A Christian message from Bishop Seamus Freeman

On behalf of the Diocese of Ossory, I send greetings and best wishes for a very happy Christmas to all of you and to your families.

On behalf of the Diocese of Ossory, I send greetings and best wishes for a very happy Christmas to all of you and to your families.

It feels as though it were yesterday since I was preparing the Christian message for Christmas 2011. Time seems to get shorter as we get older. On the other hand, young children think Christmas will never come. How many times do we hear children ask: Are we there yet?

As we adults grow older, the years seem to grow shorter, shrinking a little every year. And yet time remains the same all of the time. Our relationship with time changes continually. Winning by a point with five minutes to go, we say: Will it ever end? On the other hand, losing by a point seems to speed up time. When in prison, time stands still. When we are free, time seems to fly.

Sometimes we have great expectations and if they are not realised, we experience the slowness of time, and frustration. When we have an internal victory we feel like winners, euphoric. If it’s a false euphoria, it will not last. One rash night out can leave us in that state. There is more to this question.

Imagine a monk in a monastery! Logic would suggest that time would lengthen and lengthen and be very boring. However, that is not the case! Monks seem to live a lot longer, and for them life does not linger, unless they are unhappy in the monastery. If they are unhappy, the question is: Should they be in the monastery? Maybe it’s not the truth of their life to be in the monastery. Perhaps their real vocation is in another direction.

There is a true vocation for each of us, something I am best at, something I am called to be, and that is the truth of my being. I wonder if that is what Jesus means when he says: “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (Jn. 8:31-32).

We can conclude that we are free, only when we live the truth of our being, and continually seek the fullness of the truth. We seek it in our close relationship with God, listening to his word in contemplation. The exclusive will of the people goes beyond the will alone of the people. There are many instances of this in the Bible.

People of faith need a firm commitment to the “sacred truth” of the issues we are about to confront in the near future. Matters and issues that go wrong in society are not righted soon, and not easily, and often, never. The Gospel truth sets us free. So wisdom teaches us and encourages us to seek truth, and not just what I want, or what pays the most. Discovering our real vocation is vital for our lives and our being, and the choice should have nothing to do with money.

I am sure that all of you will have heard or read that the pope is now on Twitter. Already he has more than a million followers. I thought his first two tweets were very interesting, and the makings of very good advice, both personal and for society in general.

His first tweet was: “Dear friends, I am pleased to get in touch with you through Twitter. Thank you for your generous response. I bless all of you from my heart.” Simple but profound words!

There was a time when a common salutation would have been: “God bless you”, or, “God be with you!” Greetings are important, and when we wish a blessing on someone, it’s a way of recognising the value and the blessing of every other.

Our culture has become rather cold on this issue. In recent years the fundamental concept of empathy has diminished regarding so many issues which compromise the right to life of the unborn, the aged and the infirm. We can only imagine the consequences. This is not according to the word of God which we celebrate every Christmas, a word which looks at every human being as an image of the unique God, a God of infinite love and mercy.

Pope Benedict’s second tweet is in the form of a question and answer. He asks: “How can we celebrate the year of faith better in our daily lives?” His reply is: “By speaking with Jesus in prayer, listening to what he tells us in the Gospel and looking for Him in those in need.”

How do we look for God in those who are in need? It is a question of the empathy, love and compassion that are part of the spiritual DNA of every human being. Such empathy and peace are the bedrock of a happy society. We preserve social empathy when we give a high profile and commitment to caring for the other as much as we care for ourselves. Without such empathy, Christmas could easily become nothing more than a marketplace or a commercial enterprise. There is nothing wrong with the exchanging of gifts and visits, but perhaps we could do more to revive the fullness of empathy and compassion towards every other – the young, the old, difficult, sick and especially the most vulnerable. If we ignore all of these in our attention to a healthy society, we could cease to be the voice of God, the voice of truth.

Looking back on the last year, I think that our Diocese of Ossory achieved many of its intended goals. However, I also think that it is not as easy this year to say the words “Happy Christmas,” knowing that it will not be a happy Christmas for so many – the sick, the unemployed, the bereaved, the troubled. But I can wish you all a blessed Christmas. We are made in the image and likeness of God. God is so close to us. I hope and pray that all of us can be more aware of the presence of God in our lives.

Finally, I pledge to remember all of you in the Masses I celebrate over the Christmas period and in particular at the midnight celebration of the Eucharist at St Mary’s Cathedral.

God bless you all.