31 Dec 2018

New Years Eve 2018

And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied:
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”
So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night.
And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.

So heart be still:
What need our little life
Our human life to know,
If God hath comprehension?
In all the dizzy strife
Of things both high and low,
God hideth His intention.

God knows. His will
Is best. The stretch of years
Which wind ahead, so dim
To our imperfect vision,
Are clear to God. Our fears
Are premature; In Him,
All time hath full provision.

Then rest: until
God moves to lift the veil
From our impatient eyes,
When, as the sweeter features
Of Life’s stern face we hail,
Fair beyond all surmise
God’s thought around His creatures
Our mind shall fill

The evening draws in on the last day of 2018 and we celebrate first vespers for the Solemnity of the Mother of God on January 1st. The civil year draws to a close as we reflect on the year just past with all "joys and hopes, the grief and anguish of the people of our time, especially of those who are poor or afflicted" reminding ourselves that these "are the joys and hopes, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well". We look forward to 2019 and what may come.

Pacem in Terris
Saint Pope John XXIII

"May He banish from the hearts of all men and women whatever might endanger peace.
May He transform them into witnesses of truth, justice and love.
May He enkindle the rulers of peoples so that in addition to their solicitude for the proper welfare of their citizens, they may guarantee and defend the great gift of peace.
May He enkindle the wills of all so that they may overcome the barriers that divide, cherish the bonds of mutual charity, understand others, and pardon those who have done them wrong.
May all peoples of the earth become as brothers and sisters, and may the most longed-for peace blossom forth and reign always among men and women."

Though even thinking on the subject of time may prove discomforting, it is not a bad idea—especially at the beginning of a new year.
As we look into 2019 we look at a block of time. We see 12 months, 52 weeks, 365 days, 8,760 hours, 525,600 minutes, 31,536,000 seconds. And all is a gift from God. We have done nothing to deserve it, earn it, or purchased it. Like the air we breathe, time comes to us as a part of life.
The gift of time is not ours alone. It is given equally to each person. Rich and poor, educated and ignorant, strong and weak—every man, woman and child has the same twenty-four hours every day.
Another important thing about time is that you cannot stop it. There is no way to slow it down, turn it off, or adjust it. Time marches on.
And you cannot bring back time. Once it is gone, it is gone. Yesterday is lost forever. If yesterday is lost, tomorrow is uncertain. We may look ahead at a full year’s block of time, but we really have no guarantee that we will experience any of it.
Obviously, time is one of our most precious possessions. We can waste it. We can worry over it. We can spend it on ourselves. Or, as good stewards, we can invest it in the kingdom of God.
The new year is full of time. As the seconds tick away, will you be tossing time out the window, or will you make every minute count?
Tradition also has the singing of the Te Deum to mark the closing of the civil year. The Te Deum is a hymn of praise that dates from early Christian times. In Latin, the hymn’s words: “Te Deum laudamus” can be translated "Thee, O God, we praise". PrayTell have a piece about it here.

30 Dec 2018

Taize Letter 2019 - Let us not forget hospitality!

Do not forget to show hospitality, for by so doing some people have welcomed angels without knowing it. (Hebrews 13:2)
The pilgrimage of trust, an uninterrupted succession of meetings of young adults which began in Taizé several decades ago, continues today on all the continents.
In each of these gatherings, one of the most memorable experiences is hospitality, both for the young participants and for those who open their doors to them.
In August 2018, we were able to gauge once again the value of hospitality in Hong Kong, during a meeting of young adults from countries throughout Asia and beyond, including countries that have been in conflict and which are still marked by the wounds of history in need of healing.
Seven hundred of the participants came from different provinces of mainland China. The presence of young people from so many countries and the welcome they received in the families of Hong Kong was a sign of hope.
The young Christians of Asia are often small minorities in societies undergoing rapid change. They attempt to draw strength from their faith in Christ and by living as sisters and brothers in the Church.
From the European meeting in Madrid onwards, throughout the year 2019, in Taizé, Beirut, Cape Town and elsewhere, we will be reflecting more deeply on several aspects of hospitality.
The following proposals are rooted in faith; they invite Christians to discover the source of hospitality in God. This leads us to question the image we have of God. God never excludes, but welcomes each person.
My brothers and I see that the experience of hospitality involves not only Christians from different Churches, but believers of other religions and non-believers as well.
In the midst of present difficulties, when mistrust seems to be gaining ground, will we have the courage, all together, to live lives of hospitality and so allow trust to grow?

