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Bishop Hebda's Christmas Message


“She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7)

In many Catholic parishes throughout the country, particularly in areas that have seen immigration from Mexico, young children dressed as Joseph and Mary and the townsfolk of Bethlehem will reenact Las Posadas—the search for shelter on that night that Jesus was born. Each time that a grumpy innkeeper, roused from his sleep, turns the couple away I find myself wondering how welcoming I have been in my own life to the Lord who so often visits us in what Mother Teresa would call the “distressing disguise of the poor.” How sad to have the Messiah at our door and to turn Him away because we see only the stranger, the foreigner, the substance abuser, or the one who knows just how to try our patience.

For 18 Christmases, I had the opportunity to join thousands of Romans who wander the streets of their city during the twelve days of Christmas to visit the elaborate nativity scenes that would be erected in each Church. Following the Neapolitan tradition, the nativity scene would normally include not only the stable so familiar to us in the United States, with a smattering of shepherds, angels and kings, but also representatives of everyday Italian life -- the baker, the butcher, the mayor, the barkeep, and perhaps even a few soccer players -- all centered around the newborn king greeting the world from the simplicity of His manger. The message could not be any clearer: while there may have been no room in Bethlehem’s inns, the Messiah makes sure that there’s always room for everyone at His threshold.

With the celebration of Christmas 2010, the Diocese of Gaylord is beginning a year-long celebration of its 40th anniversary. We are hoping and praying that this year of jubilee, centered on the actual anniversary date of July 20th, 2011, will be a time when we imitate our Redeemer in welcoming all to encounter and embrace the joy and peace that always surrounds His presence. We have learned from the experience of the innkeepers. We know that we need to move over to make room in our pews and in our classrooms and in our homes for all who share our longing for a Christ-centered world in which no one is a stranger because they all bear the image and likeness of Jesus, our brother.

In my first year as Bishop, I repeatedly experienced the welcoming spiritual embrace of a Church that seems much more mature than a mere 40 years would warrant: a Church that prays well, that serves well, that looks for opportunities to interact with other communities of faith. But I’m hoping that we can use this jubilee year to see what more we can be doing to “radiate Christ” and to dig deep to find the zeal and enthusiasm that characterized those early days when Pope Paul VI appointed Msgr. Edmund Szoka to be our first Bishop.

As we once again bend our knee in adoration, awe and amazement before the Christ-child, please join me in asking God’s blessing upon all who live and work and recreate in this incredibly beautiful corner of the Lord’s vineyard.

May the Prince of Peace, whom we will strive to welcome and glorify at Christmas and throughout this year of jubilee, be the true source of our joy and our strength.

Most Reverend Bernard A. Hebda
Bishop of Gaylord

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