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Be the innkeeper

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There’s a priest in Pittsburgh who, for the last 40 years, has spent every Christmas Eve broadcasting live on the radio. He starts at midnight and continues until sunrise on Christmas morning. He keeps the phone lines open and he welcomes people to call in — and people do, in great numbers. Some are Catholic, and some are not. Some don’t know what they are, except lonely.

KDKA Radio has a strong signal, so they call in from all over the United States. They find a listening ear on Christmas. They tell their story, and they hang up with a smile. At least twice, people have written afterward to let the priest know that the show had kept them from suicide.

That priest knows what all of us priests know: that there is an epidemic of loneliness today, and this condition is especially hard at this time of year. To a lonely person, everyone else seems happy. Everybody else seems busy, with somewhere to go.

Whether of not all those holiday bustlers are truly happy, the person feeling lonely is certainly suffering. This is especially true for those who grieve — people who’ve lost a spouse, a parent or a child. Even if the wound is several years old, it can feel painful and recent during the holidays.

I think of Mary and Joseph making their way to Bethlehem, unable to find shelter, at a time of real crisis in their lives. Only one innkeeper reached out to help them. What he gave them wasn’t much, when tallied by human standards. But it was all they needed to make the Christmas we now celebrate.

Please, in this holy Octave of Christmas — please, in this sacred time — reach out to the people you know are grieving. Visit the people you know are alone. If you can spend some time with a friend or family member in prison, or in the hospital, or in hospice, please do.

In those places, the baby Jesus is waiting for you.

If a septuagenarian priest can go sleepless for a full night and talk to strangers, you and I can do our little bit, and we should.

It will make for a merrier Christmas if we choose to be like that kindly anonymous innkeeper from so long ago. He made our Christmas. You can make Christmas for somebody else.

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