By Bishop Mark Hagemoen, Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon
“I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” – Isaiah 43:19. Brothers and Sisters in Christ – This Old Testament passage from the Prophet Isaiah has been haunting me all year!
This second year of the pandemic has continued to afflict us all in so many ways. Despite the reprieve of the summer – we are now again in a time of heightened concern about the pandemic.
And in all of this – we get ready to celebrate another Christmas season. Christmas is a time when we recall God’s intervention into the state of affairs of all humanity. Despite the challenges and even the crises that the world experiences … God comes to us! And God comes when we need Him the most: the greatest difficulties are the occasion when God’s light is most potent with infusing the greatest darkness.
Christmas Mass Times – LINK – (in-person and live-stream for a number of parishes across the diocese)
VIDEO: Bishop Mark Hagemoen’s 2021 Christmas Message:
As I write this letter to you, I am inspired by the letter to Diognetus in the Office of Readings in the Octave before Christmas:
No man has ever seen God… but God has revealed Himself to us through faith, by which alone it is possible to see Him. God, the Lord and maker of all things, who created the world … not only loved humanity but was also patient with us. So He has always been, and is, and will be: kind, good, free from anger, truthful, indeed He and He alone is good.
I continue to be amazed, comforted, and challenged by how God deals with us – all of us. He is the Absolute Lover and Giver. He invites us to respond in some small, faithful way with sharing back the love we can give. Although this is a very small fraction of what God gives to us and the world – He does not measure or give back according to our limited desire or capacity. Because, if He did …we would not be here! God is the Absolute Lover and Giver. As St. John says, “God is Love, and those who abide in Love, abide in God, and God in them.” (I John 4:16)
The letter to John goes on to contrast fear versus love:
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:18-19)
The realization of the meaning of Christmas must challenge and stretch us in new and greater ways – including my awareness of the care of my brother and sister – let alone the many who are “the stranger.” Amidst my frustration, regret, and disappointment that we are facing a Christmas and world that is dealing with uncertainty and crisis …CHRISTMAS COMES! O come, O Come, Emmanuel. Whether we are ready, or not…. whether we can celebrate as usual… or not, whether we can gather with many or with only a very few… CHRISTMAS Comes! GOD IS with us in Jesus Christ, the Son of God. GOD IS loving us, caring for us, holding us.
As the saying goes: “We do not know why difficulty and tragedy comes and what the future holds, …but we do know Who holds us through the tragedy… into the unknown future.
The effects of the pandemic continue to inspire much reflection for all of us, including Pope Francis, who recently stated that the current pandemic calls for a ‘culture of care’ which leads us to draw closer to those who need us. As he states, “It is a closeness understood as sharing, proximity, care and love. I hope that the great trial we are experiencing in the pandemic has made us long for a new closeness among us. A new tenderness.” (Pope Francis, Dec. 10, 2021)
The Pope also has reflected that the “scourge” (of the pandemic) …has tested everyone and everything. Only one thing is more serious than this crisis, and that is the risk that we will squander it, and not learn the lesson it teaches. It is a lesson in humility, showing us that it is not possible to live healthy lives in an unhealthy world, or to go on as we were, without recognizing what went wrong.”
Francis also warned against the “senseless notion” that the world can go back to what it was, relying on “false securities, habits and projects that aim exclusively at pursuing wealth and personal interests, while failing to respond to global injustice, the cry of the poor and the precarious health of our planet.”
Yes, indeed, things will probably not go back to just the way they were …at least not entirely. And maybe that’s okay. In the encyclical Fratelli Tutti – which I cited in my message at this time last year – Pope Francis cites many things that should be different … and which highlight how Jesus who comes at Christmas inspires and challenges us all about a new, redeeming way. These themes continue to inspire and challenge me during this Christmas time.
