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Homilies - Bishop Brendan Leahy

Christmas Eve Mass  - 24 December 2014 - St. John's Cathedral


A few months ago, in September, astronomers announced they had discovered how the Milky way is but a tiny part of what they called the Laniakea Supercluster, which takes its name from the Hawaiian term “Lani” meaning ‘heaven’ and “akea” meaning ‘measureless’. Laniakea is indeed vast – it’s about 520 million light-years wide, made up of about 100,000 galaxies. It really explodes our mind to think about all of this.


And yet the first line of the Book of Genesis tells us where all those superclusters ultimately came from: ‘In the beginning, God created heaven and earth.’ And St John’s gospel goes beyond Genesis by telling us more about that first act of creation: ‘In the beginning was the Word…and the Word was God. All things came to be through him, and without him, nothing came to be.’ Most amazingly, John then goes on, ‘He was in the world, and the world was made through him…and the Word became flesh.’


These are dramatic statements. Firstly, they tell us that all created existence is a pure gift from God. But even more, they tell us that greater than the immensity of the universe is God’s gift to us of himself. In today’s terms we could paraphrase St. John as tell us that the one through whom the Laniakea Supercluster and all the other galactic superclusters came into existence, himself comes into existence as a tiny baby.


All over the world today, people are gathering around cribs to glimpse with their soul this amazing fact. It is too much for all our normal way of calculating. But it’s real. As the fox says in Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince: ‘it is only with your heart that you can see clearly—what’s essential is invisible to the eye.’


The shepherds that came to Bethlehem found a little baby lying in a manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes. The angels had told them this baby was their saviour.  They came to the manger and they too saw with the heart what was invisible to the eye, that this little baby was Christ the Lord.


Centuries later, having been to the Holy Land, Francis of Assisi wanted to help us see with our heart the humble greatness of the event of the birth of the Baby Jesus, and to share his joy with everyone. So for Christmas in 1223 in a Franciscan monastery in Greccio, about 100 miles south of Assisi he decided to set up a living crib, with a real infant and real animals, The night of that first crib at Greccio allowed people to recover the intensity and beauty of that moment when for the first time Mary and Joseph see with their own eyes the Word that has become flesh. Through the crib, we’re able to learn the truest message of Christmas, its special warmth, and to love and adore the humanity of Christ. 


It’s not enough however, to come today to the crib and see today with the eyes of our heart what happened two thousand years ago. We need to remember that Jesus found a way of staying with us always – and that is the great gift of the Eucharist.

During the year I read a biography of Edith Stein, one of the great women saints of the church, and patron of Europe. She was born a Jew, became a Catholic but was executed under the Nazi regime. She was a brilliant philosopher, having studied with one of the great philosophers of the twentieth century, Husserl. In her youth, she went through a phase of not believing in God.  But one of the big turning points came when she visited the cathedral in Frankfurt. She was standing at the back of the cathedral when she saw a woman come in with her shopping bags and making her way up a few benches and then knelt down, looking towards the tabernacle and began to pray. What struck Edith Stein was that this simple woman was praying “as to a friend”. This was the turning point. Jesus is alive, waiting for us in every tabernacle in every church. We can have a heart-to-heart relationship with Jesus Christ.


Today let’s remember Jesus is indeed the heart of the cosmos. He is waiting for us in every Mass we attend. Let’s make room for Jesus in our hearts, through receiving him worthily in Holy Communion. He is waiting for us in every tabernacle that we find in churches.  Let’s open our hearts to him and share our deepest hopes and sorrows to him because he really wants to hear and respond.


Yes, Jesus is the silent heart-beat of the world, gathering us together, consoling and healing, correcting and encouraging, inspiring and leading us. Back in 2000, in Bethlehem, St John Paul II said ‘God became a child who was entirely dependent on the care of a father and mother. We don’t feel alone any more. God has come down to be with us.’


Edith Stein wrote that ‘If we make of the Eucharist our daily bread, the mystery of Christmas, the Incarnation of the Word, will be re-enacted in us every day.’ That is truly amazing. This Christmas why not decide to avail more of this abiding presence of Jesus waiting for us in the Eucharist in order to become ever more alive in us, bringing his love and peace into our world that so much needs that gift.


This is the great mysticism of our Catholic faith – through the Eucharist we become “other Christs” continuing Christ in our world, making every day Christmas through our love that is nourished by the bread from hea/]p;poven that is the Eucharist.