What the bishops have to say this Christmas

18 Dec 2008

By therecord

The bishops of Western Australia deliver their Christmas messages to the Catholics in Australia


Archbishop Gerard Holohan: Is Christ’s peace on earth a fantasy?

This year is ending with so much turmoil on so many fronts.   The finance crisis has left people insecure because of a drop in their superannuation benefits.  There is the fear of businesses collapsing and people becoming unemployed.  We may be tempted to wonder if Christ’s peace on earth  is a fantasy.
Financial pressures can lead to tensions in marriages and family life.  Anxiety can incline all of us to be rude and abrupt with others. Then there are the problems associated with wars and terrorism.  Violence is growing in our cities, and one-punch deaths are on the rise.  Where is the peace promised at that first Christmas?
Where are we looking for peace?
For many people, peace is something to be surrounded by – like the water surrounding a gold fish in a bowl.  They see peace as the absence of war, violence, vandalism and tensions in relationships. 
It is a sense of security and freedom from anxiety and worry.  This is different from the peace Christ brings. 
What kind of peace does Christ bring?
Christ’s peace begins deep within the person, and grows.  As it grows, people become less troubled and anxious about external problems.  The peace Christ offers remains, regardless of the world outside.  It is not affected by illness or suffering, for it is deeper than these things.
Those who develop this peace grow as peace-filled people.  And the peace growing within them influences lives of others   their spouses, families and beyond.  Jesus said “Blessed are the peace-makers; they shall be recognised as children of God  [Matthew 5].  He also said [John 14:27]:
Peace I leave you, my own peace I give you –  a peace the world cannot give, this is my gift to you.
Christmas reminds us of the promise of this peace.  It encourages us to ask: Am I growing in peace within? Unfortunately, it can be all too obvious at Christmas when people lack peace within. Family arguments can break out, and memories of past hurts are dredged up.  Christmas becomes a tension-filled time.
The personal relationship with Jesus
Only Jesus himself can empower us.  He does this as we pray to him daily, sharing with him our joys and sorrows, our hurts and disappointments, our confusions and anxieties.
Most importantly, Jesus taught that anyone wanting to be close with him needs the Eucharist [John 6:16]:
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I live in him.
His idea of Christianity was different from those who say “I can be a good Christian without going to Mass.”  Jesus gave us the Mass as the principal way of drawing close to him and growing in inner peace he alone can give.  Who has ever prayed and paid close attention in the Mass and not left a little more peaceful?
Let us find Christmas peace.
At a time of financial instability, violence and wars, when our lives may be in turmoil, let us remember Christ’s wish to give us inner peace. Let us ask ourselves honestly whether we are opening ourselves to Christ’s peace by deepening in a personal relationship with him; whether we are praying, worshipping and trying daily to live as he taught.


Bishop Justin Bianchini: In economic crisis, Christ is coming

Over the past months we have heard much said about the economic climate. We have ridden a roller coaster of ups and downs along the financial markets of the World.  It has reminded us all how closely linked all the nations of the World are.
What happens in America can cause a tsunami across the economic seas to far off nations.
With the economic meltdown comes fear of a world wide recession. We are told to tighten our belts and prepare for the worse that is to come; the economic downturn will put an end to the good times; jobs will be lost. We have had it too good for too long and now we are going to reap what we have sown from economic mismanagement. Through all this we begin to see, or are reminded, just how vulnerable our comfort zones are.
Looking at all this downturn, each one of us can gauge just how much of our economic comfort contributes to the foundation of our lives and who we are. We can ask ourselves how much of who I am  as a person will change if I am suddenly forced to live a more frugal life. For some, sadly, it will mean they lose their very source of income.
Through our economic highs, we in the western culture have put God at the back of the picture. Caught up in our happiness we have forgotten our greatest benefactor. Maybe the unfathomable materialism that has hijacked the spirit of Christmas will now become more practical as we rethink the value of our gifts and return to basics. Maybe the downturn will give us greater opportunities to be present to one another, to serve one another and to love one another.
We can go even further. So much is being done through finances by countries and Governments to bring us out of recession. If we can do it for one purpose we can also do it for the poor of the world.
Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, the leader of the Catholic Church in Honduras, recently visited the United Nations to speak. He is the President of Caritas Internationalis, the Vatican organisation for Catholic charities in 162 nations. While he was there he learnt of the $700 billion that was being used by United States to prop up companies. “Seven hundred billion,” he said. “Can you imagine that money? And all because people are not able to run their corporations in the right way. How come it is always the money of the poor that is lost? How come the money of the rich is always saved? I’m not blaming or accusing, just putting the facts on the table. When it comes to alleviating poverty, there are no resources. But when it comes to saving the rich, there are always resources.”
As we close off a liturgical year we hear much of the same themes of gloom; the end is nigh, the Lord’s return is immanent.  “Stay awake! Prepare yourself!  You may have to reap what you have sown or failed to sow!”
It all seems very fearful… just like the talk surrounding our economic doom.
In a more positive light, Christ is coming. We spend the four weeks of Advent preparing for this great event. One day he will come back as he said he would but for the time being we are recalling his coming – we are pondering the great mystery of God’s beautiful gift to us. We are examining the foundations of our lives and realigning those parts of our lives that have fallen out of step with Christ and his Teachings. We are looking at the reasons why  Christ came in the first place, for love of us. True peace and justice can only come by walking His Way, living His Truth and sharing His Life.
After four weeks of Advent, and with our foundations strengthened by our prayerful preparation and meditations of Scripture, we can celebrate more deeply the birth of our Lord into the very centre of our lives on Christmas Day. Then no matter what tragedies befall us, whether across the globe or privately, we can tap into the peace that this world cannot give, the peace that only Christ can give and sail confidently amid the turmoil with our eyes fixed on him. In the readings of the Fourth Sunday of Advent we are encouraged by Paul to be happy at all times and to pray constantly.
His prayer for you is my prayer this Christmas: that the God of peace makes you perfect and holy; and may he keep you safe and blameless, spirit, soul and body, for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. God has called you and he will not fail you.


