Christmas guest editorial: Sydney Duval – Christmas in a village parish on the North Coast of then-Natal in the 1940s was a flowering of fragrance and colour from mangoes, avocados and litchis.
At Midnight Mass you could call it a silhouette of the flowering of the seed in the manger at Bethlehem. The crib was in place. The old wood and iron church, ablaze with candles and flowers, creaked in the heat. The choir sang to music from an old pump organ with sounds as sweet and sour as the tall grasses that covered the land where no sugarcane grew.
St Michaels’s in Blackburn Road, like parishes across the land, had much to celebrate. The soldiers had come home. Civvy street was alive with the shuffle of brogues and suedes. The wounds of war were being healed. Wholeness kept family and friends close together — before apartheid broke things up and smashed life and society into bits and pieces.
The school down the road, the bioscope round the corner, and Parkhill soccer ground up the road from the church formed a scaffolding that supported our spiritual formation, our education, our social life and our sporting activities. There was little brokenness to darken the sky or the landscape. Wholeness kept family and friends close together — before apartheid broke things up and smashed life and society into bits and pieces.
The year 1994 brought the dawn of a new beginning, with Nelson Mandela telling the world: “Never, never again.” Yet just 23 years later we find ourselves facing Christmas with a new kind of brokenness.
South Africa is being swamped by corruption, criminal violence, mismanagement of resources and services, and anarchy and carnage on the roads that have created new forms of brokenness. When you put it all together it’s a very human temptation to dig a hole and hide your head, to deafen your ears to the cries of the brokenhearted.
Brokenness for the millions of poor and jobless citizens. Brokenness in education, health and policing. Children’s bodies broken and abused. Brokenness through state capture which flourishes with little or no consequences.
Economic perfidy has brought us to the perils of junk bond status. Parliamentary sessions bring more revelations of skullduggery.
When you put it all together it’s a very human temptation to dig a hole and hide your head, to deafen your ears to the cries of the brokenhearted.
But there is a far more compelling urge to respond with “the Word that is made flesh” with the nativity and dwells among us — the Word that is our most powerful connection and possession down all the ages.
This Christmas may we welcome the messengers of the Good News, the bearers of good tidings, who connect us to each other and to the wider world that we may better understand it and nurture it and save it — and rekindle meaning and value and a passion for compassion.
I’m thinking of The Southern Cross and its prodigious efforts to bring us the Good News, Sunday after Sunday, for close on 100 years, and its mission to keep the faith alive through mastery of the technological revolution affecting media everywhere.
Or Catholic Link which not only illuminates the Sunday Mass with its profoundly thoughtful reflections on the liturgy and scripture — it has also kept us mindful of Pope Francis and his Gospel of service and mercy, of building bridges. We could re-engage with the Vatican pastoral instruction Aetatis Novae which calls every diocesan pastoral outreach to include a social communications component.
Think, too, of the conscientising voice of Radio Veritas calling us to prayer and discernment.
Here are gifts for family and friends to enrich their Christian journey as blessings in times of adversity.
Consider, too, what each of us can do to spread the Good News. We could re-engage with the Vatican pastoral instruction Aetatis Novae which calls every diocesan pastoral outreach to include a social communications component. This Christmas let the wondrous signs in the sky draw us back to Bethlehem
Communication brings dialogue and communities that will live out the pastoral plan in serving humanity.
Here the local Church, through lay-religious collaboration, continues with its inspired mission to do what it can to help the seven million people living with HIV/Aids in South Africa.
This Christmas let the wondrous signs in the sky draw us back to Bethlehem and the Galilean ministry that was to change the way men and women were to embrace each other in celebrating their shared humanity.
Jesus himself had his body pierced. But he is still with us today. He is the light in the sky which inspires Catholic Link to proclaim “Good Heavens” and The Southern Cross to echo the news with “Heavens Alive!”