...in these last days of Advent. The crib went up today - those Christmas figures were first put up in our home over 30 years ago for our first Christmas, ordered by post from the Universe newspaper. The Christ-child figure will be taken to Mass tomorrow to be blessed, and then placed in the manger on Christmas Eve. Presents have been wrapped and labelled - there are now nephews and nieces, and small great-nephews and nieces, on the list, all unknown 30 years ago...The Christmassy wreath that hangs on the front door is a bit battered now, and the trimmings have had to be renewed, but with fresh white ribbons it looks fine. Vast numbers of cards are being recieved and sent...
But there's something sad about Christmas 2011. The great feast is somehow a reminder that the first and most important freedom is religious freedom. There is a worrying sense of its being eroded, and whittled away. The new law on marriage will see Catholic churches under pressure - the sensible thing to do will be to re-register as legal places for marriage, and offer only the Church's sacrament of matrimony, thus making it absolutely clear that there can be no question of formalising same-sex unions. Thus something that was gained after the 1829 Catholic Emancipation Act will be lost - but it is the most realistic way forward, relieving the Church from the pressure of legal action by campaigners.
It is delightful hearing the familiar traditional Christmas carols sung by choirs in streets and in railway stations. But we need to emphasise that it really is perfectly acceptable to sing these and that the religious nature of their words in no way means that they have to be sidelined. Perhaps that is why I've been doing a lot more carol-singing in recent years: it's important to sing out loud the glorious words about Christ and Mary, the angels, the shepherds, the star and the good, good news.
"the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits."
"the right to religious freedom has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person as this dignity is known through the revealed word of God and by reason itself. This right of the human person to religious freedom is to be recognized in the constitutional law whereby society is governed and thus it is to become a civil right." (Vat II, and relevant to modern Britain.)