Catholics for a Changing Church

Reflections for week beginning 18 December 2022

Reflections on the Daily Mass Readings

by Derek Reeve

An Introduction to the Reflections on the readings from December 17th until Christmastide

During the last days of Advent, from the days of the great ‘O’s, we read the various accounts of the events leading up to Jesus’ birth and his childhood from the Gospels according to Matthew and Luke. We know these stories so well but, perhaps, we may have sometimes asked ourselves the question, ‘Did these things really happen?’ Before the reflections themselves it may be helpful to give some sort of introduction to these various accounts to help us think about them more reasonably.

First of all, we must recognize that, although all these stories are at the beginning of the Gospels, they are in fact, additions to the earliest preaching about Jesus, which concentrated on his public life. It is Mark’s Gospel that gives us this earliest teaching though the date of writing this Gospel is unknown. It is generally placed just before or after the destruction of the great Jerusalem Temple in the year 70 C.E.

There were many stories circulating at the end of the first century and the beginning of the second which, as it were, filled in the gaps that existed in the Gospel accounts. These are works of pious fiction though there may, of course, be snippets of truth in them which had been passed on by word of mouth.

Are the accounts of Jesus’ infancy in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke just pious fiction then? If we examine them closely, we will find that they are much more serious than that and that they do, in fact, embody a whole theology. It is worth remembering too, that there are other places in the Gospels where there are accounts of events for which the writer could not have direct evidence such as the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness or his agony in the garden.

In other words, these stories are not meant to be factual or biographical but theological. This does not mean that they are less valuable. On the contrary, they contain something which is deeply true about Jesus because they are a reflection on the meaning of his life. It is to this category that the Christmas stories belong.

There is plenty of evidence in the New Testament that the first generations of Christians were somewhat bewildered by the fact that Jesus’ life and ministry did not live up to the promises made in the Hebrew Scriptures, what we call the Old Testament.

It is, therefore, the concern of the later writers in the New Testament, like the authors of John’s Gospel, of the last epistles of Paul, and of the Christmas stories which we are looking at, to suggest that these expectations were a mistake. What the authors seek to point out is that the Kingdom of God had really come in the death and the resurrection of Jesus. In fact, the Kingdom had come already in his public life where sin and death were being overcome. Indeed, they want to say, the Kingdom had already come in Jesus first coming, and the stories with which this was surrounded seek to make this plain.

There had also grown up among the Jews, especially during their exile in Babylon in the sixth century before Christ, a way of using past events in the Scripture to throw light on the present and this is what is called Midrash. The Christmas stories are all based on the Old Testament in something of the same way, using the past to throw light on the present and leaving the reader uncertain as to how to distinguish the historical facts from the background against which they are presented so that they too fall into this category of Midrash.

A truly Christian reading of the Old Testament, and this is what the Christians of the first few centuries so clearly understood, sees it, not simply as a long preparation for Christ but as a constant anticipation of Christ.

The first chapters of Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospels should be seen then as stories which embody a theology. The questions that must be asked are not historical, the when, how, and where but theological, what is their meaning?

A good example of this way of looking at things is the accounts of creation at the beginning of Genesis. There, the authors are not concerned to tell us when or how the world was created but, rather, ‘What kind of world is it?’ ’What kind of people should we be?’.

In the same way, the stories at the beginning of these two Gospels do not give us historical information but, rather, theology. They answer the question ‘Who is Jesus?’, and they always come back with the same answer. He is the One who was crucified and raised from the dead and lives on, to give life to all who believe in him. We often fail to remember that the resurrection is not just a bit more information tacked on at the end of each Gospel. It is, in fact, the only message that the apostles had to proclaim, ‘He is risen!’ In view of all this, the only language that can be used to tell of Jesus’ birth and infancy must be symbolic. It is the only language in which profound theological realities can be expressed.

‘Symbols and images … cluster thickly in the scenes of the ‘Christmas story’ which, in Matthew and Luke, is a prelude to their account of Jesus’ public career: visits of angels, prophetic dreams, the marvellous star in the East, the miraculous birth greeted with songs from the heavenly choir, all the appealing incidents so familiar in the appropriate setting of the Christmas carol and nativity play. That there is a basis of fact somewhere behind it all need not be doubted, but it would be a bold man who should presume to draw a firm line between fact and symbol. What our authors are saying through all this structure of imagery is that the obscure birth of a child to a carpenter’s wife was, in view of all that came out of it, a decisive moment in history, and the traffic of two worlds was initiated, to be traced by the discerning eye all through the story that was to follow’. These are the words of one of the foremost Scripture scholars in the latter part of last century (C.H. Dodd ‘The Founder of Christianity’ Collins, London, 1971, pages 30-31).

If the stories at the beginning of Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospels are theology rather than history, it follows that the sort of questions we have to ask of them are not ‘When’. ‘Where’ or how’ but rather, what is the meaning of this or that passage.

A child and a childlike age will be content to explore the meaning of a story without enquiring closely about its historical character. An adult and the history conscious age in which we live will want to distinguish very clearly between the historical and the non-historical. This is our problem, and we have to accept that to treat these stories as history is to miss their point.

The kind of biographical questions that we keep putting to the Scriptures, both the Old and the New Testaments, are secondary. The first thing that should be in our mind when we read any page of the Gospel is that this is a profession of faith by someone who has been through the experience of Easter, who has been taken over by the Spirit of Christ and can only speak of him in the light of his resurrection. The further question about the actual event and where and when and how, comes in second place.

If this is true of the whole Gospel narrative, it is particularly true of the opening pages of Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospels. Here, above all, the Gospel writer is asserting his faith, not writing a biography.

This does not mean, of course, that the Christmas stories have no historical basis or that they might have been made up out of the blue. A number of basic facts control and give direction to both accounts, and a comparison of the two stories in Matthew and Mark would suggest that those elements which are common to the two are historical facts. The person of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, their descent from David, their home at Nazareth, the person of Herod are all common to both, and it is interesting to note that these are precisely the historical details which occur in John’s Gospel and which we would, therefore, have known, even if the Christmas stories had never been written.

It is important, however, that we remember that these facts are pressed into service for a theological purpose, not a biographical one. The facts are used in the freest possible manner and re-thought in the light of both the Old Testament and the resurrection of Jesus.

This means, too, that the accounts of Matthew and Luke cannot be harmonized. These are not two biographies but two ways in which the authors have tried to express their theology. It would be as pointless to try to harmonise two portraits by different artists of the same person. Each is a valid portrait in its own right.

What are the questions that we ought to be asking then as we read the accounts of Jesus’ birth and infancy by Matthew and Luke? Firstly, Matthew, in order to show that Jesus is the true Messiah, foretold by the prophets, makes constant reference to them. In fact, in his account of Jesus birth and childhood he uses five clear quotations, each of which begins with ‘This took place in order to fulfil…’. As was said earlier, when speaking of the ‘Midrash’, none of these texts are, in fact, predictions about the birth and childhood of Jesus. Matthew just makes use of them.

Because Matthew is writing for his Jewish-Christian community, his whole purpose is to re-tell, as it were, the whole of the Hebrew Scriptures in the light of the risen Christ.

Luke’s purpose is different and, it is not for nothing that he has often been portrayed as an artist. Luke may have been a painter, but it is in his skill with words that we see his true artistry. At the very beginning of his Gospel, he says that his aim is to write ‘an orderly account’ about Jesus. This is borne out in the way he begins his Gospel. The balance and harmony betray an artist’s hand. Luke wants his readers to appreciate the parallel that he makes between John the Baptist and Jesus in order to understand how much Jesus towers over John. These first two chapters of Luke’s Gospel are, in fact, an elaboration of the statement of John the Baptist with which the main body of the Gospel begins: ‘One is coming after me who is mightier than me (Luke 3/16).

Much more could be written but these few thoughts may help you look at these Christmas stories in a different light. What we have to do with each episode in the story is to ask ourselves ‘What is the writer trying to say in this passage’. We come back always to the essential fact that he is saying that in these ordinary everyday events of pregnancy, birth and family, this child is the One who is now risen and in him we have seen the very presence of God in our own flesh and blood. Like the way in which the figures of Jesus and Mary and the saints are portrayed with light around them and haloes, these stories are the ornamentation around the essential facts to make us recognize with whom the stories are really dealing. As we enjoy these beautiful stories, let’s not get bogged down in asking whether they really happened. Let’s rejoice in the fact that they reveal to us the faith of the Gospel writers, faith in the Risen One whose birth we are now celebrating.

Sunday, December 18th, Fourth Sunday in Advent in Year One, ‘O Adonai’

Readings: Isaiah 7/10-14 : Paul’s Letter to the Romans 1/1-7 : Matthew 1/18-24

On this last Sunday of Advent the focus settles not on Mary but on Joseph. This is because we are reading Matthew’s Gospel on the Sundays this year. As we saw yesterday when we read the genealogy which precedes today’s Gospel reading, Matthew’s purpose is to show Jesus as the fulfilment of the Jewish Scriptures. The genealogy traces Joseph’s ancestry back through David to Abraham and then links Jesus with Joseph as the husband of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Although the Gospel writer, in today’s extract, goes on to show that Jesus was conceived in an unusual way and Joseph was not his father, nevertheless, by marrying Mary, Joseph becomes the legal parent of Jesus. In this way, the Gospel writer neatly inserts Jesus into the long line of Joseph’s ancestry which we read yesterday.

The stories about Jesus’ birth, with which we are most familiar, all come from Luke’s Gospel where Mary takes centre stage. In Matthew’s Gospel it is Joseph, because, as we said, the Gospel writer is writing for a Jewish Christian community, and his intention is to show Jesus as, not only Jewish, but with an ancestry that links him with the prophecies made about the Messiah in the Jewish Scriptures.

Joseph is depicted as a ‘man of honour’, which refers in the original text to his being a man who observed the Jewish Law. He was already engaged to Mary, though not living with her, when she became pregnant, and the Gospel writer explains her pregnancy as having come about ‘through the Holy Spirit’. Although we think of this in terms of what we have since learnt of the Holy Spirit, as the third person of the Blessed Trinity, the writer is here using the term more in the sense in which the Spirit is spoken of in creation (Genesis 1/1-2). There the Spirit of God ‘swept over the face of the waters’ and brought order out of chaos. In this way, the writer gives a clue as to the mystery of Mary’s pregnancy which Joseph must face.

The text we read says that Joseph was anxious to ‘spare her (Mary) publicity’ but, in fact, he was sparing her almost certain public disgrace and even, possibly death. In Deuteronomy 22/23-27 we read that an engaged woman, found not to be a virgin, was to be returned to her father’s house and stoned to death by the men of the city on account of the disgrace she had brought on her father’s house. Though this punishment was no longer used at this time, Joseph’s intention was to spare Mary terrible disgrace by simply divorcing her.

It is then that what we might call the ‘Annunciation to Joseph’ takes place. The angel of God serves as a messenger and dreams are seen as vehicles of divine communication. The angel tells Joseph that he must take Mary as his wife and tells him that Mary is pregnant by some divine intervention, and so he must complete the marriage process and take her to his home since he was already engaged to her. It is here that the purpose of this angelic visitation becomes clear. It is so that Jesus may be established as the ‘Son of God’ since he was conceived by the Spirit of God and also as ‘Son of David’ through Joseph’s ancestry.

The angel then tells Joseph that he must give the child the name ‘Jesus’. In Luke’s Gospel, it is Mary who gives her child his name but here the focus is on Joseph and the name he is to give is Jesus, which is the Greek form (from the Greek text) of the Hebrew name Yeshua or Yeshu. These are shortened forms of Joshua, a name which probably meant ‘Yahweh (God) helps’ but had come to mean ‘God saves’, which connects Jesus’ name with his mission ‘to save the people from their sins’.

We then have a formula which is typical of Matthew’s Gospel. ‘All this took place to fulfil the words spoken by the Lord to the prophet’, in this case, Isaiah. This device which the Gospel writer uses repeatedly underlines the continuity between the Jewish Scriptures and Jesus, which is always one of his main concerns, writing, as he does, for a community of Jewish Christians.

The Gospel text then quotes Isaiah in words that are very familiar to us and which we have read in the first reading today from Isaiah. The oracle from Isaiah which is referred to here, concerns the birth of a prince of David’s line from a young woman of the royal court. This would have been a sign of hope to Judah in the days of King Ahaz. The Hebrew word used for the young woman means just that but when the text came to be translated into Greek, the word ‘parthenos’ was used which means a virgin, since the translator had presumed that the girl alluded to would have been a virgin at that time. However, in neither the Hebrew or the Greek texts is there any assumption that the conception might have been virginal. The use of the Greek word, ‘parthenos’ in the Greek version of Isaiah which is here quoted, gave strength to the already existing faith in the virginal conception of Jesus. This had already become established by the time the Gospel was written it would seem. The Gospel misquotes Isaiah slightly in saying that ‘they’ will call the child Emmanuel and, perhaps, he is alluding to those who would be ‘saved from their sins’. The name’ Emmanuel’ means, strictly, ‘God with us’ and indicates here, Jesus’ identity as Son of God and, for the reader of the Gospel, reminds them of Jesus promise to be with them ‘to the close of the ages’ (Matthew 28/20).

The reading from the letter to the Roman Christian community takes up the same theme as does the Gospel writer. Jesus is the descendant of David, ‘promised long ago through the prophets and the Scriptures’ But after speaking of Jesus in this way, Paul then goes on to speak of Jesus as the ‘Son of God’, the One who is risen from the dead.  Paul’s words relate very closely to what we have read in both the prophet Isaiah and the Gospel reading. Paul then proceeds to explain to the Roman Christians how he has been commissioned to preach this Good News to the pagan nations, of which Rome is one. He ends this short extract by reminding them that they are ‘God’s beloved in Rome, called to be saints’.

On this last Sunday of Advent, these are words that we might hang on to. Like the Roman Christians, few though they were at that time, we are also called to be saints! Not in the plaster statue sort of way with haloes but as the Church. By baptism and the anointing with oil, we have become part of that Church, which is the Body of Christ. It is that which makes us ‘saints’ or holy people. It is for us, as much as it was for Paul, to proclaim the message of the Gospel. That message is that God has come among us and is still with us. How do we do this? By being the sort of community that makes it clear that God is truly with us, the sort of community that Jesus built up with his friends and disciples. A community of all sorts of people, where all are welcome and where the Gospel is proclaimed, above all, by the love that others see we have for one another. How can we make that more of a reality? By trying to get to know others in our church community and bringing them together so that we really do begin to share in each other’s lives. Can we work at that over Christmas time?

For ourselves, though, the emphasis that the Gospel puts on Jesus being truly one of us, human as we are, should be uppermost in our minds this Christmas. Because he is one of us, he truly understands us with all our faults and failings. The God that Jesus shows us, in his own reflection of the Father, is a God who, above all else, just loves us. Let’s hang on to that thought throughout this Christmas tide. However busy we may be, let’s keep in our hearts that simple phrase, ‘God loves me and God loves everyone else too, even the people I dislike and find difficult, so perhaps I ought to love them too!

This Evening, at Evening Prayer, we sing the second of the great ‘O’s, which surround the singing of Mary’s Song, it is ‘O Adonai’ and this word needs a bit of explaining.

In the story of Moses on Mount Sinai, God speaks to him out of the Bush that is burning, and tells him that he is the ‘God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob’. When he orders Moses to go to Pharaoh to tell him to release the Israelite people from their slavery, Moses asks who shall he say has sent him since he does not know God’s name. The reply was to tell Pharaoh that ‘I am who I am’ sent him and that would be his name for ever. In many Bibles lately, that word has been used in the text and written as ‘Yahweh’, but it is a word with several meanings and can best be described as ‘The One who is’, and we are not certain of the pronunciation. However, for the Jews, the name was held to be so sacred that they would never pronounce it and, even now, devout Jews will not write the word, God but will write G-d as if to say, we must not even say it. Only the consonants of this word were written, and the scribes would write under them, in the way that Hebrew was written, the word ‘Adonai’ which means ‘the Lord’ and is pronounced Add-oh-nigh-ee. In written Hebrew, only the consonants were written, and the reader had to know the vowels that went between them. In the VI-X centuries a group of scholars, known as the Masoretes, introduced a system of vowel signs placed underneath the consonants so that the reader would know the pronunciation of the word. In the case of the mysterious name of God, the vowel sounds placed beneath the consonants were those of the word, Adonai, so that the reader, when he came to the name would say Adonai and not pronounce the sacred name of God. In the post Reformation period, when people came to translate the Bible into English, they, mistakenly thought that it was Jehovah from the connection of the consonants in the sacred name and the vowels from Adonai. We thus have this totally odd name for God which is still sometimes used but which means nothing. So when we read the word Adonai, for us it means the Lord, but it has quite a history!

Jesus’ followers very soon started using the word ’Lord’ to describe him, and we find it frequently in the New Testament. It is an assertion that Jesus is, in fact, God. He is ‘the Lord’ the Ruler of heaven and earth, the One through whom all things were made, and it is as such that we speak to him in today’s great ‘O’ antiphon. But we are also reminded, in using this title, that God comes to us in Jesus, not in power and might, like the fire of the burning bush or the noise and the flashing of thunder and lightning as on Mount Sinai. In Jesus, God appears to us humble and weak and as a little child. He is born in our image that we may be reborn in his image.

Here, then is the text of this beautiful ‘O’ antiphon for today:


and leader of the House of Israel,

you showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush

and gave him your holy Law on Mount Sinai,


and stretch out your mighty hand

and set us free.

As we repeat these words today, let’s remember our Jewish sisters and brothers and their great devotion to the very name of God. As we pray for them, we can pray that we may have something of that same love and devotion so that we may always speak of God with a sense of awe, acknowledging the great mystery that is the God who is love.

Monday, December 19th, Monday before Christmas, ‘O Radix Jesse’

Readings: Judges 13/2-7, 24-25 : Luke 1/5-26

As we move towards Christmas day, the readings today remind us of John the Baptist who prepared the way for Jesus’ ministry. Luke places John at the very beginning of his Gospel to prepare, as it were, the way for what he has to tell later. He also uses this opportunity to situate his story at a particular time, in the days of King Herod.

All of the characters with which Luke surrounds the story of Jesus’ infancy are characterized by a simple piety associated with the ‘lowly and humble people’ that we read of in the prophet Zephaniah (Zeph.3/12-13). It is their faith that makes it possible for them to be open to God’s revelation. Both Zachariah and Elizabeth were of the priestly class, and he is depicted about his priestly duties when this incident occurs. Elizabeth is childless and this is a classical biblical motif which enables the birth of John to happen through divine intervention. The great exemplar of infertility is Sarah, the mother of Samuel (Genesis chapters 16 to 21) and often the birth of an important personage in the Jewish Scriptures is through God’s making a barren woman fertile. Added to that, both parents were advanced in age. In other words, these are devices for saying that this person is going to be important!

