31Dec Chris McDonnell’s ‘Catholic Times’ column – This Christmas Season

This Christmas Season

Chris McDonnell CT January 01 2021

Christmas has been different this year. Much of the spontaneity has been missing. The gathering of friends at short notice for a meal, the family visits and stay-over’s, finding a seat in a crowded church on Christmas Eve, the enthusiastic hugs and greetings after sharing the Eucharist together, that and so much more. Maybe in future this will be known as the ‘Christmas of Absence’. For the first time in many years I haven’t made any cards, being away from home and the necessary technical equipment. One small token in a much bigger picture.

Christmas is a time of great joy, a celebration to make things right again, to repair what is broken, to restore our relationship with the living God. It is the fulfilment of a promise made through the ages, a promise made to a wandering people, lost and confused, struggling to come to terms with the message of the prophets. And when the message did arrive, it came in the unrecognisable form of a helpless peasant child. No wonder that it took visitors from the East to begin to tell us the story.

Now we have a New Year ahead of us, one of expectation and hope. The season of Advent began with excitement, the news of vaccines arriving to challenge the worldwide spread of COVID. With the coming months, more and more people will be offered the opportunity of vaccination as priority groups are established to meet the overall societal need. That we had such a break-through so rapidly is a major scientific achievement. It just shows what can be achieved when we set ourselves a task and then exercise determination and willpower in pursuing a common goal.

One powerful symbol of the start of the New Year, is the opening of a door, the way in, where crossing the threshold from the street, access is made to share in the hospitality of the house. To shut a door in someone’s face is an unfriendly, hostile action that makes very clear our intention of not wishing to talk or listen. It is sometimes suggested that the month name ‘January’ is derived from the god of Roman mythology Janus, the god of beginnings, gates, transitions, time, duality, doorways, passages, frames, and endings. He is usually depicted as having two faces, since he looks both to the future and to the past. But according to ancient Roman farmers’ almanacs Juno was the deity of the month.

Learning to open doors should be a gift of our faith. Opening doors to those whom we trust is easy enough. In fact with some, friendship is such that the door is already unlocked and they have access without permission. But to show mercy to others and to have mercy shown to us demands much more.

With hope on the horizon regarding COVID, there has definitely been a door opened for the benefit of all. But who will be included? In the rush to protect the affluent West, we must not ignore the voiceless poor, the countless millions of fellow humans whose cries we too often disregard.

The COVID emergency has, understandably, been all consuming but other urgent issues abound. This past year (2020) is on course to be one of the three warmest years on record worldwide, while the current decade will be the warmest ever, according to the World Meteorological Organization. That small problem hasn’t gone away you know.

Speaking in the Central African Republic in November 2015, Francis reminded us: “Peace is not a document that is signed and then put up some place. Peace is made each day. Peace is a craft, a handiwork.” Those few words speak volumes. They remind me of the song Strangest dream

Last night I had the strangest dream
I ever dreamed before
I dreamed the world had all agreed
To put an end to war
I dreamed I saw a mighty room
The room was filled with men
And the paper they were signing said
They’d never fight again

And when the papers all were signed
And a million copies made
They all joined hands and bowed their heads
And grateful prayers were prayed
And the people in the streets below
Were dancing round and round
And guns and swords and uniforms
Were scattered on the ground

Last night I had the strangest dream
I ever dreamed before
I dreamed the world had all agreed
To put an end to war

Alongside the vast, and essential, sums being spent on the COVID emergency, there is little sign that defence budgets are under threat as more and more sophisticated weapons systems are developed that, in a brutal and explicit manner, threaten life on earth. The excuse is always used that we ‘need to keep up with our enemies’, that ‘Mutual Assured Destruction’ ultimately ensures our safety; but at what cost? A cost we bear now in our national budgets and one that might finally extinguish life on this fragile planet. It is time we made friends of our enemies and they made friends with us.

We can all have dreams, in fact, we must all have dreams if we are to build a more just society. It is not coincidental that Martin Luther King’s famous Washington speech is known simply as ‘I have a dream’.

The book of Proverbs tells us: “Without vision the people perish”. The question frequently arises, whose vision and where does it come from? That surely is the essence of our Christian Mission, to offer a vision of hope to all whom we meet and more importantly to live that mission in our day to day experience of life. We need ‘to be’ before we can ‘give’.

