Posts from Fr. Hall 

Sunday 5th December

2nd Sunday in Advent 2021

There have been a lot of complaints about mixed-messaging about socialising over the Christmas period. Both medical experts and politicians have been offering different advice, depending on who is talking. Many medics and some politicians are asking us to be cautious, other medics and many government politicians are much less cautious. In the middle of it all people – everyone from those organising Christmas dos to owners of hospitality venues, from families to groups of friends planning the next few weeks – no one quite knows whose advice to follow. The net result is confusion.

One element of confusion about the upcoming celebrations can, however, be cleared up very easily. It is done in our Readings, and especially in our Gospel today.

St Luke is quite adamant that Jesus’ ministry – heralded here by the preaching of John the Baptist – began in a very specific year: the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar. What he is going on to report really happened. It is not a hoax. It is not a fairy tale. Now there are some people who actually deny that there was ever a person called “Jesus”. Rather like those rather strange people who in our own time deny the existence of the Covid virus – dismissing it as a global government conspiracy of some kind. No, St Luke is saying, these events were for real.

St Luke, and the other writers of the books of the New Testament, go one step further, however. Not only “were” these events for real at a certain time in history, they “are” for real for us today. What happens in the events recorded in our Christian Scriptures has changed everything in life, for everyone, for all ages, because God is still present and at work in our world today. That is the claim made by Christians and which we affirm in our Creed.

There is something warm, comforting and sentimental about many aspects of the religious and semi-religious events of the coming weeks. (When they can take place) carol services, nativity plays, outdoor carol singing in shopping precincts can all bring a smile to anyone’s face in these dark days of winter. That is all well and good, but St Luke invites us to go much further.

Many people stop at the warm and sentimental glow of the Christmas story but do not see any particular relevance of those events for their lives in the rest of the year. It is as if each year at this time a fairy tale with a happy ending is rolled out along with funny, warm and cosy Christmas films. It is entertainment, no more. That is definitely NOT what St Luke, or the other writers of the Christian Scriptures, are claiming.

In fact, these events are the opposite of a fairy tale. For sure they recount heart-warming events (by and large) but they are much more than this. What happens in these events changes the whole of history. We are being called in these events to realise that God is still at work in every aspect of our life and so are called to conversion, to repentance, to a change of mind and heart. In realising this we realise the true spirit and meaning of Christmas.

Sunday 28th November

First Sunday in Advent 2021

I’m having trouble at times working out whether relatively recent events happened before the Pandemic or after it. Everyone has their own base dates for events in life. “That was before I was married.” “That was before we moved here.” “That was before our

so-and-so was born.” “That was before I retired.” I suspect that the year when the Pandemic struck (2020) will become one of those watershed dates across the globe.

The main base date for many, but not all parts of the world, is that claimed to be the year of Jesus’ birth: B.C. and A.D. For the communities for whom our various books of the Bible were written, however, another date was more significant. The year of Jesus’ Death and Resurrection was the key date in the Early Church. St Luke wrote his Gospel over fifty years after those events which are key to the whole of his writings (The Acts of the Apostles as well as his Gospel). In fact, those events are at the centre of all human history for Luke.

At this point in the Gospel Luke recounts some words of Jesus, spoken just a day or so before he was put to death. They are spoken in the precincts of the Temple. They are about the end of time: his Second Coming. Jesus begins by talking about the destruction of the very Temple in which he is standing and indeed the destruction of the whole of Jerusalem, “Not one stone will be left standing on another.” When they hear these words, the people for whom Luke is writing know that this has already taken place. Jerusalem had already been razed to the ground in AD 70, fifteen or more years before the Gospel was written. All that was left of the Temple was what we know as the “Wailing Wall” where even today Jews gather to lament the destruction of their Temple.

Jesus tells his audience that the city would fall because the inhabitants have failed to keep to God’s ways. Now, in today’s Gospel,

he goes on to warn people at a global level of the destruction to come if THEY fail to heed the call to repent, to change and to live according to God’s commandments. The whole passage is full of imperatives: “Stand erect, hold your heads high”, “Watch yourselves”, “Stay awake, praying at all times”. The aim of being prepared is to be able, “to stand with confidence before the Son of Man.”

For many, relatively calm years for most people, such warnings probably had little impact. This is no longer the case. All manner of things are happening around us: the Pandemic; extreme weather events; human beings just like ourselves are dying in frantic efforts to cross the Channel to what they imagine will be a better life for them. Upheaval is happening all around us. The invitation at the Beginning of Advent – the beginning of a new liturgical year – is always the same: making resolutions to repent, to change, to pray, to live life truly in accordance with God’s values shown us in the person of Jesus Christ. This is the direction of travel for anyone seeking true hope and contentment in life.

