I was very taken by the comments recently of Cardinal Jozef De Kezel - Archbishop of Malines (Brussels).
Speaking of the current pandemic, he said “The coronavirus epidemic has taken a toll on our society. We have experienced our fragility within our parish communities. We do not have mastery over everything. Many certainties have been and are still being shattered.”
To put it simply, the year gone out has been like no other in our lived memory. Nobody has been unaffected. It continues to take its toll in term of life and livelihoods.
From loss of life to absences at Christmas dinner tables, ticketed Masses to queues at stores, travel restrictions to circuit breakers - freedom of movement and basic liberties, livelihoods, and forward planning - they have all been curtailed, hampered, or withdrawn.
I am very conscious this Christmas of those who have died in the past year and of the many who grieve in greater isolation than normal; friends and neighbours whose funerals were conducted in very curtailed circumstances, with numbers limited, travel not possible, and grief expressed virtually or from a distance.
Necessity has made a big demand on our people at a very vulnerable time in their lives, and its toll continues.
Similarly, there are those who have seen their businesses closed, their employment interrupted, terminated or severely hampered.
Those with financial commitments or borrowings are of particular concern. Public policy needs to be acutely mindful of such individuals and families as we journey through - and hopefully out of - this pandemic. In the year ‘like no other’, we must speak of hope. In the birth of a child at the manger in Bethlehem, Divine assistance became real and close, ultimate and outwards - in space and in time.
In the Christ child - Emmanuel - “God is with us” - salvation changed both in terms of tempo and quality - God Himself stepped in among us as Person - offering reassurance, meaning, assistance and purpose - all now abundantly available and within our grasp. Such is the message we need to hear afresh this Christmas - “God is with us” - we are not on our own - reassurance, meaning, assistance and purpose are available - like the shepherds in the Gospel, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about." (Luke 2:5).
This Christmas I invite you to visit the crib in your home or in your local church and to consider its saving message. Know more deeply “this thing that has happened” and allow it to reassure and fortify you.
Above all else this year - we need the vaccine of Christmas Hope as we await the actual vaccine - we need the energy to continue that little bit longer and to remain that little be closer to each other.
Now is a time to draw on the God given Hope of the Christ child born in the manger, the visible face of God who leads us onwards in joy.
As we celebrate Christmas this year, consider the acts of kindness we can all practice:
1. Keep an eye to a neighbour in need and remember those who have suffered most in the year past.
2. Offer a word of gratitude to a frontline worker and be mindful of those who have been impacted greatest financially.
3. Take time to consider what resolution you might make for 2021. In the awareness of all that coronavirus has taken from us, let us resolve to commit afresh in the new year once the pandemic recedes.
On a personal note, this year, I’d like to say a word of gratitude to our own front line workers in the diocese, our priests. Your remaining at your stations; the isolation of celebrating Masses virtually and living for long periods without congregations; your pastoral attention to the sick and the dying are worthy of special mention this year.
In conclusion I would like to extend to you very kind wish and blessing for the Christmas season. May God continue to protect you as we collectively abide by the guidelines and pray for a successful roll out of the vaccine in the new year.