“As we walk amid passing things, You teach us by them to love the things of heaven and hold fast to what endures.” (Advent Liturgy)
The darker nights of winter reveal for all of humanity the mystery of the heavenly lights. Against the backdrop of this dusky canvas, the stars above illuminate the earthly globe below; all countries, all continents and all peoples without distinction, without boundary. For centuries, these stars have provided guidance and direction to those who have set out on a quest across the oceans of discovery giving them hope, peace and serenity.
At Christmas time, our attention is particularly drawn to the Bethlehem Star which guided the Wise Men to encounter and pay homage to the Christ-child, the lamb of sacrifice, born humbly within the Manger. These early pilgrim travellers leaving their home in search of the Way, the Truth and the Life discovered a King sleeping within a stable. They found the homeless Son of God sheltered from the cold by the watchful care and love of Mary and Joseph. God came among us into the precarious reality of this first Christmas night. Into the world of the transient, the Bethlehem Star brought hope, peace and joy to the world.
It is not without significance that this Star of Bethlehem shone brightly against the canvas of darkness. Often, it is within such moments of darkness and obscurity that we cry aloud, reach out and search for God in our lives. It is in such moments of nightfall that we begin to see the bright star of hope with greater clarity of vision. In such moments of confusion and change, we are called by God to be ever more attentive to the presence of Christ in Word, sacrament, ministry and the faith community. Each Christmas, we are encouraged to take stock, to discern and seek out this enduring ray of Truth.
Wherever you live, whatever the past year has brought your way, whatever its ups and down, its joys and sorrows, I pray that in this Christmas season you will find some moments of peace – alone with God and in the company of friends and family.
The Bethlehem Star shone for all to see. Wherever we live, the local Church and its parishes are centres of worship, life, community, support and friendship. Their vitality is the fruit of the combined efforts and generosity of countless parishioners, volunteers and clergy.
Whether we live locally, or whether we emigrate to far-flung cities and locations, there will always be a parish somewhere, or a Christian community, where friendship in faith is to be found, linked into and enhanced by our own talents and skills. As our young people travel the world, I encourage them to seek out such parish centres, to explore their programmes, to take part in their liturgies and activities. Christians are a significant presence across the globe and they make a decisive contribution to human society notwithstanding the limitations of human frailty and weakness.
Community involvement enriches one’s personal life and is a luminous sign of a true and vibrant faith. As I thank all who have given their time, energy and know-how over the past year to the numerous services, initiatives and organisations which make up the life of our diocese, I invite you to consider ways in which you might support your parish in its activities and its many services to all generations. We are called to continue this mission of bringing hope, of holding firm to the things of heaven.
With all our parishioners I wish to thank our priests and Religious, Sisters, Brothers and Fathers, our monks and contemplative Sisters for their unfailing service to God in their care for us all.
There is an urgent need to rediscover the personal, community and ecclesial value of the life and work of the diocesan priest in this time of profound cultural change with its search for faith and meaning in life. The calling to become a diocesan priest, serving among the local community, is a way of life for the hearty and the generous of spirit.
May this Christmas Season bring us peace and joy in our hearts and homes. And may God’s blessing be with us through thick and thin in the coming year.
+ Noel Treanor (Bishop of Down and Connor)