The astonished silence of the universe

“On Christmas Eve, as though in some cosmic collaboration, we are all afforded a brief moment of stillness, peace and quiet”, writes Andrew O’Connell

I had a problem with my iPhone recently and had to visit the Apple website to find a solution. One of the slogans on the site read: “The Busier, the Better.” It’s a perfect mantra for how we live our lives today. Busy is good. It’s a sign you have friends, options, a social life. It’s very difficult to admit to being anything but busy. Not being busy implies missed opportunities and failure. In short, it’s seen as a particularly sad condition. 

Technology makes it easy to be busy, transporting the work of our offices to our sitting rooms and bedrooms. There’s no escape. And because of technology’s addictive power, maybe we don’t want an escape either.  

The overwhelming quantity of information now delivered to us via social media has become known as the data deluge, much of it distraction and diversion. 

People of faith, at least, have regular opportunities to press pause on the frenetic pace of life and reflect. But, even then, the routine of ritual can become a distraction in itself. 

But amid the great noise and busyness comes Christmas Eve. 

On Christmas Eve, as though in some cosmic collaboration, we are all afforded a brief moment of stillness, peace and quiet. On Christmas Day we’ll be back to the noise and activity of presents and dinners. But on Christmas Eve the sight of the crib has a luminous silence and absorbs us in prayer. The Great Pope, John Paul II, described it as the astonished silence of the universe. 

The crib is perhaps an overly romanticised and sentimentalised account of what happened in Bethlehem. But the warmth of its glow tells a heart-warming truth: we are not alone. Beyond this life and this world is something else, something more. On this night Heaven touches Earth. And we are given a fleeting glimpse of what lies beyond. On this night we sense the deep peace of the great mystery of God.

The crib is the piece of the jigsaw that makes sense of the bigger puzzle of our lives and our existence. 

Among the more explicitly religious pop tunes on the radio at this time of year is the 1978 hit, Mary’s Boy Child, with its chorus: “And man will live forever more because of Christmas Day.” That is the real meaning of Christmas.

The final verse of Hark the Herald Angels Sing carries the same message: “Born that man no more may die, Born to raise the sons of Earth, Born to give them second birth.” The child in the manger reminds us of another birth: Our birth to eternal life. 

This is a lonely time of year for those who remember deceased loved ones. But, on Christmas Eve, we remind ourselves that because of Christ, his death and resurrection, Heaven has been opened to us. 

Glory, indeed, to this newborn King.


Christmas in space: On Christmas Eve 1968 the crew of Apollo 8, the first manned space mission to orbit the moon, made a special television broadcast from space. At the time, it was the largest audience to ever listen to a human voice.

The three astronauts marked the occasion by reading the first 10 verses of the Book of Genesis. They ended their Christmas Eve message with words that carry a deep resonance even today:  “And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas – and God bless all of you, all of you on the good Earth.” 


Glory to God

A remarkable feat of engineering took place in the mid-Atlantic earlier this month as a fibre cable, capable of carrying one third of the world’s voice traffic and all of Europe and the United States’ data traffic, was spliced together connecting New York to London via Mayo.

The first transatlantic cable was successfully laid in 1858 between Newfoundland and Valentia Island in Kerry. 

The project was beset by all sorts of technical misfortune but the engineers persevered. 

The first message communicated was from Luke’s Gospel: “Glory to God in the highest; and on Earth, peace, and good will to men” – the message of the heavenly host to the shepherds of Bethlehem.