Pastoral Letter from His Lordship the Bishop Mgr. Carmel Zammit
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
The Lord Jesus comes to give us hope!
As we begin a new Church year on this First Sunday of Advent, since this is my first pastoral letter as your bishop, may I say how grateful I feel for the support and care that you have shown to me during the short time that I have been honoured to serve as your Bishop. For years, Gibraltar has been my home – a community that welcomed me as a priest forty years ago, where I served for twenty years, and now after another twenty years serving in Malta, embraced me again as your Bishop. Throughout this time, your deep faith and spirit of generosity have given me much hope. I know that we will continue to accomplish great things together as we open our lives to the power and presence of God in our midst.
I take this occasion to thank you for all your prayers, good wishes and generous gifts together with offers of help. Please keep me and our priests in your prayers so that God’s grace will continue to support us in our mission here in Gibraltar.
We are approaching the popular and great feast of Christmas, celebrating the birth of our Lord, and the Church presents us with a period of time during which we are invited to prepare ourselves for this great Mystery of our faith, the birth of the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Son of God, in the form or a human person. God becomes Man. “The Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us” as St John puts it in his Gospel. God took on our human nature in order to show His compassion, mercy and love towards us. This infinite love for humankind leads God to take on our frail human nature in order to save and redeem us. He took upon Himself all our failures and sins, offering Himself as a sacrifice through his passion and death for the forgiveness of our sins.
The Season of Advent is a time of preparation, a period of four weeks, during which time the Church urges us to prepare ourselves in a spirit of prayer and wonder for the coming of God’s Son among us. Advent is a special time of grace, a time of waiting and hoping in God’s promise of a Messiah.
During Advent, the Church in her liturgy presents us with readings from the Bible which point to the promises made by God to his people, promises which were fulfilled by the birth of Jesus Christ. This is what we mean by the word Gospel, that is the Good News. The Father wants to be close to us, to walk alongside each one of us in our journey here on earth, through the presence of His Son, Emmanuel, a name which means ‘God is with us’.
On this first Sunday of Advent the Church tells us that Advent is a “wake up” call, expressed very well by St. Paul in his Letter to the Romans: “You know the time has come: you must wake up now: our salvation is even nearer now than it was when we were converted...– let us give up all the things we prefer to do under cover of the dark; let us arm ourselves and appear in the light.” And in today’s gospel reading we hear Jesus too calling us to “stay awake, because you do not know the day when your master is coming.”
In fact Christ, the Light of the World, stands at the door of our hearts every day. That door can only be opened from inside and He waits patiently for us to open it and welcome Him in. But too often we are so taken up with our daily cares and concerns that we either fail to hear the knock, or are simply too busy to answer it. We need to make time to listen and respond to that gentle knocking.
During Christmas we share beautiful experiences. We put up Christmas lights to brighten our surroundings. In much the same way, we place our faith in the child Jesus who is the Light of the World, and who enters the darkness in order to be a powerful ray of hope for each and every one of us, especially for those who are passing through difficult and despairing times. As we do every year, in our streets and homes, we illuminate the Christmas tree and put lights around the figure of the infant Jesus, to recall that He is the light which overcomes all darkness. At Christmas, we draw closer to Jesus as the Light of Life. During this Advent, let us see Jesus in those brethren who need our help, so that through our charity, Jesus may be a light for them as well. It is such a lovely thing to celebrate Christmas in solidarity with others and not just on our own. The most beautiful decorations which embellish our streets and our society are the strong sense of solidarity and compassion which we offer to our fellow brothers and sisters.
Wherever we are on our spiritual journey, our awareness, our belief that God loves us unconditionally, should fill us with hope and consolation. The spirit of Advent is the spirit of renewed hope and expectancy as we long for the coming of the Saviour into our hearts and minds – not just at Christmas, but every day of our lives. Each day we are called to become more and more like the person of Jesus Christ and model our lives on Him. Then we too, in some small way, will be able to reveal to the world something of the unconditional love of God, which He offers us, as pure gift to everyone without exception.
But we will only be able to hold fast to Christ if we are fully awake and alert to His voice: in the Scriptures, in our prayer, and when we meet Him in the celebration of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
May our Mother, the Virgin Mary, accompany us during this journey of Advent. She also had her advent from the time the Angel appeared to her, when she accepted to submit her will to that of God, till she gave birth in Bethlehem. May she intercede for us before her Son, and help us to strengthen our resolve to prepare ourselves for the solemn Feast of Christmas by deepening our faith, confirming our hope in God’s promises, and helping us to be more generous in our love for God and one another.
With an assurance of my prayers and blessing for you all.
Bishop of Gibraltar