It has to be as it was, Of course I didn't understand! It has to be as it was, Well, almost: Dark, cold, restless, waiting And lonely. It has to do with loneliness, And I am rarely lonely. But, yes, It has to be as it was ... Waiting, cold, Dark in my warm, well lighted room. That's not as it was, No renaissance nativity, No Christmas card crib, Just loneliness and the need for warmth and preparation. Wondering what tomorrow might bring, Stars and rest and the smell and placid breath Of animals. But shelter, That's as it was! Sheila Billingsley. 'Dark in my warm, well lighted room'. Who has not felt that way? How many will be feeling that way this Christmas, how many more are without even the warm, well-lighted room? Let us pray for all who are exiled and homeless this Christmas time, and support those who are organising shelter for them. Our first photograph was taken by volunteers seeking out homeless people on the streets of Canterbury, in order to offer shelter.
Tag Archives: Christmas
A Cradle Song
Sweet dreams, form a shade O'er my lovely infant's head! Sweet dreams of pleasant streams By happy, silent, moony beams! Sweet Sleep, with soft down Weave thy brows an infant crown Sweet Sleep, angel mild, Hover o'er my happy child! Sweet smiles, in the night Hover over my delight! Sweet smiles, mother's smile, All the livelong night beguile. Sweet moans, dovelike sighs, Chase not slumber from thine eyes! Sweet moan, sweeter smile, All the dovelike moans beguile. Sleep, sleep, happy child! All creation slept and smiled. Sleep, sleep, happy sleep, While o'er thee doth mother weep. Sweet babe, in thy face Holy image I can trace; Sweet babe, once like thee Thy Maker lay, and wept for me: Wept for me, for thee, for all, When He was an infant small. Thou His image ever see, Heavenly face that smiles on thee! Smiles on thee, on me, on all, Who became an infant small; Infant smiles are his own smiles; Heaven and earth to peace beguiles. From "Songs of Innocence"
Pope Francis has asked for special prayers for Pope Emeritus Benedict. He is 95 years old and suffering other symptoms.
This photo shows Benedict presiding at a Christmas meal for poor people and their supporters. Before this there was a protocol that the Pope never ate in public let alone with poor people. This excused a Pope from state banquets but other faithful were not deemed worthy to share a meal with him. No longer so, thanks to Pope Benedict.
The early Cistercians were drawn to a central paradox of Christmas:that of the verbum infans or speechless Word. Throughout salvation history, God has made ready for great redemptive deeds by preparing quiet places apart in which grace can bear fruit; but that the Father’s eternal Word, by which all things were made, should himself have become such a place was, to these contemplatives, a supreme mystery. The least inadequate response one could make, they thought, was one of silent adoration.
+ Erik Varden, Return to the Centre, The Tablet, 5 February, 2022
Not much more to be said, but find a quiet moment to contemplate the crib in church or at home, or even a Christmas card. Let the mystery flow into your heart.
Stop there for a moment! Look at what’s in front of you. This is the quire or choir altar in Canterbury Cathedral.
- It’s decked in purple, code for repentance and waiting. We’ve been waiting for Christmas, we’ve been repenting, trying to change our ways to be ready to meet Jesus.
- There are four Greek letters, embroidered in gold. Gold for a King. It was one of the gifts brought by the wise men.
- Ά and ω are the first and last letters in the Greek alphabet. Code for Jesus is before all and comes after all.
- The two other letters, ϗ and ρ, or Chi and Ro tend to get mixed together in different geometrical ways. This is because they represent the first two letters of Kristos, Greek for Christ. Artistic licence turns the chi into different shaped crosses, to represent the Cross of Christ.
- (Sometimes we see ICXC, where the ‘I’ is a Greek ‘J’; ‘C’, is ‘S’; ‘X’ is ‘K’ or ‘Ch’; the early Christians liked this sort of code)
- So the altar frontal tells us to wait for Jesus the king, the first and last.
- On the altar are a crucifix and candles. Christ, risen from death, is the light of the world.
- and there is a Christmas tree. Remember how God called to Moses from the burning bush? You stand on Holy Ground, Moses was told. And so do we.
