Solemnity of Christmas
“Do not be afraid – I bring you good news of great joy!” (Luke 2:10)
Dear Confreres, Sisters, Associates and friends,
It is with great joy that I write to you for Christmas during this Year of Consecrated Life. In his Apostolic Letter to all Consecrated People, Pope Francis invites us to be “witnesses of joy” – “the joy of the Gospel which fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus” (EG 1). This is the joy announced to the shepherds in the fields outside Bethlehem, and the sign is a baby, wrapped in bands of cloth and laid in a manger.
We know how central this mystery of Christmas is to the spirituality of St. Alphonsus. His Christmas Novena is one of the best known of his spiritual writings. It leads us into a deeper experience of the love of God made visible in the Incarnation of the Word-made-flesh. God becomes human in Jesus to inflame our hearts with love for God. It is difficult for human beings to love that which they do not see and feel and touch. God becomes human so that God’s love becomes visible and tangible. St. Alphonsus insists that Christ came as a human being to seek us, to encounter us, to converse with us as a friend.
It is this encounter with Jesus Christ which offers “the good news of great joy” proclaimed in Luke’s Gospel account from Christmas Eve. The angel is clear – this joy is meant for all people. The joy of the Gospel is for all! This is also the message and challenge of Pope Francis to all religious men and women during this Year of Consecrated Life. In his letter to us, he says, “where there are religious, there is joy”. At the heart of our witness and mission, we are called to radiate the joy of the encounter with Emmanuel, ‘God-with-us’.
To believe in the Incarnation, to celebrate Christmas, is to proclaim in word and in action a deep respect for all life and for every human person. In a world that is darkened by the violence of hatred and prejudice, Christmas proclaims that every person is beloved of God. At a time when fundamentalists deny the value of those who do not agree with them, the Incarnation proclaims that no one can be dismissed or destroyed in God’s name.
It is the joy of the Gospel which attracts others to live the values of the Gospel. We cannot be sad, dissatisfied, fault-finding missionaries, for as Francis says, “a gloomy disciple is a disciple of gloom”. In the darkness of suffering, injustice and disappointment, can we find the light of joy which reveals the face of Christ? Perhaps the Christmas star can lead us to the child, and finding him, may we find one another.
Pope Francis calls us to “wake up the world”, to become experts in communion, to move out of our ‘comfort zone’, to go out from petty squabbles and destructive gossip. Go out into the whole world – to the peripheries, to those who have lost hope, to families in difficulties, to young people and the elderly. As St. Alphonsus says, “If you wish to be loved, love”.
This Year of Consecrated Life is a wonderful opportunity for us and for the whole Church. The feast of Christmas invites us to encounter anew the God who becomes human in order to encounter us. May the Joy which is the gift of the Holy Spirit fill our lives and radiate from us to warm the lives of all those we encounter.
Mary “was able to turn a stable into a home for Jesus, with poor swaddling clothes and an abundance of love” (EG 286). May she accompany us on this journey of joy and hope.
Wishing you a blessed and joyful Christmas!
Your brother in the Redeemer,
Michael Brehl, C.Ss.R.