Regional Leaders and Sisters representing their regions, have provided Christmas messages for you to reflect on and enjoy…

Christmastime In Ireland

Christmastime in Ireland means the weather is dark, damp and cold and we are all layered in thick jumpers, padded coats, warm gloves, woollen scarves and hats and strong boots. The shops sparkle with Christmas gifts and treats and when darkness falls, the festive lights brighten the streets, reminding everyone that Christmas is nigh. A sense of urgency permeates everything. People make lists of gifts to be bought and food to be ordered. Carol singers gather on street corners and in shopping centres, singing their hearts out to raise money for the poor and the homeless, children prepare their Christmas plays and parents take them to visit Santa Claus. The prevailing atmosphere centres on family and parents yearn for the homecoming of their adult children, who for economic reasons, emigrated to other countries.

As Christmas Day draws closer the television channels show coverage of the welcoming scenes at the airports. New babies, new husbands or new wives are introduced to their new Irish family amid tears of joy and warm hugs. Those of us watching from the comfort of our homes join in the tears, remembering the sadness of years, lived away from loved ones.

Christmas Eve is all about the final purchase, the preparation of the food and Midnight Mass. Empty churches are filled once more, carols are sung and emotions run high, brought on by the sight of the children gathered around the Christmas Crib or the young adults, who have ceased to believe, once more joining in the singing of Silent Night. The absence and memory of loved ones is felt but the sadness is hidden.

On Christmas Day with the conclusion of the church services, the streets are silent as everyone is indoors. Families gather in their warm houses, the poor in church halls and everyone is enjoying the turkey, or the salmon, with all the trimmings. For most families the celebrations continue for a number of days, as the extended family meet to share songs and stories. Eventually Christmas slides into the New Year and waits for another year to re-appear.

Clare Ahern rsj
Ireland Region

Jesus is the Reason for the Season

Some years ago, I was given a badge with the words “Jesus is the reason for the season” on it. At the time I thought it was a bit over the top and felt a little self-conscious about wearing it. Now twenty years later I wish I still had it as I walk around shops playing yet another version of “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas” or surrounded by Surfing Santas!

Amid the hype about buying the perfect gift for that special someone, we have lost the message about the coming of the Christ into every aspect of our lives.

The incarnation reminds us that in the Christmas event God is revealed as radical love. Jesus, the most extraordinary gift, has already been given.

This gift speaks of relationship. Jesus came into a family, lived in Nazareth, reached out to those who were vulnerable, and gave witness to an all-inclusive love. During the past year the Sisters reflected on the message of the Good Samaritan in the lead up to the General Chapter. We pondered the gracious generosity of the outcast, who not only stopped to assist the man attacked by robbers but who, in gracious generosity, offered to pay whatever was owed to the innkeeper.

This radical self-emptying love so evident in the life of Jesus is what we celebrate at Christmas.

The greatest gifts we can offer our world then are those which give witness to this radical self-emptying love.

The recent bushfires have evoked a sense of that love along with a deepening understanding our interdependence with all of life among the wider community and have reminded us that we share a common humanity. The smoke haze that has enveloped our cities and towns many miles from the bushfire centres have reminded us too that whatever we do in our part of the planet, can and does affect the whole cosmos.

This Christmas as we celebrate with family and friends let our focus be on “Jesus as the reason for the season” and make a commitment to giving witness to the radical love of our God by reaching out to the vulnerable whether they be the victims of the bushfires or drought; by speaking out for justice and mercy for refugees and asylum seekers; or by offering a compassionate response to those on the edge of our society, the homeless poor, the victims of domestic violence or for those seeking reconciliation for our indigenous brothers and sisters.

Radical, self-emptying love draws us into communion with God and this is the fundamental reason for celebrating the season.

Mary Ellen O’Donoghue rsj
Regional Leader
New South Wales Region

Christmas – Season of Graced Partnerships

Artists, bands and soloists often have a signature tune which identifies their iconic message. Christmas gives us clear insight into God’s signature issues.

By re-acquainting ourselves with the ‘graced partnerships’ of the Advent and Christmas Narratives, we get vital clues about God’s signature issues. We discover that invariably. God reversed the world’s expectations.

When dealing with God, expect the unexpected!

Partnerships that delivered God’s Message to the world.

Jesse and David – God’s spirit rested upon the seemingly dead root of Jesse. If DNA testing had existed, it would have proved Joseph’s descent from David. Jesus’ genealogy showed he came from a flawed, if not ‘dodgy’ ancestry. He came as a helpless baby not a triumphant Messiah.
This partnership reminds us to look at others with wonder and appreciation regardless of their background, status or power.