While Zachariah is performing his priestly duties, the ‘whole congregation’ is waiting outside and praying. In them we see the people of Israel, awaiting God’s visitation. The angelic visitor, who identifies himself later as Gabriel, is typical of Jewish apocalyptic literature at the time Luke was writing. He comes from God as one ‘sent to speak with’ Zachariah. The angel tells Zachariah that his prayers (for a child) have been heard. Again this is a theme that runs through Luke’s Gospel, that the prayers of the humble are heard by God. He then goes on to tell the old man that his wife will bear a child who will be great, and the name he must give him is John. The child is to be set apart for God, a Nazarite, which is why he must abstain from alcohol, as set out in Numbers 6/3, and he will be ‘filled with the Holy Spirit’, even from his mother’s womb, which is the essential mark of a prophet in Luke’s Gospel.

The angel then outlines John’s ministry in a dramatic way and, although Luke does not directly identify John with Elijah, he says he will take on the role and the spirit of Elijah in preparing a people fit for the coming Messiah. Not surprisingly, Zachariah professes disbelief in the angel’s message in view of his age and that of his wife. The angel reproaches him for doubting his message of Good News and tells him that he will be dumb until the child arrives as a chastisement for his doubts. The people waiting outside realise that something extraordinary has happened but Zachariah could only make signs to them. On his return home, Elizabeth, against all odds, does become pregnant, but Zachariah had to await the fulfilment of the prophecy before his speech would be restored.

This whole episode is set at the beginning of Luke’s Gospel to emphasise that Jesus comes into the world after a long period of preparation, during which it was the humble and lowly folk who kept faith in the coming of a Messiah. John stands at the head of this long preparation and, having been set aside by God and filled with the Spirit, he is the one who makes the final preparations for this event.

The story from the book of Judges is about the birth of the great Jewish hero, Samson, and we can see how the way in which Luke tells the story of John’s birth mirrors that of Samson’s. It makes it very clear to those who hear his Gospel, that John is to be a great man and a prophet.

Today, we sing the third of the great ‘O’ antiphons before and after the Song of Mary at Evening Prayer. It is addressed to the Lord as ‘the Root of Jesse’ to be understood as the one who flowers from that root. Jesse was the father of King David from whom Jesus is made to descend in the genealogies of both Matthew and Luke so as to be of David’s royal line. Jesus is a different kind of monarch, however, who will rule all the peoples. His reign will be one of justice and peace so that the power and the might of this world will be put to silence and all the peoples will bow down before him. This is the idyllic picture that the prophets all portray of the coming Kingdom. We know that, although the kingdom is among us and within us wherever love rules, we must still look forward to that final reign of love that we believe God will bring about. So we sing or pray these words, above all, in hope.


you have been raised up as a sign for all the peoples;

in your presence the powerful fall silent,

and all the nations bow down in worship before you.


and set us free

and do not delay.

Tuesday, December 20th, Tuesday before Christmas, ‘O clavis David’

Readings: Isaiah 7/10-14 : Luke 1/26-38

Yesterday the Gospel reading told the story of how John the Baptist came to be conceived as the one who would prepare the way for Jesus’ coming. Today it is the story of how Mary receives the news that she is to be the mother of the promised Messiah. This story all too familiar to us because we have heard it so often, but it is important that we look at it again and see what fuller meaning it might have for us. The extract from the prophet Isaiah is the one which we heard on Sunday and announces the coming of a royal child to a young woman. On Sunday it was paralleled by the story of what we called ‘the Annunciation to Joseph’ of Jesus’ birth as we read of it in Matthew’s Gospel. Today, it is the story of ‘the Annunciation to Mary’ that is set beside it as given us by Luke.

Because it is so familiar it is easy to miss the most important details of it. The greeting ‘Hail, gifted lady! The Lord is with you!’ addressed to Mary is closely dependent on a number of prophetic texts, as in Zechariah ‘Rejoice, heart and soul, daughter of Zion’ (Zech.9/9) , in Joel ‘Do not be afraid, be glad, rejoice for the Lord has done great things… (Joel 2/21,23) and in Zephaniah ‘Shout for joy, daughter of Zion,… The Lord, the King of Israel is in your midst (womb) …’ (Zeph.3/14-17). The prophetic hope is fulfilled in Jesus’ birth.

Mary is told that ‘the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow’. This echoes a whole number of texts in the story of the Exodus where the cloud, which overshadowed the people, expressed the presence of God, especially in the sacred tabernacle or tent of meeting. So we read ‘The Cloud covered the mountain, and the glory of the Lord settled upon the mountain of Sinai’ (Exodus 24/16), ‘however long the cloud stayed above the Tent of Meeting, the children of Israel remained in the camp … when it lifted they set out’ (Number 9/18-22) and many others. So Mary is seen as the meeting place, where we come into the presence of God.

The passage is also significant in contrast to the account of the annunciation to Zachariah of John’s birth. Mary is nobody, an unmarried woman, not a righteous man as in Zachariah’s case. Whereas he doubts the message, she enters into a dialogue and, once she understands what is being told her, she acquiesces. The fact that Mary, a ‘nobody’ has found favour with God is an indication of how Luke presents the Gospel, as a reversal of human expectations. Finally, unlike Zachariah, who is struck dumb because of his doubts, Mary, assured that her child will be the result of God’s intervention, replies in words that echo those of her son before his death ‘let it happen to me as you have said’.

This episode in Luke’s Gospel has had an incalculable influence in shaping Marian piety in subsequent generations, but we should never lose sight of its meaning for us. Mary, a woman and of no consequence in Jewish society, is overshadowed by the power of God and by her acquiescence to God’s request, as it were, she brings into the world the One who was expected, the anointed One, the Christ and Messiah.

We too, amazing as it may seem, since we are of no great consequence in the scheme of things, are overshadowed by the Spirit at our Baptism. Even though we are unaware of it, as Mary was, in that she shows no signs of being conscious of this overshadowing, we are made members of the Body of Christ, the Church by this overshadowing, by water and the oil of anointing. Like Mary, we are to be Christ-bearers, being his Body in the world and bringing his love to the world and, above all, being the sign and sacrament of his presence. Today, then as we remember this extraordinary reality in the ‘Angelus’, let’s give thanks that we too, like Mary, are called every day to repeat with her ‘Let it happen to me as you have said’, I accept your will for me today and every day, there be his presence by my love.

The antiphon that we sing today when we sing Mary’s Song at Evening Prayer is ‘O Clavis David’, ‘O key of David’. It reminds us that Jesus is the Key that unlocks all the mysteries of God and of our human life. He reveals to us all the mysteries of God in one simple but totally mind-blowing way that ‘God is Love’ and that it is in loving one another that we love God. Once the door is opened, it reveals to us the vast treasure house that is our Christian faith, the fruit of centuries of reflection on this essential mystery. It opens the door that leads us out of the darkness of selfishness and sin into the fullness of the life of love. It opens to us the way that leads on to an ever-greater understanding of God’s mysteries in an ever-growing awareness that the more we know, the more we recognize that we know nothing. Here it is then:


O royal power of the House of Israel;

What you open, no-one is able to close,

What you close, no-one can open


and lead forth from the prison of darkness

all those who are sit in the shadow of death.

Wednesday, December 21st, Wednesday before Christmas, ‘O Oriens’

Readings: Song of Songs 2/8-14 : Luke 1/39-45

Moving on from Mary’s becoming aware that she is to be the mother of the Messiah, we read today of her immediate reaction to hearing the other part of the message.  Yesterday we read how Mary was reassured of the authenticity of the message by the knowledge that another promise had been fulfilled. Her cousin Elizabeth, in spite of her old age and apparent inability to have a child, was to be the mother of John the Baptist. Mary’s immediate reaction is to set out to help the older woman in her pregnancy. It is in this encounter that Luke uses the dialogue between the two women to advance his story. When Elizabeth hears Mary’s greeting, the child in her womb leaps for joy and Elizabeth too is filled with the Holy Spirit. She reveals in what she says, the full significance of Mary’s pregnancy. She says the words that we all know so well, ‘You are blessed among women, and the fruit of your womb is blessed. How do I deserve to have the mother of my Lord visit me?’ The child in Mary’s womb is recognized by Elizabeth to be her Lord!  From the outset too, Mary is praised for her faith, because she has believed that what had been told her would be fulfilled. Later, Jesus too will praise Mary for her faith when he responds to the woman who says how blessed is the woman who gave him birth. ‘Rather are those blessed’ he will say ‘who hear the word of God and keep it’.

This beautiful episode in Luke’s account of the events leading up to Jesus’ birth has long been seen as the natural development of what we heard yesterday. Mary, overshadowed by the Spirit, brings the unborn Jesus to Elizabeth and both she and her child are also filled with the Spirit. So for us, the Church, overshadowed by the Spirit through the waters of Baptism and the anointing with Oil, are the means by which Jesus is made present in the world. This scene tells us what the role of the Church ought to be in our world. Our presence should be a source of joy for all those around us! With the Lord dwelling in our midst, we are to be the means by which his love and his message are brought to the world. Not by our words but by our very presence and our involvement with the world around us. If people are not glad to have us around, perhaps there is something wrong with us and, perhaps, we are not being what we ought to be, Jesus’ presence for all who come our way. What is true of us individually is, of course, even more true of our communities. What can we do about that?

The beautiful passage from that great love poem, the Song of Songs, echoes the cry of Elizabeth ‘I hear my Beloved. See how he comes’, but it also emphasises the fact that Jesus comes among us as a lover. He is the presence of the God who is in love with us, who can’t get enough of us, who never gives up on us, who says to us ‘Come then, my love, my lovely one, come’. This is what he says to us each day and at every moment, ‘Come, you whom I love more than words can say, you who are my heart’s delight, come’!

The great ‘O’ antiphon that we sing with Mary’s song this evening is the O Oriens’ ‘O Morning Star’ and again it cries out to the Lord to come, to come and enlighten us, we who live so often in the darkness of selfishness and sin and in the shadow of death rather than in the light of love.


You are the splendor of eternal light,

You are the Sun of Justice.


and shed your light on us

for we dwell in darkness

and in the shadow of death.

We also remember today Peter Canisius who was born in 1521 and became a Jesuit priest, giving his time above all to instructing people in their faith. He was also very concerned for those in prison and those who were sick, and his whole life was characterized by his gentle love for others. He was so famous that he has been called the second apostle of Germany since he was born in Nijmegen, which was then a German town. He died in 1597 after a stroke, which in spite of his being paralysed, did not prevent him still writing and teaching.

We pray then for the better instruction of ordinary Christian people and all those who seek to bring this about. We remember too, all whose lives are affected by strokes and those who care for them.

Thursday, December 22nd, Thursday before Christmas, ‘O Rex gentium’

Readings: 1 Samuel 1/24-28 : Luke1/46-56

The Gospel reading today follows on immediately from that of yesterday and Luke puts into Mary’s mouth the song that we know as the ‘Magnificat’, the song that has been part of Evening Prayer in the Western church for countless ages. The framework of this song is provided by the song of Hannah of whom we read in the first reading. It is her response to God’s granting her, in spite of her apparent barrenness, a child, Samuel (1 Samuel 2/1-10). Luke develops Hannah’s song by allusions to other sources such as the psalms.

This wonderful song not only gives thanks to God for what he has done for Mary herself but widens it out to include what God does for ‘all who fear him’ in every age. The song moves in stages from the reversal of Mary’s condition from lowliness to exaltation, to a general statement of God’s mercy to those who fear him, to a recital of his past and present reversals and finally to the statement of how that mercy is now being shown to Israel in fulfilment of God’s promise to Abraham.

As the song moves outwards, Mary becomes the personification of Israel itself, and the mercy shown her reflects and exemplifies the mercy shown to the people. Moreover, the song speaks of God in words that will be applied later to the child she is carrying, he will be ‘Lord’ and ‘Saviour’ and ‘holy’.

The richness of this Song makes it every time we sing it, a source of inspiration and joy. It is a fitting conclusion to our Evening Prayer as we praise God for turning the whole world upside down, beginning with the maiden of Nazareth.

The ‘O’ antiphon with which we surround the ‘Magnificat this evening is the ‘O Rex gentium’, ‘O King of all the nations’. It reminds us that there is a longing in every human heart for that which makes sense of life and gives it meaning.  It opens up the way for us to reflect on the fact that the millions who follow different faiths and traditions are, at heart, all searching for the same thing, meaning in their lives. People find it in many different ways but, as we were reminded in the decrees of the Second Vatican Council, there is truth in every faith and, indeed, a great deal that we have in common. This antiphon calls us to a dialogue with those of other faiths, and, indeed, of no faith, so that we may work together to find greater meaning in our own lives and to make our world a better place. The notion of the cornerstone reminds us of all that we share with our Jewish sisters and brothers. Jesus, the Jew, is the One who is the cornerstone between the two sides of the building, which is our common heritage. Again, a reminder to us that we are all one family and that we ought to be seeking ways and means to draw closer to those who are, as it were, our cousins in faith.

Lastly, this great antiphon recalls the story of creation and, in so doing, makes us aware of our relationship to the earth itself. As Pope Francis has reminded us so forcibly in ‘Laudato si’, the earth is our common heritage, and it is for us to preserve this great gift that God has made to us and to do this with people of every faith and none. The richness of this little antiphon should give us plenty to think and pray about today, but we must never forget that, though we call on the Lord to come, it is only through us that he will come, that he can come, to achieve all that this short prayer sets out as a programme. So it’s over to us once again! Here is the antiphon:


for you all have been longing,

you are the Cornerstone

that binds together in one

both Jews and Gentiles.


and save humankind

whom you formed from the slime of the earth.

Friday, December 23rd, Friday before Christmas, ‘O Emmanuel’

Readings: Malachi 3/1-4, 23-24  :  Luke 1/57-66

The Gospel reading completes the story of John the Baptist’s birth with the fulfilment of the prophecy made to Zachariah and the general rejoicing that accompanied John’s birth. When the eighth day arrives and the naming of the child should accompany his circumcision, firstly Elizabeth resists the pressure from her neighbours to call him after his father. Then Zachariah accepts God’s instruction, and his dumbness is lifted so that he can speak again. The extract ends with the people wondering what this child might turn out to be, given the extraordinary circumstances of his birth.

The reading from the prophet Malachi, answers their wondering. The prophet foretells one who would prepare the coming of the Lord. He will be another Elijah, all of which is fulfilled in John the Baptist. Zachariah’s first words, after he is released from his dumbness are words of praise for the God who sets his people free so that they may worship without fear. Zachariah’s release from muteness is expressed in praise. This whole scene is a foretaste of how Luke will present his story in terms of the God who upsets things and turns things upside down and who always achieves his purposes.

The ‘O’ antiphon today brings to an end the whole series in a great cry of longing for the one who will be ‘God with us’. If we open our hearts to his coming and allow him to govern our lives, his Law of love will bring us both freedom and fullness of humanity. Even without realizing it, all humanity longs for the coming of this reign of love, and he is the one who brings a way of life which will save all humankind from their foolishness and sinfulness.


our ruler and our lawgiver,

the hope of all the nations

and their Saviour,


and save us,

O Lord, our God.

We also remember John of Kanti today. Born in 1390, at Kanti in Poland, he came from an affluent family and after studying at the University of Cracow he was ordained priest. He became famous for his academic excellence but also for the austerity of his life and his almsgiving. He died in 1473 and was canonized in 1767. He was held in such high regard that his academic gown was used to vest each new doctor of the University of Cracow. We pray today for the Church in Poland and the Polish people, so many of whom live among us.

Saturday, December 24th, Christmas Eve

Readings: 2 Samuel 7/1-5, 8-11, 16 : Luke 1/67-79

The reading from the second book of Samuel tells of how David wanted to build a Temple for the Ark of God because he had already built himself a fine palace. When David shares his project with the prophet Nathan, the prophet tells him that God has revealed to him that he would not be the one to build a Temple but that God would, instead, bless his house, his family, which would be established for ever. In these words, we see the foretelling of the coming Messiah who would spring from the house of David.

The Gospel reading continues that of yesterday, and we hear Zachariah breaking into song with what we have come to know as the ‘Benedictus’. It is a great hymn of praise couched in a typically Jewish way. It begins with a blessing of God, a giving of thanks to God for his ‘visiting’ his people and for redeeming them. Strictly speaking, redemption means the buying off of a slave but here it infers the freeing of the people, so that they might serve God in holiness and righteousness. It then goes on speak of the Saviour, who comes in fulfilment of all the ancient prophecies, to save the people from their enemies, showing them mercy and keeping his covenant with them. It then focusses on the specific role of John the Baptist who will prepare the people for the coming of the Messiah. This he will do by bidding them to seek forgiveness of their sins and so prepare them, not for violent revolt but to be led ‘into the way of peace’. The song ends by praising God for his mercy, through which the dawn from on high will break upon the people, so that those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death will be guided into the way of peace.

It is not surprising that this Song of Zachariah has found a place in the Morning Prayer of the Western Church for countless centuries as has Mary’s song at Evening Prayer. It is the ideal Prayer for the morning when we give thanks to God for all his goodness but above all for Sending us the Saviour. It is also a reminder that we too, have been chosen to prepare the way of the Lord by our lives and our love each day. Finally, as the day begins, we give thanks that the ‘dawn from on high’ has broken upon us and that, as the darkness lifts, the Lord enlightens and guides us this day and every day into the way of peace.

Today will, no doubt, be a busy one, as we prepare for Christmas day but let’s try to find a few moments of silence and peace when we can prepare for the celebration of the Lord’s birth tonight or tomorrow. It has, traditionally, been a day of fasting and so, let’s save all the good things for Christmas day and make this a day of simplicity and, perhaps, of deciding what we can give to those who are so much more needy than we are.

Evening Mass of Christmas Eve

Readings: Isaiah 62/1-5 : Acts of the Apostles 13/16-17, 22-25 :  Matthew 1/1-25

The readings for this evening Mass, unlike ordinary Sundays, are not the same as those for Christmas Day. In fact, they are a rather strange mixture of Advent and Christmas and they don’t have the flavour of Christmas at all, which may come as a disappointment to those who go to this Mass.

The reading from the prophet Isaiah is a song of splendid impatience as God breaks the silence of centuries. Zion’s vindication breaks forth with the suddenness of the desert dawn.  This extract seems to allude to the feast of Tabernacles when lights were kindled so that the whole place blazed ‘like a torch’. The reference to a ‘crown’ and a ‘diadem’ seem to refer to the practice of the pagan gods wearing a crown patterned like the city walls, and the crown that God wears will be patterned after his people. All the waywardness of the Jewish people will be forgotten, especially their worship of false foreign gods. The names that they bore of ‘Forsaken’ and ‘Abandoned’ will be changed for ‘My delight in her’ and ‘The wedded one’. Although they may seem odd to us, these are all names that were known and used among the Jews.

Adulterous Israel will be restored to that joyful innocent age of long ago when she was the virgin spouse of her God. We can see how these words are appropriate as we reflect on the true meaning of Christmas.

