Chesterton said, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”


We are very grateful to the Reverend Dr Michael Cullinan for providing the text of the homily which he preached at the Midnight Mass in the Conventual Church, which we provide below.

In default of any photographs of the Mass, we display two images of 
Christmas Cribs in Malta, displayed in an exhibition at the Order's former Auberge of Italy.

What do you want for Christmas most of all? What would be the best present you could get?

We’re all thinking about presents at the moment. We’re all looking forward to receiving something. We all hope we’ll get something nice. So I’ll ask again. What do you want most for Christmas? What would be the best present you could get?

Actually you all know the right answer. But you might need to think a bit. Because most people aren’t really aware at all what the right answer is. Think of the things you most want for Christmas. And for next year. And now imagine you have them all. Everything you want. Every thing. Wouldn’t you be very happy?

When I began to study moral theology in the Seminary, on the very first day of the course, we were told three stories. One was about the man who dies and wakes up in a beautiful place, surrounded by beautiful faces. They will do anything for him. Anything at all. They are angels, and they can make almost anything happen for him. Give him anything. So for some time he is blissfully happy. But after a week or two he asks a question. ‘Is there anyone else here? Another human being to talk to?’ The angels put him off for a while by offering to talk, raise a football team, or do something else. But he insists. Gets angry. And finally remarks that surely there must be someone else in heaven to talk to. Then one of the angels says, ‘What makes you think this is heaven?’

Got it? Imagine you’ve got every thing you ever want. Every experience. Except another human being. Except anyone to love you.

So back to the question: What do you want most for Christmas? What would be the best present you could get? Not any thing at all. So what’s the answer?

What about love? Being loved and being able to love?

Almost there. But we haven’t really got to Christmas yet. Most people can get as far as seeing that things on their own aren’t enough for us. That we need love. But most people can’t seem to get any farther. That’s why they’re not here with us at Christmas.

We all want to be loved and to love. But human love is never perfect. If you don’t know that after the rush of the last few days, you certainly will after the next few! We don’t find it easy to get on with each other. Even when we live together. Especially when we live together. And human love doesn’t last forever. Not in this world. It hurts when we are left alone. When someone we loved, someone we still love, isn’t there anymore. Many of us will be thinking of someone in particular this Christmas who isn’t there for us anymore.

We are made to love and be loved. Forever. But we aren’t very good at loving. We need to learn to love. And to be able to love forever. And that brings us right to Christmas. To God’s infinite love for us. To God teaching us that he loves us by becoming one with us. One of us. To teach us how to love. To make it possible for us to love forever. To our Catholic faith.

If we recognize our need for his love. Which means recognizing how bad we are at loving. And how much we need to be forgiven. And that we cannot reliably get God’s love except through his family the Church. A family that, like any family in this world, isn’t always as happy or as good at getting along together as we would like. And that brings us right to our Catholic faith.

We’re here tonight because we can see that we need more than things to make us happy. And more than human love. We’re here to renew our gifts of faith and hope and love. God’s great present to us all.

Our faith is a gift. A gift past generations gave their lives to preserve for us. A gift given to us by our parents, our teachers, and our priests. A gift to receive and enjoy.

When I was an academic, we were warned about working for industry. Never do it just for the love of it, we were told. If you don’t put a high price to your work, they won’t value it, and they won’t value you either. It was a useful lesson.

The faith tends to flourish where the price is higher. Where you’re forced to work on Sundays. Not allowed to put your case fairly in the media. Not allowed to run your own schools in your own way. Discriminated against because of what you believe.

All things done in some places to persecute us. All things getting nearer to being done here in England out of sheer ignorance and contempt for our faith.

It seems to get worse each year. We Catholics are the only minority that doesn’t seem to have minority rights. The only once persecuted group that is treated as if we were part of the old oppressive establishment. The only religion that it isn’t regarded as wrong—or dangerous—to offend and insult.

It used to be that we were either treated with respect, or that the false images some people had of the Catholic faith were so ludicrous that they weren’t really very dangerous to our own faith.

But that’s changed now. Today’s false images of us are much more dangerous. Because they contain just a tiny bit of truth. And the worst things people can say about you are the half-truths. The things that aren’t true about you but have just enough truth in them to be believable.

You have to work quite hard to find out what the Pope really said and meant in his lecture about Islam. And most people haven’t the time. You have to know quite a lot of canon law to see how wrong the BBC were about how the Vatican deals with shameful conduct by clergy. Most people don’t know any canon law. You have to know a lot about scripture and history to see what twisted rubbish Dan Brown has written about how our faith developed. But most people know very little about scripture and history. You have to know a bit of philosophy and theology to see through some of the arguments of Professor Dawkins. But most people don’t get taught very much theology or philosophy. And care less about them.

We now have the most anti-Christian government ever. With government spokesmen threatening to use the law to force us not to discriminate against women and those with partners, in applications for the priesthood. In an election year. They must believe that the Catholic vote has ceased to exist. I think we have let them believe that by not doing enough about previous restrictions on the expression of our faith.

So we have to work much harder now. To defend our religion and to protect the gift of our faith.

But there are two other gifts for us as well. Our hope is a gift. Our hope for a better world, a world without sin and suffering. A hope put in God’s grace and our own good works, rather than simply in politicians and clever plans. A hope that can’t be destroyed by all the terrible things in the news.

But the greatest gift is the third one. The one designed to last forever. Our love is a gift. God’s forgiving love for each of us. To teach us how to love and forgive.

That’s why we need to be here tonight. And every week. To renew our faith and hope and love. To practise our faith, our hope, and our love for each other. And because God has given us a very simple gift to remind us of his love for us. A reminder of the first Christmas.

It’s called the Mass. Where Christ again becomes weak and powerless for us. Where bread and wine become God. Where we receive the divine body of Christ to become more the divine Body of Christ ourselves.

What do you want most for Christmas? What would be the best present you could get?

Now we all know the answer. God’s forgiving and everlasting love. The love that sent God to earth as a tiny, helpless baby. The love that gives God to us. Then in the stable. Here and now in the Mass. To teach us how to love. To renew our faith and hope. To make us love and be happy. The love that one day God wants to give us perfectly and forever.