Catholic Diocese of the
Australian Defence Force

Serving those who serve the Nation

The Bishop’s Christmas Message 2008

An Inspirational Image

The birth of an infant is a powerful image that Christians reflect upon at this time of the year. The infant is Jesus, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, God himself assuming our human nature and life. We humans like to see, touch, and smell things – it is part of our nature and points to our belonging to the physical and natural created order. Even before we become ‘exposed’ to the world and learn to communicate with others we explore our environment – as any expectant parent will tell us. This wonder of new life is a manifestation of the unreserved goodness of God being shared with us. This constant involvement by God in us, his creation, is not an impersonal function of some remote God but is beautifully shown to be an intimate, personal and active engagement with each one of us. We recognise this in Jesus who assumed our human nature when he was conceived, born and experienced the full range of human existence as do we.

Recently I was reading a statement attributed to the late Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen – “Christ’s coming into the world was not like that of a sightseer to a strange city, but rather like that of an artist visiting his own studio or an author paging the books he himself has written, for in becoming incarnate, the divine Word was tabernacling himself in his own creation.” (from the chapter The Incarnation in his book “In the Fullness of Time” )

In these days of significant concern occasioned by awareness of difficulties in the environment, by the economic situation, and by the social distress being felt by many, our attention can be so focussed that we can easily lose sight of the full picture. We know that the Lord God has not abandoned his creation or those with whom he shares the gift of life. We are increasingly aware that we are not bystanders in this world but rather that our presence involves our participation with God in the constant dynamic that reflects the Divine Nature as seen and expressed through creation. In many ways our world and our place in it can be considered a partnership of responsibility between ourselves and God.

One of the pressures we all face is the deliberate and concerted efforts of some in our society who would seek to break that partnership and to remove any consideration of the place or presence of God in our world. Their efforts are a denial of what it means to be fully human and fully alive and they tempt us to take a diminished view of our potential, purpose and true value. Throughout history there have been many similar movements that have sought to remove the fundamental relationship between our life and its Author. Some may have seemed to be successful for brief periods but truth has prevailed. It is the celebration of special moments in our salvation history that enables us to restore our breadth of vision and regain our balance so that we can draw the necessary energy – physical and spiritual – needed to step forward with confidence and a purpose that is not misguided. One such moment is the celebration of the birth of Jesus.

From the moment of his conception Jesus can be clearly identified to be close to all those who are experiencing difficulties in their human life. But that very closeness is an encouragement for us all to recognise the presence of Jesus in those who are in difficulties and to love him through them. If we can focus on the presence of Jesus in each other then our commitment to ensuring each one’s dignity and right to justice is itself a reflection of the Divine life that flows through us as a natural consequence of sharing in creation. The example of the circumstances of the birth of the child Jesus is also our inspiration to embrace the partnership more enthusiastically and to renew our own sense of responsibility towards our brothers and sisters in the place we have all been given to be our home.

That commitment to the good of others has a particular influence upon those who are serving as members of the Australian Defence Force and their families. We are often at the front line in many different ways. There are those who are engaged on operations so that others may have the opportunity for life and justice and the dignity of self-determination. In some places that dedication has been proven to be a very demanding service and some have made the supreme sacrifice. Others have been exposed to physical and spiritual hardship and danger that is a consequence of that service of peace. Many families have been affected by operational deployments and the consequences of exposure to those environments. We all need to draw strength from the image of the infant Jesus and see in that image something of ourselves as brothers and sisters in a family where the Father has infinite love for all His children. It is a deep regret for me that, despite all efforts and the availability of a priest, we have not been given permission to supply Mass and the Sacraments to those deployed in the most dangerous areas of operations. Their celebration of Christmas will not be the same or as full as it could be because of their service. For them and their families I appeal to all for special prayers of comfort and for their safe reunion.

In contemplating that image of the Infant Jesus I earnestly implore the Blessing of God upon all members of the Australian Defence Force and their families as we celebrate the source of our life and hope – the presence of Jesus in our human nature and in our world. May Mary, our constant help and inspiration, join her prayers to ours as we seek the graces we need from the Father to live good and holy lives full of purpose, commitment and compassion for each other in this very demanding world.

+ Max L. Davis

Catholic Bishop of the Australian Defence Force
12 December 2008