“No ear may hear his coming; but in this world of sin, where meek souls will receive him, still the dear Christ enters in.” (Hymn, Phillips Brooks, 1835-93)
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Christmas, the annual celebration of the perilous journey to Bethlehem, the fruitless search for shelter, and the birth of the Christ-child within the manger, alleviated only by the loving embrace of Mary and Joseph, is a paradigm for the precarious human condition within which God’s plan of salvation is fulfilled. This mystery of the Nativity demonstrates the merciful embrace of God who reaches out unconditionally to each person in the realities of our everyday lives. God fully revealed himself in the humility of a manger.
The plan of God’s salvation, the economy of salvation, continues to be fulfilled in our present history. Motivated by the Life, Death and Resurrection of Christ, gifted by the Holy Spirit and strengthened in both Word and Sacrament, those who live out the life of faith today in conditions of a living martyrdom, are a shining star of hope and encouragement especially in the midst of suffering, conflict and despair. They live and walk among us here in Northern Ireland.
Like the Holy Family, there are many today who search for the security and safety of love, shelter and a home. This Christmas, our thoughts and prayers are particularly with the homeless and the families who have fled Syria and the Middle East as Refugees and are now living among us; their own life-risking journeys marked and threatened at times by conflict and suspicion, human tragedy and indifference. These and other current humanitarian crises challenge and compel all of us to reach out to our brothers and sisters in need. I pay tribute to the many people and organisations who have offered support and voluntary service in response to the needs of others within the Diocese and beyond.
Like the Christ-child, born into a situation of conflict, our present history is again marred by violence and attacks upon humanity, sometimes in the name of religion. This Christmas, our prayers and thoughts reach out to those who have suffered and died as a result of attacks such as those in Paris. Such acts of terrorism and the resultant fear in the face of radicalisation are at variance with the call to peace of the newly born Christ-child.
The present ‘Year of Mercy’ provides a wonderful opportunity for Christians and for wider society to experience the reconciling and loving embrace of the Father and to imitate his mercy and care by reaching out to others. Some fifty years ago, the Second Vatican Council prophetically addressed these concerns:
“We cannot truly pray to God, the Father of all, if we treat any people in other than brotherly fashion, for all are created in God’s image….Therefore, the Church reproves, as foreign to the will of Christ, any discrimination against people or any persecution of them on the basis of their race, colour, social condition or religion.” (Nostra Aetate #5, Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions)
This Christmas, just weeks into the Extraordinary Year of Mercy, as we contemplate together the birth of the Christ-child, may we be ‘merciful like the Father’, become more Christ-like in humility, in solidarity with the homeless and in attentiveness to the needs of others. May we become heralds of God’s peace, bringing tidings of comfort and joy to the hearts of all we meet.
Wishing you every blessing for this Christmas season,
For media contact: Catholic Communications Office Maynooth: Martin Long 00353 (0) 86 172 7678 and Brenda Drumm 00353 (0) 87 310 4444