Bishop Kevin’s Christmas Message 2015
One of the classic images of Christmas is that of the Holy Family going from door to door in Bethlehem, looking for a place to stay. Looking back over recent weeks and months, this is an image that challenges us all this Christmas. Instead of the face of Joseph and Mary, framed against the night sky, we see the faces of refugees from the Middle East, of our own homeless people and indeed of our neighbours in Athleague and Athlone who have had to leave their homes due to the recent flooding. These are enormous practical and moral challenges for the new year. While government has a responsibility for the common good, the priorities of government tend to be guided by the moral compass of the public. As Christians, we are well placed to bring the social message of the Gospel to bear on all the important challenges of our society. I encourage all of our parishioners, alongside their own personal charitable response, to be politically active in a constructive way.
During 2016, we will mark the centenary of the Easter Rising, with its proclamation of an Irish Republic. It is only honest at this distance to acknowledge that many people including Church leaders distanced themselves from the Rising. Whatever reservations there may have been at the time, it does seem clear however that, alongside their courage and idealism, many of the leaders of 1916 were people of faith. The proclamation begins “In the name of God” and ends by invoking the blessing of God. The poetry of both Pearse and Plunkett is deeply religious. At this Christmas time, the words of “Christ’s Coming” by Padraig Pearse have a particular resonance:
I have made my heart clean to-night
As a woman might clean her house
Ere her lover come to visit her:
O Lover, pass not by !
I have opened the door of my heart
Like a man that would make a feast
For his son’s coming home from afar:
Lovely Thy coming, O Son !
It is significant perhaps that, in the coming centenary year, we in the Catholic Church are also celebrating a Jubilee of Mercy. The Door of Mercy is a symbol of welcome and of homecoming for Catholics. There seems to be no reason why faith in God should be in any way at odds with a modern democratic republic. Ultimately, it comes down to whether the people of the Republic have “opened the doors” of their hearts to God. Good Christians will always be good citizens.
The idea that a republic would acknowledge God does not mean, of course, that Catholicism or even Christianity should take precedence over other faiths or sincerely held beliefs. But the religious freedom, which is the mark of any true democracy, obviously includes the freedom of the majority as well as the freedom of the minority. In 2016, as we celebrate the centenary, we may need to reflect more carefully on what it means to “cherish all the children of the nation equally”.
In wishing you all the blessings which come with the birth of Christ, I pray that in this coming year, the Spirit of Jesus, which is a Spirit of service and sacrifice, of healing and forgiveness, of justice and peace, will come upon our Church and upon our whole society. Happy Christmas.