The harsh realities of life for many in today's world raise big questions about the meaning and purpose of it all – a world in which too many have to contend with poverty, with homelessness and loneliness; where many live with dangerous political uncertainty and where, for large numbers, refugee status far from home is their lot.
Harsh realities such as these can lead us to the conclusion that life is not only unfair, but that it must be random, haphazard and aimless.
The birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, we want to suggest, throws fresh light on these big questions and on these bleak conclusions, and raises an entirely different and more hopeful interpretation of life.
God's initiative and his decisive intervention in this world through the life (and death) of Jesus Christ reveals the possibility that there is, in fact, meaning and direction to it all; there is a loving and purposeful mind behind it all.
Furthermore, the way in which those remarkable events transpired in Bethlehem suggest that, in God's chosen means of intervention into this broken world, this child, himself, embraced the harsh realities of poverty, homelessness, political intrigue and refugee status in his first few weeks on earth.
The pattern demonstrated by each of the central participants of the remarkable Bethlehem event was one of selfless concern for 'the other', rather than selfish focus on themselves. Not only Jesus, but Mary and Joseph, too, accepted personal vulnerability and disadvantage for themselves so that others might be blessed.
God's initiative in Bethlehem – and the human response of those involved – can inspire in us today an understanding of life which is purposeful and loving, and can lead us to play our part in working courageously and compassionately to deal effectively with poverty, hunger, homelessness, loneliness and need of any kind.
+Donal McKeown +Ken Good
Roman Catholic Bishop of Derry Church of Ireland Bishop of Derry & Raphoe
At a media conference on 3 December 2014 at Columba Centre, Saint Patrick's College, Maynooth, Bishop Liam MacDaid, chairman of the Council for Marriage and Family, along with Bishop Kevin Doran, Bishop of Elphin, officially launched the pastoral statement The Meaning of Marriage on behalf of the Irish Catholic Bishops' Conference. To view the doicument and associated material, click here.
The Online Advent Calendar will go live on Sunday, the first Sunday of Advent, on www.catholicbishops.ie
Like last year the Advent Calendar will include:
· The words of Pope Francis's taken from his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), his daily homilies from Casa Santa Marta and his Twitter feed;
· Mass readings of the day;
· Advent videos: blessing of the crib in the home, blessing of the advent wreath in the home, prayer when lighting the lights on the Christmas tree, family table prayer;
· Advent music;
Veritas, Ireland's leading religious publisher and retailer will unveil their annual moving crib at their store on 20 Shipquay Street, Derry on Friday, 28 November at 1.30 pm, ahead of the popular Feast of the Immaculate Conception on 8 December.
Bishop Donal McKeown has announed the members of the 12th Diocesan Council of Priests. Members are as follows: