Saturday, December 24, 2011


The reading from Saint Paul’s Letter to Titus that we have just heard begins solemnly with the word “apparuit”, which then comes back again in the reading at the Dawn Mass: apparuit – “there has appeared”. This is a programmatic word, by which the Church seeks to express synthetically the essence of Christmas. Formerly, people had spoken of God and formed human images of him in all sorts of different ways. God himself had spoken in many and various ways to mankind (cf. Heb 1:1 – Mass during the Day). But now something new has happened: he has appeared. He has revealed himself. He has emerged from the inaccessible light in which he dwells. He himself has come into our midst. This was the great joy of Christmas for the early Church: God has appeared. No longer is he merely an idea, no longer do we have to form a picture of him on the basis of mere words. He has “appeared”. But now we ask: how has he appeared? Who is he in reality? The reading at the Dawn Mass goes on to say: “the kindness and love of God our Saviour for mankind were revealed” (Tit 3:4). For the people of pre-Christian times, whose response to the terrors and contradictions of the world was to fear that God himself might not be good either, that he too might well be cruel and arbitrary, this was a real “epiphany”, the great light that has appeared to us: God is pure goodness. Today too, people who are no longer able to recognize God through faith are asking whether the ultimate power that underpins and sustains the world is truly good, or whether evil is just as powerful and primordial as the good and the beautiful which we encounter in radiant moments in our world. “The kindness and love of God our Saviour for mankind were revealed”: this is the new, consoling certainty that is granted to us at Christmas.

In all three Christmas Masses, the liturgy quotes a passage from the Prophet Isaiah, which describes the epiphany that took place at Christmas in greater detail: “A child is born for us, a son given to us and dominion is laid on his shoulders; and this is the name they give him: Wonder-Counsellor, Mighty-God, Eternal-Father, Prince-of-Peace. Wide is his dominion in a peace that has no end” (Is 9:5f.). Whether the prophet had a particular child in mind, born during his own period of history, we do not know. But it seems impossible. This is the only text in the Old Testament in which it is said of a child, of a human being: his name will be Mighty-God, Eternal-Father. We are presented with a vision that extends far beyond the historical moment into the mysterious, into the future. A child, in all its weakness, is Mighty God. A child, in all its neediness and dependence, is Eternal Father. And his peace “has no end”. The prophet had previously described the child as “a great light” and had said of the peace he would usher in that the rod of the oppressor, the footgear of battle, every cloak rolled in blood would be burned (Is 9:1, 3-4).

God has appeared – as a child. It is in this guise that he pits himself against all violence and brings a message that is peace. At this hour, when the world is continually threatened by violence in so many places and in so many different ways, when over and over again there are oppressors’ rods and bloodstained cloaks, we cry out to the Lord: O mighty God, you have appeared as a child and you have revealed yourself to us as the One who loves us, the One through whom love will triumph. And you have shown us that we must be peacemakers with you. We love your childish estate, your powerlessness, but we suffer from the continuing presence of violence in the world, and so we also ask you: manifest your power, O God. In this time of ours, in this world of ours, cause the oppressors’ rods, the cloaks rolled in blood and the footgear of battle to be burned, so that your peace may triumph in this world of ours. Christmas is an epiphany – the appearing of God and of his great light in a child that is born for us. Born in a stable in Bethlehem, not in the palaces of kings. In 1223, when Saint Francis of Assisi celebrated Christmas in Greccio with an ox and an ass and a manger full of hay, a new dimension of the mystery of Christmas came to light. Saint Francis of Assisi called Christmas “the feast of feasts” – above all other feasts – and he celebrated it with “unutterable devotion” (2 Celano 199; Fonti Francescane, 787). He kissed images of the Christ-child with great devotion and he stammered tender words such as children say, so Thomas of Celano tells us (ibid.). For the early Church, the feast of feasts was Easter: in the Resurrection Christ had flung open the doors of death and in so doing had radically changed the world: he had made a place for man in God himself. Now, Francis neither changed nor intended to change this objective order of precedence among the feasts, the inner structure of the faith centred on the Paschal Mystery. And yet through him and the character of his faith, something new took place: Francis discovered Jesus’ humanity in an entirely new depth. This human existence of God became most visible to him at the moment when God’s Son, born of the Virgin Mary, was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. The Resurrection presupposes the Incarnation. For God’s Son to take the form of a child, a truly human child, made a profound impression on the heart of the Saint of Assisi, transforming faith into love. “The kindness and love of God our Saviour for mankind were revealed” – this phrase of Saint Paul now acquired an entirely new depth. In the child born in the stable at Bethlehem, we can as it were touch and caress God. And so the liturgical year acquired a second focus in a feast that is above all a feast of the heart. This has nothing to do with sentimentality. It is right here, in this new experience of the reality of Jesus’ humanity that the great mystery of faith is revealed. Francis loved the child Jesus, because for him it was in this childish estate that God’s humility shone forth. God became poor. His Son was born in the poverty of the stable. In the child Jesus, God made himself dependent, in need of human love, he put himself in the position of asking for human love – our love.

