Dear Friends in Christ,
5th Sunday of the Year 2020
‘Oh, they are salt of the earth,’ we often say when we are referring to a person who is straightforward, honest and without guile. Another common saying in the same vein is ‘what you see is what you get’. In today’s reading, Jesus’ description of his disciples as ‘the salt of the earth’ would have struck a chord and meant something very specific to his listeners.
In Jesus’ day salt was a valuable commodity. In order to preserve food from decay in the heat salt was applied as a preservative. It also served to enhance flavour of the food. The ancient tradition of salting the sacrificial offerings denoted a purifying function. It was perhaps for this reason that new-born babies were rubbed with salt to denote purification of the addition to God’s people and as a reminder of the covenant.
Those who heard Jesus speak would have understood the meaning and tradition behind the idea of being ‘salt of the earth’. In the same way as salt prevents decay and corruption, so the witness of Spirit-led Christians protects society from decay and corruption. It also adds much needed flavour to society. And, drawing on the idea that too much salt in our food can make us thirsty. St. Augustine once wrote: ‘O Heavenly Father, you have put salt into our mouths that we may thirst for you.’ The work of the Holy Spirit id to create within us a thirst for the things of God: for union with God, communion with him and for grace to live a life which is holy and pleasing to him. When Jesus said ‘I thirst’ from the cross, his thirst wasn’t just physical, it was spiritual – God thirsts that we come into his presence as we long to come into him.
Jesus also calls us to be ‘the light of the world’. In this way we are to be like our Mater, for in John 8:12 Jesus describes himself as ‘the light of the world’. We are to be countercultural, signs of contradiction, heralds of the gospel of life in the world which, in so many respects, has lost its way.
Dear Friends in Christ,
EPIPHANY OF THE LORD 2020
The great feast of the Epiphany marks the manifestation of Jesus as Messiah of Israel and Saviour of the world. The Magi, the three kings or wise men whom tradition has named Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar, come to worship and adore, thus representing the acceptance of the ‘Good News’ by the pagan nations.
Their coming to Bethlehem in order to pay homage to the King of the Jews is significant because it shows that they seek in Israel, in the messianic light of the Star of David, the one who will be the King of the nations. The Jewish nation remains God’s special and chosen people. The pagan nations can discover Jesus only by turning towards the Jewish people and receiving from them the Messianic promise latent in the Hebrew Scriptures but revealed fully in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.
Mission is at the very heart of the feast of the Epiphany because it reveals how those who do not know Christ can be moved compelled and convinced by the gospel (as the Magi were) to bow down and worship. In fact, every effort we make at mission – sharing our faith and giving witness by deeds – is nothing less than an epiphany. Why? Because when we so this God’s world is manifested and fulfilled in the world.
On this most holy feast-day we can re-cover and re-discover a sense of our own mission to make Christ known, not only to the nations but to those we live and work among. If we ask him, the Holy Spirit will imbue us with a new confidence to witness to Christ. Whatever is good, whatever is pure, whatever is beautiful and whatever is true in other cultures and natures is of Christ and in Christ. The message of Christ won over the Magi and it will win over pagan nations and those who resist the gospel – not by force or power but by the grace of the Holy Spirit, who reveals and convinces that there is only one King for all the nations, and that is Christ Jesus our Lord.
Dear Friends in Christ,
CHRISTMAS MESSAGE 2019
As we rapidly approach the Birth of the Christ-child once again, I would like to take this opportunity of sending you all my annual Christmas Greetings. As Jesus was born in obscurity in the town of Bethlehem over two thousand years ago, God had already planned His Saving action through His Son. That Holy Night brought forth the Saviour of the World in the innocence of a child. Every birth is a miracle of God, and Jesus would show us a way of life that would change everything. We are uniquely privileged to share in the life of Christ as Christians; God’s love knew no bounds and that Love took on our human nature in Jesus. Let us look forward with great Joy for that birth once again into our lives this Christmas!
