Dia dhiobh. Nollaig shona dhiobh.
I wish a happy and grace-filled Christmas to every person in all the parishes in counties Cork and Kerry in the diocese of Kerry; from the baby 100 hours old to the one hundred year old, from the healthiest and strongest to the weakest and most pained, from the poorest to the richest. I am conscious of all the members of families now emigrated and all the immigrants who have become part of our communities.
My prayer this Christmas is that God bless all our homes. People are under all sorts of pressure. As I wish happiness on every home in the diocese, I am conscious of sadness in many homes – the sadness of family members abroad for Christmas, the sadness caused by the breaking up of a relationship or having no job, the sadness caused by the onset of serious illness or the recent death of a loved one. May people amid such sadness sense the Presence of Christ, his love, his grace, they are not alone.
May Christmas be a time where people can set aside their troubles for a few days and enjoy each other’s company. May we all relax and have some laughter and fun and count our blessings. When we do that we sense that we are not alone, that things will work out, that God is good. God will see us through, there is Hope.
Jesus Christ is our Hope. The meaning of Christmas is Good News. In celebrating Christmas we realise afresh that at the heart of everything, of all creation, of all human existence is a God who freely loves his creation and loves us all. ‘God so loved the world that he gave his only Son’. I often think that to get to the heart of Christmas one has just to stop and gaze on the baby in the manger in the crib. Stop and gaze and realise that this was God’s way of getting involved in our lives. He is truly with us always.
In recent years I have come to appreciate afresh how Christian Santa Clause is. Santa Clause testifies to every child that there is someone out there who loves them and who wants to shower them with gifts and fill their lives with goodness and that person wants nothing in return. That someone is God our Father. Every gift a child receives from Santa points to the loving generous God at heart of all creation. Our generous God gives us literally everything, the gift of the world we have and the gift of life itself.
All of us will remember 2013 for three famous people. Pope Benedict retired as pope in February on the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, World Day of the Sick. That was a lovely gesture of solidarity with all who are ill or advanced in years. A month later a new pope was elected, Pope Francis from Argentina. He has sparked new life in all our faith. Then this month Nelson Mandela died. Remembering the three together, surely they call on us to honour God and to work for justice, human dignity, and freedom from poverty for all.
2013 is also the year that I have come to you as your bishop. I thank everyone in the diocese for the warm and kind welcome you have given me over the past six months. Your strong faith is wonderful. Your coming together as a community to ensure your parish has a rich and full life is wonderful. I thank people and priests for the great energy and endeavour I see everywhere.
The generosity of the people is very heartening, e.g. the support in recent weeks for local charities such as St Vincent De Paul and KDYS (Kerry Diocesan Youth Services) and also the Trocaire collection for Syria and the Philippines. This Christmas, realising how much real need there is all around us, try to have something to give to local charity collections and try to be practical in the gifts you give to family and friends. A practical gift can be a God-send.
A theme of my Ordination ceremony last July was, ‘St Brendan navigated the seas, ours to tend the home shores’. These words honour the faith of all our fore-bearers and also challenge the faith of our generation. Christmas is a time when we renew our commitment to Jesus Christ. In our time, when we can no longer take for granted the handing on of the faith and sharing it with others, I invite any person who has drifted from Sunday Mass to return to and join your local community in celebrating it. In your Sunday have that space as time for pausing and turning to God, who offers himself to each of us, ‘Take and eat this is my body which will be given up for you’.
I also ask you this Christmas to pray for vocations. God will always provide for the Church. Every parish knows the value of having the presence of a priest. Pray that among our young adults some will hear and respond to the call to full time service in our diocese as priests or sisters. A vocation to ministry is not an easy life but it is a rich and full one.
Finally I invite you to ponder with me some verses that will be God’s Gospel Word for us on Christmas Day. They capture the mystery of God’s love revealed in Jesus.
“The Word was made flesh, He lived among us, and we saw his glory,”(Jn 1) “So Joseph set out and travelled to the town of David called Bethlehem . . and Mary gave birth to a son, her first-born. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger. . . As for Mary, she treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (Lk 2)
A happy and a holy and peaceful Christmas to everyone.
Nollaig shona dhiobh go léir.
+ Ray Browne
Bishop of Kerry
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