I heard an eminent medical person on the radio last week raising concerns about the rising number of COVID cases. He suggested Christmas should be postponed until spring. As a medic his first concern is the health and wellbeing of people. However, it illustrates that for many, Christmas has become a mere holiday period rather than the celebration of Christ’s birth.
In contrast, I happened to see the last “Late Late Show” of 2020. It was a showcase of Irish musicians and singers all there to help raise funds for the “Simon” Community. This heart-warming, generous group of people got together to reach out and help those who are most vulnerable in our society. This is one example of so many kind people in our parishes and communities who are helping those in need this Christmas. These are all examples of Christianity in action! Towards the end of the programme, Bono, of U2 fame, was interviewed. He posed a basic, but very important question; “What is this Christmas thing about?” In order to answer this question, he described how, at a Carol Service one Christmas, he really listened. From this deep listening he received an insight into the heart of Christmas as he went on to say, and I quote; “I started to think about the fact that this baby was born in straw, this is a mother and child in a delivery room with goats and sheep. Think about it. And if you believe this story, which I do, of unknowable power expressed as utter powerlessness, it really struck me. The divinity of people who are vulnerable and poor, that is what Christmas is about, it’s not about anything else.” Personally, I found it refreshing to hear someone with Bono’s fame, name the essence of what Christmas is truly about, something, in my opinion, has been notably absent in recent times.
Christmas is about our unconditionally loving God, the creator of the Universe, becoming a vulnerable little baby on a bed of straw. God enters our humanity so that we could share in his divinity! Through this act of pure love, we are challenged to recognise the spark of the divine in those around us.
This year has been a struggle for so many of us. Our lives have changed in so many ways. However, the goodness, kindness, generosity, and love of so many people, continues to be an inspiration and a source of great hope! My special thoughts are with those who have been bereaved since this time last year. Christmas is a time when memories surface of loved ones who are no longer with us. We hold them in our hearts knowing that our loving bond continues. I also remember those who cannot get home for Christmas, my thoughts and prayers are with you and your families.
This Christmas will be very different in our parishes as the numbers allowed to enter our churches is limited. I extend a huge word of thanks to priests and parish teams who have worked so hard, and continue to do so, to ensure our places of worship are safe for all who enter. For those who cannot physically come to church, I extend a welcome to join us via webcam. You can find a list of parishes with this facility on our diocesan website www.achonrydiocese.org. Alternatively, perhaps you might be able to call into your local church for a quiet visit to the crib over the twelve days of Christmas.
On a personal note, 2020 is a year I will never forget. In early August I said farewell to the parishioners of Newbridge Parish and the people, priests and Bishop Denis of Kildare and Leighlin Diocese. It is not easy saying goodbye, but the support has, and continues to be amazing from my home diocese, my family and friends. On the 30th of August I was ordained bishop to serve in the Diocese of Achonry. It is a very new and different experience for me. I have been fortunate to visit all the parishes and have received a very warm welcome from the people and priests throughout the diocese, something I deeply appreciate. I look forward to being able to meet many more people throughout the diocese in the coming year, hopefully when life returns to some form of “normality.”
May I take this opportunity to wish you all a very happy and peaceful Christmas. Keep safe and as we celebrate the birth of Christ, the Light of the World, may His light fill our hearts with hope for 2021!
Is mise le meas,
+ Paul Dempsey,
Bishop of Achonry