By Father Jacob Dankasa
Special to The Texas Catholic
Silence and absence are two attitudes that are capable of straining a relationship. In our everyday relationships — between a man and a woman, or a husband and a wife, or among relatives, friends, work colleagues and even community members — if there is a prolonged silence or an unexplained absence, the relationship is headed for ruin.
The 2018 movie, Dr. Seuss’ “The Grinch,” teaches us the effects of silence and absence. Mr Grinch was known as a mean guy because he was all about spoiling Christmas for everyone. Unfortunately, he had an underlying problem that he never discussed with anyone. As a child he had an ugly and lonely experience of Christmas that made him hate everything about it. He never experienced love at Christmas. He saw kids like him enjoying the affection and love of their families and friends, but he never had any affection. As an adult, his childhood experience affected his relationship with Christmas, and anything and anyone related to Christmas. Consequently, he became removed and absent from the people around him. The people in turn stayed away from him because they saw him as a mean person. However, when Mr Grinch experienced a little bit of love from an innocent two-year old girl, Cindy-Lou Who, it changed his life. It was only when he broke his silence that people came to know why he had behaved the way he had. He overcame his silence with communication, and he and the people became present to each other. These two acts: communication and presence, brought joy back to their community and changed Mr. Grinch into Mr. Nice Guy.
God is in a relationship with us, His creatures. When He created our first parents, Adam and Eve, He formed a bond with humanity. Man broke that relationship by remaining silent when it mattered. Adam and Eve had the privilege of direct communication with God, but when they were tempted to go against God’s commands, they were not open enough to consult with God and inquire whether what the serpent had told them about the forbidden fruit was right. The effect of this silence led them to sin against God. Consequently, their silence led to absence — they tried to hide from God. (Of course, no one hides from God.) Therefore, silence and absence contributed to bringing about a break in the relationship between our first parents and God.
However, God didn’t want to be silent with his creatures. He has continued to speak to us throughout the generations in order to maintain his relationship with us. The letter to the Hebrews (1:1-3) tells us that “In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, he has spoken to us through the Son.” God speaks to us every day through the scriptures and the Holy Spirit. God didn’t want to be absent from us, even when we were absent from Him. In order to strengthen his relationship with man, and to restore lost confidence from the sin of our first parents, God decided to be present with us by taking the form of man and dwelling among us as Emmanuel (John 1:14).
This is the story of Christmas —God replacing silence and absence with his continuous communication and presence among us. We have Christmas because God chose to be present to us in person and to continue to speak to us in Christ and His Church. Communication and presence, not silence and absence, are two attitudes that strengthen our relationship with God.
As we celebrate Christmas, we must not bury these two important lessons of Christmas. We must strive to remove the silence and absence that harm our relationships with one another. Husbands and wives, family members, friends, work colleagues, etc., must check themselves for symptoms of prolonged silence and unexplained absence. These two problems can break our relationships. In the spirit of translating the lessons of Christmas into our relationships, we must continuously learn to listen, understand and communicate with the people in our lives, and we must be present to them.
In our everyday relationships, we must not allow silence and absence to steal our joy. As married couples, family members, friends, etc., we must learn to confront the problems that tear us apart by amicably talking about them. As God communicates himself to us through his Son in Christmas, let’s also communicate with one another in the spirit of Christmas. And for us to make Christmas an everyday feast for our loved ones, there is no better gift to give them than the gift of presence.
Father Jacob Dankasa is a parochial vicar at St. Anthony Catholic Church in Wylie.