Bishops and archbishops across the United States have shared Christmas greetings and messages with their flocks.
The messages they bring can touch the hearts of the faithful in any diocese. Here is a sampling from shepherds around the country.
Bishop Salvatore Cordileone
Bishop Salvatore Cordileone of the Oakland, Calif., Diocese said in his Christmas message, “In preaching the timeless story of the birth of Christ each year at this time, we preachers are always faced with the question lingering in the minds of at least some people: ‘So what difference, practically speaking, in my everyday life, does all this make anyway?’ The devout would immediately answer, ‘All the difference in the world.’ However, not everyone has reached this point in their spiritual journey.”
“It is common, then, for preachers to fall back on an equally timeless principle of our Catholic faith: our own participation in the mystery of the Incarnation by making Christ present through lives of good works and holiness,” he said. “As I reflect back over this year, I am deeply grateful to God for how I have seen our people live out this principle in so many ways.”
Bishop Cordileone goes on to say: “‘Continuing the mystery of the Incarnation by making Christ present through lives of good works and holiness’: Yes, it is an oft-repeated principle, a frequent and favorite topic of preaching for many of us, but one that never gets old.
“As often as we make it real, we are made new all over again in Christ. This is how we live the mystery of Christmas and keep its joy alive every day of the year, all throughout our lives.”
“Christmas is not a day or a season; it is a lifetime of growth in holiness by generous giving of oneself,” he said. “If we reflect upon our experiences of this reality, we learn the life-saving lesson that Christ never gets old; he is always new, fresh and alive. Yes, his birth does, indeed, make all the difference in the world.
“I pray that in this way the mystery of Christ’s birth which we celebrate at this time may live on in your hearts all throughout the year, all throughout your lives.”
Bishop David Ricken
In the Diocese of Green Bay, Wis., Bishop David Ricken begins his letter with: “God is good all the time! This is a saying I use often to express my gratitude to the Lord, who has given us the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of our sins.”
He continues: “Christmas is a special season when we come together and celebrate the birth of Jesus. Our parishes overflow with families gathered to pray and rejoice. My hope and prayer is that this Christmas enthusiasm carries forward throughout 2012. Just imagine if all our churches were bursting at the seams every weekend. This is possible with your help.”
He adds a beautiful request: “As the new year approaches, I would like to ask you to make a resolution to increase the time you give to God by one hour a week. If you attend Mass weekly, spend nine minutes more a day in prayer. If all 100,000 Catholic families responded to this resolution, our churches would be overflowing.”
Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz
In the Lincoln, Neb., Diocese, in a message read at all parishes, Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz tells clergy, religious and laity that, approaching the celebration “of holy Christmas, the Solemnity of the Nativity of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, please know of my prayers and good wishes for you and your loved ones, that the grace, peace and happiness of Christ’s birth might enter and remain in your hearts and minds, and might touch your lives in time and eternity.”
Bishop Bruskewitz reminds his people: “Our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, has observed that, ‘Despite humanity’s many advances, a human being has always been the same, a creature poised between good and evil, between life and death. It is there in the very depths of his being, in what the Bible calls his heart, that a human being needs to be saved. And in this modern age, perhaps he needs a Savior all the more. With the incarnation of the Son of God, eternity entered time, and human history was opened to absolute fulfillment in God. Time at the first Christmas was touched by Christ and received from him a new and surprising significance, becoming a time of salvation and grace.’”
The bishop added, “May Christmas joy be yours, and may the song of the angels over the fields of Bethlehem be heard spiritually in your hearts.”
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo
In the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, Texas, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo first quotes a Christmas carol with words from the 19th century and a beautiful Basque Spanish melody:
Sing lullaby, lullaby baby, now reclining. Sing lullaby. Hush, do not wake the Infant King. Angels are watching; stars are shining over the place where he is lying. Sing, lullaby! Sing lullaby, lullaby baby, now a-dozing. Sing lullaby. Hush, do not wake the Infant King. Soon comes the cross, the nails, the piercing. Then in the grave at last reposing. Sing lullaby! Sing lullaby, lullaby! Is the Babe awaking? Sing lullaby. Hush, do not stir the Infant King, dreaming of Easter, gladsome morning. Conquering death, its bondage breaking. Sing lullaby!
“This very fine Christmas carol accomplishes much with intense economy of expression,” writes Cardinal DiNardo. “In other words, it is a great Christmas meditation!”
“The human mind has a very hard time accepting the fact of God taking on human flesh and blood existence,” he says. “The history of our Christian faith is filled with examples of even great minds who tried to accommodate the mystery to a more easily understood phenomenon.”
Then he discusses some of the misconceptions about Jesus, God in human flesh.
“The mystery of God in Christian faith is much bigger and magnificent than these reductions imagine,” Cardinal DiNardo reminds the faithful. “There is a paradox: God is infinitely transcendent to you and me and simultaneously closer to you and me than we are to ourselves. God is not perfected by creating, and creation is the result of the most infinite generosity and love imaginable.
“But the truth of our Catholic faith goes still further. In sending his Son, God the Father willed to reconcile sinful and hiding human beings to himself. His Son became all that we are, except for sin. As the early Church Councils declare: The Eternal Son is consubstantial with the Father and became consubstantial with us for the sake of our salvation.”
