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December 29, 2008

Different kind of Christmas in year of economic crisis: Realities linked to economic downturn viewed from pastoral perspectives during holiday season -- Globalization and the path to peace -- Children of poverty are children of Christmas -- and more!

In this edition:
-- A different kind of Christmas in time of financial crisis.
-- Christmas message about poverty strikes home.
-- Transforming the Christmas of the economic downturn.
-- The shepherds of our time: Perspective on poverty.
-- "Homeless family found in shed." A title for 2008 news story on Jesus' birth?
-- Pope Benedict XVI: Children of poverty, children of Christmas.
-- Current quotes and reflections: 1) Abortion of a different kind -- faith without action. 2) How the Christ not just of the past, but of the present, is welcomed.
-- Globalization and the path to peace: Tony Blair at Yale.

A Different Kind of Christmas: Year of Financial Crisis

"Our metro area and the automobile industry are going through a time of major transition, causing every one of us to take a second look at who we are and what we do," Cardinal Adam Maida of Detroit said in his 2008 Christmas message. "Christmas 2008 will undoubtedly be quite different for most of us," the cardinal wrote.

A number of bishops this Christmas chose with their holiday messages to address the painful toll taken (and the pastoral needs created) by the financial crisis. The "hope-filled message of Christmas" is more needed than ever, Cardinal Maida said.

Writing from the heart of a region devastated by the financial crisis, Cardinal Maida said:

"Given the economic uncertainty of the times and the fact that many have lost employment and even their homes, we will be celebrating in a way that is more simple and modest. In fact, for many there will probably be little reason for celebration, and for some perhaps no opportunity for celebration at all. Every one of us feels somewhat overshadowed by fear about things we cannot control. We wonder where the future will take us -- individually, in our families and as a society."

The cardinal acknowledged that fear "is a natural human reaction" in times such as these. He urged people, as they "grapple with fear," to be sensitive "to the voice of the Holy Spirit trying to calm us from within, assuring us that not only will we survive, but we will indeed grow closer to God as we give up any false pride or illusive desire for control."

In Scripture, Cardinal Maida noted, the shepherds of the first Christmas were commissioned by the angel "not to be afraid."

Why were the shepherds chosen for their role? "Possibly," Cardinal Maida said, "because shepherds had to be people of great courage, spending all night through every season guarding and protecting their flock from wild animals." The cardinal said that "shepherds were attentive and patient, humble and strong -- an excellent combination of traits, the same qualities we need in the midst of these challenging times."

Christmas Message on Poverty Hits Home

"With the downturn in our economy and the financial loss to many people," Christmas 2008 would be difficult and would present real challenges, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn predicted Dec. 20.

Bishop DiMarzio was one of numerous church leaders who called attention this Christmas not only to the deprivations accompanying the economic crisis, but to the conditions of deprivation in which Jesus was born.

"The celebration of Christmas emphasizes the poor conditions surrounding the birth of our Lord," Bishop DiMarzio wrote in his column for The Tablet, the diocesan newspaper. He called Christmas 2008 "a unique opportunity to contemplate the circumstances of Christ's birth, which clearly emphasize the life of poverty."

The church itself has been struck by the financial crisis, Bishop DiMarzio said. "Our diocesan challenges come from the loss of income on investments and the nonpayment of receivables from our diocesan parishes who also are struggling to make ends meet," he explained. "We have no choice but to live within our means, just as every family in our diocese must do."

The bishop wrote: "Our world, our country and our church will struggle, certainly for the next several months and hopefully not longer, with an economic downturn. We hear every day of people being laid off from their jobs."

In times such as these, celebrating Christmas and entering into a new year means "putting out into the deep, because we do not know what challenges are before us, whether they are economic or spiritual," Bishop DiMarzio wrote. He expressed hope that "contemplating the poor circumstances of the birth of Jesus will give us an opportunity to appreciate more what we have and give us the impetus to share what we do have with others."

Transforming the Christmas of an Economic Crisis

Many people were "not looking forward to Christmas 2008," observed Bishop Paul Bootkoski of Metuchen, N.J. In his Christmas message, he described in detail the impact of the economic crisis on the lives of ordinary people, writing:

"Our country is in the throes of one of its worst economic times in decades. Recession has set in and along with it fear, frustration and futility.

-- "Companies are laying off employees and some even closing their doors.

-- "More and more homeowners are behind in paying their mortgages, and foreclosures have become commonplace.

-- "With the stock market plummeting, workers who planned on retiring are being forced to continue working, and young people are being forced to reconsider where ? and even if ? they will be able to attend college.

-- "Our food banks are becoming bare, while our homeless shelters are increasingly full. The lines at soup kitchens have grown, as have the lines of people seeking warm clothes from charitable organizations and groups."

