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Festive Focus?

The absence of articles in past weeks is not the result of leisure or vacation. From time to time, the metaphorical pen must be laid down in aid of contemplation. The season of Advent naturally provides such an opportunity.

There has certainly been much to write about. With accounts of episcopal resignations, convictions and successful appeals, it would not be difficult to form the view that the Church is in our present times, simply lurching from one crisis to the next. Mention of crisis invariably brings appeals for "reform". We hear much less of renewal. Instead, "reform" is presented as the panacea; capable of remediating all ills without any prior need for an understanding of their provenance. There is a natural inclination to resist difficult discussions; avoiding what is unpalatable or unpleasant. In institutional terms, this is as harmful as it is artificial.

In marked contrast, true reform is the institutional response required to realign an organisation which has gone adrift from its moorings and become detached from the values which are the articulation of its very purpose. Disconnected from the foundational purpose of the institution itself, the activity of reform is reduced to the status of mere change; oftentimes, change for change sake. Renewal on the other hand, demands that the institution reconnects with its originating motive and founding purpose; at the same time providing an opportunity to address and counter harmful attitudes, failings and deficiencies. The conflation of these two very different concepts of reform and renewal imperils not only the organisation under scrutiny but also the potential for remediation of a lasting kind.

What has this to do with Christmas? Just as in Advent, the Church strives to prepare for the reception of The Word incarnate, in the season of Christmas we are called to embrace the reality of His incarnation. One priest recently commented: "Christmas is not about children. It is about one child." There is no disputing the truth of this statement. The more difficult question concerns the child's identity. The resolution of that question requires more than an intellectual acceptance of the hypostatic union. It is not possible to engage with the identity of The Word incarnate without doing so in the language and demands of relationship. One is obliged to posit the question: "who is the child to me?"

We may enthusiastically sing the words of Rossetti, "Our God, Heaven cannot hold him; nor earth contain..." The melody is well known and the words are familiar. But, if these sentiments are to have meaning, they cannot be confined to the Christmas season. They make demands of us.

Fundamentally, we either receive the mystery of the nativity on a personal level or we do not. Like the paschal mystery celebrated in the eucharist, the miracle of the nativity is nothing more nor less than the Divine reaching out to us. Awakened from the stupor of self, we are called to rouse ourselves so that we may, like Simeon, recognise Christ before our eyes. Nor is the gift of Christ neatly wrapped. It is presented to us in a time and place which challenges our very notions of ourselves, and the things upon which we rely for our well-being and security.

In our modern day world, Joseph would be castigated for his lack of managerial planning, foresight and failure to make advance provision for his expectant wife and unborn child. Doubtless, Our Blessed Mother would be similarly chastised for her apparent disregard for her own safety and the well-being of her unborn child; embarking upon a journey which was neither prudent nor responsible. Yet, it was within this seemingly hopeless state of destitution that God caused His Son to be born as a gift: "of the Father's love begotten".

Perhaps in the season of Christmas, more than any other, we are called to re-align ourselves with the wonder of this simple reality: we are called into relationship with the Christ who is lumen gentium. With that calling comes a profound responsibility. It demands the authentic transmission of the entirety of His message and affirmation of the populo Dei as continuing His salvific mission. It is this festive focus which enables us to view our earthly realities through the lens of faith and equips us with not only the hope, but also the confidence, to embark upon the work of renewal. In the words of St John Paul II: "Let us not be afraid".

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