Friday, December 25, 2020

Light and Hope

 Throughout Advent each week we have reflected on the readings from the Sunday mass using a combination of words to be our guide. In Week 1 we chose creation and awakening, Week 2 we considered consolation and beginning, Week 3 proclamation and prophecy and for Week 4 we reflected on continuity and annunciation. As we now celebrate the great feast of the incarnation we can truly sum up all of those thoughts and images that these last four week have evoked and meld them together to provide us with a true summation of what is what we believe our faith in Jesus Christ offers: Light and Hope.

We have over the last nine months lived through a terrible time. Our lives and the pattern of our living have been radically changed. People have suffered so many hardships from loss of job and livelihood to loss of loved ones and the probability is that even with the roll out of the vaccine, our present situation will remain for some time to come. Isolation and loneliness, depravation and hardship will not be easily overcome. How do we use this feast of the incarnation to bring light and hope into our lives and into the lives of those around us? It is not an easy question to answer and yet for our faith to have relevance and meaning in and for our communities, we must look to provide both the practical and the spiritual tools to enable people to carry and to ultimately overcome the burdens which so many are having to bear.

Light and hope may on the surface seem unlikely candidates for the task, and without applying them in a really active way, then yes I would agree. But we know that light and hope walk hand in hand when they are put to work. We know that light and hope when made to compliment each other, actually enhance the qualities that they both convey into something much more. Light and hope can be the two sides of a coin that when tossed always responds with something positive so that whichever way it falls we win. So our attitude to what lies ahead must be shaped by our taking hold of the light and enabling it to shine forwards in hope of the better future we pray for. 

The Christmas story takes light and hope and fashions them into a message that truly resonates in these difficult days. Not in a fanciful or superficial way but by placing them into the very midst of our concerns and fears and in doing so it reveals an essential quality about ourselves as human beings.  That in the depth of our hardship we have been provided with an assurance that each of us is personally loved, uniquely and individually and that the child in the manger is the personification of this love. It is this quintessential reality which shines forth from the crib and nestles in each of our hearts, to enkindle our hope so that we grow in love, to share it and to make it the motivation for what we do. It is in the person of Jesus Christ that this light and hope is made visible.

In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God...a light that the darkness could not overcome...the Word was made flesh and lived among...full of grace and truth...from his fulness we have received love in return for love. 

This love is our light and are hope. Let us start putting it to work.

Happy Christmas


Friday, December 18, 2020

Continuity and Annunciation

With the Fourth Sunday of Advent we have now entered the countdown to Christmas. The pre-octave began on the 17 December and the gospel readings at mass for these seven days to the 24 December will wend their way through the familiar story which Matthew and Luke unfold for us. All our preparation has been leading us to this climax which the incarnation signifies. Our two words for this week - continuity and annunciation - align our thoughts with a sense of history and the past, alongside an anticipation of the future and of what is to come.

The reaching back into the past is palpable, and both Matthew and Luke in their gospels make this connection. The first reading from Samuel relates the story of King David and of his desire to provide a worthy and dignified home for the Ark of the Covenant, the vessel in which the tablets of stone inscribed with the words of the decalogue were stored. Nathan the prophet tells David that God himself will make of him a house. A house that will be one which will stand in perpetuity, and that David and his lineage will become the father of a great dynasty by which the faithful love of God for his people will endure for ever. 

In their telling of the annunciation of the birth of Jesus, the central emphasis of the message delivered to Joseph in Matthew and to Mary in Luke is that the child who is to be born, will be of Davidic lineage. Indeed, Gabriel spells this our clearly in his words to Mary - the Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David…and his reign will have no end. The reality of this moment for us all is momentous.

Understanding the continuity of what we proclaim, that the message of love that flows from the encounter between heaven and earth in the exchange between Mary and the angel, is essential. Mary's response to the angel, made in freedom and trust, establishes the point at which the reconciling event in the history of humanity is affirmed. The love of God for his people enunciated by words inscribed in stone within the Ark of the Covenant is now to become the spoken word made flesh carried by Mary. Such is the magnitude of this moment that Luke once more frames Mary's response in her Magnificat as in continuity with the Song of Hannah in the Old Testament. It is a deep and powerful connection of the action of God in time, towards our human condition.  

