The Challenge of Faith

That is what Pope John Paul II urged the faithful around the world to take up during the homily at the Christmas Eve Mass this year inside St. Peter’s Basilica, televised live to hundreds of millions of people in 47 countries. This year’s Christmas follows conflicts between nations, terrorism and tension in the Middle East, a major fire in a cathedral in New York after the September attacks and other disasters around the world and amid continuing squabbles between Israel and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, resulting in the latter not being allowed to attend the Christmas celebration at Bethlehem for the first time in seven years.

Earlier, on 14 December, the Vatican had appealed to the faithful to fast in the name of peace and to donate money to victims of terrorism. During the Midnight Mass, the Pope urged Christians, Jews and Muslims to try everything possible so that the name of God would not be exploited for works of death. “Our hearts this Christmas are anxious and distressed because of the continuation in various parts of the world of war, social tensions and the painful hardships in which so many people find themselves. We are all seeking an answer that will reassure us,” the Pope said and went on to ask the faithful to keep faith. “If we listen to the relentless news headlines, these words of light and hope might seem like words from a dream, but that is precisely the challenge of faith, which makes this proclamation at once comforting and demanding.

“Let us go then to the cave of Bethlehem to meet Him, to meet, in Him, all the world’s children, every one of our brothers and sisters in body or oppressed in spirit.” Bethlehem has been for 2,000 years associated with peace and hope. It is ironic that it should be involved in a conflict between two peoples who cannot find a way to live together in harmony and in progress.

Faith has certainly been much discussed and debated over the ages, by theologians and pagans, writers and critics, and between nations and peoples. Faith is a strong belief and a belief that is not based on facts, reasons or proofs. It is the heart of every religion. Rabbi David J Wolpe, author of a few uplifting books including “Making Loss Matter: Creating Meaning in Difficult Times” in which he examined different kinds of losses: love, home, youth, life, and more. He talks of how to find faith, hope, and a purpose in life to help endure and survive difficult times, in particular the importance of our homes and home life, of our dreams and of our selves. He speaks from personal experiences and expounds his beliefs through his religion. In “Making Loss Matter” Wolpe said, “Faith is not knowledge of what the mystery of the universe is, but the conviction that there is a mystery, and that it is greater than us.”

The rabbi has also said that although weeping would endure for the night, there would be joy when morning came. This is a Los Angeles rabbi with an instinct for sharing in the afflictions of the people he meets. A book review has it that he wrote several drafts of “Making Loss Matter” each becoming increasingly personal with the final version heightened by the unexpected news that his 31-year old wife had developed cancer. Despite an apparently successful surgery, they will never have another biological child.

Losses can come in many forms: some are subtle while some, devastating, cruel and unbearable. Losses generally bring pains, which is when we would be faced with choices: the choice between whether to allow present difficulties to destroy our lives, and the choice to transform pain and suffering into a source of strength. I quoted before from somewhere that the world will not stop for you to grieve for your losses, or something to that effect. That is probably why we need family and friends, to be with us at a time when we need them most, to help us overcome the helplessness and to create a meaning in difficult times.

I would like to believe that our Rotary family and friends would be ready and willing to rally to support one another in times of need and difficulties. This is an example of faith. Extrapolating the concept, we can hope to achieve international peace and world understanding, for which Rotary International and the Rotary Foundation has existed, and for which all Rotarians worldwide have professed to work. As we sit round the Christmas tree with our family and loved ones to unwrap presents this Boxing Day, let us pray for the faith to keep us going, regardless of how difficult the times we may face.

Before I sign off, I would like to thank the many Rotarians and friends who had sent us Christmas and New Year Greetings in all shapes and sizes. We received many interesting emails, with colourful backgrounds and warm messages. I would mention in particular the evergreen and youthful message from Past District Rotaract Representative Jimme Kwan regarding how Father Christmas would want the children to remember him and Christmas as, and Past District Governor Dipo Sani’s thoughtful and beautiful “Interview with God” I urge you all to visit the website and renew your faith –


Lastly, let me share with you some facts about Christmas holidays, as we now know. The seventeenth-century Puritans had referred to the Christmas season scornfully as “Heathen’s Feasting Day” and Oliver Cromwell had abolished Christmas in 1647. The Puritans had felt that too many people had spent Christmas in amorous, mixed, unchristian and pagan dancing. In 1645, they had ordered Christmas to be spent as a fasting day, prompting the following melancholy verse –

Gone are the golden days of yore,

When Christmas was a high day,

Whose sports we now shall see no more,

’Tis turned into Good Friday.

Christmas did not become a holiday again until the mid-nineteenth century when, largely under the influence of his native German customs such as tree decorating, England’s Prince Albert fully rehabilitated and revived Christmas as we now know it.

I wish you all a happy Boxing Day.

Talk to you again soon.

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