Last Christmas SEAN BOOTH received an unexpected gift that’s etched in his memory forever!
I have received many blessings in my life, but the most memorable Christmas gift I received in my life involved paying a prostitute.
Around three years ago, I was helping at a homeless centre in Manchester, England, where we shared the Gospel with people who came each Sunday for a meal. One of the men that came was a Muslim man. He was not homeless, but joined us for fellowship. Over the course of a few months, we struck up a close bond, sharing about our respective faiths. Often our conversations would last for hours. As Christmas drew nearer, I explained how special Christmas time was for us as Christians and asked if he would like to join me at Midnight Mass. He gladly accepted the invitation, since he had never been in a Catholic Church, let alone attended a service.
At the same time, I was also volunteering with a city centre, Catholic Church, who worked with a charity providing meals and a bed for homeless asylum seekers. Many of these men were also Muslim. By the grace of God, I was on the rota to sleep over on Christmas Eve. It was all hands to the pump since the priests were busy preparing for the celebration of Mass. As we shared a meal that night, I invited the men to come to Holy Mass and five of them accepted the invitation. I explained I had to pick up a friend but would be back before Mass started.
After picking up my Muslim friend, we drove into the city centre. Along the way, we noticed a distressed lady waving her hands at us. Although I thought she was a prostitute, I turned the car around to make sure she was okay. When I wound the window down, she begged me for a lift to the pharmacy because there were no buses running and it closed at midnight. I agreed and as we drove, she leaned forward from the back seat and asked if I would ‘like some business’. I declined her offer, explaining that we believed in God and were on the way to attend a church service. Then, I invited her to join us.
She apologised if she had offended us and said she could not come because she had to ‘earn some money’ on the streets. We reached the pharmacy in time and she went inside. I felt inspired to follow her inside to ask if I could pray with her. While her prescription was being prepared, she closed her eyes and held out both of her hands. We prayed, standing at the counter, holding hands. It was beautiful. She was so open.
After we came out, I asked her once more to join us, but again she explained that her need for money prevented her from coming. In that moment, I had a thought. I’d brought money for the collection during Mass, but if I spent it bringing her to God’s house, that was still giving it to the Church. Potentially, that could open her heart to encounter Jesus in the Mass, where Heaven meets earth, whilst also keeping her from potential evil. I offered her the money, explaining that it would only be an hour long and, at the very least, would be warmer than standing on the street. She deliberated and eventually agreed. My heart skipped a beat as I thanked God. When we arrived at the church at two minutes to midnight, the asylum seekers were waiting for us on the steps. I was in absolute awe of God. Before we all went inside, I asked everyone if we could pray together. I asked for The Lord’s blessing on each one of these beautiful people, that they would each feel welcome and for the Christ’s peace to rest upon them all. The lady asked if I was a priest and looked surprised when I laughed and said “No.”
As we walked in, if felt so surreal, I thought that I should pinch myself, I felt so blessed. Only God could have arranged this. I stood with tears in my eyes, thanking God, in absolute awe of His goodness, thanking Him for allowing me to be in His presence with my new group of friends. The gratitude and love in my heart exploded. There was nowhere else in the world, I would rather have been.
During reception of Holy Communion, I explained how they could receive a personal blessing from Christ through the priest. The lady said, ‘Look at me. Look at what I am wearing. People will look at me. I can’t go up there’. I told her that if they were truly Christians, they would not judge her, because Jesus exhorted us not to judge, lest we be judged for the sins we are ashamed of. I explained how Jesus came for the sinners, those on the edge of society, the outcasts. He even came to the defence of a woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11). He often ate and drank with tax collectors and prostitutes, assuring her that she was both worthy and welcome.
The Muslim man heard our every word and agreed. I told her that the Lord’s eyes were the only eyes that she needed to be conscious of. She went up, sobbing like a baby. If only every person went for a blessing or Holy Communion aware of their own unworthiness and brokenness like this beautiful child of God, we would have a very different church.
A priest once told me in Confession; ‘The Church is not an exclusive club for saints, but a hospital for sinners’. Saint Paul also reminds us that ‘All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’ (Romans 3:23). ALL of us!
As we came back to our seats, she cried again. The asylum seekers and Muslim man also went up to receive Christ’s blessing, through the priest. As I contemplated the reality of Jesus being truly present within me through Holy Communion, I was able to pray with even more love for my companions.
As The Mass concluded, the priest wished everybody a happy Christmas before the final blessing. In typical, reserved Catholic style, there was not much of a response, apart from one person—my lady friend, who replied, “And a very merry Christmas to you too Father.” Instantly, I beamed with a massive smile and my insides lit up. The priest, almost shocked, smiled and thanked her. As people turned to see who had spoken, she said ‘Well, he said it to us!’. Nobody could deny saying Amen to that.
