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‘Christ came into the world to find us in our hiddenness’

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SAN DIEGO – San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy celebrated Christmas Eve Mass at St. Joseph Cathedral. The faithful packed the pews, including many families.

In his Homily, he shared his experience of attending the recent Synod on the Amazon at the Vatican, convened by Pope Francis to address the socio-economic, ecological and pastoral crises in that region that’s home to millions of inhabitants.  Most of the Bishops and clergy who attended served in the Amazon region; Bishop McElroy was one of two bishops from the United States invited by the Pope to attend.

The following are excerpts of the Bishop’s Homily, which touched on the indigenous peoples of the Amazon, estimated to number almost 3 million:

“In the synod, one of the great areas of hope were the indigenous people, even though many are being dispossessed of their lands they are retaining their sense of community, a sense of faith, and a sense of the goodness of God.

“I talked to an indigenous priest, Father Martín, who lives and works among the hidden people, in our parlance, who are people living off the grid. They have withdrawn from their collective lands, from the culture as a whole so inhospitable to their way of life.

“He lives in a canoe; and takes his canoe down the river, and for 18 years he’s ministered to the Indian communities, bringing the presence of the Eucharist and of Christ to them.

“He finds them waiting — many, many are Catholic — with a sense of expectation and joy.

“I asked him: Isn’t it arduous to keep this up, all these years?

“’Yes, it is,’ he told me. He said it was not an easy way of life. Yet he said he felt that in some way he was embodying the call of Christ who came into the world to find us in our hiddenness.

“And I really think that is what this Feast of Christmas is all about.

“It is about the incarnation of Christ who came into the world, and took on human form, became one like us, and lived, and suffered and died and experienced all the joys and all the challenges of being a human being.

“In human history, Christ did that, and thus we have been saved once and for all.  We have been redeemed in Jesus Christ.

“But in a very real way the incarnation is the continuing coming of Christ into the world, and into our own lives.

“And we have to understand Christ is beckoning individually to each and every one of us, particularly in our hiddenness, particularly when we feel lost, particularly when we feel estranged, particularly when we feel abandoned. But it is in those moments — just like when Father Martín goes down the river to seek those who are hidden — it is in those moments of our abandonment that Christ comes to us.

“That’s the message of the incarnation of Christ today, that we have been redeemed once and for all.  Christ comes to us in every moment seeking to envelop us with the love and mercy that convinces us that the goodness which is in our hearts is far greater than the failures we have.

“And that our God looks upon us in our very brokenness, not as a failure, but our God looks at us with love and mercy.

“That’s why the word ‘mercy’ is such a great thing in our Church. The notion of mercy is this: When we look at God and understand that God’s primary relationship with us in our humanity is mercy, when we do that we understand two important things: One is that we fail, secondly, in that failure, God comes to us and loves us, and wants to be present to us. And that’s what the Incarnation is all about.

“It is an event in human history that transformed the whole of our salvation, but it is also a continuing call of Christ in the world.

“Christ in humanity, who knows what it is like to suffer, who knows what it is like to struggle, who knows what it is like to have joy, who comes to each and every one of us and says, ‘I want to be part of your life in every aspect, even, and especially, in your hiddenness.’”

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