First proposal: Discover the source of hospitality in God

From the beginning of the universe, God has been mysteriously at work. This conviction is at the heart of the poetic stories of creation at the beginning of the Bible. God contemplates what he brings into being and blesses it: God sees how the whole of creation is good. The entire universe is deeply loved by God.

Bishop Leahy's End of Year Reflection - Choose a glorious possibility

As we draw to the end of 2018 and move forward into 2019, it’s only right that we reflect on the year that was.

There were many wonderful moments in 2018. From a Church perspective the visit of Pope Francis - only the second Pope to visit these shores - was the high point. It was a moment, too, that encouraged a full ventilation of the sins of the past but such was the honesty, serenity and joy that the visit of Pope Francis brought, that at the end of it all, as he departed, there was a real sense of hope and new beginnings

And this was needed because many in the Church were beginning to feel robbed of hope. For it was a year they themselves felt almost overwhelmed by what has been the most striking moment to date for our country in sweeping in what is perceived to be a liberal agenda. The moment I mean was, of course, the Referendum on the 8th amendment. Or, more precisely, the Referendum to remove the fundamental right to life of the unborn.

The very utterance of those words still shocks to the core. We have now as a nation decided to remove the right of babies in the womb to live their lives to the full. We are now about to begin the taking of those lives indiscriminately. The right to choose superseding the right to life.

I acknowledge a majority of the population voted in favour of repealing the 8thamendment to the Constitution. There were many reasons for doing so, not least the recognition of the hardship women have to endure in crisis pregnancies.

It is to be hoped, however, that no one, or at least very few, willingly voted primarily for the abolition of the life of the unborn child in the womb. So, regardless of what way anyone voted and the reasons people had for voting as they did, it now behoves us all to do our part to make sure that abortion is not the default response that characterises people in Ireland when crisis pregnancies arise.

Nobody can predict what the courts may decide in the new, and unique, legal landscape that now exists in the Republic regarding abortion. Pending future cases and judicial clarification, it does appear likely that there will be increasing judicial emphasis on the pregnant woman’s rights and that any restrictions on access to abortion will be more vulnerable to legal challenge.

It is in this context that as a society we need to recognise that while legislation now provides for abortion, it is not primarily what we want and our moral compass must steer us in an entirely different direction.

We must think of the possibilities of life and the love it can bring. We must think of the potential that the unbridled joy of birth can bring. How that moment, when the mother cradles the child for the first time can wipe away any sense of crisis, replacing it with that maternal instinct and life-long commitment to love and nurture. Even for those born with the starkest prognosis, knowing them, if only for a short while, surely has potential to be better than not knowing them at all.

Undoubtedly, the hard cases we often heard about during the Referendum should remind us of the complexity of the issues. Complexities will still arise regardless of the legislation introduced. There will always be difficult decisions to be made.

The question for us as a society is whether we still want to promote a culture of life that listens also to the child. I believe there is still a majority of people in Ireland who subscribe to a culture of the protection of the life of the unborn but many of those also subscribe to a culture of choice.  But we cannot let the child be swept away lightly when making these hard decisions.

A large percentage of those who voted for repealing the 8th would not, I suspect, identify with the celebration, the almost triumphant celebration, of the introduction of abortion legislation in the Oireachtas. They would not be at one with the indifference that this celebration may suggest there is in Ireland to the child in the womb. I would appeal, therefore, for a basic sense of decency in our rhetoric around the introduction of abortion into the State. Convinced though many may be that it is a positive step in terms of women’s rights, any sense that abortion is a progressive step for our country, for what we stand for as a nation, is misplaced.

On that note also, it was very disheartening that proposed amendments seeking to provide women with information and to prohibit abortion on the grounds of sex, race or disability were given short shrift in the Dáil.

The contributions and suggestions of those who promote the life of the unborn child need to be heard. They must be heard if we are a caring society. The conscience-bound objections on the part of healthcare staff need to be respected.

