Canon Pat Browne gave the following homily yesterday - the First Sunday in Advent. (Year C)
These are the dark days of November/December. Winter is here. And the cold makes us wrap ourselves in warm clothes and fold our arms around ourselves to keep warm. The darkness is matched by the confusion in our politics at present. By the uncertainty of Brexit. By the not knowing where we belong in the world anymore. By the apparent coldness of one person to another when we disagree. Nothing is as it was - or it seems that way.
We are surrounded by coldness, uncertainty and death.
To live in the midst of all this and not be overcome by it is to live with Hope.
To be filled with hope is to be a person who dreams....it is to know that what is now, is not what will be in the future.
To hope is to go after what is possible, to make things happen.
There is an energy here. The person of hope is alive. Open to all the possibilities that life offers. I am called beyond myself. In this great movement there is fear and there is joy.
But not to dream is settling for what is, rather than what can be be. It is staying put. This leads to putrefication. It leads to death. It is to be without energy, without ambition, without Joy.
Hope is like the flames of a fire. The flames reach up and beyond the fire itself, finding possibilities and ways of extending and spreading light.
If hope is the flame, then trust is the coals on the fire that keep it alive and glowing.
Today we begin the season of Advent. Our trust is in Jesus and in his promises. We can say already "God is with us" Emmanuel!
Hope enables us to see things that our eyes do not allow us to. This reminds me of a story told in a book by Anthony de Mello SJ, an Indian Jesuit:
A writer arrived at the monastery to write a book about the Master. "People say you are a genius. Are you?" he asked.
"You might say so," said the Master with a smile.
"And what makes one a genius?" asked the intrepid reporter.
"The ability to see," said the Master.
The writer was betwixt and between. Scratching his hair with one hand and rubbing his tummy with the other, he muttered, "To see what?"
The Master quietly replied, "The butterfly in a caterpillar, the eagle in an egg, the saint in a selfish person, life in death, unity in separation, the divine in the human and the human in the divine."
The genius of the Master is his hopeful vision, his ability to see what is currently unseen. This is what hope is; seeing what is possible, what is promised.
Hope is living out of that, rather than being ground down by what is now.
Today's first reading lights that fire of hope within us too. God promises us better times. No matter how dark the place you are in now, the light will come.
See the days are coming when I am going to fulfil the the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah.
It's the waiting in patience that's difficult. But we don't just sit and wait. We are not passive receptors of what is promised. Our hope energises us. It motivates us and we positively work for what is promised. We have a part to play so that what is promised will be realised.
Here in Holy Apostles we always sing, we never say, Alleluia. We sing it. Alleluia is the song of Hope and Joy.
St Augustine says in his Confessions says:
Let us sing alleluia here on earth…Even here, among the dangers, among the trials and temptations of this life, let alleluia be sung. Let us sing, not to delight our leisure, but to ease our toil. In the way that travellers are in the habit of singing, sing, but keep on walking. …
Go onward always - but go onward in goodness, onward in the right faith, onward in good habits and behaviour. Sing, walk onwards let Alleluia be your song.
This walking forward in hope singing as we go is the true Spirit of Advent. We look forward to end of dark days. Remember, the darkest hours of the night are those which occur just before the dawn. In just three weeks time the on 21st December the light will start pushing away the darkness as the days become longer. And a few days later the Light of the World himself will come among
We are energised by this promise and we go forward. So, keep the flame of Hope alive in our hearts and you will see one day, the promise of Christ fulfilled in our life.
Canon Pat Browne is Parish Priest at Holy Apostles, Pimlico, and Roman Catholic Chaplain to the Houses of Parliament.
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