Fr Tomás King is a Columban priest from Ireland who works in the Diocese of Hyderabad, in the Sindh Province of Pakistan. This is his Christmas reflection.
View of Nagarparkar City from Karoonjhar Mountains
CHRISTMAS 2014, Nagarparkar
Dear Friends, greetings from Pakistan. I hope all is well with you as you prepare to celebrate Christmas.
Last weekend I sat down to put a few thoughts together to send as Christmas greetings. I was hoping to focus on the good news story for Pakistan in recent weeks; that being the teenager Malala Yousafzai being joint winner of the Nobel Peace prize along with, Kailash Satyarthi, an Indian child rights activist. Malala was shot a few years ago by the Taliban, but survived. Her offence; to go to school, as well as to demand education for all children, particularly girls. Malala, in her acceptance speech, she asked her government to 'build schools and not tanks'.
But just a few days later, Tuesday 16th the Taliban attacked a school in Peshawar city and killed 148 people, most of whom, 132, were children. It is simply incomprehensible, impossible to understand the mentality that would motivate one to carry out such acts.The children were systematically and intentionally targeted, so as to cause as much death, damage and destruction as possible.
What kind of response is possible, and necessary to such pure hatred? Are there any hints of answers in the Christmas story? St Luke’s Gospel tells us that the 'shepherds were keeping watch in the night'. What were they looking for? Maybe for something to brighten up their difficult lives. Maybe they were looking for the 'the light that shone in the darkness' which is the image used in St John’s Gospel to describe Jesus’ presence among us. How does light shine in darkness, as the image seems to suggest?
Christ being born in our world, is very much about finding God inside of ordinary every day events. And also it seems, even in the darkness of sin, violence, war, greed and the other negative realities that are part of our world, difficult as that is. Christmas is about light being seen inside of darkness. Christmas invites and challenges us to watch like the shepherds when we look at the world and see the light which is God’s presence, grace, graciousness, forgiveness, love, unselfishness and innocence.
We also need the attitude and disposition of Mary. St Luke’s Gospel also tells us that when Mary heard from the shepherd what Jesus was to become her response was to 'treasure all these things and ponder them in her heart'. There is a lot in this appearance of God in the world that we cannot understand. But ‘watching,’ ‘treasuring’ and ‘pondering’ will help us on the way to understanding and enable us to give and receive the blessing, the ‘benediction’ that Rabindranath Tagore speaks off below:
Bless this little heart, this soul that has won the kiss of heaven for our earth.
He loves the light of the sun, he loves the sight of his mother's face.
He has not learned to despise the dust, and to hanker after gold.
Clasp him to your heart and bless him.
He has come into this land of an hundred cross-roads.
I know not how he chose you from the crowd, came to your door, and grasped you hand to ask his way. He will follow you, laughing the talking, and not a doubt in his heart.
Keep his trust, lead him straight and bless him.
Lay your hand on his head, and pray that though the waves underneath grow threatening,
yet the breath from above may come and fill his sails and waft him to the heaven of peace.
Forget him not in your hurry, let him come to your heart and bless him.
Adoration of the Shepherds, El Greco, c.1610