Said Bishop Bootkoski: "Life sure does seem bleak. Who can blame people for not looking forward to this Christmas?"

Yet, he asked people whether "Christmas 2008, which many would rather forget," might become "memorable" for them.

The bishop encouraged people to focus not "on what we don't have or what we can't give, but rather on the gifts we have been given and those we can share: the gift of life, the gift of our families and friends, the gift of our country and its freedom and, most especially, the gift of the word of God that became enfleshed in the person of Jesus Christ." These gifts, he said, are priceless. They "give meaning and purpose" to life, and give rise to happiness.

The greatest gift people can give is "the gift of our presence to one another," said Bishop Bootkoski.

He suggested that readers of his message "think back, way back, to the time of Mary and Joseph." For, he continued, "like so many couples of today, Mary and Joseph were poor."

Mary and Joseph "were forced by circumstances to leave their home in Nazareth and travel" to Bethlehem; their trip "was long and arduous," said Bishop Bootkoski. He said:

"Imagine Mary, eight months pregnant, praying for the safety of her child about to be born. Imagine Joseph worried about Mary and whether they would have a place to stay once they arrived at their destination. Imagine Mary and Joseph alone in a city, with no family or friends with whom to stay, no money to secure shelter, no inn willing to take them in."

However, the bishop commented, the story of the first Christmas didn't end there; it didn't "end in despair." He wrote:

"This Christmas, imagine you are Joseph or Mary in Bethlehem so very long ago. Welcome the Christ Child with open arms, and let him speak to you in the quiet of your heart." Ask him "to take your anxieties and fears, and replace them with peace, to heal your hurts and give you hope, to fill your heart and your home with his love." That, said Bishop Bootkoski, would make Christmas 2008 one to remember.

The Shepherds of Our Time: Perspective on Poverty

An opportunity presented itself at Christmas "to be more aware of the 'shepherds' in own midst -- the poor, the homeless, the unemployed, the excluded, the vulnerable," said Archbishop V. James Weisgerber of Winnipeg, Manitoba. Speaking as president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, the archbishop said:

"The shepherds in the Christmas story were poor in every sense of the word. They lacked material goods, and their employment was perilous; they lived in the fields, exposed to the elements and excluded by society. At the time of our Lord's birth, shepherds were considered to be on the outskirts of religion and society, since their way of living made it difficult for them to be part of the community and to follow its laws at the time of ritual purity and the practices of pious devotion."

Archbishop Weisgerber took note in his message of the many who "have been affected by the present economic crisis." He said, "All of us see more evidence of child poverty, street people, homelessness and dependence on food banks." There is, moreover, "the poverty of human hearts that are prepared to allow others to live in such misery." Christmas, the archbishop said, "reminds us of the poverty that exists in each of our hearts, our homes, our neighborhoods and our world."

The shepherds at the time of Jesus' birth "were amazed by what they saw and filled with wonder," said the archbishop. "In their own vulnerability and poorness, they experienced the divine presence." He said, "Christ's gift of new life invites each of us to be more generous in sharing who we are and what we have with others."

"Homeless Family Found in Shed": Title for 2008 News Report on Jesus' Birth?

The birth of Jesus is not honored "if we cosmeticize the stable." For, "the birth of Jesus in poverty was not an accident but a part of God's plan," Archbishop George Niederauer of San Francisco said in his Christmas 2008 message.

"In a time of economic turmoil, with so many people worried about losing their jobs and their homes, and putting food on the table, we need to remember the special love of God, our Father, and of Jesus, his Son, for the poor of this world," said the archbishop.

Even today, in the 21st century, the birth of Jesus continues to be newsworthy, Archbishop Niederauer wrote. He wondered, though, what title should be given in our time to a news report about this birth. The archbishop wrote:

"Let me suggest a headline that tells an important truth about the birth of Jesus Christ, a truth that easily gets lost in a month of buying and spending. The headline? 'Homeless Family Found in Shed.'"

Archbishop Niederauer insisted that in proposing this, he neither was "trying to hijack the birth of Christ for political or economic commentary, nor to trivialize this mystery of divine love." But, said the archbishop, "Jesus, who was born in a stable, is concerned with all human suffering, physical as well as spiritual."

Visiting her relative Elizabeth, Mary "praised God, who 'has lifted up the lowly' and 'filled the hungry with good things,'" Archbishop Niederauer observed. He added, "Later on, much of the teaching of Jesus sprang from his love for the poor and his own experience of poverty." The archbishop said:

"Jesus became poor to make us rich in God's life, now and forever. We complete the circle of that love when we share what we have with our neighbors in need."

