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Scotland’s bishops wish you a happy, holy Christmas

All eight Scottish bishops give their annual Christmas message to Catholics across the country.

Archbishop Leo Cushley, St Andrews & Edinburgh Archdiocese

Imagine being born in a stable. The conditions would be cramped, dark and dirty. And you’d have the unpleasant odour of farm animals to contend with!

Christmas card images of the Nativity, while often beautiful, airbrush what it was really like.

The reality is that our Lord was born in rather abysmal conditions by today’s standards. I don’t know about you, but that makes me marvel.

The lesson here is that we’d all do well to imitate such profound humility. The suggestion here is: be humble.

Mary’s response to the Angel Gabriel was in obedience to the Lord: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.

“May it be done to me according to your word.”

Christmas is a special time for that, because it brings out the best in people.

When we’re humble enough to put others’ needs ahead of our own, everyone benefits.

There’s an annual rise in the number of charitable donations each December.

Churches and charities across Scotland and beyond hold toy schemes so children can wake up to a present on Christmas morning.

The Society of St Vincent de Paul, which has conferences in many parishes across our Archdiocese, has been busy with Christmas hamper and toy appeals as well as hosting Christmas lunches for the elderly.

They couldn’t do it without your generous contributions to the SSVP box after Mass!

We all know that many people struggle at this time of year. While that’s easy to acknowledge, the challenge is to act.

No matter how small the sacrifice—a charity tin donation, a coffee with someone who is lonely, a volunteering opportunity—we can all lend a hand. And if you already do this, please continue your good work.

Humility is the basis for opening our hearts and the inspiration to serve others.

It leads us to focus a bit less on ourselves (good) and a bit more on others (better).

St Bernard says: “Humility is the foundation and guardian of virtues.” When we begin to be more humble, we better develop other attributes.

How awful to be described as someone who only cares for themselves!

Mary, the Mother of Jesus, is a model of humility. Her example of obedience to the will of God stands starkly in contrast with today’s ‘me first’ culture.

Her consent to become the Mother of God changed the course of history.

Over 2,000 years later, Christians across the world continue to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, our Saviour, in a stable in Bethlehem, in such humble conditions.

May your Christmas be filled with peace and joy. God bless you all.


Archbishop Philip Tartaglia, Glasgow Archdicoese

The word that best describes Advent and Christmas is expectation. I suspect, however, that for many people the feeling that this season engenders is anxiety.

Life never seems to get simpler. As the festive season dawns, the temptation is for modern man and woman to sense a new anxiety, which we may describe as the fear of having so much to do and so little time in which to do it.

Our society is riddled with anxiety. From the young child at school rendered anxious by social media-fuelled expectations, to parents anxious not to let down their children as the list of Christmas gifts grows.

Elderly folk can feel the anxiety of loneliness quite acutely as advertising blasts out the message that everyone lives in a fun-loving, beautiful, rich, friendship group.

Climate change and Brexit, among other worries, are also sources of anxiety for people.

Perhaps it was ever thus.

Mary and Joseph must have been anxious about how to explain to family, friends and neighbours the mystery of the coming birth of their child, who was the incarnate Son of God.

Their anxieties must have intensified when they realised that they would need to be away from home at the time of the birth of Jesus.

Going through labour in a stable, in the bitter cold, away from family and friends must have been worrying, frightening even, for a young mother and her husband.

The anxiety of Mary and Joseph was dispelled wonderfully by the birth of Jesus.

They witnessed the heavens rejoice. They saw their child worshipped by people of high and low rank.

They remembered what the angel had told them, and they realised with joy and wonder that the arrival of their most holy child changed everything for them and for the whole world.

As we celebrate Christmas, it is a good idea to let Jesus do the same for us. His peace is the best antidote to anxiety. Many people will testify that we can find peace when we open our hearts to God.

Search out a little silence in the coming days. Maybe read over the verses of the Gospel that tell of Jesus’ birth. Light a candle and put yourself in the presence of God.

Your cares may not disappear, but your anxieties will surely be re-cast in a different and more hopeful perspective by the presence of Jesus, the Emmanuel, who is God with us.