I mentioned in the beginning that this was the most memorable Christmas gift I had received and what an absolute honor, privilege and blessing it was to be with these beautiful human beings that night. Nothing can compare, though, to the very first and greatest gift the whole world received over 2000 years ago, at that very first Christmas—when God Himself took on human flesh to become a helpless baby; when the Light was born into our darkness and the world was changed forever.
This is the true message of Christmas; welcoming Jesus into our lives—for the first time or once again. This is the real giving and receiving. Allowing Him to be born inside us, welcoming Him with joy, love, awe, and wonder. He gives Himself to us every moment of every single day. We must hear and respond like the shepherds, who were invited to come and see. After they encountered Jesus, they went away ‘glorifying and praising God for all they had seen and heard’ (Luke 2:20). We must also be like the angels, God’s messengers, inviting and leading people to discover Jesus for themselves.
‘The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light’ (Isaiah 9:2). This Christmas, will you witness to this Light, to those in the darkest of places? The lonely, the depressed, the oppressed, the rejected, the dejected, the forgotten, the lost, the abandoned, the sick, the homeless, the prisoners, the elderly, the orphans and the widows? You may not have to look far. These could be members of your own household or family. It could be as simple as remembering them in your prayers. Or will you put yourself out this Christmas to personally share the greatest gift that anybody could ever wish to receive—the gift of Jesus Christ? Make this your most memorable Christmas for other people, as well as yourself.
“We must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” Acts 20:35
Let us remind the world that Christmas is about Christ.
Sean Booth is a Lay Missionary of Charity and has just begun studying a Bachelor of Divinity theology degree at Maryvale Institute in Birmingham, England, UK. He shares his incredible encounter with Jesus through the Shalom World TV program “Jesus My Savior”. To watch the amazing story. visit: https://shalomworld.org/episode/a-prisoner-finds-jesus-seanbooth.
As a part of my son’s 3rd grade curriculum, he was to learn about the life cycle of a butterfly. So, I did a bit of research so we could talk about it together. Even though I knew the four stages of a butterfly’s life cycle, I had never probed into it deeply. As I searched for videos and pictures about the different stages of this tiny, beautiful creature, I became fascinated by the 3rd stage of its growth when it’s in a pupa or chrysalis undergoing metamorphosis. The caterpillar has to remain in the pupa for few days to be transformed into an adult butterfly. If you open the chrysalis in the middle of the process, you would only find a sticky liquid substance, instead of a caterpillar having a cosy nap inside the shell until it gets its wings. In fact, during this stage, the caterpillar’s old body dies while a new body begins to form. The caterpillar has to fall apart completely. Only after it has completely liquefied, does it start to become the beautiful being it was designed to be. Another amazing thing I discovered is that the word Chrysalis is derived from the Greek for “golden” because of the golden threads surrounding the green chrysalis. You have probably heard some spiritual analogies about the chrysalis stage and how the tough times of our lives are actually those which transform us. However, when we actually find ourselves in crisis we often devalue the suffering, assuming that this isn’t meant for believers in Christ. We keep on asking God to remove the uncomfortable and ugly shell of hardships and grief from our lives. We want Him to change our circumstances, but He wants us to be changed in the process of it. Because, the deeper work within our souls takes place in the chrysalis. Our faith is strengthened by being inside the chrysalis. The most essential life lessons are learnt in the chrysalis. Our relationship with our Master Creator is deepened as we metamorphose in the chrysalis while the parts of our character that are not essential are stripped away. Just as the caterpillar is transformed into a beautiful butterfly in the darkness, solitude and repose of the chrysalis, such a time can reveal and prepare us for the purpose of our being. I don’t know which metamorphosis stage you are in at present. If you have got your wings, praise God but if you find yourself stuck in the chrysalis, the place where you feel nothing is happening, where you see the darkness of your pain and hardships, where you feel like you are falling apart each day and where everything feels so stuck, dead and inactive, I want to encourage you to trust the process, surrender to it, embrace it and wait until the process works its best, transforming you into everything you are meant to be, giving you the glorious wings of your purpose and reflecting the majesty of your Heavenly Father. No matter how your chrysalis feels, remember it will always be covered with golden threads of strength, assurance, love and grace from your Master Designer. He will be watching you throughout the process. Trust Him to protect and reconstruct you as you pupate in your chrysalis. Then your metamorphosis will astound you.
