December 8th 2019

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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
  5. December 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 in Advent

Memorable Encounters

Have you ever encountered a 'John the Baptist'? Surely, you would know if you have. Such a person would have had a commanding presence that would radiate spiritual wholeness, integrity and truth rather than physicality or secular power. You would find such a person incapable of intimidation or deceit and possessed of a degree of sincerity and gentleness that you would find disarming. Were you to encounter such a person, you might find yourself at a loss for words but you would not feel threatened. You might find yourself irresistibly drawn to spend more time in their company.

Traditionally, the 2nd Sunday of Advent's Gospel highlights, Jesus' cousin, the original John the Baptist (Matt 3:1-12). The other three Evangelists also tell of John the Baptist - Mark (1:1-8), Luke (3:1-18) and John (1:19-39). Jesus identifies his cousin in a singular manner:
"Truly I tell you, among those born of women, there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he." (Matt 11:11)
John the Baptist's early life must have been surrounded with publicity, such as it was in those times. His father was a prominent Jewish Pharisee, Zechariah and equally his mother, Elizabeth, was of noteworthy descent in her own right. She was well beyond the age of child bearing. Zechariah's nine-month dumbness, the result of his incredulity when told that he would be a father, was ended when he announced his son's name and gave us the proclamation/prophecy known as the 'Benedictus' that is prayed daily as part of the Church's 'Morning Prayer' (Luke 1:59-80).

If John the Baptist's early life was surrounded by publicity it may help explain why he chose a life of desert solitude. He surely would have learnt from his father and mother all that pertained to the to the circumstances of his wholly unexpected birth. It is speculated that John and perhaps Jesus, for that matter, spent some formative years as members of the Essene community (a Jewish monastic sect of strict observance) based at Qumran located on a dry plateau near the north western shore of the Dead Sea. The Essene settlement was nearest to the Qumran caves - most likely hermit dwellings - set into in the sheer desert cliffs where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. Perhaps it is no surprise that, when John the Baptist finally began preaching, he chose the Judean wilderness as his location. While it was John the Baptist's clothing and diet that first caught peoples' attention (Matt 3:4), it was his words that held their attention and led many to seek God's forgiveness.

What are we to learn from the fact that both John the Baptist's and Jesus' hidden formative years far outstripped their years of public ministry? Our era has become one that lays emphasis on the exploitation, for nefarious reasons, of many forms of prodigy. The history of Christianity teaches us that human spiritual formation is a deep, and often lengthy, process that can only be hastened by martyrdom, as exemplified by both Jesus and John the Baptist.

Both Jesus and his cousin, John, would have been immersed throughout the early lives in the Jewish scriptures through both their home life and the formation they received through the synagogue. They would have witnessed both the true and the false implementation of their people's scriptural heritage and made their personal choices accordingly.

Though we may not have encountered a replica 'John the Baptist', it is possible that we may have shared time with people who were 'in the style of' John the Baptist. How their lives impacted upon ours and how ours impacted upon theirs, only our individual memories can recall. It is important to engage in this process of recall for it highlights God's providential provision for us over the course of our lives, even up to this very moment. Such hindsight also helps us recall our response to those moments of grace, both at the time and subsequently. The only time-restriction on these outpourings of God's grace to us is the moment of our individual death or the end of the world. While we breathe and the world continues, it is never too late for us to pick up on or enlarge our response to God's call.
Our ability to recall the good influence and blessed words of relatives, friends, confreres and benefactors, who themselves have perhaps long since gone to God, remains for us a moment of opportune grace for God never withdraws his word, his promise. We have only to ask the help of the Holy Spirit to lead us, even at the so-called eleventh hour.

John the Baptist was not without his own doubts and uncertainties. Hauled into prison by King Herod for criticising Herod's morals, John sends messengers to Jesus:
"Are you the one who is to come, or are we to expect someone else?'
Jesus answers the messengers: 'Go back and tell John what you hear and see; the blind see again, and the lame walk, those suffering from virulent skin-diseases are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life and the good news is proclaimed to the poor; and blessed is anyone who does not find me a cause of falling.'" (Matt 11:2-6)

There is reassurance for John the Baptist in Jesus' words and we know that John was soon to suffer martyrdom (Mark 6:17-29). Equally, there is reassurance for us in our own unsteadiness of faith when we read of John the Baptist's struggles. As we head deeper into Advent, society's secular pressures increase and people of faith find themselves more and more distracted and swept up by media and party pressure. It is at such points of intense pressure that Christians need to be able to call upon their spiritual reserves, as would John the Baptist have done. In the isolation of his prison and aware that his death was being planned, John the Baptist might well have recalled the words of his mother and father. They had framed for him not only his wonderous conception and birth but also the prophetic words of his father at his naming.

Might Advent 2019 provide adult believers with an opportunity to recall, for the benefit of their own children and relatives, their own early stepping-stones of faith? How vital it is for adults to communicate the value they place upon their inheritance of faith and to do so with enthusiasm and appreciation.


Reflection: God cannot be tamed

By Father Chris Thomas

As Advent has approached this year I have found myself musing on mystery and otherness. I have found myself trying to grasp the dark, wild, otherness of the God who cannot be tamed, and yet who became flesh and lived among us. I have found myself opening up to a God who will not be trapped, confined, caged or domesticated, a God that the prophets understood.

I guess that's why during these days of Advent we will hear the prophets and Isaiah, primarily, pointing us beyond. We will hear them condemn much of our religious practice which can stop us entering into mystery. This to lead us into a way of life where we are encountering a God who wants to overwhelm us with the power of love which always leads us to desire justice and truth.

Yet sadly most of us prefer unthreatening religion to the living God who breaks into our lives, shatters our understandings and turns us upside down. It's easier to go to church and live by a particular moral code than to let God into our lives. Of course, that, in its worst extremes, can lead to self-righteousness and condemnation of others. So, Advent reminds us to open up to God who is always more than we can imagine.

One of the great characters of this season is John the Baptist who immersed people into the real, wild, purposeful presence of the God of the prophets. He challenged those who came to him to meet the God who leads people out of captivity and slavery by the wild route. Look at the story of the Book of Exodus. God leads the people in the dead of night across the Red Sea into the desert. It's wild and unexpected. That's our God. Sadly, we have tamed God so much, this God who wants to break into our lives in unexpected ways!

John offered the God who can't be tamed, only followed. He offered the God who can fill the empty space within us that we try to fill with the new car, the new kitchen and the pension plan. John offers us the God who is always unexpected and indeed is the God of surprises.