A Joint Christmas Message from bishops Brendan Leahy, Roman Catholic Bishop for the Diocese of Limerick, and Trevor Williams, Church of Ireland Bishop of the Diocese of Limerick and Killaloe.
Many of us in the past few days have been or will be welcoming home sons and daughters, sisters and brothers, as well as many other cousins and relations for the festive season. There’s excitement and emotion in the air because the bonds that link us, though often taken for granted, are deep. It is good to come and be at home for Christmas. There we breathe the air that has shaped us in so many ways.
It’s true, of course, that we need to be careful about becoming too misty-eyed about Christmas. Perhaps we overdo the perfect home bit during this season. And yet, it is right to have this occasion once a year when we focus on the notion of home.
The Christmas Nativity scene presents us with a home, simple in material things but rich in spiritual value. In the narrative we hear of Jesus, Mary and Joseph as well as their guests, the shepherds and kings, not to mention creation’s representatives in the animals. The Christmas scene speaks to our heart because it is tender. It captures something of the desire each person has in his or her spiritual DNA for a home, a place of love and care, a sanctuary of peace, solidarity and being true to ourselves.
But why did Jesus come on earth if not to offer us the building tools to make of our world a home? By putting into practice the art of loving that he lived and taught, we find ourselves creating and re-creating continuously a home with others wherever we find ourselves.
For instance, while we were still sinners, the Son of God came among us so here we find a first step: take the initiative in loving others; don’t wait to be loved. Jesus came for everyone because God wants all to be saved. So here we have another step – our love must be universal, without exclusion. Indeed, just as God, who was rich, became poor for our sake, so too our love must prefer the poor, just as Jesus did.
It’s a strange paradox of today’s world that while we admire so many and look to celebrity stars we easily forget Jesus, the One who more than anyone else has shaped Ireland and all of Europe. He has provided the values and example that have inspired for generations. Not only that, but since he, the Son of God, in becoming human, associated himself with everyone, he is to be discovered and loved in each person we meet. As one of the Church Fathers of the first centuries, Gregory of Nazianzus, reminds us: ‘Before it’s too late, since the end of our life comes quickly, assist Christ, help Christ, nourish Christ, clothe Christ, honour Christ by inviting him to your table.’
In Limerick this Christmas there’s new energy around. The Limerick City and County councils are uniting. The revised Regeneration Plan as well as the Economic and Spatial Plan have been launched. We have an airport, Shannon, on our doorstep that is crucial for us all and, gladly, rebounding. There’s now the promise of new jobs. The Limerick City Year of Culture is also now upon us. Let’s thank God for all of this and celebrate as we should.
But let’s also recognise that all of us in Limerick are now being offered a golden opportunity to rediscover our calling to first and foremost create a home for people. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, on hearing of Limerick, people’s reaction would be: “it’s a great place; you feel so much at home there”. Each of us can do our part, starting from wherever we are, but also reaching out to people or situations we might naturally avoid. To decide to make of all our neighbourhoods, our workplaces, our city, our towns, our villages, a home, a place of sanctuary and peace, a place of relationships of mutual love – it’s the great invitation that comes to us this Christmas.
Ireland's Bishop Brendan Leahy approaches his first Christmas as leader of the Limerick Diocese with a mission to help his flock appreciate a season of light.