From 10.00am every Tuesday throughout the year.
Thur 19th Dec 9.30am Feria .
Sun 22nd Dec 9.30am 4th Sunday of Advent Mass.
Christmas Eve Midnight Mass will be at St Peters starting at 11.30pm
Christmas Morning Mass will be at St Andrews Starting at 10.00am
Next Parochial Church Council Tues 14th Jan.
None planned at the moments - keep checking web-site or facebook for details.
FROM THE PULPIT
As we begin this time of Advent the Scriptures portray a mood of expectation and hope. At the darkest time of the year Advent shines a light in the gloom and brings a quiet assurance that the brokenness of humanity can be healed by the coming of a Saviour. There will be struggles to face, but through our faith we need not lose hope. The light of Christ dispels all darkness.
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FROM THE PULPIT
When was the last time you lost something that matters to you? Only the other day I thought I had lost a wallet and was stomping around in a very grumpy state of mind. Susan reminded me to look again in the first place I had thought it might be and you know what? There it was. The grumpiness took a few moments moments to subside, but then afterwards I was filled with relief.
If that is how it feels when we find an object, then how much more are we relieved and filled with joy when it is a person who is found. In the news and on social media I see images of young people and sometimes older people who are missing and the pleas that go out to the public to look out for them. A few years ago I spoke with a man whose son had gone missing a couple of years earlier in his early teens. He had last been seen on a CCTV image, boarding a train to London. I can only begin to imagine the distress and desperation that this must bring. Even today he has still not given up hope of someday finding his son. I pray that if and when he does, he will be found alive. I’m quite sure that if he is, his father’s response will not be anger and recrimination but relief and joy.
In the gospel Jesus tells two short parables. One is about a woman who found a lost coin. We might find that her happiness was a bit excessive in throwing a house party, but we can understand the delight in finding what she thought had been lost or stolen. Then he tells of a shepherd who defies all logic by leaving behind 99 sheep in order to look for one that was lost. This would probably have been an exceptional shepherd, but a very devoted one nonetheless.
The context of those two parables was the judgemental attitudes which Jesus encountered among the Pharisees and scribes when he was spending time among the sinners who were seeking him out. Jesus did not reject these people or give them a stern lecture, but he radiated the loving presence of the Father who welcomes the lost son or daughter. Unlike many of the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus did not wait to see perfection in other people before he reached out to them and welcomed them back home.
Jesus then moves on to tell a longer story, whose message has entered into our cultural memory as that of the Prodigal Son. The one who left behind his father and his home and who blew his inheritance on earthly pleasures now returns home. He is met first of all by his father, not with condemnation but with unconditional love. His brother reserves a frostier kind of welcome. In fact he doesn’t welcome his brother home at all but launches into a tirade against his father, ridiculing him for his lavish generosity.
To those who heard the story, the message was very clear. The father in the parable is an image of God. The lost son is a symbol of all those human beings who have wandered away from God and who have experienced a sense of emptiness and confusion. The older brother, in contrast, represents those who believe themselves to be beyond reproach and who reserve for themselves the right to judge others, but whose hearts have grown hard and who have lost light of the living God. Both these sons are lost, but just in different ways.
I don’t think that Jesus is saying that there are two different categories of people. Probably at different times of life most people can experience being lost in both those ways. If we look hard enough we can perhaps identify, even if it is only in a diluted way, with both sons. Human beings can be wilful and selfish, but they can also be self-righteous and judgemental.
What this parable tells us is that God never gives up waiting for our return and is ready to welcome us back home. St Paul speaks of his own overwhelming experience of conversion and of the mercy of God in his first letter to Timothy. His message is that if he, a persecutor of the followers of Christ, could be forgiven, then this would be a powerful testimony to generations to come. No one is outside the scope of God’s mercy. We need to experience for ourselves the way in which God has been merciful in our own lives. Then, as Christians, we are called to show that same attitude of mercy and compassion to the people who cross our path.
One hymn which seems to sum up the message we are called to share is: “There’s a wideness in God’s mercy.”
There is no place where earth’s sorrows
Are more felt than up in Heaven;
There is no place where earth’s failings
Have such kindly judgment given.
