My Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
“Behold the Virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means, God is with us.” (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23)
As we gather with family and friends this Christmas to celebrate the birth of our Savior, we know that the Church throughout the world is celebrating a Year of Faith. This Year of Faith calls us to a deeper reflection and contemplation of the basic tenets of our Catholic faith and what it is that we truly believe as Catholics. It is in this context that I address to you my annual Christmas message with the hope that this coming year will mark a new awakening in the lives of all the faithful in the Diocese of Harrisburg to the great gift that was given to us over 2,000 years ago: “Wonderful, indeed, is the mystery of our faith, Christ was manifested in the flesh.” (cf. 1 Timothy 3:16)
Our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, constantly reminds us that the center point of our faith is an authentic encounter with the person of Jesus Christ. In this encounter we find the satisfaction and joy that each of us seeks in the recesses of our hearts. Jesus is the fulfillment of our deepest hopes and desires. For, as Saint Augustine reminds us, “Our hearts are restless, O Lord, until they rest in you.”
It is no secret that our world is in a very restless state and that many people are anxious and concerned about their future. Many have fallen prey to the intoxicating materialism of our society and the insatiable appetite for more and more things in the hopes of fulfilling their need and desire for happiness. Unfortunately, in doing so, too many of our brothers and sisters have marginalized God and placed Him on the perimeter of their lives, rarely turning to Him or seeking His presence. They forget the very One from whom all true happiness comes.
This Christmas, all of us are invited to listen more carefully to the story of the Child born in Bethlehem and to the revelation that He brings to the world. It is in Jesus that God fully reveals Himself to humanity and invites us to share in His new creation that is centered in Christ. In Jesus, God unfolds the reality of His deep love for every man and woman, inviting fallen humanity into a deep communion with the three persons of the Blessed Trinity for all eternity. This communion is realized through our faith in Jesus and our participation in His divine life, found especially in the sacramental life of the Church.
It is precisely in the celebration of the Eucharist that we encounter Jesus who continues to be present in the world. He is truly “God-with-us.” Just as He humbled Himself to take on our human nature revealed in His birth as the babe of Bethlehem, the Lord continues His humble presence among us under the species of bread and wine that has been changed into His Body and Blood to nourish us for our journey through life.
It is my prayer that, as the Catholic community gathers to celebrate the Holy Eucharist this Christmas, our eyes will be opened anew to the real presence of the Lord in our midst. As we celebrate His birth in time, may we be ever mindful of His enduring presence each and every time we gather to celebrate the Eucharist. May the Year of Faith help us to understand the “wonderful mystery” we celebrate on Christmas Day and inspire us to a greater participation in the Sunday Eucharist on a weekly basis, where we can find the Christ Child ever present in our midst.
I pray that the Lord will bless all the faithful in the Diocese of Harrisburg with His peace and shower you with many graces in the New Year.
Sincerely yours in Jesus,
Most Reverend Joseph P. McFadden
Bishop of Harrisburg