Pastoral Letter For Advent 2015
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I want to begin this Advent Pastoral Letter by thanking you for your support and prayers while I was in Rome at the Synod of Bishops on Marriage and the Family. It was an exhilarating and exhausting experience, and a great privilege to be there. I shall write about the Synod in a Pastoral Letter for the Solemnity of the Holy Family on the Sunday after Christmas.
Now I want to write to you about the Season of Advent and the Jubilee of Mercy, the Holy Year beginning on 8 December.
Towards the end of these four short weeks of Advent we shall look back to the birth of Jesus Christ. Today we look forward to Christ’s second coming. The language in our scripture readings can be unsettling, but that is the point, to wake us up and prepare a way for the Lord.
In the Gospel of this Mass, Jesus calls us to be alert and to hold our heads high. Jesus wants us to be fully alive, with our faith and hope in God giving all we say and do a deeper meaning. That is quite a challenge as we come up to Christmas with our eyes drawn to the shops and supermarkets in search of “the perfect Christmas.” Jesus’ warning about the danger of our hearts being coarsened with too much food and drink and the worries of unreal expectation hits the target. His words are another “wake up” call for me.
To keep heaven in my sights at what can be a frantic time, I need some space, a moment however short, to look beyond and to recognise the presence of God with us now. Whether you are home alone like me or with family or friends, why not join me in lighting a candle every day of Advent and pausing in silent prayer to allow Christ’s light to shine in your heart and home.
To encourage us in our life with God, Pope Francis is inaugurating a Jubilee of God’s Mercy. This Holy Year begins, as I mentioned, on 8 December and ends on the Solemnity of Christ the King next year. It is an opportunity to deepen our understanding and experience of God’s mercy so that people will know they can find mercy and forgiveness in our communities.
I shall be celebrating Mass in the Cathedral in Northampton at 7 pm on the Diocesan Patronal Feast of the Immaculate Conception. At that Mass I shall open a “Holy Door” through which we enter symbolically into the Mercy of God. I shall open another “Holy Door” in the south of the Diocese at St. Joseph’s, Gerrards Cross during the 11 am Mass on 13 December. During the Holy Year it would be good to arrange for groups from the parishes to go on pilgrimage to one or other of the “Holy Doors”. I also look forward to celebrating Jubilee Year of Mercy Penitential Services in the Pastoral Areas during Lent.
It would be good, too, to accompany people who are seeking God’s Mercy. We do need each other’s help and support when we feel far from God, “the God who is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ex 34:6).
Just as Jesus is the face of the merciful Father, so in this year we are invited to be merciful like the Father. We can rediscover what are called the corporal works of mercy: to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, heal the sick, visit the imprisoned, and bury the dead. And there are the spiritual works of mercy: to counsel the doubtful, instruct the ignorant, admonish sinners, comfort the afflicted, forgive offences, bear patiently those who do us ill, and pray for the living and the dead.
That is a big agenda, but perhaps your ears pricked up at one of those ways of being merciful, and that could be your agenda.
May I also invite you to join me in this season of Advent and at the beginning of the Holy Year of Mercy in celebrating the Sacrament of Penance.
So, as St. Paul wrote in his first letter to the Thessalonians, “May the Lord be generous in increasing your love …… May he so confirm your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless in the sight of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus Christ comes with all his saints …… Finally, we urge you and appeal to you in the Lord Jesus to make more and more progress in the kind of life you are meant to live, the life that God wants” (1 Thess 3:12-13, 4:1).
With prayers and every blessing for Advent and Christmas,
Bishop of Northampton