Bishop Don Sproxton: We’ve found our heart’s desire

The ancient Celts believed that life was like a wheel that turned and the measure of that turning was marked by the strengthening and waning of the sun.  The summer solstice was the zenith of the sun’s intense strength and power and the winter solstice the time of the sun’s weakness and its possible death.
Of course, all of this drama was played out in the seasons of the Northern Hemisphere.  In Australia, we experience this drama in its reverse.  December and the summer solstice is our time to feel the full strength and power of the Sun.  The image of the wheel of life turning, however, retains something of its meaning.  The wheel of our lives continues to turn, returning us to a time of beginning and new things at Christmas and the New Year.
I have completed reading a wonderful little book in the last month about the journey of a young shepherd who went in search of his treasure.  He became aware of the need to begin this journey because of a recurring dream.  The journey took him to foreign lands where he met people of different traditions and faiths, who were instrumental in him finding the treasure.  The book is by Paulo Coelho, titled The Alchemist and I’ll say no more about it so that you might enjoy it in your turn.
Coelho is a Catholic, born in Brazil and is gaining a remarkable reputation for telling stories on themes of spirituality.  The Alchemist is about finding your heart’s desire and the journey of the shepherd is a parable, I am sure, of Coelho’s own search for this treasure.  The ever-changing character of the Alchemist I see as the Holy Spirit, the wise and guiding Counsellor who provides the one on the journey with the signs and discernment to reach the greatest of our heart’s desires.
The end of that journey only means the beginning of a new journey, but with a new compass and new vision.  So there is a kind of wheel turning for the young shepherd.
The Magi who find the King of Kings in a manger at Bethlehem reached the end of a journey.  
They found their heart’s desire, but soon realised that a new journey beckoned them.  It was to return to their homes with the treasure of faith and to announce this to their own people. Tradition tells us that they did so and their people benefited by their apostolate.
Christmas is the promise of a new time fulfilled and its return for us is a consolation for we can begin again.  We celebrate the new life of Jesus’ birth and the hope it offers.  His birth was the fulfilment of the promises of God.
St Augustine wrote quite astonishingly: “God made Himself our debtor, not by accepting anything from us, but by promising us great blessings.”
These blessings are the treasure, the attaining of our heart’s desires.  Augustine continued: “He promised humanity the divine nature; to mortals, immortality; to sinners, justification; to castaways, a state of Glory”. (St Augustine’s Discourse on Psalm 109 1:3).
It is with these thoughts that I pray that we come to a deep realisation of all that God has permitted so that we could receive our heart’s desires through the gift of Jesus Christ and our faith.
May the blessings of peace and joy this Christmas be accepted by us all and renew us on our journey of life.


Bishop Christopher Saunders: Christmas – time to change for the better 

If there was a common theme surrounding the recent US elections it was ‘change’  Each candidate who promised change  spoke of it with great vigour and heralded it  as a goal to be pursued without hesitation as though change is so terribly foreign to us.
The Greek philosopher Heraclitus said that nothing endures except change.  Change is the only constant in life.  However, you may note, often the most difficult thing to change is oneself and doubtless, it is precisely we ourselves who are in most need of change.  Leo Tolstoy put it succinctly when he said: everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.
Part of the wonder of Christmas is that the entire event is about change for the world and at the same time about change for ourselves personally. Most remarkably it is the sort of change that is liberating and lasting, way beyond the vicissitudes of politics and the everyday pitfalls of the human condition.
The Infancy narratives inform us that the birth of the Saviour-child brought about change that caused memorable signs in the skies and was foretold by those who read the ancient Scriptures with expectation and deep insight. 
Palestine was ready for some monumental moment, some cataclysmic event that was to reorder society and change the destiny of people everywhere.  What those who waited did not know was that this change-event would be played out in simplicity and in an atmosphere of dire poverty, in the barn of a remote inn in tiny Bethlehem, then lived out in relative obscurity in Galilee and finally brought to fruition in Jerusalem thirty-three years later at the Passover time.
Christmas is a delightful moment which every year beckons us to have a fresh look at ourselves and contemplate the possibility of change for the better.  This happens because we engage with more than just a moment. Rather we connect through Scripture, prayer, devotion and liturgy with the person of Jesus the Christ, who calls us out of darkness into his own wonderful light.
The discovery of this light of love in our lives hastens changes in us. And it is through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ that we connect also with each other. 
The Jesus we find first at His birth is vulnerable and peace-giving, obviously prepared to be embraced by us.  This clearly is a moment of serene beauty which we are invited to share.   In prayerful humility we ask – do I reflect this beauty in the way I live?  Will I strive to be a picture of peace and justice in our world?  And am I prepared to be part of God’s masterpiece, contributing in a manner which ultimately makes a world of difference?
Each Christmas brings a gift of Grace to us all – communally, singularly. In faith let us welcome the measure of change that God, who never changes, has in mind for us.  May His choicest blessings be with you and your family this Christmas.