Fr Louis' Reflection - 3rd Sunday of Advent, Year B. Gaudete Sunday

The Lord has anointed me. He has sent me to bring good news to the poor, to bind up hearts that are broken.

.... The relevance of that statement by Isaiah we should hold firmly in our hearts, because we are anointed, we are ambassadors of the truth, we have been commissioned to heal, gifted to us by our baptism into the body of Christ. We have the power to heal one another, to forgive those who have offended us, and we pray that we may be forgiven by those we have offended. The good news Isaiah proclaimed was freedom from the spiritual imprisonment self-imposed by our disobedience to the soul-saving laws gifted to us by God. John the Baptist bore witness to that same freedom, the freedom Jesus brought us through his birth, suffering and death; the freedom that Jesus awarded us because we are precious and sacred in his eyes.

Jesus’ ministry faced opposition from the beginning. The people of Nazareth wouldn’t accept his teaching as it meant that they would have to change, change their attitudes to the way they lived. They had their set ideas and traditions about God, and although Jesus’ teaching about salvation made sense, they would rather it was taken up by future generations and not theirs! They had God safely tucked away in a bottom drawer, and they would open it when they considered it was necessary. John the Baptist was ‘cross examined’ by the priests and Levites from Jerusalem who challenged him on his credentials because in their eyes, he was calling into question the authority of the religious leaders.

Certain sections of the Churchs’ hierarchy are making similar challenges to Pope Francis concerning his leadership of the Church today. What are the bare bones of his leadership? ........ To bring the good news to the poor, to set prisoners free, to welcome the disenfranchised into the body of Christ, which is the very essence of salvation history.

In the introduction to his latest Encyclical ‘Fratelli Tutti’ [to every brother and sister] Pope Francis once more sets out his stall in the hope that more of the peoples of the church and the world will stop and rummage through the gems of faith and wisdom which are displayed on his stall. Practically everything we see displayed originated deep in the heart of St Francis, Pope Francis’ name sake. The goods on display encapsulate St Francis’ approach to life, and Paragraph 4 of Pope Francis’ encyclical spells out that approach. It reads:

“[St] Francis did not wage a war of words aimed at imposing doctrines; he simply spread the love of God. He understood that “God is love and those who abide in love abide in God” (1 Jn 4:16). In this way, he became a father to all and inspired the vision of a fraternal society. Indeed, “only the man who approaches others, not to draw them into his own life, but to help them become ever more fully themselves, can truly be called a father”. [Pope Francis reminds us that at that time, the Crusades were wreaking havoc in the world, and it was then, during the Crusades and brutal Family wars which resulted in more horrors, St Francis paid a visit to Sultan Malik-el-Kamil in Egypt and witnessed the poverty which these wars caused.] Yet there Francis was able to welcome true peace into his heart and free himself of the desire to wield power over others. He became one of the poor and sought to live in harmony with all. [Pope Francis adds that St Francis was the inspiration behind the encyclical].

Holy Mother Church continues to develop, to become more inclusive in the way it better understands the habits of humanity. It is becoming more open and honest declaring its errors and demonstrating remorse for its sins against the people of God, and yet there remains still a small core of both clerics and laity who are glued to a personal approach, to a tradition tailor-made to suit their take on the ‘rules’ of the Church. One simple example is those who deny the validity of the Second Vatican Council. Are they to become self-appointed arbiters for all previous Church Councils? Which other Church Councils do they consider invalid? Are they the new protesters or Protestants?

The Church is in a constant state of renewal. Every time we attend mass we are renewing out commitment to the Lord, and as we continue our faith journey we grow in understanding of faith and humanity. That instinct to recognise what is good about the world will be further illuminated by reading Pope Francis’ latest letter, because it is – to quote the writing on the back cover – ‘a brisk walking tour of Pope Francis’ social teaching’. Don’t pay too much attention to his critics, simply read what he has written, and take note of St Francis’ approach to life and seek ‘to live in harmony with all.’

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