Let us pick up on this continuity and continue to announce it with boldness for generations to come.  

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Proclamation and Prophecy

These are our two words which inform our understanding of this weeks readings. It is of course ‘Gaudete’ Sunday, the moment in Advent when the vestments turn rose and our thoughts are lifted towards the vision of the great and momentous events that are about to unfold. Events which demand of themselves an outpouring of joy that is exemplified by our desire to proclaim the message of Christ’s coming as part of the prophetic mission which have all been given.mission.

The passage from Isaiah is taken from the closing chapters of his book. It describes a moment of joy in that the exile is over and the people are returning home. There can be no doubt that this proclamation, this prophetic vision is one which overwhelms Isaiah. He cannot restrain himself as the words seem to tumble out as if a great dam has been breached and his words, like water cascade forth.  The joy, the sheer exuberance are palpable and he acknowledges that it is the spirit of the Lord which is the springboard and fountain head of all that he proclaims. What an amazing experience it must have been for him, feeling the presence of God so close he was literally unable to contain his joy at what he was feeling. 

The mood in the gospel is perhaps not quite as abundant as in Isaiah, but it does nevertheless contain within its message the call to us all, to take up the challenge of what it means to act and live the prophetic life. John the Baptists is being questioned - you may say is being interrogated in a not all together friendly way, and yet he is resolved to be steadfast in his convictions. He knows who he is and he knows that his role is to proclaim the one who is to come. This is what gives him his mission and he accepts it with total belief.  

So we have our mission, our task. Each one of us, through our baptism is given the gifts which our own anointing with the Spirits endows us. Proclamation and Prophecy are not mere add-ons to our faith but are the very life blood of our living the Christian way. The path we have chosen to walk is one which follows Jesus’ way. It is a path of great expectant joy even though we know that it will be hard and contain may unexpected and unprepared for challenges. But these are overcome because we know the end to which our faith leads us. This is why we live with the joy of the gospel in our hearts. It is why we must sense that same feeling that Isaiah felt and why we must nurture the same convictions that St John the Baptist had. They are the means through which our witness becomes a joyful and prophetic proclamation.

Have a happy, joyous Gaudete!!  

Monday, December 7, 2020

2nd Sunday of Advent : Consolation and Beginning

These are our two words for this second week of Advent. In the First Reading from todays Mass, the prophet Isaiah cries out with a heartfelt plea from God Console my people, console them – speak to the heart of Jerusalem”. They are words which I am sure find a resonance with so many families today who in the midst of this terrible pandemic, are feeling bereft at the loss of a loved one. In these very trying times we need these words to speak to the heart of every city, in every community, so all people can be consoled and feel the value of every life as one to be treasured. In the time of Isaiah back in the 6th century BC, when these words were first written, Jerusalem has been overwhelmed and the city destroyed, the people taken and led off in exile to Babylon. Such was their desperation that Isaiah the prophet, understood and proclaimed in this moment of desolation, that the message needed to be heard was one of hope for the future, a future which itself would grow out of a consoling love expressed and exhibited from the outset of the disaster that had befallen the city and its people. It is with soaring poetry and visionary imagination that Isaiah evokes the voice of God which cries out: Prepare in the wilderness a way for the Lord” so that in preparation for this moment, consolation will be an active and transparent reality in the shepherding and feeding of the flock .

They are words which echo down the ages, and they are heard once more by another people, another com- munity who are being overwhelmed and persecuted. As their consolation, they read and hear these words written down for their time : The beginning of the Good News about Jesus Christ, the Son of God”. The opening lines of Marks gospel, our gospel text for today, were written for a small group of Christians in the Imperial Capital of Rome, who were being sought out and tormented for their belief in Jesus as the Messiah. As consolation, Mark quotes the passage from Isaiah as the very text which he feels will help them to face up to the traumas they are going through. A text that Mark now sees as having been fulfilled by the coming of Christ, through his passion and resurrection. It is a compelling way to begin his gospel message of joy and good news. A pathway which evokes a hope of a new exodus that is about to begin.

