BY Peter Diamond | December 27 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print

14-KEENAN

Learning to be evangelised by Christmas

Putting Christ back into Christmas is all very well, but it goes much deeper than that, Peter Diamond discovers in conversation with Bishop John Keenan

The call to put Christ back into Christmas has become something of a cliche in the secular western world in recent years.

There is the danger of playing into atheists’ hands by making the argument, as the issue is far greater than a cheap slogan and as we know, through long experience of politics, how easily slogans can be hijacked.

However, it remains true that we should be putting Jesus at the heart of our lives during Advent. As Catholics, we should be doing it all year round, evangelising our lapsed, atheist or agnostic friends and family.

 

Not your average bishop

This point came to me last week during an interview with Bishop John Keenan of Paisley Diocese.

Bishop Keenan isn’t what some would view as a typical bishop.

Aged 54 and living in one of the most deprived areas in Scotland in a humble parish home at St Fergus’ Church in Ferguslie Park, Paisley, it would challenge some people’s stereotype of what a Scottish Catholic bishop should be like.

Furthermore, during the interview with Bishop Keenan, he revealed that ‘as Catholics we have to know the true meaning of Christmas in our own hearts and minds’ and that we should make sure ‘we are not secularised by Christmas, but we are evangelised by Christmas, for only then can we evangelise others,’ making it clear there is real substance to the style he has.

It made me reflect on my own life: was I preparing a way for the Lord? Do I place Jesus at the heart of Christmas? How am I sharing that joy of Christ with people I encounter? Perhaps it is something we all should contemplate and work on.

 

Bishop Barron

Within Scotland, Bishop Keenan’s embrace of social media has sparked comparisons with Bishop Robert Barron in the United States. The auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles, who spoke at the Usher Hall in Edinburgh earlier this year, has over 34 million views on YouTube and has been spoken of as a key figure in Catholic evangelisation around the world wide web.

Bishop Keenan gave the example that fits into our material world of a young person telling their friends about their latest gadget, but flips it on its head to pursue a method of New Evangelisation.

“Someone who falls in love with an iPhone, they’re great evangelisers; they talk to all their friends about their iPhone, raving about this tool or a great app,” Bishop Keenan said.

“They are great evangelisers of something that they really love, albeit a material thing. You think about how much we love Christ—if we were to evangelise just like that and tell people about Jesus it will change the world.”

 

Secularism

So when we receive or gift our children with a new gadget on Christmas Day, we should perhaps revisit the meaning of how powerful it is to know Jesus Christ in our lives and what hope and joy that can bring to those who’ve yet to know him.

Commercialisation and secular motives have gripped our Prince of Peace Feast and perhaps we need to re-evaluate what it means to be a Christian if we are to keep Christmas sacred in our own lives.

Bishop Keenan believes we need to make sure we are evangelised by Christmas in our own hearts and minds in order to share the Good News with other people.

“We need to know in our lives what Christmas is about; its about the Incarnation of the infinite, eternal creator God who came into this world and took on our finite temporal nature because he wanted to be with us and teach us and save us from sin,” he said.

“We have to make sure that we’re not secularised by Christmas, but that we are evangelised by Christmas and then we can evangelise others. The Incarnation of Jesus defines human history right from the Big Bang 13 billion years ago until the end of time. For us as Catholics it is the fulcrum of history.

“You see TV shows like The Big Bang Theory are given the opportunity to insinuate what is essentially an error.”

 

True meaning of Christmas

For us Catholics who want to retain the sense of what Christmas is truly about, there are things we can do to melt the hearts of our secular snowmen.

Bishop Keenan said: “There are some simple things we can do, like when you go to the post office to buy stamps, insist on religious ones.

“When you go into the shops to buy Christmas cards and can’t find any religious ones, ask them why it’s all robins and snowmen.

“Write to the big stores and outlets and tell them that you were disappointed there were no nativity scenes.

“I think small things like that, when big numbers of people make those suggestions, can harness our arguments.

“After all, the Christmas story, even on a human level, is the most beautiful, enchanting, magical story. No one who has come up with winter-ful festivals has ever really lasted because the story just isn’t there. I think when people see nativity scenes they want to participate and be part of a lovely story.”

 

Salt, leven and light

For 14 years, Bishop Keenan was at the centre of all things Catholic within Glasgow University where he was chaplain, prior to being appointed Bishop of Paisley by Pope Francis in February 2014.

Through my encounter with Bishop Keenan, it was evident he places Jesus at the centre of his life in order to evangelise others—all year round—and encourages those he meets to become the ‘salt, leven and light of the world.’

Bishop Keenan said: “From our point of view, all of creation prior to Christ is in view of Christ and all of history after Christ was because of Him.

“He is the fulcrum. He is the centre point of human history, not just a feast for Christians.

“I think we have to have that fullness of Christ in our hearts and I think it has to be personalised.

“We also need to know our own darkness, we need to know our own helplessness, our inability to save ourselves, the inability of the world to be its own saviour.

“Therefore, there needs to be something in our own hearts that cries out for Christ to come and ‘be my redeemer, because I need to be redeemed.’

“When we have that inside of ourselves in conviction and vibrancy, it should be something that comes out of us naturally,” Bishop Keenan said.

“Our Faith should be naturally something that becomes salt, leaven and light of the world, that’s what we are called to be.

“We then find, therefore, that we speak because we believe and because we love, it flows naturally from what we believe in and what we love.”

This is essentially what each Catholic should be striving towards in our torn and troubled world, not only during Advent or Lent, when our ears perk up at Mass, but throughout the year.

When we find that zeal for evangelising the story of Christ then the headaches of putting Christ back into Christmas will take care of themselves.

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