God is wedded to our humanity in the coming of Jesus, son of God and son of Mary. This is, in fact a wedding feast!

The reading from the Acts of the Apostles tells us something of the preaching of the Gospel message by Paul and the apostles. After the long preparation of his people, Israel, God sends the promised Messiah, with John the Baptist to prepare the way for him. It is, as if, this reading makes us realise that Advent is at an end and after all our efforts at preparing for it, the feast of the Lord’s birth has, at last arrived.

Finally, in the Gospel reading, we hear again, that long genealogy from Matthew’s Gospel which traces Jesus’ ancestry back to Abraham, through David and with the addition of the unexpected women who make it quite clear that this child will be someone very different from what was expected. To make this clear, the Gospel writer tells the story of Joseph’s dream and the foretelling of the One who will be Emmanuel, ‘God is with us’, born of Mary by God’s own intervention.

If we are not going to mass this evening but at midnight or tomorrow, these readings are very suitable to help us prepare for the great feast itself.

Reflections for week beginning 11 December 2022

by Derek Reeve

Reflections on the Daily Mass Readings

Sunday, December 11th, Third Sunday in Advent in Year One or ‘Gaudete Sunday’

Today marks the beginning of the second half of Advent when, traditionally, the atmosphere of our meeting together changes and becomes more joyful as Christmas draws closer. It is difficult to find the origins of this Sunday becoming a similar observance to ‘Laetare Sunday’ at mid-Lent, but it has taken on the characteristics of that Sunday and is seen as a break in the more penitential aspects of Advent. Because there came to be some relaxation of fasting and penance on this day, in England it came to be known as ‘Refreshment Sunday’. However, it would be a mistake to see today in the same way as Laetare Sunday in Lent because, although Advent is traditionally a time of discipline in preparation for Christmas, unlike Lent, it is a time of joyful preparation.

On mid-Lent Sunday the Pope would bless a golden rose and send it, as a mark of favour, to some distinguished person or community and, from this custom sprang the tradition of wearing rose-coloured vestments on that day. At some point this custom was extended to mid-Advent Sunday, today and this does seem to accord with the joyful character of today’s celebration. The name, Gaudete Sunday’, as was the case with many Sundays, sprang from the first words of the Entry chant in the old Mass. This quoted Saint Paul and gave the tone to the whole celebration, as he says ‘Rejoice in the Lord always’ ‘Gaudete in Domino semper’.

The custom that has sprung up of having a pink candle on the Advent wreath seems to have crept in gradually and probably from the United States. The original wreath was imported from mainland Europe and became popular in Anglican churches of a moderately Catholic tradition. It consisted of a wreath of holly and ivy on which were placed four red candles with a white one in the centre, one of which was lit each Sunday of Advent with the white candle being lit on Christmas Day. At some point after the Second Vatican Council Roman Catholic churches began to adopt this custom but, sadly and possible again under American influence, ecclesiastical furnishers introduced the horrid violet candles with one pink one for this Sunday. This does take away from the original dignity of the simple wreath with its four bright red candles.

Readings: Isaiah 35/1-6, 10 : Letter of James 5/7-10 : Matthew 11/2-11

The prophet Isaiah, in today’s reading, proclaims joyfully the coming of the Messiah. With his coming the southern desert will flower, and the whole of nature will rejoice as it sees ‘the glory of the Lord, the splendour of our God’. At this, the prophet says, the weak and the faint-hearted must have courage because the Lord is coming, and he will do marvellous things. Those things which Jesus announced as his programme when he spoke in the synagogue are all listed here. The blind, the deaf, the lame and the dumb will rejoice. Joy and gladness will be there and sorrow and torment will be at an end.

It is John the Baptist who again figures in today’s Gospel reading. John is already imprisoned for his outspoken criticism of the king’s behaviour. This is a sad moment in John’s life because, not only is he in prison, but he seems to be having doubts. Was he right to back Jesus and proclaim him as the Promised One or had he made a dreadful mistake? Because of his doubts John sends his disciples to ask Jesus if he truly is the One for whom they have all been waiting?

Jesus sends John’s disciples back, telling them to recount to John how the words of the prophet are being fulfilled, and the Good News is being proclaimed to the poor. Jesus adds that those who do not lose faith in him will find true happiness. John is encouraged to hang on, in spite of his sufferings, and not to lose faith in Jesus.

Jesus then tells the people why John is such a great man. They had gone out, Jesus reminds them, not to see the tall reeds shaking in the wind all around the place where John was baptising, nor to see someone who might have impressed them with their fine clothes, since John dressed in a garment of camel’s hair with a leather belt. No, Jesus says, they had gone out to see a prophet and John was much more than a prophet. John, he says, was the great prophet Elijah, come back to prepare the way for him.

John, Jesus says, is the greatest of all who have been born of women but, nevertheless, he is of the old order which is passing away. Even the least in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than John, Jesus tells them, because this is the new order of things. This is not to put John down in any sense but to remind the people of the greatness of the new order which Jesus has come to proclaim and to inaugurate.

The extract from the Letter of James is an encouragement to those who would hear his words, not to lose heart. They were waiting for the Lord’s return, but they must be patient and, meanwhile, live together in peace, harmony and love.

The readings today make this a truly joyful Sunday. Like John the Baptist, we may have begun to wonder and to ask questions. In view of the chaos in the world, the threat of global extinction and the uncertainties surrounding even the future of the Church, have we backed the wrong horse?

It is here that Jesus’ words speak to us. Jesus tells us that, like John, we must look around us and see the way in which love is constantly triumphing over evil. The Kingdom is being established all the time, in small acts of love and kindness. The protests all over the world against tyranny and oppression are also signs of the coming Kingdom. Love is constantly overcoming evil, but we fail to recognise it. It may seem hopeless because the problems are so great but change comes from below and wherever love abounds and selfishness and evil are being opposed, the Kingdom of God is being established.

As James says, what we have to do is to live peaceably with one another and to build up the community of the Church that we may be truly a sign of that coming Kingdom. What more can I do to make my own Christian community a community of love and fellowship, turned out towards the world and ready to give service wherever we can?

In my own life Advent must be the time when I am on the alert to recognise where the Kingdom of God is and to give thanks for that. Is my life characterised by joy?  There is so much to rejoice about, if we stop to think. Is my Christian community a community of joy? Not just superficial jolliness but the deep joy that springs from being a community of friends who know and love each other where no one feels excluded or is turned away.

Let’s try to make every day and ‘Gaudete’ day!

Monday, December 12th, Commemoration of Our Lady of Guadaloupe

Last Friday was the day on which Juan Diego Cuahtlatoatzin, the Aztec peasant was commemorated. He believed he had seen the Mother of God and this had brought about the creation of a shrine in her honour, not far from Mexico City. It is this that is commemorated today, and it is a reminder, whatever we may think about Juan Diego’s vision, that the Lord comes to bring joy to the poor and the oppressed like the Aztecs who had been so badly treated by their Spanish conquerors. It was from Juan Diego’s experience that the Aztec people became more aware of their own dignity, and the status of women was improved so that they were treated as the equals of men. This is what the Gospel is all about, bringing people to their true dignity and enabling them to live truly human lives.

We pray today for the people of Mexico and the whole of Latin America with its many problems, and we remember all the poor and the needy of our world.

Readings: Numbers 24/2-7, 15-17 : Matthew 21/23-27

Balaam is a somewhat mythical character, not unknown to other Middle Eastern traditions. The stories about him form a separate unit in the Book of Numbers. In the extract which is read today, Balaam is portrayed as a seer upon whom the Spirit of God came to rest so that he was able to prophesy. He is able to see what God sees and to reveal this in his own words. Once again, his vision is of a new idyllic state, but the words of most interest to us at this time are that ‘a hero arises from their stock, he reigns over countless peoples’ and ‘I see him-but not in the present. I behold him-but not close at hand, a star from Jacob takes the leadership, a sceptre arises from Israel’. These words have, obviously, been seen as referring to Jesus, the ‘star of Jacob’, since he was descended from him, and he is of the same stock as all of us, truly human.

In the Gospel reading today Jesus is still engaged in dispute with the Scribes and the Pharisees. Once again Jesus drives them into a corner so that have to admit defeat. Jesus refuses to tell them by what authority he carries out his good works and teaches the people, but we know that it is on the authority of his Father since we believe he is the One who was to come.

In the strange experience of Guadaloupe, the poor are raised up as the Gospel announces. In the words of Balaam, one will come from the people of Israel who will be the leader of all. He, Jesus, will proclaim the Good News of God’s love and concern for the poor and the needy. We rejoice that this One, who has come, is truly one of us, of our stock, made as we all are.

As was said above, today is a day to pray for the poor and the needy of our world, and we give thanks for all those efforts by people of every faith and none, to lift up the poor and give them their dignity and to make our world a place fit to live in for all humankind.

There are proper readings for Our Lady of Guadaloupe though almost certainly those of the day will be used. Those for Our Lady are: Zachariah 2/14-17, which speaks of rejoicing and universal salvation foreseen in the experience of Juan Diego. Or alternatively Apocalypse 11/19, 12/1-6, 10, which tells of the great sign in the heavens, which has often been seen as about Mary.

Luke 1/26-38, which tells the story of the Annunciation. Or alternatively Luke 1/39-47, which tells of Mary’s visitation to Elizabeth her cousin.

Tuesday, December 13th, Commemoration of Lucy, martyr (+304)

Lucy has no particular connection with Advent, but it is not totally inappropriate that she is remembered today. Lucy died in Syracuse, during the persecution of the Emperor Diocletian in the year 304. The legends about her are of little historical value, but she has been honoured at least from the beginning of the fifth century in many places in both the Eastern and the Western churches. The legends about her describe her as a wealthy Sicilian who refused marriage, gave all her goods to the poor and was betrayed to the persecuting authority by her suitor. She was tortured and, in the legend, she had her eyes torn out though they were miraculously restored. According to the legend she was killed eventually by the sword. It is because of the legend that Lucy is often depicted holding her eyes on a dish.

Because of her name, which means ‘light’, Lucy’s feast has become, especially in Sweden, a festival of light, since it is so close to the shortest day of the year. Being so close to Christmas, Lucy is a reminder that it is the ‘light of the world’ that we are preparing to celebrate and his coming into the world. He it is who enlightens us and opens our eyes to see the underlying reality of God’s love and the coming Reign of God’s love.

Today is a day to pray for enlightenment that will enable us to see things aright. We remember too, the people of Sweden and all those places in Italy where Lucy is specially honoured. Lastly, we pray for the blind and those who are partially sighted and all who care for and support them.

Readings: Zephaniah 3/1-2, 9-13 : Matthew 21/28-32

The prophet Zephaniah was active between the years 640 and 609 BCE, and he speaks at a time of tumult. He is addressing the city of Jerusalem itself, and he reproaches it for the way in which the people have failed to trust God and to learn their lesson. In spite of this, he prophesies that all will be forgiven and peoples from afar will come to worship God. Those who are left in Jerusalem will be the humble and the lowly, leading honest lives and free from all wrong-doing. They will enjoy both peace and prosperity, the prophet says.

Christians have related these words to the Lord’s coming and his calling together of a holy people, who will be his followers. These will not be from among the rich and the arrogant, but they will be lowly and humble and lead honest lives. Others from all over the earth will be attracted by them and join with them.

In the Gospel reading Jesus tells a story which suggests that everyone is called by God through the inner promptings of their conscience, though they have not always obeyed that prompting. However, like the son who says ‘no’ and thinks better of it, they too, the poor and the lowly who have not been particularly observant of the Jewish Law and even those who are not Jewish, they have begun to repent and to change their way of life and to follow Jesus’ teaching. On the other hand, those who profess to be faithful to the Jewish Law and the prophets, that is the chief priests and the elders of the people have said, as it were ‘yes’ but have failed to understand and to live the Law, since the Law is all about love of God and love of neighbour.

Jesus reminds his hearers that they failed to listen to John the Baptist while those whom they condemn as sinners, the tax-collectors and the prostitutes, did listen and did change their way of life. Even seeing that, Jesus says, did not make them repent and change their way of life.

As we prepare for the celebration of the Lord’s birth, he reminds us that, however much we may have failed in the past we can always change our ways and repent and follow him more faithfully. As the prophet Zephaniah tells us, it is the poor and the lowly, sinners like ourselves that Jesus calls and whom he wants as his friends. Our only mistake might be to begin to think of ourselves arrogantly as did the Chief Priests and the Elders. As Jesus reminded us some time ago, when all is said and done, we are his lowly servants. But what a privilege that is!

We pray today that we may serve the Lord faithfully and remembering Lucy, our light may shine before others so that they may see what is good in our lives and being attracted towards that light come to know something more of the God who is both light and love.

There are special readings for Lucy though, most probably, those of the Tuesday in Advent will be used. Those for Lucy are: Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians 10/17-11/2, which alludes to the marriage between Christ and the Church and recalls Lucy’s devotion to him.

Matthew 25/1-13, which is Jesus’ story of the wise and foolish bridal attendants, reminding us that Lucy was ready and waiting when the Lord came to call her to himself in her martyrdom.

Wednesday, December 14th, Commemoration of John of the Cross

Juan de Yepes was born in 1542 into a noble but impoverished family in Toledo and was brought up by his widowed mother. He went to a poor school in Medina del Campo and was apprenticed to a silk weaver. He showed no aptitude for trade, and so he went to a Jesuit college. In 1563, he joined the Carmelite Order of Friars, studied theology at Salamanca and in 1567 was made a priest.

Juan was not happy with the way in which the Carmelites lived their religious life, and he thought of becoming a Carthusian hermit. The great Teresa of Avila persuaded him, however, to join her in her reform of the Carmelite Order. Juan or John of the Cross, as he had become, joined Teresa and became Rector of the study house for the friars who had joined the reform and confessor to the sisters at Avila where Teresa had established the mother house of the reform.

In 1575, the friars who had not accepted Teresa’s reform refused to give independence to those houses who had and imprisoned John in Toledo. It was here, in prison, that John wrote some of his greatest poetry. After some nine months, John escaped, and, a little later, the two branches of the Carmelites separated officially, and John became successively Rector of the college at Brava which he had founded, Prior of the house at Granada from 1582 and Prior at Segovia in 1591.

The end of John’s life was marked by further suffering at the hands of the Vicar General of the reformed Carmelites. John was banished and died in exile at Ubeda in Andalusia in 1591.

John was the victim of power politics and jealousy though he was a man of great warmth and passion and both a poet and a mystic. He had been rigorously trained in the theology of Thomas Aquinas and his spiritual writings, which are commentaries on his poems, reflect that. They stress the need for a life of asceticism and for pure faith and love of God.

John’s works are greatly admired not only among Carmelites but throughout the Western Church and even among Christians of other churches.

We pray today for a deeper commitment to prayer and for a stronger faith and trust in God who is often, as was in John’s case, very much a God who remains hidden.

We pray too for the Carmelite Friars and Sisters and all associated with them.

Readings: Isaiah 45/6-8, 18, 21-26 : Luke 7/19-23

The reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah today is composed of verses from a section of the book which is devoted to the pagan King Cyrus of Babylon and his anointing by God. Cyrus had been chosen by God to be the one who would free the Jewish exiles from their bondage. The prophet extols God as the God of the whole universe. To him all the peoples of the earth will eventually come, even those who had revolted against God.

This is the liberation for which the people had waited, but it is very different from the one which is described in the Gospel reading. Jesus is the One, anointed by the Spirit, who will come to free the people, but not as a political liberator. Jesus will bring freedom of a different kind, and the healings that he does will be symbolic of that freedom. He will free those who are excluded from society by their diseases and will restore them to fellowship with others who have, perhaps, believed their affliction to have been a punishment sent by God.

The Gospel reading is Luke’s version of what was heard last Sunday from Matthew’s Gospel. In Luke’s version John seems not to be in prison as yet, but he is experiencing the same doubts which figured in Matthew’s account last Sunday. Jesus’ reply to John’s disciples is to quote the prophet Isaiah, not from the extract which is read today but from that which was read last Sunday. Jesus sends John’s messengers back to him to tell him that the prophet’s words are being fulfilled and, above all, the Good News is being proclaimed to the poor.

The Kingdom that Jesus proclaims is very different from the one for which his contemporaries were waiting and for which they were hoping. Often we confuse the Kingdom of God with the Church, and we become saddened and perplexed when we see numbers diminishing and people no longer wanting to join us. But Jesus says today ‘Happy are those who do not lose faith in me’.

The Church is not an end in itself but a vehicle. Jesus did not send his followers out to create a Church or to build an organisation. Like King Cyrus, the Church is meant to be a means to an end, and the end is the Kingdom of God. This is done by the sort of communities that we create, which reflect the values of the Kingdom of God. These are concern for the poorest and the most needy, openness to all who come our way, love and care for one another. This will be a sign to others of what life is all about and how best it may be lived. Meanwhile, the Kingdom of God is being built up all around us, wherever people are loving one another, caring for others and working to make the world a better place for all.

As Jesus tells us, we must not lose hope in him. Our true happiness is to live the Gospel in our lives and to trust totally in the God who loves us and who has shown himself to us in Jesus. During this Advent time we are called to be ever more alert to recognise where the Kingdom of God is happening and to give thanks for that. The Spirit is at work among peoples of every faith and none, and we are here to give God the thanks for that.

There are special readings for John of the Cross though, almost certainly, those of Advent will be used. Those for John are: 1st Letter of Paul to the Corinthians 2/1-10, in which Paul speaks of the simplicity of his own preaching which was only about Jesus and him crucified. In spite of his intellectual abilities, John’s essential teaching was simple and exactly that of Paul.

Luke 14/25-33, in which Jesus speaks of what is demanded of those who would be his disciples, demands that John followed faithfully throughout his life.

Thursday, December 15th, Thursday in Week Three in Advent

Readings: Isaiah 54/1-10 : Luke 7/24-30

The reading from the prophet Isaiah is a great hymn of praise for the God who is totally wedded to his people. Though they may have suffered and become estranged from God, God will never forget them. It is as if God is saying that there may have been a parting of the ways, but I can never forget you. You are the one whom I have loved since your youth. In these few verses the prophet is seen at his most romantic when he is speaking of God’s love for Israel, a love which extends to the whole of humanity and the whole of creation.

The Gospel reading continues that of yesterday and is, again, Luke’s version of what was read last Sunday from Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus asks the people why they came out to see John the Baptist and what had they expected? They wouldn’t have come out to see someone who would impress them by his finery since John wore a camel skin tunic and a leather belt. Nor would they have come out to admire the scenery with the tall reeds swaying in the breeze. No, they had come out to see a prophet and John was much more than just a prophet. John was the one who would be the messenger who would prepare the way for the One who was to come. Those who had listened to John, Jesus tells the crowds, were the tax-collectors and those labelled as sinners. They had found the Kingdom but the Pharisees and the Elders who had refused to listen to John had missed their opportunity and thwarted God’s plan for them.

