Christmas greetings to you wherever you are today. Every family has their own particular way of marking Christmas, their own traditions and rituals which are often handed down from parents or grandparents. Still, we are all united in remembering and celebrating the birth of Christ our Saviour.
Christmas, we often say, is a family time. Scattered families come back home to be together for the feast. Christmas reminds us that families are important for our own wellbeing and for the society we live in. They nourish us, support us and give us a sense of belonging. The family is also the primary cell of the Church, the place where faith is nourished and grows in us. For that reason it is sometimes called the domestic Church.
We look forward to the World Meeting of Families in Dublin in 2018 and we hope that Pope Francis will be able to be with us for it. This event takes place every 3 years and its aim is to promote, strengthen and celebrate family life. I commend to you all the Prayer to the Holy Family, which we have begun distributing at the Christmas Masses. Can I ask you to make it part of your family prayers over the next couple of years as we prepare for this important event in the life of the Church in our country.
Because families are important, homes are very important too. Without a home it is very hard to have a family life. In a recent interview, Father Peter McVerry spoke about how homeless people dread Christmas, because they have nowhere to go, no family home in which to celebrate, perhaps no family to celebrate with. Christmas makes them feel more lonely and isolated than ever.
Jesus began his life on this earth homeless and poor. Joseph and Mary surely felt isolated when they could find no room at the inn in Bethlehem. When Christ was born he identified with the 2,400 Irish children who are homeless at present, and with the tens of thousands who are living in poverty. He identified with the thousands fleeing war in the Middle East, poverty in Africa and persecution in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
For Christians, thinking about these people as we celebrate Christmas is bound to make us feel a bit uneasy – that amid so much poverty and need we enjoy such plenty. It’s a healthy unease and a holy unease. Christmas challenges us to open our hearts in compassion to those who are in need, who are homeless, or who are refugees. It reminds of Christ’s word: “Whatever you did to one of the least of these, you did to me.”
I wish you all, wherever you are a happy and peace-filled Christmas.
- Bishop Leo O’Reilly is Bishop of Kilmore
- See catholicbishops.ie for more messages and reflections for Christmas 2016.
For media contact: Catholic Communications Office Maynooth: Martin Long 00353 (0) 86 172 7678 and Brenda Drumm 00353 (0) 87 310 4444