Bishop Tom Deenihan’s message for Christmas 2022
• “May the Prince of Peace comfort Private Rooney’s family and colleagues and may he, too, sleep in heavenly peace.”
• “I have been struck by the people I have met in various parishes who have told me that they have not returned to church after Covid – do not become isolated. If you believe the church is too crowded, visit when the church is quieter over Christmas and be reassured by the joy and hope that comes from the knowledge that God is with us.”
Christmas is a time of nostalgia and tradition when we invariably look back and remember. This year, as we prepare to celebrate once again the birth of our Saviour, we remember previous celebrations of Christmas and, in many cases, reflect on what we have lost and we remember those who are no longer with us.
The past two years’ celebrations left us looking forward to future Christmases when traditions and customs would be restored and we could celebrate worthily the birth of our Saviour with family and friends once again.
Tradition is important and there is no time during the year when tradition matters as much as Christmas. Parts of that traditional Christmas picture are snow, carols, church and peace.
While the cold snap of the last few days has taken the gloss from the image of the ‘White Christmas’, not least due to rising fuel costs, we still strive for that notion of peace.
In fact, most or our Christmas Carols allude to that message of peace that was part of the first Christmas.
‘All Glory be to God on high, and on the earth be peace. Good will henceforth from heaven to men, begin and never cease’ is the last verse of While Shepherds watched their flock by night. Hark the Herald Angels sing tells us to ‘Hail the heaven born Prince of Peace’ and Franz Gruber’s Silent Night refers to sleeping ‘in heavenly peace’. More importantly, it is also associated with a brief truce in the trenches during the First World War in 1914.
As the world emerged from the worst effects of Covid in 2022, war broke out in Ukraine. This war has shattered lives, displaced millions, prompted both inflation and poverty and caused shortages of fuel and food. That has become evident in our own country again in the days before Christmas. The peace makers role is becoming more and more difficult. The absence of peace touches us all. Even within the last week, one of our own soldiers, Sean Rooney, was murdered while serving the cause of peace with the United Nations. May the Prince of Peace comfort his family and colleagues and may he, too, sleep in heavenly peace.
It would be easy to become despondent in the light of such challenges. Christmas urges us never to lose hope. A Saviour has been born for us and God is with us. That is the message of Christmas.
Perhaps the challenge is not to become over awed or even paralysed by the bigger picture but to do what we can, when we can. This diocese, like many others, has welcomed people from the Ukraine and Afghanistan who are fleeing violence and seeking peace. Many in the Diocese have also contributed to appeals for those who are suffering.
Perhaps there is more we all could do to pay homage to the Prince of Peace whose arrival we eagerly await. There are, obviously, the issues of peace in the home, work place and local community. We should work towards peace in all those contexts if for no other reason than it makes life more bearable and easy. As Pope Francis said last week ‘as we know, peace must be built up day by day; it must inspire and accompany our daily lives and activities’.
That is the challenge for ourselves this Christmas. Peace begins with each of us doing what we can and what our faith calls us to do.
There is at this time a real need for peacemakers, men and women prepared to work boldly and creatively to initiate processes of healing and renewed encounter. That is true amongst ourselves, our society and in our Church.
While the current world situation is far from peaceful, this Christmas, like every other, offers you and I opportunities to bring peace and joy. As we rejoice once more in the commemoration of the birth of our Saviour, let us take the opportunities offered by the Prince of Peace.
Finally, over the past few weeks, I have been struck by the people I have met in various parishes who have told me that they have not returned to church after Covid or were returning for the first time. Some of these people have good reason and have medical conditions.
Sadly, some seem to be captive by fear and have become isolated from family, friends, community and church. Isolation is never healthy, be it emotionally, socially or spiritually. Christ is our Saviour and came to free us! While we must do what we can to keep safe, do not become isolated. If you believe the Church is too crowded, visit when the Church is quieter over Christmas and be reassured by the joy and hope that comes from the knowledge that God is with us.
Let us pray for those who are suffering this Christmas and renew our prayers for peace. A joyful Christmas to you and yours and may the New Year bring peace and blessings for us all.