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Catholic Voice
 December 17, 2012   •   VOL. 50, NO. 21   •   Oakland, CA
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5,000 brave rain to honor
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'To be a Catholic means to live with hope'

Archbishop Alex J. Brunett

"For unto us a Child is born, a Son is given!"

Each year of our lives is an opportunity to discover again the joy and hope we celebrate at Christmas time. As the apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Oakland, I am happy to have the opportunity to spend this Christmas season with the clergy and faithful of this Diocese.

It is also an opportune occasion to share a special message with you about our Catholic faith life, an opportunity to share the thoughts and desires in my heart and to assure you of my love and commitment. Most especially, Christmas is a time to realize the hope and joy we celebrate together as we journey across time. Waiting for a new Bishop can be a difficult time and I wanted to write to bring you a message of hope.

Let me offer you a few thoughts about my vision of Christmas 2012.

Christmas is a time of recognizing God's transforming love in Jesus Christ.

There is a story written by Bret Harte that comes out of the early gold rush days of California called: "The Luck of Roaring Camp." It is a story about a baby who was born in a gold mining camp in the midst of crude, rugged men whose lifestyles reflected the hard conditions under which they lived. The circumstances under which the baby came were totally unexpected, but the presence of the infant completely changed the camp.

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Wanting better conditions for the baby, the men cleaned up the camp, started to take showers with regularity and changed their language and their drinking habits. A transformation had taken place and the men discovered a dimension of life they had forgotten.

It occurred to me that the "Luck of Roaring Camp" could be called a Christmas story because it is a story of people seeing new possibilities for their lives. Wasn't that why Jesus came into the world … "to all who received Him, who believed in His name, He gave power to become children of God."

He is the transforming power of God's eternal love that we celebrate at Christmas. Our angers, our fears, our pettiness, our greed, our self-centeredness are transformed and we recognize what newness of life is all about. We see the possibilities of new beginnings and are motivated to seek the richness of the sacred, the eternal meaning of life.

We praise God because through Christmas our humanity is salvaged from the wreck we have made of our potential. To celebrate Christmas is to recognize that transforming presence of God in our lives. "A child is born, a Son is given," and we are made whole. No matter who we are or where our lives have been going, we are put back together again and achieve a new level of potential to face the future.

Christmas is a time to ask for the right gifts. Whether we are a child or an aging grandparent, we love to receive gifts. This Christmas let us ask ourselves, "do we ask for the right gifts?"

Are you lonely? Ask for the warmth of family and friends. Ask for the faith to gather each Sunday to celebrate the Eucharist in the context of the community so that you will feel the presence of God in your life and be surrounded by believers who make you part of their lives.

Are you alienated from anyone in your family or the community? Ask for the gift of forgiveness and reconciliation.

Are you sad and grieving the loss of a loved one? Ask for the gift of joy and the vision that sees death not as the end of life but as the call to move beyond the limitations of this life to the fullness of the eternal.

Is your life in a shambles, confused, uncertain, looking to the right and the left for meaning? Ask for the gift of peace; ask for the power to integrate these many personal challenges into the oneness of purpose and direction. Ask for the gift of faith, to share in the Eucharist with conviction. It is here we are made one in Christ and each other. It is here that all the pieces of our life are put back together. It is here we know we share in the Bread of Life... Our daily bread which sustains us on the journey of life.

Finally, Christmas is the celebration of hope!! This reality was brought home to me vividly on a trip to Russia, where I was an ecumenical representative of the Catholic Church. On the way there we stopped in Lithuania. On Sunday morning I celebrated Mass in the Cathedral of the capital city of Vilnius. The Church was jammed from wall to wall.

This was a remarkable sight for me since only a few years previously this building, originally the Cathedral, was taken over by the Communists and used as a museum of atheism. For years, people were not allowed to practice their faith. Religion was suppressed, churches were closed or destroyed. Religion was proclaimed, in the words of Karl Marx, as "an opiate of the people."
Walking through the old city I posed this question to my host: "How were these people able to retain such strong faith through years of oppression and destruction?" My host stopped and pointed at the one gate of the city still standing in the midst of the destruction.

"You see that gate? If you look carefully, you can see the icon of the Mother and Child, and in the center of the gate, a glassed-in chapel. She is known as the Virgin of the Dawn Gate. When the sun rises, the first rays of light flow through that gate and reveal the Virgin Mother. We pass through that gate into the old city and it has always held out to us the hope of a new dawn. Our faith has never been destroyed. We always knew that one day the light shining through the image of the Virgin Mother would again illumine our country and we would be free."

That was a profound experience of what it means to have the gift of Christmas hope. No matter how difficult our past, or how challenging our present, there is always the ability to live with hope for the future.

As we celebrate Christmas 2012, let me suggest that to be a Catholic means to live with hope. It means we have aligned ourselves to the hope side of life. The heart of our hope is best described by that beautiful line for John's Gospel: "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it."

Hope is more than just a feeling — it is a vision, a way of looking at our world, a way of understanding the things that happen in our lives. Christmas does not proclaim as absence of darkness, but the presence of light. When we know that darkness is not the last word, that in the midst of darkness there is light — that makes all the difference in the world. That is when we know that we have grasped the meaning of Christmas.

So to all of you I send this Christmas blessing:

Unto us a child, a Son is given, and He tells us that He is the Light of the world. Let there by joy and hope:

In each heart where love dwells

In each family where life grows

In each community where forgiveness heals

In each nation where justice triumphs

In our World where God reigns.

But especially in your parish where his presence endures.

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