I begin with our need to be open to growth and healing. There are many things do need to change …in my life, in our lives. The need for change and ongoing conversion is absolutely crucial. As Pope Francis states:
“Everything depends on our ability to see the need for a change of heart, attitudes and lifestyles … (and watch for) …human weakness, the proclivity to selfishness that is part of what the Christian tradition refers to as “concupiscence”: the human inclination to be concerned only with myself, my group, my own petty interests. “(see FT #166)
The trials of the pandemic have certainly highlighted this temptation. Another key theme this past year is the call for ongoing truth and reconciliation with our Indigenous brothers and sisters. The outpouring of attention, grief, and desire for restoration and reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples of Canada is a key theme calling for growth and healing: one which calls for commitment and hope that inspires concrete actions and relationship-building by individuals, communities, and our Church.
Secondly, the call to reflect on how we truly listen, communicate and relate to others. Pope Francis highlights the task of really sharing and relating with each other in a truly human way. Technology is a tool, but not the basis for authentic human presence and sharing. As Pope Francis states, “…Life exists where there is belonging, communion, fraternity; life that is stronger than death …is built on true relationship and bonds of fidelity.” (see FT #87) Indeed the importance of listening is a key theme as our diocese and the Church throughout the world undertakes the Synod on Synodality in the coming New Year.
A third challenge that arises is our true care for and support of the vulnerable. This issue has thrust itself on our awareness here in Saskatchewan as we now are profoundly aware of the crisis of homelessness and poverty that is now very apparent – especially in our biggest and most affluent cities. As the Pope states, “We are still ‘illiterate’ when it comes to accompanying, caring for and supporting the most frail and vulnerable member of our developed society. We were created for a fulfilment that can only be found in love.” The Holy Father challenges us about our need to be persistent in LOVE. “Charity [Love] is at the heart of every healthy and open society, yet today it is easily dismissed as irrelevant for interpreting and giving direction to moral responsibility.”
On this theme, let us hear Pope Francis’s call to ‘solidarity’ as a way in which we become more Christ-like and walk the journey of allowing our hearts of stone to become hearts of flesh (see Ezekiel 11:19) As Pope Francis states,
“Solidarity finds concrete expression in service, which can take a variety of forms in an effort to care for others. And service in great part means ‘caring for vulnerability, for the vulnerable members of our families, our society, our people.’ In offering such service, individuals learn to ‘set aside their own wishes and desires, their pursuit of power, before the concrete gaze of those who are most vulnerable… service always looks to their faces, touches their flesh, senses their closeness and even, in some cases, ‘suffers’ that closeness and tries to help them.” (see FT #115)
A fourth challenge for us all during these difficult times is to grow in what the Holy Father calls “gratuitousness.” This he states is the ability to, “…do some things simply because they are good in themselves, without concern for personal gain or recompense. Gratuitousness makes it possible for us to welcome the stranger, even though this brings no immediate tangible benefit.” (see FT #139)
Finally, I very much appreciate the Holy Father’s emphasis on the priority of forgiveness, mercy and reconciliation.The mercy and forgiving love of God for the world is the reason that Jesus comes at Christmas. As the Pope states: “…Those who truly forgive do not forget. Instead, they choose not to yield to the same destructive force that caused them so much suffering.” (see FT #252) There is much to be angry about. However, left alone, our anger will consume and destroy us. O how the world needs to choose another way – the way demonstrated in the life and way of Jesus Christ.
May our celebration of Christmas seek Christ’s merciful and redeeming way. Let us ask ourselves:
- How does our celebration of Christmas inspire new hope and expectation?
- Do we allow the Christ Child to take our hearts of stone and make them hearts of flesh?
- How does Jesus – who is the greatest Love the world has known – inspire and call each of us in the coming New Year to be the best that we can be – this amidst the climate of fear, mistrust, and negativity that makes such vision seemingly senseless?
Let us be ready and attentive for this Christmas time when God comes to us!
Have a blessed and joy-filled Christmas season.
Sincerely in Christ,
Most Reverend Mark A. Hagemoen Bishop of Saskatoon