On the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (December 8 th ) the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI delivered his annual message for the World Day of Peace for 2007 (celebrated on 1 st January each year).
The Holy Father took as his theme for the message “The Human Person, the Heart of Peace”. Drawing from the truth of Sacred Scripture, the Holy Father reminds us that we are, each of us, made in the image of God. This distinguishes us from the rest of creation and gives us a dignity that is beyond even what this world can imagine. Each human being – regardless of their stage of physical or intellectual development, their status in society, their state of life, or even their own opinion of their worth or value – is, in some way, a reflection of the presence of God. That is the completely unassailable source of our true value – each of us is a reflection of the presence of God.
The event we celebrate at Christmas – the gift of Jesus – is something that we can easily lose sight of and each year we pause and reflect on what this event means. In simplest terms a small vulnerable little child is born who is the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity – the Son of God sharing in every way fully our human life. When we imagine the new-born child Jesus we do not have an image of power or might or greatness in any social sense – quite the contrary. But His very existence provides us with a glimpse of God’s unconditional love for us. In this little child beats the human heart with which we can identify, the life that we hold so precious, and the inspiration that we need as we seek our own growth to perfection.
In history we human beings sometimes also lose sight of our true value and our differences become the source of pride and arrogance as we seek to strive to dominate or use others to further our own sense of our own importance or sense of worth. The Scriptures also tell us that, even when we first lost sight of our true value and dignity, our loving God was already proclaiming that His love would keep on encouraging us to escape from this very limited view of our true selves. The history of God’s constant love is well known and reached its greatest expression in the birth of Jesus. In Old Testament times we see that the birth of Jesus is constantly foretold and is beautifully expressed in many places. In one of these prophecies in the Book of the Prophet Isaiah (Chapter 9) Jesus is given the title of Prince-of-Peace.
Jesus’ birth was heralded by messengers from heaven who proclaimed to the shepherds going about their normal work that “Peace on earth” had at last arrived for all people who genuinely sought it (Luke’s Gospel Chapter 2). John’s Gospel reminds us that the peace that comes from knowing that God loves us is not something that the world can give – it comes from God. It is Jesus’ gift to us on the night before He suffered and died for us (John’s Gospel Chapter 14, verse 27). This was a prayer that sprang from deep within the heart of Jesus as His gift to us. That gift was placed deep within our own hearts at the time of our Baptism when we first began to respond to the presence of Jesus in our own life. It is a gift that is shared by all Christians.
It is reflected in the Holy Father’s message like this: “With gratitude to the Lord for having called him to belong to his Church, which is “the sign and safeguard of the transcendental dimension of the human person” (Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes . n.76) in the world, the Christian will tirelessly implore from God the fundamental good of peace, which is of such primary importance in the life of each person. Moreover, he will be proud to serve the cause of peace with generous devotion, offering help to his brothers and sisters, especially those who, in addition to suffering poverty and need, are also deprived of this precious good.”
The men and women of our Australian Defence Force and their families are called in a special way to be “servants of peace”. I am deeply conscious that this is a great task that is, at times, a very difficult one. Currently there are thousands deployed away from their homes and families precisely engaged in this “service of peace”. With great pride I acknowledge the perseverance and dedication of all involved – those deployed and those who keep vigil anxious for their safe return. I know only some of the difficulties that are part of your experience and I can only imagine that there are many more about which I do not know. Each day I pray that each of you will feel the presence of Jesus in your daily life, whatever the circumstances, and so draw the strength and inspiration you need to keep sight of the purpose and importance of your vocation to be a real minister of peace and stability in the lives of those around you. These prayers take on a special and deeper meaning on this Feast of Christmas. I have as a special intention to offer my Christmas Mass for those of you who will not have the opportunity to be present at a Mass yourself because of your duties.
I also implore the intercession of Mary, the Mother of Jesus and Help of Christians to gain for us all the many graces we need in our mission. I entrust you all to her special care and protection, into 2007.
With prayerful best wishes for a Happy and Holy celebration of Christmas.
+ Max L. Davis
Bishop of the Australian Defence Force
Bishop of the Australian Defence Force