John prepares the way for Jesus who is the One who will proclaim the Reign of God’s love to the poor, the needy and the little ones of the world, and they listen. The powerful and those who believe themselves to be righteous are unable to hear John’s message and so cannot enter the Kingdom.

Today we give thanks for God’s saving love for all peoples without exception. We give thanks too that Jesus came to proclaim that love and to set up the Reign of love and that he left us, his followers who are the Church, to continue his work.

Friday, December 16th, Friday in Week Three in Advent

Readings: Isaiah 56/1-3, 6-8 : John 5/33-36

The reading from the prophet Isaiah today emphasises the fact that God demands that his people should ‘have a care for justice’ and ‘act with integrity’. Furthermore, the prophet declares that even those who were not Israelites but who follow this way, will not be excluded.

The emphasis on the observance of the Sabbath may be a surprise but this is because, very often, the observance of the Sabbath is equated with the Christian observance of Sunday when people go to church. The Sabbath was and is something far greater than that, and it was a way of ensuring that the people lived fully human lives. Not working on the Sabbath was what mattered most and going to the Synagogue was only secondary. The Sabbath gave the family the opportunity to be together, to eat and drink together, to rejoice and to celebrate together. The sacrifice of those who keep the Covenant and observe the Sabbath will be acceptable to God because they live in this way. Today, even among Jews who are not observant, the Sabbath is sacrosanct and brings the family together. This was a unique institution in the ancient world where generally the rich did no work, and the slaves worked every day without exception.

There is, surely, something here from which we can learn. Though it would be impossible to restore Sundays as they used to be, it is important that there is time in our lives for rest, for meeting together as a family and for sharing meals together. It is this that makes our lives truly human, freeing us from the pressures of everyday life. Here, surely, we can try to follow the example of our Jewish sisters and brothers and make sure that our families do meet together regularly. More than that, all around us there are broken families and lonely and isolated people. Can we not sometimes take them into our homes and share with them? Especially around Christmas can we open our homes to those who need our care and our love? We can still do something to create that atmosphere of fellowship and love, which was what the Sabbath was all about.

The Scriptures often speak of the world to come in terms of the great Sabbath, not a prolonged time of doing nothing but a time of friendship, sharing, loving and celebrating. Isaiah speaks of those who might have been thought of as outsiders being joined with the Jewish people and being welcomed by them, and that is the sort of world that we must try to bring about because that is the Kingdom of God.

Today’s Gospel reading is again about John the Baptist. Jesus tells the Jews which, in John’s Gospel means that he is addressing, not the whole people, but the Jewish authorities, that John had been a witness to the truth. John, he says, ‘was a lamp alight and shining’. For a while they listened to him, Jesus says, until, perhaps, they recognised the true impact of what he was saying and how it applied especially to them.

Jesus says, though, the witness that he gives is greater than that of John. His works testify that the Father has sent him, he tells them. What are the works of which Jesus speaks? His works were not done to impress people but to show that the Reign of God was coming among them. His works upset the order of things since they put the poor, the needy and the outcast first but it is because of his works that Jesus can say that the Father has sent him. He reveals the Father not by his words so much as by his actions. The Father too is concerned, above all, for those whom the authorities neglect and despise.

A lot to reflect upon today! What about our Christmas celebrations? How much are we showing our concern for the poor and the needy?

Saturday, December 17th, Saturday in Week Three in Advent and ‘O Sapientia’

Today is the first of the great days that lead up to Christmas and, for each of these days, there are special readings at Mass. They are also marked by what are known as the great ‘O’s which are sung at Evening Prayer before and after Our Lady’s song, the Magnificat (Luke 1/46-55). The Magnificat is the climax of Evening Prayer when, with Mary, we praise God for all that Jesus proclaimed in his Good News. It is a song of praise for the God who turns things upside down and puts first the poor, the lowly and the outcast, among whom Mary numbers herself. ‘He has put down the mighty from their thrones’ Mary sings ‘and exalted the lowly and meek’.

Every day throughout the year in the Western Church for centuries it has been this song of Mary which brings to a climax the Church’s daily worship. It is for this reason that the Magnificat is preceded and followed by what is called an antiphon which takes up the theme of the day or feast. From today until December 23rd there is a special antiphon which begins with ‘O’ and which calls upon the Lord to come, to come to us, to come to the world, to come today, to come in the flesh and to come, at the very end to gather all things to God.

Each day the Lord is addressed by a different title and the first day, today, he is called ‘Wisdom of the Most High’.

These antiphons were so well known, even by ordinary folk that the days leading up to Christmas were known by their opening words, so that today was known as ‘O Sapientia’. Even after the Reformed Church of England had simplified the daily services for a much more simple order, doing away with such complicated things as antiphons, today was still named as ‘O Sapientia’ in the Calendar in the Book of Common Prayer.

These are wonderful prayers, made up of quotations from the Hebrew Scripture, all of which allude to the coming of the Messiah and so you may like to use them each day in your own prayers and to reflect upon their content as we prepare to celebrate the coming of the Lord at the first Christmas and remember his coming to us every day and in every event and situation. These antiphons will be at the end of each day’s readings.

Readings: Genesis 19/2, 8-10 : Matthew 1/1-17

With the beginning of these special days, the Gospel reading reminds us of Jesus’ ancestry. He doesn’t come out of nowhere as if by magic or a miracle. He comes from Mary and from a whole line of Jewish ancestors, which the Gospel writers like to trace back through the great figures of Jewish history. Matthew takes this back even to Abraham, the father of their race.

In the short reading from Genesis, Jacob calls his sons together before he dies to tell them what will happen to them in the days to come. He describes their character and their particular gifts, attributes and faults.

The reading gives us only the words that concern Judah, since it is from his family that Jesus’ ancestry will be traced. Judah will be like a lion, and he will receive honour and respect from his brothers. Above all, it is from Judah that the royal line will spring and, eventually, the One to whom all peoples will render obedience.

In the Gospel reading, the Gospel writer traces Jesus’ ancestry back, through Solomon and David, through Judah and Jacob and eventually to Abraham. This genealogy is in no way historical, and the most important sources in the Hebrew Scriptures are 1 Chronicles, chapters 2 and 3 which give us the names from Abraham to the Babylonian Exile and Ruth 4/18-22 which give us the names from Perez to David and also the manner in which the Genealogy was written: A was the father of B and so on. The origin of the names from Abiud to Jacob remains a mystery.

The purpose of Matthew’s genealogy is clear. It is to present Jesus as the son of David and of Abraham and to situate his birth at an opportune time in Jewish history. The arrangement of the names in three sets seems to have no purpose except to emphasise the number fourteen as a multiple of seven, a number of great significance in Jewish thinking.

The inclusion of five women in Matthew’s genealogy is original and breaks the pattern set in the book Ruth so that it must have some purpose, and it is worth noting who these five women were.

Tamar (Genesis 38) disguised herself as a prostitute and conceived sons by her father-in-law, Judah. Rahab (Joshua 2/6) was the prostitute of Jericho whose life was spared because she aided Joshua’s spies. Ruth was a Moabite woman who joined herself to Israel through her husband Boaz’ family. The wife of Uriah, Bathsheba, became David’s wife after he had made her pregnant and arranged for her husband Uriah to be killed in battle. (2 Samuel 11-12). Mary, the mother of Jesus, is drawn into David’s line through her husband, Joseph, though her child Jesus would be the legal son rather than the physical son of Joseph, as the Gospel writer will explain later in his Gospel.

The purpose of including these women into the genealogy would seem simply to emphasise that each of them was, in some way, a departure from the normal. This would prepare for and foreshadow the irregularity of Jesus’ birth, which the Gospel writer goes on to describe. They prepare the reader to expect the unexpected and here, at the beginning of his Gospel, the writer makes them function as part of a theme that will run throughout his work, the tension between tradition and what is new.

From a contemporary point of view these women also illustrate how Jesus’ attitude towards women was totally at odds with what was then prevalent in his time. Each of these women is an outsider in some way or other, and they reflect Jesus’ concern for the outsiders of society, the little, the poor and the rejected.

At the beginning of these last days of preparation for Christmas, the readings remind us that Jesus comes among us into a very real human situation, into a totally human environment of family and society and into a world of great injustice. Making himself one of us, the Word made flesh proclaims a Gospel, which is Good News, most especially for the poor, the needy, the outcast and all who are second class members of society as, indeed, were women.

Today, the readings also remind us how totally Jewish Jesus was and how this Gospel was written firstly for Jewish Christians who had accepted his message and teaching but who were remaining faithful to their own Jewish traditions and beliefs while trying to reconcile them with all that was new in Jesus’ teaching.

Today we give thanks for this wonderful mystery which we prepare to celebrate. The Word of God is truly one of us, human in every way and showing us in our own flesh and blood the goodness and compassion of the God whom he calls Father.

We pray too for our Jewish sisters and brothers, for a closer relationship with them and a better understanding of all that we hold in common.

Here is the first of the antiphons which will be sung this evening at Evening Prayer:

O WISDOM of the Most high,
you who,
with your strong arm yet tender care,
govern all things,
and teach us the way of Truth.

Reflections for week beginning 4 December 2022

by Derek Reeve

Reflections on the Readings at Daily Mass

Sunday, December 4th, Second Sunday in Advent in Year One

Readings: Isaiah 11/1-10 : Paul’s Letter to the Romans 15/4-9 : Matthew 3/1-12

Not only the prophet Isaiah but John the Baptist also has an important place in this time of preparation for the feast of the Lord’s birth. This is, of course, because it was John who prepared the way for Jesus before he began his public ministry.

In Matthew’s Gospel which is read this year on Sundays, John the Baptist appears quite abruptly after the account of the visit of the Wise Men and the slaughter of the Innocents. Matthew makes a point of reminding his readers straightaway that the appearance of John fulfils the prophecy of Isaiah. Moreover, Matthew’s description of John’s clothing is calculated to remind the reader of the prophet Elijah who wore similar clothing.

John seems to have attracted large numbers of people. His baptism, unlike that already practised by the Jews, was much more concerned with confession of sins and repentance for them rather than a simple ritual of purification.

At this point Matthew also takes the opportunity of introducing those who would be Jesus’ chief critics and opponents. At the time this Gospel was written, probably towards the end of the first century, these would still have been the opponents of the Jewish Christian community for whom it was intended. Although the Gospel writer lumps them together, these two groups were very different and would have opposed Jesus for different reasons. The Pharisees were concerned with the exact observance of the Torah, the Jewish Law and for living devout and religious lives, and they would have seen in Jesus someone who sat lightly to the Law and its observances. The Sadducees were those who had power over the Temple and for them Jesus would have been someone who was a threat to their power and authority.

John reproaches the Pharisees and the Sadducees calling them vipers, dangerous men who were able to wound others. In spite of their devotion to the Law and its observances and the rituals that went with it, they showed no sign of care and concern for others, or in John’s words, they bore no fruit. John dismisses their claim to have Abraham as their father and unless they change their way of life, his baptism would have no meaning for them. Like trees that bear no fruit, they are doomed and John makes it clear that his baptism must follow a real change of heart and is the sign of beginning a new way of life.

Returning to the words of the prophet Isaiah, that John would prepare the way of the Lord, John declares that the One who will follow him will baptise not only with water. His baptism will be with the Holy Spirit and with fire. With great humility John declares that he is unworthy even to carry the sandals of the One who is to come. That One will bring about a complete and utter change, and the Kingdom of Heaven which John has been proclaiming will be truly ‘close at hand’.

The reading from the prophet Isaiah is one that is very familiar, and it paints a picture of the coming Kingdom or Reign of God. The prophet describes the One who is to come as one who is descended from Jesses, the father of King David and on him the fullness of God’s Spirit will rest. He will be on the side of the poor, and he will judge the rich and the powerful but all this he will do with integrity. He will be the faithful One upon whom the poor and the needy can rely.

The prophet then paints the idyllic picture of the Reign of God which is well known and in which even the animal creation is brought together to live in peace, one with another. The country will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord and all hurt and harm will disappear. This will be a sign for the whole world to see and all will gravitate towards it. Then, with powerful words, the prophet foretells that a ‘a little boy shall lead them’. It is the birth of that little boy that Advent prepares us to celebrate.

The reading from Paul’s letter to the Christian community in Rome backs up the Gospel’s constant reminder that Jesus was the fulfilment of all that the ancient Jewish prophets foretold. The writer reminds his hearers that the Scriptures, by which he means what we call the Old Testament, were meant to teach them, and he reminds them how Jesus has come, not only to be the fulfilment of the Hebrew Scriptures but also to proclaim God’s love to the whole world.

The Gospel reading is a reminder that the practice of our religion is not all about the Mass, the sacraments, prayer and so on. It is about the proclamation of the Kingdom or Reign of God’s love. That is what our Baptism into Christ and our membership of his body, the Church, really involves. We are called to be, both in our lives and in our Christian communities, the proclamation of the Reign of Love.

As we reflect on the reading from the prophet Isaiah, we are given several clues as to what that Reign or Kingdom is about. It is about justice for the poor and the oppressed, it is about integrity in our lives, and it is about the whole of creation.

As we think about Jesus’ coming at Christmas we have also to think of his coming in the here and now. He comes in the poor of the world, in the victims of war and oppression and even in those who perpetrate such dreadful atrocities. Christ is there in each and every one who is in need and, although it is easier to find him in the victims, those who do terrible things are, for the most part, victims themselves.

Whereas John’s Baptism had to be preceded by repentance and a change in one’s life, Baptism into Jesus makes us members of his Body in the world and calls us to ongoing repentance, conversion and renewal. Each day Jesus challenges us to live the new life of the Kingdom. We have to ask ourselves how much am I truly concerned for those in need and what am I doing about it? How much am I concerned for the earth on which we live and the richness and diversity of its inhabitants and what I am doing to preserve all this for the future?

Advent is the time for us to reflect on these things and to take a stand against the commercialization which characterises this season of the year.

The Letter to the Romans calls us to take the Scriptures seriously as a way of hearing the Word of God speaking to us as we allow ourselves to be taught by that Word.

It is interesting that in the old selection of readings before the renewed Mass which we now have, this reading from the Letter to the Romans was already the one appointed for this Sunday every year. After the break with Rome this reading was retained in the Book of Common Prayer for the reformed Church of England. It is for that reason that this Sunday came to be known as Bible Sunday and Cranmer wrote a magnificent Collect Prayer to be used today. You may remember it was the prayer being practised by the young lad in the film, ’The Go-Between’. It is such a beautiful prayer that you may like to use it. The language, though old-fashioned, is superb:

Blessed Lord,
who hast caused all holy Scriptures
to be written for our learning:
grant that we may in such wise hear them,
read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them:
that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word,
we may embrace and ever hold fast
the blessed hope of everlasting life,
which thou hast given us
in our Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Monday, December 5th, Monday in the Second Week of Advent

Readings: Isaiah 35/1-10 : Luke 5/17-26

The readings today would seem, almost, to follow on from those of yesterday. Isaiah was foretelling the One who was to come to care for the wretched and the poor and in today’s Gospel reading Jesus fulfils that prophecy.

The scene picks up all yesterday’s themes. The Pharisees and the experts in the Jewish Law appear again and are all set to criticise Jesus in what he is doing. The paralysed man in the story has friends who are so concerned about him that they are ready to take drastic steps to bring him into Jesus’ presence. Jesus’ reaction to the man’s being lowered into the house, which must have caused quite a commotion, is to tell the man that his sins are forgiven him. Though this may not have been what his friends were expecting this may have been exactly what the man himself needed to hear. The man’s condition would have been seen as the result of sin, either his own or his parents’. Jesus’ simple statement establishes the innocence of the man, which was, perhaps, more important for him than his being healed.

The Pharisees and the legal experts immediately accuse Jesus of blasphemy since he appeared to be doing what only God could do although, in fact, Jesus doesn’t say that he forgives the man’s sins but that they are forgiven. Jesus responds to this accusation by telling the man to get up and walk. The man does so and, carrying his stretcher, he gets up and goes off praising God. In this way, Jesus shows his authority over not only physical ailments but, above all, over sin.

The reading from the prophet Isaiah looks forward to the restoration of the whole of creation as did the reading yesterday, but it also speaks of the coming of God to save his people. ‘The lame shall leap like a deer’ the prophet says and ‘Strengthen all weary hands, steady all trembling knees’. In the Gospel story Jesus is fulfilling this prophecy.

As we journey through Advent, we are reminded that we are often like the paralysed man. We get stuck in our old ways and habits and often find it difficult to get up and move on. Jesus tells us that, whatever else we may worry about, our sins are forgiven. Though it may sound almost blasphemous, God cannot help but forgive us our sinfulness and our failings, because God is love, total unconditional love. It is that which give us the strength and the determination to get up and start again, whatever our failings or our weaknesses may be.

One further point is that, astonishingly, it is not the faith of the paralysed man which brings him healing. It is the faith of his friends who bring him to Jesus. Our faith can bring others to the Lord. Not by preaching or talking about religion but simply by doing the sort of thing that the man’s friends did for him. The helping hand, the simple gesture of friendship, even just a smile can bring others closer to the Lord though his name is not mentioned. They may not realise it but by the experience of our love and care they experience God’s love and care.

Those whom we meet day by day, those with whom we live and work or even those with whom we enjoy leisure can all be brought into our prayer. Not to tell God we think they need but just to hold them lovingly in God’s presence, on the stretcher of our love as it were.

Tuesday, December 6th, Commemoration of Nicholas of Myra, patron saint of Portsmouth

For those of you who live in Portsmouth it always seems sad that one of the ancient patrons of our city is often forgotten.  There is an ancient church dedicated to Nicholas, now known as the Domus Dei, in Old Portsmouth. This is the site of an alms house built in 1212 by the bishop of Winchester, Peter des Roches. It was cared for by a community consisting of a Master, six brothers and six sisters. In 1450 there was a brawl in the church, and a murder took place. As a result, the whole town was placed under an interdict which forbade the celebration of all religious ceremonies and sacraments. This was lifted in 1508 on the condition that chantry chapel be built in honour of Saint Nicholas and this is the present church building, partially destroyed during the Second World War.

Nicholas was enormously popular in both the Eastern and the Western Church but little is known of his life. He was bishop of Myra, now known as Mugia, in south-western Turkey in the fourth century.

There are many legends about Nicholas and his ability to work miracles. What we can draw from these is that Nicholas must have been a man of great compassion and care for anyone in need. Legends, such as that which tells of his giving three bags of gold to a father to provide his three daughters with a dowry so that they could be married and be saved from prostitution (from where the three gold balls that hang outside a pawnbrokers’ shop are derived) or of the three young boys who had been murdered by a butcher and whose bodies had been placed in brine tubs and raised to life by Nicholas, and many others – all make him a suitable patron for many people and someone of universal popularity. For these reasons and many others Nicholas is the patron saint of children, of sailors, of unmarried girls, merchants, pawnbrokers, apothecaries and perfumers, the latter because of the sweet-smelling substance that was said to have sprung from his tomb.

