The Covid-19 global pandemic; the economic crisis that has followed and the failure of political, economic and social structures to protect the weakest and most vulnerable; and the racism that blights our communities have underlined the global need for a light to shine in the darkness. The star that shone in the East, (the Middle East), two thousand years ago still leads us to the manger, to where Christ was born. It draws us to where the Spirit of God is alive and active.
After encountering the Saviour and worshipping him together, the Magi return to their countries by a different way, having been warned in a dream. The communion we share in our prayer together must inspire us to return to ourselves, our churches and our world by new ways. But what does this mean in practice?
Serving the Gospel today requires a commitment to humankind, especially the poorest, the weakest and those marginalised. It requires from the churches transparency and accountability in dealing with the world, and with each other. This means churches need to cooperate to provide relief to the afflicted, to welcome the displaced, to relieve the burdened, and to build a just and honest society.
This is a call for churches to work together so that we can all build a good future according to God’s heart, a future in which all human beings can experience life, peace, justice, and love.
Bro Stefan Anacatrinei OFM Conv preached this homily at FISC on the First Sunday of Advent, 2015, so its readings are repeated this year. Stefan was always worth listening to!
Welcomingthe Innocent into Our Hearts
Dear brothers and sisters,
Today, we begin a new liturgical year. Yet, as we can see from today’s Gospel, the beginning of a new year is very much connected with the end. This is the reason why today’s Gospel text is full of warnings about the end of times and about being prepared and making ourselves ready. Actually, the first two weeks of Advent continue the theme of the last coming before speaking about the first coming.
Anyway, during this season of Advent we are all called upon, and exhorted by the Church, to prepare ourselves to commemorate worthily the coming of our Brother and Saviour. We are called to welcome the baby of Bethlehem into our lives with a clean, sincere and grateful heart. This will help us to remain in close contact with the Lord, and our present lives will be sanctified. God indeed cares for our welfare and He wants us to enter deeply into His mystery. The Advent season actually is indeed nothing else than a good opportunity to make ourselves ready to enter more deeply into the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God.
How is this possible? I mean how can we prepare ourselves properly? What can we do to enjoy Christmas with a happy and sincere heart?
Simple. We have to purify our senses. We have to bring them back to their original state when they were not yet contaminated by sin. Like Adam and Eve, who before their fall were able to feel and to enjoy the presence of God with all their whole being – they could see Him, talk and listen to Him – we also will be able to enjoy the presence of Jesus fully and properly, if we dare to purify our sight, our hearing, touch, taste, smell and sight. I’m afraid that if we do not do this, we will only be able to see the beautiful Christmas lights and ornaments, but not be able to glimpse of the real Jesus; we will be delighted to listen to the amazing Christmas carols, but not to hear the sweetness of the voice of Jesus in our heart; we might touch the precious gifts which we will give or receive, but never, ever touch the priceless gift of God, I mean the love of God made visible and palpable for us in his beloved Son, Jesus Christ; which, of course, we can already experience particularly in the Eucharist. He will want us to clothe his tender naked body with a pure, warm and loving heart, not a cold and indifferent worldly one. God is love and he wants us to love him. Christmas is a special time when you can say to Jesus; “I really love you” and he will say to you in your heart: ‘I love you more than you will ever know, but thank you for your love, it is very precious to me. Please keep loving me, and I will keep loving you.’
Can you imagine that someone could be foolish enough to miss such an important event, by ignoring the meaning and the task of this precious time, called the Advent season?
It is possible, but I hope that it will not be a member of this congregation, or a person who has discovered Jesus and the Good News that he brings to the world, but has since ignored it.
I’m sure that our presence here, in this chapel, is evidence that we are concerned about our preparation during Advent, and that we really want to welcome the Innocent with open arms and our whole heart. It is impossible for Jesus to cause any harm to anyone or anything, because that’s his nature. Jesus, the Son of God, who for our sake become man in Bethlehem. He is the Innocent par excellence.
