Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Day: The Pope’s Three Wishes

It was Christmas Eve, but Jim, Frank, and Joe were stranded on a desert island. Their food and water were almost gone, and the three friends were beginning to lose heart. 

Suddenly, a bottle floated onto the shore; as soon as they picked it up, a genie popped out. She said, "I have three wishes to grant. Each of you can make one wish come true."

Jim was thrilled. He said, "I wish I were in Bethlehem, singing Christmas carols in Manger Square with my wife and children. Instantly he was gone, his wish granted.

Frank smiled and said, "I wish I were in Rome right now attending Midnight Mass with my dear parents at St. Peter's. Just like that, he disappeared.

The genie then turned to Joe. "And what do you wish for?"

Joe answered, "Bethlehem, Rome, or Vancouver. Gee, I wish I had my buddies back to help me decide..."

I dared to begin my homily by joking about three wishes, because I want to talk today about the three wishes Pope Benedict made just before switching on the lights of the world's largest Christmas tree.

The tree, incidentally, is near the town of Gubbio, where St. Francis started our tradition of the Christmas crib.

Pope Benedict's three wishes are a beautiful lesson in the true Christmas spirit.

He began with the hope that we would lift our eyes towards heaven and not be stuck on earthly things.

"My first wish," he said, "is that our gaze… our minds and our hearts, rest not only on the horizon of this world, on its material things," turn towards God like the soaring Christmas tree.

He said that "God never forgets us, but he also asks that we don't forget him."

The Pope's second wish reminded us that we must rely on the light of Christ. He wished that everyone remember that we "need a light to illumine the path of our lives and to give us hope, especially in this time in which we feel so greatly the weight of difficulties, of problems, [and] of suffering."

"The Child … we contemplate [at] Christmas, in a poor and humble manger, is "the light that overcomes the darkness of our hearts" and gives us "firm and sure hope."

"My final wish," the Pope concluded, "is that each of us contributes something of that light" to others: "our families, our jobs, our neighborhoods, towns and cities."

He prayed that we will be a light for our neighbour, overcoming selfishness, which so often "closes our hearts and leads us to think only of ourselves."

"Any small gesture of goodness," Pope Benedict said, "is like one of the lights of this great tree: together with other lights it illuminates the darkness of the night, even of the darkest night."

In his three wishes, the Holy Father has summed up the message of Christmas: turn to God, walk in the light of Christ, and share that light and love with others.

What impresses me so much about these three thoughts is how realistic they are. Pope Benedict knows how tempted we are to limit our horizons to the things we can see, to our human needs and wants. Perhaps more than anyone else, he knows how deep the darkness can be; the Pope hears daily reports of injustice within nations, savagery between peoples, and infidelity within the Church.

Yet he knows that this is precisely why Christ came to earth. Jesus was born at Bethlehem not to give us an annual feel-good celebration, but to save us from our sins.

This morning each of us is a genie who can grant the Holy Father his three wishes. We can forget, for a moment, who got the better gifts; we can take our minds off how we're going to fit everyone around the table, especially since two of the relatives aren't speaking. Instead, we can lift our hearts to heaven as we take part in this Mass with thanks for the gift of salvation.

We can ponder in our hearts the wonders of the gift of Jesus, just as Mary did beside the manger that first Christmas night. Like the shepherds of Bethlehem, we can glorify and praise God for all we have heard and seen. And we can resolve to be faithful to Sunday Mass in the year ahead so that we're sure to look up to heaven at least once each week.

We can grant Pope Benedict his second wish by letting the true light become our guide. All too often we try to walk by our own light or by the values of the world. This Christmas we can resolve to turn to God more often, and more confidently. Perhaps this will mean looking to the Bible or the Catechism for more practical guidance on our daily journey, or just trying harder to accept God's will in a spirit of prayerful surrender.

Finally, let's grant the Pope's third wish by deciding to be more thoughtful and charitable—not only to the needy, but to our family members, friends and co-workers. We can share with others the good news of Christ's coming. We can do it in words, like the shepherds did, or by even the smallest acts of kindness, as Pope Benedict suggests.

One of the kindest things we can do is sharing our hope and faith with others. In January, our parish will offer the Alpha Course—a lively and interesting introduction to the basics of Christianity. This morning, I invite anyone who is at all interested in the Christian answers to the big questions about life to grab a flyer as you leave.

But even more important, I invite parishioners who want to give the best Christmas present in the world to a friend or co-worker or family member to bring them along to the Alpha course. There are details in the bulletin and we have some flyers as well.

Bethlehem, Rome—or Vancouver. Wherever we are at Christmas, the goodness and loving kindness of God our Saviour has appeared and the light of Christ shines in our hearts through his Holy Spirit, poured out on us richly so that we might inherit eternal life.

This is cause for true rejoicing in a world where the night can seem very dark in certain places or at certain times. By turning our eyes to the light, by letting the light guide our path, and by sharing it with others, we'll do much more than grant the Holy Father three wishes; we will receive the gift of salvation that Christ was born to bring.

(My homily for Midnight Mass can be found here.)

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