Bishop Cunningham’s Christmas message to the clergy, religious and laity of the Diocese of Syracuse

The Nativity scene at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Syracuse. (Sun photo | Chuck Wainwright)

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

“Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Lk 2:14).

The song of the angels prompted the shepherds to go “in haste” to Bethlehem. Searching for the peace long awaited by the chosen people, the shepherds find an infant lying in a manger. This child, foretold by the prophet Isaiah as the “Prince of Peace,” will bring peace to all who open their hearts to Him.

Did the shepherds grasp the meaning of the moment? Do we? The peace, of which the angels sang, would be more than the absence of conflict or overcoming foreign invaders or conquering enemies. The peace offered by the child would be evident when relationships with God and others are restored — when once again humanity enjoys God’s friendship and recognizes the face of Christ in others.

How we long for this peace! Peace within our hearts and in our homes; peace within our towns and cities where violence is too prevalent; peace in our world where conflicts are perpetrated in the name of religion and displaced refugees search for a safe haven.

There is no lasting peace unless we recognize God’s glory manifested in Christ. The glory of God shines on the face of Christ (Cf. 2Cor 4:6). When we draw near to the Son, listen to Him, assimilate His words and deeds and follow His example, we find peace.

The Infancy Narratives in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew present the familiar faces of those who were present at Christ’s birth or in the days immediately following it. Mary and Joseph are there, joined by the shepherds, the magi and Simeon and Anna.

Mary is the woman of prayer who heard God’s Word, treasured it in her heart and accepted it with the “yes” of faith. Joseph is the “righteous man,” the one who can truly hear and see what God demands of him, even when it seems improbable and difficult. The shepherds approach the stable with simplicity, unfettered by worldly status. The magi steadfastly search for the true Lord and King until they find Him in the most unlikely of circumstances. Simeon and Anna, living in the Temple — God’s dwelling place — patiently wait and pray for the savior to come. All of these faith-filled people recognized the glory of God shining on the infant before them. They found the gift of peace in the child.

Our thoughts this Christmas turn in a special way to “God who is rich in mercy” (Eph 2:4). All of us need the gracious mercy of God to reconcile us with God and one another. “Mercy is the ultimate and supreme act by which God comes to meet us; the bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to the hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness” (Pope Francis, Misericordiae Vultus, 1). During the Jubilee Year of Mercy, let us keep our gaze fixed on Jesus, the face of the Father’s mercy.

Christmas is the beginning of the Christmas season — a celebration that will continue for twelve days, until the feast of the Epiphany. During this time, keep the mystery of Christmas alive in your hearts and minds.

Might I suggest that one way to do this is to visit the crib scene in your parish church. Standing or kneeling before the manger, gaze quietly in peaceful silence and consider what the child did for you. Thank Him for His mercy and ask for the grace to extend mercy to others. Encountering and extending mercy is the way to joy and peace.

May the peace of Christ fill your hearts and homes. May the song of the angels resound throughout a world desperately in need of peace.

A blessed Christmas to you and all whom you love.

Devotedly yours in Christ,

Most Rev. Robert J. Cunningham

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