By Carol Zimmermann, Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON — Christmas messages shared by U.S. Catholic leaders stressed the need to keep hope and faith alive this season particularly in the midst of the challenging pandemic year.
“As 2020 comes to an end, we know that sadly the trials and challenges caused by the coronavirus pandemic will not,” said Los Angeles Archbishop José H. Gomez, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
“For me, and I know for many of you, this long year has brought us face-to-face with basic facts: that life is fragile and uncertain, that powers beyond our control can suddenly disrupt our plans and hopes, that sickness and death can come into our lives at any time,” he wrote in a Dec. 22 column for Angelus, the online news outlet of the Los Angeles Archdiocese.
He said the experience of the past year is a chance to “deepen our awareness of our dependence on God” and calls people back “to the truth that what matters is seeking God’s will for our lives, following his commands, fixing our hearts on heaven.”
And that is why believers “approach Christmas this year with renewed hope,” he added.
He also reminded Catholics that Pope Francis has announced a “Year of St. Joseph, from Dec. 8 of this year to Dec. 8, 2021.
Archbishop Gomez said St. Joseph can “show us how to live with courage and confidence in Christ in this year when our faith and hope have been truly tested.”
Across the country, Bishop Robert P. Deeley of Portland, Maine, similarly noted the challenges of this past year and the hope of the Christmas season in a Dec. 23 message.
He pointed out that this Christmas season there are more lights in windows and homes since many are unable to gather together with families and friends during the pandemic but still want to brighten the lives of others.
“The light disperses the darkness of winter and the burden that the coronavirus has placed on us. The lights of Christmas bring hope as they raise spirits and smiles in a difficult time in modern history,” he said.
Bishop Deeley said that during this year in particular, the Christmas lights should remind everyone that “the light of the world is with us” and that Christians are “called to be bearers of the light.”
He also stressed the importance of offering help to those in need — which he said is the true meaning of Christmas: carrying God’s light “into the world through our care for one another.”
In an interview on “FOX & Friends” early Dec. 23, New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan was asked how people can find hope at Christmas this year when the situation is so dire because of COVID-19.
The cardinal acknowledged it is a tough time for everyone as people feel lonely and isolated and many cannot be with the people they love, but he said it must be remembered the first Christmas at Bethlehem was “no parade.”
“That was tough, with a woman with a troubled pregnancy who had just married, and she and her husband were surrounded by just animals on a cold night,” he said.
He pointed out this first Christmas was not the easiest of Christmases but serves to illustrated there is “salvation and joy very often in the midst of tribulation” and “we realize there is only one person that can fill the void and that’s the Lord.”
Cardinal Dolan said he will miss his usual Christmas Mass celebrated before a packed, standing room only, congregation at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York and he will miss the “beaming faces of families united.”
The cathedral this year will be two-thirds empty by necessity, because of COVID-19 restrictions.
And this year, the cardinal said he will be thinking of families that have been “fractured” because of the pandemic, from lives lost and separations from one another. He said he recognizes they are “not beaming as they think on” the losses this pandemic has wrought.
But even in such a dark time, the message of Christmas beams bright, he said. “Christmas comes at the darkest time of the year,” during the shortest days of the year, he pointed out. “It’s precisely then that God sent his only begotten Son to bring us life, to remind us that life and goodness are going to have the last word, not darkness.”
And that’s a message believers need to hold on to. He put it another way quoting a popular song lyric: “We need a little Christmas right this very minute.”