Christmas Message 2015 from Bishop Séamus Freeman, Bishop of Ossory

23 Dec 2015

“Let light shine out of darkness” (2. Cor. 4.)

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

I send greetings to each and every one of you, the faithful in the Diocese of Ossory and beyond, and I wish you every blessing of the Lord for the Holy Season of Christmas.  Sometimes it can be difficult to say the words, “Happy Christmas”, knowing that it will not be a happy Christmas for so many, the sick, the unemployed, the bereaved, the troubled.  But I can wish you all a Blessed Christmas.

We are made in the image and likeness of God.  God is so close to us.  We must always remember that God is on our side.  I hope and pray that all of us can be more aware of the presence of the mercy of God in our lives.  We must go out to the one who is suffering and be a real presence in that person’s life.  When we suffer with the one who is suffering, we become a missionary of mercy.  Let each of us be a missionary of mercy to one another this Christmas.

Christmas is that great feast of the year when we celebrate and remind ourselves of the love and mercy of Jesus Christ and of how much the world needs such love and mercy.  However, every day of our lives should be Christmas Day – perhaps a little Christmas – when we seek to concretely generate the fullness of life all round us.  We too can live the dynamic of the love and mercy that entered the world by means of the birth of Christ over two thousand years ago.  We too can give of ourselves for a better world.  To live a little Christmas every day, we must know the Word of God as lived by Jesus.  The word of truth must grow and multiply in our hearts, our families, our homes and in our lives.  At any moment we are either giving life by means of caring for others, or we are taking life by means of ignoring everything except ourselves.

Announcing the Great Jubilee of Mercy, which began on 8th December 2015, the Holy Father, Pope Francis said: “I have often thought of how the Church may render more clear her mission to be a witness to mercy; and we have to make this journey.  It is a journey which begins with spiritual conversion.  Therefore, I have decided to announce an Extraordinary Jubilee which has at its centre the Mercy of God. It will be a Holy Year of Mercy.  We want to live in the light of the Word of the Lord: “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (cf. Lk 6:36).

The Holy Father asked each bishop all over the world to include a Holy Door in the Cathedral in the diocese in which he serves.  Some may ask what is the significance of a Holy Door?  The Holy Door or porta sancta has been used since the fifteenth century as a ritual expression of conversion.  Pilgrims pass through the Door as a gesture of leaving the past behind and crossing the threshold from sin to grace and from darkness to light.

“‘Let light shine out of darkness’, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2. Cor. 4.6)

On Sunday, 13 December 2015, the privilege fell upon me as bishop of our diocese, to open the Holy Door of Mercy in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Kilkenny, the Mother Church of the Diocese of Ossory, dedicated to Mary, the Mother of Mercy.  May the sweetness of her countenance watch over us in this Holy Year, so that all of us may rediscover the joy of God’s tenderness.

What a joy it was for me to have walked through the Holy Door of Mercy in our Cathedral united as God’s family sharing a new liturgical experience in our diocese, with over 600 members of the faithful.

The Jubilee Year of Mercy is itself a gift of grace.  I invite all the faithful in our diocese and all people of goodwill to visit our Cathedral during this Jubilee Year of Mercy and to pass through the Holy Door.  My prayer is that all who enters through the Holy Door during this Great Jubilee Year, will rediscover the infinite Mercy of the Father, who welcomes each of us and goes out personally to encounter each one of us.

However, we must be very much aware that the door finds meaning only when the believer associates the door with Christ.  Jesus is the Door.  In the words of Pope Francis, “There is only one way that opens wide the entrance into the life of communion with God: this is Jesus, the one and absolute way to salvation.  To him alone can the words of the Psalmist be applied in full truth: ‘This is the door of the Lord where the just may enter’. (Ps. 118:20).”

Christmas is a time to celebrate the great spiritual gift of life in all its abundance.  We do so by living in communion with one another, by showing love, mercy and compassion to the other.  Today, in our modern world, particularly at Christmas, we can observe a sort of rivalry between the material gift and the spiritual gift.  Human effort alone cannot save us, and ultimately cannot build a better world.  But, when the human can embrace the divine, there is an enriched listening applied to the needs of people and the needs of the world.  There is a totally different quality of attention dedicated to understanding and protecting one another.  This attention becomes very concrete when we wholeheartedly celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, the Way, the Truth, the Life.  It will then be impossible for us not to be aware of the good and of the evil of our present time.

Let each of us be a missionary of mercy to the other.  Let us make a special effort to reach out to one another this Christmas by sharing a real presence with the other.  Such experience will enrich our own lives and bring us closer to the Lord.  In the words of Saint Francis of Assisi, “For it is giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”

Mercy is a wonderful theme particularly at Christmas when the mercy of God took flesh for us, we can do nothing more profound than to welcome it, and to welcome Him who bears it into our lives.

I wish each and everyone one of you a Blessed Christmas and Peace for 2016. I will continue to pray for you and I respectfully ask for your prayers.        

+Séamus Freeman                                          

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