During the past twelve months, as a parish, we have continued with our Diocesan process of restructuring with our Stewards of the Gospel Programme. Coupled with our parochial programme of Forming Intentional Disciples, the whole process of Evangelisation continues in earnest. To proclaim the Gospel message is fundamentally at the heart of Christianity. We have held several events both social and spiritual, encouraging the whole community to be involved in the life of the parish. The parish partnership of Loughton, Epping & Waltham Abbey organised two wonderful Youth masses where our young people and their families participated in beautiful liturgy and song. It is the Eucharist that unites us in all our faith endeavours. I encourage the whole parish community to continue to support us in the practice of our faith.
The ongoing Forming Intentional Disciples Programme meets on a monthly basis, praying together, reviewing past events and planning future events. We have a core team of regulars, but everyone is always welcome. We are constantly exploring new initiatives and events for our parish community. If you would like to join us, the next meeting takes place in the New Year on Monday 13th January 2020. All Welcome!
I would like to thank the whole parish community for everything you have done for our parish over the past twelve months! Your ongoing support and involvement mean so much. It is truly an honour and privilege to serve the whole community as your Parish Priest. If ever you need help or assistance in anyway, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
I would take this opportunity of wishing you and all your loved ones, both near and far, a Very Happy, Holy & Blessed Christmas; and a healthy & prosperous New Year of 2020.
Dear Friends in Christ,
3rd Sunday of Advent 20019
Faith isn’t always a bright glowing light but rather a faint flicker to which we cling. We walk by faith and by sight and perceive God as in a mirror, dimly and only in part. The truth is that, for many, faith is lived in a fog of darkness and is often put to the test. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church so eloquently expresses it: ‘The world we live is often seems very far from the one promised us by faith. Our experiences of evil and suffering, injustice and death, seems to contradict the Good News; they can shake our faith and become a temptation against it’.
This was the experience of John the Baptist as he languished in Herod’s prison. As he awaited his fate, this great forerunner of the Lord, the last Old Testament prophet, probably shackled and no doubt hungry and tired, succumbed to doubt and uncertainty. Needing reassurance, he sent his disciples to ask the Lord, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else? Jesus pointed to his miracles and the power of God as signs that he is the Messiah, the Lord’s anointed.
Even John the Baptist, this outstanding herald of faith, wavered as his faith was tested. Nevertheless, Jesus held him up as the greatest man ever born while in the very next breath asserting that even the very least in Jesus’ kingdom is greater than this giant of faith. Clinging to Jesus through the ups and downs of life, the times of challenge and testing, the periods of darkness and near despair, is what makes even the least in the kingdom great. Faith we learn, it what most pleases God: faith in his Son Jesus.
During this holy season of Advent, we turn to the great witnesses of faith: to St. John the Baptist, to Abraham, our father in faith, who believed against hope, to Mary our Mother who often walked her pilgrimage in the night of faith, and many others.
‘Come Lord Jesus, Come!’
Dear Friends in Christ,
2nd Sunday of Advent 2019
Perhaps people of every age have struggled with the stern and somewhat harsh message of John the Baptist. Living and preaching in the wilderness, dressed in rough clothing woven from camel hair, and eating locusts and wild honey was pretty strange and outlandish even then! Most people would run a mile from John the Baptist and his message of repentance – or so you would think! Yet Matthew tells us that, on the contrary, people flocked to him to confess their sins and undergo a ritual cleansing in the Jordan.
What made the people behave in this way? Was the message of repentance, confession and reconciliation more attractive then than now? What was it about the Baptist that created this reaction? These questions encourage us to reflect on this most important aspect of the Christian life. Nowadays we seem to have moved away from sin, repentance, confession and conversion, perhaps judging this kind of emphasis to be no ‘on message’ any more. But, in doing so, we are making a great mistake because examination of our lives, confession and repentance are crucial to living the Christian life.