But, even if the Innocent cannot harm, his presence is not always a pleasant experience for everyone; for example, think of King Herod, who was very disturbed simply by hearing of His existence and so wanted to kill Him. We have to acknowledge, that those who are under the influence of sin cannot stand His presence, and think that to make themselves comfortable, they can and will destroy Him, but the Innocent is indestructible. It is true, the Innocent sometimes hurts me too, by showing the difference between what I am and what I should become. I feel, I see my vocation in his presence, I become aware that I can be a saint, although I’m not and I do not try very hard to become one.
Dear brothers and sisters, if we really want to avoid hurting ourselves, I mean feeling uncomfortable in presence of the Innocent, let us take advantage of this beautiful season for restoring our hearts and our senses, by bringing them back to their original innocence in order to be able to welcome the Innocent. The place to start is the Sacrament of Reconciliation, where we wash our souls in a new baptism, which will renew our thirst for God. We will then, during this beautiful and meaningful season of Advent, be able to wait for Jesus as his coming contains promise, love, preparation, prayer, new beginnings and fulfilment.
Cross in cave at Zakopane, Poland; Greyfriars’ chapel, Canterbury.
Saint Francis caused the book of the Gospels to be brought unto him; for God had put it in his mind that, by the opening of the book of the Gospels three times, that which it was the will of God to do unto him should be revealed. And, when the book was brought unto him, St. Francis betook himself to prayer; and, when he had finished his prayer, he caused the book to be opened three times by the hand of Friar Leo, in the name of the Most Holy Trinity; and, as it pleased the Divine Providence, in those three times ever there appeared before him the Passion of Christ.
The next day came, to wit the day of the most Holy Cross, and St. Francis, betimes in the morning, or ever it was day, betook himself to prayer before the entrance of his cell, and turning his face towards the East, prayed after this manner: “O my Lord Jesus Christ, two graces do I beseech Thee to grant me before I die: the first, that, during my lifetime, I may feel in my soul and in my body, so far as may be possible, that pain which Thou, sweet Lord, didst suffer in the hour of Thy most bitter passion; the second is that I may feel in my heart, so far as may be possible, that exceeding love, whereby Thou, Son of God, wast enkindled to willingly bear such passion for us sinners”.
And, when he had continued long time in this prayer, he knew that God would hear him, and that, as far as was possible for a mere creature, so far would it be granted to him to feel the aforesaid things. Having this promise, St. Francis began to contemplate with very great devotion the Passion of Christ and His infinite charity.
We were celebrating the Season of Creation during September, so these posts are about a month later than the events they record.
Then Friar Leo, obedient, stood still and waited for him, with such fear that, as he afterwards told his companions, he would rather, at that moment, that the earth had swallowed him up than wait for Saint Francis, who he thought was angered with him; because with very great diligence he took heed not to offend his fatherhood, lest, through fault of his, Saint Francis should deprive him of his company.
When he had come up to him, Saint Francis asked him: “Who art thou?” and Friar Leo, all trembling, replied: “My father, I am Friar Leo”; and Saint Francis said unto him: “Wherefore didst thou come hither, friar little sheep? Did I not tell thee not to come and watch me? For holy obedience, tell me whether thou sawest or heardest aught.” Friar Leo replied: “Father, I heard thee speak and say many times: ‘Who art Thou, my most sweet God? What am I, most vile worm and Thine unprofitable servant?'” And then Friar Leo, kneeling down before St. Francis, confessed himself guilty of disobedience, in that he had done contrary to his commandment, and besought his pardon with many tears. And thereafter he prayed him devoutly that he would explain those words which he had heard, and would tell him those which he had not understood.
Then, seeing that to the humble Friar Leo God had revealed or granted to hear and to see certain things, by reason of his simplicity and purity, Saint Francis condescended to reveal and to explain unto him that which he asked; and he spake as follows: “Know, friar little sheep of Jesus Christ, that when I was saying those words which thou heardest, then were shown unto me two lights for my soul; the one of knowledge and understanding of my own self, the other of knowledge and understanding of the Creator. When I said: ‘Who art thou, O my most sweet God?’ then I was in a light of contemplation wherein I saw the abyss of the infinite goodness and wisdom and power of God; and when I said: ‘What am I?’ I was in a light of contemplation in the which I beheld the depth of my baseness and misery; and therefore I said: ‘Who art Thou, Lord of infinite goodness and wisdom, that deignest to visit me, that am a vile worm and abominable?’
