Christmas Day Message by Cardinal Seán Brady Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland
– I appeal to all those who go to Church or visit a crib this year, to reflect deeply on why you are a follower of Christ
– The real gift of Christmas is to meet and know this loving Saviour who wants to come, through faith, into our hearts
– Unprecedented financial pressures, and an ever increasingly aggressive public culture along with social, moral and spiritual fragmentation, are leading to lives being overwhelmed by stress
– My hope is that the year ahead will see the relationship between faith and public life in our country move beyond the sometimes negative, exaggerated caricatures of the past
– One of the fundamental rights issues of our time is the right of children and families not to have to live in poverty. I believe this failure to prioritise the elimination of child and family poverty in the reform of the tax and welfare system, in any jurisdiction, is unworthy of a society which claims to have a paramount concern for children
– I hope that everyone who believes that the right to life is fundamental will make their voice heard in a reasonable, but forthright, way to their representatives, reminding them that the right to life is conferred on human beings not by the powerful ones of this world but by the Creator
A few days ago, the seasons turned. The long nights of winter began their slow retreat before the new life of spring. Here in Ireland, hundreds gathered, as they do every year, at Newgrange, County Meath. We wonder at the genius and spiritual sophistication of our Irish ancestors in capturing this transition from darkness to light with such precision and mystical splendour. We reflect with a great sense of responsibility on the respect for the spiritual and transcendent that has been an unbroken part of our Irish heritage for over five thousand years, long before the first pages of the Old Testament were written.
Since that time, the Face of God has been progressively revealed to us. The Creator whom our ancestors encountered in the wonder and patterns of nature has come to us in the wonder of a child. In a child who delights us with his innocence in the Manger at Bethlehem, the face of God shines out in all its splendour. It is the face of a God who is utterly committed to each of us and to the peace and well-being of the human family. It is the face of perfect love.
The birth of Jesus is the defining moment of human history. It sets love before us as the only certain path to human progress. This is the child who will lead us in the‘ways of peace’ by his example of perfect love. It is a love that heals and gives life wherever it is received with an open heart. His birth is that moment in which the tides of darkness begin their retreat and the irreversible progress of life, love and goodwill towards all is assured.
When we celebrate Christmas, we celebrate the birth of the Son of God. In the child Jesus, God reveals how much He loves each and every one of us. At Christmas we rejoice, first and foremost, because of the magnificent present which God has given each of us – the gift of His Son – our Saviour and the Saviour of the world. Because of that first present we give Christmas presents to each other to celebrate God’s love for us and our love for each other. But who do we really believe this child, born in Bethlehem, to be? So much depends on the answer to this question. Do we really believe that the Son of God came:
Ø To release us from the captivity of selfishness;
Ø To open our eyes to the greatness of God’s love and,
Ø To set us free from the oppression of hatred and fear?
Do we really believe He came:
Ø To invite us into a personal relationship of friendship with Himself.
Ø To invite us all to follow His example.
Ø To call us to live like Him and, in our turn, reveal His healing love to the world?
I appeal to all those who go to Church or visit a crib this year, to reflect deeply on why you are a follower of Christ. I ask you to consider what God may be offering you in terms of personal friendship in prayer and active involvement in the Church. The Year of Faith challenges us all to discover what our Church believes and why.
The real joy of Christmas is the joy of faith. It is the joy of knowing that God is present in us and in our world – a loving God – a healing God – a forgiving God. The real gift of Christmas is to meet and know this loving Saviour who wants to come, through faith, into our hearts now– today.
The future direction of the world will be determined by what His life and message means for the values by which we live our lives and organise society. The message of life and love, of peace and goodwill, are at the heart of Christmas. That message always has a vital contribution to make to Irish society.
The birth of Christ is a powerful affirmation of all that is truly human. It is the basis for a new approach to the problems of our time. In collaboration, I believe the Churches, faith communities and those of other philosophical world views can, and should, work constructively with our public representatives in a shared commitment to the common good.
My hope is that the year ahead will see the relationship between faith and public life in our country move beyond the sometimes negative, exaggerated caricatures of the past. A mature and respectful collaboration between all faith communities and world views could help us to find sustainable solutions to the serious economic, social and moral challenges that confront us.
Politics alone cannot address the need for meaning and purpose in life – elements which are absolutely essential to human happiness and fulfilment. Neither can purely economic solutions suffice in this area. Unprecedented financial pressures, and an ever increasingly aggressive public culture along with social, moral and spiritual fragmentation, are leading to lives being overwhelmed by stress, intolerable interior isolation and even quiet despair. We can, and should, do better than this in striving to create a society truly worthy of the dignity of the human person. It would have to be a society in which the emotional, moral and religious as well as the economic needs are met. The consequences of failing to cater for those needs can be tragic.
The Christmas message calls us to care for each other. Fortunately, it evokes, each year, a wonderful response from so many good and generous people – people who are acutely aware of our common dignity as persons and our shared responsibility for the society in which we live. The Saviour was born as an infant in need of care. That fact reminds us of our special responsibility to care for the weak and for the vulnerable who cannot care for themselves. One of the fundamental rights issues of our time is the right of children and families not to have to live in poverty. I believe this failure to prioritise the elimination of child and family poverty in the reform of the tax and welfare system, in any jurisdiction, is unworthy of a society which claims to have a paramount concern for children.
A society worthy of the human person is a society which excels is showing compassion, care and concern for all those who are suffering, vulnerable or in crisis. It is also a society which celebrates and cherishes life.
When God became one of us he said the biggest possible yes to life. The child born in the manger asks us to say yes to life too, yes to our own life and yes to the life and well-being of every other person, from conception to natural death.
We approach what, I believe, will prove to be a defining moment regarding Ireland’s attitude to respect and care for human life. Public representatives will be asked to decide whether a caring and compassionate society is defined by providing the best possible care and protection to a woman struggling to cope with an unwanted pregnancy or, by the deliberate destruction of another human life. It is the position of the Catholic Church that both lives are equal sacred and have an equal right to life. I hope that everyone who believes that the right to life is fundamental will make their voice heard in a reasonable, but forthright, way to their representatives, reminding them that the right to life is conferred on human beings not by the powerful ones of this world but by the Creator, and that therefore no government has the right to remove that right from an innocent person. There is no more important value than upholding the right to life in all circumstances.
For the Church in Ireland, 2012 will always be remembered as the year of the 50thInternational Eucharistic Congress. As we make approach the New Year of 2013, the memory of the Congress and the many graces it brought gives us great encouragement and hope.
We live in an age where so many are weighed down by anxiety, grief or regret. Yet I believe the future belongs to those who can provide trustworthy reasons to hope. That is why the future will always belong to the child born in the manger, who takes upon himself the hopes and fears of all the years and transforms them in to the sure and certain hope of eternal life.
Let us pray this Christmastide, that his love will touch us deeply. Let us pray that through the Year of Faith we be helped to explain the hope that is within us. This year, as in every year since his birth among us, this remains the most urgent challenge – to be joyful heralds of the hope that He brings.
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