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Homily of His Eminence Oswald Cardinal Gracias at the Midnight Mass

Dec. 25, 2015

HOMILY OF HIS EMINENCE, OSWALD CARDINAL GRACIAS, ARCHBISHOP OF BOMBAY, AT THE CHRISTMAS VIGIL SERVICE (MIDNIGHT MASS),

DECEMBER 24. 2015 IN THE HOLY NAME ORATORY

Dear Brothers and Sister in Jesus Christ, there are events that remain always etched in the memory – the death of a dear one – we remember the event because of the significance. And there are events which have significance for the lives of generations…when the twin towers were struck - what a change that event made all over the world. Terrorism took on a new meaning.

When we look at history, which is the event that is most significant for mankind? Which is the event that has transformed the world? It is the birth of Jesus, today’s feast.  No wonder it is celebrated with such joy and festivity all over the world: North and South America, Africa, Europe, Australia and even Asia.  (I remember) When I was in Ho Chi Minh City – earlier Saigon – for a meeting of Bishops, ten days before Christmas, the Communist Government had lit up all the streets for Christmas.  Thailand is a Buddhist country and Bangkok is all lit up for Christmas.  Strangely, they tell us that even the guns of war went silent on the 25th of December during World War II and were taken up again on the 26th of December. 

Why is there so much joy at Christmas?  Because it is the most transformative event of history. It brought hope, peace, love, joy, unity to the world – or the possibility of it – if only the world would accept the babe that was born at Bethlehem.  Man had sinned and the link between God and man was broken.  Jesus became man to redeem the world – to take man to God – to build the bridge that would once again enable man to go up to God. The whole of the Old Testament, the history of Israel, the very careful detailed preparation for the coming of the Saviour – the coming of Jesus – he was foretold over and over again by the prophets.  His Mother, Mary, was so carefully chosen; she was immaculately conceived, her parents were saints, she was herself sinless.  And wasn’t his coming itself a message? He who created all things, now comes owning nothing; he who is all powerful, now comes as a helpless babe dependent on his mother and father for everything; he who is the light of world, comes now in total darkness except for the shepherds’ torches which light the stable; he who is all knowledge and wisdom, comes as a little babe needing to be taught everything.  Isn’t that itself a message for us? Does that not make us reflect on the priorities that we set?

His life and passion and death and resurrection brought salvation to the world.  By His passion and death, he brought forgiveness for our sins; the gates of heaven were thrown open once again.  Throughout his public life, he taught men and women how to go to the Father.  He gave answers to so many questions that plagued philosophers for centuries: What is man? Why is he here? Where is he going? What is the meaning of pain? What happens after death?  He gave life a purpose and a meaning.  And what is the message for all of us from all this?

Pope Francis has called a Jubilee Year of Mercy. He tells us and he says, that Jesus is the merciful face of the Father.  His Birth in Bethlehem is God’s greatest act of mercy.  The Father sent his son to save us.  Experiencing mercy, we are called to share his mercy with others.  The Pope wants us – every church – to become an oasis of mercy; each one of us to became a person of mercy.  Don’t we see, dear Sisters and Brothers that mercy and compassion and love are the only salvation for the world?

We have recently seen the attacks in Paris, here in our own Mumbai on 26/11…there was an attack in San Bernardino where a couple without any reason mowed down fourteen people and injured many others, the trouble in Syria. The most powerful nations in the world had met to find a response and one of the responses is that the bombing has intensified. But does anybody seriously think that this is the long term final solution? One can almost sense the feeling of helplessness of these leaders. The only way out is that which Jesus came to teach us: love, mercy, compassion, living as one family as brothers and sisters. If only this could spread. If only the world had accepted – accepts – the message of the babe of Bethlehem. We cannot change the world, sisters and brothers, but we can begin from our own societies to give mercy and compassion to whom we can. And that is I think the message of Christmas 2015. That is the message of the babe of Bethlehem.  That is the message Pope Francis gives us.

The mercy we must begin by sharing in our own families. By bringing peace and unity at home. In real or imaginary hurts. This mercy we must share in our communities by making up with neighbours with whom we may not be on speaking terms for months or years. This mercy we must bring to our parishes. Forgiving hurts we may have felt from other parishioners or even from our priests. This mercy we must bring to our city, removing any prejudices we may have towards people of other communities, other ethnic groups. Each one of us must become an ocean of mercy: keeping no hurts, forgiving all. Bringing peace and love to all.

This then is the message of Christmas 2015 and we must continuously seek to soak ourselves in God’s mercy. That only will bring us peace and joy. And we go out to give this mercy to others, to those in need: the poor, the sick, the lonely, the suffering, what Pope Francis calls those who are on the periphery. Mother Teresa, who we hope will be canonized in 2016, has given us an example of this.  She is an icon of mercy and compassion. 

May Mary, the mother of mercy, teach each one of us to go out and share God’s love and mercy and compassion with others.

This will make our Christmas joyful. This will make our Christmas last right through the year.

A very Happy Christmas to each one of you.



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