The Christmas lights were switched on this last Friday in Canterbury. Preparations for Christmas are now upon us and we have 35 days before the beginning of the Christmas season. But we are getting ahead of ourselves. This Sunday and next Sunday in the Liturgy we consider the end of time and readings from the apocalyptic book of Daniel before we begin the new liturgical year. It is only after reflecting on the end times that we begin our new liturgical year and celebrate the four weeks of Advent. As we consider the end times or the second coming of Christ, the question for us now is not at what hour or day will Jesus come but am I ready to meet Jesus? So for now it is a good time to consider our own mortality. We need to appreciate the precious gift of our limited time on earth. We pass through times of growth, and maturity and then we decline. We are on our way to be at one with the loving Father. The Canadian priest, Ronald Rolheiser in his column in the Catholic Herald last week wrote that our death is meant to be met and respected as a normal human experience and not as a medical failure. “Death and its inevitability in our lives are to be understood as a growth point, a necessary maturation, something to which we are organically and spiritually destined and not an aberration or unnatural intrusion into the life cycle.” So how are we preparing for our death? You will find lots of practical advice on making a will, having a funeral plan and the like, but I am not talking about this aspect. We come to the inevitability of our death by being ready, by being awake. It is essential for us to live in the present moment and see each day as a gift from God. The way we prepare is to live life with great thankfulness and joy. Perhaps as we wake each morning we could pray these words from Psalm 15. Preserve me God, I take refuge in you. My happiness lies in you alone. You are my portion and cup, you yourself are my prize. I keep you ever in my sight, even at night you direct my heart. With you at my right hand, I shall stand firm. And so my heart rejoices, my soul is glad. For you will show me the path of life, the fullness of joy in your presence, at your right hand happiness for ever.
This Sunday, 11th November, is Armistice Day and is also known as Remembrance Day. It marks the day World War One ended, at 11am on the 11th day of the 11th month, in 1918. Nowadays, we remember those who were lost in the war by holding a two-minute silence and by wearing a red poppy. The act of remembering is important. We are people who keep anniversaries and remember the past. The act of remembrance helps us to understand the events of the past and learn from them. The total number of military and civilian casualties in World War I was more than 41 million. World War II fatality statistics vary, with estimates of total deaths ranging from 50 million to more than 80 million. The higher figure of over 80 million includes deaths from war-related disease and famine. Civilians killed totalled 50 to 55 million, including 19 to 28 million from war-related disease and famine. These staggering statistics impel us to foster a deep desire to work and pray for real and lasting peace. In many Catholic churches a requiem Mass is celebrated for the dead of the two world wars on this day. When we celebrate a requiem Mass we commend the dead to God’s merciful love and plead for the forgiveness of their sins. As a Christian community we affirm and express the union of the Church on earth with the Church in heaven in the one great communion of saints. Though separated from the living, the dead are still at one with the community of believers on earth and benefit from their prayers and intercession. In this way we recognises the spiritual bond that still exists between the living and the dead and we proclaim our belief that all the faithful will be raised up and reunited in the new heavens and a new earth, where death will be no more. So we remember and we pray for those killed through war and we pray for peace today.
“Let us, then, pray with all fervour for this peace which our divine Redeemer came to bring us. May He banish from the souls of men whatever might endanger peace. May He transform all men into witnesses of truth, justice and brotherly love. May He illumine with His light the minds of rulers, so that, besides caring for the proper material welfare of their peoples, they may also guarantee them the fairest gift of peace.” St Pope John XXIII
On Wednesday night Fr Sylvester and I were at the Mass of Welcome of Fr Hans Puthiakulangara as the Pastoral Administrator of the parish St Simon Stock, South Ashford. He was asked a series of questions by Monsignor Matthew Dickens the Chancellor of the Diocese. The first was “It is the duty of the priest to proclaim the word of God. He must study the bible and meditate on its message; believe what he reads; teach what he believes and practice what he teaches. Are you willing to co-operate with your bishop in preaching Christ in season and out of season, explaining to all the word of God? “ It reminded me of the Vatican II document on priestly life that clearly states that the primary duty of the priest is to proclaim the Gospel of God to all. I am sure that if you asking many people, when asked what is the primary duty of the priest they would answer “to celebrate Mass”. When we affirm that “the force and power in the word of God is so great that it stands as the support and energy of the Church, the strength of faith for her sons, the food of the soul, the pure and everlasting source of spiritual life” we are not denying that the Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life. I remember a priest working in Chile said that his one aim as a parish priest was to get people to read and love the Scriptures.
The Mass and the sacraments mean little to anyone who does not know Jesus. We can come to a deep and initiate knowledge of Jesus through the Gospels especially. We as a parish are called to be missionary. We need to ask ourselves “How important is Scripture in my life?” At the end of Mass, the priest says’ Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord. We are better able to to do this if it the gospels are part of our life.
Pope Francis, speaking to young people of Argentina earlier this year, said:
“But to travel this path of helping to lift up others, let us not forget, we need personal encounters with Jesus, moments of prayer, adoration and, above all, listening. The word of God; I ask you: how many of you read two minutes of the Gospel each day? Two minutes! Keep a little copy of the Gospel in your pocket, in your wallet … While you are on the bus, while you are on the subway, on the train or you stop and sit at home, open it and read it for two minutes. Try, and you will see how your life changes. Why? Because you will meet Jesus. You will meet Him with the Word”.
Painfully at this time in the Church we are having to deal with sexual abuse of children by some priests. We need to give priority to the special pastoral care to all those effected by this abuse.
This abuse has changed many peoples attitude towards priests. There are those who say that abuse has been allowed to go unchallenged because of clericalism within the Church. I believe that clericalism has been allowed to happen when we disassociate Holy Orders from Baptism. It is when we forget the connection to the baptised. I must remember that I exist as a priest only to serve the baptised. For me my baptism is more fundamental than my ordination. Holy Orders serves the baptised and when you forget that then you have clericalism. Clericalism happens when we cling to honour, power and prestige as a priest. It happens when there is an obsession with holy orders in itself. We all must never forget that the priesthood is a ministry of service. A priest is here to help people become holy. “When we forget that, we become caved in on ourselves, as St Augustine says.” (Bishop Robert Barron)
In the gospel for this Sunday Jesus says: “Anyone who wants to become great among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be slave to all. For the Son of Man himself did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Pope Francis said, “We must never see our ministry as a source of self-gain; rather our sacred ministry has to be the means of our self-giving”. Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston wrote, “In the life of the priest and deacon, there can be no dichotomy between our cultic role and the humble service we must give as in washing the feet of our brothers and sisters. The towel should be as emblematic as the stole for our priests and deacons, where humble service must reflect the humble and loving service of the Good Shepherd.” Please continue to pray for vocations to the priesthood. We need men who are willing to embrace a life of humble service of the baptised.