My dear Catholic People,
The brutal assassination of Pierre Gemayel in Lebanon recently is a stark reminder of the cloud of evil that hangs like a pall over today’s world. That beautiful but strife-torn country continues its grievous suffering as its Christian citizens continue to flee, reducing their once 60% component in the population to about half that number and falling. Many of them now swell our Maronite and Melkite Catholic communities in Australia, and their faith tried in so much suffering and loss enriches the spiritual fabric of the Catholic Church in our country.
In just a short time their voices will join with millions as we sing again the song of the angels: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men of good-will.”
This hymn captures the essence of our hope which no evil can overcome. A war-weary world heard it then; we hear it again at Christmas and we repeat it so often at Mass: angelic voices remind us that Peace is the gift of heaven, and the gift has been given. His name is Jesus Christ.
The world was created in peace, a peace destroyed even in Eden by human weakness and malice. But it was the loving wisdom of our God, when all was sin and shame, to restore again that peace, and to restore it in human flesh like ours. We call Him, rightly, the God-Man, our Redeemer, our Saviour, the Prince of Peace.
The Church in her every part and member has no other duty before proclaiming Jesus, whose very name means, “God saves.” Each Advent we hear with relief John the Baptist’s message that the way things were has come to an end and God’s restored kingdom of life is on its way. In time Mary the Mother of the Incarnate One would sing to the Father as she bore the Son: He has put down the mighty from their thrones, He has raised up the lowly, and He has sent the rich away empty.
Our awareness of what this means makes us a different people, a people who see life from a different perspective from non-believers. Perhaps this has come home to you when you have wished so much that a neighbour or a friend could see what you see, believe what you believe, and find in the vision a hope and a courage to endure some suffering that seems to have no meaning or purpose.
The song of the angels on our own lips again this year will remind us that the only war which must continue in this world is that warfare of divine grace against the aberrant spirit of man; that destructive spirit which exalts the powerful, admires only the winners and despises the losers. It is that aberrant spirit which has no patience with other people’s weaknesses, failures or inadequacies, but sees not its own. This is the real warfare which must continue, with unremitting vigour, in each heart, until the end of time. Our Lady’s humility, her entire lack of egocentricity, is the pattern not just for the Christian to model but for the whole world to emulate.
My prayer this Christmas, in solidarity with the people of Lebanon, is that in all the complexities of social and political life in our own and every country, within the Church – herself often troubled by enmities and factions – and within each family, we may inch just a little closer to making the angel’s song a reality.
Yours devotedly in Christ,
Bishop of Lismore