It's December; we are in Advent, the season that reminds us that we are approaching Christmas. Some of our attention is turning towards children - the Christ-child of the well-loved Nativity and Infancy stories from Luke's Gospel and the children for whom Christmas is a special time, although not always for wholesome or sacred reasons. Advent evolved in the Catholic Christian imagination, not as another Lent but responding to a sense that reflective preparation is necessary, in a way similar to how Lent functions in our spiritual journey. We might hear a few statements, or even sermons, telling us to recapture the "true meaning of Christmas"; it might be a repetitive theme, even a cliché, but maybe it's necessary, maybe we need that preparation and that true meaning even more than ever.
It is a common topic of conversation to bemoan how much earlier each year the Christmas merchandise appears in the shop windows. It has become a marketing event; and while trading is an essential part of human existence and prosperity, excessive consumerism has turned Christmas into a pagan festival. It has become the "festive season" or, worse still, "the holidays". If our celebration of the Incarnation of God as a helpless child built is upon a prior pagan midwinter festival, it is ironic that it has become more and more a hedonistic festival and that the mystery of Christmas is at best marginal.
Every child has a holy innocence; while every young person, and every grown-up too, has a hallowed dignity. Part of the narrative of the Infancy story in the gospels includes the slaughter of innocent children by a jealous ruler. Move forward two millennia and we still slaughter children: by bombing them in Aleppo, by ruining their lives through horrid abuse, by condemning them to disadvantaged childhood because of fiscal policies that let the rich grow richer at the expense of the poor. All of these are assaults on innocence, on human dignity.
There are so many evils in our world that wreck a child's right to be safe, valued and loved. The Universal Intention this month draws our attention to one of these evils. The UN's 1989 Convention requires that "every child has the right to protection from armed conflicts". Yet today, at least 300,000 boys and girls under 18 are recruited and trained to kill, guns placed in their hands. Violence is normalised in their young minds. This breach of their rights is evil. In his Universal Prayer Intention this December, Pope Francis appeals for an end to the "scandal of child soldiers". We pray with the Pope this Advent and Christmas, reminded of how the Holy Family became refugees because innocent children were being slaughtered. There are so many instances of scandalous behaviour towards children which our consumerist Christmas celebration might tempt us to forget, or ignore. We pray for the innocence of all children. In that innocence, in that helplessness, we find the place where our God wants to be found.
Prayer Moment: Ask the Spirt of God to lead you to an inner place of quiet and calm and to give you some respite from the pre-Christmas pandemonium. Ask the Spirit to remind you that God is gazing on you now and allow God to look at you for a quiet moment. Ask, as Saint Ignatius suggested, that the Spirt might help you to ponder what the Trinity sees as they gaze upon the earth and upon everything that is happening. What do they see? Some being born, some dying; some doing good, some doing evil; more human beings than ever before treated as if they had no dignity at all, such as the greatest-ever number of forcibly-displaced people in history. Each has a name a face and a story, as Pope Francis has reminded us. Among those are thousands of children forced to bear arms at a tragically young age; lives brutalised, violence normalised, innocence lost. There is a sudden movement of compassion at the heart of the Trinity, a movement borne of sadness but also of overwhelming love; the conclusive act of redemption, which saves us from our worst selves, becomes irrevocable. What is that movement of love? How does that move in your own heart? Ask to be shown these things and notice your own response.
Scriptural Moment: The Gospel of St Luke, the Infancy Narratives, especially the Nativity (Lk.2:1-14); the Visitation (Lk.1:39-45) and the Massacre of the Innocents (Mt.2:13-18).
A Daily Offering Prayer: (taken from the Living Prayer booklet of the Pope's Prayer Network 2016):
Lord, Jesus Christ,You came among us through Mary's "yes" to God.Help me this day to say "yes" to the father's call to me,So that in my words and actions, in times of work and leisure,You can be present in me through the power of the EucharistTo heal, to comforts and to sustain.
In our Living Prayer booklet for 2017 you will find:- An explanation of the spirituality of the Apostleship of Prayer, the Global Prayer Network- Suggested forms of the daily Offering Prayer- The Monthly Intention of the Pope for the needs of the Church and the world- A brief thought-provoking reflection, written by a specialist, on that month's Intention- A calendar with the principal feast-days and the Gospel of each day's Mass.
Each month's page is perforated so may be easily detached and placed in your diary, missal or prayer-book for easy use.
Copies available from Fr Stewart at the National Office at a special price of £1.70 while stocks last. We've also our annual wall calendar available at £2.20 and, for a very limited time, bumper-packs of a calendar, a booklet and two prayer-cards for only £3.00! Limited stocks; please email your order to Fr David Stewart email: firstname.lastname@example.org