Canon Pat Browne gave the following homily at Christmas Midnight Mass, Holy Apostles, Pimlico in central London.
Have you ever put your foot forward and have the ground give way before you? Perhaps it was on a stone as you tried to cross a stream or in a marshy field. You began to sink as you moved forward. There have been stories of people waking up as an earthquake was happening putting their feet out of the bed only to find there was no floor to step onto.
Life feels like this for many people when everything they knew and relied on has gone. The bottom has literally fallen out of their world. They cannot stand up anymore. They cannot find a place in this world. Nothing makes sense any longer.
Someone I know recently tried to commit suicide. He slashed his wrists, his neck and his groin. But the ambulance got there in time. He is pulling through physically. But he has to pull through emotionally, psychologically and spiritually as well, if he is going to have a future of any quality. Why did he do it? Problems with his wife which estranged them from each other and so from his children whom he adores along with her. Everything he believed in was taken from him. There was no point in going on, or at least that is how he saw it then.
I was in Rome last weekend for a friend's wedding. We met up two nights before the wedding for a catch-up. He is 29 years of age but he only got the all clear two months ago from a very rare form of cancer, having undergone a long period of very aggressive chemo and radio therapy. He told me; when that happens to you and it feels like life is being taken from you and nothing makes sense any more, you have to take a decision...to lose hope or reach out for God's help. He has a deep faith.
Not to believe is to have no hope.
God IS there for us if we reach out to him. Indeed he is there for us even if we don't. But he cannot do anything for us if we purposely and consciously reject the help he is offering us. So many people do that today. Then of course they are on their own and when things go wrong and nothing makes sense as it won't if you reject God, there is no point in going on.
God IS there for us. The child in the crib is called Emmanuel, God with us. God with us.
In a few minutes the choir will sing a song to the Virgin Mary. It has a beautiful line in it which says "when you, kiss your little baby, you kiss the face of God". Wow! That is a powerful statement. I don't always feel it, but God IS with me. Sometimes my being a priest for others brings this home to me.
Two weeks ago, I got an email from a man I do not know who visited an old people's home in north London He met an old lady there, age 93 who has Alzheimer's and is very disorientated. She kept telling him she had a priest friend called Pat Browne. So he tracked me down.
I went to see her. She did not recognise me but kept telling me about Pat Browne. I told her that was me...the older version. While she didn't tell me I was lying she said she could not see it. Anyway we talked for a while and because I had been told no one had been to see her in years from the local parish I had brought communion with me. We went to her room where we prayed together.
It's interesting isn't it that the most confused Alzheimer's patient if they forget everything else and do not recognise even their own children, they do not forget their prayers and still maintain in most cases a sense of the presence of God. She did too. And when I had anointed her and given her holy communion. She kept exclaiming. This is so wonderful. I feel so blessed......not by the presence of Pat Browne who she was still telling me about even as I left, but by the presence of God in Holy Communion through his priest. I felt every privileged as a priest to be able to minister that presence to her and awaken in her again the sense that God is with us. Emmanuel. God is with us.
So, back to us here tonight. Tonight let's kneel at the crib here in the church or when we go home, when there is no one else around - look at the crib and the baby that it's in it. Imagine you are kneeling there beside Mary - Joseph is standing just behind you both. Worship the baby with them both. Draw out from your heart all the love you are capable of, and offer it, as Mary is doing. Then when a day comes in the future, that you are standing beside Mary again, but this time at the foot of the cross or maybe then you will feel that you are on the cross, that love, that presence of God, will come back to you. It will strengthen you and having Jesus in your life you will face and come through whatever your suffering is all about.
When you do this, you are planting your two feet, your life, on solid ground that will not give way. And when all other supports have been taken from you, and they may one day, this one presence of the baby you have worshipped and loved will be there for you. He is Emmanuel - God with us.
So tonight, remember....when you kiss that little baby you kiss the face of God.