CHRISTMAS MESSAGE – 2010
Happy Christmas! What do these words mean? The Biblical meaning of “happy” is to be good, responsible, wise, and at ease with oneself. It’s about being faithful to the truth, defending the truth, uncovering the truth, the truth that sets us free. The Adam and Eve story tells us how unfaithfulness entered history. We became and we remain a wounded humanity. The Mary and Joseph story tells us how we can be faithful. We must listen to God’s Word. “Then Mary said: here am I, the Servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your Word” (Lk. 1:38). This statement is the fountain of truth.
So, fidelity or infidelity! That is the question! Each one of us must give our answer every day, every moment of our lives. It’s about a determination to being faithful and not being unfaithful. It’s about striving to be good and not being evil. It’s about living a life of outreach to the needs of others, and not being selfish. A lost fidelity has need of a long correction time, all the time necessary for an adequate healing, for an adequate fidelity to be restored. Life is a long and winding road and unless we continually seek truth and faithfulness we will never complete that unique contribution that is the concrete call, vocation, latent in the very conception, birth, life and death of every person. It’s about not insisting on one’s own way. It’s about ongoing examination of conscience.
Mary did not insist on her own way. She offered her service, together with a long line of Old-Testament women, to the wisdom of God. We must struggle to understand this wisdom. Mary submitted her will wholeheartedly to the power of God. She gave her consent to God’s word. It is no longer her, but God who works within her. She is the humble servant. Mary is our mother too and so each one of us is invited to let God shape our presence in the world. There is a sense in which we must aim to be a real and authentic presence, witnessing of the truth with humility and courage.
We do need such humility in Europe today – the most secular continent. Humility is the great antidote of pride and power, especially when the pursuit of these, are presented as the “higher gifts”. The reflection of the noted Nobel winning physicist, Carlo Rubbia, is sobering: “We are on a train travelling at 500 kilometres an hour. We have no idea where it is taking us, and we have just become aware that there is no driver”. There is rapid culture change in Europe today. Is it all truth? There is need to be critical. We know that from history. Many cultural projects turned out to be human disasters. We listen to the TV news every day. However, I think there is a great need to take more responsibility for all that is happening in the world, and taking place mostly without critical spiritual discernment, or reflection. Christians need to take more responsibility in combating the evils that are a feature of our time and all times.
The painful journey from the fall of what’s wrong to the resurrection of truth is a gradual and painful process. Only gradually do we re-acquire our faithfulness. It always takes time, perseverance, humility, patience. The hope for Mary began many centuries before her life-time. Many others were part of her mission. So, we too belong to each other in a mystical, spiritual way, a point emphasised in the Book of Sirach 17:13, where we read: “Human eyes saw the splendour of the Glory of God; their ears heard the grandeur of his voice. He said to them: ‘Keep yourselves from all wrong-doing, and to each of them he gave commands regarding his neighbour’”. There is the clear indication in these words that all are called to take responsibility for one another, something akin to a culture of community solidarity, mutual visitation. You responded so generously in 2010 to the appeals for help for poor people who were the victims of catastrophic situations in Haiti and Pakistan. 2011 may well be the year when such generosity will be urgently needed for our own people, in the light of the very difficult economic conditions of the country. This is a situation that must challenge every one of us. There are times when charity begins at home and the coming year is surely one of them.
By way of conclusion, there is a fascinating question of God to Adam in the Book of Genesis. “They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” Adam made an excuse like we all do. “I heard the sound of you in the Garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself”. Nothing has changed in history. We have had cover-up in the banks; cover-up regarding clerical child-abuse; the abuse of power etc. The story of original sin is alive and well. But also, the remedy for all its excesses is there for the asking. “AND MARY SAID: HERE I AM, THE SERVANT OF THE LORD; LET IT BE TO ME ACCORDING TO YOUR WORD”. As God visited Mary he also visits every person, if we have ears to hear and eyes to see. Likewise, we are called to visit each other in God’s name, and carefully listen to the needs of people, many without work, without a home, living alone, imprisoned, sick and in hospital, suffering a bereavement, so many who wait for a visit of consolation. Let’s arise and go now, and go to those in need. Let us feel the responsibility. Let’s make Christmas into that splendid expression of solidarity and love that reaches out to those most in need. Happy Christmas to each of you and your families! Thank you.
+ Séamus Freeman, SAC
Bishop of Ossory