Archbishop's Advent Pastoral Letter 2006
My Dear People,
Once again the season of Advent arrives to prepare us for the great feast of Christmas. Advent focuses on the birth of Christ to help us reflect on what the birth means for our world, and for each one of us individually. However Advent 2006 has an added dimension because in 2007 the Archdiocese will concentrate on “Jesus” as the subject of our Lenten Study, completing our three year study of Jesus, Communion and Mission that began in 2005. Despite the importance of Communion and Mission we cannot understand their reality clearly unless we understand Jesus, “In whose light”, as the scripture says, “We see light.” All of us are proud to be called Christians, and yet many of us who claim the title, do so with a less than adequate understanding of the importance of our claim.
In the Gospels Jesus is given a variety of titles. Among others He is variously referred to as priest, prophet, king, true worshipper, and healer, all of which titles can be explored further. Yet the title that includes all the others is the deceptively simple title “Prophet of the Kingdom.” This title places Jesus in a long line of Jewish prophets who addressed the chosen people in the name of God, and often died because of their message. However Jesus as prophet was different from the others because he was unique. He was the prophet par excellence, the Messiah, the long awaited messenger of God who announced the arrival of the Kingdom in Himself. This conviction of Jesus must have developed during his comparatively short life of 33 years, when through prayer, study, and action he came to realise, in a mysterious process we will never be able to understand, that, rather than being merely one of the Prophets He himself was the Messiah, the anointed one of God. He must also have realized that in himself God was not merely calling the chosen people into an ever deeper relationship as God had done with the prophets and patriarchs, but that in relating to Himself people were relating to God. He must also have realised, that relationship with Himself would save the world and change it forever. No longer would sinfulness prevail as it had done earlier, but rather the love of God would reach out through Him not just to a few privileged people but to all people who would experience in Himself God’s love and forgiveness. It was a reckless, extravagant claim that ultimately cost Jesus his life, nevertheless this extraordinary claim was ultimately vindicated by resurrection. Time and time again Jesus challenged people to believe in him, to open their ears to hear the good news he proclaimed, and their eyes to see the presence of God’s Kingdom about which he preached. Moreover his words were addressed not just to the people of his own time but to people of all time. Christ’s challenge is a daunting challenge helped immensely by the reflections of the early Church, especially by those of St Paul, whose brilliant theology of the body of Christ recognized that the risen Christ lives on in ourselves, in other people, and in the Church to which we all are called. If we will only open our eyes to the grandeur of Christ’s vision then, as Bishop Thomas Wright explained, the thin veil that separates this life from eternal life disappears to reveal their incredible co-existence, as well as the grandeur and unity of all reality. Indeed heaven and earth are mixed together so closely that in certain special moments we can literally taste and feel heaven. When we see the reality of the Kingdom we will also experience moments when God’s world breaks into ours. To do this we must look at reality with new eyes. As the great German Theologian Karl Rahner said, “In the 21st century we will be mystics or nothing.” In saying this, Rahner longed for the day when through the power of the Holy Spirit all people would see a new world, the world of Jesus Christ. Without the power of the Holy Spirit we will not be able to see that this world is linked with the next, nor to realize that we are connected not merely to one another but to all those people who have gone before and all those people who will follow. However, even if we are able to open our eyes to see the Kingdom as a regular part of our lives or merely to glimpse it in special moments of insight, we must protect ourselves from the distractions of what St Paul calls “the world”, an existence lived without God that is even more seductive and attractive now than it was in Paul’s time. Those who are seduced by the “world” usually end up living only one dimension of their lives and overlooking the broader magnificence of God’s reality. To help us see the Kingdom, Christ established the Church – the community of believers, in whose company we will come to understand Christ’s challenge more clearly, and explore it more deeply for the benefit of ourselves and others. Moreover we may even be prepared to “practice the kingdom” by searching for it on a daily basis. This will happen only if we are linked to the Holy Spirit in prayer. By all means let us worship, let us pray, let us be engaged in helping others, but before all else let us understand why we are acting in this manner, namely because we are kingdom people. If we fail to be driven by Christ’s vision then, although what we do may be good in itself, it will lack the energy, drive, and excitement that comes only when we are captured by the vision of Christ and encounter the incredible love and compassion of God that reaches out to us in the love, care and compassion of people.
My dear people each day we pray in the Mass and in our private prayer the magnificent prayer - the “Our Father”. In this prayer we strain forward searching for an even deeper presence of the kingdom. We seek nothing less through our action and prayer than the transformation of the world according to the vision of Jesus Christ. In this season of Advent as we approach the feast of the birth of Christ I ask you all to pray that God will open our minds and hearts to the implications of Christ’s birth. I ask also that in 2007 you participate as fully as possible in the Archdiocesan Programs focussed on Jesus Christ and his vision. To these programs we need to add our own personal prayer, and if possible to pray with others in whose company we will find the courage and wisdom to discuss what faith means for ourselves as well as hearing from other people what the Holy Spirit communicates to us through their words and example.
As we grow older all of us feel a little sad about opportunities missed and wrong choices made. As Fr Bill McGoldrick, the spiritual director of Banyo Seminary said in the 1950’s, “The saddest thing in life is the memory of what might have been.” Let us ensure that such sadness never becomes a part of our story. Rather let us open ourselves to Christ who brings us life and life in its fullness. Let us grab that life with all the energy we possess. Let every one of us ask of Christ what Bartimaeus the blind beggar asked of Him, “Lord that I may see.” This Advent may the Holy Spirit open the minds and hearts of all of us to see the incredible mystery that surrounds us in and through the birth of Jesus Christ.
Sincerely in Christ
John Bathersby D.D.
ARCHBISHOP OF BRISBANE