Peace to people of good will

By Archbishop Julian Porteous

Christmas carols have long been a feature of our celebration of Christmas. We think of “Silent Night”, “Away in a manger”, “Joy to the World” or “O Holy Night”. They capture the wonder, beauty and joy of the birth of Christ. Each Christmas we have the opportunity to sing these much-loved carols in our Masses and other celebrations, like our ‘Carols on the Hill’. They evoke the wonder of the birth of our saviour. They are a precious part of our spiritual tradition.

It is sad that contemporary society, in a misplaced view that such expressions of Christian faith may offend those of other faiths or no faith, no longer permit them to be used in public. The true meaning of Christmas is denied and is replaced by a crass commercialisation. It robs Christmas of its real meaning and message. Our culture is diminished by such decisions. All people in our society can benefit from the traditions associated with Christmas that have come down to us.

However, our homes can still be places where the celebration of Christmas captures the wonder of the birth of our saviour. Each Catholic home can be that ‘domestic church’ where the family gives witness to and appropriately celebrates our faith in the birth of Christ. Christmas carols can be played and children can be reminded of what we celebrate at Christmas.

Of course, the ultimate source of our appreciation of the meaning of Christmas is to be found in the account by St Luke of the events surrounding the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. There is something beautiful and stirring in his account.

The Christmas story given by St Luke in his Gospel tells us that angels appeared to shepherds on that first Christmas night and sang: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of good will”.

The angels rejoice in the glory of God, reflecting what has occurred – God has entered human history in an act of great love and mercy.

Their joyful hymn also invokes a blessing on humanity. This blessing is worth reflection. It invokes a blessing of peace on all those of “good will”.

Good will is an intangible reality, but a very important one. Human society needs a strong dose of goodwill so that our social interactions are life-giving and not life-denying.

Sadly, our current climate in social media, public discourse and political engagement has seen a decline in good will. Trolls in the virtual world, cancel culture in public discourse and polarisation in the political realm have broken down common decency and civility in speech and human interaction.

Christmas can be a time when we appreciate the importance of good will and recognise that its lack has diminished our culture. An important element in our celebration of Christmas is the fostering of good will. We believers can set an example as we show kindness, patience and charity in all our discourse, both in private and in public.

Christmas carols convey the spirit of good will. May the message of the angels to the shepherds on that first Christmas night re-echo in our hearts and families this Christmas: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of good will”.

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