As we journey through Advent, our hope likewise is enwrapped in this expectation. The message of the gospel and the call of Isaiah still speak to our time and to our situation as we face and deal with this pan- demic. How are we to face up to the task? Remember how Isaiah phrased it: He is like a shepherd feeding his flock, gathering lambs in his arms, holding them against his breast and leading them to rest... It is personified in the one whom John the Baptist speaks of. The one who will baptise us with the Holy Spirit, and in the name of that Holy Spirit teach us to perform such loving acts of consolation within our commu- nities. Let them be the fuel that kindles the flames of love to inspire us this Advent. Let it be a beginning

Deacon Anthony

Saturday, November 28, 2020

The Fulness of Advent

As we enter the new liturgical year, the Season of Advent stretches before us. This year we get pretty much the full four weeks of this beautiful season, so let us try not to waste any of it. In these strange times of pandemic let us embrace the great gifts which Advent pours out upon us and apply them to our lives in order that we can experience anew our faith as a focus for renewal and reset. The very word Advent means arrival or coming, and we tend to apply it more often than not to the coming of Christ at Christmas. But the Church wants us to think about the other coming of Christ, that is his coming in the fulness of time and of how our understanding of this reality must become deeply embedded in our appreciation of how in our lives, this reality is made manifest. To do this well, we need to examine and explore our situations and circumstances and ask ourselves some questions. What are my priorities, my ambitions? What lies at the very heart of my motivations and desires? How do I see my faith as the defining factor of my very self? In answering these questions, the themes which flow through the cycle of the four Advent Sunday’s First and Gospel readings will bring to our minds ways by which we can address these thoughts. For this First Sunday of Advent the two thoughts which come to my mind are: The work of God and Awakening, the Second Sunday arouses thoughts of Consolation and Beginning. The third, Proclamation and Prophecy and the fourth Continuity and Annunciation. Over the four weeks of Advent these couplings will be considered and applied so that our arrival and our coming to Christ will, with his help, be a joyful renewal of all that is good and uplifting about our lives. So then for this First Sunday of Advent let us begin with some thoughts across the themes of the Work of God and Awakening. 

The image of God as the potter is a delightful one. He is the creator who moulds us and shapes us. The Father who knows us and nurtures us. The one who cares for us and tends us. We are not fixed in stone, petrified, unable to change or develop. Rather God has breathed his life into us and as a consequence, we become endowed with potential and possibilities. We discover this potential as we grow and develop and begin to explore all the possibilities which unfold as a result. There are though times when we lose touch and the pathways which we once trod and which guided us to his house, no longer seem easy or straightforward. We can become disillusioned and begin to walk other paths and other ways. The demands placed upon us can become overwhelming and can if we are not careful become alternative and replacement paths which in the first instance seem more fulfilling and more rewarding. Somehow the Father who knows and cares for us is no longer there and he begins to fade away. We forget him and ignore him, his hand no more upon us. No longer does he mould us like clay. Instead we think of our- selves as the finished product, able to fend for ourselves, able to choose without restraint, decide with- out compunction. Such is our falling asleep. 

Hence the call to awakening. The allusion of Jesus in the gospel to a man travelling abroad and leaving the servants in charge is reminiscent of many of his parables about the kingdom. But here in this instance the allusion is to be applied to us individually. The house is our own selves, our being, our lives. The servants are all the myriad of activities we have got ourselves involved with, pulling us this way and that in order to serve our needs, and the door keeper is our conscience, that inner sense that talks to us of what is moral, of what is right and wrong about the things we do. Have we let our conscience drift off to sleep? Have we let our sense of being shaped and moulded by God simply fade away and disappear? It is a sobering thought for this first Sunday of Advent. Let us rouse ourselves and ensure that we stay awake! 

Deacon Anthony 

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Come unto me

One of the major themes of the Bible is that of "returning". We see it perhaps most vividly in the return of the exiles from Babylon back to Jerusalem. The imagery painted by the prophetic words of both Isaiah and Jeremiah provide us with a treasure trove of descriptive language which explores to the full, the depth of feeling and emotion which is being experienced as the joy and elation of what God has done for his people is articulated. This sense of homecoming is one which we all experience at some stage, the return home from a holiday being just one example. But it is one which plays out those same themes which the prophets were so compelled to deliver. The opening of the eyes of the blind, the restoration of the whole person, the bringing of the good news, these are the realities which were central to what God, through the prophets, would achieve as a result.

