Welcome to St Austin's Catholic Parish, Stafford
If you would like to speak to someone about safeguarding and the Church’s work, please call
0121 230 6240. If you would like to speak to someone independent of the Church you can contact the NSPCC on 0808 800 5000.
Please pray with us for all victims of abuse, and for all those involved in the work of this important Inquiry.
The recent Pastoral Letter on this matter can be found on the Archdiocese website
Listen to this Sunday's Gospel reading by visiting the website www.sundaygospel.co.uk.
2nd Sunday of Advent
When Invisibility Becomes Culpability
Catholics in the UK in the 16th and 17th centuries suffered persecution and, many, a cruel martyrdom. They were shunned in society. For example, Queen Victoria ordered a line of trees be planted to hide a Roman Catholic monastery which she would otherwise see from her railway carriage when journeying to and from Scotland. In 1829 the Catholic Emancipation Act was passed by Parliament. It still left unresolved a number of exclusions by which Catholics were prohibited from holding public offices.
Old prejudices die hard. As relatively recently as 1953, when Pius Xll was Pope, a gift was sent from the Holy See to mark the coronation of our present Queen. The Holy See’s Apostolic Delegation in London, equivalent to an embassy, was advised by officials at Buckingham Palace to deliver the gift to the servants’ entrance at the rear of the Palace. Such behaviour would be unthinkable today.
Reference is made to these earlier times, not to open old wounds, but to remind contemporary Catholics that, in the UK, our predecessors learnt to blend-in with society. They did this to avoid contention hoping that, slowly, they would become tolerated by being semi-invisible. When we read of John the Baptist in Luke’s Gospel extract (3:1-6) for this 2nd Sunday of Advent, the contrast with our Middle Ages’ forebears is striking. Matthew chapter 3 gives a fuller picture of the Advent of John the Baptist.
It might be asked, have English Catholics become invisible, too blended-in, too indistinguishable within a society that has grown decidedly more secular and humanist? Perhaps Advent is a timely moment to question ourselves. If Jesus’ Second Coming were to happen now, would I be identifiable as his disciple? If I were identified, would it be a surprise to both friends and colleagues? Is this how I am called to live my Baptismal promise?
It was clearly the stand-apartness of John’s proclamation, more than his wardrobe and diet, that brought him to the attention of his fellow Jews. Whereas his fellow Jews were blaming the Romans for the harshness of Jewish life with its grinding poverty and hunger, John, as Luke tells us: “ … went throughout the whole region of the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins … ”
John the Baptist identified to his own people their sins, not those of the Romans. John made it clear, it was his own people’s non-repentance for their sins that had driven God away from them.
It was the consistent strength of John’s conviction and uncompromising adherence to the truth that shook his fellow Jews from the clutches of misconception and delusion. Matthew 3 tells us that many Pharisees and Sadducees had ventured out from the safety of their ‘lairs’ in the Temple estate to see and hear John’s proclamation for themselves. How shocked must they have been to hear themselves addressed by John:
“But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he (John) said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The axe is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Matt. 3:7-10)
John charged them, as he charged all Jews and their descendants, which includes us by virtue of our adoption by God to be the brothers and sisters of His Only-Begotten Son: “….to produce fruit in keeping with repentance”. So, when the Church calls our attention to John the Baptist in Advent, she is calling the Baptised to produce the fruit of repentance.
Undeniably, the worldwide Catholic Church is, currently, being called upon to confess many serious offences against vulnerable people with offenders being identified throughout the entire gamut of its membership. John the Baptist, in his day, was aware of the sinfulness of his own people. It was for this reason that he called all his fellow Jews, at the time, to repentance.
Today, too, Catholics are being called to corporate acts of repentance for the victims, that they may find healing, and for the abusers that they may cease abusing. For all Catholics today bear some blame, not for the actions or omissions of the few, but for our failure to be the community he calls us to be of faithfulness in our love and service of Him through our love and service of others. Had we, individually and as a community, been more faithful to God in our love and service of others, perhaps the weak and the tempted would have been better supported and saved from injuring others and themselves and the community.
St. Paul’s 1st Letter to his Corinthian community makes our obligation plain:
“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.” (1Cor 12:12)
“If one member suffers, all suffer together …” (1Cor 12:26)
Acting upon this call to repentance is more than the saying of an act of contrition and the making of the Sign of the Cross. It is choosing to draw closer to Christ in our daily personal life, through prayer and the Sacraments, because we are surrounded by a panoply of evil disguised as everything but evil. How many of us, the Baptised, realise that in our daily lives we receive unexplainable protection, communication and guidance that surely indicates the presence of “ministering spirits sent forth (from God) to serve, for the sake of those who are to possess salvation” (Heb.1:14)
There’s the story of a wise confessor whose penitent said he had maligned a particular person on multiple occasions. The confessor gave him, as his penance, the task of taking a bag of chicken feathers to the top of a hill on a windy day and there letting them be blown away by the gusts. “Then,” said the confessor, “go and collect the feathers.” The penitent pleaded that it was an impossible task. “So now,” said the confessor, “you can see how hard you have to work to make good the damage done to that person’s reputation.” It’s a task longer than Advent’s four weeks or Lent’s six.
The commercial christmas has been trailed before us on a daily basis since September. The ploys to tempt us to spend, to take on debts, to try and satisfy the unending greed of the young played-upon by soulless advertising, is a very tough scenario in which: “….to produce fruit in keeping with repentance”.
There’s no denying that it cost John the Baptist his life here. What we will never know, here, is how many lives he saved by his commitment and fortitude. It is undeniably hard to stand apart, to be identified and maybe vilified because we choose to: “proclaim a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” – not other people’s sins but our sins, because we are one body.
We do not need to be dressed in camel skin, with a leather belt or eat wild honey (a healthy diet though it is). All we need is the ability to walk with purposeful steps against the flow of secularism and humanism with confidence and commitment. The ripples we leave on our way will touch others and, who knows, some eternal good that we never dreamt of may result.