Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God - (28th December 2022)
On Christmas night on BBC1 there was the Christmas special of ‘Call The Midwife.’ Not a programme I watch, I hasten to add, but Selena was watching it, and in between dosing off in my chair, I saw some of it. There was a scene in it where a young unmarried mother-to-be went into labour and had nowhere to have her child. She found a shed and was about to give birth when a midwife heard her cries for help and came to her aid. I thought it was all a bit ‘cheesy’, a bit of an obvious link, but it did make me think.
I found myself thinking about all the women who have been in that situation throughout the ages. Obviously today, we think about Mary, the Mother of God. She too, was in a desperate situation with only Joseph to support her. It will have been some comfort to her when the shepherds appeared. We don’t know what the shepherds said to Mary and Joseph, but I think it’s fair to assume that they uttered words of comfort and support and joy. We can assume this because the Gospel tells us that, ‘As for Mary, she treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart.’ What a wonderful way to put it.
Mary has done something that has become harder and harder in our world: she takes time to ‘treasure’ and ‘ponder,’ which means time to reflect on the ways and things of God without distractions. Are we able to do that today? Can we make the time to do that today?
We may think that our roles in God’s plans are minor compared to Mary, but that misses the point of God. All of us are willed and desired, and all of us have the choice to say yes to God, for God’s plan includes eternity for all of us.
Mary said yes to God and because of her yes, as St. Paul puts it in his letter to the Galatians, “When the appointed time came, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born a subject of the Law, to redeem the subjects of the Law and to enable us to be adopted as sons.”
We are not Mary, but we are asked to say yes to God’s Son and to say yes to God every day. Because Mary said yes, we have all been blessed by God, prepared for that day when our ‘yes’ brings us to eternity with Mary and her Son.
Mary inspires us to serve with humility while praising God for the privilege. Inspired then by Mary, I would like to share this little prayer with you:
Holy is your name throughout all generations.
Your mercy is sufficient for all.
Help me Lord to serve you with humility,
and praise your name always.
The Nativity of the Lord - Year 'A'
It’s Christmas, so my gift to you is to keep it short this week!
Well today is the great Solemnity of The Nativity Of The Lord. Christmas Day is finally here. After all the preparation of Advent, we can finally rejoice and celebrate the coming of our Saviour, The Christ Child, The Baby Jesus.
It seems strange, given that we celebrate this great event each year, but for me, there is always something different each year. Something magical, something spiritually uplifting, something new to experience. Maybe it’s the fact that we get to relive the whole nativity experience anew each year. I know that may sound a bit silly, but it’s true. It’s the same, but different.
Jesus was true God and true man, He was Divine and Human. This is reflected in the Collect (the opening prayer) of today’s mass – ‘that we may share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.’ This is also the basis for the short prayer the Deacon says when he is ‘charging’ the chalice for the priest ...“By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled Himself to share in our humanity.” It is the fact that God sent His only Son to us in human form, yet still fully divine, that makes the nativity story so special, so precious, so joyful each year.
At Christmas Father Gildea didn’t produce a homily to preach, instead he just liked to say a few words of thanks, to all those who have contributed to the life of the parish throughout the year. In loving memory of Father Gildea, I would like to do the same. I wish to thank all those who help in any way to make our parish function as it does ... and that means all of you. So thank you all for everything that you do. I thank you all for your help, support and good wishes. Thank you for just being you.
I wish you all a Joyful and Peaceful Christmas, and I will share this short prayer with you:
you entered our world at Christmas as the Prince of Peace.
As we strive to become the best version of ourselves, fill us with a deep and abiding peace.
Help us share that peace with everyone, especially those who need it the most.
4th Sunday of Advent
Today’s Gospel focuses our attention on St. Joseph, and I wish to do so too. In every manger scene, it is never Joseph who is in the spotlight. The attention belongs to the Virgin Mary and her child, the baby Jesus. He was a man of great compassion, of tremendous faith and showed a real and personal commitment to God and his family. He gave his love completely to his family and asked for nothing in return.
Joseph’s name appears fifteen times in the New Testament, mostly in connection with the birth of Jesus, but the Gospels do not report a single word that he ever spoke. Artists have portrayed him as the one who led the donkey, knocked on the door of the Inn and stood to the side in the nativity scene; but for all his silence, he demonstrates the true spirit of Christmas. Perhaps it was the actions of St. Joseph that inspired St Ignatius of Loyola to say, “Love is shown more by deeds than by words.”
He must have been beside himself with worry and confusion as to what to do for the best. The law in Joseph’s time was strict – if a woman was pregnant the man would cancel the betrothal and she might be stoned to death! Joseph went beyond the law to love and the mystery of God’s call. When he awoke from his sleep and thought about what the angel had told him, it must have taken a great deal of courage and faith, to follow through on something that had come to him in a dream. He was a just and upright man who accepted that his was a supporting role in this huge part of salvation history.
