John’s challenging message
The call of John the Baptist is challenging but, ultimately, it is a consoling word, because the Lord to whom John calls on us to turn our hearts is not one who is here to judge us. Rather, he is one who has come to heal and renew us. The voice crying in the wilderness is, ultimately, a voice of consolation. In the opening words of Isaiah in today’s first reading, ‘Console my people, console them. Speak to the heart of Jerusalem.’ At the end of that reading, Isaiah declares, ‘Here is the Lord coming with power.’
The word ‘power’ can have negative echoes for us, suggesting an overbearing will to dominate over others. Yet the power of the Lord that Isaiah speaks about is of a different kind. God is like a shepherd feeding his flock, gathering lambs in his arms, holding them against his breast, and leading to their rest the mother-ewes who are soon to give birth. This is a very tender power, the life-force of a faithful and enduring love, a love that gathers and nurtures and reassures. This is the God whom John the Baptist invites us to rediscover this Advent.
It is this God who comes to us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. In the gospel, the Baptist refers to Jesus as ‘more powerful than I am.’ He is the more powerful one, in the sense that the first reading defines power. It is Jesus who gives full expression to God’s tender love that brings healing to the broken, strength to the weak and rest to the weary. It is this adult Jesus, now risen Lord, whose coming towards us and present to us we celebrate at Christmas. The Baptist calls us this Advent to prepare a way in our lives for the coming of this Lord, this Shepherd, in whom, as Responsorial Psalm says, mercy and faithfulness have met, justice and peace have embraced. This is the one we are called to meet this Advent, who can give meaning and depth to all our other encounters.
From the Association of Catholic Priests, Ireland
Final report from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse
With the delivery of the final report from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, we move as a Church to the next stage of the painful process of atoning for the sins of the past. This weekend we light the second of the Advent candles and the gradual strengthening of the Advent light reminds us that we draw nearer to the great feast of Christmas, celebrating the goodness of God born anew in our hearts and our world. This is the God who journeys with us as we search to understand, accept and acknowledge the wrongs of the past. Importantly we now have the task of ensuring that we move forward in a manner that brings hope, accountabilities and healing.
We continue to hold in our thoughts and prayers all those who have suffered abuse at the hands of clergy, religious, teachers and volunteers in our Catholic parishes, schools and homes. It is for these children, women and men that we offer our humble prayers for their healing and health as they, too, move to this next stage in their journey of their story.
As a faithful people who join in prayer this Sunday the words of the psalm remind us to listen to the voice of the God of peace in whom mercy and faithfulness meet. Let us pray that the coming of Jesus, the Emmanuel, will bring peace, hope and healing to all who are in need of his gentle companionship and care.
Back to the Dark Ages?
Last Sunday at Mary Immaculate Fr. Bill celebrated Mass ‘Ad Orientum’, that is, facing East - with his back to the congregation. Not quite a desire to return to pre-Vatican II days, for what the photo does not reveal is a row of buckets behind the altar catching the rain drops from our leaking roof which for years has defeated the best efforts of the parish to have fixed.
Not missing an opportunity Fr. Bill spoke of the ’facing east’ tradition and its appropriateness in Advent and how the tradition is so often misunderstood.
Traditionally churches were built on an east-west axis. You enter the church via the west door and the altar is at the east end of the church. Architecturally and liturgically, even when the church is built on the wrong axis (like Mary Immaculate), the altar end is still called the east end (the direction of the rising sun and light) and the opposite end the west end (the direction of sunset and darkness). The ancient practice of the priest facing east at the altar was not about turning your back on the people or being separate from the people but about priest and people, together as one, facing east - the direction of light, resurrection and hope - the dawning of the Christ and the direction of his 2nd Coming. So, in Advent, we await the coming of Christ; preparing for his coming at Christmas, his 2nd Coming at the end of time, and of course, his coming in the Eucharist. In the words of the beautiful Advent Carol:
People look east, the time is near, of the crowning of the year.
Set every peak and valley humming; With the word, the Lord is coming.
People, look east and sing today: Love, the Lord, is on the way.