My dear brothers
and sisters in Christ:
Each year with the celebration of Christmas, we focus on images of that first Christmas, a cave where the Savior of humanity was born. Certainly, we recognize that the Incarnation radically altered history. But in acknowledging the great transformation born at Bethlehem, we must realize the simplicity that surrounded Our Savior’s birth. Our society has become so complex that simplicity, which indeed can be a virtue, is now a lost virtue.
We only recently have ended a very difficult political campaign season, which many political analysts described as unparalleled in our nation’s history. The huge sums of money that were spent on these campaigns must necessarily cause us to ask if streamlining or even restructuring the campaign process ought to be examined. When the amounts of money spent were publicized, I thought of how the poor served through Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Rochester and the outreach programs of our parishes would have been aided by a mere fraction of these campaign costs. I thought of our struggling Catholic schools and the students who cannot attend because of tuition costs; the cost of one commercial, which often were not very positive or uplifting, would have benefited so many of these students. I regretted the numbers of God’s poor whose lives would have received a spark of hope, but did not, from the cost of one campaign event. I thought of so many of you who work so hard just to make ends meet -- truly, I prayed, "God, please bless America."
What a stark difference between Bethlehem and the campaign trail! And a lack of simplicity can be found in so many areas of life. During our Advent preparations for Christmas, we can forget the greatest celebrations are with family and friends, visiting and sharing time together without texting or e-mailing, but speaking person to person; becoming one with Our Lord in the reception of Holy Communion; finding forgiveness and peace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, confession.
Advent is the time to leave the noise of the world to allow silence to envelop our minds and hearts so that we can speak to God. Union with the Lord, or the sad lack of unity with God, affects every aspect of our lives. It is necessary to enter into the silence born of simplicity to understand truly who we are as human beings created by God. In the simplicity of that cave at Bethlehem, Joseph and Mary understood their spousal relationship, their vocation as parents and the faith essential to every life. In the silence of that night, the Holy Family heard the voice of God in the presence of His Son.
In his book, The Blessings of Christmas, Benedict XVI writes: "Christmas invites us into this silence of God . . . Silence means developing the inner senses, the sense of the conscience, the sensitivity to the eternal in us, the ability to listen to God" (pp. 91-92). Benedict XVI’s words find their inspiration in the Book of Wisdom, where we read: "While gentle silence enveloped all things, and night in its swift course was now half gone, your all-powerful word leaped from heaven, from the royal throne, into the midst of the land that was doomed" (18: 14-15).
Christmas challenges us to recognize the greatest dignity we possess: that we are the daughters and sons of God, who dare to call God, "Our Father." Rising above all creation and earthly realities is the glory of the human person made in the image and likeness of God; the human person to be reverenced and respected from the moment of conception to natural death. So it is that "The silence that faith requires means that man is not so completely absorbed by the system of the economic-technological civilization that he is reduced to one function within the system. We must learn anew to grasp that there is something lying between science and superstition: that deeper ethical and religious insight which alone can banish superstition and make man human by seeing him in the light of God" (Benedict XVI, op.cit., p. 94). Silence, Pope Francis tells us, "helps us to discover our mystery: our mystery of encountering the Lord, our mystery of walking through life with the Lord" (daily homily of Dec. 20, 2013).
The Magi, also referred to as astrologists or the Three Kings, left the complexity of their lives to make an arduous journey to a small, humble town, Bethlehem, and to a very poor dwelling in a cave. Could they have been drawn to a place that would speak more eloquently of simplicity? They journeyed to the simplest of places, ironically, because "they were men ‘in search’ of something more, in search of true light, which would be able to indicate the way to follow in life. They were persons who were certain that in creation there is what we could define as the ‘signature’ of God, a signature that man can and must try to discover and decipher" (Benedict XVI, homily on the Solemnity of the Epiphany, Jan. 6, 2011).
My brothers and sisters, during this Advent season as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, let us not allow the "hustle and bustle" of a season become so commercial to rob us of the silence and simplicity needed not only to hear the voice of the Savior, but to unite our hearts to His. "God does not manifest Himself in the power of this world, but in the humility of His love, that love which asks our liberty to be heard to transform us and make us capable of coming to Him Who is Love" (ibid).
May the joy and peace of this holy Advent and Christmas season bless your lives, especially the lives of the poor and suffering, refugees and those seeking a new life in our country, the homeless and the outcasts, those whose only home is the cave at Bethlehem. May we be their Magi and bring them the gifts of care, compassion and Christian charity.
Invoking the intercession of our Mother, Mary, whose fiat allowed the Word to become flesh, and St. John Fisher, patron of our diocese, I remain
Devotedly yours in Christ,
The Most Reverend Salvatore R. Matano
Bishop of Rochester