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Nova et Vetera: Archbishop Byrnes’ Christmas message

Mary and the Christ Child are depicted in this 17th-century painting by Giovanni Battista Salvi. Today, Dec. 25, all the faithful rejoice as we celebrate the feast of the Nativity of Christ, a holy day of obligation. (CNS/Bridgeman Images)

Nova et Vetera.

“New things and old things.” I don’t mean to be pretentious by using a Latin phrase here. It’s just what came to mind when I was thinking about what to say to you all, my brothers and sisters in Christ.

Advent is a season of anticipation. We look forward to the celebration of Christmas, to getting together with family, to presents, to the hope offered by a new year. Yet, strangely enough, our anticipation is mixed with a kind of nostalgia: we anticipate the recollection of old sentiments and the hope of recapturing “better times.” It might be very much like what I used to anticipate when I was younger. One of the things I loved most about the Advent and Christmas season was sitting in the living room with all the lights off – except those on the Christmas tree. It gave me a sense of beauty, peace, and tranquility. I loved that. To this day, I try to recapture that, but it’s never the same as I remember it. That’s what I mean by this anticipation and nostalgia. I was anticipating an old and elusive feeling. That is to say, I yearn for a sentiment that I can never get back again.

For me, and perhaps for many of you, this sense of Advent anticipation has had a very immediate feel to it in these past few weeks: Who are these people to whom the Lord is sending me to shepherd? Who is this new bishop coming to us? And, just what does “coadjutor” mean anyway?

For my part, I have experienced a wonderfully warm reception from so many of you. I have discovered a people with a deep memory of centuries of the Catholic Christian faith, manifested in music, processions, novenas, and so many other rich expressions of love and devotion to the Lord and His Blessed Mother. And this faith is not untested; rather, it grew strong through times of adversity and even martyrdom.

For many of you, I know there has been an anticipation of a “new chapter,” a hope that things will get better, perhaps even that things will get back to the way they were. The “new and the old.” We expect that from the Christmas season.

So this is the message that I think God wishes to remind us of, Jesus is always new, and he always invites us to what St. Paul calls “newness of life” (Romans 6:4). The goal of this “new life” is more than that we become “good people,” or even “better people.” Rather, the goal is that you and I become “saints.” That is the gift that Jesus offers to you and me. We are called not just to remember the heroes of our past but to become heroic Christians ourselves. Maybe I’m sounding a little pretentious again but I’m not making this up: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification….” (1 Thessalonians 4:3). Jesus, the Son of God, became one of us so that we could become sons and daughters of God and begin to live the life of Jesus: “it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life I now live I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20). These are words within which you and I must live, and breathe, and grow.

Let me leave you with this thought from Pope Benedict XVI: “Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but rather an encounter with an event, a person which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” This is where it begins.

May our celebration of Christmas this year lead us into such an encounter with Jesus!

/s/Archbishop Michael J. Byrnes

Coadjutor Archbishop of Agana

Dec. 25, 2016