Saturday, January 2, 2010

Prayers for the Joy of the Christmas Season

To begin this post, which is a little late in coming due to the pressures of the Season, I wish to all of you the great joy and hope that is at the heart of our Celebrations of the Mysteries of the coming of God's eternal Son into our world in the Birth of Jesus.

If I may, I will share with you my homily for the Feast of Christmas from the celebration of Midnight Mass at Holy rosary Cathedral in Regina.


"I was listening to the radio early in the morning this past week, and was amused by the announcers saying that there were only “three more sleeps” until Christmas. I think that it is safe to say that Christmas is probably one of the most anticipated and waited for days in the year’s calendar. Not only by children but probably by many of us older folk as well. Maybe you and I don’t count the sleeps any more, but there is certainly something that clearly draws us to the celebration Christmas.

It’s not hard to notice that the TV shows about Christmas are different from the regular fare we watch, or don’t watch, the rest of the year. Even the one’s that are not specifically religious, which don’t mention the birth of Jesus, still focus very noticeably on those very special human qualities of love, of generosity, of sharing and of being good to each other in ways they rarely do at other times of the year.

Our human hearts know instinctively that we need these things if we are ever going to be truly happy. In this celebration of Christmas we come to the understanding that these human qualities actually have their root in God’s own life. And we know that we now share that life of God because of the birth of Jesus, the Son of God who chose to become a human being like us. And so when God was born as a little boy for us, it was so that we could be born again as God’s children.

Children look forward to Christmas because of the presents and, I’m sure, also for the joy of the Christmas celebrations that take place in our homes. I could describe my recollections of my childhood Christmases as “magical” in the sense that the word means “wondrous.” Like many here I just couldn’t wait for Christmas and to decorate the tree on Christmas Eve. Then I was up at the earliest moment my parents would allow to rush down stairs and see the tree all lit and decorated for the first time and the presents, above all, the presents there under the tree.

As we grow, we gradually learn that the gifts that fill our lives with true happiness cannot be placed under a Christmas tree. But they are symbolized by those childhood gifts for which we waited with such anticipation. We adults might count the sleeps to Christmas because we long for those gifts that can’t be wrapped in paper and ribbons, but which come to us in the birth of Jesus.

We long for love: to be able to be loved and to give love. We long for peace and harmony in our lives and the lives of those whom we love; we long for freedom, especially freedom from fear; we long for justice and integrity in our lives. And, perhaps most deeply, we long to be saved from all those things that threaten us, that attack our security and that of those we love. And so we receive great consolation from those age old words of the Angel to the shepherds: “Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.”

When the angel said to the shepherds: “to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour,” the angel was also speaking to us, to you and to me. The angel was speaking to men and women everywhere, to people of every time and of every place. For there is not a human being alive who does not long for the gifts that come into our world from God when God’s Son was born into the world in Jesus.

When Jesus, God’s Son, was born, God revealed that a Kingdom of love had come into the world. When our Holy Father, Pope Benedict, celebrated Mass in Bethlehem earlier this year he spoke of this love as being “a divine love which stoops down in order to bring healing and lift us up; a love which is revealed in the humiliation and weakness of the Cross, yet triumphs in a glorious resurrection to new life.” He went on to say that “Christ brought a Kingdom which is not of this world, yet a Kingdom which is capable of changing this world, for it has the power to change hearts, to enlighten minds and to strengthen wills.”

In the first reading tonight, the Prophet Isaiah said that this Kingdom, which Jesus has brought into our world, will be a kingdom “of wide dominion and peace, security, justice and integrity” In a sense, when we look at what is going on in the town of Bethlehem today, we see the harsh reality of how distant that Kingdom of God is from the reality of what takes place in our world today. That harsh reality is reflected in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Pakistan and in less dramatic instances in many places and in many forms all around our world. We can also see that our own lives are not fully receiving the blessings of this Kingdom

Yet instead of despair that can so easily come when we find ourselves overwhelmed with discouragement about our lives and our world, the coming of this Kingdom, where “there shall be endless peace,” where the burdens of people’s lives shall be lifted, gives us hope. When Jesus was born in the deep darkness of the night the prophecy of Isaiah was fulfilled: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; on those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shone.” At Jesus birth the darkness of night was filled with the light of heaven and the brightness of God. And so it is to be in our lives.

