Christmas Day 2012

So now that we have stopped, we breathe a sigh of relief. All the shopping and tidying and wrapping done now!

At the Gaelscoil during the week I had a word game with the children to remind them of the true meaning of Christmas. The children were very good to come up with words that began with the letters of the word ‘CHRISTMAS’ – words associated only with Christmas.

C is for Crib, Christ and for celebration

H is for Hamper, Ham and Holly

R is for reindeer and religion

I is for Ivy but in the Gaelscoil they said ─║osa in fairness!

S is for Santa

T is for Turkey

M for Mary Manger and Mass

A was for After Shave!

S for Shepherds and star and Son of God

But there are other questions we can ask about the word such as ‘how many letters in the word Christmas?’ The answer of course is 9.

And what is the middle letter? S is the middle letter of Christmas

What letter is repeated? There are 2 S letters in Christmas

The S is important!

S is for Saviour but we tend to put him instead of the centre of Christmas we put the words of Santa and shopping there and put the Saviour and Son last!

But just as the Saviour is at the centre of the crib, and the S reminder of the star at the centre above it so we need to put Christ back at the centre of our celebrations and our lives. He is the real centre - Everybody is looking at the baby in the crib, He is not out to one side or in the corner, but that is where we out Him, not just at Christmas but every day of the year!

As the years go by the S of Santa is replaced by the S of Style and Shopping and in the  season we have we quickly allow the S of Sales to take over after St Stephen’s Day! Or as someone said to it is the ‘spending’ that is prominent!

But the S we all struggle with however over the passing of years is that of self – selfishness or self-centredness. We wonder where the 'magic' of Christmas is gone. Perhaps it is because the S of the 'Saviour' is no longer centre-stage.

We must put back Christ at the centre of our lives, at the heart of things!

Someone once said, ‘where our hearts are there our bodies follow’. As I reflect now and over the 12 days of Christmas, and ponder over Christmas past, and where the spirit of Christmas may have gone, let us ask ourselves - what have we set our hearts on - what have you or I set my heart on – things, self, others, or God? Let us once more go to the crib – yes even between shops! – and, in a child-like manner, tell Jesus, simply that we love Him, because that is what He most wants to hear.


Third Sunday of Advent

Gospel                                                                               Luke 3:10-18
When all the people asked John, ‘What must we do?’ he answered, ‘If anyone has two tunics he must share with the man who has none, and the one with something to eat must do the same.’ There were tax collectors too who came for baptism, and these said to him, ‘Master, what must we do?’ He said to them, ‘Exact no more than your rate.’ Some soldiers asked him in their turn, ‘What about us? What must we do?’ He said to them, ‘No intimidation! No extortion! Be content with your pay!’
A feeling of expectancy had grown among the people, who were beginning to think that John might be the Christ, so John declared before them all, ‘I baptise you with water, but someone is coming, someone who is more powerful than I am, and I am not fit to undo the strap of his sandals; he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing-fan is in his hand to clear his threshing-floor and to gather the wheat into his barn; but the chaff he will burn in a fire that will never go out.’ As well as this, there were many other things he said to exhort the people and to announce the Good News to them.

The messenger and the message are the focus of this Sunday in Advent

A man I knew who had a serious alcohol problem, and was quite notorious, got a wakeup call from his doctor. He said 'if you do not stop drinking now, you will cause irreversible liver damage, and you will have a short time to live.’ He had a choice, not an easy one, but he choose to live without alcohol for the first time in his adult life. [He became quite adept at computers as a substitute for that empty time.] But he is alive. He could have chosen to criticise or ignore his doctor and seek a second opinion! It was a case of change – or else. Fear was the motivator.

WHO AND WHAT AND WHY - Who are the messengers in my life and what is the message I need it hear? WHAT NEEDS TO CHANGE IN MY LIFE? WHY must I change?

WHO is John and what is his role?

John the Baptist makes it quite clear that there must be change in our lives - A change of heart is called for.

Someone who tells us bad news we would rather not to hear even and especially if it is the truth, someone who criticises us...we would rather criticise them and accuse them of their so called higher moral ground. IT IS EASY TO SHOOT THE MESSENGER.
'A feeling of expectancy had grown among the people'

The Baptist is as it were a rabble-rouser - a supporting act at a concert we may not remember afterwards. But what does a supporting act do but gets the crowd settled, ready, prepared, in the right frame of mind, and we might say to ourselves well I didn't come to see this act but he or she reminds me that the main act is going to be so good. There is an air of expectancy and excitement and enthusiasm and a heightened receptivity when the main act appears. Political parties do the same here and in America at a convention or ard fheis- in other words, someone who is a good orator, who starts from scratch and who ends with the crowd ready to be on their feet when the party leader appears.