- At the back, behind the altar, is the chair of Saint Augustine on which Archbishops are seated on their appointment. We stand on Holy Ground. The chair is code for the Communion of Saints, the faith handed down by the shepherds since 597 when Augustine came to Canterbury.
So, call it praying or thinking or day-dreaming, I had a few good minutes in the Cathedral that morning!
Jesus told stories. His disciples kept some of them alive, as we do to this day. They also told stories about him and his travels through Palestine, but, as John’s Gospel tells us (21.25) there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. Amen. Stories – or ‘Salvation’s Story’ – are the basis of Christian belief, not the writings of scholars. St Paul refers back to the message he had received even as he tries to put the meaning of it into words that satisfy the mind as well as the heart.
A 20th Century writer of theology and of stories puts it like this:
Story – or at least a great Story of the mythical type – gives us an experience of something not as an abstraction but as a concrete reality. We don’t ‘understand the meaning’ when we read a myth, we actually encounter the thing itself. Once we try to grasp it with the discursive reason, it fails.
CS Lewis, in Humphrey Carpenter, The Inklings, George Allen & Unwin, London, 1978, p143.
Or we could turn to a poet, one who dithered, kneeling at the threshold of belief in his ‘Christmas’, but stressing the tangible, not just tissued fripperies, but the Baby in an ox’s stall, and God alive in Bread and Wine. A concrete reality.
And is it true? And is it true,
This most tremendous tale of all,
Seen in a stained-glass window’s hue,
A Baby in an ox’s stall?
The Maker of the stars and sea
Become a Child on earth for me ?
And is it true? For if it is,
No loving fingers tying strings
Around those tissued fripperies,
The sweet and silly Christmas things,
Bath salts and inexpensive scent
And hideous tie so kindly meant,
No love that in a family dwells,
No carolling in frosty air,
Nor all the steeple-shaking bells
Can with this single Truth compare –
That God was man in Palestine
And lives today in Bread and Wine.
John Betjeman, Christmas.
After Father Tom yesterday, here is another Franciscan, Father Andrew this time, reflecting on the O Antiphon for today: O Oriens, O rising dawn, or as the English hymn has it, O come thou dayspring!
The dawn drives off the dark, and day doth come
Queening away the fearsomeness of night;
But all the world is blessed Mary’s home,
Nor any hour can lack for her its night
While He, our hearts’ one Home, curled cosily,
Can even straw and stall and stable raise
To throne and palace by His royalty;
For perfect Love hath come Who casts out fear –
Now doth the Dayspring from on high appear.
O come, Thou Day-spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
And let us sing, Rejoice, rejoice! Emmanuel has come to thee, O Israel! Let us be joyful this Christmas; He can raise our homes to palaces with his Kingly presence.
Margate Beach on a Grey Day
Fr Tom Herbst OFM, an early supporter and contributor to this blog, died on 8 November. Here is one of his Advent reflections, well worth reading again and appropriate for the Solstice. RIP, Fr Tom, and thank you!
Here, well up there in the Northern Hemisphere, the approach of the Church’s great winter feasts is met by ever shortening days, grayish sunsets subtly shaded with pastel colour, and the gathering shadows of storm-rattled darkness. Even now, as I look out from the giant bay window in my flat toward a slate gray sea, it feels like a slow motion dawn rather than what the clock prosaically states is high noon. And the Church, in her time-tested wisdom, has properly situated the purple cloaked season of waiting and hoping within a test mirrored by nature herself- will the Son of Man ever return; will I ever witness the eastern blaze of a 5:00 AM springtime dawn seen through the very same bay window now shrouded in a feeble mist? One can hope, but for now all I can do is walk my two bemused dogs in the bookended darkness of a seven o’clock dawn and four thirty afternoon sunset.
I have had critics of the Church, harboring grave suspicions of pagan flashbacks, point out the total lack of biblical witness for the date of Christ’s birth, the unlikely probability of shepherds out in the fields in the dead of winter and, far worse, the close congruence of the decadent Roman Saturnalia with the newly minted Feast of the Nativity. Shopping frenzy beginning at mid-November and a near-universal expansion of waistlines don’t help- as a kindly Jehovah’s Witness picture framer said once, utterly confident that I would agree. It seems, though, as if the whole point has been missed. It is the ritual celebration of Christ’s birth and the expectation of God’s promise fulfilled – born of an indestructible hope- that are being celebrated and the vast stage of nature herself hosts the drama. Yes, the shortening days followed by the magic threshold of the Solstice, when that longed for flicker of light begins to wax stronger, formed the reason for the Saturnalia but this has been embodied by the small child laid in a manger; the hope for Emmanuel realized at last.
