Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Prayer for the New Year

Dear Friend of peace with justice,

Of the scores of articles I've read during the last week, this Xmas homily by the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem is the truest, most noteworthy.

Read it and prophet from its insights, building them into actions in the New Year. At least scan sentences that I have highlighted. Thank you for your readership and semper fi: always remain faithful to the unfinished task. JRK

“A child is born to us, a son is given to us; upon his shoulder dominion rests. They name him Wonderful-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.” Is, 9, 5

"Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace

to those on whom his favor rests.” (Lk 2:14)

President Abu Mazen, Ladies and Gentlemen members of the Government,
H.E. Nasser Judeh, Jordan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs representing King Abdullah of Jordan,
Excellencies, Ambassadors, and Consuls,
Fellow representatives of the various churches,
Dear brothers and sisters, sons and daughters of the Holy Land:

From the Church of the Nativity, close to the Holy Grotto where the Virgin Mary swaddled her son and laid him in a manger, I greet you all, the faithful here present, the viewers, our brothers and sisters of the Diaspora, especially those whom I have met recently. I extend a special greeting to President Mahmoud Abbas and congratulate him in his unfaltering efforts to achieve a just peace in the Middle East, a main thrust of which is the creation of a Palestinian State. I recognize his collaborative efforts with His Majesty, King Abdullah of Jordan who expressed his great concern for Jerusalem, its holy places and especially its inhabitants.

Dear brothers and sisters,

The song of the angels in the sky above Bethlehem more than two thousand years ago still echoes: “Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth” (Lk 2:14). This hymn, with its celestial aura fascinates and instructs us.

Glory to God and peace on earth. The glory of God and the peace of the world are inseparable being bound together by cause and effect. If we glorify God, we shall enjoy his peace. If we glorify ourselves, we shall be denied this peace. Indeed, the glory and adoration of God is a duty and a debt we owe. God promises his peace to those who adore him in spirit and in truth. What reassures us is that God never fails in his promises.

It is true that God does not need us to extol him in order to grow in his majesty, or our praises to perfect his glory. We grow and become better people through our humility before his infinite greatness. The Lord is glorious in himself, his glory coming from his innermost being and from creation, the work of his hands. “The heavens declare the glory of God; the firmament proclaims the works of his hands. Day unto day pours forth speech; night unto night whispers knowledge.” (Ps 19: 2-3).

Our faiths – Muslim, Jew and Christian – are as one in saying that the adoration of God is a fundamental duty of love: “Give to the Lord, you sons of God, give to the Lord glory and might; give to the Lord the glory due his name. Bow down before the Lord’s holy splendor!” (Ps 29:1-2).

We may be proud, for among all the continents and countries of the world, God chose Palestine, our beloved land, to be the homeland of the Saviour, the awaited Messiah, who is his Word and the substance of his glory. And so, we are duty-bound to follow the host of angels in forever repeating: “Glory to God in the highest”. Glory to Him, “for the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.” (Titus 2:11). Indeed, it appeared a few footsteps away from this holy place where we are gathered this evening.

Of the long awaited Christ, the prophets foretold, “The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him … but he shall judge the poor with justice, and decide fairly for the lands afflicted.” (Is 11:2,4). The good news also concerns enemies: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; one nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again.”(Is 2:4)

Dear faithful, we do not want Christmas to be a subjective and purely emotional sweet memory of an event from a distant past. No, because Christ lives among us, he lives by his resurrection, in his sacraments and in his message: a message of love, of justice and of peace for all peoples, all individuals and all families, a peace that we need more than ever.

Our region is undergoing radical changes that affect our present and our future. We cannot stand by as mere spectators. We, the spiritual leaders and those who hold in their hands the destiny of peoples, must do everything in our power to protect our people, to work for their survival, and to realise their aspirations. We are one with our people, for their suffering and their hopes are our own.

