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Advent & Christmas Message

"O come, O Key of David come. And open wide our heavenly home, make safe the way that leads on high. And close the path to misery. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emanuel. Shall come to you O Israel"

This verse resonates very well with an important symbol marking this Extraordinary Year of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis, the Holy Door. We are being told: Open the Door! Open the Gates!

A door in everyday life has several functions, all repeated by the symbol of the Holy Door:

it marks the separation between inside and outside, between sin and the order of grace;

it permits entry to a new place, in showing mercy and not condemnation;

it provides protection,

it provides salvation.

Jesus said: "I am the gate" (Jn 10:7). There is only one way that opens wide the entrance into the life of communion with God: this is Jesus, the way to salvation. To him alone can the words of the Psalmist be applied in full truth: "This is the Lord's own gate: where the just may enter" (Ps 117:20).

The Holy Door reminds us of our responsibility when crossing the threshold: It is a decision which implies the freedom to choose, and at the same time the courage to abandon something, to leave something behind. Passing through this door means professing that Jesus Christ is Lord, and in strengthening our faith in Him to embrace the new life He has given us. This is what Saint Pope John Paul II had announced to the world on the day of his election: "Open wide the doors to Christ".

In some way, humanity is awaiting God, waiting for him to draw near. But when the moment comes, there is no room in the inn. There is no room for him. The door is closed. Man is so preoccupied with himself, he has such urgent need of all the space and all the time for his own things, that nothing remains for others – for his neighbour, for the poor, for God. And the richer men become, the more they fill up all the space by themselves. And the less room there is for others.

Saint John, in his Gospel, went to the heart of the matter, giving added depth to Saint Luke's brief account of the situation in Bethlehem: "He came to his own home, and his own people received him not" Jn 1:11). These words refer ultimately to us, to each individual and to society as a whole.

Do we have time for our neighbour who is in need of hope, or in need of affection?

For the sufferer who is in need of help?

For the refugee who is seeking asylum?

Do we have time and space for God?

Can he enter into our lives?

Does he find room in us, or have we occupied all the available space in our thoughts, our actions, our lives for ourselves?

In the Gospel of Christmas, we encounter the maternal love of Mary and the fidelity of Saint Joseph, the vigilance of the shepherds and their great joy, the visit of the wise men, who come from afar, so too John says to us: " To all who received him, he gave power to become children of God" Jn 1:12).

The message of Christmas makes us recognize the darkness of a closed world, and thereby no doubt illustrates a reality that we see daily. Yet it also tells us that God does not allow himself to be shut out. He finds a space, even if it means entering through the stable; there are people who see his light and pass it on. Through the word of the Gospel, the angel also speaks to us, and in the sacred liturgy the light of the Redeemer enters our lives. Whether we are shepherds or " wise men " – the light and its message call us to set out, to leave the narrow circle of our desires and interests, to go out to meet the Lord and worship him. We worship him by opening the world to truth, to good, to Christ, to the service of those who are marginalized and in whom he awaits us.

Setting out from a stable, Jesus builds the great new community, whose key-word the angels sing at the hour of his birth: " Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth to those whom he loves " – those who pass through the door, place their will in his, in this way becoming men and women of God, new persons, a new world.

Christmas is a feast of restored creation. In the stable at Bethlehem, Heaven and Earth meet. Heaven has come down to Earth. For this reason, a light shines from the stable for all times; for this reason joy is enkindled there; for this reason song is born there.

"O come, O Key of David come. And open wide our heavenly home, make safe the way that leads on high. And close the path to misery. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emanuel. Shall come to you O Israel"

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Homily from Advent Celebration in City Hall, December 20, 2015

☩ Frederick Henry
Bishop Emeritus

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“Heal the wounds, heal the wounds, so many wounds...”

In my lifetime, the mainstream liberal culture first championed divorce; divorce was followed by contraception and the proliferation of pornography; contraception by abortion and euthanasia; euthanasia by homosexual conduct; and homosexual conduct by the entire abolition of distinctive gender.

But all these assaults are really attacks on the primal truth of the book of Genesis, "Male and female he created them" [Gen. 1:27].

For the creation of man as male and female is a truth about marriage, and thus against divorce; complementarity—"bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh"—thus against pornography; about fertility, and thus against contraception; about human life, and thus against abortion and euthanasia; about the holiness of natural marital sex, and thus against homosexual acts; and especially against the notion that the two created sexes are arbitrary impositions on mankind.

