Message by Archbishop Charles J. Scicluna
St Julian’s Parish Church
24th December 2018
I greet my fellow Maltese and Gozitan citizens on this Holy Day of Christmas. The beautiful notes of the hymn Silent Night recall to mind that this much loved and popular carol was first played precisely on this day 200 years ago. On the 24th December 1818 in Oberndorf Austria, Fr Josef Mohr, a parish priest, gave the poem that he had written two years previously to the parish organist Franz Xaver Gruber and asked him to compose the music. These touching lyrics recall the baby lying in the manger in the stillness of the night. This is how Stille Nacht or Silent Night came to be.
The child of Bethlehem reminds us of the silence of peace, of the warmth and care that comes from reconciliation between us, from the forgiveness that is constantly given to us by the Lord, and from the unity and mutual care that he wishes for us. The stillness of the night also reminds us of the need in our lives to pause and reflect on these questions: Where are we coming from? Where are we going? Since time immemorial, these questions have been put by humankind, in every culture and every age.
Our Christian faith shows us that the answers to the questions that spring from our fundamental thirst for understanding are found in the small and helpless child who is inviting us to listen to his voice. This voice is telling us: ‘Take care of me’. The baby’s cry tells us when he is hungry and thirsty or he is feeling cold and needs someone to feed or swaddle him.
It is so wonderful that in our culture we still treasure the value of life that is concretely perceived in every child that is born. My wish is that we, as a people, continue to cherish the gift of life, that starts at conception and grows in the mother’s womb. How meaningful it would be that we not only cherish life along the years by treasuring the presence of the elderly in our lives and ensure that they live their old age with dignity, but that we also cherish the baby in the mother’s womb.
Another thought that comes to mind when I listen to the dulcet notes and the stirring lyrics of this 200-hundred-year old carol is the fact that the Lord still persists in having mercy on us, even when we distance ourselves from him he still continues to look for us. How appropriate and fitting it would be that during these holy days of Christmas we take to heart and acknowledge the truth expressed in the simple yet profound prayer by Saint George Preca: “Lord God, I need you”.
While the child of Bethlehem invites us to partake in the stillness of the night and pause for quiet to reflect on our lives, the Baby Jesus also reminds us that life has a value that is priceless. We often tend to put a price on everything but lose sight of their real value. Our Christmas will be truly blessed if while we exchange gifts we realise that God became man so that we may live in dignity. This realisation should help us to respect each other’s dignity, to forgive each other, and live together in peace.
My appeal to the Christian community and even to the other members of the community that are rejoicing with us in the Nativity of Our Saviour is that we continue to rejoice not only during this Holy Night of Christmas and on Christmas Day but also for the following 12 days. Today week, on the 1st of January, we will celebrate the Motherhood of Mary, the Mother of Jesus; the fact that he is named Jesus means that ‘God saves’. On the 6th January, we celebrate the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord, the great feast that recalls the encounter of Jesus with the Magi of the East, who were Gentiles, people who were non-Jewish, who also represent us. Even we, who are not Jewish, have nevertheless met Jesus very early in our history, with the arrival on our shores of our Father in faith, Saint Paul the Apostle. During his stay among us we learnt of the healing power of Jesus of Nazareth; the child whose birth in the grotto in Bethlehem we are celebrating. This child continues to invite us into the stillness of this holy night where we find care, forgiveness, many blessings and good health.
I also greet the Maltese emigrants, all the residents in the different institutions and care homes, all of you who are listening in your homes, and all families in Malta and Gozo. While I implore on us the blessing of the Lord, I wish you a truly Happy Christmas full of blessings and peace.
✠ Charles Jude Scicluna
Archbishop of Malta