Dear Brothers and Sisters,
As December comes around each year society becomes
transformed. There is a never-ending
succession of meals and parties.
Decorations will be put up in houses, streets and businesses. Some of them are gaudy and distasteful. It tries to make these weeks special.
It is right that we thank God for the achievements of a year
or that we seek to be more brothers and sisters to others. Yet the Readings today challenge us to
another kind of transformation; the difference that the coming of our God makes
to us. Isaiah gives us the wonderful
picture of the desert blooming and those who are weak becoming strong, blind
gaining sight. This is evidence of the
power that God can achieve and we see healing in the Gospel.
One great thing for each of us is that if we have failed we
do not need to remain in that situation.
There is possibility of forgiveness.
There is hope for change. Above
all, there is capacity for growth if we walk with our God. This basic idea lies behind the Pope’s
suggestion of the Year of the Eucharist, inviting all the faithful to see
Sunday Mass as a weekly contact with God’s Word and receiving the Eucharist and
prayer in our church as a personal contact with a living God, who knows of what
we are made because he shared our humanity.
What has always been attractive to me about Christmas is the
newness of life of the Saviour, the indication that things can change. But while I must confront my own weakness and
struggle, God can transform me. I do not
have to be locked in despair.
So many things in our society today can be empty. People are lonely. The problems of drugs, the crowded traffic,
the things that people do to each other seem to be constantly bearing down on
us. What you and I need as we come to
Christmas is a renewed reliance on God, a faith in a real, living person. That faith which called a Jesuit priest to be
shot by the Nazis in 1945 for his unyielding reliance on God. The suggestion that we can be transformed by
this meeting with our God, but let us not be afraid of the disquiet of heart
that does touch us when we are faced with God and with grace.
In a way we have become secure in our earthly
environment. We do not want to be too
spiritual. We do not want to reach too
high, so we adopt mediocrity. Yet John
the Baptist stands out as someone who gave his all, even to death, because he
was so touched and fired by his personal meeting with God. We want our human hearts to be transformed by
real Gospel grace, but we have to allow ourselves to be shaken and sifted and
if necessary shattered by grace.
Dietrich Bonhoffer warned that costly grace is true growth,
but cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance,
Baptism without Church discipline, Communion without Confession, Absolution without
personal confession. The reason for this
is, cheap grace is grace without making us really be a disciple, facing the
cross of Christ, which is redemptive, and facing our own weakness. We know that again and again we must search
for Jesus Christ and face him. There we
will find the truth, not in the other things with which we deceive
ourselves. Costly grace is God’s gift to
us in Jesus, showing us to be transformed.
+ Denis J. Hart,
Archbishop of Melbourne.