Sunday 21st November

Feast of Christ the King 2021

Spare a thought for poor old Pontius Pilate. There he is thinking that he is the one with power and control over events when clearly, he is not. Most of the year he lived a life of luxury at the villa of the governor on the Mediterranean Coast at Caesarea, but for the high Jewish festivals he had to live in a fortress in Jerusalem. The fortress was in the heart of a city teeming with tens of thousands of unwashed pilgrims who were encamped all around the city for the festival. Passover always attracted the biggest crowds and along with the lack of sanitation, thousands of lambs were being sacrificed day and night for the Passover Meal. You may, or may not want to try to imagine the smell!

Along with the crowds comes the potential for trouble. In the middle of this tense situation the Chief Priests bring Jesus along as a prisoner and characterise him as a potential threat to the uneasy peace. In this scene where Pilate is interrogating Jesus (or is it the other way round?) he realises that he is trapped: on the one hand he realises that Jesus has been brought along to him out of personal malice by the Jewish authorities but on the other he cannot risk a riot breaking out.

The exchange between himself and Jesus is fascinating at many levels. In answering Pilate’s first question with one of his own Jesus was being impertinent. How dare a prisoner answer back like this? Then Pilate tries to wriggle out of responsibility for what is happening saying that it is Jesus’ own people who have handed him over. The dramatic tension grows even tighter when Jesus asserts that he is, indeed, a king, though not of the kind that Pilate imagines. He has also come to “bear witness to the truth”. Pilate thinks he is being clever when he replies, with great disdain, “Truth, what is that?” He is unable to see that truth is not a ‘what’ but a ‘who’ and is standing right in front of him. Pilate will condemn Jesus to death, but the real power, the true freedom, is with Jesus in all of this. Jesus, it is, who will rise from the dead and offer real hope to all who accept him. Pilate will soon be gone, if not entirely forgotten.

The limited and transient nature of all earthly powers is at the heart of this feast. In the early decades of the last century Pope Pius XI inaugurated this feast as a counter-influence to the growth of communism in many European countries at that time. Later, although the Church did sadly come to stand alongside some of the fascist regimes of the day, it was a reminder that there was something more powerful than any Fuhrer or Duce, and that all authority ultimately derives from God and is shared for the common good of all, not just an elite.

In another age of so-called populist governments in different parts of the world, today’s feast is a reminder to us all that true authority comes from God. Kowtowing to people who promote violence, division and hatred is contrary to the values of God’s Kingdom. Christ the King, brings about a kingdom of justice and peace where all people are honoured and respected.

Sunday 7th November.

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time 2021

If ever we were looking for a current example of the Pharisees (or “lawyers” as they are called in that Gospel passage), people who are intent on promoting their own interests and those of their cronies, we have had this handed to us on a plate by some members of the political class in this country in the last few days. Called to uphold the interests of fellow citizens they have only managed to further diminish the honest, hard work of many of their colleagues, just as those Pharisees did in the Gospel.

In many ways the Pharisees should have been natural allies of Jesus. Their movement had begun with the aim of making the Jewish Religion accessible to everyone, not just a small elite who could worship regularly at the Temple in Jerusalem. The synagogues in which they reached out to people across the known world (not just in towns and villages in Judaea and Galilee but in Egypt and Greece, even in Rome) helped all and sundry who wanted to observe and to celebrate their religion to do just that on their own doorstep. There were many good, honest men among the Pharisees in Jesus’ time (some would even become followers of Christ after the Resurrection), but the movement as a whole had lost its way.

In that Gospel Jesus rails against their corruption and self-importance – the long robes, the lengthy prayers, all of which were for show as they “swallowed up the property of widows”, and in the process lined their own pockets. This could be characterised as “clericalism” or being “self-referential”, both of which terms Pope Francis has used to describe aspects of our church today.

There are a great number of good, honest people living and working at all levels in our church, but there are also those who are like the pharisees of Jesus’ time. The whole tragic crisis about abuse in the church is ultimately the result of the misuse of power, particularly over the most vulnerable in society. It all but destroys our credibility in sharing the true message of the Gospel with people outside the Church. Jesus gave authority to disciples to promote his message, not to desecrate it and turn it into self-satisfied, cosy members-only club.

Fortunately for us the full message of the Gospel always offer hope in the midst of even the most difficult of circumstances. Today that comes in the shape of a nameless widow whom Jesus points to in the second half of that Gospel passage. She could, quite possibly even be one of those widows who had been cheated by the Pharisees, but if she was, she was still able to rise above the abuse she had endured to come to worship her God, as a faithful Jew, at the Temple and to give everything she had towards its upkeep, so that she and others could continue to come to worship the God in whom she placed her trust.

It is her example of quiet sincerity, simplicity and commitment that we are offered today as our own way to true worship and evangelisation. The Gospel will be preached effectively only as long as people in the Church have at the forefront of their missionary efforts, the examples not of people like the Pharisees who had lost their way, but the positive models of faith-filled people we find across the gospels: people who promote not themselves but faith and trust in Jesus Christ.