Article by Archbishop Charles Jude Scicluna
O sweet tender embrace of motherly care
O kiss of a son doting, so full of love!
Teach us to cherish each life; help us to share
Blessings of joy; show us the Way from above.
I was inspired to write this short poem in recent days by the beautiful, 900-year-old icon of Our Lady Mary of Damascus that takes pride of place at the Greek Catholic Church, in Valletta, which is entrusted to the Greek Catholic community in Malta.
The manner in which Jesus as a child embraces his mother is striking, for it seems to go beyond a tender hug. What this image conveys to me is a boy who never wants his mother to let go of him and certainly never to abandon him. Like every baby, born or unborn, he looks to his mother to provide love, comfort and a safe haven for his precious life. The child’s vulnerability is very real.
It is indeed a powerful message and one that should resonate with us deeply, especially on Christmas Day. When Pope Francis was among us last April, he reminded us of these values as he celebrated Mass in the presence of this poignant image and through his words and deeds conveyed a powerful message of love, tenderness and mercy which he urged us to incorporate into our daily lives. We would do well not to forget.
This is, after all, the very essence of Christmas in its stripped down, authentic form away from the glitter, lights, decorations and parties. The beautiful words conveyed by the prophet Isaiah, “Out of great love, I had mercy on you”, exemplifies the great mystery we are celebrating on this holy day. Let us be drawn to the love contained within the merciful hug of God and treat each other in a way that shows we truly value one another.
In this special season, let us also remember what it is to be Maltese, this year especially, since December 27 marks the centenary of the first performance of our national anthem at the Manoel Theatre. There is much to reflect upon in the music composed by Robert Samut and the carefully chosen words bequeathed to us by the national poet, Dun Karm, who talked of the “protection” and “sweetness” of Malta.
What makes these terms special is that they take us back to our origins. The word Malta is derived from honey in all its comforting sweetness: a land of honey and sweetness; a people of honey and sweetness that is welcoming, friendly, kind, tolerant, loving, and merciful towards one another and all those who land on our shores. This is our true identity, our DNA.
Like the arms and womb of a loving mother, Malta has also been considered throughout history to be a port of safety that offers protection to the shipwrecked, the vulnerable and the defenceless. We pray to the Lord to remind us that he not only adorned us, our Malta, with sweet light – with the greatest light of his Word and of the Gospel through our father, the apostle St Paul – but that he may also endow us Maltese with wisdom, strength, mercy and, above, all the gift of unity.
As we commemorate the centenary of Malta’s National Anthem, I invite all our people to come together to ask God to bestow a special blessing upon our country so that we may remain true to our roots, our values and what truly makes us Maltese.
I also urge our people to embrace the wholesome values of appreciation, mercy, closeness to one another; and to find solace, guidance and inspiration in the shining example of Jesus’ mother who on this day was a shining example to us of the love and tenderness that can and should be present in each and every human being.
May I take this opportunity to wish everybody a peaceful Christmas and a year filed with blessings, health and good fortune.
✠ Charles Jude Scicluna
Archbishop of Malta
This article was first published on The Sunday Times of Malta