And in that flame which thou sawest was God; who in that form spake with me, even as of old He spake unto Moses. And, among other things which He said unto me, He asked me to give Him three gifts; and I made answer: ‘Lord, I am all Thine; Thou knowest well that I have nothing beside the habit and the cord and the breeches, and even these three things are Thine; what then can I offer or give unto Thy majesty?’ Then God said unto me: ‘Search in thy bosom, and give Me that which thou findest therein’. I searched and found a ball of gold; and I offered it to God; and thus did I three times, even as God three times commanded me; and thereafter I kneeled me down three times and blessed and thanked God who had given me wherewith to offer Him. And straightway, it was given me to understand that these three offerings signified holy obedience, highest poverty and most resplendent chastity; the which God, through His grace, hath permitted me to observe so perfectly that my conscience accuseth me of nothing.
And as thou sawest me put my hands in my bosom and offer to God those three virtues symbolised by those three balls of gold, which God had placed in my bosom; so hath God given me such virtue in my soul that, for all the benefits and all the graces which He hath granted me of His most holy goodness, I ever praise and magnify Him with heart and mouth. These are the words which thou heardest when I thrice lifted up my hands, as thou sawest. But look to it, friar little sheep, that thou watch me no more; but return to thy cell with the blessing of God, and do thou have diligent care of me; because, a few days from now, God will do such great and marvellous things upon this mountain that all the world shall wonder thereat; for He will do certain new things, the which He hath never done unto any creature in this world.”
And, when he had spoken these words, he caused the book of the Gospels to be brought unto him; for God had put it in his mind that, by the opening of the book of the Gospels three times, that which it was the will of God to do unto him should be revealed.
October Intention for Evangelisation: – Missionary Disciples
We pray that every baptised person may be engaged in evangelisation, and available to the mission, by being witnesses of a life that has the flavour of the Gospel.
How do you witness in an anonymous city, going home to a tower block where you know few of your neighbours? Maybe I start by being available. Available for a smile, a word of thanks, a door held open. Then Christ can smile, speak, open other doors because of my small acts.
We turned to Saint Gregory the Great, see yesterday’s post, after reading this passage from his successor, Good Pope John XXIII, who at this time, November 1948, was Papal Representative in France, well able to comment on ‘cunning minds’ in Vatican diplomacy, especially as he was writing in his journal, for his eyes only! Notice how he links the simplicity of the just man with the scientist’s search for truth.
Oh, the simplicity of the Gospel, of The Imitation of Christ, of the Littler Flowers of Saint Francis, and of the most exquisite passages in Saint Gregory, in his Moralia: ‘The simplicity of the just man is derided’, and the words that follow! I enjoy these pages more and more and return to them with joy. All the wiseacres of this world, and all the cunning minds, including those in Vatican diplomacy, cut such a poor figure in the light of the simplicity and grace shed by this great and fundamental doctrine of Jesus and his saints! This is the surest wisdom, that confounds the learning of this world and, with courtesy and true nobility, is consistent, equally well and even better, with the loftiest achievements in the sphere of science, even of secular and social science, in accordance with the needs of time, place and circumstance.
‘This is the height of philosophy, to be simple with prudence’, as was said by Saint John Chrysostom, my great patron saint of the East.
Lord Jesus, preserve in me the love and practice of this simplicity which, by keeping me humble, makes me more like you and draws and saves the souls of men.
As we were watching ‘Outside the City’, Nick Hamer’s dvd about the life of Mount Saint Bernard’s Abbey in Leicestershire, I was struck, among many things, by then-Abbot Erik Varden’s blessing of the new Brewery, on Saint George’s Day 2018. Here is an extract.