Nicholas’ relics were taken from Myra and brought to Bari in 1087 when Myra was captured by Muslims where they are said to remain.

Nicholas is best known to us as Santa Claus, the name given to him in the Low Countries because of his care for children. He is also the patron saint of Russia, which would seem to be a reminder to continue to pray for that country and its people.

Today then we pray for all children but especially those who have become lost or abandoned in fleeing from their own country as refugees. We pray too for street children and all who abused and trafficked all over the world, and we remember their abusers (may God forbid them).

Readings: Isaiah 40/1-11 : Matthew 18/12-14

In the reading from the prophet Isaiah, the prophet foretells the coming of the Lord and speaks of the preparation that must be made for that event, and his words remind us of John the Baptist. Although the Lord will come in power and majesty, he will be a like a shepherd who tends his flock, ‘gathering lambs in his arms, holding them against his breast and leading to their rest the mother ewes’.  In these words, the prophet reminds us of the tender love of God for all those who are in need of help and support and who are wearied of life.

The Gospel reading might have been chosen for Nicholas since it shows us the God who is love and who, as the prophet says, cares for each and every one of us like a shepherd. The promised Messiah will reveal to the people a God who is love and Jesus will show that love and care in his life and ministry and in his teaching.

Although we know nothing of Nicholas, the legends about him remind us that, like him, we, the Church, must continue his ministry of care and love both in our own lives and in our communities. We are called to be a church where all who are in any kind of need are made to feel welcome and loved.

We pray for Portsmouth and all those who live in it, both Christians, those of other faiths and those of none that all may seek to make of the city a place of welcome where people are truly cared for.

There are special readings for Nicholas, though, almost certainly those for the day will be used. Those for Nicholas are: Isaiah 6/1-8, which relates the great vision of Isaiah in the Temple when he received the call from God to be his prophet. Luke 10/1-9, which tells of Jesus sending out the seventy-two to proclaim the Good News of God’s love.

Wednesday, December 7th, Commemoration of Ambrose of Milan (339-397)

Ambrose was born in 339 in Trier, the son of the Praetorian Prefect of Gaul. He studied Greek, Rhetoric and Poetry and became a successful advocate. In 370, he was appointed Governor of Aemilia and Liguria, being based in Milan. On the death of the Arian bishop Auxentius, in 374, Ambrose was at the assembly called together to choose his successor and, during his speech a voice was raised, often said to have been that of a child, which shouted out ‘Ambrose for bishop!’ The whole crowd took up the cry and, in spite of Ambrose not having been baptised as yet, he was chosen. Within a week he had been baptised and ordained bishop. He was only 34 years of age!

Ambrose set himself to study, and he became one of the most important Christian thinkers of his day. He was accessible to his people, and he encouraged the monastic life. It was he who was largely responsible for the conversion of the great Augustine.

Since Milan was the administrative centre of the Western Empire, Ambrose found himself having to play an important part in politics, guiding and, sometimes reproving rulers. Ambrose was also much involved in the ongoing struggle with the Arians who were, at that time, supported by the Emperor, and he showed great courage in standing up to the imperial power.

Ambrose also wrote a great deal on the Sacraments and the ministry of the Church together with instructions for those who were preparing to be baptised. Because of his teaching, Ambrose is numbered among the four great teachers of the Western Church, together with Augustine, Jerome and Gregory. He also left his mark on the Western Church by introducing hymns into the daily worship of the Church, some of which are still used today.

Ambrose died before he reached the age of sixty. His body was reburied in the great basilica of Sant Ambrogio in 853 on this day, and it still rests there today.

Today is not the anniversary of Ambrose’ death but the day on which he was ordained bishop.

Ambrose is usually depicted in bishop’s vestments, often with a beehive. This because a swarm of bees is said to have settled on him when he was a child, thus foretelling his future eloquence.

Readings: Isaiah 40/25-31 : Matthew 11/28-30

In the reading from the prophet Isaiah today he speaks of the might and majesty of God which is beyond all human telling. At the same time the prophet reminds us that this mighty God is the one whose ‘understanding is beyond our fathoming, who gives strength to the wearied and strengthens the powerless’ Those who hope in the Lord, the prophet says ‘renew their strength …  they do not grow weary … never tire’.

In today’s Gospel reading Jesus translates the prophet’s words into a language that can be understood by all, ‘Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest’. ‘Shoulder my yoke’ he says’ and learn from me’.

This is the God whom Jesus comes to reveal to us and this is the One whom we, the Church, must reveal to the world by our love and compassion for one another and our love and concern for all who come our way.

The wooden yoke worn by people of Jesus’ time, to carry things, was shaped to their shoulders so that it would not rub or cause pain. The yoke Jesus has taken upon himself is our humanity, and it is this yoke that he shares with us, if we let him. It is not a yoke that tries to mould us into something different, it is the yoke of our true selves, the yoke of humanity which Jesus helps us to bring to perfection so that we may be what we are meant to be.

Ambrose would seem to have been just such a man, fully human, loving his people and caring for them yet also courageous in standing up for them and for what was right and just.

We pray today for the bishops and leaders of the churches that they, like Ambrose, may be loving and caring shepherds yet courageous in standing up for what is right and just. We also remember today the great church of Milan with its unique way of worship. We pray for its bishop and its people.

There are special readings for Ambrose though, almost certainly, those for the day will be used. Those for Ambrose are: Paul’s letter to the Ephesians 3/8-12, which speaks of Paul’s calling to proclaim the mystery of God’s love to the non-Jewish people and refers to Ambrose’ call to serve the people of Milan as their bishop. John 10/11-16, where Jesus speaks of himself as the good shepherd, something which Ambrose became for his people.

Thursday, December 8th, The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of Mary

This feast is unusual in that it celebrates a belief and not a person or an event although it does, of course, celebrate the event which is never mentioned and that is the lovemaking of Mary’s parents, usually known as Joachim and Anne, which brought about her conception.

As is almost always the case with feasts, this celebration of Mary’s conception began to be celebrated in the Eastern Church from the seventh century and from there it spread to the West, not arriving in England until the eleventh century.

At first, the feast celebrated the simple fact of Mary’s conception in the womb of her mother, but it gradually became associated with a long-running dispute within the Western Church as to whether Mary was free from Original Sin from the moment of her conception, unlike the rest of the human race who inherited it from the moment of conception.

Various great theologians took sides on this teaching, Saint Bernard being opposed to it in the twelfth century and being joined by all the great theologians of the thirteenth century, Albert the Great, Bonaventure and Thomas Aquinas. The great proponents of the doctrine were the Franciscans led by Dun Scotus in the late thirteenth century, and it was, for the most part, the Dominicans who opposed it.

In 1439, the Council of Basle declared that this teaching was a ‘pious opinion’ and this gradually became accepted so that in 1476 Pope Sixtus IV approved the feast and in 1708 Pope Clement XI extended the observance of the feast to the whole of the Western Church and even imposed its observance as a feast of obligation. The Council of Trent (1545-1563) declared in its decree on Original Sin that the Blessed Virgin Mary was exempt from this Sin and this teaching from then on was generally accepted by the Roman Catholic Church.

The mediaeval theologians who opposed this doctrine did so because they said that Original Sin was passed on at every natural conception and, since Mary was conceived in the normal way, she must have inherited this Sin. Those who defended the doctrine and this was what was eventually defined by the Pope in 1854, maintained that ‘by a singular grace and privilege of Almighty God and in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of humankind’ Mary was ‘kept free of all stain of Original Sin’.

There are, of course, quite a number of problems here which deserve a little reflection and consideration. Firstly, while readily acknowledging that every human person has a tendency to do those things that are known to be wrong, it must be asked if this inclination springs from the sin of Adam? Most Christians of every church accept now that the story of Adam and Eve is not meant to be an historical account though it is recognised that, as a myth, it has enormous value. Various theories are offered concerning the origins of the human race, but it seems completely unlikely that it sprang from one unique couple. To believe then that our tendency to wrong doing is the result of the sin of a mythical couple which is passed on at the moment of conception seems to make no sense at all.

Secondly, the very foundation of our faith is that the Word of God took our flesh from his mother Mary to become totally and utterly human. If Mary were free from Original Sin and not subject to the consequences said to derive from Original Sin, that which we call concupiscence or the tendency to do wrong things, then she would never have had the desire to do anything wrong. That makes her humanity questionable, and she would have, presumably, passed on to Jesus a humanity of the same kind, free from all tendencies to do wrong. In that case Jesus would not have been like us in all things as the Scriptures state.

For many Catholic Christians who think these things through it is, therefore, difficult to accept this teaching. The gradual development of it would seem to be the result of an ever-increasing devotion to Mary and the desire to heap on her honour after honour, this being the last and greatest of them all rather than from sound theological reasoning.

Although this doctrine was solemnly defined by the Pope in 1854 it might be asked whether it actually falls within the limits set on Papal Infallibility by the First Vatican Council. At that Council the gathered bishops of our church declared, though many of them dissented, that the Pope would be preserved from error when he defined something of revealed doctrine concerning faith or morals. It is difficult to see how this matter can be said to be revealed doctrine since there is no mention of it in Scripture unless the text is twisted enormously nor in the teachings of the first Christian centuries.

Finally, it must be said that this doctrine as it has been developed in the Western Catholic Church is unknown in the Eastern and Oriental Churches who all stem from the same origins as does the Roman Catholic Church.

Having said all that, it is still important to celebrate this feast since it is, uniquely, the celebration of love-making! This feast is, in some way, an affirmation of the goodness of sex and the pleasure that it gives to those who love each other. So let this day be one of joy and celebration that Mary was conceived and came into the world like all of us and that her conception was the beginning of that series of events which culminated in the Word becoming flesh.

Readings: Genesis 3/0-15, 20 : Paul’s letter to the Ephesians 1/3-6, 11-12 : Luke 1/26-38

The reading from Genesis tells part of the story of the Fall of Adam and Eve where Adam blames Eve for having tempted him and Eve blames the serpent. God tells them that, firstly the serpent will be accursed and, secondly, there will be enmity between the serpent and the woman. The serpent’s offspring may attack the woman’s offspring, but he will be crushed by him. Traditionally, this has been interpreted as a prophecy that Mary’s offspring would crush the power of the serpent, the devil.

For some reason, the verses following are omitted. These tell how for the woman, as a result of her sin, her childbearing would be painful and for the same reason work for the man would be hard and unrewarding and that they would, both of them, return to the dust from which they were made. These verses, of course, do make it clear that the whole account is not meant to be understood as historical.

The extract from the Letter to the Ephesians is a wonderful account of God’s mysterious and loving choice from before time began. Mary was in the divine plan from the beginning but so are each and every one of us for, like Mary, we have also been chosen to bring Christ into the world. She gave him flesh in her womb, and we give him flesh in our being part of the Church, his mystical body here on earth. Like Mary, we too are the instruments of his coming into the world!

In the Gospel account of Mary’s receiving the news that she was to be the mother of the Messiah the moment of Jesus’ conception is also recalled when he took her flesh to become human. Like Mary, we are called to be Christ-bearers, and like Mary we are free to say ‘Yes’ or to say ‘No’. And it is our privilege, as it was Mary’s, to accept that role and to be the Church in the world.

Today then, in spite of any reservations we may have about the doctrinal background to the feast, there is much to celebrate. We celebrate Mary, the one chosen to be the Lord’s mother, and we celebrate ourselves, chosen to be the Church in the world, bringing Christ to all those around us by our love and our concern.

It is also, surely, a day to celebrate our sexuality, that great gift from God which makes us the person that we are and gives so much joy to the human family when it is used in a truly loving way.

In the diocese of Portsmouth we pray for our diocese, its people and all those called to serve them with our bishop, Philip, since today is the Patronal Festival of the diocese whose first patron is the Mother of God.

Friday, December 9th, Commemoration of Juan Diego Cuahtlatoatzin (1474-1548)

Juan Diego was an Aztec Indian born in 1474 whose native name, which is pronounced Kwah-TEE-tlah-toe-ah-tzeen means ‘singing eagle’. He lived in Mexico, which was then under Spanish rule, with his wife and uncle and had been among the first of the Aztec Indians to be baptised by the missionaries from Spain. He lived in a village near what is now Mexico City in a one-room hut with a dirt floor and a roof made of woven cornstalks. He was among the poorest people in his village, and his diet consisted mainly of the corn and beans that he himself grew.

In 1531 Juan Diego had a mysterious experience in which he believed he had encountered a young woman dressed as an Aztec princess in a way which indicated that she was bearing a child in her womb. The woman told Juan Diego that she wanted a church built on the spot where he saw her and that she wished to be a source of consolation for the people. His bishop did not believe Juan Diego but eventually, he asked for a sign that might convince him of the truth of his story. Under the guidance of the woman Juan Diego found a patch of brilliant roses, in spite of it being winter time. He gathered them into his peasant’s cloak and took them to the bishop but when he unfurled his cloak before the bishop, the woman’s image had been imprinted on it. As a result of this, the bishop believed that the woman must have been the Mother of God, pregnant with her son Jesus, and a chapel was built in accordance with her wish, and people began to flock to it. Juan Diego cared for this chapel and lived as a hermit beside it until his death at 74 in 1548.

Whatever one may think of the story, the cloak of Juan Diego is still venerated at the shrine now known as Guadalupe. One of the important outcomes of this is that this strange event gave back their dignity to the Aztec Christians who had been shocked and scandalised by the way in which their Spanish conquerors failed to live the Gospel which they preached. It also gave new dignity to women and brought about a massive conversion among the Aztec people. While the rich and the powerful Spanish had failed to convince the Aztec people of the truth of the Gospel, a poor peasant succeeded, and the Gospel was proclaimed to the poor by the poor.

Our Lady of Guadalupe is the patron of Mexico and is venerated throughout the Americas so that today we pray for that vast continent and its people, for peace and prosperity among them and for a respect for people of every race and background.

Readings: Isaiah 48/17-19 : Matthew 11/16-19

The brief reading from the prophet Isaiah reproaches the Jewish people for not having followed the way that God had offered to them, a way which would have led them to happiness and fulfilment, whereas they were now on the road that leads to doom. This is not just because God would punish them for not having obeyed his laws and commandments. It was because the observance of God’s Law leads to fulfilment and joy and to fail to follow it leads to the opposite.

We judge and condemn ourselves by not following the way that leads to life.

The equally brief reading from Matthew’s Gospel finds Jesus also condemning what he calls ‘this generation’, in other words, the people to whom he had been addressing his message and in particular, these were the Scribes and the Pharisees. Jesus uses the example of children at play, on the one hand the ‘funeral game’ and on the other ‘the wedding game’. John the Baptist’s ascetic lifestyle and preaching identify him with the funeral game. Instead of responding to John’s call to repentance, Jesus says, they claimed that he was possessed or mad. His own lifestyle identifies him with the wedding game, sharing meals with those his opponents thought to be sinners and enjoying himself with them. Although this foreshadowed the coming reign of God his opponents find in his behaviour cause to criticise him and to ignore his message.

The closing sentence is obscure but might well be taken to mean ‘I told you so!’. This was to be expected of those who were so full of themselves that they were unable to hear the Word of God when either John or Jesus proclaimed it to them.

Juan Diego is a good example of how God turns things upside down so that those who ought to recognise that which comes from God fail to do so while a poor peasant does.

We pray today that we may be on the alert and ready to hear the Lord when he speaks to us, most especially in the cry of the poor and the needy. As John the Baptist invites us, may we turn our lives around each day to follow Jesus’ teaching more faithfully and, like Jesus, try to be the friend of all who are poor and in need.

There are special readings for Juan Diego though, almost certainly, those for the day will be used. Those for Juan Diego are: Isaiah 40/1-11, which speaks of God’s compassion and the allusions to nature remind us of Juan Diego’s experience. Matthew 18/12-14, which speaks of the humility and childlikeness, which were characteristics of Juan Diego.

Saturday, December 10th, Commemoration of Our Lady of Loreto

Loreto, near Ancona in Italy, is the site of the shrine of Our Lady of Loreto where the Holy House of Nazareth is venerated. This house was alleged to have been the house in which the Mother of God was living at the time of the Annunciation. Legend had it that the house had been miraculously transported by angels from Nazareth to Tersatz in Dalmatia in 1291 and, subsequently, through the same agency, to Loreto in 1295.

The earliest attestation of this legend is in an account of the Sanctuary written in about 1470.  The whole story is now regarded as unhistorical, even by Roman Catholic writers, which makes one wonder why its celebration has been restored to our Calendar.  This was done very recently and with no particular explanation being given.

Though the story may be fictitious there is still some gain to be had by the celebration of this feast as we prepare for Christmas.

Loreto is now a place of pilgrimage, and the shrine is enclosed in a massive baroque edifice. The small house at its centre is of extraordinary simplicity being a simple box-shaped structure completely unadorned. The only thing in the house is a simple altar over which is inscribed ‘Hic Verbum caro factum est’, ‘Here, the Word was made flesh’. It is this ‘Hic’ that is so striking, that here, though this may not be the actual place but in a real little house in Nazareth the Word became flesh.

Recent research has shown that this actual house is almost certainly a first century structure from Palestine. It must have become associated with the Incarnation and brought to Italy at the time of the Crusades, perhaps even by a knight named de Angelis!

Loreto is a remarkably sane sort of place, and the whole emphasis there is on the Incarnation, which is, of course, very relevant during this time of Advent.

Whatever the intentions of those who restored the feast to our Calendar, it is one which makes us reflect on the wonderful reality that the Word became flesh in the womb of a real woman and in a real place. God leapt into our history as it were and still does all the time.

Readings: Ecclesiasticus 48/1-4, 9-11 : Matthew 17/10-13

Today’s readings are about the great prophet Elijah and the Gospel reading follows on immediately from the moment when Jesus was transfigured before his chosen disciples, Peter, James and John. It was in this strange event that Jesus had been seen by the apostles with Elijah and Moses and so the question that the disciples ask of Jesus follows on naturally from what they have just experienced.

The extract from Ecclesiasticus praises the greatness of the prophet Elijah and the wonders that he did and ends by affirming that he will come again, and those who will see him will be truly happy.

The Gospel reading would seem to suggest that the question of the return of Elijah to herald the coming of the Messiah was being discussed by the Scribes. Jesus answers the question that the disciples have put to him by telling them that Elijah has already returned in the person of John the Baptist. He tells them that those who should have done so were unable to recognise him. Just as John the Baptist will suffer at the hands of men, Jesus says, so will he.

One lesson that may be learnt from these readings is that things may not always be as they seem. The Scribes and the others believed that Elijah would come again to herald the coming of the Messiah, but they failed to recognise him in the person of John the Baptist. During Advent the readings give us a constant reminder that the Lord does come to us, but we often fail to recognise him because he doesn’t come as we expect he will.