Bishop Joseph Toal, Motherwell Diocese

Pope Francis wrote a lovely letter recently to us all from the Shrine of the Nativity at Greccio, the site of the First Christmas Crib set up by St Francis of Assisi in December 1223.

He concluded his reflections on the beauty of the Christmas Crib as follows:

“Dear Brothers and Sisters, the Christmas Crib is part of the precious but demanding process of passing on the Faith.

“Beginning in childhood and at every stage of our lives, it teaches us to contemplate Jesus, to experience God’s love for us, to feel and believe that God is with us and that we are with Him, His children, Brothers and Sisters all, thanks to that child who is Son of God and Son of the Virgin Mary, and to realise that in that knowledge we find true happiness.

“Like St Francis, may we open our hearts to this simple grace, so that from our wonderment a humble prayer may arise, a prayer of thanksgiving to God, who willed to share with us His all, and thus never to leave us alone.”

In union with our Holy Father I wish you a very happy and holy Christmas, and the peace of Christ in the year ahead.


Bishop John Keenan, Paisley Diocese

 I wonder if you, like me, enjoy the prayers in our Christmas Masses in this festive season.

After the long watching of the Advent season and when, finally, all is at last made manifest, we can enjoy the great promise in which we dared to hope.

Then, praying the prayers of the Christmas Liturgies, we find ourselves caught up in the marvel of the Bethlehem scene with Mary, Joseph and the newborn Messiah, below the choir of angels, accompanied by the shepherds and alongside the stable animals.

As we peer into its curiosity, the prayers raise our minds to the astonishing truth of it all: in the wonder of the Incarnation, your eternal Word has brought to the eyes of Faith a new and radiant vision of your glory. In Him we see our God made visible, and so are caught up in love of the God we cannot see.

It is so much to take in that the Liturgy allows us Twelve Days of Christmas to savour the astonishing truth of what interrupted our human history 2,000 ago in the arrival of that tiny Child.

The Liturgy of the Feast of Saint Stephen, on the day after Christmas day, reflects upon how God took on human form so that we would not need to go look for Him in temples of stone but might find Him very near in warm flesh and blood like our own.

The Feast of John the Evangelist contemplates the sheer wonder of the Incarnation where God comes so close to us that we can even touch Him with our hands and see Him with our eyes. The Feast of the Holy Innocents surprises us that the marvel of this great grace is resisted from the outset by the powers of this world who cannot, in the end, steal the victory that belongs to the Christ Child.

I hope you can find some time and space in these days just to contemplate the spectacle of the Manger and realise how much God loved the world, and you, that He would send His only Son to be our Saviour.

Together with Mary, I hope you can treasure and ponder it in your heart and, like the shepherds, glorify and praise God for all you see.

May God bless you and yours this Christmas and keep you safe to prosper in the New Year.


Bishop Brian McGee, Argyll and the Isles Diocese  

One statement which I don’t like is: “Christmas is all about the kids.”

It’s something that I often hear at this time of year. Now, don’t get me wrong—I absolutely loved Christmas as a child and each year I find myself reliving many cherished memories. Now, as an adult, I love seeing the excitement and joy of today’s children. So what’s my issue?

My problem is that by saying Christmas is only for children, we have reduced Christmas to presents, parties, lights and food.

Now again, I love the Christmas atmosphere of people coming together and having fun. But wonderful as partying is, is this all that there is to Christmas?

So what are we celebrating? It is good that family and friends gather together for fun but is there nothing more to Christmas?

Without a doubt, Christmas is a most wonderful time of the year. Christmas reveals that we are precious.

At the first Christmas God took on human flesh to make us like God. Jesus loved us so much He was born in the stable to redeem us. From that moment, God would be with us in a new way. We would never be alone.

Christmas is a special time for everyone. I hope that we all can enjoy its social moments but even more the beauty of encountering the love of Jesus in our hearts.

Jesus was born for us all and so I wish each one of you, young and old, a happy and holy Christmas!


