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A Memorable Mass After 70 years of celebrating Mass, I look upon this Mass in Bethel, Alaska, as a memory I will always treasure.  Bethel (House of God) sounds like Bethlehem (House of Bread.). . . . The coldness of the Bethel Chapel, much as it was in the stable of the First Christmas, told me of the hardships the Child, Mary and Joseph went through for my sake. . . .  The rough wooden altar – how similar to the manger where the Child was laid.  The presence of the Eskimo mother helped me understand the coming of the shepherds to the place of Jesus’ birth.

A Memorable Mass
After 70 years of celebrating Mass, I look upon this Mass in Bethel, Alaska, as a memory I will always treasure. Bethel (House of God) sounds like Bethlehem (House of Bread.). . . .
The coldness of the Bethel Chapel, much as it was in the stable of the First Christmas, told me of the hardships the Child, Mary and Joseph went through for my sake. . . .
The rough wooden altar – how similar to the manger where the Child was laid. The presence of the Eskimo mother helped me understand the coming of the shepherds to the place of Jesus’ birth.

38 years ago, in 1976, a short time before Christmas, I was living in the town of Bethel (pop. 3,500), in faraway Alaska, close to the Bering Sea.  Bethel had no roads leading out from it, except one to the airport, three miles away.  The only way to visit Bethel was by plane, by way of two jet flights each day from Anchorage, 500 miles away.  Not a single road ran between Bethel and Anchorage.

One windy Saturday night I left our Rectory at the Immaculate Conception Mission to drive to the town’s Community Chapel on the other side of Bethel to offer evening Mass.  The howling, screeching wind made driving our Chevy Van extremely difficult.

Arriving early, I found it nearly impossible to coax any heat out of the oil stove.  Inside, the temperature almost equaled the outside conditions at -10 degrees F and a wind chill of -50 degree F.  I pulled the altar as close as possible to the stove and put on my vestments over my great fur parka.  To anyone present I looked like a warrior from outer space.  That night, my only congregation consisted of a young Eskimo mother and her three little boys, with ages of two, three and four.

With breath coming from my lips in clouds, I prayed the simple, touching words of the Mass . . . “The Lord be with you . . . Lift up your hearts . . . Let us give thanks to the Lord, our God.”  All through the Mass, the youngest child played under the altar at my feet.  At the words of the Consecration, spoken by an ordinary human being, the Lord, The King of Kings, came down on our pour, rough altar.  After my own communion, I offered This Humble King to the little mother, with her face almost hidden in the parka.  At the finish of Mass, without a word, she and her little ones hastened out into the frightful darkness.

Emmanuel – God with us!  How consoling and uplifting to have Jesus, the humble, gracious King of Love, with us.  From His place in Heaven, He heard my words, “This is My Body . . . This is My Blood” and came down to the vast wilderness of Western Alaska to be with me and the Eskimo family.  What faith this little Eskimo mother had to venture out, with her little ones, on a winter’s night, filled with a gale-like wind, to give worship to the Child of Bethlehem.

What message did she receive in her heart that night to bring her to the Holy Child?  The shepherds, on the first Christmas night, heard heavenly voices announcing the Birth of the Savior.  Like these shepherds, the young faith filled Eskimo mother returned home, rich with heavenly gifts.

The moral of the Bethel story above is to treasure the Presence of the Child of Bethlehem in our lives.  On this Christmas Day, 2014, we will make every sacrifice to leave our warm homes to offer worship in our Houses of Prayer!

Merry Christmas and a Blessed New Year!  Fr. George Mc Kenna

December 25, 2014 - Posted by | Bulletins | , , , , ,

2 Comments »

  1. Merry Christmas, Fr. McKenna! God bless you this day and all through the new year!

    Comment by Larry Kean, Quigley South ''70 | December 25, 2014 | Reply

  2. Hi Fr. George! As usual, I am taking the time this AM to read thru your bulletins – and I do love this story. The imagery of you in that freezing little church, the vestments over your parka, the child playing near your feet…. your writing is SO rich and full, so wonderfully impactful! You are such a master with story-telling! I am always so honored and happy to read your stories – as I read them to my mother over the phone and in person so many times before. What a GIFT from the Holy Spirit that I met you that one day in May, 2008, when I heard the announcement at Midway Airport that Catholic Mass would be starting at 4:00 pm in the Midway Airport Chapel. I am BLESSED beyond words ever since that day! You bring me much happiness and contentment – and I cannot tell you how often your words of advice echo in my mind, especially during more difficult times. And now that you are on the web with your blog…. how great for those of us who follow you and can continue to ‘hear’ your words of advice! You have lived many years on this earth and you will continue to live on through your books and your blog and wonderful words! God certainly knew that your shepherding was needed for those of us that follow you! Love you SO much, Fr. George. I miss you and wish I lived closer. Love, Nancy

    Comment by nancywest22 | December 27, 2014 | Reply


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