Bishop Kevin’s Christmas Message for 2018
I spent a few days on retreat in November and, as I walked along the woodland paths, I enjoyed watching the squirrels darting around gathering beech nuts and acorns for the winter. It may be my imagination, but they seem to have been even more active on Black Friday.
There is something of the squirrel in most of us and, of course, Christmas is a great time for gathering. My mother was a very practical woman and she always used Christmas as an opportunity to persuade my father to get himself a new jacket or something else that she felt he needed. His answer was always the same: “sure what would I want with that; this one will see me out”. He had arrived at a stage in his life when he no longer felt the need to be gathering up stuff.
I enjoy Christmas and the presents are part of it, but by common consent, my sisters and I have developed the habit in recent years of giving and receiving just one present. More important than any gift is the possibility of being together. I know that there are many people in our Diocese who will miss a family member or a friend, this Christmas, someone who has died, or gone into a nursing home, or gone to live in some other part of the world. You will have a special place in my prayers this Christmas. As a Diocesan community, we will miss Bishop Christy and we remember his family at this time.
The best present is to BE present. That is what God had in mind when he sent the angel Gabriel to ask Mary to be the mother of Jesus. “Hail, full of grace” was the angel’s greeting to Mary. When we were kids, we had this image of grace as some kind of spiritual liquid that was stored in a big tank with seven taps, which we were told were called sacraments. I suppose it wasn’t a bad image for children, but I think it probably contributed to an idea of the Church as a kind of filling station, where we pull in every now and then to top up with grace. Grace simply means free gift. Jesus is the free gift of God. Mary was literally full of grace. She was pregnant with God’s gift. Through her, God became present for us. The Word was made flesh and lived among us and, as St. John tells us in the Gospel on Christmas morning “out of his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace”.
Many years later, after Jesus had risen and ascended into heaven, the first Christians had a very strong awareness of the many gifts that they had received through the Spirit of Jesus. St Paul wrote to the people of Corinth that “there are many gifts but only one Spirit; there are many kinds of service, but always to the same Lord and there are all sorts of activities, but it is the same God who is at work in everyone”. Each one of us is gifted in a unique way through the Spirit of Jesus and the gifts we have are given to us for the good of all. Gifts like speaking and listening, healing and encouraging, singing and praying, making things and repairing things. As we use all these gifts in a spirit of loving service, we become God’s gift to others and Christmas becomes a reality, every day of the year.
I wish you every Blessing and Peace this Christmas and I take this opportunity to say a particular word of thanks to all of you who are so generous in using your gifts in the service of your brothers and sisters in parishes, hospitals and schools all over our Diocese.
Bishop Kevin Doran