eyes, my words, my presence.  Help her to know how precious she is!” We spoke about Christmas and Mary as a mother who always leads us to the baby Jesus. “Do you know that you can talk to her like you’ve talked to me? That she knows your heart and wants to take care of you?”  Casey was listening with a smile and glistening eyes. I spoke about praying the Hail Mary and the power of the rosary. She asked if I had one for her. Reaching into my pocket, my heart sank.

Just a few weeks prior, my father had given me his rosary – a beautiful wooden one with a large crucifix. I loved it. Yet in the moment when Casey asked, I knew it was for her. Placing it in her hands, I said, “This belonged to my father, but it is yours now.” Hesitating, she took it, and I invited her to walk with me to the crèche in the little garden next to our convent. We paused, looking at the simple figurines.

“Where is the baby Jesus?” Casey asked. “Oh,” I said, “He’ll arrive in the manger on Christmas day, although it sure feels empty without Him… Jesus may not be in the crèche now, but He lives in our hearts. He desires for Christmas to happen in our hearts. We only need to say, ‘Yes, come Lord!’”

After we spent some time in silence there I thanked Casey for entrusting her story to me and assured her of my prayers, leaving her alone in front of the rustic scene. After a few minutes of quiet she slipped out into the night.

Two weeks later, the doorbell rang; it was Casey. She explained, “A couple of weeks ago I came by, the night you were all singing, and a Sister gave me her rosary. Would you mind telling her…that night I left my job at the strip club, and gave my life to the baby Jesus.”

Four years later, just last week, I was in Manhattan walking near Bryant Park with a group of Sisters when a woman approached looking happy to see us, and asked us to pray for a heart procedure she was about to undergo. As she spoke I recognized her face – and yet she was so changed. I placed my hand on her shoulder and said, “I know you, I know you!”  Casey looked at me with a smile and replied, “You gave me the rosary! I still have it and pray it everyday.  And I know that God loves me.”

For those who are searching, Christmas is only an invitation away.