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placeholder Christmas message
Michelangelo’s Pieta — meditation on the sacred mystery

Holy Land artisans rely on sale of carved olive goods

Polish Franciscan is Church of the Nativity guardian

Christmas Mass has historic links to Roman festival of winter solstice

Catholic Worker: hospitality in East Oakland

Catholics hopeful, dejected by Obama Afghanistan plan

Interim report examines causes of sex abuse by U.S. priests

Pope summons Irish Church leaders to discuss abuse report

Thousands of U.S. youths converge to celebrate their faith

Malta Clinic at cathedral sees an increase in number of patient visits

Oakland cathedral to host concert by choirs of three cathedrals on Jan. 6

EWTN schedule includes Pope’s Midnight Mass

• Sister Ann Maureen King, SND
• Sister M. Jean Clare Little, CSC
• Sister Angela Molahan, OP
• Sister Eleanor Stech, OP

placeholder December 14, 2009   •   VOL. 47, NO. 21   •   Oakland, CA
Christmas message
Michelangelo’s Pieta — meditation
on the sacred mystery

“I’ll be home for Christmas.” The voice of Bing Crosby singing these words has become as familiar an American Christmas tradition as decorated pine trees and school pageants. And, perhaps, rightfully so, for at this festive time of the year, marked as it is by special Holy Days and an atmosphere of holiday cheer, the importance of family assumes a particularly prominent place.

See more images of the statue, with related story.
José Luis Aguirre photo
Even when family relations are strained — as so often happens today — the memories of our many family traditions and special celebrations are always there, tugging at our hearts. Indeed, every year at this time people traverse thousands of miles and endure all kinds of hardships — long lines, longer delays, the “hurry-up-and-wait” syndrome, and many other traveler’s nightmares — in order to spend these days with family and friends.

What a testimony to the bonding power of blood relations and of friendship!

Members of God’s family

Family togetherness at this holiday season is not simply a cozy coincidence with the Holy Days we celebrate. Rather, it relates to the very meaning of these sacred mysteries of our faith, for what we celebrate is God making Himself a member of our human family, so that we could become members of God’s family.

“He came down to us, to Whom we could not ascend, that we might be brought back from our former bondage and from worldly errors to His eternal blessedness.”

These words preached on Christmas Day by Pope Saint Leo the Great over a millennium-and-a-half ago still neatly summarize for us today this mystery. That is, sin had separated us from God: the disobedience of the human family created a chasm between us and God which we could not possibly bridge ourselves.

And so, God came to our rescue by doing it for us. By taking on our human flesh, God’s co-eternal Son made himself a member of our human family, so that he might make us members of his Father’s family, living free from sin and enjoying the blessedness of being the adopted sons and daughters of God. He traversed this immeasurable distance in order to join us to himself, to whom we could not ascend.

How appropriate, then, that at this time of the year we have received a beautiful bronze replica of Michelangelo’s Pietà, on loan to us for display in our cathedral. This masterpiece of sculpture not only portrays in a strikingly beautiful and evocative way the human sorrow of a mother grieving the violent death of her son, but it presents us with a veritable icon of the two great mysteries of the Christian faith: Christ’s Incarnation (the Christmas mystery) and our Redemption (the Easter mystery).

Mary holds the lifeless body of her Son; from her he took his body, so that in his body he could die, taking our sins upon himself and nailing them to the cross. By his sacrifice we find forgiveness, we are set free from sin for the life of blessedness in God.

Mary had central role

As the Christmas mystery reminds us, Mary had a central, indispensable role in this divine plan for our salvation. In Michelangelo’s dramatic portrayal, we see in the face of Mary all the pain of the penultimate consequence of her “yes” to God, a “yes” which ultimately culminates in victory over death by Christ’s Resurrection from the dead.

By contemplating Mary in the depth of her sorrow, we are comforted by her maternal love and renewed in the hope of sharing her Son’s glory after the hardships of this life, as she does now.

That is why, in this portrayal, Michelangelo depicts Mary holding her Son in a gesture of presentation. As the “Holy God-Bearer,” Mary presents God’s Son to the world even in his death, as God’s gift of salvation to the human family.

Thanks to Mary’s “yes,” we have access to the blessedness of a grace-filled life as members of God’s family. That family, the Church, is what we experience practically, day-to-day, in our parishes and in our diocese.

This is for me, then, a special moment of gratitude as I spend my first Christmas here as the Bishop of Oakland. I am thankful to so many of you all, priests and priestly people, not only for your warm and gracious welcome to me, but most of all for your love of the Church and your commitment to furthering the mission of the Church in so many ways.

I continue to be encouraged and heartened by the zeal I see for the ministries of catechesis, sacramental renewal and pastoral service, especially to the poor and most vulnerable.

In being born among us, God’s own Son became himself a vulnerable baby. He did so in order to take a human body through which he could pour out his life for us. Let us in turn, like Mary, respond by pouring out our lives for him, that we might know him better and make him better known.

A Merry Christmas and Blessed New Year of 2010 to you all.

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