Bob May and Rudolph/Kindred Misfits with Hope
By Father Pete Iorio
This is a true story: A man named Robert L. May, depressed and brokenhearted, stared out his drafty apartment window into the chilling December night. His 4-year-old daughter Barbara sat on his lap quietly sobbing. Bob’s wife, Evelyn, was dying of cancer.
Little Barbara couldn’t understand why her mommy could never come home. Barbara looked up into her dad’s eyes and asked, “Why isn’t Mommy just like everybody else’s Mommy?”
Bob’s jaw tightened, and his eyes welled with tears. Her question brought waves of grief, but also of anger. It had been the story of Bob’s life. Life always had to be different for Bob. Small when he was a kid, Bob was often bullied by other boys. He was too little at the time to compete in sports. He was often called names he’d rather not remember.
From childhood, Bob was different and never seemed to fit in. Bob did complete college, married his loving wife and was grateful to get his job as a copywriter at a department store called Montgomery Ward during the Great Depression.
Then he was blessed with his little girl. But it was all short-lived. Evelyn’s bout with cancer stripped them of all their savings and now Bob and his daughter were forced to live in a two-room apartment in the Chicago slums.
Evelyn died just days before Christmas in 1938. Bob struggled to give hope to his child, for whom he couldn’t even afford to buy a Christmas gift. But if he couldn’t buy a gift, he was determined to make one – a storybook!
Bob had created an animal character in his own mind and told the animal’s story to little Barbara to give her comfort and hope. Again and again, Bob told the story, embellishing it more with each telling.
The story Bob May created was his own autobiography in fable form.
The character he created was a misfit outcast like he was. The name of the character? A little reindeer named Rudolph, with a big shiny nose.
Bob finished the book just in time to give it to his little girl on Christmas Day.
[For all the years as a kid, and even as an adult that I watched the TV classic of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, I never knew the rest of the story.]
And it truly is a story that has Gospel messages. Never give up hope. Persevere in life. Trust in God to always be with you. We know that there certainly are imperfections in this world. Misfits abound. Maybe you feel like you are one. Do not be discouraged to the point of despair.
We could say that John the Baptist was certainly a misfit in the Jewish society in and around Jerusalem. His father was a temple priest and he could have/should have followed in his father’s footsteps. Instead, he lived in the desert region around the Jordan River. He wore clothes made of camel’s hair and ate locusts and wild honey. This was not the typical clothing and food of a first century Jew. He was criticized. Even Jesus said that “John came neither eating nor drinking, and people said, ‘He is possessed by a demon.’ “ There is a message here to anyone who feels like you do not fit in. USE the gifts that God has given you in generosity and selflessness and great results will come about.
While Bob May could not pay for a Christmas gift for his daughter, he could write stories. And millions of people have received inspiration and joy from this Christmas classic.
Rudolph had what we might call a birth defect, and God gave him an ability to be generous in using it to guide Santa on Christmas Eve.
John the Baptist was able to preach powerfully about God and the need to repent. John basically said: Do the right thing. Share all your extra clothes and food with those who have none. Give up your profiteering and false accusations. Oh yeah, and quit complaining about your salary.
The message must have found receptive ears and hearts because not just a few people came, but crowds of people repented. And they received this as good news and changed their ways.
Today is called GAUDETE or REJOICE Sunday. The first two readings emphasize this message of Rejoicing. The second reading says: Rejoice in the Lord always. I say it again: rejoice. Your kindness should be known to all. My cause for rejoicing is absolutely believing and knowing the Lord Jesus is within me and in our midst. When troubles and anxieties swirl around, I choose to return to this joy within. Something that is a worry for us as a parish is some of what Bob May had – financial woes. Our offertory income is already declining and last Sunday without a full Sunday collection, we are really hurting. Last Sunday during the snowstorm, I wish we had Rudolph and flying reindeer to go around to your homes and bring you safely to Mass. For our three Sunday Masses, 146 people total were here. The rest of you are not in sin for missing Mass. I dispensed you for good reason. I know you are like me and receive emails and messages every day to be generous with your end of the year giving. I am asking you to put our parish St. Mary’s on that list. We sure could use a little financial joy right now.
Brothers and sisters: Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near.