How many of us would have that level of courage and faith? How many of us would have that level of unquestioning belief in our dreams? Perhaps there are times when it’s right for us to follow our dreams, perhaps there are times when it isn’t. How did Joseph know that it was the right thing to follow the guidance given to him in that dream by an angel? We will never know, all we do know is that it was all part of God’s plan for humanity.
On the subject of dreams, and in the spirit of Christmas, I would just like to share this cautionary tale with you, which illustrates that believing in dreams doesn’t always get you what you want.
It was three days before Christmas and the wife said to her husband, “Darling, I dreamt last night that you got me a beautiful diamond necklace for Christmas. What do you think that means?” The husband replied, “ I don’t know, you’ll just have to wait and see.” The next day, two days before Christmas, the wife said to her husband, “ Darling, I had that dream again last night that you got me a beautiful diamond necklace for Christmas. What do you think that means?” The husband again replied, “ I don’t know, you’ll just have to wait and see.” The next day, Christmas eve, feeling that her hints were falling on deaf ears, she said the same thing to her husband, who gave her the same reply. Finally it was Christmas day. She looked at a present her husband had left for her under the tree, beautifully wrapped and with her name on it. She eagerly opened it. To her surprise and disappointment, it wasn’t a diamond necklace, it was a book. The title of the book was ...‘The meaning of dreams.’ So be careful what you wish for based on your dreams. Oh, and before you ask, no, the wife in the story wasn’t Selena. She should be so lucky that I could even think about buying her a diamond necklace!
We are blessed through St. Joseph, a craftsman by profession and a family guardian by choice. I think it’s fair to say that Joseph wasn’t disappointed with the outcome of his dream.
Let us all remember that the birth of the baby Jesus was a present from God that just keeps on giving. Giving thanks for the past, joy for the present and hope for the future.
3rd Sunday of Advent 11th December 2022
In the Gospel of Matthew today, we hear how, from his prison, John the Baptist sent some of his disciples to see Jesus and ask the following question: “Are you the one who is to come, or have we got to wait for someone else?” John of course, was expecting the Messiah to come, but obviously felt that he needed some reassurance that Jesus was in fact The One, he was certainly hoping that he would be. That is why I think he asked the question more in hope than in expectation. It is fitting then, that on this third Sunday of Advent, as we light our third Advent candle, the pink one, we understand it is as a sign of hope and joy. Hope and joy for the coming of the Lord who will shine brightly in our lives.
Interestingly, Jesus doesn’t give a straight yes or no answer to the disciples sent by John, but he tells them in such a way that there can be no doubt that He is The One. He wants them to tell John what they have seen and heard for themselves, that they have witnessed the healing works of the Lord. He knows that this will give John the answer he is looking for. He gives him hope and joy for the future and reassurance that the prophecies were about to be fulfilled through His mission here on earth.
The lighting of the pink candle and what it symbolises made me think of an experience I had a few years ago. I was travelling on the motorway on my way to a meeting. It was quite early and was still dark when I set out. During my journey, it started to get light; dawn was breaking on the horizon. The sky was starting to light up and was changing colour to beautiful shades of pink, orange and red. The sun was rising in the distance, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and it was a truly amazing sight to see. The fields all around were white, covered in a heavy frost and it all looked just like a picture postcard scene. The sort of day when I wished that I didn’t have to go to work, but instead could just have a walk in the country, admire the dawn breaking and just marvel at the wonder of nature, of God’s wonderful gift to us. The sort of day that just fills you with hope and joy for the future. The shades of colours were changing as daylight filled the sky. As I reached my destination, my hopes and expectations were for a successful day, although I couldn’t help but wonder at the beauty of how the sight of the pinkness of the dawn could fill me with such hope and joy.
John the Baptist’s mission was to prepare the way for the coming of Jesus, and then to let Jesus’ mission begin. In other words, it was time for John to give way to Jesus and let Him do His work.
The same can be said of us each time we come to mass. We are preparing the way for Jesus with our liturgy. The priest then takes over when he starts to say the Eucharistic Prayer. Once he gets to the point of consecration, we ring the bells to signal that Jesus is with us as the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ. Once we have received Holy Communion, we let Jesus take over our bodies and souls to do His ‘thing’. That is, to be alive inside us, to nourish and guide us on our way. To help us to lead a good Christian life. We can do this daily, regular ‘top ups’ you may say. This is what gives us the hope and joy in our lives.
Jesus sent an answer of reassurance to John, and tells him not to lose faith in him. I think he sends us that message, and gives us that reassurance with the beauty of the dawning of every new day, that fills us with hope and joy for the future.
2nd Sunday of Advent 4th December 2022
When I read the Gospel of today, I thought that John the Baptist came across as a strong and almost fierce character in his dealings with the Pharisees and the Sadducees. But, when I had read it a few times, I started to change my mind.
