Christmas Homily for 2015
BETHLEHEM – Here below is the homily of His Beatitude Fouad Twal, during Mass on Christmas Eve.
His Excellency Mr. Mahmoud Abbas, President of the State of Palestine;
His Excellency Prime Minister Mr. Rami al-Hamdallah;
Their Excellencies the Ministers, Ambassadors, Consuls, Diplomatic and Church representatives;
Dear Pilgrims, Guests and Friends,
This year, we once again come to Bethlehem to renew with joy and hope the memory of the birth of the Incarnate Word of God – the One whom the whole world cannot hold. Yet in spite of His power and greatness, his dwelling place was a small grotto and was borne by a Virgin. He came to show us the merciful face of God, urging us on several occasions through the Gospel, to: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Lk 6:36). In the recent past, there have been many heartbreaking incidents around the world. We are sad to say that we have lost our humanity and spiritual values, religion has become a reason to kill in the name of God, instead of being a motivation for empathy and fraternity. In these days and time, we suffer from the absence of compassion in our hearts – as if the coming of Jesus Christ and the message of Christmas were in vain.
Pope Francis has dedicated the year 2016 as a time for us to meditate on divine mercy in all its dimensions.
The Year of Mercy began with a symbolic action – the opening of Holy Doors called the “Doors of Mercy” in Cathedrals and Shrines throughout the world. Anyone who passes through the Door of Mercy with a humble and contrite heart, with benefits from the sacrament of reconciliation, is actually knocking on the door of the Divine Mercy, to draw from this source, the forgiveness of sins and all of the consequences. This is exactly what we did this evening at the beginning of this celebration, when we proclaimed the Door of the Church of Saint Catherine as one of the Doors of Mercy, trusting that many pilgrims and faithful will pass through it during this Jubilee Year.
In the Gospel, we read two parables that show the relationship between God’s mercy and our own. Reference is made to the parables of the “Prodigal Son”, drawing attention to the father who was anxiously waiting for the son to come to his senses and return to his father’s home (cf. Lk 15: 11-32); and of the “Good Samaritan” (cf. Lk 10: 25-37). The Samaritan did not hold back mercy towards his wounded brother, but extended further to offer treatment and provisions for healing. Without God’s mercy in our lives, it is difficult to be merciful to others. The Master encourages us to: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Lk 6:36).
Mercy must include every person near and far, persons whom we like and dislike. It is easy to show mercy to those with whom we are related by blood, kinship, religion and race. However, it is difficult to extend the relationship to include the poor and marginalized, prisoners and the victims of violence and terrorism in Palestine and in our neighboring countries. Our hearts go to the millions of refugees living in camps and shanties, suffering from the biting cold; people fleeing from areas of conflict, many are drifting on vast waters aboard fragile boats, and the sea becoming a collective graveyard.
In our prayers, we think of the owners of demolished homes in Jerusalem and confiscated lands in Palestine, those affected by collective punishments and of the children and youth deprived of a bright future. We also think of the victims of all forms of terrorism everywhere. No matter who they are and where they come from, these people are all our brothers and sisters in humanity. Let their cries of anguish be ours, and we tear down the barriers of indifference.
We acknowledge the countries that have opened their doors and welcomed refugees: Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and many European countries. We encourage hesitant countries to overcome fear of refugees, to host them until the situation improves and normalizes for them to return home. Mercy, compassion and benevolence still exist throughout the world. Fortunately, not all people have lost their humanity.
Brothers and sisters, mercy is not limited to individual action and relation – from person to another; but embraces public life in all its sectors: political, economic, cultural and social; at all levels: international, regional and local; and in all directions: between states, peoples, cultures and religions. When mercy becomes a basic component of a joint action, it is able to transfer the world from the sphere of selfish interests to that of human values. This form of collaboration builds a better world. Mercy is a political act par excellence, provided the policy is set in its noblest sense, of caring for the human family starting with ethical values, of which mercy is a principal component opposed to violence, oppression, injustice, authoritarianism and the spirit of domination. In a world that is increasingly moving towards brutality, is the vocation of the faithful to bear witness to the Divine Mercy, in unity with people of good will. Seeds of mercy are entrenched in all religions that bind us with Judaism and Islam. Mercy is recognized as one of the most prominent attributes of God. Before being Omnipotent, Almighty, Creator and Supreme, God remains the All Merciful.
We have a duty and responsibility to activate these seeds, to nurture and let them grow within our personal and public lives. Consequently, we can work towards a new world, characterized by equity, peace, charity and mutual respect, so that mercy becomes a common culture within public and family lives.
The call for Mercy is directed to all: decent and respectable people, people of good standing, as well as evil-doers and oppressors, that they be remorseful and return to the way of goodness. It is a well-defined call to all who govern the fates of peoples. It is a call for death policy proponents and supporters to begin thinking sensibly, to listen to their conscience and uphold the dignity of every human being, over and above their own personal interests. It is a call to producers, financiers and traders of lethal weapons who make fortunes at the cost of blood of others and the loss of lives. O Men, fear God; see what a disordered condition these blind policies have led us to.
The call for Mercy should reach people entangled in corruption. This wickedness within our society is an immeasurable transgression that calls out to Heaven, for it jeopardizes the very core of our society. Corruption through malice and greed, oppresses the weak and crushes the poor and vulnerable amongst us. No one can claim immunity from this experience. To eradicate this from our individual and social life, we must be vigilant. Today, we need to pray for all who are trapped in corruption, for the reawakening of their conscience, and to be open to heed and embrace the call to radical conversion.
Brothers and sisters, mercy is not a sign of weakness, but an expression of God’s power. There is no contradiction between God’s mercy and justice, because He is both just and merciful. Anyone who refuses to seek His mercy, will ultimately fall under the firm grip of His justice. That is what gives hope to people and individuals, victims of injustice. Jesus Christ said: “For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.”(Lk 6:38) and: “Blessed are the Merciful for they will be shown mercy.” (Mt. 5:7)
In this evening, as we celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace, we have come to pray for all the intentions previously mentioned. Together we pray to change the face of the world, that our world be a safe dwelling place and refuge, where justice prevails over rivalry and conflict, mercy over vengeance, charity over hatred.
To all of you dear brothers and sisters present here or watching the live coverage of this Mass, to you Mr. President, to all of you faithful of this blessed town of Bethlehem, to all the inhabitants of the Holy Land: Christians, Moslems, Jews, and Samaritans, we sincerely wish you a new year filled with happiness, blessings and good health. “Remember your compassion and your mercy, O LORD, which you have shown from ages past.”(Ps. 25:6) Amen
† Fouad Twal
Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem