How the gift of integrity could crown the season of goodwill for us all
Published 22/12/2015 | 02:30
Christmas brings out the best of us in Ireland. People give generously to the St Vincent de Paul Society and to the widest range of charities. I am especially grateful to those in Dublin who brought food to their parishes for distribution by the Diocesan social care agency, Crosscare.
The lonely are visited and are cheered up with the simplicity of a smile. Children are happy and we adults recall our own childhood happiness. Young people who had to emigrate make the long journey home to be united and to celebrate with their families.
This year, things seem to be improving in Ireland. Our economy is stronger.
Purchasing power has grown from the days of harsh austerity. Disposable income has increased and we may be tempted go back to celebrate once again as we did in "better times".
Of all the Christmas gifts that I can remember from my own childhood, the one that stands out most in my mind was the simplest.
It was a piece of plywood on which my father had painted a small road with a junction on which I could manage the traffic flow of my few toy cars.
Even though there was a small technical fault in my father's design, it was something which opened a dream world for me where I could be happy and could do things for myself.
I was happy also because things in my family that year were far from good and I had the terrible feeling that I might have had to let Christmas go by without any gift at all.
Things are improving in Ireland and many of us can celebrate and enjoy ourselves.
But can we say things are improving if we lose the sense of simplicity which is the hallmark of every aspect of the Christmas story.
The joy of receiving a gift is not necessarily proportionate to its cost or the elegance of its packaging. Often we find it easier to bring an expensive gift than to sit down and talk and smile with someone who is lonely.
Christmas is a terrible time to be lonely.
Ireland is improving but there are still so many challenges to face. We cannot allow Christmas to be a sort of shield which prevents us from recognising these challenges and addressing them.
The story of the birth of Jesus is a story of surprises. It is, above all, the surprise about who the God is that is revealed in Jesus Christ.
Jesus is born in poverty and humility and the God of power and might appears among us totally defenceless and dependent.
He is welcomed by poor shepherds. The wily King Herod and his courtiers keep a cynical and cowardly distance.
Mary's prayer as she prepares for the birth of Jesus, the Magnificat, recalls the manner of God's dealing with his people across history and what the "mighty deeds" are that we need to recall at Christmas: God has done mighty deeds with His arm; He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their hearts; He has brought down rulers from their thrones and has exalted those who were humble; He has filled the hungry with good things and sent away the rich empty-handed.
The Church should keep this prayer as a motto and a programme. Even those who do not believe in Jesus Christ can be moved by such a vision.
Ireland is doing better, but Ireland has its homeless and those who are hungry and those who are lonely and those who despair. Ireland has men and women on long waiting lists and on trolleys in our hospitals.
Ireland has its victims of a culture of alcohol and drug abuse. Economic recovery cannot mean going back to the mentality that created our challenges.
Yes, we can and should celebrate. But we have to rediscover another sense of the word austerity: an austerity of simplicity and sobriety and integrity, an austerity which focuses on what is essential and shuns overindulgence and extravagance.
To celebrate Christmas worthily we have to find a true sense of integrity in our lives: integrity within our own choices; an integrity in our interaction with others; integrity in our relations with the creation around us; integrity in all aspects of public life.
Integrity begins in the heart. Integrity means building a sense of common purpose and not simply shooting down others who think differently.
Things are improving in Ireland, but we live in a world where our common future is precarious.
This Christmas will be far from a Christmas of peace for millions of men and women and children.
Millions of refugees encounter the same lack of welcome that Jesus encountered in Bethlehem.
The Christmas message cannot leave us indifferent.
We can begin by rejecting excessive luxury and extravagance and re-discovering in our hearts simplicity and integrity.