Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor's Christmas homily

 (delivered at Midnight Mass in Westminster Cathedral) I was amused the other day at hearing the story of the Nativity as acted by children. They all entered into the story with great enthusiasm: the shepherds, the wise men, the inn-keeper, Joseph and Mary. No one was more enthusiastic than the boy playing Joseph. When he arrived at the door of the inn he asked the inn-keeper for a place to stay. The inn-keeper said, 'There is no room at the inn'. The enthusiastic Joseph lost his cool and said, 'But we booked'! There is a sense in which we have all 'booked' to be present here tonight. We come together this night to celebrate the coming into our midst of Jesus, the Son of God knowing that God's gift of Himself, in the person of Jesus, is entirely free. Do not be afraid, the Angel said, listen, I bring you news of great joy, a joy to be shared by the whole people; today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you, He is Christ the Lord. Tonight my friends, is not a night so much for words, as for silence, for contemplation of the mystery of the Incarnation. When you fly into London, or drive along the Embankment, you see the Millennium Wheel, a reminder of London's proud celebration of the passing of two thousand years since the birth of Christ. It is magnificent and has been appreciated by hundreds of thousands of visitors. But, for all that, all it does is go round and round - it doesn't take you anywhere. It allows us to be spectators, to observe the world from an unusual standpoint and to escape pleasurably for a while from the cares of the world. And why not? What we celebrate tonight is not an escape from our world. It is the hope which transforms our world. It is a foretaste and an offering of what our world yearns for most deeply, which is meaning and hope for human life. Hope, that precious gift which so many in our society glimpse only very fleetingly. Hope, which so often is experienced more by its absence than by its presence, let alone its eruption into our lives. Hope which enables us to believe that peace in our world today is possible. Pope John Paul has just proclaimed that peace on earth is a permanent commitment. We must never give up and assume that war is inevitable. Let us pray today therefore that each one of us, particularly those involved in international diplomacy and politics, will maintain our permanent commitment to building and maintaining peace in our world. A few weeks ago I went to visit a centre for young offenders. A prison, in all but name. I had a deeply moving conversation with a group of young Catholics who were there. A number of them had committed some thoughts to paper before I arrived. This letter touched me: Dear Cardinal, How are you doing? I hope you're all right. I am looking forward to seeing you because I need to see you to talk to you about things. It's my first time in prison. I have been in prison for six months now and am waiting to go to court. I'm in for fighting. It was my birthday yesterday and I was 20 years old and I know it's not a good age to be in prison. So I pray that things will get better for me and everyone will know that I am sorry for what I have done. I have two younger brothers and one older brother, and sometimes I 'phone them or write to them, but I haven't had a visit for almost two months now. Please pray for me and I will pray for you. Another young man gave me a poem: I shall go fierce into the dark, Taking the hammer blows Knowing they can never break my spirit For a voice betrayed the silence of death Echoes of a saviour's promise Circling the mind's frail entrances. Enemies shall be friends. And a lamb shall walk among wolves. Safe within the love of God The dead shall rise again. I felt very humbled by being with them. All I could offer them was my presence and my friendship, my solidarity and my prayers. What I brought to them was simple but very precious, namely, my faith in God and my hope for the future; and what they gave to me in return was also very precious - their trust and their belief that there is a God who loves and forgives, the God who came among us at Christmas. You know we used to think that missionaries were those priests and nuns who set out from this country, or Ireland, or Italy to go to countries in Africa and Asia. The reality today, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, is really rather different. The reality is that we are all missionaries. We are missionaries who are asked to show by our lives something of the Kingdom of God, a Kingdom that is in this world but not of this world. That Kingdom was promised with the coming of Jesus Christ, who through His life, death and resurrection is still with us, the source of our hope and the fulfilment of God's promise. Our reading of Isaiah says tonight: The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; on those who live in a land of deep shadow a light has shone. You have made their gladness greater, you have made their joy increase; they rejoice in your presence. I believe, dear friends, that our greatest challenge today, in the midst of all the confusion, conflict and struggle in our lives, and in the lives of those around us, is the task of bringing hope to our world. Your task when you leave this Cathedral tonight is to go out and to be bearers of the Gospel to people you meet, in word, in deed, sometimes in the sharing of pain or anguish or anger, but above all in love. We are called to be a community of compassion, of care, of solidarity in the hope that God's Kingdom is come - our God whose beauty is perhaps best glimpsed in our very poverty. One of my favourite saints is St. Francis of Assisi. It was Francis, it is said, who invented the Crib, the sign of God embracing our poverty and our weakness. In 1223 he wrote to the Lord of Grecco: I would like to represent the birth of the Child just as it took place at Bethlehem so that people should see with their own eyes the hardships He suffered as an infant. How he was laid on hay in a manger, with the ox and the ass standing by. In our world, so full of riches and so full of poverty, it is our task to live our faith at a much deeper level, to be so renewed in the Holy Spirit of God, the Spirit of Jesus, so that we are able to bring Him to our culture, to our poor world, which needs to understand and experience, in whatever way, the forgiveness and the love of God. So take a risk - and be hopeful - and do not forget that the world's troubles will pass away when the Kingdom of God is fulfilled. The Angel said, Do not be afraid. Listen! I bring you news of great joy, a joy to be shared by the whole people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you. He is Christ the Lord. And here is a sign for you. You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. source: Archbishop's House

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