We had a Union of Catholic Apostolate day of recollection in Dublin at the beginning of December, our theme was ‘Living the spirit of Advent 2017’, and I have continued to reflect on this topic for the past few weeks, conscious now that it is turning in to ‘Living the spirit of Christmas 2017’. A few very simple things strike a chord with me.
On Saturday 16 December Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop of Dublin, ordained to the diaconate our student John Regan and a Spiritan from Hong Kong, Samson Mann; his homily was a strong one focusing on the origin of the ministry in the life of the Church and the challenges facing the Church today in living the Gospel. The Church must, like our Lord Jesus, take flesh in every age and in every culture and circumstance, and that is both exhilarating and challenging. Nothing short of a total commitment is the message. One image stood out for me in the homily, and I will quote the passage: “John and Samson: as you present yourselves here before the Church this morning in answer to God’s call, remember that ministry and witness are not external actions. Ministry is not like any job that can be done at various junctures and then left aside. Ministry has no dimmer switch that I can tone down or turn up with greater intensity just as I wish. Witness to Jesus Christ means total identification with Jesus.” Ministry has no dimmer switch that I can tone down or turn up with greater intensity just as I wish. And of course I had a mental image of myself fiddling with the dimmer switch. Archbishop Martin is correct, it is a matter of total identification with Jesus, just as Jesus totally identified with us, with our world, with all of humanity, when he took flesh and became for all times Emmanuel, God-with-us.
While visiting England I spent a weekend in Hastings with Fr Eamonn Monson, the crib had been put in place before the altar, but it was bare, empty, Eamonn had his reasons for leaving it bare, he explained that the shepherds did not arrive 3 weeks before the birth, they were in the fields doing their job, but the stable was there, the manger was there. So in the crib in Hastings there was a crib, with no adornments, and an empty manger, and thus it was to stay, until the birth of Jesus. Waiting.
I went to a funeral Mass in Sandyford on Tuesday of this past week, and the crib there was ready, all the figures in place, and lo and behold, in the manger there was a large open Bible, open at chapter 1 of St John’s Gospel where we read “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”
The mangers in Hastings and in Sandyford are both powerful statements of aspects of the one and the same mystery, Emmanuel.
A cousin wrote and she mentioned her Christmas preparations, in her home the three Wise Men begin their journey at the start of Advent upstairs in the house; each day of Advent they advance a little, and then start to descend the stairs, one stair, one day, at a time, until they arrive to present their gifts and adore. A mirror of our Advent journey.
Our Holy Father Pope Francis is a constant source of hope for me. Last Sunday he was 81 years of age, and he celebrated with a 4 metre, or 13 foot, long pizza, which he shared with the children of the Vatican Paediatric Clinic in the Paul VI hall, and the newspaper headline reads “Pope Francis encouraged the children to dig in, telling them that they should: ‘Eat all four metres’ as it would make them grow”, and it was accompanied by a photo of Pope Francis surrounded by children in front of the epic pizza and blowing out a single birthday candle. Pope Francis can teach, preach, write homilies and discourses, encyclicals and exhortations which illumine the Church, but it is also in simple gestures such as this birthday celebration that he communicates the joy of living the Gospel of Jesus in the flesh.
May our Christmas be a celebration of our God, who is simply present. And I conclude with a prayer sent to me as a Christmas greeting by our confrere Fr Wolfgang Weiss “God is present here for us. And what does this presence of God in the Child of Bethlehem say to us? It says to me, it says to you, and says to every person, it is good that you also are present.”
Derry Murphy, SAC.