Here’s a scale to test your courage… Before entering a monastery hidden in the high desert of California, I lived at 5th and Main street in downtown Los Angeles, the border of Skid Row. Rampant homelessness is one of LA’s not so amiable qualities. Individuals down on their luck come from far and wide, often by means of a free one-way Greyhound ticket, to wander streets where winters are less hostile, begging for a means to rise above their circumstances. It is impossible to traverse a couple blocks of downtown without being reminded of the hopelessness that marks these individuals’ daily lives. The sheer magnitude of L.A.’s homelessness often leaves the more fortunate feeling as if nothing they would do could ever make the problem go away, so they resort to a strategy of avoiding eye contact, rendering invisible a population of 41,290, and counting. Man on a Mission One day I was having lunch with a friend at Grand Central Market. During our meal he unexpectedly handed me the key to a room in the luxurious Bonaventure Hotel, telling me it was mine to enjoy for the next couple of weeks! The Bonaventure, with its revolving sky restaurant, was the biggest hotel in LA, and only a ten minute walk from my studio apartment. I had no need for a fancy hotel room, but I knew 41,290 individuals who did. My only dilemma was how I should go about selecting the single person who would receive shelter? I felt like the gospel servant who was commissioned by his master to “Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame” (Luke 14:21). It was midnight when I got off work. Emerging from the metro station I began my “hunt,” asking God to select the person He wished to bless. Peering down alleyways, I glided through the city on my skateboard, trying not to appear like a man on a mission. I headed for the L.A. Cafe, confident I would find someone in need there. Sure enough I spotted a man sitting on the storefront sidewalk. He was old and thin, showing boney shoulders through a stained white T-shirt. I sat down a few feet away. “Hello,” I greeted him. “Hi,” he returned. “Sir, are you looking for a place to sleep tonight?” I asked. “What?” he said. “Are you looking for a place to sleep?” I repeated. Suddenly he became irritated. “Are you trying to make fun of me?” he said, “I’m fine. Leave me alone!” Surprised and feeling sorry for offending him, I apologized and rolled off dismayed. This mission would be more difficult than I expected. After all, it was after midnight, and I was a total stranger offering what seemed too good to be true. But the odds were in my favor, I thought. My offer might get turned down, just like the servant in the parable of the great banquet, but sooner or later someone would be bound to take me up on it. The only question was how long would it take? It was already late, and I was tired after a long shift at work. Maybe I should try again tomorrow, I thought. Unknown Realms Skating and praying, I continued to make my way through the urban jungle, eyeing various candidates. Sitting on a nearby corner, I spotted the silhouette of a man alone in a wheelchair. He appeared to be half asleep and half awake, as many do who are accustomed to sleeping on the streets. Hesitant to disturb him, I approached cautiously until he looked up at me with tired eyes. “Excuse me sir,” I said, “I have access to a room with a bed, and I know you don’t know me, but if you trust me I can take you there.” Without raising an eyebrow, he shrugged his shoulders and nodded his head. “Great. What’s your name?” I asked. “James,” he replied. I asked James to hold my skateboard as I pushed him in his wheelchair and together we made our way to the Bonaventure. His head became increasingly alert as our surroundings gentrified. While pushing him along through the darkness, I couldn’t help but notice what appeared to be sand covering his backside. Then I realized the sand was moving. It wasn’t sand at all, but thousands of tiny insects. Entering the five star hotel lobby, James and I were met with expressions of shock from every onlooker. Avoiding eye contact, we passed the posh fountain, boarded a glass elevator, and arrived at the room. James asked if he could take a bath. I helped him inside. Once clean, James slid himself comfortably between white sheets and fell immediately to sleep. That night James taught me an important lesson: God’s invitations often come unexpectedly, demanding a measure of faith that usually makes us uncomfortable. Sometimes we must find ourselves in situations with nothing to lose before we are ready to accept His invitation to us. And more often, it is in bringing blessings to others that we are truly blessed.