The cutting edge of liberal culture is the attempt to label the two created human sexes, male and female, as arbitrary and unjust impositions on humanity. This involves an attempt to separate sex from gender, that is, the biological fact (human anatomy and chromosomal cellular structure) of the two human sexes from their social and cultural expressions, which they term "gender," and which is seen as totally socially constructed and in no way grounded in nature.

Then, using such a phenomenon as hormonal treatment and "sex-change operations," they begin to deny the very stability and reality of the two created sexes. After that, they claim that whether or not one undergoes such an operation, one's subjective feeling about what sex/gender one is trumps the physical facts of one's body.

From there it is only a short step to the notion that male and female are only two out of a nearly infinite number of possible expressions of human sexuality.

In justifying the transformation that he has undergone, Bruce Jenner, now presenting himself Kaitlyn Jenner, consistently says something along these lines: "Deep down, I always knew that I was a woman, but I felt trapped in the body of a man. Therefore, I have the right to change my body to bring it in line with my true identity."

Notice how the mind or the will—the inner self—is casually identified as the "real me" whereas the body is presented as an antagonist which can and should be manipulated by the authentic self.

The soul and the body are in a master/slave relationship, the former legitimately dominating and re-making the latter. For Biblical people, the body can never be construed as a prison for the soul, nor as an object for the soul's manipulation. Moreover, the mind or will is not the "true self" standing over and against the body; rather, the body, with its distinctive form, intelligibility, and finality, is an essential constituent of the true self.

For Biblical people, human love is never a disembodied reality. Furthermore, love—which is an act of the will—does not hover above the body, but rather expresses itself through the body and according to the intelligibility of the body. To set the two in opposition or to maintain that an inner act is somehow more important or comprehensive than the body is simply a modern destructive illusion.

Given the widespread support for transgender thinking in our culture, if you dare to speak disapprovingly of Jenner's actions, you better be prepared for a hostile bombardment by those who would silence anyone who dares to challenge any of the tenets of LGBTQ lobby. You are instantly labelled "transphobic," and told to get with the times!

With the enshrinement of tolerance as one of society's prime principles, it is rather hard to speak the truth in love.

Pluralism is a demographic fact. Nothing more, nothing less. It does not imply that all ideas and religious beliefs are equally valid. The fact that we live in a diverse country requires that we treat each other with respect.

Tolerance is a working principle that enables us to live in peace with each other and their ideas. Most of the time it is a good thing. But it is not an end in itself, and to tolerate or excuse a grave evil in society is itself a grave evil. Catholics have a duty not to "tolerate" other people but to love them, which is a much more demanding task. Justice, charity, mercy, courage, prudence – these are Christian virtues; but not tolerance. Real Christian virtues flow from an understanding of truth, unchanging and rooted in God, that exists and obligates us whether we like it or not. The pragmatic social truce we call "tolerance" has no such grounding.

Pluralism does not require us to mute our convictions. Nor does it ever excuse us from speaking and acting to advance our beliefs about justice and the common good in public. The Church upholds natural law, and social diversity within the bounds of natural law. The Church still believes in rightly ordered ends, hence in cooperating virtues more than in competing "values." It expects people to give a moral account of their values, not merely to identify and celebrate them.

The importance of ecology is no longer disputed. We must listen to the language of nature and we must answer accordingly. There is also an ecology of man. Man too has a nature that he must respect and that he cannot manipulate at will. Man is not merely self-creating freedom. Man does not create himself. He is intellect and will, but he is also nature, and his will is rightly ordered if he listens to his nature, respects it and accepts himself for who he is, as one who did not create himself. In this way, and in no other, is true human freedom fulfilled.

The acceptance of our bodies as God's gift is vital for welcoming and accepting the entire world as a gift from the Father and our common home, whereas thinking that we enjoy absolute power over our own bodies turns, often subtly, into thinking that we enjoy absolute power over creation. Learning to accept our body, to care for it and to respect its fullest meaning, is an essential element of any genuine human ecology. Also, valuing one's own body in its femininity or masculinity is necessary if I am going to be able to recognize myself in an encounter with someone who is different. In this way we can joyfully accept the specific gifts of another man or woman, the work of God the Creator, and find mutual enrichment [Pope Francis, Laudato Si, 155].

The centerpiece of his encyclical is his focus on "integral ecology" [Ch. 4], by which he means the connectedness between natural and human ecology. The intrinsic worth of nature, and of the human person, are to be respected as one whole. Without accepting and protecting the continuity of all life, we cannot truly love and care for creation in an integral way.

 

☩ Frederick Henry
Bishop Emeritus

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