Not too long ago, I was struck by a short story about a gold-rush era mining town in the American west; a town filled to the brim with violent, rough-and-tumble, hard-nosed criminals. Roaring Camp, as the town was called due to the constant brawling of its inhabitants, served as a way-station for travelers on their way to more civilized towns, and rarely as a place for folks to stop for any length of time. The rag-tag group of miners, drawn to Roaring Camp by the promise of riches deep in the local mines, had their lives turned upside-down in the most unusual way; a woman, the only woman in the entire camp, died giving birth to a baby boy, the first child to ever be born in Roaring Camp.
The men were left to care for the child in some of the most inhospitable conditions; a dirty, dusty, mining town on the edge of nowhere. It isn’t long until the advent of this baby boy causes the men to think about the ways in which their lives need to change in order to help this little baby grow. The constant shouting and yelling that gave the camp its name gradually ceased, and men walked around speaking in whispers, with music of gentle songs filling the air. Men who hadn’t lifted a razor in years began to visit the barber and wash their clothes, and strange new feelings of peace and happiness swelled into the hearts of the miners of Roaring Camp. Simply put, this little child had just about changed everything.
One of the reasons I found this story so compelling is because of how much it reminded me of my own journey with Jesus. A tiny child, bursting into the world surrounded by animals and shepherds, with no crib but a feeding trough lined with hay, had very simply changed everything. The birth of Jesus and His death on the cross serves as the starkest of reminders that God loves us unconditionally, and wants you and I to be with Him forever. No matter our struggles, wounds, or difficulties, regardless of the challenges we face, or how we’ve lived our lives, Jesus wants to heal us and bring us into closer friendship with Him. My life changed when I realized that God loved me, just like the lives of those miners.
One of the results of this unconditional love is the response that God calls out of us, a call to follow Him through Baptism, or the renewal of Baptismal grace through confession, discipleship, and a return to walking closely with Him and the Church that He gave us to ferry us to eternal life with Him. It was in the embrace of my local parish community, surrounded by others whose lives were so transformed by the birth of that little baby, where I experienced the love of God in a real, tangible way.
No matter where you are on your journey with Christ, in whatever Roaring Camp you may find yourself, it is my hope that you will experience Jesus calling you to your local parish community, surrounded by others who have had their lives changed by His birth, death, and resurrection.