Today Pops and I had a first class Christmas dinner with Maureen and family. Here is a picture. Clockwise from left: Brother in law John Reilly, sister Maureen, nephew Jason, me, Pops, niece Sile. Nephew David took the photo.
I celebrated two Masses in the Kenmare area today. This is the main content of my homily.
What is Christmas really about – at least from a Christian sense? At a superficial sense it can be about turkeys, big meals & indigestion, Santa Claus, worrying about the calorie content of the mince pies we’re eating, presents & getting into debt, getting drunk and ending up in arguments, etc
A little story can perhaps help us in this regard. Back in 2014 I attended a history lesson given by the history department of UCC (University College Cork). The oldest grave excavation todate in Ireland goes back to 8000BC, along the banks of the Shannon River in Limerick. This was the time of the first hunter / gatherers who found their way here after the last ice age. Along with human remains, food containers and tools were found.
Even though our Pagan ancestors didn’t have the benefit of the Gospel, they had a deep intuition that death wasn’t the Big End, that there was some sort of an afterlife. Loved ones were buried with food and tools that they would use in the afterlife. This practice continued down thru the centuries and millenniums until the Christian era in the 5th century AD.
Why did this occur? Because people now believed they had a saviour in Jesus. No longer any need for lunch boxes, pick axes, hatchets or shovels. Jesus would take care of all their needs. This is expressed in our prayer for the dead: Eternal rest grant unto them O Lord and let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace. Similarly in the second stanza of Psalm 23: Even tho I go through the valley of darkness, no evil would I fear; you are there with your crook and your staff. With these you give me comfort.
A line from the carol ‘Mary’s Boy Child’ thus sums up the meaning of Christmas: Man will live for evermore because of Christmas Day.
So what do I have to do to be saved from eternal death by Jesus? Note that the name ‘Jesus’ in Hebrew means ‘God Saves’. Well in today’s gospel we read: “He came to his own domain and his own people did not accept him.” In a few months we will be commemorating this rejection in Jesus’ Passion and death during Holy Week.
The next verse of the gospel tells us: “But to all who did ACCEPT him, he gave the power to become children of God.” So we have to accept Jesus and Our Lord and Saviour. Jesus is polite and respects our free will – even to the point of accepting or rejecting him and his offer of salvation.
What do we have to do to accept Jesus? This brings us to the basics of the Christian faith. Prayer, attending Mass on Sundays and Holy Days, keeping the Ten Commandments, living a life of charity.
One of these four pillars is worth highlighting – attending Holy Mass. Jesus gave us this as a Last Will and |Testament in the Last Supper: “Do this in memory of me.” If we are faithful to this we will retain an effective memory of Jesus and his Good News. This in turn will become part of our identity and core values.
If we are not faithful to Jesus’ Last Will and Testament, we will develop spiritual dementia and lose an effective memory of the salvation he offers us. The gospel will become just like other stories of Irish mythology which have no real significance in our lives.
In summary: The real meaning of Christmas is that “Man will live forever more because of Christmas Day.” For this to be effective in our lives we must ACCEPT Jesus as our Lord and Saviour. Attending Mass on Sundays and Holy Days is a crucial part of our acceptance of Jesus and retaining our Christian memory.