Africa, December 2019 Vol. 84 No. 9
From My Bookshelf: Frank Conlisk reviews
Christmas Homilies and Addresses
by Pope Francis
“Christmas is at our throats again.” So said the rather jaded Noël Coward about the season after which he was named. You may be inclined to agree. Last Saturday morning, I found myself doing battle with a stampede of shopping trollies in the aisles of a supersized supermarket. A seemingly endless queue snaked its way to the tills while “Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas” piped cheerily in the background. “Only 14 shopping days left to Christmas” the voice on the intercom told us…making you feel like you had forgotten something really important and that Christmas simply wouldn’t be Christmas without it. Boney M’s “Mary’s Boy Child” brought me perilously close to abandoning all and heading for the exit. By now I felt I could have written Coward’s line myself. Is it any wonder people ask “Is this all there is?” and come to the conclusion that there’s got to be more to it than this!
This is exactly the kind of “what’s it all about?” experience that Pope Francis addresses in Christmas Homilies and Addresses, published by Veritas. This slim, pocket-sized booklet invites the reader to see beyond the material trappings and the hype that Christmas has become. To be sure, it is a time for celebration and feasting, but surely we need to know what it is we are celebrating and why we are feasting. So Francis encourages us to meditate a little on how it all began and on the deeper meaning of that great mystery – the birth of Jesus, the Christ.
In Part 1, the Pope’s Christmas Day homilies from 2013 to 2016 are presented. A major theme is that of “light”: Jesus, the Light of the World. Pope Francis uses simple, everyday language that is easy to understand. The tone is that of a kindly elder speaking with understanding and tenderness to his sisters and brothers. At the same time, he calls us to be attentive. “In our personal history too, there are both bright and dark moments, lights and shadows. If we love God and our brothers and sisters, we walk in the light; but if our heart is closed, if we are dominated by pride, deceit, self-seeking, then darkness falls within us and around us…Do not be afraid! Our Father is patient, he loves us, he gives us Jesus to guide us on the way…He is our peace.” But, do I have the courage to “allow God to love me?” he asks. It’s a question worth staying with…
Almost every Wednesday morning the Pope gives a themed speech to the crowds gathered in St Peter’s Square or in the Paul VI Audience Hall. In Part 2 of this publication we are given a sample of those talks from December 2013 to 2016. As we might expect, they have less of a conversational and more of a teaching tone to them. The stress is on exploring various aspects of the mystery of God becoming one of us. The Pope tries to help us grasp the enormity of this. How could it be true! And the consequences of it – both utterly beyond our understanding and yet deeply personal. The themes of Christian hope, joy and peace predominate while at the same time, the Pope acknowledges the reality of our struggles. “We have such need [of hope] in these times which appear dark, in which we sometimes feel disoriented at the evil and violence which surround us, at the distress of so many of our brothers and sisters… Let us be confident… each one knows what desert he or she is walking in… Hope does not disappoint!”
The Urbi et Orbi addresses of the Pope from 2013 to 2016 are given to us in Part 3. The major themes here are peace in our troubled world and the mercy of God for all of humanity. The need to care for children who are abused and suffering is stressed. The plight of refugees, the unemployed and those marginalized by consumer-driven economies is given particular attention. Time and again, Pope Frances asks us to open our hearts to receive the gifts of the Christ Child: mercy, light, peace and joy.
The true meaning of Christmas and the deep-down, lasting joy and peace that Emmanuel offers, will not be on sale this year at Tesco or Walmart or at a store near you. This booklet however, will help point all of us in the right direction.
Incidentally, as I left the supermarket, there was an elderly, bearded gentleman sitting on an empty beer crate playing a saxophone. The tune was “Crazy” – that old Patsy Cline classic…
Christmas Homilies and Addresses, Pope Francis
Available from Veritas 7-8 Lower Abbey St., Dublin, Ireland.
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