I am very pleased and grateful to have been invited along here tonight to St Catherine’s College for your annual Prize giving.  I gladly add my congratulations to those already extended to those pupils – past and present – who received certificates and prizes here this evening.

There are many reasons why I am happy to be here tonight. 

I am glad to have the opportunity to meet so many staff and students who are proud to belong to St. Catherine’s College.
I am pleased to be here as you prepare for Christmas.
But I think the main reason I want to be here is that when I want to think of outstanding Catholic schools, I naturally think of St Catherine’s College and schools like it.

As I congratulate those who received certificates and prizes here this evening, I also want to express the hope that the prize or the certificate which you received here this evening will contribute to making this Christmas a happy Christmas – a really happy Christmas.

You may ask how that could happen. 
•    What has prize giving got to do with Christmas?
•    Isn’t Christmas all about shopping and prezzies and eating and drinking?
For some people that is exactly what Christmas is all about.  For others, Christmas is all about playing cards and not much else. 

I said I hope that this prize-giving will help to make your Christmas a happier.  Then I began to wonder how could this happen?  How could that be?

I was down in my native Cavan earlier today – doing a Radio interview – recalling the days of my youth – growing up on a farm and going, as a student, to St Patrick’s College in Cavan.

I asked myself – did I get any certificates or prizes?  Well I got my Inter and my Leaving Certificate and not much else.  A medal for Basketball and a medal for football and that is about it.  But now that I come to think of it – those awards were quite important to me.  They helped to develop my self-confidence.  They helped me realise that there were some things that I could do well and that gave me great hope for the future – hope that if I continued to use my gifts and talents well and follow the advice of my parents and teachers – that I could make my way through life and lead a life that would be satisfying and happy and fulfilled. 

Then, when I began to think a bit more about my gifts and talents, I saw that I did not get these talents for myself – rather I had received them from my parents and ultimately I had received them from God.  I must confess that this realization brought a great sense of joy and deep happiness to my heart and it also moved me to be very thankful to my parents and to my teachers and to my God.  That sense of gratitude has made me very happy. 

But what has all that got to do with us having a happy Christmas? A happy Christmas is certainly a great experience and the really great experiences of life are a gift of God.  They are only given to those who are ready and prepared to receive them and this is where prize-giving can play a part.  As we all reflect on all that we  are and all that we have received in life, we may begin to recognise other gifts which we have received, for example, the presence of God in our lives. 

Christmas tells us that God is at once very far away from us and yet very near to us.  Every breath we breathe, ever beat of our hearts, every thought on our minds, reminds us of the presence of God.  Every place is a sacred space. 

I recall with joy my visit to Mount St Catherine’s Primary School to less their Sacred space. 

Please remember that God is everywhere – all around us – continually reaching out to us and on the look-out for us.  When we know this then we can pray – anywhere – God is really near to each one of us provided the heart is open to receive and welcome Him. 

This experience of the heart is the only way to understand what Christmas is all about.  God is near.  God’s love is near.  God loved each one of us so much that He sent His only son to save us and lead us to himself. 

So I hope that this Christmas we will all rejoice in this prize-giving and use it to see all the prizes God has given us.

Last April I attended a very interesting prize-giving in the Holy Family School in Gaza in the Holy Land.  Gaza is surrounded by a high wall – 40 feet high and one a half million Palestinians are cooped up in a space the size of Wexford. Conditions are really difficult because it is a war zone – and likely to become worse after today’s news that the ceasefire is over.

At the prize-giving every pupil was dressed in a gown and mortar board – and they were photographed with great solemnity in the presence of their parents.  They were addressed by various people and told that even though conditions were tough, they had a certain dignity to maintain.  They who had received the benefit of a first-class education had the responsibility to live up to what they were and to be leaders in their families, in their parishes and in their communities.  It was stirring stuff and there were no less than seven T.V. cameras there to capture the actions. 

As pupils of this great school you too have a heritage to carry on.  You know that you belong to Christ for you have put your trust in His sacred heart.  I would like to pay special tribute to those from St Catherine’s who go to Lourdes to help with the sick and provide a very important part of the Annual Diocesan Pilgrimage.

I wish each and every one of you great joy this Christmas – a joy that comes from the realization that no matter what we have done in the past, all can be put right. 

A Saviour has bee born for us – all we have got to do is to respond to his love and the second part of the message of the angels is also important.  Peace on earth to those who are God’s friends reminds us that if we have lost God’s friendship, it too can be restored.  The restoration of that friendship is vital to the peace of Christmas.

I wish you perfect peace this Christmas – the reason that there is no perfect peace is because of the resistance which we all offer to Jesus and to His message.

I wish all of you and all those you love the choicest blessings of the New Born King.

Thank You.