During this Christmas season, as we celebrate the birth of Jesus, the focus is not only on the child, but on the family into which He is born. My thoughts turn to families in our own diocese who have welcomed the birth of a child during this past year and to those who are expecting a baby in the near future. I ask God’s blessing on you in a particular way this Christmas.
As we gather at the crib, we become aware once again of the vulnerability of the little baby, lying in the manger. Part of the mystery of Christmas is that the Son of God depends entirely on the care of Joseph and Mary. The gift of a child is a great blessing, but it also brings new responsibilities, for mothers and fathers in particular, but also for older sisters and brothers and, of course, for grandparents. Our relationships are challenged, and it is in responding to those challenges that families grow stronger.
Saint Luke is the one who tells us most about the family of Jesus. He tells about the support and encouragement Mary received from her older cousin Elizabeth who lived on the other side of the mountains. Thank God for the support and backup that parents so often receive from the extended family.
Saint Luke also describes how the Holy Family found themselves without a place to live in Bethlehem and how they became refugees in Egypt. In our own society today, many children live with their parents in emergency accommodation and many others are seeking refuge in Ireland, just as the Holy Family did in Egypt. The warmth of our welcome for the infant Jesus at Christmas is measured by our response to the material and emotional needs of these families who are living among us but who, in many cases, do not feel that they belong.
When Joseph and Mary went up to the Temple to pray, they brought Jesus with them. In that way, they not only gave thanks to God for the gift of their child, but they introduced him to the family of faith. At Christmas time, many families come to Mass or to visit the Crib in churches around the diocese. I know that the parish is sometimes thought of as a place where religious services are provided. I would hope that your parish community can be much more than that for you. I hope it can be part of your extended family; a place where families are supported and encouraged and where children grow to maturity in their relationship with God.
I take this opportunity to say a word of thanks to our priests and deacons and to all the sisters and lay volunteers, without whose generous service, our parishes and our diocese would not be able to function effectively. On that first Christmas, the choir of angels sang “Glory to God” and “peace on earth”. My prayer for all our parishioners and for your family members and friends overseas, is that you may experience that peace in your own hearts and homes this Christmas and in the year ahead.
Bishop of Elphin
Picture: The Bishop of Elphin, Kevin Doran.