This is the hope that Christmas gives to us and to our struggling world. This is the hope that Christmas gives to people who struggle in the dark places of life. And there are many, many of them. There is a line in one of the truly beautiful Christmas Carols that conveys this hope and promise so well. It is in “O Holy Night” by Adolphe Adam written over 140 years ago.

A thrill of hope The weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks A new and glorious morn.

You and I know this hope, we have discovered this Kingdom that has broken on a still weary world like a new and glorious morn. This Kingdom is present in each of our lives because the Child born in Bethlehem lives now within each of us. My dear friends, you and I have felt its strength and we have been guided by its light

And so, God calls us now to be witnesses to our world that this Kingdom truly is here among us; witnesses that Jesus, born in Bethlehem, has truly triumphed over the darkness of hatred, and selfishness and fear. And in a world divided by hatred we have been chosen to show to that world how people can truly love one another. In a world in which so many people are afflicted by despair, we are to be witnesses of the hope that the birth of Jesus brings into our world.

St. Paul, in his letter to Titus, reminds us how we are to do this witnessing. He tells us that God’s grace within us gives us the strength to renounce impiety and worldly passions. He tells us that as followers of Jesus, and witnesses to the presence of His Kingdom in our world, we are to live “lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly.” And in this way, in a world that longs for justice, peace and love, but which cannot seem to find the way to reach them, we become a light that shines in the darkness and each in our own way and in our own circumstances will light the way to the Kingdom of Love that Jesus brings into our world.

Why don’t we conclude by singing that whole verse of “O Holy Night”?

O holy night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of Our dear Saviour's birth.
Long lay the world In sin and error pining,
'Til He appear'd And the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope The weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks A new and glorious morn.

Fall on your knees! O, hear the angels' voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born;
O night divine, O night, O night Divine.

May this celebration of Christ’s birth bring the brightness of God into your lives and into the lives of those whom you love. May the hope of the birth of Jesus bring light and joy to you, now and forever."


The presence of a fresh and natural Christmas Tree has always been a part of my family's tradition of Christmas. I made the journey to New Brunswick in the earlier part of December to make my Christmas visit to my mother and my family. Thanks to the kindness and generosity of my brothers and sisters, we were all together and did the trimming of the tree. This is my mother's Christmas tree for 2009. But more of that later.

Earlier in December I made my annual visit on the Feast of the Presentation of Mary to the Sisters of the Presentation of Pells Drive in Regina, to celebrate the Eucharist with them and afterwards I was invited to join them for supper.

We were joined by one of the young women university students who make this house their home during the university year. And I managed to get their very talented cook in the picture this year.
ANNUAL MEETING OF THE SASKATCHEWAN BISHOPS
AND MAJOR RELIGIOUS SUPERIORS

This important meeting takes place annually in the late Fall. Normally it takes place in Saskatoon, but this year it was held in the Archdiocese of Regina at St. Michael's Retreat in Lumsden in commemoration of the Archdiocese's Centennial Year.

There are usually around 20 of us at this meeting.

It provides us with the very beneficial opportunity to discuss matters of mutual interest and to become aware of important concerns that the Religious Communities or the Bishops have. On the right here is Bishop Albert Thevenot of Prince Albert.

I find these meetings both positive and up beat and very encouraging in the life of our Church in Saskatchewan.

This year Msgr. Don Bolen came and talked to us about the Anglican - Roman Catholic dialogue that continues and the purpose and effects of the new Apostolic Constitution dealing with Anglican communities who wish to join the Roman Catholic Church. Msgr Bolen has since then been named as Bishop of the Diocese of Saskatoon. But more about that later, as well. On the left in the picture is Abbot Peter Novecosky, OSB, the Abbot of St. Peter's Abbey in Munster who acts as our secretary.