O key of David – how often do we think of the freedom our house keys give us?
Here are the ‘O Antiphons’ shared by Fr Valentine Erhanon, and below, his homily for the 4th Sunday of Advent. Fr Valentine is the parish priest of Saints Simon and Jude, Streatham Hill, London.
Saturday December 17
O Sapientia [O Wisdom]
O Wisdom of our God Most High, guiding creation with power and love:
come to teach us the path of knowledge!
Sunday December 18
O Adonai [O Lord and Ruler]
O Leader of the House of Israel, giver of the Law to Moses on Sinai:
come to rescue us with your mighty power!
Monday December 19
O Radix Jesse [O Root of Jesse]
O Root of Jesse’s stem, sign of God’s love for all his people:
come to save us without delay!
Tuesday December 20
O Clavis David [O Key of David]
O Key of David, opening the gates of God’s eternal Kingdom:
come and free the prisoners of darkness!
Wednesday December 21
O Oriens [O Rising Dawn or Morning Star]
O Radiant Dawn, splendour of eternal light, sun of justice:
come and shine on those who dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death.
Thursday December 22
O Rex Gentium [O King of the Nations]
O King of all nations and keystone of the Church:
come and save man, whom you formed from the dust!
Friday December 23 – Mass at 9am
O Emmanuel, our King and Giver of Law:
come to save us, Lord our God!
Homily for the Third Week of Advent,
17/18 December 2022 by Father Valentine Erhahon
First Reading: Isaiah 7:10-14; Psalm 23 (24); Second Reading: Romans: 1:1-7; Gospel: Matthew 1:18-24
Finally, what is going to happen …
For the past four weeks, we have starved ourselves from saying/singing the Gloria at Mass. Over two billion Catholics have
deliberately deprived themselves of singing those words of the Angels that we hear at Mass every time and have gotten so
used to. The intensity of this abstinence is growing in our hearts. We are longing, yearning and waiting to sing the Gloria for
the very first time on Christmas Eve, on the 24th of December, first at the Children’s Mass at 5.30 pm and then at the Solemn
Mass at 10 pm.
We will join millions of other Catholic Churches from Shanghai to Abu Dhabi from Panama to Benin City; from Kansas to
Kerala, from every part of the continent right to London, to Streatham Hill, anywhere the Catholic Church is: in chapels in
villages, in palaces, and cities, in small towns, in grand cathedrals or humble churches, on this most solemn of nights, the
Gloria, the Glory to God in the Highest will resound – in our Churches. What great joy! As tradition demands, all the Altar
Servers will ring all our bells, as we cry out joyfully to God in the Gloria. One by one, our Altar Servers will light the six ancient
candles you have been looking at in the sanctuary wondering when they would be lit. Read Revelation 1:12ff to discover the
significance of these candles. You will notice in the book of Revelation there are Seven candlesticks – look out of the last one
on the sanctuary: He is the word of God and the light that shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.”
Our two parish Angels: Cherubim and Seraphim, have now left their station where you normally see them guarding the Holy
of Holies in our Tabernacle. They too have come down to welcome the arrival of the Godchild and keep guard next to Him.
You will also notice that in our lectern the four creatures in Revelation 4: 6-8 are now displayed: each representing the four
gospels: Matthew: the winged man; Mark: the Lion; Luke: the Ox; John: the Eagle.
You will also notice that we have brought out the Joseph’s baby wooden chair, made for the Word of God; and on it: our
newborn King – the Word of God – will seat on it – in his manger on Christmas Eve: O Come, Let us Adore Him Christ the Lord.
The Book of the Gospel is already opened in Joseph’s baby wooden chair to the very page of the Gospel of the night.