This is a much better message for the world than the cold and judgemental attitude of the scribes and Pharisees. It was Jean Vanier who said:
“The person in misery does not need a look that judges and criticises, but a comforting presence that brings peace, hope and life”
How often have we heard of some misfortune or passed someone on the street and thought: “Well, they’ve obviously brought it on themselves”?
It is so much easier to judge than to display unconditional love. That great spiritual writer Dietrich Bonhoeffer said: “Judging others makes us blind, whereas love is illuminating. By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are.”
Let us pray for that same grace, that we may seek out the lost, and if we feel lost ourselves to remember that we believe in a God who actively seeks us out. The Lord is reaching out to us now… Let us also pray for grace not to judge but rather, that we might find it in ourselves to love as God loves us. Amen.
A message from Father Richard
I remember that at Prince Harry’s wedding to Meghan, now Duchess of Sussex, over a thousand ordinary members of the public were invited to be present for the occasion. My own invitation must have been lost in the post. To be fair though, some of the people invited had done some praiseworthy things. One was a former soldier who lost a leg in an accident out in Afghanistan and another was a schoolgirl survivor of the Manchester concert bombing, who had raised money for other survivors. We hear a lot about the privileged people who normally get the spotlight and we know too that there are plenty of unsung heroes in our world. So it is good when such people are not overlooked and overshadowed by the more obvious celebrities.
This brings us to today’s gospel, where Jesus is proposing something that goes much further and much deeper than the worldly example I have just given. It would seem that he has been invited along so that the Pharisees, who were unsettled by his teachings, could appraise him away from the crowds. They watch him closely, but Jesus is unperturbed and he watches them in return. He notices that when people were coming in they were making for the most prestigious positions, nearest to the host, and so he tells them a parable.
It can be embarrassing enough if we go to an event and we inadvertently sit in a place reserved for someone else. How much more embarrassing would it be if we deliberately chose to take a front seat and were then asked in front of other people to move further back to make way for someone more important than ourselves? The parable Jesus tells sheds a light on the insecurity and anxiety that status-seeking can produce in people. People with sharp elbows are striving for recognition and for the highest place. There are times when that tendency can lead to humiliation. Far better, then, to take the humble approach, as Jesus suggests. “Come up higher, friend” sounds much better than: “I’m sorry, but you are sitting in someone else’s place.
Of course, this teaching was not meant to be some kind of lesson in dinner party etiquette, but a teaching about life. There is nothing wrong with trying to be the best we can or with being competitive. What Jesus has to say really speaks to a tendency towards entitlement and self-importance. In order to make sure we always have the exalted place, we have to be prepared to step on other people and to push them down the pecking order. This happens in all walks of life and it can even happen in the life of the Church. Jesus points out the futility of jostling for position in God’s kingdom. There we may find that it is the poor and the marginalised who are the first and that the egotists are left behind.
Humility probably wasn’t a popular concept in the lifetime of Jesus and I’m not sure that it is now. The people who are most admired and emulated are often the rich and the ambitious types. Humility is seen as weakness. This is not how Jesus presents it though. There is a quiet strength in recognising that our self-worth and our true potential is not achieved by comparison with other people. Putting others down does not make us greater. It certainly doesn’t bring us peace and lasting happiness, but instead keeps us insecure and always threatened by the position of our neighbours. Jesus wants us to recognise that we find the peace we long for through our closeness to God and our concern for others.
As we are told in the passage from Ecclesiasticus: “The greater you are, the more you should behave humbly.” Being thankful for what we have and being concerned for the well-being of others can bring us joy and peace. There are so many people who are overlooked by society but who are precious in God’s sight. Giving up something of what we have to serve their needs makes us aware of the ways in which we are blessed and of the gifts that God has placed into our hands. This is not weakness. Through this we identify with Jesus, who was not concerned with status, but who willingly gave of what he had, even his own life, and opened up for us the way to everlasting treasure.
Today we have been invited to share in the Eucharistic meal. In the words form the letter to the Hebrews:
“But what you have come to is Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem where the millions of angels have gathered for the festival, with the whole Church in which everyone is a “first-born son” and a citizen of heaven.”
So to God we are made first-born sons and daughters in Christ. No need to worry about our status, because it is secure with God. All we have to do is discover for ourselves the joy of knowing God and serving one another.
I am a rather old Saint.