Last year I did not attend any of the Las Posadas nights here at St. Francis. Mostly I think I was too stressed and withdrawn to want to be around happy people; my sprained ankle was a good excuse. This year is different. I’m different. Although the stress of this missionary work is still high, my attitude and approach to it has changed. My center and focus have begun to stabilize, and I am experiencing the serenity from having turned things out of my control over to God. It is difficult to “let go & let God,” but, Oh! the freedom and peace that follow!
For those of you unfamiliar with Las Posadas, it is a nine day prayer and celebration beginning on December 16th, and ending on Christmas Eve. Click here for more detailed information. Las Posadas is celebrated throughout Mexico and here in the American Southwest. For at least 10 years I’ve been reading Tomie dePaola’s book The Night of Las Posadas to my First Graders in Florida, introducing them to this Hispanic Christmas tradition. We would then make little construction paper donkeys with fan-folded legs, paper clips on the hooves, and a string to make it go “clip-clop” across the tile floor. I brought this art lesson with me out here, and the kids loved making their little donkeys! But, never did I imagine I would ever get to participate in the beautiful tradition of Las Posadas.
Unlike the book, here in the middle of nowhere we cannot walk from house to house knocking on doors every night for nine nights. We’d freeze before getting to the first door, and the total distance travelled over the nine nights would be greater than the 80-90 miles Mary & Joseph initially travelled to get to Bethlehem! So this community has improvised their Las Posadas (as it improvises with just about everything here!). Nine nights; nine homes. Each night members of this small parish gather at someone’s home and the prayer begins. A small group gathers outside the front door reciting the words of the Holy Couple, “Let us in; my wife is weary and cannot walk; I request lodging from you.” The group inside responds with “No! This is no Inn, and you might be a crook!” This back and forth continues for several verses, all sung in Spanish. When those inside recognize the Holy Couple, their tune changes and Mary & Joseph are welcomed into the home. Once inside the host family chooses Christmas carols to sing, grace is said, and everyone begins to eat what the host family has prepared. The building of community happens at celebrations like this. I have always said that holidays and traditions have two common factors in every culture, food and people. And of both factors it is understood: The more the merrier!
As a Catholic I was brought up to believe that when we receive the Eucharist at mass, we are partaking in the Body of Christ and we, as a faith community, become one flesh in Christ, nourished to do the good works of faith we are called to do (CCC 1331). I participated in two nights of Las Posadas, and I am feeling blessed, humbled, and nourished for the experience! The consecrated Eucharist is sacred and treated with great reverence in our churches and cathedrals. Sharing the prayers and songs of Las Posadas with the members of this community is also sacred. These last two nights have been for me a Communion in the Body of Christ that is just as sacred to me as the Communion received during Sunday mass. “Communion renews, strengthens, and deepens this incorporation into the Church, already achieved by Baptism” (CCC 1396). I certainly feel renewed, strengthened and deeply incorporated into this part of Christ’s Church.
I met new people, shared faith, laughter, good food, and great joy. A real sense of communion in the Body of Christ! This experience will certainly sustain me throughout this Advent and Christmas season. Thanks, St. Francis parishioners. Last year perhaps I did not feel worthy to enter under your roof, but your love and hospitality have healed me!
Merry Christmas, and may peace & blessings be with you and your community!