Friday 24th December 2004

The Divine Child whose birth we celebrate at Midnight is Prince of Peace. We pray that peace will come from him to peoples all over the world; for, as the prophet tells us, “wide is his dominion in a peace that has no end” (Isaiah 9: 6-7). His very name is Peace. So we Christians all over the world should be joining in intense prayer at our Christmas Morning Mass and throughout the Christmas season for peace in the whole world.

In his Message for the World Day of Peace on 1st January next, our Holy Father pleads with us, in St Paul’s words: “Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good”. The Pope speaks of the appalling evils and injustices inflicted on the poor and the innocent of the world by war and violence. He refers in particular to the millions of victims of wars and conflicts in many countries in the “beloved continent of Africa”; to the lethal spiral of violence and reprisal in Palestine; to the tragic drama in Iraq; and to the scourge of terrorist violence which “appears to be driving the whole world towards a future of fear and anguish”. We in Ireland will be praying also for the consolidation of the fragile peace we now enjoy in Ireland, a peace which will remain brittle until there is agreed devolved government, winning allegiance from all political factions and until there is universal political acceptance of the police force.

“To attain the good of peace”, the Pope tells us, “there must be a clear and conscious acknowledgement that violence is an unacceptable evil and that it never solves problems”. To reinforce this statement, the Holy Father quotes from his historic address in Drogheda in 1979. The twenty-five years which have elapsed since then have given us in Ireland abundant proof that indeed “violence is a lie” and that it destroys what it claims to defend, “the dignity, the life and the freedom of human beings”.

Human Passions
St James gives us something of a shock when he asks us where these wars and conflicts come from and replies that ultimately they arise from uncontrolled passions and desires fighting inside our own selves. (James 4: 1) and from the “bitterness of jealousy and ambition” in our relationships with others. In Northern Ireland we have good cause to examine our own feelings and attitudes towards those people and communities from whom we differ politically and religiously. We all deplore sectarianism and denounce bigotry and we have good reason to do so, for these are detestable facts of life in Northern Ireland. But perhaps there are traces of sectarianism in some of our own ways of thinking about “the other sort”, as we sometimes call them. We can easily identify sectarianism in others; we are slower to recognise it in ourselves.

St.  Paul tells us in his letter to the Ephesians that as Christians we are called to a new way of living and to new ways of thinking and speaking about others. These new ways come from the Holy Spirit, sent to us by Jesus Christ from the Father. The Spirit of Jesus prompts us to avoid harmful words and to use only helpful words, the kind that build up and do good to those that hear us.
And do not make God’s Holy Spirit sad; for the Spirit is God’s mark of ownership on you, a guarantee that the Day will come when God will set you free. Get rid of all bitterness, passion and anger. No more shouting or insults, no more hateful feelings of any sort. Instead, be kind and tender-hearted to one another, and forgive one another, as God has forgiven you through Christ. (Ephesians 4: 29).

That’s the true message of Christmas. May the Holy Spirit help us to hear that message this Christmas and to live it.

A holy and peaceful Christmas to you all. May the Holy Spirit remove all bounds to your love and your ho