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Moved by the spirit of Christmas

| Thursday, Dec. 27, 2012, 9:04 p.m.

We went to church Christmas morning in the parish in which I grew up. My wife and I were married there, our son was baptized there. We've attended funerals there.

Mary Ellen, Ryan and I walked from Ryan's home to the church.

One might hope for a moving experience at a church service, but most often that doesn't happen. Yet …

On one Christmas Eve, at the same church, I remember the Mass not for what was said from the pulpit, nor for the music, but for the experience as a whole.

I thought it was just me that night, having the experience, being moved. But at the end of the service, the priest and pastor there at the time, Father John Gallagher, looked out at the pews and simply said, “Something happened here tonight. I don't know what it is, but something happened.”

I was simply amazed to hear him say what I was thinking, and yet it was and remains better not to intellectualize it, just know that it happened.

I won't say that this Christmas the experience was the same, but I was nonetheless moved by several points:

• There were many children at the Mass. Nearest us was a toddler boy in a vest, shirt and tie who liked that Ryan leaned over the pew to show him how to use his crayon on a church flyer.

There was another young husband and wife with their family of four boys and a babe-in-arms girl, all smiling and the adults actively participating in the Mass, the children all smiling.

And otherwise there were hundreds of children in the church.

And I thought that with all the violence making the news of late, this crowd restored my faith in people. No one here was going to use a gun to shoot people, everyone knew the value of the celebration at hand. And these children were loved and protected.

• At one point, the priest noted that our grandparents had taught us the value of Christmas by way of traditions, but he also noted that we adults can also learn from the children. What a great life lesson.

• As Mass drew to a close I saw a well-dressed man, likely in his 80s, exit the church a little early.

There may have been any number of reasons why he left. He had white hair and was somewhat hunched over, and I felt an overwhelming sense of compassion for this man.

Was he attending Mass alone? Was he feeling ill and had to leave, or simply late for something? This man made me think of my father (who looked nothing like him, nor had Dad attend that church) and I felt I would have like to talked to this unknown fellow, or maybe it was a real desire to speak to my late father.

• On the way back to Ryan's apartment several people who were leaving church and walking past us said “Merry Christmas” and we replied in like manner.

Someone sitting on a front porch yelled “Merry Christmas” to the church-goers as they went by.

This was community as it ought to be. It was a gray, cool Christmas morning when the ordinary was being raised to the level of spectacular and the love and compassion of people for one another seemed obvious. It was a lesson for all who wanted to take it in.

Later, I recalled a quote from the late Mr. Rogers (whose words in the book “The World According to Mister Rogers” I have been reading since the Newtown, Conn., incident) that seemed proven by my morning experience:

“Peace means far more than the opposite of war.”

Later on the radio I heard Elvis singing, “Why can't every day be like Christmas.”

Call me naïve, but why not? No one who had an experience like mine this Christmas morning could be someone to inflict such harm on innocent, caring others.

I wish you a happy and a peaceful new year.

Meandering appears Fridays. To share your thoughts on this column (or on most anything) with Mike O'Hare, write to the Leader Times, P.O. Box 978, Kittanning, PA 16201 or via e-mail to

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