Secularism in our society pervades every aspect of our lives, and seems determined to eradicate Christmas if it possibly can. We see charities no longer selling Christmas cards with nativity scenes, as well as the replacement of the word “Christmas” itself by phrases such as “the winter festive season”. People are urged to avoid using religious terms in case they should somehow “upset” others.
Father Deo, Father Innocent, Deacon Ged and the entire Parish Team hope and pray that you will have a wonderfully holy and happy Christmas and that the New Year will be full of all the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Once again, amid the bustle of life, the preoccupation of the advertising media with material gain and, it would seem, amid an unending stream of news reports of poverty, crime, and death in various parts of our world, we have journeyed through Advent and are celebrating Christmas. The Crib, centrepiece of this Season, is displayed in our homes and in our Parish church; church and homes are brightly decorated, Christmas trees abound and, somehow, the gloom of winter is shut out.
The Nativity of Christ painted by the Italian artist Francesco Francia (1447-1517) in c.1490
Once more we pray, at Midnight Mass, the Christmas Night hymn of the Angels, “Glory to God in the Highest…!”. Father wears white (or, indeed, gold-coloured) vestments, Carols are sung, calling us to contemplate the Birth of our Saviour. Our Entrance Antiphon echoes the Father’s Words, ‘…You are my Son; this day have I begotten you…’ (Psalm 2:7). We hear, in the First reading, of the ‘… great light…’ that has dispelled the darkness of Original Sin (Isaiah 9: 1-7). In the Response to the Psalm we proclaim, ‘Today a Saviour has been born to us…’(Psalm 95: 1-3, 11-13 response Luke 2:11). Saint Paul joyfully cries out that ‘...God’s Grace has been revealed…’. (Titus 2:11-14). In the Gospel we hear of that journey in Faith made by Our Lady and Saint Joseph to Bethlehem and of the subsequent Angelic Proclamation of the ‘…news of great joy…’ of Jesus’ Birth to the humble shepherds (Luke 2:1-14).
In our homes presents are exchanged. Our gifts, given with Love, put us in mind of Love Himself and the greatest Christmas Gift ever, Love Incarnate, Jesus, Emmanuel (‘God is with us!’). Our earthly enjoyment of Christmas takes its meaning from the knowledge that this little child, born in a humble stable, grew and restored hope in an Eternity of inconceivable Happiness for those who ‘…endure to the end…’.
For some, sadly, the whole point of the Season is passed over. It is therefore, as ever, up to us to be 'counter-cultural', showing, by word and example, the true significance of this celebration, as Saint Peter says, ‘…the hope that is in you…’ (1 Peter 3:15). On that first Christmas night, Jesus, the Word Who "...was made flesh..." at His Conception nine months earlier in the Womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, is setting out on His 30 year mission to Save humanity, atoning for Original sin and all sins committed until the end of time and putting us back, with the means to get there, in the Church, on the road to Heaven. How can we not rejoice knowing this!? May we be inspired to spread this "....news of Great Joy..." in the year ahead!
When seeing life through the eyes of the news media, one may well feel tempted to despair. In contrast to that view, today is, for us, Gaudete (rejoicing) Sunday. The Entrance Antiphon (Philippians 4: 4-5), “Rejoice in the Lord always…the Lord is near”, the rose-coloured Advent Candle and Father’s vestments remind us that, amidst the trials and tribulations of life and the penitential purple of Advent with its imperative to be cleansed of our sins, we must also look with joyful hope towards not only our celebration of the arrival of the promised Saviour two thousand years ago but also, the day when “Christ will come again” as our Loving and Merciful Judge. On that day, the ravages of Sin will be swept away and perseverance in faithfulness to God will carry us into Heaven!
Isaiah (61:1-2, 10-11) rejoices in the Good News he is called to bring of Christ’s coming to heal the wounds of Original Sin, news which moves him to ”…exult for joy in the Lord..”.
Through the response to the Psalm (Luke 1:46-50, 53-54, response Isaiah 61:10) “My soul rejoices in my God”, we join in with Our Lady’s joyous Magnificat, a hymn of praise of God, uttered in response to her cousin, Elizabeth’s, praise of “… she who believed…” in the Father’s promise of a Saviour.
We each need to examine our conscience and see where we stand when, in the media, out and about, at work or even among friends and Family, we may hear the Church’s Teachings ‘watered down’ or opposed outright. Today, one may not, in this country, lose one’s life but one’s livelihood or freedom might well be at stake if one stands up, for instance, for God’s Created Order! Living according to our Faith and, in charity, correcting error might even, alarmingly, see us accused of being in breach of the laws of the land! Our Holy Father, though, has made our duty abundantly clear to us!
