On a quiet night two thousand years ago, God sent us the gift of His Son — Jesus, His gift of selfless love to redeem mankind from sin. We invite you to receive Jesus into your hearts and homes as you watch this video of Silent Night. Wishing you and your family a blessed Christmas filled with Hope, Peace, Joy and Love and thank you for your generous friendship, continued prayers and unwavering support. May the Lord bless you and keep you in the new year.
Catholic Sabah (Archdiocese of Kota Kinabalu, Sabah)
The seasons of Advent and Christmas offer us the possibility of doing things in other ways. The Pope speaks of the Church as a “field hospital”. God, he says, is not found in “neat, orderly places and things, distant from reality”. As we set out our Advent candles, cribs, Christmas trees and lights, do we remember that God walks by our side especially now with the world in turmoil? The Incarnation has given us the message that God has moved into our neighbourhoods. How does this theological reality impact our daily spiritual lives?
For many of us, our neighbourhoods can sometimes be depressing places where we live with anxiety, shame, guilt, fear and so many other feelings and behaviours that prevent us from knowing that we are indeed loved. God has moved into such neighbourhoods.
During Advent, the Isaiah readings during Mass invite us to embrace a God who has come to console us and free us from the prisons of our sins. John the Baptist encourages us to make straight paths in our lives so that we can see God as God really is, and not the way we want God to be.
God is with us in good times and in bad. Couples professing their vows on their wedding day promise to be there for each other in good times and in bad. God, in the Incarnation of Jesus, has made the same promise to us. In Jesus, the new covenant, this promise is sealed forever.
But how do we know this for sure, especially during those times we cannot sense the presence of God? John Henry Newman, the 19th Century English theologian, scholar and poet, said his search for God did not end with his studies or his priesthood. He is quoted as saying “I sought to hear the voice of God and climbed the topmost steeple, but God declared: Go down again – I dwell among the people.”
In the Gospels, we find Jesus largely among ordinary people, the outcasts, the disease-ridden and those society had labelled unworthy or sinful. The Gospel of Matthew (25:31-46) clearly describes Jesus as not just among people, but as the least among them. The Gospel of John says: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14).
We rush to register for Mass, but a genuine desire to receive the Lord in the celebration of the Eucharist must be matched with an equally real longing to experience the same Lord in the lives of others – all others and not only like-mind people.
The language the psalmist uses describes the general nature of life for many people: “waters up to my neck”, “sinking into depths where there is no foothold”, “my eyes fail”, “shame covers my face”, etc. But there is steadfast faith that God will deliver. The psalmist prays “in your great love, O God, answer me with your sure salvation” (69:13).
Salvation. This is what we are assured of. God did not promise a life without struggles and challenges. Our lives can be messy. We struggle, we suffer, but as we do, we hold on to the sure and certain hope that the ultimate life that comes with God is ours, and will never be taken away from us.
Jesus showed that the way to a full life in the resurrection is to carry the cross of humanity’s burden, with our eyes fixed on God’s kingdom, and walk the path towards Easter. We tell ourselves that “this is only Friday, Sunday will come”. That is the blessed assurance given to us in the suffering of Christ. For as it says in Hebrews, “it is not as if we have a high priest who is incapable of feeling our weaknesses with us …” We believe in a God who knows what it means to be human.
So how can we express our faith anew in this season when we celebrate the Incarnation? At the opening Mass for the Synod on 10 October, Pope Francis encouraged the Church to become “experts in the art of encounter”. He invited us to walk together on the same road by encountering our God in one another. On this road we listen to others and to one another with the heart, with no judgment. When we encounter and listen to others sincerely, we then need to discern what changes we are invited to embrace in order to make room in our hearts for God.
May this Christmas truly become the feast of the Incarnation for each of us.
Friar Clifford Augustine OFM
I’m dreaming of a white Christmas, just like the ones I used to know …
For some, that dream may come true this Christmas as more countries open up and Vaccinated Travel Lanes are established. Life appears to be normalising and we can look forward to freer movement and interacting in person a little more. I myself am looking forward to visiting the friars in Malaysia for I prefer a tactile and real encounter to meeting via virtual platforms.
Touch is the most intimate of senses, as St Bonaventure reminds us. Perhaps it was St Francis’ encounter with the leper that caught Bonaventure’s imagination. Some early biographies suggest that the leper was Christ, since the leper disappeared as Francis turned around to look for him after the encounter.
This is the human-ness of Franciscan spirituality, the continual enfleshment of the incarnation of Christ in our reality. The word “incarnate” is derived from the Latin word “caro”, meaning flesh.
This takes us to the question: Why did God become man? The divine nature took on human flesh with all its limitations and weaknesses to assure us that God does not leave us alone. He descended so that we can ascend.
God chose to come into the world in Bethlehem; to be born there in a manger, the dingy holding area for animals to rest and eat. In Hebrew, Bethlehem means “house of bread”, and manger in Italian is ”mangiare”, which means “to eat”. I hope you see this connection between the Eucharist, our Bread of Life, and the early signs revealed with Jesus’ birth. At the Eucharist, we touch the bread and we partake of it, making us one with it and one with all who partake of it: One Bread, One Body.
That’s what we, the Franciscan Friars, hope we can bring to those around us. We don’t pretend to have
all the answers, but as we move around spreading the Good News of God’s Kingdom, we hope that those we encounter may feel centred in the Lord as they move about the world with all its victories and vicissitudes. And, in the spirit of poverty and humility of Francis, we allow the Good News to be preached by all creatures to us. That’s how St Francis saw his friars going about the world, to be channels and receptacles of God’s grace, peace and mercy. I hope this is how you experience us Franciscan friars!
That said, arriving at this state of being channels of God’s peace is no breeze. Just as we had to endure multiple restrictions and lockdowns during thepandemic in order to arrive at today’s freer state, our freer state of soul requires a similar rite of passage. There is a Latin adage “per angusta ad augusta” (through trials to triumph). Our pain can lead to glory if we dare journey the descent of God becoming man at Christmas, which ultimately leads to our ascent back to the Father at Easter.
Peace and all good,
Friar Derrick Yap OFM
Custody of St Anthony
The story of St Francis and the Christmas Crib at Greccio shows what was really important to Francis – the poverty of Jesus and his mother, and the discomfort felt by the little baby. For Francis, the external poverty of Christ’s birth at Bethlehem was representative of the radical poverty of the Incarnation. Celano also placed an emphasis on the virtues of simplicity, poverty, and humility, leading us to understand that the poverty of Francis is in imitation of the poverty of Jesus.
During the seasons of Advent and Christmas, we invite you to spend some time in quiet prayer before the Christmas Crib, and offer some questions for your reflection.
1. What is the place of poverty – simplicity – humility in my life?
2. Celano wrote of how Francis wished “to enact the memory of that babe who was born in Bethlehem”. Where do we enact “memory” in our lives? Are we able to re-read the events of our lives and perceive the Lord’s presence in them?
3. What truly is the place of the Eucharist in my life, in the course of my day?
4. What is the place of the senses in my relationship with God, and in how my faith is expressed?
5. How open am I to the new and to what challenges me? How can I grasp the beauty of poverty?
Francis spoke of making room for creativity, which opens us up to the new. We are invited to give space to feelings, to joy, to songs, to festive celebration. We are also called to enjoy the beauty of poverty, which in the story of Greccio is characterised by a dignity and beauty that become a source of joy.