Each year on Christmas morning, after Mass at Sligo University Hospital, I am invited to bring Holy Communion to some of the people in the wards. Quite often, I finish with the maternity unit, where I get to meet some of our newest parishioners and their mothers. I never cease to be amazed by the miracle of new life.
The essence of Christmas is captured in the image of “a child who is born for us”. Although his name, Jesus, means “Saviour”, he allows himself to be vulnerable, and to depend on the care of Mary and Joseph, for his very survival. Perhaps this is his way of showing us that, if we want to achieve anything worthwhile in life, it helps to recognise that we can’t do it all by ourselves. In the final analysis, none of us can be his or her own Saviour.
But each one of us has his or her own part, however small, to play in the drama of salvation, just as Mary and Joseph did – and, in their own way, the shepherds.
Shepherding, like parenting, can be challenging. I find myself thinking this week of the Irish contingent in South Lebanon. In many ways, they are like shepherds, watching over their flocks by night. It is a gentle image and still, as we have seen, the wolf can strike when least expected. Ordinary people, like private Seán Rooney, take risks for others all the time. It may not have been uppermost in his mind, but the work he did reflects the saving action of God in our time. “Blessed are the peacemakers”.
Another favourite Christmas image is the stable in Bethlehem. There is a story told about a child who played the part of the inn-keeper in the parish Nativity Play. He had only one thing to say when Joseph came knocking on the door. That was: “No room!”. He had practised hard, but when the time came, he could not bring himself to turn Mary away, “and she expecting a child”. So – much to the amusement of everyone – he said: “Come in, come in. You’re welcome”. Children see things as they are.
The stable is a sign of contradiction. The Holy Family walk in the shoes of the homeless family, the asylum seeker, or the refugee. When we welcome them, it is as if we welcomed Jesus himself. In this past year, many doors and many hearts have been opened in Ireland, and I believe that will prove to be a rich source of blessing. Much more needs to be done, of course, and it must not become a competition between different groups of homeless people, because in the end they all have the same need.
I take this opportunity to wish each one of you the blessing of peace this Christmas, peace in your homes and in your hearts and peace in our world. I thank all those who serve so generously in all our parishes, our clergy, our religious sisters and the many hundreds of lay people who give so generously of their time and energy. Nollaig shona dhibh go léir.
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