A Darkness of Our Own Making

Earlier this morning, I listened to the sound of gunfire and bombing in the streets of Aleppo. The BBC World Service reporter said very little. There was no need. We already know there is a darkness at the heart of the world, but a darkness of our own making, created from our collective greed and obstinacy certainly, but also from our reluctance to get involved, our confusion, our not knowing what to do or how to do it. Apportioning blame, stridently accusing others, gets us nowhere. It does not lessen the darkness, it only adds to the sense of despair.

Advent is about hope, just as today’s feast, that of St Lucy, is about light; but how can we speak about hope and light when everything seems so black? I think the first Mass reading from Zephaniah 3 gives us a clue, especially these words:

I will remove your proud boasters
from your midst;
and you will cease to strut
on my holy mountain.
In your midst I will leave
a humble and lowly people,
and those who are left in Israel will seek refuge in the name of the Lord.
They will do no wrong,
will tell no lies;
and the perjured tongue will no longer
be found in their mouths.
But they will be able to graze and rest
with no one to disturb them.

Our mistake is to think that we can ‘do it all ourselves,’ without really changing our attitudes. Humility, truth, a recognition of our own littleness, these are not wishy-washy qualities. They are the mark of the truly great person, one whose trust is placed in the Lord and who relies on him; they are attitudes we must cultivate both individually and as nations, however much they may go against the grain. We know that the Sun of Justice will rise with healing in his wings and scatter the darkness  around and within us. May he shine upon Syria and all of us — soon.

VIGIL OF PRAYER FOR THE PEOPLE OF SYRIA
We shall hold an informal Vigil of Prayer for the people of Syria between 8.00 p.m. and 9.00 p.m. tonight. Please join us in spirit and intention.

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The Power of Regret

No one reading today’s first lesson from Isaiah (Is. 48.17–19) can fail to be moved by the note of regret. Missed opportunities, the sins of omission rather than commission, how they lie heavy about us! But Isaiah is not talking about the regret we feel, rather he is expressing God’s sorrow at the way in which we have messed up. Yes, for once this is all about God, not us. The gospel (Matt 11.16–19) takes this one step further when Jesus voices his frustration at the fickleness of our response. We want the reverse of what we have. We fail to recognize the opportunities offered us, and ultimately, it is our loss.

I think these two passages mark an important stage in our Advent journey. They are the point at which we have to stop playing around, grow up and prepare for change. The call to live with integrity becomes ever more urgent the closer we draw to the Light. Today is the feast of St Lucy, whose name comes from the same root as the word for light. Under the old Julian calendar, her feast marked the shortest day of the year, when everything was at its darkest. There is a psychological truth in that. Very often our decision to follow Christ has to be made in less than ideal conditions, in darkness rather than light, and what spurs us on can seem, at first sight, negative. Our regret at misspent opportunities may provide the initial impetus, but it will not last unless something more positive takes its place. We have to hand everything over to God and allow his love to provide what we need to sustain us.

The movement from fear to love, from self-interest to God-interest, is the work of a lifetime, but we must begin. We do not want to hear on Judgement Day the Holy One lamenting our failure to co-operate with grace. Regret, like nostalgia, is a very adult emotion. Today we can see that it is also potentially a very powerful one. May St Lucy help us with her prayers to live up to our vocation:

Let the prayer of the virgin martyr Lucy support us, Lord,
so that with each passing year we may celebrate her entry into life,
and finally see you face to face in heaven.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

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St Lucy

Advent is all about light and darkness, and this feast of St Lucy is a lovely one, coming as it does when the stars are brilliant in the frosty sky and we know that the Sun of Justice is soon to shed his rays upon us. The story of St Lucy is well-known (and Quietnun would never let me forget it, even if the liturgy did) but I am squeamish about eyes and prefer to keep the gorier bits in the decent obscurity of Latin. For those who have a special interest in the needs of the visually impaired, as we and our volunteers do through our Veilaudio service, this feast is a reminder that light and sight are easily taken for granted. Perhaps we all need to remember that we see most clearly not with our eyes but with our hearts. That is why my personal heresy about judgement day is this: we shall each look into the eyes of Christ and know ourselves for the first time, loved in spite of all our failures, forgiven in spite of all our sins. It will be a sweet pain, true purgatory. Before then, let us make friends with the saints, that they may aid us with their prayers.

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