O Oriens and Our Need of Light 2016

It is the shortest, darkest day of the year here in Britain but today’s O antiphon shimmers and shines. For the first time since we began the sequence, the coming of God as Saviour and Redeemer is hailed with three dfferent titles, all of them luminous: Morning Star, Splendour of Eternal Light, Sun of Justice. In a world that has embraced the thickest moral darkness we have seen for many a year, that Light is what we cling to in hope and over which we rejoice.

O Oriens, splendor lucis æternæ, et sol justitiæ: veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis.
O Morning Star, splendour of eternal light and sun of justice, come and illumine those seated in darkness and the shadow of death.

It is a short, ostensibly simple prayer but what a reversal of our usual thoughts and feelings it contains! Many sensitive and kind people are saying things like ‘I cannot have a happy Christmas while people are suffering in Syria’ or ‘how can we possibly rejoice when fear and terror are all around?’ I think that is to misunderstand what this antiphon explicitly teaches, that God will deal with the darkness, in his own way and his own time. What we have to do is to co-operate — and that is harder than it looks, because, of course, we want to be the doers, we want to be the ones who decide. We can and should rejoice at Christmas because the Son of God has chosen to be our Morning Star, our Light in the darkness, our source of justice and healing. It takes a special kind of courage to turn everything over to God, but that is precisely what we are asked to do.

There is another kind of darkness I should mention, the interior darkness of distress and mental confusion that many also experience at this time of year. It is a prison, a shadow, an all-enveloping gloom that causes much pain and suffering, made all the worse because often it cannot be shared with anyone. Loneliness adds to the sense of misery, and frequently there is a sense of failure, too, because, of course, no one actually wants to be ‘down’ or out of step with the season. It is easy to say that from this too Christ comes to redeeem us, but although that is true, it is not a truth universally experienced.

Sometimes in the early morning, when I go into the oratory to pray, everything is dark, as only a house in the countryside can be dark. Gradually, there is a little glimmer of greyness that marks the beginning of dawn. Then slowly, beautifully, light begins to flood the room until everything is transformed. Even the dust sparkles. Our lives are like that. For some, in this life, there is only darkness and the light will come later; for others, probably the majority, the light begins to shine even now, but uncertainly, by fits and gleams; and for a few, a very few, life is irradiated with sunshine from the very first. What we have to hold to is this: the light will come. ‘His coming is as certain as the dawn.’ Indeed, yes: come, Lord Jesus.

ADVENT O ANTIPHONS AND CHRISTMAS NEWSLETTER
If you would like to read more about Advent and listen to the ‘O’ antiphons sung in Latin according to a traditional plainsong melody, with a brief explanation of the texts and references, see our main site, here. Flash needed to play the music files as I have not yet replaced the player with HTML5.

Our Christmas Newsletter is available online here: http://eepurl.com/cukCsr. It has a stunning photo of the sun shining on the earth taken from space.

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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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Light in Darkness: O Oriens

Today’s O antiphon is

O Oriens, splendor lucis æternæ, et sol justitiæ: veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis.
O Morning Star, splendour of eternal light and sun of justice, come and illumine those seated in darkness and the shadow of death.

For those of us in the northern hemisphere, singing that antiphon on the day of the winter solstice seems especially appropriate. The darkness lasts so long, and this year, for those of us who live in Britain, there is the recollection of Lockerbie twenty-five years ago and the moral darkness we associate with violence and murder. Sometimes, when we look inside ourselves, we see darkness there also. Not, I trust, the darkness of violence, but perhaps the darkness of loneliness, failure (as we understand it), fear or despair. That is the darkness that keeps us imprisoned in the shadow of death, the darkness that the Morning Star comes to scatter with his wonderful light.

One of the small joys I experienced as a nun of Stanbrook was watching the dawn light steal over the sanctuary at Vigils. In the winter months we began and ended in inky blackness, but gradually, as the weeks wore on, the light began to pierce the gloom until finally, in summer, the great East window glittered and shone long before we went into choir. A similar rhythm can mark our sense of interior darkness. There are times when we think it will never end. We must hold firm and trust that it will lift. The Sun of Justice will rise with healing in his wings, as the prophet says, and they will be spread over us, too.

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Contemplative Pause

Every now and then I stop what I am doing and pause, just listening, looking, absorbing what is going on around me. It is probably an overstatement to call these moments ‘contemplative pauses’ but that is, essentially, what they are: moments when I withdraw from the hurly-burly of all that has to be done, the many people and things clamouring for attention, and simply register God’s existence and my own. I hesitate to call this resting in God prayer, but it is definitely a turning towards him in the course of the day. Does it achieve anything? Probably not, because it is not about doing; but I think it helps to focus mind and heart at the times appointed for individual or communal prayer. It helps to keep one within the orbit of prayer, so to say.

On this midsummer day, may I commend to you the idea of not doing, of pausing, just being, and allowing the Sun of Justice to scatter whatever darkness lingers  in your hearts and minds?

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