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Bishop Denis’ Christmas Message

Christmas Message 2019

There is a signpost on the road from Baltinglass to Blessington, it simply reads ‘Manger’. As you enter Kilkenny from Carlow one of the early roundabouts you encounter is the ‘Hebron Road Roundabout’. And of course, on the road from Carlow to Athy, much closer to Carlow is ‘Jerusalem’.

In these days as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ there is for me a very clear realisation that we live on holy ground, this is our holy land, this is our holy place. Our challenge is to create our own Manger because Christ continues to be born amongst us. Sometimes we miss the signs; we are blind to the gift of His presence.

Pope Francis wrote his most recent apostolic letter ‘Admirabile Signum’ on the meaning and importance of the nativity scene. He signed the letter in Greccio, purposefully choosing the mountain village where St. Francis of Assisi created the first crib scene in 1223. We all love our cribs. Every crib in our churches, our schools, our town squares, our homes is of itself a living gospel rising up from the pages of scripture.

We might debate when the different characters enter the nativity story, and maybe, more importantly, when they are to leave, but we can never underestimate the power of the gospel coming from the crib, any crib. Returning to Pope Francis, he says: “From the manger, Jesus proclaims, in a meek yet powerful way, the need for sharing with the poor as the path to a more human and fraternal world in which no one is excluded or marginalised.[1]

And that’s our challenge, to look on the manger, to spend time at our crib, wherever that is, and see the families who are homeless, the families who are refugees, the families who are forgotten by society and simply ask ourselves is there anyone we are forgetting, excluding or leaving behind in these more prosperous times?

The manger challenges us, whether it is empty or full; the crib or creche, as Pope Francis calls it, challenges us whether it exactly reflects the authentic narrative of the first Christmas story. Christ seems to be telling all of us, it is not the first Christmas story we need to fully unpack, it is how we live the Christmas story in our lives, in our world, in our parishes, in our homes.

I conclude with a prayer seasonally titled ‘The Bright Prayer’

I lie with God
may He lie with me,
God’s shade above me,
an angel-girdle around my waist.
Where will you lie tonight?
Between Mary and her Son
between Bridget and her cloak
between Colmcille and his shield
between God and His right hand.[2]

Once again I take this opportunity of my ‘Christmas Message’ to thank you all, priests, religious and lay people, for your engagement with the Christmas story, not just at this time of the year, but throughout the twelve months. I pray that your Christmas will be blessed with His gentleness, peace and love this year.



[1] Pope Francis, ‘Admirable Signum’, issued 01 Decmeber 2019, the First Sunday of Advent
[2] ‘The Bright Prayer’ from Poems of the Dispossessed, edited by Seán Ó Tuama and Thomas Kinsella