An absence of peace is not the only lack the world and indeed all our communities suffer. As pastors, we are aware of many other ills plaguing our people. The shortage of homes, impacts on many in our congregations, and we can never forget the homeless men, women and children on our streets. Financial pressures also afflict many families, with more and more finding it hard to make ends meet, as charities, here in Laois, such as the St. Vincent de Paul Society, Portlaoise Action for the Homeless and St. Claire’s hospitality Graiguecullen, among many – regularly report. All these external pressures afflict people inwardly also, causing much anxiety and stress. To these ills, add the loneliness afflicting many older people, and the not-so-old also. Social media often leave people isolated and even more vulnerable.
In the face of all these challenges, Christians might be tempted to give up. But we never do. We pray for deeper faith and meaning in those who search for it, for harmony and peace for all, even when it seems to be slow in coming. And we work for justice and compassion, as the Christ whom we serve keeps whispering challenging words in our ears: “When I was hungry, you fed me … when I was a stranger, you welcomed me (Matthew 25:35ff)”. We have no option but to try to put these challenging words into action, particularly by welcoming strangers and making sure they feel at home in our midst. We do not give up when our prayers seem to be in vain. For we know that, behind the scenes, in a divine and mysterious way, the Spirit calls even the most belligerent fighters to thoughts of peace, working patiently and delicately to end wars everywhere.
As you journey through the Christmas season and into the New Year, my prayer for you is that you will be blessed with the peace of Christ in your life, the greatest gift of all – and that this will spur you on, to share in the work for “peace on earth and goodwill to all”. The birth of Christ, which is the true heart of Christmas, is a call to each of us to renew our respect for the dignity and life of every person on earth, irrespective of their state of health or life. Only in this way will we lay strong foundations for a peace that will last. The Holy Family knows, and we know, that war is not about abstract principles and rights – it’s deeply personal. Every person left dead or injured belongs to a family whose life is forever changed. Remembering this too increases the pressure on believers never to abandon their work for peace. The work of peace includes the work of aid agencies, seeking to help those who suffer in war-torn lands, to bring light in the midst of darkness. Their efforts to provide a safe-haven for refugees from the war in the Holy Land is a sad echo of the flight into Egypt by the Holy Family with the new-born Christ-child.
I love visiting the cribs in various churches this time of year. Many of you, have by now placed your crib, in a sacred place at home. Saint Francis of Assisi, was the first to introduce visually displaying the crib. He did so in a deliberate portrayal of the deep poverty and yet great love, the Christ child, was born into. A young mother and father, placing a tiny little baby in a manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes. There was no room for this baby in the inn, his birth was extra dramatic where eventually Mary and Joseph, found shelter in a lowly stable. The first to be made aware of this tremendous new life were the outsiders. Shepherds, by their very nature lived on the outside. Their lives were nomadic and hardship was the norm. I have no doubt, that when the angels appeared, with the melody of hope, their hearts were instantly lifted. When they went to examine and validate what they had been told, their immediate response was one of wonder and awe, in the presence of Emmanuel “God among us”. Their silence, was a prayer filled by God’s grace. The birth of Jesus Christ surrounded by cattle and sheep, was and continues to be such a powerful encounter, God became one of us. “The word became flesh and dwelt amongst us”.
May you all be blessed with a Happy Christmas and Healthy New Year.