“Putting Christ at the heart of Christmas is about saying that the most important gift of all is the gift of ourselves that we give to one another, not just once a year, but every day” – Bishop Doran
One of the highlights of this year for me was the publication of Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love) by Pope Francis. In this letter of encouragement he reflects on the practical challenges of family life against the background of the hope that God keeps in his heart for every person and every family.
Pope Francis invites us “to look to the reality of the family today in all its complexity, with both its lights and shadows” so that we can, as Christians, respond positively to the challenge of supporting marriage and family life in our own parish communities and in our society. He seems to understand, however, that in the ordinary routine of every day, as we look at our own lives, the struggles of family life may sometimes seem to obscure the joy. For that reason, it seems, Pope Francis has a whole chapter in which he invites us to look at ourselves and our families, our hopes, our successes, our failures and our disappointments, as God sees them, with the tender love of a Father.
Francis reminds us that Jesus himself was born into a modest family and, very soon after his birth, he became a refugee child. We sometimes idealise the Holy Family. We forget that the whole point of the Nativity was that Jesus was born into the real world, to be God With Us. Hundreds of artists down through the centuries have painted that scene of Mary tending to Jesus in a cow-shed, with Joseph by her side.
Modern advertising presents the ideal family in the ideal home, with the best of furniture and the best of food. There is a certain pressure to have everything perfect from the very beginning. It is good to have targets but sometimes high expectations lead to disappointment. It’s like when Santa Claus doesn’t bring exactly what we wanted. Joseph and Mary didn’t have it all sorted, but what makes the story of Christmas for me is that they were there together. They loved and respected each other and they were able, out of their love for one another, to welcome the child who was God’s gift to the world.
The Christmas crib is a symbol of the God who loves us in the smallness of our humanity. It is also an invitation to all of us to get our priorities right. Putting Christ at the heart of Christmas is about saying that the most important gift of all is the gift of ourselves that we give to one another, not just once a year, but every day. As we reflect before the crib this Christmas, either at home or in the parish Church, we might bring into our prayer the needs and concerns of every family in our diocese, and especially those for whom the joy is not so obvious.
The coming months will present us with many opportunities to reflect on the vocation and mission of the family, as we prepare to welcome Pope Francis for the World Meeting of Families in 2018. May Jesus, who is Emmanuel, God-with-Us, be with each family this Christmas and through the coming year, just as truly as he is with Mary and Joseph.
Notes to Editors
- Bishop Kevin Doran is Bishop of Elphin.
- Watch a video version of this Christmas message on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SmTS1hNAVOo
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