25 December 2011
A Phobal Dé,
Cuirim fáilte caoin romhaibh go leír.
Bishop Duffy, priests of the parish, parishioners and visitors you are all most welcome. I welcome warmly all of those who have returned home for Christmas; you are in a position to bring much joy to your parents, grandparents and other family members. I offer a special welcome also to those who attend Church infrequently. You are at least as much beloved by God as anyone else, and if you listen to his voice he will guide you through. We are all gathered to celebrate the Mass of Christmas, that magical feast which is centred, like the message of Christ, on giving unselfishly. To dispose ourselves to participate more worthily in this challenge let us silently acknowledge our mistakes and pause a moment to ask the Lord’s forgiveness.
We begin our Mass this evening by blessing the crib.
25 December 2011
Bishop Duffy, fellow priests and friends,
Christmas is a time which is steeped in memory both good and bad. It recalls people, places and events for each and every one of us in a very personal way. Seamus Heaney wrote in a poem in memory of his mother called “Clearances.” In it, he remembers the parish priest anointing his mother as she died. Around her bedside were members of her family, some answering the prayers and some crying. A scene from his childhood flashed into his mind.
It was Sunday morning and the rest of the family were at second Mass. His mother was peeling the potatoes at the kitchen sink and he was helping her, standing between her and the sink. As they peeled the potatoes the skins fell one by one, as he says, “like solder weeping off the soldering iron” and splashed into a bucket of clear water. There was between mother and child a togetherness, an understanding, a sympathy, a communion, a closeness that they were never to recapture.
“I remember her head bent towards my head,
Her breath in mine, our fluent dipping knives
Never closer the whole rest of our lives.”
Christmas is about remembering not just the people and the places of its celebration but remembering too how it all started and what it’s all about.
When they grow and mature oaks are majestic trees but each starts its life journey as a humble acorn. It was in a very modest place that a young Jewish woman called Mary could find no room in an inn. She was pregnant with a baby, not her husband’s, and they were on the road to register as part of a census ordered by Caesar Augustus. We are told she gave birth in a stable wrapped the baby in swaddling clothes before laying him in a manger.
It was pretty modest, some would say even shabby, especially marking an event which was to rock the world for centuries. We call it now the Incarnation. We believe, as the Gospels tell us, that the Word was made flesh. God became man, was born in the flesh and lived among us. Into a world of war and division he was to bring a message of reconciliation and harmony; into lives diseased by selfishness and sin he was to bring forgiveness and healing. Fear and distrust he would offer to replace with faith, hope and love. God entered into human history in a new way in the person of a baby on a bed of straw. Human history could change and change utterly.
That’s why Christmas is not just a time for memories but above all a time for celebration. Unfortunately, human weakness, mistakes resulting in deep hurt and disharmony can damage and interfere with our celebrations. In her book “Are you somebody?” the relatively recently deceased Nuala O Faolaín describes how one Christmas Day she set off on her own walking in the Burren in County Clare, met nobody and had a meal on her own that evening. Paul Durcan in a poem about Christmas describes how on St. Stephen’s Day he spent the day watching a phone that never rang. A lot of pain is evident in the telling of both experiences.
Christmas can open wounds and stir memories we want to forget. It can bring demons to the surface that we would find it more comfortable to keep buried. On St. Stephen’s Day a separated father will take his young children to McDonald’s and watch the clock until it’s time to take them back to their mother. The children will cry when they all have to go and something deep inside will tear their father apart but he knows he has to part and go.
For many families, Christmas will be a happy time of homecoming and togetherness. For children it can be a magic time of expectation, of change in the ordinary turn of the week, a time of generosity, presents, games and going to bed late. For some it will be a sad time of remembrance and loneliness, trying to cope without the love and support of those who have been taken. There is a reflection that reads:
Sometimes people expect something extraordinary,
or even miraculous to happen at Christmas.
But when Christ came to earth,
he came clothed, not in the extraordinary
but in the ordinary.
He came dressed in the cloak
of our weak, fragile, mortal humanity.
Like the acorn that falls to earth, silently and unheralded,
in a remote corner of the forest,
and which grows into a great oak tree,
so from these lowly origins Jesus grew up
to show us the great potential of our humanity.
Whatever our memories and wherever we find ourselves on our life’s journey this Christmas, the fragile baby in the crib reminds us that we are offered the gift of a child who has come to offer us the fullness of life. He has come to save us from failure and to guide us home. He will tell us how to live and show us what we can be if we follow his way. He will assure us that even death need not separate us from one another and in itself does not mark the final curtain.
In his name, I wish you peace. In his word, I offer you guidance and direction that belong not to me but to him. In the Eucharist you are offered the grace of forgiveness, healing and the capacity to live and love unselfishly. In a word, in the birth of Christ God offers us life, eternal life. We thank God, we praise him and we ask ourselves – am I disposed or ready to accept this stupendous gift? Have I still some work to do? God direct us all.
+Liam S. MacDaid
25 December 2012