There was once a Jewish rabbi who asked some of his colleagues, ‘Where does God dwell? Where does he live?’ They were learned men who knew their Bible, and they laughed. ‘What a thing to ask! Isn’t the whole world full of his glory?’ Then the Rabbi answered, ‘God dwells wherever man lets him in.’
This is the 3rd Sunday of Advent. We feel expectancy rising, a sense of joyful anticipation. This Sunday is called ‘Gaudete’ – the Latin for ‘Rejoice’. It’s the first word of the Entrance Antiphon: ‘Rejoice in the Lord always: again, I say rejoice.’ And that is drawn from the opening words of today’s second reading.
Today John the Baptizer comes to us: wild hair and beard, camel-skin and voice. He’s a sign Christ is coming. He is his herald, his forerunner. He prepares the way of the Lord. He was a historical figure. He was a prophet, a spokesman for God. He preached to the Jewish people of Jesus’ time, just before our Lord himself began his public ministry. He called them to repentance and offered them a baptism, a forerunner of our baptism. But he’s not just an historical figure. He was praised by Jesus. He features in all four Gospels. He figures in the Church’s liturgy, especially in Advent, this Sunday and next. Once he was a presence for 1st c. Israel, and now he’s a presence for the 21st c. Church and for us.
“To you, O God, I lift up my soul”. It’s today’s Entrance Antiphon and Psalm Response. It’s the leitmotif of Advent. “I” = all of us, the whole Church, all of us believers, in the midst of the world, lifting up our souls to God on behalf of everyone, all the people we carry in our hearts and more.
When the angel visited Mary, she heard that the Lord would give her son “the throne of his father David” and that “he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end.” She was to be the mother of a king.
Today we celebrate the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This is not the virginal conception of Jesus by Mary, but the conception of Mary herself. It’s not Jesus’ beginning we’re marking today, but Mary’s. And we mark it, not because there was anything biologically unusual about her conception, but because of who she was from that moment on, in the sight of God: a human being untouched by original sin, graced. There is an Old Testament Psalm with the line, ‘Glorious things are said of you, O city of God’. The ‘city of God’ was Jerusalem, and the prophets did have ‘glorious things’ to say about her. The same line is often applied to Mary too. Our faith says many ‘glorious things’ of Mary, and one of them is what it says today. Our faith says that, from the very beginning of her human life, from her mother’s womb, she was freed from all stain of original sin and therefore ‘graced’, ‘redeemed’, ‘adopted’, a delight to the heart of God, all that human beings are meant to be. ‘Where are you?’ the Lord God asks Adam immediately after the first sin. It was a question that should never have needed asking. But Adam, as we know, had sinned, felt shame and was hiding, like a naughty child, in the bushes. He was off-line; he had lost the connection. He was not where he was meant to be: with God in every part of his being; at home; in the presence. But Mary was. Mary, this first century Jew, a village girl, a Galilean peasant woman, was always ‘in the presence’, always. And why? Because ‘before the world was made’, she was predestined to be the mother of the Saviour, God incarnate, the One who would restore the connection all of us had lost in Adam. She was the city who was to open her gates to the king. She was, pardon the image, the landing strip on which the divine plane, the Son of God, was to land. She was Israel now ready to welcome her God. She was the one fitted to utter the ‘yes’ on behalf of us all and so allow the Incarnation to occur. And she was the one who would do for Jesus – God made man, the Holy One – everything a mother does for her son. So, from the beginning, she was prepared and equipped for her mission: properly dressed for the occasion, as it were, ‘highly favoured’, ‘full of grace’. The angel did not have to go looking for her; she was ‘there’. By the Spirit of the Son who redeems us all, she was already ‘connected’, ‘online’. She had oil in her lamp. She was awake and watching. She was the Advent that, on the human side, made Christmas possible. ‘Glorious things are spoken of you, O city of God’.
At the Scottish Parliament last night, 28th November 2018, hundreds of representatives from various Catholic Church agencies across Scotland attended an event at the Scottish Parliament. The event was organised by Elaine Smith MSP & Anthony Horan of the Scottish Catholic Parliamentary Office also supported by cross party politicians including Aileen Campbell MSP Cabinet Secretary and others. Bishop Hugh Gilbert, OSB, delivered the following speech during the event:
Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist are – forgive me! – a ‘species’ which evolved after the Second Vatican Council. The main founding document, called Immensae Caritatis, was issued by the Holy See in 1973. Its driving idea was “to make access to communion easier”. One aspect was ensuring that there are enough people, ‘ministers’, to administer Holy Communion. This held both within Mass if numbers are large or the celebrant disabled and outside Mass if distances are extensive and there are many housebound or sick. So, in addition to the ‘ordinary’ ministers, i.e. bishop, priest and deacon, the ordained, St Paul VI made room for special ministers, now called ‘extraordinary ministers’, i.e. not bishops, priests or deacons, not ordained but commissioned. He mentioned explicitly lectors, seminarians, religious, catechists and “one of the faithful – a man or a woman”. We would now add acolytes.
Brothers and Sisters, at this time of the year, the Church’s liturgy is giving us a course on the “last things”, as we call them, or “eschatology” if you want a fancy word. We’re being pointed to the future.
Sunday by Sunday, we are following Christ under the guidance of the Gospel of St Mark. Today we come to a high-point and a turning-point. The high-point is Peter’s profession of faith: You are the Messiah. The turning-point is Jesus revealing that he’s a Messiah who will have to suffer. Peter gets it right, very right. And then he gets it wrong, very wrong.