Christmas Message from Archbishop V. James Weisgerber, President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops

Thursday, December 18 2008

weisgerber.jpgMaterial, economic poverty is certainly not a blessing. Yet it is often those who are poor economically who are more trusting in God, more generous in sharing with others, and more hopeful in the future. Although material riches are meant to help us, so often they burden us with false hopes, turning our eyes away from the needs of others, and making us less confident in the power and graciousness of God. Even worse, material riches can blind us from seeing how the worst forms of poverty are not lack of wealth or possessions, but lack of dignity, acceptance and love.

The shepherds in the Christmas story were poor in every sense of the word. They lacked material goods and their employment was perilous; they lived in the fields, exposed to the elements and excluded by society. At the time of our Lord’s birth, shepherds were considered to be on the outskirts of religion and society, since their way of living made it difficult for them to be part of the community and to follow its laws at the time of ritual purity and the practices of pious devotion.

This season is an opportunity to be more aware of the “shepherds” in own midst – the poor, the homeless, the unemployed, the excluded, the vulnerable. Many of us have been affected by the present economic crisis. All of us see more evidence of child poverty, street people, homelessness, and dependence on food banks. National Chief Phil Fontaine of the Assembly of First Nations earlier this year invited the Catholic Bishops of our country, and all the faithful, to join in a new partnership with Aboriginal Peoples in tackling the poverty that afflicts them. The Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace is reminding us how the present economic situation has worsened the already impoverished conditions of the developing countries. Yet terrible as the poverty of the First Nations and the Global South are, even worse is the poverty of human hearts that are prepared to allow others to live in such misery.

Christmas reminds us of the poverty that exists in each of our hearts, our homes, our neighbourhoods and our world. Christ’s gift of new life invites each of us to be more generous in sharing who we are and what we have with others. Remembering and celebrating the birth of Jesus is always a special moment to rediscover the greatest treasures that we have – the gift of life, and faith in this gift and the Giver. The most precious ways to share these gifts are the simplest, and the most appreciated: a word of welcome, a helping hand, an encouraging smile, a sympathetic ear, a respectful attitude, a generous heart.

The shepherds were amazed by what they saw and filled with wonder. It was not simply a child born into extreme poverty they discovered, but the wonder and mystery of human life. In their own vulnerability and poorness, they experienced the divine presence. In the gift of life, they saw the glory of God and heard angelic choirs.

Together with my brother Bishops across Canada, my prayer is that this Christmas be a moment of grace for all – opening minds and hearts; inspiring a renewed response in charity, solidarity and justice; acknowledging one’s own weakness and vulnerability; and revealing in our own midst the presence and power of God.

May the compassion, the sharing, and the innocent courage that we observe in the Child lying in the manger move each of us to deeper trust, renewed generosity, and greater hope. Merry Christmas!

+ V. James Weisgerber
Archbishop of Winnipeg
Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops