Christmas message 2019 from the Bishop of Down and Connor
Discerning the signs of the times and following the hope-filled guidance of a star, the wise men journeyed to Bethlehem where they found the child Jesus lying in a manger. Contemplating the face of the incarnate God-child, they recognised God’s promise embodied in Emmanuel, God-with-us. Their meeting with Jesus compelled the wise men to navigate and follow a different path, to return home via an alternative route because this encounter changed and transformed them. It seems that they received from God a new vision, a new mission which was different to Herod’s destructive plan.
Like the wise men, in the new-born Christ, we have been offered a new and unique way of looking at the world. God calls us in Baptism to be his messengers of hope, especially to those who face disillusionment and despair (Lk. 4:18-19). The Christian faith is the religion of hope.
We are living in times of profound cultural, sociological, political, legislative and environmental change. Such times of change and transition can generate fear, anxiety, insecurity and despair. Indeed, around us we see signs of a growing polarisation in society, politics and even in the Church, a polarisation that sadly spawns intolerance, insecurity, and indifference.
In contrast, the luminous guidance of faith provides a source of constancy within the darkness of hopelessness. Across the world, the Christian message of hope continues to resource hope, even in places where historically there were no supportive structures for the practice of faith in society. Such prophetic Christian communities can inspire us to seek new paradigms of engagement within society, by the radical exercise of our personal freedom of choosing to live the perennial and unchanging values of the Gospel. Christmas invites us to bear prophetic witness to the ever-new vision of life revealed in the living Word of God, incarnate in Jesus Christ.
In our diocese, the Living Church project with the support of countless volunteering parishioners, priests and Religious, has produced many fruits. This project has given birth to new opportunities for engagement within the life and mission of the Church. It is building a sense of co-responsibility as we discern together the pastoral and sacramental needs of people. We earnestly pray for vocations to the priesthood and religious life and take solace in God’s promise that he will ‘send forth labourers into His harvest’ (Mt 9:38).
Following the Synod on the Youth (October 2018) and building upon the publication of the Apostolic Exhortation Christus Vivit by Pope Francis (May 2019), the Diocesan Living Youth Commission continues to accompany, guide and journey with young people from our parishes. Alongside this Commission, those who work within our schools tirelessly support young people in their faith development and help them to discern their sense of mission as Christians at the heart of the Church. These young people manifest a vitality and an energy that generates hope and renewal in the life of our local Church by the light of Gospel witness.
An impressive and striking witness to hope is seen in the accompaniment of the sick and infirm, the bereaved, the isolated and the distressed by so many hospital and prison chaplains, lay volunteers, women and men, in our parishes. Their care for the suffering and lonely makes real, concrete and present the consolation found in the companionship of God as they seek to serve the needy with dignity and the hope generated by their faith in the risen Christ.
New ministries are emerging in response to the needs of our times including the pastoral care of migrants and via the Apostleship of the Sea / ‘Stella Maris’, who reach out to the often very needy sea-farers from other continents who visit our ports and shores. For the future life and outreach of our local Church, the role of volunteers is increasingly necessary. On behalf of all our parishioners, in this Christmas Season, I thank all women and men who offer their time and skills for the good of our parishes and for the benefit of society, particularly those who work to safeguard children and persons at risk. Thinking about the expectant couple Mary and Joseph who responded with generosity in faith to the invitation of God, perhaps you, yourself, might consider new ways to volunteer and offer to become involved in your local parish or pastoral community.
May the blessing of this Christmas Season bring hope and joy into your hearts and homes. In the words of Saint Paul, may God “who helps us when we refuse to give up, help you all to be tolerant with each other, following the example of Christ Jesus.” (Rom 15.4-5)
Bishop of Down and Connor