Homily of Bishop Colm O’Reilly, Bishop of Ardagh and Clonmacnois for Midnight Mass 2010

24 Dec 2010

24 December 2010

Homily of Bishop Colm O’Reilly, Bishop of Ardagh and Clonmacnois, for Midnight Mass Christmas 2010 in “Cathedral-Centre”, St Mel’s College Longford, Co Longford

“No darkness is total because the light of Christ shines for us … Four Christmases from now we will be returning to St Mel’s Cathedral for the Mass of Christmas Night, God willing” – Bishop O’Reilly

The image of the infant Jesus rests in the Manger in front of the altar reminding us that the birth of Jesus.  In a shed for animals is central to what we are here to celebrate.  In many parts of our world infants still have a precarious existence, because of famine, disease and war and other threats to frail human life.  In November 1982 the papers reported an extraordinary story of survival of a very young infant. It seems that a young woman gave birth to a child in Dublin and was in some kind of dreadful difficulty and in desperation dropped the tiny child into the Royal Canal.  Amazingly, a man passing by saw something which he did not know was an infant until he drew it in from the water.  He took it into a house near the canal and in a short time the infant was wrapped in a dry blanket and placed by the warm fire. A woman who came in was describing the scene to a reporter.  Partly lost for words, she said: “it was like Christmas!”.

It was not like Christmas if one thinks only of bright lights and fine food.  There was no tinsel, there were no fancy presents, no one singing a Christmas song, sacred or other.  There was just one focus: a helpless infant.  She thought of Christmas as the best image she could offer to explain how she felt.  In a simple way she said
something that surely struck a chord for many people.  The story touches on what we must think about tonight.

We have lost – for now – a beautiful cathedral in which to celebrate Christmas, but we have not the essence of this Feast.  A new born child rescued from the cold canal was the centre of attention in a Dublin house many years ago.  A new born child was the focus of attention when the shepherds came to the Manger in Bethlehem, sending them away “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen”.   So the Christ Child must be for us now be the centre of attention and the source of renewed hope.  In a sense the externals have been stripped away and we are in some respects better placed to see what lies at the heart of the Christmas Feast.

Pope Benedict likes to say that the great joy of Christianity is that “God is Good News”. “Perhaps”, he says, “we Catholics who have always known it are no longer surprised and no longer feel this liberating joy keenly”.  The Pope points the way for us in searching for the deep joy of Christmas.  “We can transmit this joy simply: with a smile, with a kind gesture, with some small help, with forgiveness.  Let us give this joy and it will be returned to us.  Let us seek in particular to communicate the deepest joy, that of knowing God in Christ”.

For us, living with our feelings of nostalgia, a word which comes from the Greek for the return of pain, Christmas in 2010 can be a bit difficult.  We live in a kind of exile like the “people who walked in darkness” as the Prophet Isaiah described what it was like to live in a strange land.   However, he could also say that on those “who lived in a land of deep shadow a light has shone”.  We are the fortunate ones on whom the light of Christ’s coming has shone.  No darkness is total because the light of Christ shines for us.

The poet John Betjeman describes what is at the heart of Christmas better than most when he compares the essential joy of Christmas with the lesser joys that we associate with it:
“And is it true
This most tremendous tale of all,
Seen in a stained-glass window’s hue
A baby in an ox’s stall?
The maker of the stars and sea
Became a Child on earth for me.

No love that in a family dwells,
no caroling in frosty air,
nor all the temple-shaking bells
can with this single truth compare –
that God was man in Palestine
and lives today in bread and wine”.

May the family of God’s people in this town of Longford and the all the families in our Diocese and country find new hope in the celebration of this Christmas.  We are almost ready to announce that we have a Design Team to undertake the task of re-designing the interior of our historic Cathedral of St Mel.  Four Christmases from now we will be returning to it for the Mass of Christmas Night, God willing.  We need to make these times in which we await our return times of hope and renewal of faith for the community. Then there will be a truly joy-filled Christmas back in St Mel’s Cathedral.  It is my hope and prayer that our restored cathedral will become for future generations a sign of the perennial truth that Christ comes “to give light to those in live in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace”.  (LK 1: 79).


Media contacts: Martin Long 00 353 86 1727678 or Brenda Drumm 00 353 87 310 4444.