Before then, of course, we have the first of the three Great Processions of the night, with the ancient chant that recounts the
history of our salvation – informing us of how in the fullness of time, God himself decided to intervene in human history by
bringing forth his son, born of a woman to save us. Next will be the second Great Procession where the infant King will come
into his Church. I will not put into words what this would feel like because it will lose the value of its significance and
meaning. It is meant to be experienced. The Third procession of course will be at the end of Mass when with lit candles we
will make our procession to the Nativity Grotto. Arriving at His Grotto on this most Solemn and Holy night, which many on
Streatham Hill have been visiting each day, I will bless the Grotto – the Stable – the Manger and our Lord and God will spend
the night in his stable in the cold. On Christmas Day, He will return to the Church – where we will adore Him and celebrate His
CHRIST – MAS.
Every day from Christmas Eve until the end of Christmastide, our Lord will stay in His Grotto facing the streets
of Hillside road, giving hope to all. During Mass, He will return to His Church to bless us. We remember though: that while our
Grotto may look nice and pretty, Jesus will be sleeping in the cold like many homeless people. Instead of being in a hospital
bed or a nice room, he will smell animals, straws and hay on his first night in this world as a baby. There is no warmth in the
manger, no proper safety from harm or infection. We remember when they arrived in Bethlehem for the census, Mary and
Joseph could not find a home to rent. No one could let them into their home. We remember, in pain, hardship and poverty,
our God came into the world to save us, but no one opened their door to the Holy Family. Would we have let Mary and Jesus
into our homes that night for Jesus to be born in our home? Do we let him into our hearts today? Do we have time for Jesus?
Do we allow Jesus into our thinking process and our decision-making in our personal and daily lives? Or like he first
experienced on the night of his birth, we have closed the door and have no space in our lives to accommodate him, so we
send him away out, back into the cold because our lives are full of ourselves; we are distracted; conflicted; unable to commit.
I will come back to this discussion in my homily on Christmas Eve when we will see all those who make up Jesus’s ancestry.
For now, we begin our last countdown to Christmas with the 0 Antiphons. To prepare for Christmas in a few day’s time: today – one by one, the Altar Servers, and then the children will place their Roses of Thanksgiving in the manger to thank Saint Joseph for doing the will of God, by taking Mary into his homes. Today our Mother Mary is heavily pregnant, she is on a donkey with Joseph who is protecting and looking after her; it is cold and windy outside. Today they are approaching Bethlehem. Join them on this procession of doing God’s will, and go behind them to offer them support. Walk with them. Together as a parish community, we are going to Bethlehem to adore the Infant King on Christmas Eve and to present our very self as a present to him for his birthday so that he can transform us to become truly like him in the Great exchange of Gifts on Christmas Day – between God and humans, between Love and love.
They like bikes in Belgium! Not that they are always the most appropriate means of transport. This is the story of an overloaded bike in Canterbury and what happened next.
We begin with Will parking his bike against a rack where there was already a red lady’s Dutch style bike, not unlike the one outside the shop above. When Will had finished his shopping, the Dutch bike had gone, but there was a red purse on the ground. It had an address in it, a few minutes’ ride away, so off he went. It was shortly before Christmas.
The door was opened by an older lady, dressed in red, pleased to have her purse back: ‘My basket was too full, I am silly!’ now she was ready to press me to take tea in her winter-wonderland front room. A red settee and armchair, flashing lights and a glorious fake tree, a few copies of the Watchtower. The Watchtower magazine of Jehovah’s Witnesses? The same.
Yes, Mrs S was a Witness. Will had always believed that Jehovah’s Witnesses stood at a distance from Christmas and all things Yule. There had been the time when our regular witness missioner, Joe, had knocked on our door at 1.00 p.m. on December 25th with a personal delivery of the magazine. Obviously Christmas day was nothing to him. There had been more than one year when Witnesses expected a Christmas tree, given by a family, to be removed from a shared bay of the hospice where Mrs Turnstone worked. No surrender to other people’s sensibilities there, even when the other people were dying.
‘I came late to the Witnesses through my late husband,’ she explained. ‘But I like to put up something for Christmas to welcome my friends and neighbours. And the lights are a lovely, comforting sight at this time.’
‘What does Joe have to say about it?’ I asked. ‘He knows I take round my share of leaflets. He doesn’t have to know that I have a Christmas tree!’
And perhaps her Christmas tree and hospitality were as powerful a witness as her magazine.