The nativity inspires openness to challenge, change

December 15, 2013

President and chief executive
St. Joseph Health, Irvine, Calif.
Chairwoman of the CHA Board of Trustees

It may seem strange to address transformation and change during Christmas. Everywhere we look, there are reminders of traditional holiday activities — from baking recipes passed down for generations to singing carols unchanged for hundreds of years. On the surface, Christmas is all about what is untouched, expected and, yes, comfortable.

But the year we just experienced was not at all traditional and almost nothing seemed steeped in the past. One could say everything changed in health care — or at least pointed us in a different direction. We can now be certain that health care delivery in the United States will continue to be different for years to come, with much change ahead by next holiday season.

So, here we are, many of us struggling to enjoy comforting traditions of Christmas after a year of reform that often left us with awake-at-2 a.m. concerns. Yet, when we think about it, Christmas is actually also about change — a miraculous transformation, in fact.

At Christmas, we celebrate the miracle that transformed the world. It is awesome to consider that the divine Word came to us as the most amazing incarnation — the Christ child. Who, except a loving God, could conceive such a world-altering and yet magnificent plan? What a marvelous manifestation that we celebrate!

"And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth." (John 1:14)

It is as though Christmas calls on us all to transform. We remember the scene in Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol when Ebenezer Scrooge changes his miserable, greedy life after awaking from an eye-opening meeting with the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future. Scrooge realizes his existence has been selfish and meaningless. He wants to transform, so he makes amends with those he has hurt and looked down upon. As he does, his seemingly intractable heart opens up to love — it is a Christmas miracle. The final lines of Dickens' classic read:

Many laughed to see this alteration in him, but he let them laugh and little heeded them, for he knew that no good thing in this world ever happened, at which some did not have their fill of laughter. … His own heart laughed and that was quite enough for him. … And it was always said of him that he knew how to keep Christmas well if any man alive possessed the knowledge.

I love that story, but perhaps the one I love even more is the one I will surely read to my grandchildren this Christmas, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, by Dr. Seuss. Who can forget when the cold-hearted Grinch has this moment of clarity that changes his perspective:

And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow,
Stood puzzling and puzzling: "How could it be so?
"It [Christmas] came without ribbons! It came without tags!
"It came without packages, boxes or bags!"
Then he puzzled three hours, till his puzzler was sore.

Let's not puzzle as long as the Grinch to understand the message. Christmas reminds us all that change, although sometimes worrisome, can also be wonderful. It brought us the world's greatest miracle and, in that, has transformed many hearts.

This Christmas, I will also celebrate the changes that blessed my life this year. I was privileged to become your chair and, with that, I have met even more wonderful colleagues, heard inspiring stories of your outstanding organizations and worked shoulder-to-shoulder with many talented individuals to continue the mission that calls us all. You are a truly committed group of leaders who, like the Catholic leadership that preceded us, demonstrate to the world that values-driven health care is a beacon in these transformative times.

Our world has not — and will not — stop changing. With the right frame of mind, this, too, can be a source of joy. Throughout the ages, we have been shown that the changing manifestations of God's great love are gifts for us to behold. This love is the unending source of our strength and our greatness. Let us grow, change and use these gifts to the best of our abilities in the year ahead. Have a blessed Christmas and joyous New Year.


Copyright © 2013 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3477.

Copyright © 2013 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.