An example may help. We may think that we recognise Jesus in the needy person sitting on the street and begging, and we may give them something, but we may have failed to notice the Lord in the needy neighbour who is not her usual cheery self. Had we noticed this we might have discovered that she is not her usual self because she has received the results of some medical checks, and she will have to go into hospital and who will look after her dog? It is because we think we know how the Lord might come to us that we may miss him when he does.

So Advent is the time for being on the alert and trying to see a little deeper than the surface to find the Lord, coming to us in unexpected ways and places.

There are special readings for Our Lady of Loreto though, almost certainly, those for the day will be used. Those for Our Lady are: Isaiah 7/10-14, 8/10, which contains the prophecy that a maiden will conceive and bear a son whose name will be Emmanuel, reminding us of the underlying meaning of Loreto which is the Incarnation. Luke 1/26-38, which is the story of the Annunciation, the mystery that Loreto celebrates, the Word made flesh and dwelling among us.

In the diocese of Portsmouth there is also the commemoration of Blessed Swithun Wells.

Swithun was born in Bembridge in Hampshire, in 1536, of a wealthy country family. He was educated locally but was well-travelled, a poet, musician and a sportsman. He lived the life of a country gentleman, but he and his family remained faithful to the old religion. At one time he was tutor to the Earl of Southampton but, after marrying, he began his own school at Monkton Farleigh in Wiltshire.

In 1582, Swithun came under suspicion because of his allegiance to the old faith, and so he gave up his school. He supported and protected the priests who came from mainland Europe to care for those faithful to the old ways. In 1586, although by then impoverished, Swithun and his wife moved to London to Grays Inn Fields where their house became a centre of hospitality for the recusants as they were called, and a place of welcome where many priests from the continent were sheltered.

Swithun was twice arrested but no evidence could be found against him. However, in 1591, two priests, Edmund Gennings and Polydore Plasden were arrested in Swithun’s house while they were presiding at the Mass. They were accused of high treason and executed. Swithun and his wife were also arrested and tried for harbouring priests and condemned to death. Swithun’s wife was reprieved but spent the remaining ten years of her life in prison. Swithun was executed at Grays Inn Fields on December 10th. He used his last moments on the scaffold to pray for his executioners and to express his forgiveness of them.

Today is also International Human Rights Day, which commemorates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations on this day in 1948. The Declaration proclaims the thirty rights that all human beings need to live a truly human life. It proclaims that everyone on this planet, regardless of race, sex, language or religion has a right to certain basic freedoms. Among these are the right to life, to health care, education and to privacy. People are also entitled to freedom from imprisonment without trial and have the right to leave and re-enter their own country and to seek protection in another country if they are persecuted in their own.

Like Swithun Wells, many people are refused the right to practice their own faith today and every one of these rights is being infringed in many places at this very moment in various parts of the world.

We know this all too well and today we pray for all those who suffer the loss of their rights in one way or another. We pray too for all those people and agencies who work to ensure that everywhere people are able to enjoy these basic rights.

We remember especially the millions who seek refuge from persecution and warfare and who have become refugees, and we pray too for all those work with them and for them.

Reflections for the week beginning 27 November 2022

Reflections on the Daily Mass Readings

by Derek Reeve

St Andrew by Peter Paul Rubens

The Season of Advent

The word Advent is derived from the Latin word which means ‘coming’ or ‘arrival’ and this season was only developed in the Western Church to be a time of preparation for the festival of Jesus’ coming at his birth.

Already in the fifth century the season of Advent existed in some parts of the Western Church and, depending on the region it consisted of six, five or four weeks of preparation before Christmas Day. In Milan and those churches which still follow the customs of the Milanese church, it still lasts six weeks and this is also the case in Toledo in Spain and those churches which follow the customs of that church. In Gaul this season took on a more penitential character and was modelled on the observance of Lent with fasting on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

The Roman church, as always, began to keep Advent much later with the observance of only four Sundays and, as the customs of Rome were taken up throughout the Western church, this became the norm as it is still is.

Advent, following the character given to it in the church in Gaul, has often been seen as a mini-Lent but this is a mistake because the whole mood of this season is one of joyful expectation rather than penance.

Though not a penitential season, Advent is a time for Christians to resist the commercialisation all around us, which seems to begin as early as September. As Christians, we can try to make this a time of reflection and preparation, though this is difficult, given the surrounding premature celebrations. Because of this it would be good if, right at the beginning of Advent, we resolved to set aside some time each day to be still and to reflect on the wonder of the God who comes to us.

Advent is a time of preparation for the celebration of the Lord’s coming to us in the flesh, but it has also become, over the centuries, a time of reflection on his coming at the end of time. This seems more appropriate now when we know that our planet is threatened with a cataclysmic end if we fail to take climate change and pollution seriously and change our ways. While we think of that final End, during this Advent we can consider what efforts we can make to preserve our planet for future generations and not precipitate that End, which will be in God’s own time.

Advent is the time when we also reflect on how the Lord comes to us in our daily lives and, above all, in those who are in need. Rather than spending on presents which, for the most part, people don’t need, why not adopt a charity such as Refugee Action or Shelter and give to them rather than to those who don’t need it? This can also be a way of alerting others to various charities by sending them a card from that charity with a note saying that, instead of giving them a present, you have given to that charity.

Finally, of course, Advent is also the time to remember that the Lord will come to take each of us to himself at a time which we don’t know. The best way to be prepared for that is by meeting the Lord here and now in silence and prayer, in each and every one who comes our way and above all in those who are in need of our help.

Advent marks the beginning of a new year for the Church so let it be a new beginning for us.

This year, which is Year One or Year A in the three-year cycle of Sunday Mass readings, the Gospel according to Matthew is read.

Scripture scholars tell us that the Gospel of Matthew was written about the year 85 C.E. and the author was, almost certainly, not the Apostle Matthew but an early Christian teacher and Church leader who wrote under Matthew’s name. It might well have been one of the Scribes who had become a disciple and who are so often alluded to in this Gospel.

The author has borrowed and modified almost the whole of the Gospel according to Mark but he has included an early collection of Jesus’ sayings which is shared by the Gospel according to Luke. One theory is that the Apostle Matthew himself had gathered together a collection of Jesus’ sayings which the author has included in his Gospel. Chapter 13, verse 52 of this Gospel might well offer a description of the author, ‘Every scribe who has been a disciple of the Kingdom is like a householder who brings forth from his treasure new things and old.’

As it seems this Gospel was written after the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in the year 70 C.E. It would also seem obvious that it is an attempt to answer the crisis which that event posed for Judaism. The location in which this Gospel was written, though not certain, seems likely to have been Syria where there would have been a large Jewish population who spoke Greek, the language in which the Gospel was composed.

The community for which this Gospel was written still lived within the framework of Judaism and its purpose seems to have been to show its readers or hearers how the Jewish tradition was best maintained in the Jewish Christian community. The author constantly refers to the Jewish Scriptures, which we know as the Old Testament, in order to show the continuity between the ancient Jewish traditions and the Christian movement. The most obvious way in which the author does this is to present Jesus as the one who ‘fulfils’ the Jewish Scriptures or, rather, from the author’s point of view, how the Jewish Scriptures were in perfect harmony with Jesus’ life.

Matthew’s Gospel is sometimes seen as anti-Semitic and there is much in this Gospel that seems both to condemn the Jews and to suggest that Jesus and his followers had superseded Judaism. But it is a mistake to read this Gospel in this way. It must be remembered that it was written only when the Christian movement was beginning to be seen as something distinct from and over against Judaism. The Jewish Christian community for whom this Gospel was written still considered themselves to be Jews and were seeking to show that their identity was compatible with their Jewish heritage. It is possible also that the community for whom this Gospel was written had been excluded from some of the other Jewish groups and their rabbis had been seen as not being authentically Jewish and so this Gospel may have been written as a reaction to that.

As we read Matthew’s Gospel during this coming year it must be kept in mind that we are reading, first and foremost, a Jewish text, meant for a Christian community that was mostly Jewish. Reading this Gospel offers many opportunities for us to reflect on the Jewishness of our faith and, indeed, of Jesus himself. Reading this Gospel gives us the chance to reflect on the original reasons why the Christian movement broke away from Judaism and our long and tragic history of enmity and even persecution. It is time for us to make fresh approaches to our Jewish sisters and brothers, as recent Popes have done, and to seek reconciliation with them and an end to all anti-Semitism.

The prophet Isaiah

During Advent the First Reading from the Hebrew Scriptures, what we know as the Old Testament, is, almost always from the book of the prophet Isaiah.

Isaiah’s ministry was exercised in the eighth century before Christ and the whole period was overshadowed by the irresistible power of Assyria and its plans for a world empire. Little is known of Isaiah’s personal life but his ministry was exercised in and around the city of Jerusalem. His devotion to the traditions of Jerusalem, the literary quality of his writing and his contacts with the Wisdom tradition in Jewish literature all suggest that he was from an upper-class family and was well-educated. He was married to a woman who was also a prophet, and he had two sons, both of whom were given symbolic names.

The book of the prophet Isaiah, as it now is, has long been recognised to be composed of three sections. The authentic words of the prophet are to be found mainly in chapters one to eleven, largely in the days when King Ahaz ruled and in chapters twenty-eight to thirty-two in the reign of King Hezekiah. Chapters forty to forty-five and fifty-six to sixty-six form two separate collections that date from the Exile of the Jews and after it. The rest of the chapters are composed of various collections from various periods.

Isaiah has often been called the ‘fifth Evangelist’ or ‘fifth Gospel writer’ because so many of his prophecies can be seen as directly relating to the coming Messiah and, in particular, to Jesus himself. It is for this reason that the prophet is read in this time of preparation for Christmas.

As the extracts from the prophet are read day by day, it can be clearly seen how often they speak to us of Jesus and the Kingdom or Reign of God which he comes to proclaim and establish. These readings are particularly rich and rewarding, and they deserve time being spent in reflection upon them, as we prepare to celebrate the Lord’s coming.

Readings for the First Sunday in Year One:

Isaiah 2/1-5  :  Romans 13/11-14  :  Matthew 24/37-44

The Gospel reading for this Sunday gives, as is so often the case, the tone for the day. The message is very clear. Jesus insists on watchfulness so as to be ready for the coming of the Son of Man.

Jesus reminds his hearers of the story of the great Flood when only Noah was prepared for what was to happen. The rest of the people had gone on living their daily lives in spite of the warnings that they were given. It may be that the Gospel writer is, at this point, responding to the taunts of the other Jewish communities around the Jewish Christian community for whom he is writing.  They may be saying ‘These Christians are always talking about the coming of the Son of Man but when is he coming?’

Jesus explains that his coming will be one of judgement so that two people who are, apparently, very like each other will find that one is taken off to the Kingdom and the other left behind. Only God knows what is in the heart and each will be judged accordingly. The householder, says Jesus, would have been ready, had he known at what moment the thief would come. So, he says, they must be ready because they know neither the day nor the hour.

This may seem like a dire warning, and it may have been meant as such for those first Christians who heard it, but it can, perhaps, be read in another way. Though we can be sure, Jesus says, that the hour will come when all will be gathered to the Father, we have no idea when that may be. What we have to do is to live in a state of watchfulness so that we are ready to greet the Lord when he comes to us in the here and now. We have no need, then, to be constantly fearful, but rather find the Lord in our daily lives especially in all those who come our way, treating everyone as we would treat the Lord himself.

Paul, writing to the Christian community in Rome is saying the same thing. ‘You know’ he says, ‘the time has come’. Paul’s message is one of urgency, and he uses the image of the light that comes to uncover what is done in the dark. We must always live in the light, Paul says, and our lives must be transparent, not hiding the faults and the failings that we know, all too well, are there.

Paul lists the sins that were prevalent in Roman society and which may not be those to which we are tempted. Though we may not be living promiscuous and licentious lives or indulging in drunken orgies, Paul may be nearer the mark when he speaks of wrangling and jealousy. It is much more likely that our failings will be in the way in which we both think of and treat other people. We live in a society which is, at once judgemental and permissive and, even in the upper echelons of our leaders we find backbiting and wrangling and behaviour of which they should be ashamed. Advent might well be a time when we resolve to be more careful about the way in which we speak of others and when we try to give others the benefit of the doubt, rather than always thinking the worst of them and, not only thinking it but saying it. Can I resolve to be more positive and generous rather than judgemental and negative in my conversation?

The first reading from the prophet Isaiah is quite different and full of hope. The prophet looks forward to the End, but with hope and expectation. He relates his vision of all the peoples of the world coming together in peace with the famous words that they shall ‘hammer their swords into ploughshares, their spears into sickles. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, there will be no more training for war’. As Advent begins the prophet bids us look forward to a new heaven and a new earth where peace will reign and all humankind will live together as sisters and brothers, children of the one God.

That may sound like wishful thinking, but is it? It will never happen unless we do something about it. Advent ought also to be the time when we examine our consciences and ask ourselves if we have just resigned our self to not being able to do anything about the way things are. Is there more that I could do to make our world a world of justice and of peace? Can I be more watchful and alert to find Christ in all those who are in need both near at home and far away? On a wider horizon, what am I doing about the Arms Race, about Climate Change, about Nuclear Disarmament or about the suffering of so many in other countries or even in our own? If each of us does the little we can change our world.

Advent is very much the time of Now. Let us then make it a special time and resolve to try to be watching and waiting and alert to find the Lord in the thousand different ways in which he comes to us, not tomorrow but today.

Monday, November 28th, Monday in the First week of Advent

Readings: Isaiah 4/2-6  :  Matthew 8/5-11.

The reading from the prophet Isaiah echoes the reading of yesterday. It speaks of the few faithful people remaining in Jerusalem and it tells how the Lord will come and ‘rest’ upon them just as he ‘rested on’ the people during their journey from the slavery of Egypt to the Promised Land. The prophet speaks of the judgement which will bring cleansing to the people of Israel.

The prophet’s words might well be addressed to the Church today. The decline in church attendance seems to be apparent in every denomination, and many are looking for ways and means to remedy this. It must be recognised that those who have moved away from church attendance for whatever reason are unlikely to return. This does not indicate that they are bad people. It most probably means that when church attendance became difficult during the pandemic people realised that they were not missing going to church. They may have asked themselves why they had been attending and whether they were really gaining anything from this practice. It may well be that they have recognised that they were going to church out of habit and that they did not accept most of what the Church seemed to be teaching and so it was more honest to distance themselves from it.

The prophet indicates, however, that the Church must be seen in a different way. Pope Francis is urging the whole Church to engage in a synodal process together, to try to recognise where the Holy Spirit is leading those of us who are left. The Spirit would seem to be leading us away from the notion that the Church is an organisation to which we belong and which demands from us particular practices and beliefs. We are being led to an understanding of the Church much more as it is described in the Gospels and the Letters of the New Testament, a Church which sees itself as the Body of Christ in the world.

We are those who remain, and the Lord is still with us, ‘a cloud by day’ and ‘by night a flaring fire’ as God was with the Chosen People on their journey from the slavery of Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land. Our efforts must be, surely, not getting people back to church but encouraging those of us who remain to ‘be the Church’. This involves the building up of communities which will, necessarily, be smaller than our parishes have been, but more alive and fulfilling.

The prophet speaks in glowing terms of ‘the remnant’ that is left and how they will be blessed by God and called ‘holy’. The objective of these smaller communities will be, once again, not to gather in the whole world but to be a sign to the world of the Kingdom of God which is for all humankind, a sign of what life is all about. This is to be ‘holy’ because true holiness is not being ‘religious’ but being fully human as God intends us to be and this is what we have to show to the world around us.

The Gospel story is a reminder of what the prophet envisages for ‘the remnant’. We must be people of faith, not the acceptance of a set of beliefs but total trust in the God who loves us and all humankind and who will never abandon us.

The pagan Centurion had faith in Jesus that he could heal his beloved servant, and he showed what sort of man he was by his care and concern for his servant. This story corroborates the reading from Isaiah that goodness is not limited to the Church no more than it was to the Jews. All around us and in every place there are good people of every faith and none who are building the Kingdom, the Reign of God by their love and their care. Our task as the Church is to be a sign and sacrament of the Kingdom of God so that others may see what it is that makes life good and wholesome and fulfilling. ‘Many will come’, Jesus says, ’from east and from west to take their places … at the feast of the kingdom of Heaven’. This is what that Kingdom will be like, made up of all sorts of people, and we, the little Church that we are, must be a sign to help them on their way.

Advent is the time for recognising where the Kingdom of God already is, and it is the time to concentrate on how our community can be a more effective sign of that coming Kingdom.

Tuesday, November 29th, Tuesday in the First Week of Advent

Readings: Isaiah 11/1-10  :  Luke 10/21-24.

Today the reading from the prophet Isaiah again looks forward to the coming of God’s Reign, and it speaks of the One who will bring this about. The Messiah, the anointed one, ‘upon whom the Spirit of the Lord rests’ is the One who will bring justice and peace to the whole earth. The prophet then describes this reign of God’s love. It will be ‘sought out by the nations’ he says and they will be drawn to it.

This wonderful picture that the prophet paints may seem totally unrealistic, but it is this Reign or Kingdom that Jesus came to proclaim. Interestingly, in the prophet’s vision, it is a ’little child’ who will lead them and Jesus returns to this theme in the Gospel reading today when he tells his followers that it is to ‘mere children’ that the secrets of the Kingdom are revealed.

Obviously, as we prepare for Christmas we think of that little child, born of Mary in Bethlehem.  It is he who will proclaim the coming Kingdom of God, the reign of God’s love and will lead women and men into that Kingdom.  But he will also tell them that not only is the Kingdom to come, it is already here, close to them, among them and within them.

Jesus is telling us that we must recognise where the Kingdom is, be on the alert, watchful and waiting and ready to spot it. We find it wherever there is love, fellowship, and people are caring for one another.

At the end of today’s Gospel reading Jesus tells his disciples how fortunate they are. We too have been given eyes to see and ears to hear what is truly important and with God’s help we are able to recognise the Kingdom of God all around us in people of every faith and none and in situations of every kind.

It is then our privilege as the Church to give thanks for it, to make Eucharist as we gather around the One whose coming we celebrate.

It is the Reign of love that everyone is looking for and when they see it they are attracted by it, as the prophet Isaiah says. We are the ‘little children’, the simple ordinary people to whom this has been revealed by Jesus. How fortunate we are and how much we ought to be grateful for this gift which is ours and so, during this Advent, we have so much for which to give God thanks.

Wednesday, November 30th, Feast of Andrew, the first called of the Apostles

Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter was, like his brother, a fisherman by trade and came from Bethsaida in Galilee. Before he responded to Jesus ‘call’ he had been a disciple of John the Baptist. In John’s Gospel it is Andrew who brought his brother, Simon Peter, to Jesus, telling him that ‘we have found the Messiah’. This has earned Andrew the title of the ‘first called of the Apostles’ and in the Gospels, Andrew often appears bringing people to Jesus. It was Andrew who brought forward the lad with the loaves and fish when food was needed for the crowd and, after Jesus had arrived in Jerusalem, it was Andrew who helped some Greeks who wanted to speak with Jesus to come to him.

