The Advent wreath, four candles on a wreath of evergreen, is shaped in a perfect circle to symbolise the eternity of God. In some churches, four purple candles, one for each week in Advent, are used with one larger white candle in the middle as the Christ candle. Other churches prefer three purple or blue candles with one candle being rose or pink, to represent joy.
While the Advent wreath with its four candles did bring light to churches, it was not to illuminate the interior as much as to symbolise the coming of Christ. During each Sunday of the Advent season, we focus on one of the four virtues Jesus brings us: Hope, Love, Joy and Peace. The Christ candle is lit on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day reminding Christians that Jesus is the light of the world.
I note the following words of elation from our prayers and readings for the third Sunday of Advent:
Rejoice, joy, celebrate, glad rejoicing, shout for joy, exalt, renew, dance, festival, gladness, sing and happiness.
These positive words invite us to the experience of joy, even when life’s situation is the opposite. God is always with us.
The second reading from Paul to the Philippians (4:4-7) speaks of the desire for cheerfulness:
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
So this is the message to us as we bring our work year to a close. The Lord’s coming is near as we embrace hope, love, joy and peace.
I am grateful to all who minister with me in Pastoral Ministries, both staff and volunteers, because I believe no matter the tasks we are undertaking, we have an attitude of hope, love, joy and peace. Recently some people have asked me what it is that I do and what happens in pastoral ministries. I believe we respond to the needs of the community in the following areas:
- The Diocesan Council for Mission
- Pastoral Planning
- The Plenary Council and Diocesan Synod
- The Adult Faith Formation Council and Office
- The Ecumenical and Interfaith Council
- The Diocesan Council of Ministry with Young People
- The Liturgy Council and Office
- The Social Justice Council
- Aboriginal Catholic Ministry
- Council for Australian Catholic Women – contact group
- The Office of Life and Faith
- Special Religious Education
- Sacraments of Initiation
- Children’s Liturgy of the Word
- Family Ministry Co-ordinators
- Seasons for Growth
- Marriage and Relationship Education
- Natural Fertility Services
- The Tribunal
Through all of these ministries, the five foundations of church life are lived out:
- Identity and Community
- Worship and Prayer
- Formation and Education
- Mission and Outreach
- Leadership and Structure
I think these reflect the early church as it gathered; the foundational scripture passage for our Diocesan Pastoral Plan (Acts 2:42-47):
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
Thank you to each of you who minister in parishes, schools, CatholicCare, St Nicholas Early Education, Zimmerman Services, the Bishop’s Office and Shared Services. We are called to make Christ real in the here and now, and we do this across a wide variety of services to the people we serve in the community. The local parish community is the place where we are first called to respond. The prime purpose of those of us who work at the diocesan offices is to minister with those in the field.
Earlier this year those of us who minister in pastoral ministries reflected on Pope Francis’ words given during his homily in February 2015 and also spoken of in his Encyclical Evangelii Gaudium, about the mission of the church being like a field hospital that cleans and heals wounds. Pope Francis said:
This is the mission of the Church: The Church heals, it cures. Sometimes, I speak of the Church as if it were a field hospital. It's true: there are many, many wounded! So many people need their wounds healed! This is the mission of the Church: to heal the wounds of the heart, to open doors, to free people, to say that God is good, God forgives all, God is the Father, God is affectionate, God always waits for us. It’s true, we have to help and create organizations that help in this: yes, because the Lord gives us the gifts for this. But when we forget this mission, forget poverty, forget the apostolic zeal and instead, place our hope in these human means, the Church slowly slips into becoming an NGO, it becomes a beautiful organization: Powerful, but not evangelical, because it lacks that spirit, that poverty, that power to heal. He does not say to them: How great you are, now on your next mission you should be better organized ... Only: When you have done all you have to do, say to yourself: ‘We are useless servants'. This is the apostle. And what would be the most beautiful praise for an apostle? 'He was a worker of the Kingdom, a worker of the Kingdom'. This is the greatest praise, because it means he has chosen Jesus’ path of proclamation: He goes to heal, to safeguard, to proclaim this good news in this year of grace. So that people rediscover the Father, to foster peace in the hearts of the people.
What he means is, of course, that all of us belong in this field hospital, and our responsibility is to give a welcome to those who are wounded and suffer, to care for them, to give them the opportunity to make a new start in life and to go forth and to make a new beginning in their lives. And in the process of being in the field hospital together, we’re given the opportunity through the experience of word and sacrament to be healed, to be strengthened, to be given the opportunity in new ways to witness to the Lord as we live in the world today.
As we gather over Christmas I hope Pope Francis’ image of the field hospital helps you to engage with the many thousands who come in to remember and re-connect with their roots of faith, possibly seeking to be healed and renewed.
Christmas blessings be upon you and those you love.
I will be back with you at the beginning of February, God willing.