John is all these things, and every year in the Advent season. We are to honour him and his message with these two Sundays of his message the approaching Messiah and the readiness for his coming



Four simple words for all of us today are: WHAT MUST WE DO?

Who needs to change? I do.  What needs to change in my life?


 Am I ready? If you have visitors coming for Christmas day or St Stephens’s day then you are thinking already of having the house ready and enough food to be cooked and what needs to be bought.  Certain things must be tidied up; we can no longer put certain household tasks on the long finger. Change of layout and lie of the land in the house furniture, tables etc this is a temporary change and layout however but God is looking for more permanent change and not a seasonal one.

But it is easy to lose sight of the real visitor - Christ. Let us get ready for him by a change of heart.

To sum up we need to ask ourselves two questions

1.   What are the implications of not changing?


'His winnowing-fan is in his hand to clear his threshing-floor and to gather the wheat into his barn; but the chaff he will burn in a fire that will never go out.’

Wheat in God's house implies salvation, whereas the chaff to be burnt implies eternal damnation It is necessary for us to amend our lives now



*From avarice to generosity

*From selfish hoarding to sharing with the hungry from our excess

*Contentment with our pay and just taxation, without extortion

We must repent - and undergo a change of heart that involves justice, charity and almsgiving from a generous heart. Lives must change.

Why? Christ is coming with his reward to sum up so we must repent and live just and generous lives to be worthy of a place in God’s kingdom
‘What about us? What must we do?’ BECOMES what about me? what must I do?

Second Sunday of Advent

Initial response by the Irish Catholic Bishops Conference to the Report of the Expert Group on the Judgement in A,B and C v Ireland


A society that believes the right to life is the most fundamental of all rights cannot ignore the fact that abortion is first and foremost a moral issue.

As a society we have a particular responsibility to ensure this right is upheld on behalf of those who are defenceless, voiceless or vulnerable. This includes our duty as a society to defend and promote the equal right to life of a pregnant mother and the innocent and defenceless child in her womb when the life of either of these persons is at risk.


By virtue of their common humanity the life of a mother and her unborn baby are both sacred. They have an equal right to life. The Catholic Church has never taught that the life of a child in the womb should be preferred to that of a mother. Where a seriously ill pregnant woman needs medical treatment which may put the life of her baby at risk, such treatments are morally permissible provided every effort has been made to save the life of both the mother and her baby.

Abortion, understood as the direct and intentional destruction of an unborn baby, is gravely immoral in all circumstances. This is different from medical treatments which do not directly and intentionally seek to end the life of the unborn baby.

Current law and medical guidelines in Ireland allow nurses and doctors in Irish hospitals to apply this vital distinction in practice. This has been an important factor in ensuring that Irish hospitals are among the safest and best in the world in terms of medical care for both a mother and her unborn baby during pregnancy. As a country this is something we should cherish, promote and protect.

The Report of the Expert Group on the Judgement in A, B and C v Ireland has put forward options that could end the practice of making this vital ethical distinction in Irish hospitals. Of the four options presented by the Report, three involve abortion – the direct and intentional killing of an unborn child. This can never be morally justified. The judgement of the European Court of Human Rights does not oblige the Irish Government to legislate for abortion.

Other aspects of the Report also give rise to concerns. These include, but are not limited to the fact that:


·      The judgement of the European Court of Human Rights permits options on this matter of fundamental moral, social and constitutional importance that are not offered by this Report. This includes the option of introducing a constitutional prohibition on abortion or another form of constitutional amendment to reverse the ‘X-case’ judgement


·      The Report provides no ethical analysis of the options available, even though this is first and foremost a moral issue and consideration of the ethical dimension was included in the Terms of Reference.


·      The Report takes no account of the risks involved in trying to legislate for so-called ‘limited abortion’ within the context of the ‘X-case’ judgement. The ‘X-case’ judgement includes the threat of suicide as grounds for an abortion. International experience shows that allowing abortion on the grounds of mental health effectively opens the floodgates for abortion.


The Report also identifies Guidelines as an option. It notes that Guidelines can help to ensure consistency in the delivery of medical treatment. If Guidelines can provide greater clarity as to when life-saving treatment may be provided to a pregnant mother or her unborn child within the existing legislative framework, and where the direct and intentional killing of either person continues to be excluded, then such ethically sound Guidelines may offer a way forward.


A matter of this importance deserves sufficient time for a calm, rational and informed debate to take place before any decision about the options offered by the Expert Group Report are taken. All involved, especially public representatives, must consider the profound moral questions that arise in responding to this Report. Abortion is gravely immoral in all circumstances, no matter how ‘limited’ access to abortion may be.