Just in case we feel unsure as to how to tackle such issues, here is another book well worth adding to your Catholic library. It is called “A Shepherd Speaks”, written by Fabian Bruskewitz, Bishop Emeritus of Lincoln, Nebraska. This book is published by Ignatius Press, a faithful Catholic publisher. It is, as the covernote by another feisty Catholic writer, Scott Hahn, says, about “…the meaning of the Catholic faith in today’s world and how to live it.” Well recommended and very readable.
“Holy Michael, Archangel, defend us in the day of battle…”
Today we light the first and second of the candles on our Advent Wreath, increasing its brightness. Hopefully this action will be mirrored in wreaths we have made at home with our Children as we, in our families, talk and pray about the Coming of our Saviour. You will find plenty of faithful Catholic material, explaining the wreath’s symbolism and suggesting appropriate Prayers which will appeal to both Parents and Children, on this website.
By the time Christmas Day dawns, how long will the decorations have been up? How many Christmas dinners and parties will have left some people feeling somewhat jaded once the actual time for festivities arrives? Might we feel ‘shopped out’? This week’s readings hold a message of hope at a time when, in the news, things look pretty grim and even the bright lights cannot mask reality!
The Entrance Antiphon (cf Isaiah 30:19, 30) proclaims that ‘…the Lord will come to save all nations…’.
In the First Reading (Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11) we hear the words, “Console my people…says your God…Prepare in the wilderness a way for the Lord…”, a joyful proclamation of the impending coming of our Saviour Who, alone, can set things right!
The Response to the Psalm (Psalm 84:9-14, response v8) echoes last week’s Alleluia verse, calling again for God’s ‘…Mercy and…Saving Help…’.
Saint Peter, our first Pope, (2 Peter 3:8-14) reminds us that, while time may stretch out for us, God sees all in an instant. We must continually prepare for the Second Coming, live ‘…holy and saintly lives…do your best to live lives without spot or stain…’. This message is echoed in the Alleluia Verse (Luke 3:4-6). Be always ready and so come to, ‘…see the Salvation of God…’.
In his Gospel (Mark 1:1-8) Mark continues this theme, quoting Isaiah and introducing the last of the Prophets, Saint John the Baptist, who would announce the promised arrival of the Lamb of God. John himself was a sign of contradiction who would give his life for challenging Herod’s immorality.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen!
Recently we have been presented, through the advertising media, with what an increasingly materialistic world regards as the 'essentials' for the 'perfect' celebration of Christmas: decorations, presents, lights, food and, of course, alcohol! As we begin Advent, we are clearly reminded of the true purpose of Christ-Mas, the Feast of Christ's Birth, as well as of the infinitely higher purpose for which God first created us then redeemed us, namely eternal possession of Him in Heaven; indeed a far higher purpose ever imaginable than that of collecting mere earthly possessions.
We are brought face to face with something which material success can blind us to, as it did the man who rejoiced in earthly riches, only to die suddenly, appearing unprepared, before his Heavenly Judge. The Gospel (Mark 13:33-37) compels us to take a long hard look at ourselves, warning us of the unpredictability of death which could take us completely by surprise; our priorities in this finite world will determine our Eternity and, because God loves us and knows our Fallen Nature, He continually warns of the danger of the 'Eat, drink and be merry!' philosophy of life.
We must certainly not develop a gloomy, Scrooge-like attitude towards the celebration of this momentous Birth but, rather, we are directed towards true Joy; our eventual celebration of Christmas is intended to lift our Souls upwards, towards God; to look beyond the here-and-now, joining in the Glorias of the Angels and the down-to-earth wonder of the Shepherds and Kings. Christmas Cheer, to be genuine, must be rooted in the Joy of knowing that the Babe in the manger, having grown to adulthood, established the Church, Died, and Risen, having defeated death, has Ascended to His Father, going ahead of us to help us on towards the Ultimate Celebration of Heaven!
Next Friday, 8th December, we celebrate a pivotal moment in the history of Salvation, The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. This Dogma, defined by Pope Pius IX in 1854, proclaims the Truth that, of all humans created, Mary, alone, was kept free from Original Sin, preventing it from touching, soiling and weakening her Soul. She alone was (and ever remained) in the State of Grace from that first instant of her life in the womb of her Mother, Saint Anne. From then and, indeed, throughout her life on Earth, Mary co-operated willingly and perfectly with God’s Grace. A measure of the humility required to accept with Faith this, perhaps challenging Truth, lies in its having been revealed in 1858 to Saint Bernadette Soubirous, then an illiterate, poverty-stricken French peasant girl, by Our Blessed Lady herself, who declared, when asked to reveal her identity “Que soy era Immaculada Conceptiou”, which of course in Bernadette’s language of Bigourdane means “I am the Immaculate Conception.”. Read more about this fundamental Catholic Teaching here .
‘O come, O come Emmanuel!’
From St. Bart's
Thoughts on the traditional teachings, devotions, seasons and matters of the Catholic Church