Bishop William Nolan of Galloway Diocese

 It is the sense of excitement. That is the difference between adults and children at Christmas. The children have a sense of excitement that the grown-ups have lost.

For the adults, Christmas can mean a time of chores to be accomplished, of tasks to be performed.

There are Christmas cards to be written and sent, presents to be bought and wrapped, shopping to be done, meals to be prepared. And the joy of Christmas can be overshadowed by the thought that eventually the credit card bills will have to be paid. The preparations for Christmas can seem like a burden and not a joy.

The build up to Christmas can, of course, be a painful time for children also because they can’t wait for Christmas to come —for them there is the agony of waiting, of being patient.

But it is a wait full of excitement for what lies ahead. For the children, Christmas is something special and they can’t wait for it to come.

In the Bible, the people of the Old Testament are also waiting. Year after year, the people are waiting for the Messiah, the Saviour, to come. They are waiting for the day when the Christ will be born, and as they wait they have the same longing and expectation and desire that our children now have as they wait to celebrate the birthday of Christ.

There are those who say that Christmas is for children. And so it is, but not just for them. Christmas is for all of us. This is a time when adults benefit from being in the company of young children for it is from the children that we catch the excitement that we have lost.

Christmas is a special time as we mark the birthday of a special person. As Christmas day draws closer may we, all of us, have the excitement of the children as we look forward with joy to celebrating the feast of the birth of Christ.


Bishop Hugh Gilbert, Aberdeen Diocese

May I wish all readers of the SCO a joyful Christmas and all good things for 2020! We don’t know the future, but we do know that God is with us— always, everywhere. And that changes everything.

What can we wish for others, for our family and friends, for ourselves? What about change?

That might sound rude. But not if it’s meant well. Christmas—God with us—changes everything and something can shift in us through celebrating it. Something new can enter and change our standard selves.

At Christmas—at the Annunciation, to be precise—God changed. God became something He was not: a human being. He did this freely, out of love for us. He did not change who He always is, one God in three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He did not change his ‘character’. He didn’t stop being God.

But the Second Person of the Trinity took on a human nature, ‘added’ humanity to Himself. He embraced it, married it. He was born of a mother, died on a Cross, rose from the dead—all as a real human being.

Now, humanity is part of God —the Son of God—for ever. Unbelievable! Yet this is our Faith.

At Christmas, God changed. He changed so as to change us. He took on us so that we can take on Him. God lived a human life so we can—unbelievably—live a divine one.

What does this mean? Not throwing our weight around; God doesn’t do that.

But with the help of the Holy Spirit and in the limits of our humanity, trying to reflect the goodness of God—freely, out of love.

Trying to humble ourselves, like God. Trying to serve one another, as Jesus did. Trying to make a good gift of our own life, as the Father gifted his Son and his Son gifted Himself.

We can try to be ‘with’ one another, carrying each other’s burdens as Christ carried our Cross.

God could have forgotten us, as we had forgotten him. But he didn’t. In the Child Jesus, he remembers each one of us. And that changes us.

Perhaps one simple life-changing gesture for Christmas is to remember—in prayer and contact—someone we might otherwise not. Couldn’t the whole world then become aflame, changed by love?

May Mary’s Son bless us all!


Bishop Stephen Robson, Dunkeld Diocese

Returning from continental Europe recently, I had bought a small plaster statue of the baby Jesus to put in my Crib at home this Christmas; the previous one was cracked and was beginning to look shabby.

When we think of it, what an incredible eloquence there is demonstrated by such a representation of the divine child! It tells of the ‘condescension’ of God—of how God the Father sends his only Son into the world to become one of us.

How vulnerable is a newborn child! St Paul tells us that ‘the State of Jesus was Divine but he emptied himself’ (Philippians 2). In this poignant symbol of the Christ Child, God the Father has stooped down to save us—to share his divine life with us—‘And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us’ (John 1).

As we contemplate the baby Jesus in the Crib this Christmas, let us say of Jesus with John the Beloved Disciple: Videte qualem caritatem dedit nobis Pater! (1 John 3)—See what love the Father has bestowed on us!

A very Blessed Christmas to you all!


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