Archbishop Eamon Martin is Catholic Archbishop of Armagh and Bishop of the Dromore Diocese and Archbishop John McDowell is Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh.
Just before Christmas 1937, Monsignor Ronald Knox wrote a letter to the English Catholic periodical The Tablet. Knox was the son of a Church of England bishop and had converted to Catholicism shortly after taking a brilliant First at the University of Oxford. He later became the first Catholic Chaplain to Oxford since the Reformation.
The letter arose from a remark that a friend of Knox’s had made, that she ‘wasn’t going to have her house turned upside down just because it was Christmas’. Thinking afterward about what she had said, Knox wrote in his letter, ‘What is Christmas from start to finish but things being turned upside down?’.
Even the days, continually darkening in the run-up Christmas, turn with the solstice, and light begins to win again. Just when trees should be at their barest, lustrous evergreen branches are brought indoors and enhanced with lights and glitter. And just at a time (especially in the ancient world) when darkness was a cover for thieves in the night coming to burgle homes, in our modern recasting of the story, a genial old boy squeezes himself down the chimney and leaves gifts.
Everything started to turn upside down from that first Christmas. Those who were least got the best places – the ox and the ass beside the manger and Kings asking directions from shepherds. Perhaps, the greatest revolution of all: the Virgin conceives and gives birth to a child. The wonder of all this ‘topsy-turvydom’ is summed up in the words of the beautiful ancient hymn, sometimes sung at Midnight on Christmas Eve, ‘O magnum mysterium’.
O great mystery,
and wonderful sacrament,
that animals should see the newborn Lord,
lying in a manger!
Blessed is the virgin whose womb
was worthy to bear
the Lord, Jesus Christ.
There is to a degree a natural instinct in us to try to turn the world back on its feet again because God’s coming into His own creation knocks us badly off balance. So we tie ourselves ever more tightly into the world of ‘getting and spending’ and have communion in consumption. But we can’t shake off the feeling that there is a fragility about our indulgence; that somewhere there is a frail seam that will give way; a nagging feeling that there will come a day when there won’t be more tomorrow.
At this time of the year, perhaps, it is the very lavishness of Christmas that gives us a heightened consciousness of (and a bad conscience about) the ‘little ones’ mentioned so often in the Gospels: the homeless, the poor, the rejected, and all those who long to see the world turned upside down again, when ‘the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters fill the sea’.
At present, there are many people who have had not just the two worst Christmases ever, but two of the worst years ever – those whose bodies have been overwhelmed, or whose minds have been scrambled by Covid-19; those who have had bereavements during the pandemic, whose plans have been cancelled, families separated, visits curtailed, operations postponed, businesses and livelihoods upturned.
If the Spirit is saying anything to the Churches this Christmas, might it not be to think about how we, as individuals, but also as a society, can enter prayerfully and hopefully into that great mystery of the ‘Word made flesh’, and hold on to more of the upside-down world embodied in the Gospel narratives?
Happy Christmas and may God bless you and your families.
Archbishop Eamon Martin and Archbishop John McDowell
This Christmas find a way to say Thank you
It is almost Christmas and in Newry this week, it was time for shopping sprees, for presents, putting up the fairy lights and decorating our homes and Christmas trees as well as getting together with friends and family .
But do we ever really stop and say Thank you to others who have helped us throughout the past year week or even yesterday. The unacknowledged heroes who are there day and daily getting the little mundane things we all take for granted done.
The local shop assistants, the teachers ,the nursery assistants ,
the vet, the supermarket workers, the refuse collectors ,the priests and clergy .
Our Mums and Dads, Nans and Grandads and those who get up every morning and do those little things that we need every day but don’t have to think about them or appreciate them being done
Author. Barbara Glanz tells about a successful business man who remembers his eight grade literature teacher. He wrote to her and received this reply.
‘You’ll never know how much your letter meant. I’m eighty-three and living alone. My friends and family are all gone. I taught at school for fifty years and yours is the first Thank you I’ve ever gotten from a student. Sometimes I wonder what I ever did with my life. I will read and re-read your letter until the day I die’.
Ironically She was the teacher the students talked most about at school reunions but no one ever told her.
St Paul appreciated those who supported him and he openly and frequently acknowledged them in his epistles. “I make mention of you always in my prayers Romans’, Ch1:9. ‘I thank my God upon every remembrance of you’, Philippians Ch 1:3-6
Today in our busy preparations for Christmas let us make time to remember those who made and continue to make a difference in our lives and when we do, let us pray for them and find a way to say Thank you.
Canon Francis Brown, Administrator of Newry Cathedral Parish would like to wish everyone a Happy Christmas and he and the other clergy look forward to welcoming you to our church services over Christmas either in person or via the webcam www.newrycathedralparish.org
Newry Cathedral Parish once again gives generously this Christmas.
Vouchers, money and gifts from the Giving Tree in Newry Cathedral were officially handed over to SVDP today in time for distribution this Christmas. Canon Francis Brown ADM would like to thank all the parishioners of Newry Cathedral Parish who gave so generously to the Giving Tree appeal.
It is the second year that the Cathedral has placed a Giving Tree on the altar and he was overwhelmed by the fantastic response. He stated, ‘I am proud of how our parish has responded again to this appeal and I know it will be appreciated by people in our area’.
Tony Morgan from SVDP stated that they will be working hard this Christmas to ensure young people in need from our parish get a gift or that adults in need get a contribution towards their fuel. ‘The number of people in need has grown this year with more and more people in Northern living in poverty and isolation. The distribution of these gifts will ensure that there will be joy on the faces of many young people and adults this Christmas’.
Newry Cathedral Parish Giving Tree
Photograph, Monday 20th December 2021