After Pentecost, it is not certain where Andrew went to preach the Gospel, where he died or even where he was buried. The most ancient tradition links him with Greece, and Scythia and Epirus both claimed him as their apostle. Patras in Achaia claimed to be the place where Andrew was crucified, preaching to the people from the cross for two days before he finally expired. An early mediaeval forgery attributed the founding of the Church in Constantinople to Andrew and this claim was strengthened by the moving of his relics from Patras to that city. This may well have been, though, to counterweight the claim of Rome to possess the relics of Andrew’s brother, Simon Peter and the Apostle Paul.

Andrew was very popular in mediaeval England and there is another legend that claims that his relics were brought from Patras to Rule in the eighth century, stopping on the journey at a place in Fife, which is now known as Saint Andrew’s and where a church was built in his honour. It is from this legend that Andrew became the patron saint of Scotland.

After the fall of Constantinople in 1204, the Crusaders took Andrew’s supposed relics to Amalfi, and the despot Thomas Palaeologus gave the head to the then Pope in 1451. This was one of the greatest treasures kept in Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome and its return to the Patriarch of Constantinople by Pope Paul VI was symbolic gesture of great importance in the growing together and the reconciliation of our two churches.

We ray then for the people and churches of Scotland today and also for Russia since Andrew is their patron too, and we pray for peace between Russia and Ukraine. We remember too the reconciliation of the great churches of the East and the West.

Readings: Paul’s Letter to the Romans 10/9-18  :  Matthew 4/18-22

The reading from the Letter to the Romans tells how it is necessary for the Gospel to be proclaimed. This was the task of Jesus’ followers and Andrew, like the rest of them, travelled far and wide to proclaim that Good News to all who would hear him. Like Andrew, we are called to be apostles since the Lord sends us out from our Baptism to proclaim that same good News. And again, it is more by our lives than by our words that we do this. In this way, like Andrew who brought his brother, Simon Peter, to Jesus, we may bring others to him but, above all, we are called to show his love to everyone by our lives and by our love.

The Gospel reading gives Matthew’s different account of how Jesus called Simon Peter and Andrew, his brother, and subsequently, James and John. It is Matthew who relates the famous words of Jesus to the four, ‘Follow me and I will make you fishers of people’. This is what he calls us to be, fishers of people, catching them in the net of our love and proclaiming to them the reign of God’s love. Do we see ourselves like that?

Thursday, December 1st, Thursday in Week One in Advent

Readings: Paul’s Letter to the Romans 26/1-6  :  Matthew 7/21, 24-27

Again, it is from the prophet Isaiah that the first reading is taken. The message of the prophet is one of trust in the Lord who is the everlasting rock. The prophet looks forward to the words of Mary’s Song, the Magnificat, , when he says that God has ‘brought low those who lived high up’ flinging them down in the dust and ‘the feet of the lowly, the footsteps of the poor’ trample upon them. This is the turning upside down that the Gospel brings. This is the Good News, that the poor and the needy will be raised up and the powerful brought low. This is the new world order of the Gospel and this is what the Church is called to reflect in its communities and in its care and concern for the world and the people around it.

In the Gospel reading Jesus is asked who will enter the kingdom of Heaven, the Reign of God. Jesus uses the same imagery as the prophet. The Lord God is the everlasting rock on which to build and Jesus says that his words, that is his message, are that same rock on which our lives may be built securely. Building on Jesus’ words gives real security but failing to do this means that our lives are shaky and insecure and risk falling to pieces.

During Advent, we are surrounded by temptations, even more than usual perhaps. We are bombarded with the invitation to spend and to possess, always with the assurance that this will bring happiness or fulfilment or whatever. Jesus reminds us that all these promises are false. Building on his words gives real security because it means that we will be concerned for the things that truly matter, above all for love, love of all those who come our way.

What better way to prepare for Christmas than to sit quietly and examine our lives and to ask ourselves in all honesty what my life is built on. On what do I rely? If we are honest with ourselves, we will recognise that we still rely on all sorts of things which are not of lasting value or of real importance, and so we turn back to God and place all our trust in him and in him alone.

Friday, December 2nd, Friday in Week One in Advent

Readings: Isaiah 29/17-24  :  Matthew 9/27-31

In today’s reading the prophet Isaiah foretells the coming of the Reign of God, which will be not only a time of prosperity but also a time of enlightenment.

Deafness and blindness are often ways of speaking of the way in which people fail to grasp what is shown to them or told them. Once again the order of things is turned upside down and the poor and the lowly folk will rejoice while the tyrants and the evildoers will be destroyed. Particular condemnation is reserved for those who act deviously in trying to incriminate others or who use clever words to get the better of the innocent. The mark of God’s reign will be straightforwardness and honesty in all things.

It is significant that God is spoken of as Abraham’s ‘redeemer’, foreshadowing the One who will come to redeem the whole of humanity. To redeem is to buy back or rescue, and it is from the power of evil that God rescues us, from our own selfishness and sin and all that makes us less than human.

Lastly, those who have misunderstood will learn wisdom, and those who have ‘murmured’ or complained about God’s ways will find instruction. This whole passage is about enlightenment which comes from the Spirit of God. Enlightening us, the Spirit helps us to see things aright and to make right judgements.

The Gospel story is also about blindness but, in this case, physical blindness. It is the faith of the blind men that brings about their cure. They believe that Jesus can help them, and he does.

During this Advent the Scriptures remind us that we live in a world of darkness and deception, and we need to pray, like the blind men in the story, ’Take pity on us, Son of David’. We need to open our minds and our hearts to the Spirit so that we may be enlightened and see things rightly. We pray that we may have the ability to look beneath the surface of things and see what is truly there.

Advent is the time of coming, and we pray that our eyes and minds and hearts may be healed so that we may recognise the Lord ever more clearly as he comes to us. Where must we look? To the poor, the needy, the hungry, the homeless of course but also to those closer to us who need the warmth of our love, to the misjudged and the misunderstood and, indeed, everyone. He comes to us and waits for our love.

Our prayer today might well be that of the blind men, ‘Take pity on me, Son of David!’

Saturday, December 3rd, Commemoration of Francis Xavier, Jesuit missionary (1506-1552)

Born into an aristocratic family in Basque Spain, Francis experienced a radical change in his life while studying at the University of Paris. It was there that he met Ignatius Loyola, another student and an ex-soldier, who had gathered around him a group of men. Francis joined this group and seven of them made vows together in 1534 in a chapel at Montmartre in Paris, and they were to become the Company of Jesus or the Jesuits. Three years later they were made priests in Venice and in 1541 Francis joined Alphonsus Rodriquez in Lisbon and, at the invitation of the King of Portugal, they set out for Goa to bring the Gospel to what was then known as the East Indies. The journey took thirteen months! Once arrived, Francis undertook the reform and renewal of the Church in Goa where the Portuguese had adopted a very lax way of life and of practising their Christian faith. They were cruel to their slaves, immoral in their lives and, above all, they neglected the poor. By dint of preaching and teaching, Francis did much to make up for this bad example that had been set by the Portuguese Christians. For the next seven years Francis worked among the Paravas in Southern India in what was then Ceylon, in Malacca, the Molucca Islands and the Malay Peninsula. Francis lived as a poor man and had great success among the lower castes but little among the Brahmins. He founded Christian communities wherever he went and many of these have survived until today.

From time to time Francis returned to his base in Goa and, eventually, in spite of suffering from chronic seasickness and difficulty in learning languages, he set out for Japan in 1549.

Despite Francis’ great efforts, by the time he left Japan there were only about two thousand Japanese Christians. However, although these would undergo severe persecution many of them would remain faithful to the end.

In 1552 Francis was again in Goa, but after a few months he left for China. On the way he fell ill and died, almost alone, on the island of Chang-Chuen-Shan.

Francis had worn himself out through ceaseless activity and extreme hardship but amidst all of this he lived an intensely prayerful life. Latterly his methods have been criticized, but it must be remembered that Francis was a man of his times, and he believed, as was then taught, that all who died without baptism would be damned. It had become imperative for him to convert and baptise as many as possible to save them from damnation, and it was this that impelled his enormous activity, which we cannot help but admire.

After Francis’ death his body was placed in quicklime and brought back to Goa where it remains an object of great devotion. In 1615 the right arm was detached from his body in the rather gruesome way that devotees have, and brought to the Jesuit church in Rome where it is still venerated. In 1622 Francis was canonised, and he became the patron saint of what used to be called ‘the missions’ but are better known as the young churches, throughout the world.

Today we remember all those who leave home and country to take the Gospel to far off places and to those who have never heard it. We pray, though, that they may not use the crude methods that Francis’ used in his mistaken idea that salvation depended on his action. We remember too that we are all called to be missionaries since, as Christians, we are all sent out to the world around us to proclaim the Gospel of God’s love, more by our lives than by our words.

Readings: Isaiah 30/19-21, 23-26  :  Matthew 9/35-10/1, 6-8

In today’s reading the prophet Isaiah again looks forward to the coming of God’s Reign when all the suffering of the past will be ended and prosperity will rule for ever. The prophet assures his hearers that ‘your prophet will hide no longer, and you will see your teacher with your own eyes’. In these words Christians see the coming of the Messiah in whom God has revealed himself to our eyes in flesh like our own. Emmanuel will be the revelation of God’s presence among them, the prophet tells them. It is he who will say ‘This is the way, follow it’ and that way is, of course, the way of love. The prophet uses image of light to describe that wondrous time when all will be caught up in the glory of God’s light and when God will heal all the wounds of the past.

The Gospel reading today brings to a close the Gospel readings for this week. Jesus sees the people, the poor and the needy, like sheep without a shepherd, and he sends his followers out to proclaim the Kingdom of God to them.

Over the past week the Gospel has shown us Jesus curing the Centurion’s servant and so breaking down the barrier between master and slave. He has proclaimed that it is the little humble folk who are capable of grasping what the Kingdom is all about. On Wednesday the Gospel reading, which we missed because it was Saint Andrew’s day (Matthew 15/29-37), would have told of Jesus caring for the sick and disabled and feeding the hungry crowds with loaves and fish.

The Gospel reading has shown us Jesus telling us that we must build on firm foundations, the foundations not of religion and of saying ‘Lord, Lord’ but of doing the will of the Father, which is to love one another. Finally, yesterday, it was Jesus curing the two blind men.

The Kingdom of God is accompanied by the ‘curing of all kinds of diseases and sickness’. The order Jesus gives to his followers is to continue and to extend that ministry, to have ‘authority over unclean spirits’ and to cast them out and to cure all kinds of diseases and sickness. They must proclaim that ‘the kingdom of God is close at hand’, and to show that this is so they must ‘cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out devils’.

Under the influence of the teaching of his time Francis seems to have misunderstood the Gospel and this is best illustrated in this commission of Jesus to his followers. Francis’ great concern was to save souls and to get people to Heaven. Jesus was interested more in the lives of people here and now. All the diseases and the ailments that Jesus dealt with were isolating and excluded people from the human community. The disciples were sent out to remedy this situation and to bring people together again, restored to the human community and to fullness of life.

It is the task of the Church today as much as ever to proclaim the Kingdom of God but that does not mean making converts to our church, although these will always come and join us in our task. The Kingdom of God is brought about when people’s lives are made more human and more fulfilled so that they may attain fullness of life here and now. This is done, not in isolation but with all those who are of goodwill of every faith and none. As Jesus said elsewhere, whoever is not against us is for us.

At the end of this first week in Advent we are made to reflect on what the church is all about and so, what we are all about since we are the Church. Not to proclaim the Church and conversion to the Church but to proclaim the Kingdom of God, already among us, already in the hearts and minds of so many, but still needing to be built up and to grow in the world. The Gospel we proclaim is intensely worldly, helping women and men to find fulfilment and wholeness and, of course, caring also for our planet and its survival.

How can we help our community become more outward looking, discerning the Kingdom and building the kingdom in the world around us?

There are proper readings for Francis Xavier although, almost certainly, those for the day will be used. Those for Francis Xavier are as follows: Pauls’ First letter to the Corinthians 9/16-19, 22-23, in which Paul speaks of his duty to preach the Gospel and how he made himself all things to everyone.  Francis too was gripped by a conviction that he had to save people from damnation ad he certainly laboured as tirelessly as Paul shortening his life by the way in which he gave himself totally to the task.

Mark 16/15-20, in which Jesus commissions the Apostles to go out and to proclaim the Good News but with the added words which, obviously, impelled Francis in his desire to baptise and convert as many as possible to save them from damnation. It is important to recognise that the last section of Marks’ Gospel (16/9-20), as we now have it, is probably a second century addition to the text and hence its insistence on faith and baptism, which was not in the original text, and most certainly not words that were actually spoken by Jesus.

Reflections for the week beginning 20 November 2022

Reflections on the Daily Mass Readings

by Derek Reeve

The Presentation of Mary in the Temple, by Titian, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, November 20th, The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ the Universal King

This feast is of comparatively recent origin having been instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925, and it was to be kept on the last Sunday of October. To a certain extent, it was the ravages of the First World War, which had ended in 1918, that let the Pope to institute this feast. His purpose was to remind the whole of the Catholic Church of the all-embracing authority of Christ Jesus who calls people into his reign of love and peace. The day was, obviously, meant to be celebrated in conjunction with All Saints, which falls on November 1st.

Many were not happy with this feast since it seems to duplicate in many ways, the feast of the Epiphany when Christ is celebrated as the universal King. For this reason it was hoped that the feast would disappear from the Calendar after the Second Vatican Council. This was not to be, and the feast was moved to the last Sunday in what was named the Ordinary Time immediately before Advent. This is not an altogether happy arrangement, and many would still like to see the feast removed from the Calendar though it does mark a sort of conclusion to Ordinary Time.

One of the main problems about the feast is, of course, giving the Lord the appellation of King. The notion of royalty, in spite of the survival of our own royal family, seems to have disappeared from the popular imagination and one would not to want to imagine Christ as the sort of monarch that we have in King Charles III.

It is questionable whether this feast is at all helpful for ordinary Catholic Christians but to help us we have to remind ourselves of how monarchy was seen in the Hebrew Scriptures rather than at any subsequent time and this is what the readings today try to do.

Readings: 2nd Book of Samuel 5/1-3  :  Paul’s Letter to the Colossians 1/11-20  :  Luke 23/35-43

In the reading from the First Book of Samuel, David is anointed to be king of Israel. His kingship is seen to be his being a shepherd for his people. David had, of course, been a shepherd boy, and he is frequently called the ‘shepherd king’, and his leadership was meant to be that of a shepherd who both leads his people and who cares for each and every one of them. The tribes of the Chosen people also remind David that he is of their flesh and blood and so is truly one of them.

Applying this image to Jesus is not difficult. He is the anointed one, anointed by the Holy Spirit at his baptism by John, and he is truly one of us, of our flesh and blood, born of Mary and totally human. He is the one who leads us. He goes before us to show us the way, and he even takes us through the gates of death through which he himself has passed, into the pastures of the Promised Land of God’s Reign of love.

The writer of the Letter to the Colossian Christians uses the same imagery of kingship in the reading today. The writer speaks of how God has taken us out of the power of darkness and brought us into the Kingdom of his beloved Son. The writer then goes on to praise the wonders of this Son whom God loves and who is the very image of the unseen God. Through him all things were created, as the Gospel of John says in its first chapter, and it is he who holds all together in unity. But as Jesus is risen from the dead so he is the firstborn who will bring all things together through his death on the Cross. On the Cross, at the moment of his death, Jesus became totally one with humanity, sharing their death that they might share his risen life. At that moment reconciliation between God and humankind was achieved and Jesus made peace for the whole human race.

We have been rescued from the powers of darkness, all that would make us less than human, everything that is not love, and we have been brought into God’s reign of love where we share the life of the Spirit, the life of love, which is God’s own life.

As Christians, this is our great privilege. We are the Church of which he is the head, and he has revealed to us this reconciliation that he has brought about. We are the body of Jesus’ followers whose task it is to proclaim to the world God’s Reign of love over everyone and everything. Ours it is to work with all who are of good will, of every faith and none, to bring about peace and reconciliation for all humankind.

The Gospel reading explains what it means to call Jesus King. He reigns not from a throne but from the Cross where his love is supreme.

In this tragic reading from Luke’s Gospel, the leaders of the people mock Jesus and make fun of him. The very title they place above his head is a mockery. But even in the extremes of his agony, nothing changes for Jesus and in the horror of his suffering, he has compassion for the thief who hangs at his side and assures him that he will be with him in Paradise. This last action of Jesus together with his forgiveness of his executioners epitomises his whole massage of compassion and forgiveness. It is these that characterise the Reign of God which he has persistently proclaimed.

However foreign the language may be today is a day when we accept once again the rule of Jesus over our lives. He is our good shepherd, going ahead of us in life and in death. We are the flock that is watered by him in the waters of Baptism and is fed by him in the Eucharist, and he leads us into the Promised Land of the Church and finally into the kingdom where God is all in all.

In our prayer today we can once again welcome Jesus’ rule over our lives, accepting that he leads us and praying that he would lead his Church into the paths of righteousness and peace that we may be the Church that he would have us be, as we pursue our synodal journey together.

Monday, November 21st, Commemoration of the Presentation of the Mother of God

There is no historical precedent for today’s feast, and the story of Mary’s being presented in the Temple in Jerusalem to join the young girls who served there is totally fictional. The story is taken largely from one of the later works which found no place in Scripture, the Protoevangelion of James, which dates from the second century.

This feast has been celebrated, however, from the eighth century in the churches of the East and it came to the West through an envoy of the King of Cyprus who was staying at the court of the Pope while he was living in Avignon in 1371. It was not until the fifteenth century that the feast was extended to the whole of the Western Church.

Though the event may be fictional, the feast celebrates Mary’s total giving of herself to God’s service so that the circumstances of that decision, which may well have been gradual, are of little importance. We celebrate for her what we are called to ourselves through Baptism.

For many religious Orders and Congregations this feast has special importance and is, for them, the reminder of their own commitment and vows as they celebrate Mary’s total commitment to God. In the Sulpician tradition it is celebrated as a reminder to those who have entered the Church’s ministry, of their own commitment to the service of God in the service of God’s people. Today then is a day to pray for all those who have committed themselves to serve God in the religious life or in the ministry of the Church.

Since this is a commemoration of the Mother of God the special readings will most probably be used, which are the following:

Zechariah 2/14-17, Matthew 12/46-50.

The readings, obviously, make no mention of this fictitious event. They do relate, however, to Mary’s total commitment to God.

In the reading from the prophet Zechariah, the prophet foretells the coming of the Messiah who will dwell in the midst of the people. For devout Jews of Jesus’ time, the great Temple in Jerusalem was the place where God dwelt among them in a special way. In the story of today’s feast, Mary is brought to that Temple to be one of those who serve God there. In fact, it is Mary herself who becomes that scared dwelling place where the Lord would come to dwell in her womb, and she becomes the living Temple of God.

