Bishop Doran: “the blanket bombing of civilian populations … must end and it must end immediately”

25 Dec 2023

Homily of Bishop Kevin for the Mass of the Nativity 2023
Like many pilgrimage sites in the Holy Land, Bethlehem is a place where history and eternity meet; but you could easily miss it.  In normal times, it is a bustling town, full of shops and high-rise buildings.  Tour buses clog the narrow streets and, in the middle of all of this there is the Church of the Nativity, where you can stand in line for a couple of hours to see the spot where they say the manger was, where the child was born, who was Son of God and Son of Mary.  There are no shepherds, and you would have to drive a few kilometres before you would even see a field.  You need to use your imagination.  It only makes sense if you go there with a heart that is open to an encounter with the Saviour “who is Christ the Lord”.
So put yourself in the field with the Shepherds and listen as the angels sing “Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth to people who enjoy God’s favour”. It is easy enough to imagine a child being born in a stable, because his parents had nowhere else to stay, but why would the angels be singing about “Peace on Earth”? How do you understand that?
For some of us, perhaps, it is the warm feeling of well-being that we get from being together with family and friends, or when the choir sings Silent Night.  Others may remember the story of the famous Christmas truce during the First World War, when the soldiers temporarily left their trenches and played football together.
The Christmas Gospel takes us onto another level, however.  Peace on earth is possible because God literally makes the first move.  In a relationship bogged down by sin, the child who is born is God-with-us.  He has come, not just to show us how much God loves us, but to teach us in his humanity, how best we can love God.

Over the centuries, many of us Christians have come to think of our religion as a kind of moral code, a set of do’s and don’ts which we either accept or reject.  We may sometimes forget that Christian morality is built on a relationship; a relationship with God who loves us.  Without that relationship, Christianity loses its real meaning.

That is the message of the second reading tonight: “God’s grace has been revealed, and it has made salvation possible for the whole human race and taught us that what we have to do is to give up everything that does not lead to God, and all our worldly ambitions; we must be self-restrained and live good and religious lives here in this present worldwhile we are waiting in hope for the blessing which will come with the Appearing of the glory of our great God and saviour Christ Jesus.

In other words, as people who have encountered the love of God in our relationship with Jesus Christ, we set out with his help to live that love in our own lives and in our relationships with one another, so that we become part of bringing that hope to fulfillment.  This is not just what Christmas is all about, it is what being a Christian is about, all of the year round. It only makes sense if we have hearts that are open to an encounter with the Saviour “who is Christ the Lord”.

The prophet Isaiah, who (let it be said), was a pre-Christian, Jewish prophet, speaks very graphically of what happens when human relationships break down; “the rod of the oppressor”, the “footgear of battle”, the “cloak rolled in blood”. These are images which, unfortunately, are just as real and relevant today as they were in the time of Isaiah, except that we can now add “rockets, drones, missiles and high-powered rifles”.  The promised child was born but the hope he brings has yet to be realised because, somehow, we have continuously failed to understand the meaning of his birth.  We have not understood that we can never take peace for granted; that, like God, we must always be ready to make the first move.

It is not always that easy to know what our first move should be.  What does the Holy Spirit prompt us to do?  This is something that we need to bring to prayer.  It seems to me that present war in Gaza calls for a very clear response from Christians.  Without denying to the State of Israel the right to actively defend its people and its territory, I think it has to be said very clearly that the blanket bombing of civilian populations and the destruction of everything that is necessary to sustain life simply cannot be justified. It must end and it must end immediately.  This is a message which we can all communicate respectfully to those who need to hear it.

The present violence in the Holy Land is the result of decades of sectarianism, racial intolerance, and greed. Against that background, it seems almost impossible to build trusting relationships.

We are blessed to live in a society where we can come and go in peace, and where we do not have to see our sons and daughters going off to war.  But peace cannot be taken for granted in any society.  We know that from own history.  It needs to be constantly worked and, and we do that by building up the common good, which is the good of each and of all.  That includes basis essentials like equal access to healthcare and to adequate housing.

In recent times, unfortunately, we have seen signs of racism, sectarianism and greed in our own communities, which undermine trust.  We cannot afford to ignore that.  We need to actively promote respect for every person in our society and make sure that nothing we say or do would in any way contribute to undermining it.  In that way, we allow Jesus Christ to enter again into our human history, to bring the healing of God to a fractured world, and to bring the lasting peace of which Isaiah spoke.


  • Bishop Kevin Doran is Bishop of Elphin