December 9th 2018

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Contents:

  1. Parish Bulletin for Holy Family
  2. Newsletter for St Benedict's
  3. This Sunday's Readings
  4. Sunday Reflection

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This Sunday's Readings

First Reading  Baruch 5:1-9

Jerusalem, take off your dress of sorrow and distress, put on the beauty of the glory of God for ever, wrap the cloak of the integrity of God around you, put the diadem of the glory of the Eternal on your head: since God means to show your splendour to every nation under heaven, since the name God gives you for ever will be, "Peace through integrity, and honour through devotedness". Arise, Jerusalem, stand on the heights and turn your eyes to the east: see your sons reassembled from west and east at the command of the Holy One, jubilant that God has remembered them. Though they left you on foot, with enemies for an escort, now God brings them back to you like royal princes carried back in glory. For God has decreed the flattening of each high mountain, of the everlasting hills, the filling of the valleys to make the ground level so that Israel can walk in safety under the glory of God. And the forests and every fragrant tree will provide shade for Israel at the command of God; for God will guide Israel in joy by the light of his glory with his mercy and integrity for escort.


Second Reading  Philippians 1:3-6.8-11

Every time I pray for all of you, I pray with joy, remembering how you have helped to spread the Good News from the day you first heard it right up to the present. I am quite certain that the One who began this good work in you will see that it is finished when the Day of Christ Jesus comes. God knows how much I miss you all, loving you as Christ Jesus loves you. My prayer is that your love for each other may increase more and more and never stop improving your knowledge and deepening your perception so that you can always recognise what is best. This will help you to become pure and blameless, and prepare you for the Day of Christ, when you will reach the perfect goodness which Jesus Christ produces in us for the glory and praise of God.


Gospel Reading  Luke 3:1-6

In the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar's reign, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judaea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of the lands of Ituraea and Trachonitis, Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, during the pontificate of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah, in the wilderness. He went through the whole Jordan district proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the sayings of the prophet Isaiah: A voice cries in the wilderness: Prepare a way for the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley will be filled in, every mountain and hill be laid low, winding ways will be straightened and rough roads made smooth. And all mankind shall see the salvation of God.


Sunday Reflection 2nd Sunday of Advent

When Invisibility Becomes Culpability

Catholics in the UK in the 16th and 17th centuries suffered persecution and, many, a cruel martyrdom. They were shunned in society. For example, Queen Victoria ordered a line of trees be planted to hide a Roman Catholic monastery which she would otherwise see from her railway carriage when journeying to and from Scotland. In 1829 the Catholic Emancipation Act was passed by Parliament. It still left unresolved a number of exclusions by which Catholics were prohibited from holding public offices.
Old prejudices die hard. As relatively recently as 1953, when Pius Xll was Pope, a gift was sent from the Holy See to mark the coronation of our present Queen. The Holy See's Apostolic Delegation in London, equivalent to an embassy, was advised by officials at Buckingham Palace to deliver the gift to the servants' entrance at the rear of the Palace. Such behaviour would be unthinkable today.
Reference is made to these earlier times, not to open old wounds, but to remind contemporary Catholics that, in the UK, our predecessors learnt to blend-in with society. They did this to avoid contention hoping that, slowly, they would become tolerated by being semi-invisible. When we read of John the Baptist in Luke's Gospel extract (3:1-6) for this 2nd Sunday of Advent, the contrast with our Middle Ages' forebears is striking. Matthew chapter 3 gives a fuller picture of the Advent of John the Baptist.

It might be asked, have English Catholics become invisible, too blended-in, too indistinguishable within a society that has grown decidedly more secular and humanist? Perhaps Advent is a timely moment to question ourselves. If Jesus' Second Coming were to happen now, would I be identifiable as his disciple? If I were identified, would it be a surprise to both friends and colleagues? Is this how I am called to live my Baptismal promise?

It was clearly the stand-apartness of John's proclamation, more than his wardrobe and diet, that brought him to the attention of his fellow Jews. Whereas his fellow Jews were blaming the Romans for the harshness of Jewish life with its grinding poverty and hunger, John, as Luke tells us: " … went throughout the whole region of the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins … "
John the Baptist identified to his own people their sins, not those of the Romans. John made it clear, it was his own people's non-repentance for their sins that had driven God away from them.

It was the consistent strength of John's conviction and uncompromising adherence to the truth that shook his fellow Jews from the clutches of misconception and delusion. Matthew 3 tells us that many Pharisees and Sadducees had ventured out from the safety of their 'lairs' in the Temple estate to see and hear John's proclamation for themselves. How shocked must they have been to hear themselves addressed by John:
"But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he (John) said to them: "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The axe is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire." (Matt. 3:7-10)

John charged them, as he charged all Jews and their descendants, which includes us by virtue of our adoption by God to be the brothers and sisters of His Only-Begotten Son: "….to produce fruit in keeping with repentance". So, when the Church calls our attention to John the Baptist in Advent, she is calling the Baptised to produce the fruit of repentance.
Undeniably, the worldwide Catholic Church is, currently, being called upon to confess many serious offences against vulnerable people with offenders being identified throughout the entire gamut of its membership. John the Baptist, in his day, was aware of the sinfulness of his own people. It was for this reason that he called all his fellow Jews, at the time, to repentance.
Today, too, Catholics are being called to corporate acts of repentance for the victims, that they may find healing, and for the abusers that they may cease abusing. For all Catholics today bear some blame, not for the actions or omissions of the few, but for our failure to be the community he calls us to be of faithfulness in our love and service of Him through our love and service of others. Had we, individually and as a community, been more faithful to God in our love and service of others, perhaps the weak and the tempted would have been better supported and saved from injuring others and themselves and the community.
St. Paul's 1st Letter to his Corinthian community makes our obligation plain:
"For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ." (1Cor 12:12)
"If one member suffers, all suffer together …" (1Cor 12:26)

Acting upon this call to repentance is more than the saying of an act of contrition and the making of the Sign of the Cross. It is choosing to draw closer to Christ in our daily personal life, through prayer and the Sacraments, because we are surrounded by a panoply of evil disguised as everything but evil. How many of us, the Baptised, realise that in our daily lives we receive unexplainable protection, communication and guidance that surely indicates the presence of "ministering spirits sent forth (from God) to serve, for the sake of those who are to possess salvation" (Heb.1:14)

There's the story of a wise confessor whose penitent said he had maligned a particular person on multiple occasions. The confessor gave him, as his penance, the task of taking a bag of chicken feathers to the top of a hill on a windy day and there letting them be blown away by the gusts. "Then," said the confessor, "go and collect the feathers." The penitent pleaded that it was an impossible task. "So now," said the confessor, "you can see how hard you have to work to make good the damage done to that person's reputation." It's a task longer than Advent's four weeks or Lent's six.
The commercial christmas has been trailed before us on a daily basis since September. The ploys to tempt us to spend, to take on debts, to try and satisfy the unending greed of the young played-upon by soulless advertising, is a very tough scenario in which: "….to produce fruit in keeping with repentance".

There's no denying that it cost John the Baptist his life here. What we will never know, here, is how many lives he saved by his commitment and fortitude. It is undeniably hard to stand apart, to be identified and maybe vilified because we choose to: "proclaim a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins" - not other people's sins but our sins, because we are one body.

We do not need to be dressed in camel skin, with a leather belt or eat wild honey (a healthy diet though it is). All we need is the ability to walk with purposeful steps against the flow of secularism and humanism with confidence and commitment. The ripples we leave on our way will touch others and, who knows, some eternal good that we never dreamt of may result.