“The place where this meeting and encounter becomes clear and poignant is the point of Christ’s conception, birth and infancy,” he says. “The introduction of the Eternal Word into creation’s time and space allows us to glance what will further occur: Christ’s resolute movement in his later public life to his saving death and his life-giving resurrection. Much is contained in the Babe of Bethlehem. It concerns each of us personally. The Child in the manger is an invitation not just to curiosity, but to faith and total commitment to him who became so small to lead us and show us, against all Caesars, that he alone is Prince of Peace and Savior. ‘O Come, Let Us Adore Him!’”
Archbishop Thomas Wenski
Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami sends his Christmas message via YouTube.
To his English-speaking faithful, he proclaims simply: “What does faith in Jesus Christ gives us? It gives us a family. We are not lonely, solitary beings; for the Lord of all creation deigned to make himself our brother and in doing so has made us all members of his family. Come home for Christmas. The Catholic Church, your family, welcomes you!
Archbishop John Myers
In the Archdiocese of Newark, N.J., Archbishop John Myers will give his flock a message in his Christmas Midnight Mass homily that will benefit people coast-to-coast. He will begin by setting the scene of our Savior’s birth in Bethlehem.
“Quiet is suggested by the sacred writers, but it is the quiet before the storm,” the archbishop will say. “Just as Christmas celebrations in our own families can begin quietly but move toward a crescendo, such is the case with Jesus’ life. Even as we gather as a family, it is important to do so with Jesus Christ as the focal point.
“It is easy not to do that. Occasionally one sees on the television news or reads in the newspaper about other countries being caught up in Christmas decorations, Christmas shopping and even Christmas carols. That is well and good. But very few of those cultures and of those people are true Christians. They have adopted the superficial things ... but not the reality of faith. Could it be that they are following our example?”
“There are realities deeper than the surface of things,” he emphasizes. “God’s presence and his action in our world is the fundamental reality. How easily merely human things can crumble. Think of all the ill-founded governments in the world and how they end. Think of those societies that make no place for God and live only for secular things. Think of societies unable to care for even the basic needs of people. And even our much-loved and valued families can be very fragile in their relationships. We see the results of sin, selfishness and godlessness all around us.”
“Yet our God knows this,” he continues. “He has lived among us, even as an infant. He knows our weakness and our fragility. He loved us to the end, accepting even death on the cross, and he loves us still.”
Archbishop Myers counsels: “We need to approach him with the honesty and simplicity of the shepherds. Humility is a form of honesty. We need you, Lord. We welcome you, and we cannot carry on without you.”
Archbishop José Gomez
In Los Angeles, Archbishop José Gomez discusses Christmas as a gift: “Christmas is a gift. I have felt that way since I was a child.”
“Growing up, my parents always made Christmas a time of wonder and joy for my sisters and I. There was a certain spirit in the air; everything seemed somehow more alive, as if the world was filled with new possibilities.
“We prayed with a little more devotion and spent more time together as a family — getting the house ready, decorating the Christmas tree; we always built a family Nativity scene for the Baby Jesus.”
“We celebrated the nine days of Las Posadas, feeling very close to the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph as we accompanied them on their journey to Bethlehem,” he added. “And, of course, there was Christmas Eve and the Nochebuena meal and the midnight Mass.”
Fondly recalling Christmas traditions, he says, “As I look back over the years, I realize that I don’t remember too many of the Christmas presents I received. But I always remember the presence of God that I felt during the Christmas season.
“‘For to us, a Child is born.’ That’s the gift of Christmas — God’s gift of himself, in the Child Jesus who is born.”
“The Church Fathers used to say that love is an exchange of gifts. And love is born on Christmas. Christmas, in fact, makes love possible. Because of God’s gift of himself on Christmas, we can dare to love him as he loves us. And because of God’s gift, we can share the love he gives us with others,” he says.
“None of us has anything that we can offer to God that he could possibly need. Yet, in his love, Jesus accepts what little we have, our human nature, and taking on our flesh, he offers us the gift of his divine nature in exchange.
“As St. Paul said, ‘Though he was rich, for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.’ On Christmas we see this in a beautiful way — Jesus, though he is God, empties himself and humbles himself to receive our humanity, so that he can give us the gift of his divinity.”
Archbishop Gomez also quotes from the Gospel of John: “To all who received him, he gave power to become children of God.”
“So this is the gift of Christmas. Each of us receives the power to become a child of God as Jesus was made a child of Mary,” he tells the faithful.
“But everything in our lives and in our world depends on what we do with this gift. To be a child of God, to really receive Jesus, means we have to open our lives to the gift of his love. And it means we have to offer our lives back to God as a gift of our love.
“Jesus left us an example to follow. So we need to always be learning from his life in the Gospels. From the crib of Bethlehem to the cross of Calvary, he gave his life completely as a gift of love. That is how we should live. By loving others as Jesus has loved us. With the gift of our whole self.”
“I pray that this Christmas we will all open ourselves to God’s gift and allow a new spirit of generous love to be born in our hearts,” he says.
He also reminded the faithful to be mindful of the gift of their time: “Because our time is so precious, it is a beautiful gift. So let us try to be more generous with our time and more ‘present’ to others; less distracted. One thing that would help: Let’s try to turn off our phones and computers more often so we can really pay attention to the people we love.”
He also speaks of evangelization.
“Jesus is the greatest gift that God could ever give us. So let’s remember also that Jesus is the greatest gift that we can give to others. In the coming year, let’s try with new intensity to share the gift of our Catholic faith with our neighbors and in our public life.”
And, he says, don’t forget to ask for Mary’s help.
“I ask the prayers of Mary, the Mother of God’s gift of love,” concludes the archbishop, “that we might all rejoice in a holy Christmas and a blessed new year.”
Joseph Pronechen is the Register’s staff writer.