Today Christmas has become a commercial celebration, whose bright lights hide the mystery of God’s humility, which in turn calls us to humility and simplicity. Let us ask the Lord to help us see through the superficial glitter of this season, and to discover behind it the child in the stable in Bethlehem, so as to find true joy and true light. Francis arranged for Mass to be celebrated on the manger that stood between the ox and the ass (cf. 1 Celano 85; Fonti 469). Later, an altar was built over this manger, so that where animals had once fed on hay, men could now receive the flesh of the spotless lamb Jesus Christ, for the salvation of soul and body, as Thomas of Celano tells us (cf. 1 Celano 87; Fonti 471). Francis himself, as a deacon, had sung the Christmas Gospel on the holy night in Greccio with resounding voice. Through the friars’ radiant Christmas singing, the whole celebration seemed to be a great outburst of joy (1 Celano 85.86; Fonti 469, 470). It was the encounter with God’s humility that caused this joy – his goodness creates the true feast. Today, anyone wishing to enter the Church of Jesus’ Nativity in Bethlehem will find that the doorway five and a half metres high, through which emperors and caliphs used to enter the building, is now largely walled up. Only a low opening of one and a half metres has remained. The intention was probably to provide the church with better protection from attack, but above all to prevent people from entering God’s house on horseback. Anyone wishing to enter the place of Jesus’ birth has to bend down. It seems to me that a deeper truth is revealed here, which should touch our hearts on this holy night: if we want to find the God who appeared as a child, then we must dismount from the high horse of our “enlightened” reason. We must set aside our false certainties, our intellectual pride, which prevents us from recognizing God’s closeness. We must follow the interior path of Saint Francis – the path leading to that ultimate outward and inward simplicity which enables the heart to see. We must bend down, spiritually we must as it were go on foot, in order to pass through the portal of faith and encounter the God who is so different from our prejudices and opinions – the God who conceals himself in the humility of a newborn baby. In this spirit let us celebrate the liturgy of the holy night, let us strip away our fixation on what is material, on what can be measured and grasped. Let us allow ourselves to be made simple by the God who reveals himself to the simple of heart. And let us also pray especially at this hour for all who have to celebrate Christmas in poverty, in suffering, as migrants, that a ray of God’s kindness may shine upon them, that they – and we – may be touched by the kindness that God chose to bring into the world through the birth of his Son in a stable. Amen.


Two new North American women to become Saints: Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha a Native American woman, born in 1656, who became a Catholic and cared for the sick is set to be canonized by Pope Benedict XVI. Certain miracles have been shown to be through her the Vatican announced on Dec. 19. She was born on the Mohawk River, in now New York State. Kateri's father was a Mohawk chief and her mother an Algonquin convert to Catholicism. She suffered from smallpox at the age of 4, and was left with scars and frailty.
She was baptised by Jesuits at the age of 20. She took a vow of chastity and moved to a Christian community. The smallpox scars on her face disappeared inexplicably a few minutes after her death. She will be Patroness of the Native Americas.

Also Blessed Mother Marianne Cope, a German-born Franciscan nun, is soon to be canonized.
She spent 30 years caring for lepers on the island of Molokai, Hawaii. Cope died of natural causes in 1918. She was the successor of St. Damien de Veuster, a Belgian priest known as "Father Damien," who died of leprosy in 1889.  Two miracles have been attributed to her.


