As news and information pile in on top of us at a faster and faster rate, Christmas is a time when we are presented very starkly with the contradictions that live side by side throughout the year. At other times, we can literally sidestep them more easily. Even through Christmas is intensely busy, these contradictions confront us face to face in ways that we cannot avoid.
The continuing incapacities of policy makers in Ireland to address the misery and the indignity of raw homelessness for children and adults, of what is euphemistically called Direct Provision and the unthinkable scandal of people dying on the streets were brought home forcefully to anyone who heard Fr Peter McVerry speak recently during The Walk of Light across Dublin’s inner city churches. Fr Peter McVerry, the Christian conscience of contemporary Ireland, told the story of a homeless young person whom he knew well and who said to him: Peter, the thing about homelessness is that nobody cares. The young person subsequently took his own life. Journeying to no purpose, journeying with no outcome, journeying with no trusted companionship all too often fill the waking hours of those rejected and stigmatized today whether by rural or by urban poverty and alienation. More and more people in today’s Ireland didn’t expect that by seeking asylum they would end up in Direct Provision; that by falling behind in mortgage payments and lapsing into rent arrears they would end up in emergency accommodation; that by going on to the streets to live they might indeed die on the streets. For more and more people, the gradient annually becomes harder to climb and the sense of purpose fades.
The infant Jesus and his parents Mary and Joseph made a number of journeys – to Bethlehem and then to Egypt. The innkeeper in Bethlehem was willing both to compromise and to improvise. Not least at Christmas, Christians today are asked to become innkeepers. They are required to compromise and to improvise. They are invited to follow the light of humanity and of dignity and to make connections of grace and generosity with people just like themselves who have found that their journey has led them to Direct Provision, to chronic rent arrears, to emergency accommodation and to rough sleeping. As Fr Peter McVerry’s friend said, with the honesty of those who have nothing to lose: Nobody cares. St Luke 4.18 carries us into the heart of this Christmas: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me; he has sent me to announce good news to the poor.