Children of Poverty, Children of Christmas: Pope Benedict XVI

Suffering children are called to the world's attention by the event of Christmas, Pope Benedict XVI suggested in his homily for the Midnight Mass of Christmas 2008 in St. Peter's Basilica. He said: "In every child we see something of the child of Bethlehem. Every child asks for our love."

With that in mind, the pope encouraged people to turn their attention to:

-- "Children who are denied the love of their parents."

-- "Street children who do not have the blessing of a family home."

-- "Children who are brutally exploited as soldiers and made instruments of violence instead of messengers of reconciliation and peace."

-- "Children who are victims of the industry of pornography and every other appalling form of abuse, and thus are traumatized in the depths of their soul."

Pope Benedict said, "The child of Bethlehem summons us once again to do everything in our power to put an end to the suffering of these children." However, "only through the conversion of hearts, only through a change in the depths of our hearts can the cause of all this evil be overcome," the pope added.

God is present "in the cloud of the poverty of a homeless child: an impenetrable cloud, and yet a cloud of glory," said the pope. Speaking of the first Christmas and the stable of Jesus' birth, he explained:

"The cloud of hiddenness, the cloud of the poverty of a child totally in need of love, is at the same time the cloud of glory. For, nothing can be more sublime, nothing greater than the love which thus stoops down, descends, becomes dependent. The glory of the true God becomes visible when the eyes of our hearts are opened before the stable of Bethlehem."

In making this point, Pope Benedict recalled that the medieval theologian William of St. Thierry once said "that God -- from the time of Adam -- saw that his grandeur provoked resistance in man, that we felt limited in our own being and threatened in our freedom." For that reason, this theologian held, "God chose a new way. He became a child. He made himself dependent and weak, in need of our love. Now this God who has become a child says to us, 'You can no longer fear me, you can only love me.'"

Current Quotes and Reflections to Ponder

Abortion of a Different Form -- Faith Without Action: "One who accepts the word without putting it into practice conceives Jesus without giving birth to him." Faith without good works and good works without faith mean a person hasn't really welcomed Jesus into his or her heart and given birth to him in the world. Accepting Jesus into one's heart but not bringing him into the world through good works is a "spiritual abortion." Christians are called to share spiritually in the motherhood of Mary by allowing Jesus to be conceived in their hearts and born into the world through acts of love and self-sacrifice. (Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher of the papal household, in an Advent meditation Dec. 19 for Pope Benedict XVI and Vatican officials, reported Dec. 19 by Catholic News Service)

How Christ Comes to People in the Present Time: "Advent call us to be attentive, not only to the coming of Christ in the past but to the coming of Christ in the present. We are to be watchful of the stirring of God's Holy Spirit in our lives, urging us to believe that God can and will do something new in our lives. What is that something new? It may be believing, in the midst of these dark and fearsome times, that our God is one who comes to save. It may be, after celebrating the birth of the newborn king, a newfound resolve to return to our lives, commitments and homes 'by a different way,' ready to make changes in our behavior that we have put off for far too long. It may be a deeper trust that, as we take up the tasks of our everyday lives, God inspires us with the dream that we are important to his plan of saving humanity. And it may be just in believing that our lowly, otherwise insignificant lives are grace filled and that when we recite the Hail Mary we can hear our names as well in a greeting that challenges us to believe, 'The Lord is with you.'" (Bishop Blase Cupich of Rapid City, S.D., in his December column for the diocese's West River Catholic)

Globalization and the Path to Peace: Tony Blair at Yale

"Religious faith and globalization have to find ways to be at peace with each other so that globalization can be more peaceful and run better and more efficiently," Tony Blair, former British prime minister, told students in a seminar he co-taught at Yale University this past semester as part of the university's Faith and Globalization Initiative.

"Globalization shrinks the world and creates a more global community," Blair told students. According to a Catholic News Service report Dec. 22, Blair said that "globalization itself needs values, like trust, like justice." Blair became a Catholic in 2007.

In a brief article on Yale's Web site about the Faith and Globalization Initiative, Blair notes that "the forces of globalization are pushing all of the economies of the world -- and all of the citizens of the world, with their great diversity of religious faiths -- more closely together." He says: "Global interdependence is a reality. And faith is inextricably linked to that interdependence."

In is well known in contemporary times that "faith can be a source of division and destruction," but Blair insists that faith also can be "a source of reconciliation, not conflict." The Tony Blair Faith Foundation, founded by Blair in spring 2008, "aims to promote the positive role of the world's faiths in the global realities of the 21st century and to demonstrate the positive results that people of diverse faiths, working together, can accomplish," he writes.

It is his conviction, says Blair, that values in an era of globalization "must unify, not divide, us" and that "faith can serve as a means for peace, progress and prosperity for all of the peoples of the world."