To understand why John dealt with them in the way he did, I think we have to understand the type of people they were. They were in fact two opposing sects within the Jewish religion and held different views on certain things. The Pharisees did not accept the concept of the forgiveness of sins and the Sadducees believed in sticking strictly to the written law and could not accept the concept of the resurrection. Although the two sects opposed each other, it seems they were united in their opposition to what John the Baptist was preaching, and of course they went on to not only condemn Jesus for his teachings, but were openly hostile towards him. Therefore, when they approached John for baptism, he saw through their hypocrisy and rounded on them, calling them a “Brood of vipers.” He questioned their motives and made it clear to them that God would see through them and that they would be dealt with by Him in a certain way.
Now, all of this led me to think about Baptism today. When we attend a baptism, there may be certain family members or friends present who do not share our religious beliefs and values. However, as part of the baptism service, the priest or deacon asks the parents and godparents to make certain promises and commitments. These are to ensure that the child will be brought up to keep God’s commandments as Christ taught us. The parents and godparents are also asked to confirm that they reject Satan, and all his works and empty promises. It is explained to everyone that in baptism, we are washed clean of sin and believe in the resurrection. Interestingly, these last two points are the ones to which the Pharisees and the Sadducees were fundamentally opposed.
When we attend baptisms today, there may be some of those present who are just as opposed to the Roman Catholic Church, or religion in general, as the Pharisees and the Sadducees were to John the Baptist’s teachings. I don’t think for one minute that a priest or deacon would call them a ‘Brood of vipers’. The point that John was making still holds strong today. If we want to be a part of the Church, and take baptism seriously, then we must accept the church’s teachings, for ourselves as well as the person being baptised.
Just as John The Baptist was preparing the way, and the people, for the coming of Christ, so we too must prepare for the coming of Christ throughout Advent. We must give priority to the preparation of our hearts, of our inner beings. Jesus didn’t come to be locked in a tabernacle, he came to make His home in Our hearts.
So this Advent, inspired by the example of John The Baptist, let us open up our minds and hearts to the coming of the Messiah.
1st Sunday of Advent 27th November 2022
In faith and hope we begin advent this week. Everything we will see and hear in these next few weeks; the Christmas trees, lights, cards, carols, parties, Santa hats, houses lit up with reindeer etc...will remind us that Christmas is almost here. That’s fine, but surely all the things we see and hear over the next couple of weeks should act as a reminder that God is near!
These first few weeks in December are not just for shopping, we should remember that it is Advent and what that means.
Yes, it is a time for preparation, but not just in terms of our materialistic needs, it is for our spiritual needs also. It is a time when we should be remembering the true meaning of Christmas and preparing for the birth of the baby Jesus.
The message in today’s Gospel is one of being prepared. Jesus tells the disciples, “So stay awake, because you do not know the day when your master is coming.” He tries to get them to understand that it’s just as important for them, as it was for the people in the days of Noah and the flood, to be prepared for what is to come. The advantage we have over the disciples is that with the benefit of history and faith, we understand the significance of His birth and life on earth, which is why we celebrate it on the same day every year. You could say that we DO know the day when our master is coming, and that should be the cause of our celebrations at this time of year. That doesn’t mean that we should become complacent in our preparations and in our state of readiness for His coming. Indeed, that is the whole point of Advent. It is a period of time for us to prepare ourselves spiritually and mentally for the joyous feast of the coming of Our Lord.
Are we prepared for his coming? How will we recognise him when he comes to us, as he does all the time in our ordinary lives. He doesn’t appear in a middle eastern robe, wearing sandals and a beard. If we saw someone coming towards us dressed like that we would assume he was on his way to a fancy dress party. No, Jesus comes in many disguises. He may be the patient in hospital needing a visit, or a single mother needing a baby sitter, or a teenager needing encouragement, or even a wife needing a hug. So, just as we don’t know the day or the hour he will appear to us, neither do we know in what disguise he will appear to us in. So, as they say in the Scouts, ‘Be Prepared’.
As you buy Christmas gifts, or convey good wishes this Christmas, just make sure that it is coming from your heart, so that your gift is really a gift, and your good wishes are really a blessing.
I suppose you could say that the birth of the baby Jesus was the first Christmas present. It was the greatest gift that God could have given us, and it didn’t come all wrapped up in fancy paper and a big bow. It was a free, ready to go, gift. Nothing required of us, ‘batteries included’ you could say. The baby Jesus was in a crib wrapped in swaddling clothes. Plain and simple, nothing fancy about it. So when we think of gifts and presents at this time of year, let us remember that the greatest gift of all, Jesus, is the true meaning of why we celebrate Christmas Day. All the rest is just tinsel and paper.
One of the great Christmas songs of the 70’s was by Roy Wood and Wizard, it was, ‘I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday’. Well, I just want to tell you that IT IS! Because, God’s gift to us of the baby Jesus, truly IS the gift that just keeps on giving! Christ IS with us everyday!