At this table to my left is Sr. Anne Lewans, OSU who co-chaired the meeting with me and on my right Archbishop Sylvain Lavoie, OMI, the Archbishop of Keewatin - LePas and next to him, Fr. Ron Beechinor, who isthe Administrator of the Diocese of Saskatoon until the Ordination of Bishop-elect Donald Bolen.
SOME SPECIAL PRE CHRISTMAS DINNERS

Before Christmas the people who volunteer for the Archdiocesan Annual Appeal were brought together for a lunch to show our appreciation for their generous gift of time to this important venture. They prepare and send out tens of thousands of letters each year to inform the people of our Archdiocese of the work that is done through the generous support of the faithful who support the Annual Appeal



As you can see there are quite a number who help make this possible.

On my left is Deacon Barry Wood, the Financial Officer for the Archdiocese, whom many of you have met in the deanery meetings which took place in the Fall to inform our Catholic people of what their donations help make happen and what works of the Church in the Archdiocese are supported by the donations made to the Appeal.

On the right is Denise of the Appeal Office and beside her is Sr. Renée of the Myriam Family of the Prairies, an Association of the Faithful, who carry out excellent work in our diocese.


Another special lunch was held for the volunteers who work in helping families who teach the Catholic Faith to their children in the Archdiocesan Home Catechism Program. This program is in place to assure catechetical instruction is available for children who do not attend Catholic Schools and who live too far away from the parish church to attend the Parish School of Religion. Once again the generosity of our people in giving of their time and talents for the good of the Church is a source of great encouragement and hope for the success of our work as a Diocesan Church. In the middle in Michael MacDonald, the Catechetical Coordinator for the Archdiocese of Regina.


HOME FOR CHRISTMAS


Here you can see that Christmas tree that I showed you earlier on in this post, being brought into the house during my "Christmas" trip to Moncton. My sister brought the tree from Chester, NS and my brother is sawing off the base to make sure it can drink some water during it's time inside.

And of course, the family Christmas picture of my mother with her children.

It's pretty hard to get all of the fifteen grandchildren and their spouses in a picture, but the latest addition to the family, my new grand nephew, Cullen, was a special focus of Christmas this year. New life is the promise of hope for us all and is an important part of the Christmas hope we celebrate at the Birth of Jesus.


And of course, there is always food - lots of it!

And my mother still makes sure that every one has all the want even if it's more than they need.

WASCANA HOSPITAL ANNUAL VISIT

I always feel that the preparations for Christmas are truly and soundly underway with my annual visit to the Wascana Hospital on the Fourth Sunday of Advent for Mass and some visiting. Here I had the great pleasure of meeting Rita who couldn't get out to the Mass but had a Rosary that needed blessing, which I was more than pleased to do. The way people's faith helps them with great challenges in life has long been a consoling wonder for me and a sign of great hope for all our lives.

Karen Zeigler is the Catholic Chaplain at Wascana, and a fine example of the work that our Chaplains do in the three hospitals in Regina and in other hospitals throughout the diocese. We are spiritual people by our nature, and to have that dimension of our lives looked after when we deal with illness is an important part of the mission of our Church.

The Mass is always celebrated to maximum capacity in the Chapel, actually to overflowing capacity!

I was assisted at this special Mass by Tri Tran, our newest Seminarian who has come this Fall from Vietnam to study for the Priesthood for our Diocese.

After the Mass it is always a delight for me to meet the patients and residents at the Hospital.


There is truly a great variety of people who receive help at Wascana, sometimes both husband and wife,

and brother and sister.

And again I encounter the great generosity of our faithful people who in practice of Stewardship share their time and their talents for the effective work of the Church. Here members of parish choirs have come to make the Eucharistic celebration more joyful and prayerful with their gift of music. I thank God for them and all who generously give their time for others throughout the Archdiocese.




And here is the full compliment of people who gave their time on the Fourth Sunday of Advent to help the residents of Wascana celebrate the Eucharist with their Bishop. And they even brought lunch! For me, all of this is a great preparation for our celebration of God's great giving of Himself in Jesus so that we can overcome sickness and even death to live forever the fullness of life that Jesus has gained for us.
-30-