Cardinal O'Brien
Cardinal Keith Patrick O'Brien

It is indeed a privilege being asked to deliver a Christmas message at this time – and, for me, a joy to be able to use the themes suggested by this year’s Christmas stamps.
This year, in accordance with a recent convention of alternating secular and religious themes, religion and the Gospel story of the Nativity is very much to the fore, in fact the 2011 Christmas stamps are exceptional, not simply in concept – they adopt the Nativity narratives of Matthew and Luke’s Gospels – but in design, they are beautifully engaging and colourful renditions of that incredible, wonderful story of the birth of Jesus Christ, God made man.
This series of stamps tell that story and I believe it is one which our society needs to hear today more than ever before. That Nativity narrative is contained in the two quotations from St Matthew’s Gospel, which remind us that Mary will give birth to a son who must be named Jesus; and that this miraculous birth fulfils the prophesy in the Old Testament that a son will be born called Immanuel, a name which means ‘God is with us’. As we think of these words, we realise something of the love of God for his people in giving them his son – and we realise the wonder of that message that that son is God who is still with us.alt
Recent reports suggest that the cost of a child is now over £100,000 in its early years, in the midst of our plenty we may lavish many gifts on our new born. Yet think of the lack of any expensive trappings in that birth in a stable, but realise that that child was surrounded by what is most important in the life of any person, namely basic love. We heard recently, that the population of our world has reached 7 billion. I wonder if each and every life is valued as it should be as our Saviour was.
As at the first Christmas, shepherds and kings, the poor and the rich, the deprived and the mighty – altogether must realise this Christmas message of the love of God for mankind and of the response that should be given by each and every individual person in their own lives to that call of love from God.
Yes at this Christmas time, these words should give us encouragement to carry that message of love from the Nativity scene into our communities, our churches and our homes. God has indeed shown his love for us and given his Son, Jesus, as God-with-us. Our response must surely be one of love, especially at this time – love of God, love of our neighbour, love of those who are in most need at home and throughout our world.


ASIA NEWS REPORT: In the spirit of Christmas, Mgr Tong calls for more housing, less selfishness
by Annie Lam
Hong Kong’s Catholic bishop calls on the government and the rich business community to solve the city’s acute housing problem. Yueyue, the two-year-old toddler left to die after she was hit by two vehicles, is remembered. Anglican bishop calls for a return to core values against widespread “individualism”.

Hong Kong (AsiaNews) – We must implement the spirit of Christmas and “get rid of our selfishness” by meeting the housing needs of the people of Hong Kong, said Mgr John Tong Hon, bishop of Hong Kong. In his Christmas message released on Friday, the prelate called on local government and the business sector to solve Hong Kong’s pressing housing problems.

“The Lord Jesus was born in a manger because there was no room for his parents in the inn. Nowadays, many people in Hong Kong are having great difficulty in finding a place to live,” Bishop Tong said.

He especially pleaded with the local government, the rich and the business sectors to help solve this “urgent problem as housing” in Hong Kong. Housing is “a basic need and right of every family,” he noted.

“Christmas is the time of caring. If we implement the spirit of Christmas throughout the year, I am sure we will be doing our part to make our world better and more humane,” he said.

Remembering a two-year-old girl who was recently run over by two vehicles in mainland China, he noted that 2 drivers and 18 pedestrians failed to stop. Eventually, a woman carried her to a hospital, but unfortunately, she died a few days later (see "Yueyue, the two year old hit by two trucks and left to suffer, dies,” in AsiaNews, 21 October 2011). “This case is a warning call for us to get rid of our selfishness and be more concerned for those in need,” he said.

To the faithful of his diocese, Bishop Tong announced that the Year of the Laity would be extended by one more year.

In his message, the prelate told local Catholics to emphasise the Christian initiation of adults with an appropriate period of catechumenate. Similarly, he urged them to promote family values, give witness to the Gospel and be good citizens, as Pope Benedict XVI’s 2007 letter to the Catholic Church in China said. As part of this, the message encourages Catholics to achieve the three goals of the Year of the Laity, i.e. make ourselves holy, sanctify others and transform the world.

In his strongly worded Christmas message, also released on Friday, Anglican Archbishop Paul Kwong said that local core values have been taken away by selfishness and the pursuit of money, which he described as the “pervasiveness of individualism” in this affluent city.

Mentioning the measures taken after a big fire in late November killed nine people and injured dozens more, he noted that people have become "cold-hearted", placing making a living before protecting lives.,-Mgr-Tong-calls-for-more-housing,-less-selfishness-23529.html


NAIROBI, December 20, 2011 (CISA) -The UN refugee agency today December 20 began a massive airlift of urgently needed aid supplies for some 50,000 Sudanese refugees in South Sudan.
The first of 18 flights using C-130 Hercules aircraft left Nairobi at 8 a.m. carrying 12 metric tons of supplies, including plastic sheets, sleeping mats, blankets, mosquito nets, buckets, jerry cans and kitchen sets.
Malakal airport, a major landing strip close to the refugee sites will be used by the aircrafts.
The remaining 17 flights will deliver an additional 272 metric tons of relief supplies from UNHCR’s global stockpiles in Nairobi. From Malakal, the items will be taken by road to either Maban County in Upper Nile state – some 300 Kms to the northeast – or westwards to Unity state. The 18 flights will cost an estimated $1.5 million, while the aid supplies being delivered are valued at $2.5 million.
In addition to these flights, UNHCR is planning to deliver 10,000 tents to South Sudan from their warehouse in Dubai in the coming weeks at an expected cost of more than $8 million.
In recent months, Upper Nile and Unity states in South Sudan have been receiving refugees from fighting in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan states. Many families left with few belongings, walking for weeks through the bush to reach South Sudan.
In Upper Nile state, at least 40,000 refugees have arrived since September. Some 25,000 refugees are at the Doro camp, and an estimated 15,000 are stranded in the Elfoj border area. Both sites are in Maban County. There are also unconfirmed reports of some 27,000 refugees scattered across the Guffa border area further north. UNHCR border monitoring teams are trying to reach these remote areas to verify the reports.
In Unity state, some 22,000 refugees from the Nuba Mountains of Southern Kordofan state have fled to Yida settlement since August. The makeshift site is located near the volatile border and has come under attack in the past, most recently in mid-November.
UNHCR and partners have been providing emergency assistance while trying to persuade the refugees to move to safer sites inland. Work is ongoing to prepare alternative sites further south in Unity state.


