Christmas message from Caritas Europa President Michael Landau

Be watchful in prayer and love

Dear friends, members of Caritas Europa,

Reflecting on the Holy Scriptures with Pope Francis, there are two key words for the Advent season: closeness and watchfulness. God’s closeness and our watchfulness. The prophet Isaiah says that God is close to us, while in the Gospel Jesus urges us to keep watchful in expectation of His return.

Advent is a time of expectation, but not a time of putting off what needs to be done. He wants to make us prick up our ears in the here and now.

“Do not be afraid.” Hardly any other phrase occurs as frequently in the biblical texts as this one. We can trust because God trusts us, entrusts us with the present and the future to help shape it. He gives us this time of grace so that we can use it. God walks with us in Christ and at the same time comes to meet us full of love, as the goal of history and as the goal of our own lives. Looking back over the past months, the many experiences of lived charity, attention and solidarity in so many places, make it clear: Charity does not go into lockdown.

God invites us to wait and hope, and to remain awake and vigilant in both.

It is a central hint that we find in Mark’s Gospel, the Gospel of this liturgical year, at the end of Jesus’ final address to his disciples: “Be watchful!”

Looking at it from the one side, it is important to remain watchful, because one great mistake in life is to get absorbed in a thousand things and not to notice God.
As Saint Augustine said: “Timeo Iesum transeuntem” - I fear that Jesus might pass by me and I will not notice. Perhaps we all know this experience of being caught up in our own daily concerns so that we risk losing sight of what is essential.

From the other side, to be watchful also means to not remain in the comfort of sleep. As Pope Francis says: There is a dangerous kind of sleep: it is the slumber of mediocrity. It comes when we forget our first love and grow satisfied with indifference, concerned only for an untroubled existence. Faith is not water that extinguishes flames, it is fire that burns.

How can we rouse ourselves from the slumber of mediocrity? With the vigilance of prayer. When we pray, we light a candle in the darkness. Prayer rouses us from the tepidity of a purely horizontal existence and makes us lift our gaze to higher things; it makes us attuned to the Lord. The Pope adds: “Prayer is vital for life: just as we cannot live without breathing, so we cannot be Christians without praying.”

But there is also a second kind of interior slumber the Holy Father mentions: the slumber of indifference. Those who are indifferent see everything the same, as if it were night; they are unconcerned about those all around them. When everything revolves around us and our needs, and we are indifferent to the needs of others, night descends in our hearts.

How, then, do we rouse ourselves from the slumber of indifference? With the watchfulness of charity! “Charity is the beating heart of the Christian: just as one cannot live without a heartbeat, so one cannot be a Christian without charity.”
Jesus is coming. This is the core message of this season. We are not alone. And the road to meet him is clearly marked: it passes through works of charity.

Last but not least, we feel this motif when looking at the candles on the wreath and lights on our Christmas tree, and when looking at all the lights that are part of Christmas: We can and should carry on giving away the light of Jesus. It is also up to us to leave this world a bit more beautiful, brighter, a bit more human and future-proof than we found it.

This is where the basic melody of gratitude and the joy of faith takes shape: We change lives by loving - the lives of other people, and, most likely, according to the experience I have had in many conversations, our own lives. Because the key to a happy life lies in not only worrying about your own happiness, but also about the happiness of others.

Praying and loving: that is what it means to be watchful.

May God bless you, your families and all your work.
Let us be agents of hope.
Let us stay united in prayer.

Together with the Caritas Europa Executive Board, and Secretariat, I wish you a Merry Christmas and a good and blessed year 2021!

Mgr. Michael Landau