Sadly, I received no question for this column, which is my final one in this series. My first “Ask Father Michael” column appeared in The Visitor in January 2009, nearly 10 years ago. I have enjoyed this opportunity to explore a wide variety of liturgical topics and share my reflections with you, and I am grateful for your positive comments on my contributions. In farewell I offer you my Christmas Day 2016 homily for the Franciscan Sisters of Little Falls:
In October 2016, two new parents in Spanish Fork, Utah, Lidia and Ryan Grassley, were charged $39.95 for holding their newborn son in the operating room after he was born. Ryan told ABC News that when his wife entered the hospital for her planned cesarean section, hospital staffers asked if he would like to have skin-to-skin contact after the baby was born, and he said yes, “of course.” Only after he received the hospital bill did he realize there was a charge for this.
The hospital explained that the charge was not for holding the baby but for the additional caregiver needed in the operating room for a C-section birth. Mr. Grassley said that the charge on his bill, listed as “skin to skin after C-sec,” refers to when he placed his newborn son on his wife’s chest after the C-section to bond with the baby. The assistant did take some photos of the newborn and his parents. I hope they got their money’s worth. Just days before that, Pope Francis had held a tiny infant in the neonatal unit at a hospital in Rome. I hope that he didn’t get charged for doing this.
When Jesus was born, the almost incomprehensible occurred: in the birth of the Word made flesh, God had skin-to-skin contact with the human race. God bonded with us in the most complete way, in a body and blood way. But God didn’t require any fee from the parents of Jesus or from the human race for this.
God entrusted God’s beloved Son into the hands of a poor Jewish woman and man freely, without cost. Mary and Joseph humbly received the Son of God into their hands with great love. But God didn’t charge them or God’s chosen people for receiving the Savior on behalf of the human race, the Word who became flesh and lived among us, the light shining in our darkness. What could we have offered God for such a Savior? We could never have offered God enough to hold the glorious Son of God in our hands. But truly, that is where we hold him today, by God’s free gift.
Daily, God places Jesus Christ into our hands as we receive him in holy Communion. We receive the Savior born of Mary, full of grace and truth, who came to us in history but now comes to us in sacramental mystery. And as at his birth in Bethlehem, so here and now, we take the Savior into our hands, into our hearts, in every Eucharist, without cost but with gratefulness. But we also receive Jesus Christ in his least ones, in his suffering sisters and brothers.
With hearts and hands strong like Joseph’s to protect the weak,
with hearts and hands gentle like Mary’s to embrace the needy,
let us honor the One
whose hand fills all things with blessing,
Christ the Lord.
To him be glory forever.
Merry Christmas to you all!
Benedictine Father Michael Kwatera, a monk of St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, serves as the abbey’s director of liturgy.