By Fr Gerard Conroy
The French Poet, Paul Claudel, said we all long for the Day of Judgment. We long for someone who can show us the truth of ourselves, someone who can show us what it means to be human and can provide us with a trustworthy measure against which we can be judged. Advent was once considered a penitential season, not as strict as Lent, but still a season to strip ourselves of inessentials and clear the way for a proper celebration of what was to come. Every celebration needs appropriate preparation for the festival, and Advent is getting ready for the coming
of the one who is Truth and shows us what it means to be human. It is the coming of the Judge we long for, and perhaps especially in this modern age when it seems so hard to find Truth. We are assailed on all sides by claims of truth, but all have shortcomings,
or we are told that truth is merely a phantasm of our own imagining, but still our souls cry out for it. How do you prepare for the coming of Truth? Do you cower in fear at what you might find is the real you, the one you never wished to face or do stand erect in expectation of your liberation?
Christmas has a sense of wonder and awe all
of its own. There is a kind of magic about it that reaches out even to everyone. It’s annoying how quickly the liturgy moves on from Christmas; it doesn’t linger over that sense of wonder and awe but moves immediately to the martyrdom of St Stephen, then celebrates St John and the Holy Innocents and before you know it the Gospels are speaking of the calling of his disciples. You hardly get time to celebrate before it’s time to move on. That sense of wonder and awe that fills your heart with peace and joy whenever you welcome a new baby into the family, that inexpressible feeling of overwhelming love the first time you look on your child and bring them home for the first time is something to be treasured forever, something to remain with you. But it is only the beginning, the real work of love quickly moves you on when you have to get up at 2.00am in the morning or when you are arguing over whose turn it is to change the next nappy. Faith too is full of challenges, but we must never forget the wonder and awe of the incarnation that we celebrate at Christmas. That must always be with us in our faith.
After the Second Vatican Council, as part of the Liturgical reforms, the Church wanted to offer people the opportunity to hear as much of the Bible during the Liturgy as they could. They devised a system whereby nearly the whole the Bible would be read in a series of Cycles. On Sundays there were to be three cycles and on weekdays two. In the Sunday Cycle, the guiding reading is the Gospel with the first reading directly related to the Gospel. The second readings follow their own order independent of the Gospel. Each year concentrates on one particular Gospel, so in Year A the Readings are principally from the Gospel of Matthew, Year B from Mark and Year C From Luke. John’s Gospel is largely read during the Easter season, but makes appearances during Christmastide and in Year B for its teaching on the Eucharist. This year for Sundays we are in Year C. The weekday readings also work through the Gospels and other books in the Bible. The readings apportioned to Year 1 are read on odd numbered years, while those of Year 2 are read on even numbered years.
Each Gospel presents the story of Christ from a different point of view and Luke’s Gospel, which provides the guide for the readings this year, emphasises that Christ is sent as saviour of the whole world, but Luke’s vision of Christ shows his message as particularly directed to offering hope to the poor and marginalised of society. We are very used to biographies and autobiographies that give an insight into the interior soul of a person, but that kind of writing was really unknown in the ancient world. Most people think that the first autobiography was St Augustine’s Confessions (5th Century) and many suggest the second was Rousseau’s Confessions about 1300 years later. The Gospels are a type of literature that have a message to convey and that is their fundamental aim rather than principally wishing to give us an insight into the person of Christ.
Luke emphasises the moral implications of following Christ in everyday life. Mark’s Gospel presents more starkly the choice of discipleship in terms of the Cross and persecution; Matthew is particularly sensitive to preserving the community, but Luke, in keeping with his more universalist approach, presents the universal moral relevance of Christ’s teaching. In reading Luke’s Gospel you cannot avoid feeling that his message is addressed to anyone who is searching for God and asking how to best to live their life.
Ash Wednesday puts before us the importance
of prayer, fasting and almsgiving during Lent as a way to prepare for the celebration of Easter. More generally it’s about casting off our sins and getting back on track in our spiritual journey. The Gospel of the first Sunday of Lent is always the temptation of Christ, which puts before us the choices that Christ had to make about his ministry and how to fulfil the will of God. The dilemma he struggled with is a dilemma for everyone in the face of the world. The devil put before Christ ways he might go about fulfilling his ministry, but Christ took a completely different approach than the world normally takes, and his approach had implications for everything else. Being faithful to that decision in this world eventually led to the cross, folly to this world, folly to us, but the way to the resurrection. Prayer, fasting and almsgiving are ways to detach us from the mentality of a world that gives preference to power and fame; they are ways to challenge ourselves lest we become too comfortable in the ways of this world and turn away from the way that Christ chose because as his disciples we are called to follow his way, even if it stands in stark contrast to the way of the world.
Christians have been differently described: they have been called by those who belong, ‘An Easter people’, and by those who don’t want to belong,
a guilt-ridden people. The two are diametrically opposed, and if one
is an ideal, the other is a caricature, yet there is truth in the caricature, even if it has more to do with a faulty spirituality than anything else. No doubt on Holy Saturday the Apostles were left with feelings of guilt that they had abandoned Christ on Good Friday, but all that was forgotten with the joy of Easter Sunday.
Sin imprisons us in the darkness; we may not even recognise our sin, as was the case with many of those who participated in the death of Christ. It is
the saints, like St Peter, who weep for their sins, but it is the mercy of Christ that raises us up into the light again and leads us to rejoice as he covers all our sins. One saint commented that when Satan fails to make us sin, he tries to make us despair. Easter is a celebration of the mercy of God and we live to rejoice in that mercy. We begin by confessing our sins, but we end by rejoicing
in the mercy of God. We are an Easter people.