By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli
Once again the holiday season is upon us. It is a time to reflect and slow down; a time to give thanks for the blessings we’ve received. It is a time to celebrate the great gifts of family and relationships. It’s a time for contemplation and renewed social action. For Christians around the world, it is a time to give thanks for the birth of the child Jesus, a birth that has changed the course of human history forever.
During this time of year, every newspaper ad and every TV commercial attempts to convince us to spend money we don’t have, on things we don’t need, for people we can stand — and we call this Christmas?! Think about this for a moment: How many cards will you send and gifts will you give because you feel compelled to do so for all the wrong reasons, rather than just giving from your heart to the people you genuinely care about?
The “reason for this season” is to celebrate the hope that lives within each of us and the belief that we have the power to make a difference in our world. We can change the world one person at a time if we draw on faith. Kindness and compassion seem contagious this time of year. There is a spirit in the air that touches people’s hearts to engage in random acts of kindness.
What has been so powerful to witness this season is so many young people reaching out to those less fortunate than themselves. Thousands of volunteers have been helping our own local Santa Claus — Charlie Russo with his Christmas Magic program — a program that touches thousands of children across Long Island who will be spending this Christmas season in our homeless shelters.
Last year around this time Hope House Ministries opened Hope Academy on the grounds of Little Portion Friary in Mount Sinai. More than 35 years ago that program of compassion and love opened its doors on the grounds of this Anglican monastery. On those grounds, Christmas miracles happen every day. Broken lives are transformed — young people who were thought to be dead have come back to life. All of this and so much more happens because ordinary people choose to do extraordinary things for others and not just at Christmas time.
Unfortunately, this holiday season there will be countless people everywhere that will not embrace the hope and joy of this extraordinary time of year. Some of them are the victims of war, some are the casualties of people’s hate and discrimination and still others will be shackled in prisons they create. We do not have enough opportunities to meet the epidemic need of those afflicted with addictions and mental health disorders. You don’t have to go to the streets of New York City to find them. They are walking and bleeding among us. Even though we are the richest county in New York State, we don’t have enough detox beds and long-term residential treatment beds to take care of our own.
The gift we could give this Christmas is to challenge the bureaucrats who lead us in Albany and Washington to celebrate this season of hope not as a season of death, to make a difference in this national health crisis we call the heroin epidemic that is infecting countless families everywhere. I pray that no one buries a son or daughter during this Christmas season due to the social indifference and benign neglect of those who lead us.
Fr. Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.