It is outrageous to think that it would even be contemplated that doctors could be forced to perform or contribute to an abortion against their will. Forcing them not to choose life would be a most inglorious watermark for this country. It goes against the deeper demands of our common humanity to force anyone to do so. It has long been established that above any state law, there exists an unwritten divine law, what is sometimes called natural law, that recognises we are endowed with rights such as the basic human right to life.  Peace in our conscience can surely only be achieved by obeying it.

I appeal to all public representatives, regardless of how they might have understood their sense of civic duty in supporting the abortion legislation, to keep their focus wide. They represent not only those in favour of abortion but also the many who find its introduction deeply distressing.

And above all, I urge those in crisis pregnancies to choose life. To choose a glorious possibility.

Most Irish people celebrate Christmas, and for many of us, that’s the celebration of the birth of Christ, God and man. The Church has always celebrated his conception on March 25th, when we believe the angel Gabriel announced God’s request to Mary to become the mother of his Son. For almost 2000 years, Christians have been convinced that the life of Jesus began at the moment Mary accepted that request from God. Long before modern biology confirmed this, in their liturgy, Christians have affirmed that the life of each human being, like the life of Jesus, begins at the moment of their conception.

On the eve of the introduction of abortion services into Ireland, let’s look one another in the eye, and regardless of how we voted, promise we’ll be promoters of a culture of life.

30 December 2018 - Considering New Years resolutions with Pope Francis

On this weeks programme the SS102fm team brings the 2018 year to a close marking the liturgical feast of the Holy Family. As it is only a couple of days to the beginning of 2019, we reflect with the help of Pope Francis on possible new years resolutions for people to consider. We have our regular reflection on the liturgical odds & ends including the gospel of the day plus saints of the week.

You can listen to the podcast of this weeks full programme HERE.

New Years Resolutions with Pope Francis

As it is only a couple of days to the beginning of 2019, we reflect with the help of Pope Francis on possible new years resolutions for people to consider - 12 New Year’s resolutions for 12 months, from Pope Francis.

You can listen to the section of the programme excerpted from the main programme podcast HERE.

Gospel - Luke 2: 41 - 52

Each year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the feastof Passover, and when he was twelve years old, they went up according to festival custom.After they had completed its days, as they were returning, the boy Jesus remained behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it.Thinking that he was in the caravan,they journeyed for a dayand looked for him among their relatives and acquaintances, but not finding him,they returned to Jerusalem to look for him.After three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions, and all who heard him were astounded at his understanding and his answers.When his parents saw him,they were astonished, and his mother said to him, “Son, why have you done this to us?Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.”And he said to them,“Why were you looking for me?Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”But they did not understand what he said to them.He went down with them and came to Nazareth,and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart.And Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favorbefore God and man.
Reflections on this weeks gospel:

Word on Fire
Centre for Liturgy
Sunday Reflections
English Dominicans

Reflections on feast of the Holy Family:

The Holy Family and Contemplative Prayer

Liturgical odds & ends

Liturgy of the Hours - Psalter week 

Saints of the Week

December 31st - St Sylvester
January 1st - Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God
January 2nd - St Basil and St Gregory
January 3rd - St Munchin - patron of Limerick Diocese
January 4th - Bl Thomas Plumtree
January 5th - St Charles of Mt Argus
January 6th - Epiphany of the Lord

How Long Does Christmas Actually Last? - S+L

From Salt + Light:

Trying to understand the true significance of an event like Christmas can’t be done in a single day.
Like the epic natural beauty of the Grand Canyon, or the Baroque majesty and splendour of St. Peter’s Basilica, we need multiple viewings to take it all in.
So it is with the Nativity. For Catholics, Christmas is not just over and done with on December 25. It’s only just begun! At a time when many are taking down their decorations and throwing their Christmas tree to the curb, Catholics should be celebrating.
Christmastide is the name given to the Christmas season in the liturgical calendar. It begins on Christmas Eve and ends on the Sunday celebrating the Baptism of the Lord. This usually gives us a Christmas season of around 20 daysor so.
In the older tradition, before the Second Vatican Council, the Christmas season lasted a whole 40 days, echoing the 40 days of Lent. The liturgical calendar of the Extraordinary Form of the Mass still celebrates an extended Christmas, so modern-day Latin Mass-goers will find themselves in the Christmas season until February 2nd, the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord.
Of special note is that the Christmas season kicks off with a gift - seven special days other than December 25th, designed to extend our focus on the mystery of Christ’s birth. During these days, we’re to take in all the joys and graces associated with such a momentous event.
These days are called the “Octave of Christmas,” and you can remember their timing because the Octave starts and ends with solemnities - the Nativity of the Lord on December 25, and Mary, Mother of God on January 1st. Both are Holy Days of Obligation.
At one time there were actually 15 feast days in the Church that included Octaves, but since 1969, only Christmas and Easter are extended by these special days of celebration.
Ultimately, while all these details of the season can get a bit confusing at times, the major conclusion to draw is this: our Christmas celebrations are often way too short, and end far too early! So don’t miss out on the opportunity to stay in a holy, holiday spirit by celebrating for the entire Christmas season this year.

27 Dec 2018

When Christmas is not always a barrel of laughs

Christmas can be a difficult time for many people - those who are alone, dealing with grief and especially those for whom it is their first Christmas time without a special person in their lives. On our Christmas Day programme we had a lovely reflection from Martina Lehane Sheehan which we thought would be well worth while excerpting from the main programme to allow people to listen back to it again.

For those who might need a bit of support:

Pieta house: 1800 247 247
Aware: 1890 303 302
Samaritans: 1850 609 090
Childline: 1800 66 66 66

26 Dec 2018

Reflections during Christmastide

“Jesus stands at the door knocking (Rev. 3:20). In total reality, he comes in the form of the beggar, of the dissolute human child in ragged clothes, asking for help. He confronts you in every person that you meet. As long as there are people, Christ will walk the earth as your neighbor, as the one through whom God calls you, speaks to you, makes demands on you. That is the great seriousness and great blessedness of the Advent message. Christ is standing at the door; he lives in the form of a human being among us.” 
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God Is In the Manger
Viewed from a Christian perspective, Christmas in a prison cell can, of course, hardly be considered particularly problematic. Most likely many of those here in this building will celebrate a more meaningful and authentic Christmas than in places where it is celebrated in name only.
That misery, sorrow, poverty, loneliness, helplessness, and guilt mean something quite different in the eyes of God than according to human judgment; that God turns toward the very places from which humans turn away; that Christ was born in a stable because there was no room for him in the inn — a prisoner grasps this better than others, and for him this is truly good news.
And to the extent he believes it, he knows that he has been placed within the Christian community that goes beyond the scope of all spatial and temporal limits, and the prison walls lose their significance.
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, writing to his parents on 17 December 1943 from Tegel Prison where he had been imprisoned for opposing the Nazi regime.

Christmas in a Cold Prison

This contemporary representation of the Holy Family is not beautiful, but it communicates something important that can be lost in beautiful, traditional Christmas images which risk leaving us in our complacency. Here, instead, we see with rare clarity the shocking nature of the Incarnation: the Most High God has come to dwell definitively in the gritty, squalid, splendid, worry-fraught, tragicomic thing we call humanity. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us; one of us, for us 
- Fr C McDonough OP

December 26th - Feast of St Stephen the martyr

Today is the second day in the octave of Christmas. The Church celebrates the Feast of St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Stoned outside Jerusalem, he died praying for his executioners. He was one of the seven deacons who helped the apostles; he was "filled with faith and with the Holy Spirit," and was "full of fortitude." The Church draws a comparison between the disciple and his Master, emphasizing the imitation of Christ even unto the complete gift of self. 

Catholic Culture - St Stephen
American Catholic - St Stephen
Catholic Culture Catholic Activity: Day Two ~ Activities for the Feast of St. Stephen


Vatican News - Pope at Angelus: ‘St. Stephen teaches us to forgive’ 

Pope Francis prayed the Angelus on Wednesday with pilgrims and tourists gathered in St. Peter’s Square.

As the Church celebrates the feast of the first Christian martyr, the Holy Father reflected on St. Stephen’s example of trust in God and forgiveness.

“Forgiveness,” he said, “broadens the heart, generates sharing, and gives serenity and peace.”