A Christmas Message

Most Rev B J Hickey
Archbishop of Perth

ARCHDIOCESE OF PERTH RELEASE: When we remember the birth of Jesus at Christmas, let us focus on that joy He brought to the world and His good news.
Every year, we celebrate and remember His birth not because He changed the world, but because He is the Son of God who came down from Heaven to show us the way to Heaven, to happiness.
Extraordinary happiness awaits us in Heaven if we can live in this world the way Jesus calls us to live.
In our daily lives, we are called to be like Christ, to offer His good news to the world around us, wherever we are, beginning first in our families and then bearing His light in our daily lives in the world.
Jesus came to establish His Kingdom. By bearing witness to the light, like St John the Baptist did, we can help build up the Kingdom of God on earth.
The world needs this good news. When we look around us and see all the violence and hatred in the world, it doesn’t look like God’s Kingdom at all.
There are challenges facing the Church today such as rampant secularism and a tendency to sideline God from the meaning of existence. This is not the way forward.
Human life is threatened at all stages, beginning in the womb. We must offer the good news of Jesus, which recognises life from the moment of conception.
Many children caught up in their parents’ marriage breakdown have to find their own way in the world. We must offer the good news of Jesus.
Many teenagers are caught up in a culture of drugs and sex well before they know the true meaning of their body and the responsibility that comes with love. We must offer the good news of Jesus.
Although we see the political threat to traditional marriage, we must hold firm to the teachings of Christ and those that are married must continue to live as He called them to. Church teaching and its definition of marriage as a free, faithful, total and fruitful union between a man and a woman open to life will not change, simply because the winds of political change are blowing around us.
We know the message of Christ is good news for people. We know that trying faithfully to follow His way is the way to finding happiness despite all the difficulties that face us.
Despite the negativity the Church has to face in the world, look to the future with confidence.
We must continue to offer this good news to the world because the world needs it. Each one of us should accept our call from Christ to be His witnesses at home and wherever we go.
Jesus’ birth at Bethlehem was a sign of great hope for the world and now that hope is entrusted to us to bring to our family and to the world today.
We each have to play our part wherever we are in bringing the good news to others.
I join the joy of all our parishes as they celebrate the birth of Jesus this Christmas. We here in the Cathedral will join with all our parishes in trying to be a light of hope, offering Christ in the centre of our city.
We wish all the joy and graces of Christmas to everyone and hope that Catholics everywhere will make sure that they are at Mass in their parishes at Christmas.
Let us hope that they can also bring their friends along who aren’t Catholic to Mass this Christmas.
Image: Nativity scene, stained glass window, Our Lady Help of Christians in East Victoria Park parish, Photo: courtesy The Record.


Luke 1: 67 - 79
67 And his father Zechari'ah was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying,
68 "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people,
69 and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David,
70 as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
71 that we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all who hate us;
72 to perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant,
73 the oath which he swore to our father Abraham,
74 to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear,
75 in holiness and righteousness before him all the days of our life.
76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins,
78 through the tender mercy of our God, when the day shall dawn upon us from on high
79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace."


St. Charbel Makhlouf
Feast: December 24

Feast Day: December 24
Born: May 8, 1828, Bekaa Kafra (North Lebanon)
Died: December 24, 1898
Canonized: October 9, 1977 by Pope Paul VI
Mystic and Maronite hermit. He was born in 1828 in Lebanon and became a Maronite monk at Annaya Abbey at the age of twenty. As a hermit, Charbel was famous for his spiritual gifts, even among his Islamic neighbors. He spent almost a quarter century displaying many miraculous abilities and was noted for his love of the Holy Eucharist. Charbel died in 1898. He was beatified in 1965 and canonized in 1977 by Pope Paul VI (r. 1963-1978).