To abandon something one has always done (dairy farming) for something one knows nothing about is never easy. Today we can justly give thanks that this new industry has been established and rests on firm foundations. One of the fascinating things about beer, is that this (potentially) sophisticated beverage is made of the simplest ingredients. By being refined to manifest their choicest qualities; by being brought together in a favourable environment; by mingling their properties and so revealing fresh potential; by being carefully stored and matured, the humble malt, hops, yeast, and water are spirit-filled and bring forth something new, something nurturing and good, that brings joy to those who share it. Considered in this perspective, the brewery provides us with a parable for our monastic life, with the Lord as virtuoso brewmaster. The Scriptures favour wine as an image of the Gospel – but that is culturally conditioned; beer, it seems to me, is a much neglected theological symbol.
We thoroughly recommend both the beer and the dvd!
We invite you to share this seafaring reflection from the Dean of Lichfield, a city about as far as you can get from the sea in England! He ends with these words:
Lent is a good time for self-examination on a personal and communal level. How far have I or we mangled God’s image and likeness into my/our own limited image and likeness? How far have my/our anxious needs for safety, belonging, esteem, or amounting to something deafened or blinded me/us to what God is putting before us? And remember Christianity is a “revealed” faith, so it’s not so much a question of inventing the God we want, as understanding the God we have got and are getting.
Let’s journey on this Lent, personally and corporately, towards what God holds before us. We can do no better than read and meditate on one of the Gospels – try Mark. It’s short and punchy and lets us know why that, when the Good News is proclaimed, life isn’t settled or comfortable.
A prayer for us to say together:
We thank you, Lord Jesus Christ, King of Glory, that you have called us to be your people. Help us to know the greatness of our calling, so that we, having one spirit of faith and love, may live in the world as a new and holy generation. May your eternal and righteous will be always before our eyes, so that in soberness and vigilance we may await your time, and witness to your promises, until your kingdom comes. Amen.
We looked at Ruth and Naomi yesterday: ordinary, decent women who encountered an ordinary, decent man in Boaz; and the rest is history. That story must have been going through the back of my mind, because my eyes were open to an embodiment of ordinary decency as I saw her pushing her walking aid up the hill towards her parish church.
Margaret stopped to chat to three different acquaintances within 200 metres, in my case just a quick greeting as she was already in conversation with someone else. On other occasions she will be walking Basil her Maltese terrier, or giving him a ride on the trolley; or else sitting outside her favourite cafe on the square with a long coffee and a short cigarette, chatting to any who pass by.
There is a ministry of friendliness which doesn’t exactly fit the Gospel accounts of the Works of Mercy, but has elements of several of them. I can imagine Margaret saying: Lord, when did I see thee and befriend thee?
And the Lord could play back a few scenes from her life and say to her: Amen I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to me. And upon such rocks I will build my Church.
Then shall the just answer him, saying: Lord, when did we see thee hungry, and fed thee; thirsty, and gave thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and covered thee?Or when did we see thee sick or in prison, and came to thee?
And the king answering, shall say to them: Amen I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to me.
We should not pass over those all-but invisible, non-charismatic, ministers of the Good News who bring it to people without preaching; who can say ‘I love you, God loves you’ without those words coming anywhere near their lips. And by no means all of them have any church affiliation at all. Let us thank God for them.
Chad, as patron, unites Lichfield Anglican Diocese and the Catholic Archdiocese of Birmingham. He was the first Bishop of Lichfield in Mercia, the Kingdom of the English Midlands. He died on this day in 672. It is fitting to remember him more widely this year, as he died of a plague, having received a heavenly warning that his death was near.
Bishop Chad’s nature was to go everywhere on foot – again a parallel with our own times – but Archbishop Theodore of Canterbury ordered him to ride on horseback for long journeys. His diocese covered much of England so to visit all of it made a horse a tool of the Good News rather than a symbol of his status as bishop.
We pray that the work of vaccination may go ahead safely and surely in Lichfield Cathedral, and we pray too for the discernment to know when we should walk, not ride a short journey, and so help to protect God’s earth and our home.