Such was the case on Friday evening at the Cathedral, when The Newcastle Tudor Singers performed. The music and sounds were angelic and I was captured by the number of times angels are mentioned in the hymns that were sung. The repertoire was filled with hymns announcing the birth of Jesus and then the spreading of the Good News. The booklet was scattered with images of the nativity scene from different centuries in which angels abound. I wonder how many of you are conscious of the place of angels in our scriptures or indeed in your own lives?
The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people.”
This had me thinking about angels and their role as messengers, of mediators between heaven and earth, between God’s realm and the human domain. I also recalled a prayer which I would say each night as a child, for our guardian angels to guide and protect us:
Angel of God, my Guardian dear,
To whom God's love commits me here;
Ever this day, be at my side
To light and guard
To rule and guide. Amen.
On Saturday evening, I tuned into the live broadcast of the final Mass of the Australian Catholic Youth Festival (ACYF), at the Domain, which can be found on the Xt3 website. We had about 200 people from our diocese attend this Festival.
In his homily, Archbishop Anthony Fisher, spoke powerfully to the young people gathered. He began by looking back on the 40 years of the Star Wars phenomenon in which there is an obvious struggle between the forces of light and the forces of darkness. He spoke of our need to look for heroes still. He said, referring to the Gospel reading from Mark 1:1-8:
John the Baptist (JB) was not someone you would like to bring home….. JB announces that something really good and really new is coming. Roll out the carpet, make a straight path for your soul…. So JB is a bit of a weird dude, but he is a useful alarm clock, wake up he rings, wash up and repent for Jesus is coming. Those on the dark side….. may choose the bad news of humiliation and selfishness but those with Jesus love the light and always choose the good news of reverence and compassion, so pick your sides. John picked his…. Professing your ideals can be difficult in any age, it’s certainly not easy today.
He then went on to talk about the present social issues both historic and present, such as indigenous issues, asylum seeker concerns, the presence of human slavery, the recent passing of the euthanasia bill in Victoria, the sexual abuse scandal highlighted by the Royal Commission − all of these do terrible harm and damage to our credibility and people’s trust. He then said that:
Things are sliding in our culture, and going forward as Christians may not be as influential or even welcomed as they used to be. Christians won’t be carried by the culture anymore; they’ll have to decide for themselves. If ever we need a new John the Baptist, to call people to repent and believe, to offer some really good news amidst all the bad, and to point people to Christ, it’s right now. Never in history have you been more necessary my young friends, never have young people had more opportunities to be heroes…. To be spiritual heroes.
He then referred to Mary who said ‘yes’ with her whole being. She suffered with the death of her son, but then she encountered the risen Lord, and this encounter had to be shared, from generation to generation. He spoke of the millennials, needing to usher in a new era of ideals by saying ‘yes’ to Christ as Mary did and as JB did. These heroes pointed to Christ, and now we need new episodes to be written in the epic of Jesus Christ. He invited his listeners to open their minds and hearts to new horizons, to share joy with others, to be spiritual heroes. His words reflected the theme of the ACYF:
Open new horizons for spreading joy.
I have just come in from viewing the Christmas fireworks, from my front verandah which overlooks Lake Macquarie at Speers Point. This spectacular display of lights and sounds heralds the coming of Christmas and the renewal of horizons of great joy.
The reading from Isaiah (Is 40:1-5, 9-11) begins with the words, “Comfort, give comfort to my people”. Surely, that is what Christmas is about and this reading finishes with this beautiful image:
Like a shepherd he feeds his flock;
in his arms he gathers the lambs,
carrying them in his bosom,
and leading the ewes with care.
The second reading from Peter (2 Peter 3:8-14) invites us to be holy:
Since everything is to be dissolved in this way,
what sort of persons ought you to be,
conducting yourselves in holiness and devotion?
And then the beginning of Mark’s Gospel takes us back to the prophet Isaiah:
Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you;
he will prepare your way.
A voice of one crying out in the desert:
"Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight his paths."
It then finishes with the following verses:
John the Baptist appeared in the desert
proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins…..
“I have baptised you with water;
he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit."
Archbishop Anthony Fisher, along with Isaiah, Peter, Mark and John the Baptist, are inviting us to repent and believe the good news of salvation, and to herald this good news, like the angels did throughout history, and particularly in the hymns of this season. We are the messengers sent by God, we are God’s angels.
I finish this week’s message with the ACYF Prayer:
You call us to embrace the joy born of your Son Jesus,
May it well up in our hearts, and be lived through acts of mercy.
Help us resolve to trade in comfort, aspire to greatness,
And follow the path of the Cross as a courageous generation.
Inspire us to build upon the culture, tradition and beauty of the Church;
Nourish us as we dare to blaze trails that open new horizons.
Send us forth to be instruments of change and hope
In this great land of the Holy Spirit.
Like Mary, may we discern your call with faith and love:
Responding with great joy in our hearts.
In union with Jesus, our Saviour and friend,
We pray to be filled with your Holy Spirit
That we may be your witnesses
Through the Australian Catholic Youth Festival.
St Mary of the Cross MacKillop, Pray for us.
Our Lady of the Southern Cross, Pray for us.
During this Advent Season, I invite you to ponder the challenge given to our young people at the ACYF, to open new horizons for spreading joy.