Signs of Christmas have gone from our everyday environments. The liturgical calendar has moved to Ordinary Time. As Christians we recognise that every day God is with us and in us and works through us. Read Bishop Ralph’s message to us all in these early days of 2017.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ
We all have the need for the closeness and the warmth of a mother’s love. Many of us know from our personal experience that it is a need that remains, long after our mother is no longer with us. It should come as no surprise to us, therefore, that the Church begins each New Year with this wonderful Solemnity of the Mother of God. Knowing what we experience deep within us it seems perfectly reasonable for us to want a motherly touch from God Himself, to sooth, to strengthen, to comfort us on our journey of faith. At the beginning of each New Year we are reminded that God has provided this for us in the person of Mary.
Just as Mary brought forth Christ and watched over him, so she watches over all those of us who are the children of God baptised into Christ, and as church, His body on earth. Paul reminds us today we are heirs to the Kingdom on that account. This also makes us family and Mary is the mother of the family.
Like any other year, 2017 will be a year with challenges for us as individuals, as families, as the family of the diocese and indeed the wider world. Events in 2016 have made many of us less certain about the future. Many parts of the world remain unstable often threatening the peace of places beyond their borders. Today, once again the Church places the intention for world peace under the watchful gaze of Mary as we begin a new year.
The invitation and challenge at the beginning of a new year is, despite all that we see happening about us and in the world at large, to witness to the hope that is in us.
I would like to suggest five ways that we can do this. These are not original to me. They are received wisdom and I share them with you.
Be confident in faith for our faith is true! During these days we are celebrating openly and boldly the truth that Christ came, that he is still with us and will come again. We can and should be equally confident in celebrating our faith through the year.
Recognise your obligations to spread the Good News: At the opening homily of his Pontificate, St John Paul II told his listeners “Do not be afraid. Open wide the doors to Christ”. Pope Benedict took up this theme in the opening homily of his Pontificate too. Speaking to the young, he said, “Do not be afraid of Christ. He takes nothing away and gives you everything … yes, open wide the doors to Christ and you will find true life”.
And on Twitter last October, reaching out to millions, Pope Francis echoes once again those words of St John Paul II:
“Opening wide the doors to Christ” means not only opening your own heart to be touched by God, but also by sharing your personal experience of the life of Christ and the Church with others in whatever circumstances you find yourself.
Challenge evil: None of us is perfect. Nonetheless we are called to challenge evil in all its forms: injustice, oppression, lack of respect for human life from the womb to the tomb etc. We must do what we can, however limited, to hold up the light of Christ where darkness abounds.
Reflect on what God has done for you: Luke tells us that Mary treasured all things that happened to her and pondered them in her heart and found it a source of strength. Changing the world for the better takes energy. Prayer and the Eucharist make it possible.
And finally, decide what you, personally, are going to do to open wide the doors for Christ in the coming year: Maybe it will only be the Lord Himself who will know what you choose to do and that is more than enough.
So, I pray the blessing in the Book of Numbers that we find in the first reading for you all. Throughout 2017:
May the Lord bless and keep you
May the Lord let His face shine on you and be gracious to you
May the Lord uncover His face to you and bring you peace.