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“The Little Match Girl” – Christmas reflection

Dear Friends and Parishioners,

On a cold New Year’s Eve a little girl who suffers from poverty tries to sell matches with the hope that she can raise money to return home without being beaten by her father.  But she fails to sell any of the matches and doesn’t dare to return home.

Instead, she finds herself in an alley between two houses and decides to light the matches to keep warm. Accompanying each lit match the young girl enjoys a series of visions.  First, an iron stove.  Then a roasted goose. Then a grand Christmas tree with shooting stars.   As each match burns down, that vision is extinguished.

The dying girl’s final vision is of her deceased grandmother whose lovely smile warms the heart of the freezing child. Wishing to sustain this vision, the girl burns every remaining match.  When the last match burns down, the grandmother carries her soul to Heaven. Her frozen body is found the next morning. And she is smiling.

While this short story illustrates the terrible poverty experienced in the 1840s, Hans Christian Anderson brilliantly demonstrates human need and longing.  Warmth of the iron stove is our need to feel safe and secure.  A roasted goose fulfills our need for food and nourishment. A grand Christmas tree is our need for joy.  And a grandmother’s warm smile and loving embrace is our need to be nurtured and cared for. 

Today, we see many faces who could be this little match girl.  They walk our streets and eat our meals.  They accept the gift of hats, gloves, socks and shoes.  They accept warm smiles and heartfelt embraces. These may be the homeless among us or our own family members. 

A hundred years after Anderson’s fairy tale was published, psychologist Abraham Maslow proposed his hierarchy of needs.  Not without its critics, his model is about meeting basic needs as foundational for anyone to advance to deeper notions of who he or she is and how they relate to the world around them. 

These faces that we are called to love and to serve require more than just safety, food, and a call to joy.  They need to be convinced that they are embraced by a God who smiles tenderly upon each of his beloved.  For some of these individuals, God may look like a grandmother – or perhaps – God may look like you and me as we extend compassion and warmth to each soul. 

The things we give others will eventually get lost, wear out, be consumed, maybe even stolen on the streets.  But the kindness and charity, presented with warmth and care, will be a source of true joy.  

By encountering us, will each heart come to desire Heaven?  Have we given them a reason to smile?

With Christmas joy,

 Fr. Gurnick