We, who live in the Holy Land, in Palestine, Israel, Jordan and Cyprus hope that the celebration of Christmas may put an end to the culture of violence and death, and that it may inspire a solution to national and international divisions. History teaches us that the will of the people, with their aspirations to peace and freedom, is stronger than the power of injustice. Furthermore, the power of the Almighty is stronger than evil. For this reason, we hope that with the grace of God and with the support of people of goodwill, the physical and psychological walls that men build around themselves may disappear. God wants bridges that unite rather than walls that separate that which God has united. Dear brothers and sisters let us tear down the walls of our hearts in order to tear down walls of concrete!

The Palestinians have recently turned to the United Nations in the hope of finding a just solution to the conflict with the intention of living in peace and in safety with their neighbours. They have been asked to re-engage in a failed peace process. This process has left a bitter taste of broken promises and of mistrust.

Brothers and sisters, at this time of Christmas and by the power of the Prince of Peace, whose incarnation we celebrate, we raise our voices to God, crying out to him in our need. We ask for peace and nothing but peace.

- We ask for peace for the Palestinian people and for the Israeli people.

- We ask for peace, stability and security for the entire Middle East so that our children and their children may live their childhood in innocence, in a healthy environment where they may play together without fear or complex.

- We ask that the road travelled by our ancestors – the Magi and the shepherds – to Bethlehem should remain open, without barriers or hindrance, open to the pilgrims of the whole world, including the Arab world. They will be welcome. Together we shall pray and sing: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests”. (Lk 2:14)

- And on this holy night, the children of the Holy Land, fellow citizens of the Infant Jesus, beg us: “Let us grow up as normal children, grant us the time to play in the squares and market places of our towns and villages far from political intrigue.”

However, praying for peace is not enough. Good intentions and fine speeches do not suffice. Let us seek peace with all our strength. Peace is given to men of goodwill. It does not come about without true and courageous builders of peace, ready to sacrifice themselves in so noble a cause. Peace is received and granted at the same time.

Let us listen to the voice of Jesus: “Fear not, I am with you.”(Is 41:10) “Lord, if you are with us, who can be against us?”(Rm 8:31)

Yes, in accordance with your word, Lord, we cast our nets and we recognize that Christmas is a day of celebration.

- According to your word, we invite all to rejoice with us.

- According to your word, we light up the Christmas tree in our churches and in our homes as a sign of hope and of joy. Nothing can take away our hope: neither fear, nor threats, nor the arrogance of men.

O Child of Bethlehem, in this New Year, we place in your hands this troubled Middle East and, above all, our youth full of legitimate aspirations, who are frustrated by the economic and political situation, and in search of a better future. We implore you to grant their wishes and fill their hearts with courage and wisdom together with a spirit of responsibility.

From this church, we express our gratitude and the promise of our prayers to all those who have contributed to peace and justice, to all our friends who have shared our hopes and fears for the Arab revolutions. On this night, we pray for all the world leaders and those who govern us, that they may have wisdom, insight and a spirit of selflessness towards their countrymen. We pray for the return of calm and reconciliation in Syria, in Egypt, in Iraq and in North Africa.

From this church on this holy night, we call on the faithful and the pilgrims to unite with us in prayer for Jerusalem. As its name indicates, it is the city of peace. Its vocation is to bring together believers from all over the world, the sons of Abraham, in one single family. It is the Holy City, the city of prayer. Millions of pilgrims come to pray for peace and reconciliation. We pray that we may receive both and “have them more abundantly.” (Jn 10:10)

From this holy place, I call upon all our brothers and sisters throughout the world. The world is suffering from a lack of charity and human kindness. Our wish for the year is that: “We should love one another as God has loved us and that we may be reconciled with one another as God has reconciled us in Christ”(Ep 4:32) This reconciliation allows us to recognize the image of Christ in others.

May the Peace of the Child of Bethlehem and the song of the angels of heaven “that surpasses all understanding fill your hearts and minds” (Phil 4:7) now and for all the days of your life.

† Fouad Twal
Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem