Christmas, 2021

Merry Christmas, 2021!

“Silver bells, silver bells. It’s Christmas time in the city…” That was the song the St. Andrew’s choir presented at our first Christmas dinner in the seminary 65 years ago. At those words, the faces of my fellow novices fell as we remembered what we had left behind just a few months earlier. Today, when I listen to the song the touch of nostalgia is still there, but now it brings a smile, in recognition of all the happy memories in the islands as well as back “in the city.”

Memories are what we old-timers live off. So please indulge me while I spin off a few of the more recent ones from the past year.

There’s the parish work here on Guam, for instance. 

…There have been so many marriages among the Chuukese I serve on this island that I feel like “Marrying Fran”–the guy who, when not actually celebrating the ceremony, is forever helping people fill out the forms needed to prepare for the wedding. (My refrain to them: Enjoy your special day, but keep your feet on the ground.)

….Then there are the funerals and the viewings, even more frequent than the weddings. (Here the refrain is different: Let the tears flow, but keep your eyes on the stars.)

…All in all, the effort in the parish is to encourage these good people to continue the helpful things they’re doing. (The refrain here: Maintain your confidence but aim even higher.)

Naturally, there are also the special projects. This past year they have mostly focused on island history. The theme, if there is one, might be the integration of different forces into a common people.

….One article described Filipinos and Guamanians on this island as intertwined into the formation of a single people, while another recalled the Spanish missionary gifts to the island (as well as the damage).

….Then there was a small booklet called Micronesian Origins offering a simple overview of the five steps leading back to Africa over the last 50,000 years.

The memories of my month of summer travel in the US are too rich to describe here. At each stop along the way there were treasured moments with family and old friends. Let’s just say that this was such a joyful adventure that it made me want to do it again soon. Next summer, I fondly hope.

Yep, life has been rich–the last 65 years in the Jesuits and the 17 before that. Much of the reason for that can be attributed to you, my friends and family.

My memories are overwhelmingly happy ones. Our lives may not have been perfect, but the shades I see in retrospect are brightly colored. For this reason I’m surprised at the readiness of so many today to believe that every tweet, posting and casual remark from the past should define us forever. Even Catholics, for all our insistence on virtue, don’t hold that we are entirely defined by our past. Our lives, like the history of the people we identify with, are being transformed–for the better, we hope. Otherwise, what’s the point of celebrating this feast, which promises even better things to come?

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About the author

Francis X. Hezel, SJ
Francis X. Hezel, SJ

Francis X. Hezel, SJ, is a Jesuit priest who has lived and worked in Micronesia since 1963. At different times he has served as high school teacher, school administrator, pastor, and regional superior to the Jesuits of Micronesia. He spent thirty years directing the Micronesian Seminar, a non-profit, non-governmental organization based in Pohnpei, Micronesia. He has written and spoken widely about social change and its impact on island societies. He has also written several books on Micronesian history, including The First Taint of Civilization, Strangers in Their Own Land, and The New Shape of Old Island Cultures. His most recent book, Making Sense of Micronesia: The Logic of Pacific Island Culture, is available through University of Hawaii Press.