by Grant Tungay, S.J.

It is Christmas again and it is once again time for good food and an opportunity to spend quality time with those close to us. Importantly, it is also a time for receiving gifts! Gifts – those little packages of joy found under a Christmas tree. Gifts – those carefully wrapped parcels, perhaps hidden carefully in Christmas stockings on a wall. Gifts – a sign of affection shared between those who love one another and want to show it.

It is Christmas again and it is once again time for good food and an opportunity to spend quality time with those close to us. Importantly, it is also a time for receiving gifts! Gifts – those little packages of joy found under a Christmas tree. Gifts – those carefully wrapped parcels, perhaps hidden carefully in Christmas stockings on a wall. Gifts – a sign of affection shared between those who love one another and want to show it.

It is always great to receive gifts. Receiving gifts is a wonderful tradition which has formed an important part of the celebration of Christmas. But St. Paul reminds us of the words of Jesus, “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). In this context St. Paul is reminding us that we must help the weak around us. We nod when we read this and say, yes, there is a certain pleasure to giving that we enjoy. But usually at Christmas we give gifts to our closest friends and family, and we enjoy sharing our love and affection for them. The weak and vulnerable – all those who are outcasts in our community – so often fade into the background at this time of year. We can get caught up in our celebrations, our preparation of delicious meals and enjoying the respite that vacation can bring. This celebration is necessary and good. But is there space to expand the scope of our giving to include those we don’t usually associate with, or traditionally think about? Can we share our Christmas joy with the widow, the orphan, the sick or those in prison? Is there space at our Christmas table for the hungry, the thirsty, the tired or lonely?

All well and good. We know that as a Christian community we should we reaching out to the marginalised. But practically how do we do this over Christmas? Pope Francis writes very movingly about reaching out to those living on the ‘outermost fringes of society’ in the document he wrote to set up the Year of Mercy: Misericordiae Vultus. An easy challenge this Christmas would be to download this document and read it. All you need to do is to google ‘Misericordiae Vultus’ and the first website that comes up is the one that you need. Far from being a technical treatise, it is rich spiritual reading. It is not a long document, and it is written in an easy and accessible style. Reading this document will help you to think and pray about the needy this Christmas. Reading this document will also put you well on the way to living the Year of Mercy in 2016 in a deep and life-giving way. After all, the Year of Mercy is not simply about increasing our charitable works but it is about a revolution of heart. This revolution would have us open our hearts to include the excluded. If Christian hearts, homes and communities can become welcoming places this Christmas, what a gift to our neighbours that would be!