Christmas is the expectation of seeing Jesus, being His hands for those we serve

December 15, 2016
By ROBERT J. HENKEL President and chief executive,  Ascension Healthcare, and executive vice president, Ascension, St. Louis Chairperson of the CHA Board of Trustees

For many of us, especially children, the days that precede Christmas are ones of tremendous expectation. Children understand the special nature of these days — and their excitement is contagious.


I have been blessed with many wonderful Christmas memories from my own childhood in Pittsburgh. But it is the Christmas of 1959 that perhaps is the most memorable for me.

My father was a steelworker, and in 1959 there was a prolonged and antagonistic strike that impacted my family and many others. Because of the strike, Christmas for the Henkel family that year did not include a decorated tree surrounded by presents, or overflowing stockings hung by the fireplace.

Looking back, I can only imagine how hard this must have been for my parents. I suspect they were saddened that year about not meeting their children's Christmas expectations.


Yet my memories of those days are not focused on what we didn't have. Instead, I remember vividly the singing of carols in our neighborhood, and visiting my grandmother's home with extended family for a holiday dinner.

In short, my childhood expectations were affirmed, not dashed, as together our family shared the love that was brought into the world on Christmas Day. That is what I remember — and it's the reason why the Christmas of 1959 is the one that has the most meaning for me.

During the Advent and Christmas seasons we reflect on welcoming the person of Jesus into our lives. Many Christian traditions feature the classic Advent and Christmas hymn "Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus," which articulates through song our desire to experience in a very personal way the Son of God, born in a manger, who came to show his love for all people.

The birth of Jesus Christ is, as the Gospel of Luke declares, "good news of great joy." And it is to us — the people of Catholic health care — that Jesus entrusted in a special way his healing ministry today.

Of course, those we serve through the ministry of Catholic health care also have expectations. During the Christmas season and always, the persons we are privileged to serve expect to see Jesus in our eyes and hands and hearts. And for our part, we are called to see Jesus in the diverse faces of all those we are called to serve.

The Christmas season gives us an opportunity to consider with fresh eyes how we might even more readily see Jesus in our patients and their families. Likewise, as we reflect on his life and healing ministry, it is good for us to think about how we might all the more effectively serve others with Jesus' compassion and mercy.

While we celebrate the joy of Christmas in a special way on Dec. 25, we must remember to celebrate and see the joy in everything we do in this healing ministry of Jesus each and every day.

I encourage all of us to let the joy of Christmas be our light throughout the coming year, enabling us to see the image and likeness of Jesus in each other. If we do this, we will be a model of peace and love that is desperately needed by so many in today's challenging times.

The expectation of all those we are blessed to serve in our communities across the country should be nothing less.

May each of you have a blessed Christmas and a joyous New Year.


Copyright © 2016 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3477.

Copyright © 2016 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

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