Joy and martyrdom
Speaking on the day after Christmas, Pope Francis said the contrast between the joyful birth of the little Child and the cruel drama of St. Stephen’s martyrdom “may seem strange”.

“In reality this is not the case, because the Child Jesus is the Son of God made man, who will save humanity by dying on the cross.”

St. Stephen, said Pope Francis, was the first person to follow in Jesus’ footsteps through martyrdom. He died like Jesus, “entrusting his life to God and forgiving his persecutors.”

Trust in God
In the day’s First Reading (Acts 6:8-10; 7:54-59), the deacon Stephen is dragged before the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem on false charges of blasphemy. He speaks at length to them, but they are enraged by his words. They throw him out of the city and stone him to death.

Pope Francis said Stephen displayed an attitude of faithful acceptance of whatever life brings, be it positive or negative. “Trust in God helps us to welcome difficult moments and to live them as an opportunity for growth in faith and for building new relationships with our brothers and sisters,” he said.

Forgive always
Stephen, the Pope said, also imitated Jesus with an attitude of forgiveness, praying for his persecutors.

“We are called to learn from his example to forgive, to forgive always.”

Stephen’s example is a way to live our relationships with other people: in the family, at school or work, and in parish life. “The logic of forgiveness and mercy always prevails and opens up horizons of hope.”

Forgiveness, said Pope Francis, is cultivated through prayer, “which allows us to keep our gaze fixed upon Jesus.”

Pray intensely
He said Stephen was able to forgive his killers because, “full of the Holy Spirit, he looked up intensely to heaven and his eyes were opened by God.”

“Prayer gave him the strength to suffer martyrdom.”

We too, the Pope concluded, need to pray insistently to the Holy Spirit for “the gift of strength that heals our fears, our weaknesses, and our small-mindedness.”

Christmas Reflections and Homilies Round Up

Indonesian Nativity Scene

Pope Francis Urbi et Orbi: 'my Christmas wish is fraternity"

In Christmas 2018 message, Francis models good classroom practice

25 Dec 2018

Bishop Brendan Leahy Christmas Reflection 2018

This year the Christmas carol, “Silent night”, celebrates its 200th birthday. It was composed by Fr. Joseph Mohr, a young priest in Austria. There had been terrible violence in Salzburg in the summer of 1816 and he wrote “Silent night” as a reflection on peace. Two years later, on Christmas Eve, his friend Franz Xaver Gruber, a schoolteacher and organist, set the words to music. Together in the small town of Oberndorf, they first performed the song, Mohr singing and Gruber playing the guitar because the church organ was broken. The rest is history. The “Silent Night” carol spread in popularity throughout the world. It has been translated into 300 languages.

We know that the Christmas carol was used to build up spirits of soldiers getting together for a short Christmas respite from fighting during the First World War in 1914. There is indeed something soothing and peaceful about the music and the words, “sleep in heavenly peace”.

But a key phrase in the carol comes in the third verse: “Son of God, love's pure light, Radiant beams from Thy holy face, With the dawn of redeeming grace”. The reference to the dawn speaks of hope, new light, and new beginnings. The night is over, a new day is coming.

There can be situations in life when we or those we love feel imprisoned in our past. Christmas wants to say to us: you don’t have to be imprisoned. God has entered into your life, our world, and the world of all those you love. Trusting in him, you can reach out beyond any situation of sin or division or suffering. He has come precisely to redeem you, to redeem your relationship, to redeem, that is, to free, to break open, to overcome any obstacle you may feel at this time.

And it helps to remember that if God has come as redeeming grace for you, he has come also for those around you, particularly those you might least get on with.

Recently, someone said to me, it is great to remember that not only does God love me immensely, but he also loves each person I meet immensely. God has come for everyone.

So this year as we celebrate Christmas, let’s remember the Christmas carol and recognise it’s not just a song about peace in our hearts, it’s also a statement that the dawn of redeeming grace has come for everyone. And what’s more, it reminds us that each of us can be a dawn of redeeming grace for those we meet by the love we show them, We can sing “Silent night” not just with our voices or play it on the guitar. We can communicate it with our lives. Every blessing and Happy Christmas to you and your family.