The irresistible goodness of Christmas lasts more than just a day, if you put your mind to it... The magic of Christmas has never failed to enrapture me no matter the circumstances in the lead up to the season. Some years, the awe and wonder kick in later rather than sooner, but once the Christmas spirit conquers me, there is no turning back. The joy we experience from receiving God’s gift of His only Son sets the tone of this wonderful season. Being good almost becomes second nature for this brief but lovely time. While Santa’s list might be an obvious reason for the little ones, I’ve wondered what it is that makes us grown-ups feel this way and how might we bring to the rest of the year this inclination to goodness that we experience during the magical Christmas season. A Stark Reminder Last year my husband and I undertook a trip to regional Victoria. We visited a berry farm and while picking organic produce to take home, I had a chat with the owner. It was a pleasant cool day for summer, and we discussed how it had been the opposite a year before, with raging bushfires and drought conditions severely affecting crops and lives. As a volunteer firefighter, she had suffered the loss of a couple of her close friends while fighting those fires. Saddened to hear this, I was moved even more when the farmer said she was “prepared to fight when called” should the bushfires strike again. As we left the farm, she picked up her little one and they waved us goodbye. The farm was undoubtedly the most memorable part of the trip and the resolute determination we witnessed was a stark reminder of how we all need to be willing to do good when it is required of us—no matter what the time of year. Stepping Stones Once we are past the Christmas joy of December and well into the new year, it might take a bit more effort for us to act on inclinations to do good. I usually find that busyness can abruptly take the steering wheel with no comfortable stop in sight. As various professional and personal priorities take over, I wonder if I can be as attentive to the Lord’s prompts as I had been while wrapping gifts and singing carols. Our Lord, however, never slows down His pace—drawing our attention to a struggling local business, reminding us to call someone who is lonely, encouraging us to forgive, and inspiring us to give. My husband calls these God’s ways of helping us draw nearer to Him. I think of them as little stepping stones to God that we are blessed to receive. Even if we manage to look past the busyness, there are often other deterrents that discourage us from responding to God’s prompts. For instance, when we see a call for aid, we might rationalize that our contribution wouldn’t make much of a difference or might not be well-received by the person in need. Or an inclination to make amends with someone who offended us might be deterred by a new trivial offense. Fight the Good Fight Despite the possible deterrents, those little tugs at our heartstrings never stop. Why? Because Jesus has overcome the darkness within and around us. His love and light are blazing bright, forever creating sparks of goodness. Acting on these prompts is up to us if we want to draw closer to His goodness. As our Lady of Fatima reminded us, our future is in God and we are active and responsible partners in creating that future. If we remember that all the good that has ever happened to us, including our talents and blessings, are from the Lord, then we can respond willingly to even the slightest inclination to goodness that comes to mind. It is even more imperative today that we fight through the darkness, praying to our Lady for help to stay focused and strong to fight the good fight when called. It doesn’t take much to light up someone’s life, to bring Christmas hope and joy to them when they need it most, no matter whether it's Christmastime… or any other time of year. “Glory to God who shows His power in us and can do much more than we could ask or imagine; glory to Him in the Church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever. Amen.” Ephesians 3:20
I was 65 years old and I was looking into changing my life insurance policy. Of course, they required some lab tests. I thought, “Okay, I’ll go through the motions.” Up until then, every lab test I had ever taken, had been normal, including chest x-rays, EKG’s and colonoscopies, all normal. My blood pressure was 126/72 and my BMI was 26. I exercised four times per week and ate a fairly healthy diet. I felt good and was totally asymptomatic. All my lab results came back normal…except my PSA, it was 11 ng/ml (normal is less than 4.5ng/ml). Three years earlier it had been normal. Bummer! So, I went to see my PCP. During the rectal exam, he found my prostate enlarged and indurated. “I suspect cancer, I’m going to refer you to a urologist,” he said. Bummer, again. Eleven out of eleven prostate biopsies were positive for cancer. My Gleason score was 4+5 which meant that it was a highgrade cancer and could grow and spread more quickly. So, I underwent a radical prostatectomy, radiation therapy and hormone therapy with Lupron. Ooh those hot flushes! Ladies believe me when I say, I know what you’re going through. Bummer once again. So why only “bummer” and not “I don’t believe it, it can’t be, I’m going to die. God is punishing me”? Well, let me tell why. Before my mother’s kidney failure required at-home peritoneal dialysis, my parents traveled quite a bit, especially to Mexico. When daily dialysis brought travel to a halt, they spent more time working on puzzles, reading and studying their Bible. This brought them much closer to God. So, when her doctors told her there was nothing more they could do for her, she was okay with that. She told me, “I’m tired, I’m ready to be with my Father. I am at peace with family and friends, with myself, but most importantly, I am at peace with God.” A few days later, she died peacefully with a smile on her face. “I am at peace with God”. That’s what I wanted. I no longer wanted to be just a Sunday-Mass Catholic. It was then that I started on the path that has led me closer to God: reading and studying the Bible in both English and Spanish, praying, saying the Rosary, giving thanks for my blessings, and volunteering as a Catechism teacher. Soon, I hope to finish my internship as a volunteer hospital chaplain and I am about to complete my spiritual guidance course. So, yes, having prostate cancer is a bummer, but that is all it is, because I am at peace with God.
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