The season of Advent is a wonderful, God given opportunity to discover the gift of repentance and the grace of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. When was your last confession? Some people go more regularly than others. The Church invites us to make a sacramental confession at least once a year, but many have not known the grace of this sacrament for a considerable number of years. To anyone in this situation God’s hand of mercy and compassion is extended. Because our confession of sin is mediated through the priest in the confessional it does require special grace and some courage to open up our lives in this way. It is important to understand, however, that we are not confessing to the priest: we are laying down our burden before God. If a priest has received faculties to hear confessions (and this is not automatically granted by the bishop) we hope and pray that ne has the necessary pastoral wisdom and maturity to facilitate this sacrament so that the penitent comes to know in a deeply personal way the mercy, forgiveness and compassion of God.
Dear Friends in Christ,
1st Sunday of Advent 2019
Advent is a Season of Light. It is a time in which the light of Christ shines forth into our lives and onto our world, and we receive a great gift; ‘to us a child is born, to us a Son is given’. In John’s Gospel, Christ says of himself: ‘I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkens’.
The Advent season has its roots in the pagan festival of the winter solstice. The word ‘solstice’ is derived from the Latin word sol (sun) and sister (to stand still). The pagan world hungered for light and worshipped the sun god Sol Invictus, who was invoked each day at sunrise. As bright and as powerful as the sun is, we know it cannot cast its light on the greatest mysteries of our existence or penetrate the darkness of sin and death. The prophet Isaiah declared hundreds of years before the birth of Christ: ‘The people who walked in the darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness. On them has light shined’. Advent then is an opportunity for us to come into this light, see with the light of Christ and walk our pilgrim way such that we let our light shine.
Advent literally means ‘coming’ and the church has always sought to remind us during this holy season of the three comings of Christ: his first at his birth, his second at his return to earth in glory, and his third when he comes into each of our lives. The work of the Spirit in our lives is twofold: he compels us to confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of the Father, and also moves us to pray with heartfelt longing, ‘Come, Lord Jesus, come.’
Jesus is the meaning of Christmas. He is the meaning of human existence. The baby born in the stable, in poverty and helplessness as God made man, is our light and hope. We lift up our hearts in praise and thanksgiving for Jesus who is the Light of the World, the light which darkness could not extinguish or overcome.
MARANATHA, COME LORD JESUS!
Dear Friends in Christ,
29th Sunday of the Year 2019
Why should we pray? Today’s Gospel recounts Jesus’ parable about the impatient judge, who was constantly being bothered by a widow pestering him for justice. If that judge will answer the woman’s need just to get rid of her and get some peace, Jesus tells us, will not our heavenly Father answer the prayers we make to him?
Even since the age of Enlightenment in the eighteenth century, people of a philosophical bent have questioned the value of prayer, and especially intercessory prayer. It is said, for example, that the German poet Goethe never prayed because he argued that the world was set on its course anyway. Of course, god knows what we are going to ask him in advance of our asking. But the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that God ‘is the Lord of the universe, whose order he established, and which remains wholly subject to him and at this disposal. He is mater of history, governing hearts and events in keeping with his will….’ (para 269). God did not create the world and then leave it to its own devices! He has assured us through the Scriptures that he will change events as a result of our prayers. The world is not just a machine ticking over like a watch. It is more a unity, directed by an infinite mind which we call God. So, we must keep praying, as Paul says, ‘at all times’, that is when things are good and when things are bad.
Of course, prayer can be frustrating. Sometimes our prayers never seem to be answered. But God may be leading us to the virtue of perseverance, in Greek bupomoné, which we might translate as ‘stickability’. Christian faith teaches us the virtue of fidelity even in difficult times. We also have help from others in our prayer. Out reading from Exodus tells us the beautiful story of Moses being helped to pray by Aaron and Hur holding up his arms. The Church has a role in encouraging our prayers, by giving us the right prayer to say, and by giving us pastors and Christian friends who can help us and guide us as we grow in stickability. Don’t give up!
PRAY AS YOU CAN, NOT AS YOU CAN’T