That applies to each one of us as individuals and to the Church as a community. A Church without a merciful vision is but an echoing shell. The recommendation to forgive, to show mercy, is ever present in the Gospels, from the forgiveness of the woman taken in adultery, to the words of the Lord from the Cross, through to the forgiveness of Peter on the shore of the lake. This is an essential aspect of the vision we offer, not of revenge after we have been wronged but of showing mercy in our dealings with each other. Forgiveness is not the preserve of Christian faith but is a constant thread across human belief. For how could we live without it? If we are on a journey where there is no forgiveness, then that is indeed a sorry story, a veritable cul-de-sac.

When we talk of mercy, we have in mind a compassionate or kindly attitude shown toward an offender, an enemy, or other person who is subject in some way to our actions. It is above all an action that shows in a practical manner love and understanding. In contrast, when we speak of one without mercy we are describing a cold and harsh individual who has it in their power to be generous but refuses.

Parents are called to exercise such merciful forgiveness week in and week out. The exercise of their parenthood demands the correction and guidance of their children but in such a manner that love is recognised. A child going to bed after an argument which has not been reconciled takes with them a hurt into the night. That is not a good space to be in.

Whenever as a head teacher I had occasion to talk with a child about their behaviour, I always looked for the opportunity to speak later that day in a manner that would bring closure to the particular problem. That was a restorative gift that could be freely given.

An essential part of ensuring that without vision, the people perish, is every once in a while to clean the glasses we use. That is the task for each one of us in this New Year. Some call it making a New Year Resolution. I would prefer that we ask ourselves a few personal questions and then have the courage to act on the answers. That way we might bring much needed light to a new year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One Response

  1. Kevin Walters

    “Without vision the people perish”. The question frequently arises, whose vision and where does it come from? That surely is the essence of our Christian Mission, to offer a vision of hope to all whom we meet and more importantly to live that mission in our day-to-day experience of life. We need ‘to be’ before we can ‘give’

    The vision “To put an end to war “ (Within our divided hearts)

    “Attach bayonets! courage and glory are the cry, do or die
    First over the Parapet
    John leads the Ferocious attack
    While opposing Hans reciprocates the advance to the death dance
    In crater of mud both stood
    Eye meet eye one must die
    But who would hold true to the Christian creed they knew?
    ‘To be’ the sign of the sign of the Cross,
    To ‘give’ without counting the cost
    Abandon bayonet, bowed head, bending knee, faith/love the other did see
    Worldly values gone from the other humility now holding the same song.

    Gentleness is our Lord’s Creed, worldly glory He did not need.

    But of course, this was not the reality of all Christians who went into battle or in other difficult real life situations today, so ‘to be’ necessitates self-knowledge in relationship to the first Commandment before we can truly ‘give’ Christian Charity to our neighbour.

    We find self-knowledge as we reflect in faith on the living Word/Will of God within the Gospels while The Holy Spirit prompts/enlightens our understanding of our own brokenness which leads to humility (St Bernard, Humility; a virtue by which a man knowing himself as he truly is, abases him-self). So, we need to be readied in our own hearts if we are to walk with the Holy Spirit in humility as a humble heart is His known dwelling place, while encouraging others to do the same.

    Our Lord Himself in this present time has given His Church ‘a vision of hope’ to embrace humility via the True Divine Mercy Image that is one of Broken Man which from my uneducated understanding has the potential to draw the Church into a new dawn, as in the manifestation of a truly humble church/people before God and ‘all whom we meet’, in the world.

    As when the Truth is embraced honestly, it will induce humility within the heart. A Truthful heart will never cover its tracks (Past) or hide from its shortcomings, and in doing so, confers authenticity, as it walks in its own vulnerability/weakness/brokenness in trust/faith before God and mankind. It is a heart to be trusted, as it ‘dispels’ darkness within its own self/ego, in serving God (Truth) first, before any other.

    If we walk His ‘Way’ we will eventual accept ourselves and then each other in wholeheartedness, while we are led along the path/Way of spiritual enlightenment, the ongoing transformation of the human heart, a moist heart, a gentle tearful one, one of compassion, where eventually it is not possible to judge another individual harshly, for to do so would be to judge/condemn one’s self.
    Rather in our humility we would want for all our brothers and sisters no matter what their state of being, that which we have been given ourselves, His known gift of Divine Mercy, which can only be known/accepted in a humble/Vulnerable heart, before Him because is that not what Christianity (Love of God) is all about?

    “Learn from me I am meek and lowly of heart and you shall find rest for your souls.”

    Or put another way, learn from His vulnerability, while in humble ‘simplicity’, we are been emptied (Set free) of the selfhood; we will then eventually find (the lost coin, a dew drop, a mustard seed, pearl) His gift of joy/peace/the Holy Spirit, the spiritual ‘treasure’, dwelling while adorning our own hearts/souls.

    kevin Your brother
    In Christ


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