By Sarah Mac Donald - 25 December, 2013
"We easily forget how deeply the narrative of Jesus, Mary and Joseph has shaped Ireland and Europe."
The Bishop of Limerick has said the Christmas season reveals a hunger, shared the world over, for being part of a family.
Writing in the Irish Times on Christmas Eve, Bishop Brendan Leahy referred to the recent departure of the EU/IMF bailout ‘troika’.
He then noted that the country is preparing to welcome another ‘troika’, namely Jesus, Mary and Joseph.
Their story will be centre stage for some particular moment during the Christmas festivities for most of us, he said.
“The original Holy Family somehow stands for the calling of each individual family, as well as that of a people and all of humanity to be a family,” Bishop Leahy wrote in his Rite and Reason column.
Elsewhere in his article, the Bishop said that there was a strange paradox in the fact that while we admire and look to celebrity stars with increasing passion, we easily forget how deeply the narrative of Jesus, Mary and Joseph has shaped Ireland and all of Europe.
Recalling how in the 13th century, at a time of major social and economic transition, St Francis of Assisi developed the Christmas crib as a way of reminding Europe of these central figures, he wrote:
“It was a simple concept; a simple scene but full of significance. In the centuries that followed, the Franciscan charism inspired many developments in economics and art, politics and literature.”
“If St Francis found his way to convey the profound message of Christianity with the crib, in the present day, the Time magazine’s ‘Person of the Year’ for Pope Francis, is doing something similar – making us aware that we have three incredible celebrities, Jesus, Mary and Joseph, at the heart of our culture, who appeal to everyone, believers and non-believers.
He also commented that Jesus’s mercy and tenderness were well in evidence in the Pope’s embrace a few weeks ago of Vincio Riva, a severely disfigured man suffering from a rare disease that causes painful tumours to grow throughout the body.
Afterwards, Vincio Riva said of his encounter with the Pontiff, “The thing that struck me most is that he didn’t think twice about whether or not to hug me . . . I’m not contagious, but he didn’t know that. He just did it: he caressed me all over my face, and as he did I felt only love.”
Bishop Leahy also noted that the Pope’s homily at the inaugural Mass of his papacy was dedicated to St Joseph as “protector”, revealing the human vocation to protect the whole of creation, to protect each person, especially the poorest, and to protect ourselves.
The Pope’s love of Jesus, Mary and Joseph is far from mere celebrity cult or devotionBishop Leahy said.
Referring to an interview given within the past few days, in which the Pope described how Christmas speaks of tenderness and hope as dimensions to be lived, Bishop Leahy quoted from the interview.
“When God meets us he tells us two things. The first thing he says is: have hope. God always opens doors, he never closes them. He is the father who opens doors for us. The second thing he says is: don’t be afraid of tenderness.”