To all of you and to your loved ones, I would like to extend a Blessed Christmas – a Christmas centered on the person of Jesus Christ. Christ came into this world to show us how to live, so that we might find our way to God, and therefore our way to happiness both in this world and the world to come. And may Mary his Mother watch over each of you, with the same maternal care she showed for him from the moment of his conception, at his birth, and throughout his life on this earth.
It is impossible to imagine Christmas without Mary the Mother. Without her “yes” to God, the Incarnation could not have taken place. It is true that in view of what her Son would accomplish, she enjoyed many special graces and blessings, not least of which was that she was conceived without Original Sin, as we celebrate on Dec. 8, the Solemnity of her Immaculate Conception. However, like every human being, she remained free. And when at the message of an angel she was asked to accept something incomprehensible and troubling, she replied: “Let it be done to me according to your word.”
Representing the human race in its entirety, Mary welcomed the Eternal Word into this world. The dictionary says that to welcome means “to receive with pleasure and hospitality into one’s company or home.” Perhaps it sounds strange to speak of welcoming God into the world. After all, he created it and sustains everything in being. He sees and knows all that is. However, what happened at the Annunciation and Christmas was that God, mysteriously, in the person of the Son, became flesh. He became incarnate as a tiny and fragile speck in the vast expanse of space and time. God-made-man needed, as much as any helpless newborn, a loving face and a loving embrace to welcome him into this world. And that is what Mary did.
Welcoming is very much on my mind these days. We are living through a moment of profound change in American Catholic history. Old assumptions based on a strong sense of Catholic identity have fallen by the wayside. One of those assumptions was that if people are baptized and raised Catholic, most will faithfully participate in the life of the church. For many reasons, this is no longer the case. On Christmas you will no doubt see many unfamiliar faces at Mass, not just because of holiday travel, but because there are many Catholics whose practice is barely limited to Christmas and Easter or other special events.
That is why a welcome is more important than ever. Saint John gets to the heart of the matter when he writes: “Beloved, what we have heard, and seen with our eyes, what we have looked upon and touched – the Word of Life – we proclaim now to you, so that you may have fellowship with us, that our joy may be complete” (1 Jn 1: 1-4). Every parish needs to be a welcoming community for the sake of bringing others to full participation in the Body of Christ. The sacraments are at the heart of full participation – especially weekly Sunday Mass –together with a shared life of devotional prayer, faith enrichment, mutual concern and charitable outreach.
It can happen that we go to Mass without much attention to the person next to us, or perhaps our attention is limited to a small circle whom we know. Yet every one of us, and every newcomer, every stranger, is either a fellow member or a potential member of our Catholic family. Each has gifts to bring for the vitality of our parish. In an often cold and rootless world, we should go out of our way to extend a very warm welcome and to make people feel welcome.
I invite everyone to take to heart the example of Mary whose loving face and loving embrace welcomed Jesus into this world. Please be a loving and welcoming neighbor to others, so that what I often repeat will prove true in action; namely, that we are an archdiocesan “family of faith,” bigger than any one parish, and eager to draw others into the full communion of Christ’s Body, the Catholic Church.
May Christ, who was able to “make his home among us” thanks to Mary, bless you now and in the coming year.