+ Brendan Leahy

24 Dec 2018

25th December 2018 - Christmas Day Special Programme from SS102fm

From all the Sacred Space102fm team, wishing you and yours every best wish and blessing of this Holy & Festive Season and into the New Year 2019.
May the Peace of the Babe of Bethlehem be the gift you receive this Christmastide.

John, Ann, Shane, & Lorraine


You can listen to the podcast of the full two hour special Christmas Day programme HERE.

Our Christmas Day programme goes out on WL102fm from 9am to 11 am and is repeated from 11pm to 1am Christmas night.


On this special two hour programme we celebrate this special day with reflections, favourite Christmas carols and hymns, readings, poetry and our regular reflection on the Gospel of the day. We are joined on the programme with a reflection by Bishop Brendan Leahy and other special guests.


"In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.

But the angel said to them, ‘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 the Messiah, the LordThis will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favours!’

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child;and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them.But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them."  

(Luke 2: 1-20)

Reflections on the gospel of the day:

Pope Francis at Vigil Mass: ‘God gives life at Christmas’

Homily of Pope Francis
The Nativity of the Lord
The Mass in the Night (Midnight Mass)
St Peter's Basilica
24th December 2018

Joseph with Mary his spouse, went up “to the city of David called Bethlehem” (Lk 2:4). Tonight, we too, go to Bethlehem, there to discover the mystery of Christmas.

Bethlehem: the name means house of bread. In this “house”, the Lord today wants to encounter all mankind. He knows that we need food to live. Yet he also knows that the nourishments of this world do not satisfy the heart. In Scripture, the original sin of humanity is associated precisely with taking food: our first parents “took of the fruit and ate”, says the Book of Genesis (cf. 3:6). They took and ate. Mankind became greedy and voracious. In our day, for many people, life’s meaning is found in possessing, in having an excess of material objects. An insatiable greed marks all human history, even today, when, paradoxically, a few dine luxuriantly while all too many go without the daily bread needed to survive.

Bethlehem is the turning point that alters the course of history. There God, in the house of bread, is born in a manger. It is as if he wanted to say: “Here I am, as your food”. He does not take, but gives us to eat; he does not give us a mere thing, but his very self. In Bethlehem, we discover that God does not take life, but gives it. To us, who from birth are used to taking and eating, Jesus begins to say: “Take and eat. This is my body” (Mt 26:26). The tiny body of the Child of Bethlehem speaks to us of a new way to live our lives: not by devouring and hoarding, but by sharing and giving. God makes himself small so that he can be our food. By feeding on him, the bread of life, we can be reborn in love, and break the spiral of grasping and greed. From the “house of bread”, Jesus brings us back home, so that we can become God’s family, brothers and sisters to our neighbours. Standing before the manger, we understand that the food of life is not material riches but love, not gluttony but charity, not ostentation but simplicity.

The Lord knows that we need to be fed daily. That is why he offered himself to us every day of his life: from the manger in Bethlehem to the Upper Room in Jerusalem. Today too, on the altar, he becomes bread broken for us; he knocks at our door, to enter and eat with us (cf. Rev 3:20). At Christmas, we on earth receive Jesus, the bread from heaven. It is a bread that never grows stale, but enables us even now to have a foretaste of eternal life.

In Bethlehem, we discover that the life of God can enter into our hearts and dwell there. If we welcome that gift, history changes, starting with each of us. For once Jesus dwells in our heart, the centre of life is no longer my ravenous and selfish ego, but the One who is born and lives for love. Tonight, as we hear the summons to go up to Bethlehem, the house of bread, let us ask ourselves: What is the bread of my life, what is it that I cannot do without? Is it the Lord, or something else? Then, as we enter the stable, sensing in the tender poverty of the newborn Child a new fragrance of life, the odour of simplicity, let us ask ourselves: Do I really need all these material objects and complicated recipes for living? Can I manage without all these unnecessary extras and live a life of greater simplicity? In Bethlehem, beside where Jesus lay, we see people who themselves had made a journey: Mary, Joseph and the shepherds. Jesus is bread for the journey. He does not like long, drawn-out meals, but bids us rise quickly from table in order to serve, like bread broken for others. Let us ask ourselves: At Christmas do I break my bread with those who have none?