Jesus understood that a renewed homecoming was now necessary. The people were once more under the captive hand of an occupation which went further than a simple physical one. He saw that the hearts, and minds, the very souls of the people he lived amongst, were bound up in a such a way that their understanding of the love of God was becoming distorted and distant, functional and
peremptory, and he wanted to liberate them from the internal exile which they were now living. So he began by proclaiming that the message which Isaiah had delivered all those years before regarding the Spirit of the Lord, was now his role. He was the anointed one who was to bring the good news to the afflicted, to soothe the broken hearted, to liberate the captive and that this mission was the "return" to the Father through the inauguration of "the kingdom of God" not as a imposition of power and authority which kept people oppressed, but as a liberation of God's love which lifted people up and restored their dignity and respect. He saw how through the poor in spirit, the pure of heart, the peace makers, the merciful, the seekers of justice, the meek, that the blessedness of God would be a light to open peoples' eyes to the path which restored broken hearts and established true liberty and freedom.

Today's gospel in which Jesus calls us all to return and to come to him is a message that resounds in our hearts today. We are all captives in one sense, bound by all sorts of things which inhibit and restrain us. It is only when we come to him and let him shoulder the yoke, that we find the load lightened. Thankfully we are today taking our first steps towards our restoration. Our Churches are opening and we are once more able to receive the sacrament of love which so restores us and lifts us up.

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

Amen to that.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Eucharist - giving thanks.

So now we have a date. As from 4 July our Churches will be open once more for the public celebration of the Eucharist.

I think that this is how it should be addressed - as eucharist, a word which we know means thanksgiving - and that it is in the spirit of thanksgiving that we should approach this moment. There remains much preparation for us in our three parishes to do in terms of practicalities and organisation in order that we get our Churches ready, but we must also ensure that our mindset in all of this is a eucharistic one so that when the day arrives we are truly ready for what we are to receive.  If we look at the moment when the first eucharist was celebrated (and here I am referring to the account of St Luke of the disciples on the road to Emmaus) we can perhaps gain a glimpse of how this momentous event can be experienced.

As we look at those two disciples gathered around the table we can recognise certain characteristics which we ourselves might have felt over these last 12 weeks. What do I mean? Certainly isolation for one. They had taken themselves away from their friends on account of their feelings of fear and we have all had to isolate to some extent. They were also filled with a deep sense of sadness as they mourned the loss of Jesus. Many people sadly have suffered similarly, through the loss of a loved one. They argued about the state of their changed situation in the light of what had happened, and no doubt there have been arguments and discussions over the rights and wrongs of the changes we have experienced. All in all, their state of mind, was deeply confused, about the present, and about the future. Both their hearts and minds could simply not rationalise what had happened.

In the midst of all this puzzlement, without fanfare, Jesus has come alongside them. Notice that this coming alongside happens not at the end of all their discussion and arguing, but within its very midst. Jesus listens but says nothing until they have professed the whole of the story once more to him, including their own doubts and questions. It is only then, after they have described to him the facts of the empty tomb, that he begins to unfold the reality of the mystery which they have lived through and related to him. Yet having done so, strangely Jesus now makes as if to go on. How so?

I think this is a vital moment in the story, because it is the start, a moment, the beginning of their becoming enlightened. The onus moves back onto them. Do they let the stranger go or what?   Falteringly at first, they realise they want him to stay and they express this desire : it's late, almost evening. Then more ardently comes their plea  the day is almost over, as if subconsciously they knew that if they allow this moment to pass, something vital would always thereafter remain incomplete. So it is in the breaking of the bread that their eyes are opened and their pathway becomes clear. Their confusion is gone. Their present is secured, and their future made manifest before them. Jesus is risen and lives amongst us.

As we begin to return to the mass, his living presence in both word and sacrament, let it be with this sense of eucharist or thanksgiving in our hearts, so what we receive becomes a living flame burning within us and enlightening our path.

We celebrate this day the solemnity of Sts Peter and St Paul remembering the great witness that they gave as apostles. May their example of discipleship inspire us all at this time.