The prophet says, however, that God will remain among us, and it is in the Church that is his body that Christ continues to dwell, so that we become the Temple of God in the world.

In the Gospel reading the members of Jesus’ family were anxious to see him but he uses the opportunity to remind his followers that they are all his family. Anyone who does the will of God, Jesus says, or, in other words, tries to live a life that is loving, is part of his family and is raised to the same intimacy with him as Mary and his family.

Today, when we give thanks for Mary’s total giving of herself to God, something which she must have renewed every day of her life, we can also renew our own giving of ourselves to his service. With Jesus, we offer ourselves to be his living presence in the world and the sign of his Kingdom of love and peace both in our own lives and in the life of our Christian community.

Tuesday, November 22nd, Commemoration of Cecilia, martyr (II or III century)

Virtually nothing is known about Cecilia although there are legends about her which date from the fourth century. These legends may contain some elements of truth within them, but it is impossible to know with any certainty. They portray her as a young Christian woman from a noble family who had been given in marriage to a young pagan named Valerius. The legend tells how Cecilia was able to bring both Valerius and his brother to faith in Christ and both were martyred. Cecilia herself was also caught and, eventually, executed. A church in the Trastevere area of Rome, founded by a woman named Cecilia became the church of Saint Cecilia, and she has been widely honoured since the fifth century.

The association of Cecilia with music is due to certain words in the primitive legend about her life and death. On the night of her wedding to Valerius, the legend tells how she sang in her heart ‘Lord, may my heart remain unsullied so that I be not confounded’. It was only in 1584 that the Academy of Music in Rome at its foundation, chose her to be its patron and since then she has been invoked as the patron of music and musicians.

Today is a day to give thanks for the wonderful gift of music, which so enriches our lives, and we pray for all those who compose music and who make and perform it.

Readings: Apocalypse 14/14-19   :   Luke 21/5-11

The reading from the book of Revelation, which may have been missed yesterday because of the special readings for the Presentation of Mary, (Apocalypse 14/1-5) depicts the heavenly court, called Mount Zion, with the Lamb, that is Christ, surrounded by the multitudes of those who had lived lives that were undefiled by the world and who had ‘never allowed a lie to pass their lips’! It is interesting that this quality is singled out, and it may give us pause for thought. How truthful am I? It is also noteworthy that the whole multitude is singing. How important is music in the lives of human beings and what better to offer to God. Saint Augustine said famously that ’whoever sings their prayer prays twice’.

The reading today from the book of Revelation is a vision of the Son of Man, the Lord himself. He has a sickle in his hand, and the angels surrounding him execute a bloody judgement ‘throwing the vintage to the earth into the winepress of God’s fury. This scene alludes to the wickedness of the Roman Empire which the visionary sees all around him and the judgement that will come upon it. This was an assurance to all who read these words that justice would be done.

It is easy to see why many have associated this vision with our own times but this temptation must be resisted. The writer writes for his times and not for ours. As we reflect on the God whom Jesus reveals to us, it is impossible to equate this God with that of a God who wreaks vengeance, even on the most wicked. Perhaps it is easier to apply this judgement of God, not to those who perpetrate great evils but to the evils themselves. This leads us to the belief that God will, in his own good time, do away with all wickedness and evil so that humankind may live in prosperity and peace. This is the vision of the coming Kingdom of God.

The Gospel reading, which we missed yesterday, (Luke 21/1-4) is the familiar story of the ‘widow’s mite’, a term which has become part of our language. It is an injunction to generosity. The rich give of their spare cash, as it were, while the poor widow gives her entire fortune, small as it is. It is so often the case that it is the poor who are far more generous than those who have wealth, perhaps because the more one possesses the more one becomes attached to it and entrapped by it. How generous am I in my giving, especially to those in need? Do I just give what I can spare without inconveniencing myself too much or do I give so that it hurts a little?

The Gospel reading today is, again, one that was read some weeks ago on a Sunday. The Temple in Jerusalem was greatly embellished and built up by Herod as a sign to the world of his power and might. Luke, once again, presents Jesus as a prophet who not only speaks in God’s name but foretells the future. Luke’s readers will know how Jesus’ words have already been fulfilled, and so they will have greater faith in what he says and teaches. Jesus warns against the false prophets who come in every age, and his words would have reminded the reader of the Jewish revolt against the Romans which precipitated the destruction of both Jerusalem and the Temple itself. But the end is not so soon, Jesus says, so that we have to live our lives, aware that the End will come but taking each day as it comes and trying to live it as well as possible.

There are special readings for Cecilia but, almost certainly, those for the day will be used. Those for Cecilia are: Hosea 2/16-17, 21-22, in which God is speaking to his people, but which recall the way in which Cecilia followed the call of Christ from the wilderness of paganism into intimate union with himself.

Matthew 25/1-13, which is the parable of the wise and foolish bridesmaids, which recall Cecilia’s readiness to meet the bridegroom, Christ, when he came to call her to martyrdom.

Wednesday, November 23rd, Commemoration of Clement (+160) and Columbanus (+615)

After Peter’s martyrdom in Rome, legend has it that he was succeeded in the role of leader of the Roman church by Linus and then Cletus, but nothing is known about them. Clement, however, who is said to have followed Cletus is a far more historical figure. He H is known mainly for his Letter to the church in Corinth, written about the year 96. This letter is an exceptionally early witness to the function and authority of the ministers of the Christian community. The Letter shows, for the first time, the bishop, or leader of the church in Rome intervening effectively in the affairs of another church and calling for repentance and the restoring of unjustly deposed presbyters. The Letter also provides evidence for both the residence and the martyrdom of Peter and Paul in Rome. There are other writings attributed to Clement, but they are not authentic.

Legend has it that Clement was exiled for his faith to the Crimea where he was made to work in the mines which was a common punishment. Clement, according to legend, was killed by being thrown into the sea with an anchor fastened around his neck. Although the legend is totally unreliable, Clement has always been venerated as a martyr.

In the ninth century Saints Clement and Methodius claimed that they had found Clement’s relics together with an anchor, and these were brought to Rome and buried in the Church of San Clemente. This is a fascinating church built on several levels and on the foundations of a first century house church belonging to a certain Clement. It is very improbable that this Clement is the one whom we are celebrating today.

Today we pray for the successor of Clement and Peter, Francis, the present bishop of Rome and for his ministry and for the reforms that he has made in the Roman Curia so that it helps him in his ministry rather than impeding him.

Today Columbanus is also commemorated who lived at the time of the fall of the great Roman Empire when everything was breaking down and people were living once again in fear and confusion after the devastation wrought by the pagan tribes.

Columbanus was born around 540 in West Leinster in Ireland and became a monk of Bangor, which was at that time the most famous school in the country. After some twenty years as a monk Columbanus was sent with a group of twelve others to renew the Christian faith in Gaul.

After what must have been a long and difficult journey, they arrived at a Roman fort in Annegray. People flocked to hear their message, and many joined them. Within a short time Columbanus had founded two more monasteries in the area. Columbanus was outspoken in his criticism of the immoral life lived by Theoderic, the King of Burgundy and earned both his displeasure and that of the local bishops who had never spoken out against the wrongs of the king.

The whole group of monks was ordered to return to Ireland, but Columbanus escaped across the Alps with, as his only possession, a copy of the Gospels. He ended up in Italy in Bobbio where he died in 615 while helping to build a new church. Columbanus’ monasteries led to the foundation of others which became havens of learning and prayer.

Columbanus is reckoned to be the greatest of the Irish missionary monks who had so great and influence in mainland Europe.

Readings: Apocalypse 15/1-4   :   Luke 21/12-19

The reading from Revelation today speaks of the seven plagues that are to precede the final judgement of the world. Before the plagues are poured out, the writer sees another vision of the heavenly court. There the Song of Moses is sung, echoing the victory of the Israelites crossing the Sea of Reeds or the Red Sea. All who joined in singing the hymn were those who had resisted the evil tyrant of Rome and who had gained victory over the evil one who was epitomised in the Emperor.

This reading again speaks of the evil which will finally be overthrown. In the hymn of victory it prophesies that all will come to worship the Lord God, the Almighty One. It is this that we do at every Eucharist when, gathered around the Lamb who was slain on the Cross, we praise the God who will overcome evil as he has overcome death and sin in Jesus and who will gather all humankind into one.

In today’s Gospel reading Jesus tells his followers what will befall them and how they will suffer before the fall of Jerusalem. The language that Jesus uses is echoed in Luke’s second volume, the Acts of the Apostle and those for whom this Gospel was written will know that these words have already been proved true in the sufferings of Jesus’ followers to date.

We, as Christians today may not have to face the sufferings and persecution that Jesus’ first followers had to endure, but it is true for Christians in many other parts of the world. To follow Jesus however will always involve some pain, not least the crucifying of oneself for the sake of others in everyday life. They may also have to take a stand against things which they know to be wrong and stand up for what is right and that does not always make one popular. Jesus assures us, however, that we have no need to fear because he is with us to the end and will protect us.

How ready am I to take a stand on issues that are important in the world today?

There are special readings for both Clement and Columbanus but, almost certainly, those of the day will be used. Those for Clement are: First Letter of Peter 5/1-4, which is the advice given to the Elders of the Church, advice lived out by Clement. Matthew 16/13-19, which contains Simon Peter’s declaration of faith in Jesus, faith which Peter brought to Rome and which Clement also proclaimed.

Those for Columbanus are: Isaiah 52/7-10, which speaks of those who, like Columbanus, bring good news to those who have never heard it. Luke 9/57-62, which speaks of the demands made on those who, like Columbanus, seek to follow Jesus.

Thursday, November 24th, Commemoration of the Vietnamese martyrs (1745-1862)

Christianity was first brought to Vietnam by a French Jesuit in the early eighteenth century and during the first two hundred years it is believed that about 100,000 Vietnamese Christians were martyred though, sadly, there is little historical record of these.

The first of whom there are records are the Spanish Dominicans and during the first twenty years of the nineteenth century Christianity made steady progress but this was dramatically interrupted by fresh persecutions under the Kings Minh-Mang and Tu-Duc who reigned from 1820 to 1883.

Minh expelled all foreign missionaries, forced the Christians to deny their faith by trampling on a crucifix, destroyed churches and forbade the teaching of the Christian faith. Many suffered extreme torture and hardship and many lost their lives.

After this period of suffering, in 1847 persecution started again when Vietnamese Christians were suspected of complicity in rebellion and, again, many suffered and died. Christians were marked on their faces with ‘ta dao’ which indicated that they were followers of a false religion, husbands and wives were separated and their children taken from them, whole villages were destroyed and their possessions taken and distributed. In yet a further round of persecution from 1857 to 1862, many more suffered and died.

Among the many who died were bishops and priests from Europe and many thousands of Vietnamese people. Andrew Dung-Lac was the first Vietnamese priest to be executed in 1839 with another native priest, Peter Thi. Today with them, we remember some 117 martyrs among whom were 59 laymen and women, 50 priests both foreign and Vietnamese and 8 bishops. With them we remember the vast number of those who died for their faith and of whom there is no record.

We pray today for the people of Vietnam and for the Christian churches in that country, and we remember the many Vietnamese who live around us, both Catholic and non-Catholic and who have, in many instances, clung on to their faith through thick and thin.

Readings: Apocalypse 18/1-2, 21-23, 19/1-3, 9   :   Luke 21/20-28

The reading from the book of Revelation today portrays dramatically the doom of the great city of Rome. Babylon is a name that was used for Rome at that time, as a city of great wickedness. The angels proclaim the downfall of the city. Like ancient Babylon which was cast symbolically into the Euphrates (Jeremiah 51/53-64) so Rome is thrown into the sea.  Counterpoised with the lament for her downfall is the song of rejoicing that follows. Rome is called the great prostitute, not only for her corruption but above all for her following of many false gods.

The whole episode ends with the invitation to the wedding feast of the Lamb which anticipates the final vision of the book. The marriage of God with his people is a frequent theme among the prophets and here it becomes the marriage of the Lamb, the Son of God made flesh, with his followers, the Church.

For us today the words of invitation recall the words of invitation to the Lord’s Table that are now used in the celebration of the Eucharist.

In the Gospel reading today Jesus speaks of the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the great Temple, something which those reading these words would know had already happened. This gives weight to Jesus’ words about the coming of the Son of Man. If his words about the destruction of the Temple had already been fulfilled, then Jesus’ prophecies about his coming again were also to be trusted. 

The reading ends with the prophecy of the end of all the nations and peoples of the world but there is, deliberately it would seem, no indication of when this would be. For his followers, Jesus says, when these things happen they are not to be alarmed but rather see them as the welcoming of the final consummation of all things.

There is always the danger of reading into Jesus’ words some meaning for today. This is to be avoided because, although over the centuries, there have been moments when these words seemed to apply, the End did not come. We are not meant to know but to be alert and ready.

This is what Jesus demands of his followers. Not to be constantly waiting for the End or worrying about it, but to be ready to welcome him here and now when he comes to us in our neighbours, in the poor and needy and in the detail of every moment if we only have eyes to see and ears to hear.

Happy are we that we are called to the Supper of the Lamb whenever we celebrate the Eucharist together, but happy too because we know that he comes to us at every moment.

In spite of all that has been said, there are very real signs at this time that our world is in danger, and this is something which we must take very seriously, as Pope Francis is always enjoining on us. Though the End may come when God wills it, we have the responsibility to care for the world which has been put into our hands and of which we are called to be the stewards. What more can I do in my own life and what more can I encourage others to do both in the Christian community and among those with whom I live and work every day?

We could read Pope Francis Encyclical Letter ‘Laudato si’ which deals with these problems.

There are special readings for the Vietnamese martyrs though almost certainly those for the day will be used. Those for the martyrs are: Sirach 5/1-8, which is a long prayer that might well have been on the martyrs’ lips as they suffered such terrible torments and death. Matthew 10/28-33, which is Jesus’ injunction to his followers not to be afraid, which recalls the heroism with which the Vietnamese martyrs faced their persecution and death.

Friday, November 25th, Commemoration of Catherine of Alexandria, martyr (4th century?)

This feast was suppressed in 1963 but has been restored to the Calendar again more recently though it is difficult to understand why. Catherine is supposed to have lived in the fourth century and to have been a learned woman who, following her conversion to Christianity at the age of eighteen, preached the Gospel throughout Alexandria. She is said to have been imprisoned under the Emperor Maxentius and converted both the Empress and the leader of the armed forces and for this she was put to death on a wheel, hence the Catherine wheel which is a well-known firework!

There is absolutely no historical evidence for any of this and Catherine is not mentioned anywhere until the ninth century when her body was supposed to have been transported miraculously to what is now known as Saint Catherine’ monastery on Mount Sinai. The monastery is still there and is pilgrimage place for Christians, both Orthodox and Catholic.

One of the key features of the legend about Catherine is that she was a woman of great wisdom and intelligence so that today might be a day when we pray for a greater recognition of the gifts and talents of women, especially in the Church. We pray too for the community of monks at Saint Catherine’s Monastery on Mount Sinai.

Readings: Apocalypse 20/1-4, 11-21/2   :   Luke 21/29-33

The reading from the book of Revelation today is, perhaps, one of the most dangerous in the whole series of visions. It describes the millennial reign of Christ when only the satanic dragon remains to be shut up in a pit for a thousand years, while Christ and the martyrs reign on this earth. After the thousand years have expired Satan is let loose for a period of time. Both Death and Hell then yield up their dead who are judged according to what is written in the book of life. To replace the devastation of the first Heaven and Earth, there is a new Heaven and a new Earth and anew Jerusalem which comes down from Heaven, adorned like a bride for her husband. This vision has given rise to innumerable strange and bizarre ideas concerning the reign of a thousand years and what that might mean. In fact, much of the teaching of the Jehovah’s Witnesses derives from this passage and others in the Book of Revelation.

What must be kept in mind is that the account of these visions is meant to encourage those who were undergoing persecution, and they are not meant to be taken literally. The message of all these visions, in a word, is that evil will be overcome and goodness will triumph and God will bring about a new order of things. More than that cannot and should not be drawn from the obscurity of the text.

Today’s reading from the Gospel follows on from that which was read yesterday. Jesus reminds his hearers that just as they recognise the signs of nature so that when the trees begin to bud, they know summer if coming, so the signs for the End will be equally obvious. Finally, Jesus says that his words will endure whatever happens. Luke presents Jesus as the true prophet who foretells the future so that that very generation who hear his words will see come to pass the things that he has foretold concerning the destruction of Jerusalem and the great Temple.

What we must hold on to is that Jesus’ words, that is his teaching and his revelation of the Father, will not pass away but will endure for ever, because they are Truth.

Saturday, November 26th, Saturday in Week Thirty-Four in Year Two

Readings: Apocalypse 22/1-7   :   Luke 21/34-36

With the last reading from the book of Revelation today, in a final vision, the writer sees the throne of God in the midst of the city where God and the Lamb reign. Life flows out from them and all will be caught up in adoration, reigning for ever in the light of God’s love. The writer ends with a blessing on all who read what he has written.

In this final vision, once again, there is an attempt to put into words something which cannot be put into words. All we can say, ultimately, about Heaven, is that Heaven is where God is and that to be in Heaven is to be caught up in the mystery of God’s very being. More than that we cannot say, because it is all beyond our understanding and the boundaries of our intelligence.

This ought to help us in our prayer. Often prayer involves making an image of God in one’s mind and addressing oneself to that image. Prayer can be something quite different when we allow ourselves to dwell in the darkness of God’s presence and without forming any image in our mind, allow ourselves to relax in that presence and simply to be with God. Words and images can hinder our being close to the mysterious God who is, in fact, closer to us than we are to ourselves. The emptying of our minds and the silence can draw us closer to the divine mystery in whom, as Saint Paul says, ‘we live and move and have our being’ and words and images cease to have any meaning.

The Gospel reading today is a further warning to be on the watch and to guard ourselves against being ‘coursened’ by the ways of the world. These are good words to lead us into Advent which begins tomorrow.

Advent is the time when we reflect on God’s coming, and a time when we must renew our awareness of his coming. It is the time to recognise, once again, that the Lord comes to us at every moment, in each and every person that we meet and in each and every situation of our daily lives.

To be on the alert may depend on the time that we spend in the silence and stillness, recognising that we are in God’s presence. These moments of stillness make us the more ready to find God amid all the hustle and bustle that surrounds us at this time of the year and to celebrate his coming in the flesh at Christmas.

We pray that we may not be ‘coursened’ but may retain our sensitivity to detect and recognise Christ’s presence in the poor and the needy both near to us and far away. Of course, recognising Christ in those in need also makes us aware of our own good fortune. So Advent must also be a time when, instead of wasting our money on presents that no one needs or wants and on expensive festivities that bring us little real joy, we find ways and means of giving to those who do need our help and our love.