Catholics for a Changing Church

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.