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The Rector writes …

Advent marks the beginning of a new Christian year. Twelve months ago as we prepared to enter 2020, none of us could have imagined how difficult this past year was going to be. For Catholics to be denied the sacraments for months on end was beyond anything we would have thought possible and yet this has been our experience, and though current restrictions are about to be loosened we still have to face a curtailment on our freedom to worship as we would wish. If our celebration of Christmas is going to be muted we can only look that bit further ahead and hope and pray that Lent and Easter can be properly observed. Although it is all too easy to share the general air of despondency, this must not and should not be the way of the Christian. The Advent themes can help us put present concerns into a broader context.


Jean-Pierre de Caussade in his “Abandonment to Divine Providence” offers these thoughts: “the designs of God are the fulfilment of all our moments. They manifest themselves in a thousand different ways which thus become our successive duties and form, increase and perfect the ‘new man’ in is until we attain the full stature destined for us by the divine wisdom. This mysterious growth to maturity of Jesus Christ in our hearts is the end and fulfilment produced by the designs of God; it is the fruit of his grace and his divine goodness”. Put another way, there is no situation which God cannot turn around and use – what we might initially experience as a negative can be reversed and become a means of grace. It is worth reflecting on the lessons we have learned during the past months. Have we grown closer to God? Have we taken the call to holiness  of life more seriously? Has our concern for one another been taken more seriously? Ronald Knox once wrote about God using adversity to “make the thoughtless, whose attention was all directed to outward things, turn back upon themselves and see their own souls in the light of eternity”.


Although the Advent season is the immediate preparation for the celebration of Christ’s first coming at Christmas,  the Church’s concentration is never far from his promised second coming and the need for us to stand ready and prepared. Death, judgement, heaven and hell are the traditional subjects for preaching in these four weeks as we take Jesus at his word and look towards the (as yet unimaginable) consummation of the universe. But in  pondering what was (Christ’s incarnate life) and what will be (the final placing of everything under his rule) we need to keep a very firm handle on what is.  A Carthusian monk says this: “the first thing, then, is not be afraid, either of ourselves or of others. We must face life. It is this deep and prolonged contemplation of reality which brings us to God, for he is behind everything”.


Most of us are really quite good at living in the past, cultivating our memories, and projecting forward with our hopes, but much less adept at living each day to the full. The same de Caussade quoted above, coined the phrase “the sacrament of the present moment” and  Christians should  be living in the realisation that “now is the favourable time: this is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2). If we cannot find God in the here-and-now of  our current circumstances then it is less likely that we shall recognise his voice when he calls us to come to him face to face Judgement is not just a one-off experience but part of a continuum (ongoing assessment rather than a final exam!). Saint Ambrose could write: “for life is to be with Christ; where Christ is there is life; there is the kingdom,” while Saint Paul reminds the Colossians: “the true life you have is hidden with Christ in God”.


The Advent message is to open eyes not just to the Christ who was and will be but to him who offers himself as our daily Bread. With all that is going on around us at present, it is worth taking to heart the observation of the late (and saintly) King Baudouin of the Belgians: “in my experience, every time people make an effort to live the Gospel as Jesus teaches us, everything begins to change, all aggressiveness, all fear and sadness, gives way to peace and joy”.

Christopher Colven