                                        Waiting takes on so many forms in life

Throughout our lives we spend a lot of our time waiting. Time SPENT waiting can sometimes seem a waste of time or an inefficient use of it - spent doing nothing but waiting takes many hours of our lives when added up. Such waiting can take the form of torturous or eager and excited anticipation such as waiting for someone’s arrival or return at an airport, waiting in company or waiting alone, waiting in silence, in anticipation; waiting in a particular location such a church can give rise to  totally different moods and contexts – i.e., one’s mood of excitement waiting for the bride to arrive, or in contrast, the feelings going through you as you wait for a hearse.

On a typical social evening, time is punctuated by different waiting times. Waiting to be seated, waiting for one’s order to be taken, waiting to be served, waiting for the next course, waiting for someone else to finish eating, waiting for someone to stop talking so that we can start and get our say, and provide a better anecdote or a final say on the matter. Then there is the waiting to pay the bill, waiting for the credit card to be validated, waiting for someone who has gone to the bathroom, waiting to leave, waiting for someone to get ready, or waiting in traffic. On other occasions we are left waiting in a doctor’s surgery or at a dentist for a tooth extraction, where the waiting makes the imagination wander to exaggerated heights, or we are awaiting for a return call or text (happy 20th birthday text messaging SMS!) or the results of an exam, NCT etc

These we get used to over time. We learn as children to wait our turn, to develop patience! A child waits for Christmas or a birthday party, an outing or a holiday, the end of a school day, week or term. When relatives call you realise that you are no longer the centre of attention, that the conversation doesn’t really interest you unless it is about you! You must wait silently and pateintly until spoken to. I wonder if any studies have been done on the patience levels among older and younger siblings  – that as adults are we patient in proportion to where we came in the pecking order. Or as the youngest did we get our way more, or did we have to give in more?
‘Wait your turn’ is all very well but what if there is only one bathroom? I can’t wait can be said sardonically or enthusiastically, can take on different emphasis and meaning if you’re leaving in the car for a family member to go to Mass, or when a child says it at the back of car, you had better pull over fast!

Perhaps if you have gone to an unenjoyable movie, that was overhyped - you really get tired of it and ‘cannot wait’ for it to end.

Then when waiting is over, there is the relief or excitement that may follow.

What immediately follows?

Living in the present moment, forgetting what you have sacrificed, given up, forgetting time, just being and ‘enjoying the moment’ be it pleasant and relaxed company after a meal, scenery, solitude, entertainment, whatever it may be  - just a warm feeling of not wanting the moment to end. These are tasters of heavenly bliss, where time doesn’t matter. They may come unexpectedly. We forget about our cares and worries, even about what we want. And then they’re gone, and we want them back. We want to re-live the experience, or strive to re-create them, all these fleeting moments. It’s why we wait so much on so many occasions. It is why things are ‘worth the wait’, why we go to great lengths and sacrifice convenience and comfort at airports or lines of traffic, because we want a moment or moments like we had before. 
But we are realistic, and often moments or situations fail to live up to the promise. Maybe we just tried too hard. These times we have striven for are sometimes called a feeling of nirvana, or are called ‘heavenly’ – and explain in part the popularity of the feelings people associate with ‘retail therapy’ or such things as a beauty treatment or a massage. Chemically they can be explained by the release of ‘feel-good hormones’ like serotonin or dopamine in the brain. There is a sense of well-being or togetherness or ‘actualisation’. But why won’t they last - these moments of inner satisfaction or restfulness or, the latest buzz word, ‘mindfulness’? We want them to last forever for ourselves. We even want to share these feelings with others. These all point to what heaven must be like.

Advent teaches us that that all of life is, in fact,  a preparation – and not a case of living passively, in idleness, waiting to die, like some people do, or waiting anxiously for release from pain or waiting for answers.

Our individual and communal waiting therefore must be something commemorated and honoured more, and that is why Advent is so important – the spiritual significance of Christmas is never lost on us if we make the effort to celebrate Advent really well – in anticipation, and in some kind of Lent-like restraint before ‘letting loose’, as it were, in all the excitement that is so wonderful. We can truly celebrate the feast after the fast.
Therefore we realise that there is a lot more to life than passivity. There are, it is said, two kinds of people – those for who life happens to them; and those who happen to life. We are called to be the latter.

And while it is crucial to pray more deeply and well in silence and reflection in the Advent season in anticipation of Christ’s birth re-commemorated, we are called from solitude to service.
Advent is the season of waiting in joyful hope! But it is an important reminder that a life of service to others is in fact purposeful waiting. We must all wait some time longer for the Lord to return to take us with Him to His Father’s house. But in the meantime let us at last begin to live – to TRULY LIVE and to LIVE TRULY in joyful service of one another.

What are you and I waiting for?!