Dearest Sisters and Friends,
A happy and a holy Christmas to each one of you, your families and all those you hold in your hearts. May we join with people of good will, of all faiths and cultures, to allow the light of Christ to shine in our world. May this light so penetrate the darkness that abundant joy may be spread “to the ends of the earth” (Ps.19).
At Christmas we join with our sisters and friends throughout the world, remembering especially those who are living in the aftermath of violence and terrorism. The Peruvian scenes on our Christmas card this year remind us of the peace and tranquility that we find in the presence of Emmanuel, God with us. Jesus’ birth takes place in the midst of the realities of our daily lives, whether in the silence of the countryside or in the noise and busyness of our cities. As we see on the card, Jesus is born in respect for the earth and in our care of animals and all living things. Wherever we are, Jesus wants to be born again in our hearts and in our way of relating with one another. He is waiting for each of us to open the doors of our hearts to welcome him within us and among us.
The mystery of God, who has come to dwell in our midst, leads us to reflect on the spirituality that is at the centre of our lives and mission and gives us strength to face the challenges that each day brings. Jesus present and alive among us is at the heart of this spirituality. “The Institute has its origin in the very heart of God, who so loved the world that He gave His only Son … so that those who believe in Him may not die but have eternal life”(Bk of Institute 3).
“The Word became flesh, he lived among us” (John 1:4) – this is the mystery of the Incarnation, whose depths we never cease to ponder. God, who is Love, is withus. Through the birth of His Son, He shows us how to love, how to give ourselves to others each day in love and how to bear witness to the God of Love, who dwells among us. Nicolas Barré never ceased to contemplate the mystery of God’s unconditional love. This is what led him to call our first sisters to always remain near the crib of the Infant Jesus: “Be sure not wander far from the crib of Jesus” (FM 11).
- In my daily life, what does it mean for me to remain near to the crib of Jesus?
Nicolas Barré also urged the first sisters to have “a great simplicity in everything” (FM 11). The stable in Bethlehem, in its simplicity, was a privileged place of welcome and hospitality. Smallness and fragility were protected, cared for and surrounded by tenderness. We too are called to welcome smallness and fragility within ourselves, our communities and in the peripheries of society. As we pray at the crib, we encounter those who are near, those who come from afar and those of different cultures or religious beliefs. The crib makes us question our narrowness and our barriers, inviting us to be open to all.
In Jesus’ birth in the stable, we contemplate the love of God revealed in the tiny, helpless newborn baby. We see the trust and faith of Mary and Joseph, who listened to God’s words and found the courage to follow them. Even when we feel poor, downtrodden, lonely or ignored, the simplicity and trust we find in the stable invite us to have the courage to hope again and to believe in the fullness of life to which we are called. God gives us the gift of life, then guides us and nurtures us. He encourages us to find our strength, our purpose and our happiness in following His will. Yet for much of our daily lives we want to go our own way, find our own path, do the things that suit us and our lifestyle.
- When we are aware of losing our way, what makes us turn back to the love of God who is always with us and within us?
Next year we celebrate the 350th anniversary of Nicolas Barré’s suggestion to Marguerite Lestocq and the first sisters to ‘go and have dinner with your sisters who teach at the Carmelites, then invite them to have dinner with you at the Penitents and see if you can live in union with one another” (ML 9). This simple invitation marked the beginning of community in the Institute. At our recent Council of the Institute we celebrated once again the gifts of our unity and diversity. We deepened our commitment and responsibility towards one another as one community of sisters in the Institute, enriched by our many friends and collaborators. This coming anniversary year is an opportunity to reflect together on our understanding of community and how we live it today.
- How are we are called to ‘live in union with one another’ in our very different situations in the Institute today?
- With whom do I form community in my daily life?
In his letter for the year of Mercy, which began on 8th December, Pope Francis recognizes that no one has penetrated the profound mystery of the Incarnation like Mary, whose entire life was based on the presence of God within her. May she watch over us during this Holy Year of Mercy and, with her, may we “rediscover the joy of God’s tenderness.” (Misericordiae Vultus 24)
As we gather around the crib at Christmas, let us be still and wonder at the depth and breadth of God’s love for us. Let us gaze in silence and prayer at the baby who is Emmanuel, God with us. God has come among us, to be with us as a poor and human child. He invites us to be poor along with the poor and to reflect on what this poverty might mean for each one of us. Let us contemplate the love and simplicity we find in Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, the angels and the kings. Let us allow the gaze of the Christ child to look as us with eyes of pure and unconditional love.
Kimiko, Maria and Noreen join me in wishing you all a very happy Christmas