Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Thoughts from the Chaplain: Christmas

The Bible is full of people whose names are not even recorded.  These un-named ones are our reminder that not only does God know our world, He has lived in it. He was involved with ordinary individuals.

Let us look at a two of them. In the school nativity nobody wants to play the innkeeper. They’d rather be a shepherd, or even a sheep.  After all the innkeeper was trying to make a profit out of the Roman census to make up for what the Romans had cost him.  And then came this couple, and it was hard for even him to turn them away, tired, bedraggled, and anxious as they were, a young woman, far from her home and pregnant. How could you? So you took this couple to the safest, most secure place you had… the stable where you kept the animals.  You could now sleep peacefully knowing that your pockets were full, your Inn was crowded, and you had not turned away a young family in distress. However, during the night a star appears and before you know it the stable is full of shepherds and angels and wise men.

Amazing how time and situation make some people so very important? Here is a character we will never forget; he was the one who assured us that Jesus would be born in a stable and make His first bed in a feed box.  Luckily he did this because how would anyone like to be known through history as the one who said, “There’s no room for the Messiah here!”
Another person in this wonderful story of grace is simply known as an angel.

God did not send an archangel to say that His son was to be born in Bethlehem; no it was just an ordinary angel that did the talking. Of course it doesn’t take a much for a group of shepherds to get excited. So maybe sending in an archangel might have pushed them over the edge. I think the reason God would pick an average, ordinary angel to deliver such startling news is easy to understand; so many of us are like those shepherds even on our best days, we’re not much more than average ordinary folks.

So, please, let us hear the message of these unnamed yet widely known characters whether they are an innkeeper, an angel, a shepherd or later one of the wise men. After all, this entire whole story about mangers, shepherds, and wise men is not so much about people who lived long ago and far away. No, these are stories about you and me, and a struggle to find a life that’s real, meaningful, and gives us a glimpse of the glory that’s waiting for us around the next bend in our journey to Jesus. So let us not be the one to say “sorry I have no room or time for you Jesus”, let us accept the word from an ordinary angel, and let us be like the shepherds and hurry to kneel at the manger which is the bed of Our Lord.

Fr Michael Manning, O.Carm.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Thoughts from our Chaplain - Fourth Sunday of Advent

On the Advent journey to Christmas, the Fourth Sunday belongs to Mary. This is because Christmas, which celebrates the birth of Jesus, necessarily involves the motherhood of Mary. However, the story of that birth is reserved for Midnight Mass, while today's gospel tells us how Mary prepared for that wonderful starting with the Annunciation; that alone would probably shock anyone but Mary listens to the message, questions how it could come about and then accepts the will of God’s, allowing God to determine how she would be a mother.

If through the centuries Mary has captured the imagination of the world, it is in large measure because she faced the mystery of God and said, "Let what you have said be done unto me”. Even her greatest privilege as mother of the Saviour presupposes this radical trust and generosity. It's easy to ignore the mystery of God until the very end of life; it is also easy to live in fear of that mystery.

However, human life will never be really successful until we learn to embrace God's mystery with trust and confidence. Mary shows us how to do that and what wonderful results will follow. Although we know very little about the "historical" Mary, her symbolic presence is real and powerful. In her case, symbolic truth presupposes an historical person but it reveals the universal and perennial significance of that person. It is a truth that transcends such limitations as age, race and gender as it reveals the meaning of Mary, Virgin, symbol of hope and of course Mother.  From the early middle ages Mary has been depicted in white  and blue; the blue robe signifying heavenly grace but also hope and servitude (the handmaid of the Lord) and white representing her purity and her holiness.  In her role of Mother Mary symbolises compassion, nurturing but also fruitfulness and the willingness to suffer for her child. Mary is also for us Mother, willing to listen, support and intercede for us.

These are some of the ideas we can take with us as we celebrate this last Sunday before Christmas.

Have joyous and blessed Christmas.

Fr Michael Manning, O.Carm.