Mary and Joseph – Joseph, newly engaged to Mary, faced a baffling and painful enigma. Following the angel’s advice, he reversed a former, anguished decision and took Mary into his home as his wife and the baby as his own.
This partnership is a reminder to us to have the courage and flexibility to adapt our life’s plan to the responsibilities of love.

Jesus and John the Baptist – How they loved each other! But the austere John and the sociable Jesus were both destined to be rejected. They were radically different in personality but united in love.
 If we follow their example, our appreciation of difference will grow and our judgement decline.

Mary and Elizabeth – Elizabeth, despite her old age and Mary, despite her virginity witnessed that out of emptiness and barrenness God can miraculously create new life.
When we experience emptiness, God calls us from barrenness to fruitfulness. These fierce moments make huge demands but let us emulate the boundless joy of the Visitation.

Elizabeth and Zechariah – John’s birth was a sign of God’s mercy to Elizabeth. Family and friends expected the child to be called Zechariah, but Elizabeth insisted on ‘John’. Objecting to this departure from cultural norms and tradition, the gathering appealed to Zechariah who sent them a ‘text message’: ‘His name is John’.
Let us rejoice that John’s parents put attentiveness to God before iron-clad customs and expectations.

Simeon and Anna – Simeon announced Jesus to be the light to the nations, a sign to be opposed. He prophesied that Mary’s heart would be pierced. Anna of great age ‘came by at that moment’ as a sign of hope and source of strength for the distressed young woman.
Let us listen to the wise ones who see further than we can see and strengthen us to face whatever comes.

The people of this season are “us”.
The Baptist prods us on to newness,
and the Zachary in us resists until our Elizabeth insists.
Our Joseph lets it happen,
and the young Mary in us seizes the gift
and runs with it.
It must be so if the Christ in us is to be born.
Elizabeth Meluch OCD

Margaret Cleary rsj
Regional Leader
CentreWest Region

Earth Blesses

The call of our 27th Chapter begins with the word, Listen. As we enter this Christmas time, the call to listen to Earth, is compelling. Everything is dry. The smell of smoke continues day in and day out. Fire rips through our tinder dry, drought-stricken land, devastating people’s lives, businesses, animals and plants. It goes on and on and the weather reports are bereft of relief and hope.

Distracting us are the flowering trees of this season, richer in colour because of drought: the strength and vibrancy of colour of the Jacaranda, Poinciana, Frangipani, Bougainvillea and the Flame Tree. Our hearts and minds can be so cluttered at this time with the end of year business and the pounding we get from advertising and the Christmas ‘Jingle Bell’ types of music blaring out everywhere. It can be hard to stop and to listen but listen we must to be both blessed and nourished by Earth.

Like the soft mauve of the Jacaranda delighting my senses, may I be open to receive and be blessings of deep peace and joy for our world.
May I be as bright and strong as the red Flame tree, being light that shines in the darkness, a light that darkness can never overcome.
Like the fragrant yellow centre of the Frangipani, may I be drawn into the heart and mind of the One who comes among us bringing Good News.
May the thorns of the Bougainvillea remind me of the harshness of the One born in exile and all those exiled from homeland, family and friends this Christmas.
Like the shade given by the Poinciana, may I settle gently and often into the invitations of the Word, who is life.
Oh, come all people, let us greet the One who comes, the God of light, hope, love, invitation, joy and compassion.
Come, let us with all of Creation, give praise and thanks.

Annette Arnold rsj
Regional Leader
TransPacifico Region

Now the Work of Christmas Begins…

When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart.

A litany called “Now the Work of Christmas Begins” composed by Howard Thurman, an African-American theologian, educator, and civil rights leader.

I love this artwork of Marea Cox. It is a depiction of Julian Tenison Woods while in Penola Parish and it is titled “Riding by Night”. Julian spent 10 Happy Years in the Bush, riding from farm to farm, small town to small village, bringing whatever he could to the families in this widespread and isolated area of the continent. What did he really bring when he dismounted his horse and greeted the person? What did he really say to make a difference; to make his visit worthwhile? Why did he ride to the end of the road to meet a family?

With the stars and moon to guide, with his gospel message in his heart, I believe he was reworking the Christmas message in his own life and in the lives of his parishioners.

Have a reflective and meaningful Christmas where ever you are and with ever you happen to meet along your way.

Kerrie Cusack rsj
Regional Leader
Victoria-Tasmania Region