After Bethlehem as the house of bread, let us reflect on Bethlehem as the city of David. There the young David was a shepherd, and as such was chosen by God to be the shepherd and leader of his people. At Christmas, in the city of David, it was the shepherds who welcomed Jesus into the world. On that night, the Gospel tells us, “they were filled with fear” (Lk 2:9), but the angel said to them “Be not be afraid” (v. 10). How many times do we hear this phrase in the Gospels: “Be not afraid”? It seems that God is constantly repeating it as he seeks us out. Because we, from the beginning, because of our sin, have been afraid of God; after sinning, Adam says: “I was afraid and so I hid” (Gen 3:10). Bethlehem is the remedy for this fear, because despite man’s repeated “no”, God constantly says “yes”. He will always be God-with-us. And lest his presence inspire fear, he makes himself a tender Child. Be not afraid: these words were not spoken to saints but to shepherds, simple people who in those days were certainly not known for their refined manners and piety. The Son of David was born among shepherds in order to tell us that never again will anyone be alone and abandoned; we have a Shepherd who conquers our every fear and loves us all, without exception.

The shepherds of Bethlehem also tell us how to go forth to meet the Lord. They were keeping watch by night: they were not sleeping, but doing what Jesus often asks all of us to do, namely, be watchful (cf. Mt 25:13; Mk 13:35; Lk 21:36). They remain alert and attentive in the darkness; and God’s light then “shone around them” (Lk 2:9). This is also the case for us. Our life can be marked by waiting, which amid the gloom of our problems hopes in the Lord and yearns for his coming; then we will receive his life. Or our life can be marked by wanting, where all that matters are our own strengths and abilities; our heart then remains barred to God’s light. The Lord loves to be awaited, and we cannot await him lying on a couch, sleeping. So the shepherds immediately set out: we are told that they “went with haste” (v. 16). They do not just stand there like those who think they have already arrived and need do nothing more. Instead they set out; they leave their flocks unguarded; they take a risk for God. And after seeing Jesus, although they were not men of fine words, they go off to proclaim his birth, so that “all who heard were amazed at what the shepherds told them” (v. 18).

To keep watch, to set out, to risk, to recount the beauty: all these are acts of love. The Good Shepherd, who at Christmas comes to give his life to the sheep, will later, at Easter, ask Peter and, through him all of us, the ultimate question: “Do you love me?” (Jn 21:15). The future of the flock will depend on how that question is answered. Tonight we too are asked to respond to Jesus with the words: “I love you”. The answer given by each is essential for the whole flock.

“Let us go now to Bethlehem” (Lk 2:15). With these words, the shepherds set out. We too, Lord, want to go up to Bethlehem. Today too, the road is uphill: the heights of our selfishness need to be surmounted, and we must not lose our footing or slide into worldliness and consumerism. 

I want to come to Bethlehem, Lord, because there you await me. I want to realize that you, lying in a manger, are the bread of my life. I need the tender fragrance of your love so that I, in turn, can be bread broken for the world. Take me upon your shoulders, Good Shepherd; loved by you, I will be able to love my brothers and sisters and to take them by the hand. Then it will be Christmas, when I can say to you: “Lord you know everything; you know that I love you” (cf. Jn 21:17).

23 Dec 2018

O Antiphons - 2018 - December 23rd - O Emmanuel

O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster, exspectatio gentium, et Salvator earum: veni ad salvandum nos Domine Deus noster.

O Emmanuel, our King and Law-giver, desired of the nations (all peoples) and their salvation, come and save us, Lord our God.

“O Emmanuel, king and lawgiver, desire of the nations, Saviour of all people, come and set us free, Lord our God.” Isaiah had prophesied, “The Lord himself will give you this sign: the Virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel.”(7:14). 

Remember “Emmanuel” means “God is with us.” 
Jesus Emmanuel has already come. It is not a matter now of Christ’s being where we are; it is a matter of our being in the consciousness of where Christ is in life and where He is not as well. Where is Christ for you? Is there a place in your life that you know down deep is not in the spirit of Christ at all?
— Joan D. Chittister, OSB

O Emmanuel: Meditations on the O Antiphons