On Sunday 8 December, the following words, by Fr Anthony Jukes OFM, spoke to me and so I share them with you. He began by remembering the birth of his younger sister Gemma and the household preparation for her arrival. He goes onto say:
During the season of Advent, this is how we are called to “prepare the way of the Lord” (Mt 3:3). We are called to prepare our homes – the home of our heart – by removing some of the clutter and trip hazards within the heart; the baggage we might carry; grudges or resentments we might be clinging on to, so that our hearts are a clean safe place, ready to receive the child Jesus.
In doing so, we imitate our Blessed Lady. For Mary was so open to receiving God that, quite literally, she conceived God inside her womb. But in a spiritual sense, we are called to be so open to receiving God that we conceive God in the womb of our hearts, so to speak. And, just as Mary gave birth to God in Bethlehem, so also, we are called to birth God into our world through all our kind words and acts of charity. It might sound incredible, but like Mary, we also become mothers of God. As Jesus said, “Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, and sister, and mother” (Mt 12:50)
These words seemed to be reflected even more deeply in an email I received this week from the Centre for Action and Contemplation, the place that sends out the daily meditations of Fr Richard Rohr. This is what was written:
When we speak of Advent or preparing for Christmas, we’re not talking about waiting for a little baby to be born. We’re in fact welcoming the universal, cosmic Christ — the Christ that is forever being born in the human soul and history.
In Franciscan spirituality:
Creation is the first and probably final Bible,
Incarnation is already Redemption,
Christmas is already Easter, and
Jesus is already Christ.
The loving message of the Divine Incarnation is bigger than just one man. It is the ultimate character of all reality, including each one of us in community as the ongoing Body of Christ. From Richard’s recent book, The Universal Christ: “Incarnation is the oldest Christian story. Through Christ, God is pouring God's self into all creation. To be Christian, then, is to see Christ in everything.”
Surely, this serves as the Christ-centredness that we are exploring as part of the Plenary Council and our own Diocesan Synod.
The weekday and Sunday readings for Advent, many of them coming from the prophet Isaiah, inspire us to seek out the things of God and to reject the things not of God. Here is one of those readings (Isaiah 11:1-10)
On that day, a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse,
and from his roots a bud shall blossom.
The spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him:
a spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
a spirit of counsel and of strength,
a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the LORD,
and his delight shall be the fear of the LORD.
Not by appearance shall he judge,
nor by hearsay shall he decide,
but he shall judge the poor with justice,
and decide aright for the land's afflicted.
He shall strike the ruthless with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked.
Justice shall be the band around his waist,
and faithfulness a belt upon his hips.
Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the kid;
the calf and the young lion shall browse together,
with a little child to guide them.
The cow and the bear shall be neighbours,
together their young shall rest;
the lion shall eat hay like the ox.
The baby shall play by the cobra's den,
and the child lay his hand on the adder's lair.
There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the LORD,
as water covers the sea.
On that day, the root of Jesse,
set up as a signal for the nations,
the Gentiles shall seek out,
for his dwelling shall be glorious.
We will know we are a Christ-centred church when the words of the prophet are fulfilled and the following occurs, as reflected in this Sunday’s Gospel from Matthew 11:2-11:
Go back and tell John what you hear and see; the blind see again, and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised to life and the Good News is proclaimed to the poor; and happy is the person who does not lose faith in me.
We are indeed waiting for a child to be born into our world and many of us are ‘groaning’ in the act of giving birth. Our frustration is that we do not know how long this transitional phase will last, or as I have previously called it the ‘liminal space’. Our dilemma is that we want to know when we will emerge out of the desert and ‘all will be well’. It is not our time, we are the travellers who see the glimpse of what the Kingdom of God looks and feels like and yet we are unable to make it real. We need to be patient and not despair, our yearning must continue.
It reminds me of being pregnant with one of our children. The end of the pregnancy was uncomfortable and each day seem to linger, much more so because the due date had passed. I was physically and psychologically ready to give birth but the baby and my body were not quite ready. No matter how much I desired to give birth, the time was not right. I must admit that I was not well pleased!
This is the last Diocesan Update for the year and this publication will take a break over January, returning on 4 February. I am grateful to my husband Allen for proof-reading and formatting my messages each week, to the Communications Team for the work they do in preparing and publishing Dio Update, for the extra contributors I had during the year, and to you, the readers, and those who provide me with feedback. It is hard to imagine that this simple message is read across the globe, and people are interested in what is happening in the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.
I think we have had a full year, and I hope to journey with you next year in exploring what the Spirit is asking of us at this time, particularly around being a Christ-centred Church.
Thank you for journeying in the ‘desert’ with me. It is good to have companions on the way and to share the stories of hope and bewilderment, joy and frustration, imagination and despair, faith and doubt. Our scriptures serve to remind us that this has been the pilgrimage of humans since the ‘beginning of time’. We are still being called to make real God’s Kingdom of justice, peace, love, hope, joy, good-will, compassion…..
And to finish with the following hope-filled reading from Isaiah (9:6-7)
For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time onward and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
We wait in anticipation for God’s continued revelation during 2020.