Christmas 2010 message to the People of Ireland from Cardinal Seán Brady, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland
This has been a very difficult year for the people of Ireland and many families are under pressure. People have lost their jobs. The prospect of smaller incomes and enormous debt looms large over the country. Unfortunately the two big freezes in this month have not helped by challenging the health of the vulnerable as well as placing extra pressure on household budgets by increasing the size of heating bills.
Yes, there are questions to be answered. How could the once prosperous Ireland have so quickly come to this? But, more importantly, solutions have to be found. I believe that, as a people, it is within our resolve to find such solutions. It will take time and a great effort, and we need to help each other in the process.
Of course it would be the height of insensitivity to offer glib reassurances. The difficulties ahead will be challenging. Yet the child who was born in the Manger on Christmas day invites us to look at our situation from another perspective, it is the perspective of hope: the joyful hope that comes from knowing that because of what happened on Christmas Day, ‘God-is-with-us and God is love’. As that other wonderful Christmas Carol ‘Silent Night’, reminds us: Christ, the Saviour is born. He is the light that darkness could not overcome.
Many of us know, from experience, how much we owe to the love and the support of family, friends and neighbours in times of sorrow and crisis. Christmas is about families, but, above all, about the great family of Jesus.
On the face of the Infant in the crib we see the face of every human being. In their name He will say to us “I was hungry”, and we will be judged by how we responded, especially in times of hardship.
Hardship, bereavements, natural disasters and failures, can either overwhelm and paralyse us or they can awaken our hope and rally our strength to help one another.
The challenge we now face is to bring encouragement to one another. Just as an individual may spiral down into a state of depression, so too, a community can allow itself to be overwhelmed by negativity. Nobody wants to minimise the pain that many are suffering, but having a positive attitude and coming together to support each other, really can help us to get through these difficult times.
At this time of year when darkness can fall so deeply in different ways it’s important to recall the brighter moments in life and human experience. From a global perspective, perhaps the most inspiring human story of the year was that of the 33 miners in Chile who were trapped for many weeks underground as they awaited rescue. In the beginning a lot of experts said that the men would find it difficult to survive. Many of them were friends but some didn’t know each other so it was thought that they’d have bitter fights and even work against each other in their desperation to survive. Yet those who were worried turned out to be wrong for several reasons. First of all the men were able to communicate with their families and their loved ones which gave them regular reassurance; then they decided to work together every day using simple tasks just to keep themselves busy and in harmony with each other, and finally they took the time to pray to God asking for his help in the many darker moments that they faced each day.
And so thanks to all those blessings: their families; their teamwork, and their prayers as well as the tireless efforts of the rescue services these heroes got through a terrible situation and are all now safely home with their loved ones.
One of the loveliest things about Christmas is the giving of gifts. It brings out the best in us. Let us reflect on our God-given gifts and I ask that we all give each other an extraordinary helping hand this Christmas. All gift-giving has its origins in a generous God – the giver of all good gifts. God expects us to share among ourselves
and especially, with the poor, the gifts we have received. The greatest gift of God is the gift of Jesus his only Son – given to us so that we may have life.
Jesus himself gave few material things to people. What he gave most was His personal presence, and treasures of the heart, such as compassion, forgiveness, self-belief, inner healing and dignity. Christmas challenges all of us to do likewise.
Lots of people made heroic efforts to get home for Christmas. Congratulations to those who were successful – our thoughts and our prayers are with those who could not make it home in time. What is it about Christmas that makes people so anxious to be at home and so distraught if this is not possible? Home and family, love and parents and birth are natural signs of peace and new life. They are natural gifts that take us to the heart of the meaning of Christmas.
However, to celebrate Christmas as if it were only a warm intimate family holiday does not do justice to Christmas. Christmas is also the story of who we are and why. It reminds us that God is our Father too. If we accept the gift of existence, we also accept the fact that we depend.
Wrapped in warm clothes and needing food and shelter to keep us alive, that is also the story of each one of us at the beginning and the end of our life.
The child in the Manger, with His arms outstretched embraces the whole world with His love. The love of the infant Jesus reminds us of the greatness of the hope which God offers us on Christmas Day. But that little child grew up to experience some of the greatest hardship ever known. Out of love for each one of us, He even suffered death on a cross. But in rising victorious over that suffering He reminds us that even in the bleak mid-winter, the flowers are gathering strength for
the spring – when they will bud again. Be assured of that.
May the grace and peace of Christmas be yours on the feast of the birth of Christ and throughout the coming year.
+ Seán Cardinal Brady
Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland