Looking forward with hope to Christmas 2020

Bishop Martin Hayes brings the people of the Diocese of Kilmore his special Christmas message:

Many thanks to the Editor for the invitation to reflect upon Christmas 2020 as I begin my ministry in Kilmore Diocese and take up residence in Cullies, Co Cavan. There is uncertainty as we move towards Christmas this year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. My searching for a deeper meaning to what we are going through will focus upon the story of Christmas; the birth of God among us as the helpless vulnerable Baby Jesus. What is the significance of the celebration of the birthday of Jesus for each one of us this Christmas? I believe that we must remain positive and account for the hope that is within each one of us.

The year 2020, of course, has been like no other in my lifetime. We have had to change our routines dramatically. Our reality now is that, intermittently, we are facing the loss of work or business, with a consequent reduction in income, as well as a lack of social interaction and participation in our communities. This has affected our involvement in clubs, sports, participation at Mass and the Sacraments.

Thankfully, schools have been a refuge for our children; while all of us have had, in the main, to confine ourselves to within a short distance of home. Indeed, our lives have come to revolve almost totally around home. This means that our familial relationships have taken on a new importance. Our relationships at home, which, in being tried and tested (indeed, sometimes to the limit), can be both sustaining and nourishing. Though, sadly, in some cases, as the statistics reveal, they can also be the cause of stress. There has been an increase in domestic abuse and violence over the period of the pandemic. Our hearts go out to all those affected and feeling imprisoned at home.

As we approach Christmas, we are conscious of all those isolated in hospital and nursing homes who have not had physical contact with their families and friends. We are grateful for all our health care workers, in particular, those who will be working over the Christmas period. As we journey through November, our thoughts and prayers are with those who have died. All who are bereaved will feel their loss, especially, at Christmas.

Christmas for me, has always been about getting home and having everyone home from wherever they are in the world. Perhaps, it is about re-living childhood memories of waking up to what Santa brought - be it a battery-operated car or helicopter, a colouring book, a table-tennis set – just being wrapped up in the joy and freedom of play, coupled with the extras of some boxes of sweets, the turkey dinner and more sweets. These expectations in adulthood reflect the genuine efforts of families to make Christmas special for children. As adults, we yearn for that intimacy of being at home again.

What of Christmas 2020? Everything has been disrupted and much has been taken from us. Our new awareness of what are considered essential services has had us focus upon what we now regard as essential. We are now alert to the importance of our health and that of those who are close to us. We are preparing for Christmas, hoping to gather with family and friends, while relying upon the possibility of international flights and availability of testing for COVID-19. We may have to prepare for Christmas relying on online shopping and we will always be dependent on the ongoing vigilance of each other to limit the spread of the virus. What is it that is essential for Christmas?

We have been afforded a time for reflection to come to a realisation as to what is essential, as to what are our priorities. We will continue to have our expectations of Christmas; expectations of harmony and peace, of play and of that ‘joy in the moment’ as the gift of our childhood. Of course, if we cannot re-live such memories, there will be disappointment and perhaps tensions. The challenge for all of us as a community is to support each other lovingly, perhaps at a distance, so that each one of us can come home to ourselves and be at peace.

Over the past 10 months, we have learned to manage without! We have had to reflect on life, on what is most important; life itself, family, friends, neighbours, health, on being at home.

Where is home? As a new arrival, here in Kilmore and Cavan, I am still settling-in. I don’t know if I will go home to Tipperary or be at home here in Cullies. Does it matter? These restrictions have given me time to reflect, go deeper into what is really essential for life and taught me to be prepared to be at home; at home with myself, wherever I am located for Christmas! Where is home? I believe it is where I am at peace with myself and with others.

We have been through darkness over the past year and we are hoping for light, that hope that is within each one of us. The Old Testament prophet Isaiah provides a focus on Christmas for us:

“The people that walked in darkness has seen a great light; on those who live in a land of deep shadow a light has shone.”

​Isaiah 9:1

I believe that is our light of hope, the promise of the birth of Emmanuel, the Hebrew word meaning ‘God-is-with-us’.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have become more aware of our vulnerability.

Indeed, we have been rendered helpless and left feeling uncertain about the future albeit with the news, in recent days, around favourable progress with the development of a vaccine.

We do know for certain that God came among us as the little vulnerable, helpless baby – it is central to our celebration of Christmas. ‘God-is-with-us’ in our disorientation; in our facing this pandemic. God is with us in our suffering; that same little Baby Jesus matured into the adult Jesus to embrace our frail humanity totally, as revealed in the Cross. It is ironic that Jesus died on the Cross due to asphyxiation and respiratory problems.

We can look to the Cross to see the reality of our own pain being held and carried. We are sustained by Jesus who trusted in God.

In doing so, He came to new life. Jesus is with us, to carry us through.

We need not be afraid, only trust in the one who has been through it all – He is our light of hope.

May we journey together in the reality of that light.

May the peace that is truly Christmas be with you.