The Bishop of Lancaster Prepares the Way for the Lord
My attention was drawn this morning to a Pastoral Letter for the First Sunday of Advent, written by the (relatively) new bishop of Lancaster, the Right Reverend Paul Swarbrick. It's not horrendously long, you can read a pdf of the whole letter here, but it does remind us of some simple, yet eternally powerful and fundamental Christian teaching. Teaching that seems to be seldom (if ever) heard these days. Teaching which is being constantly undermined by church-men who seek to modify the Gospel. To temper the life-changing power of the Cross with what they tend to term "radical inclusion" but which in actuality amounts to nothing more than confusion and an abandonment of the Gospel message.
Bishop Swarbrick's letter begins with this:
Beginning our journey towards the crib at Bethlehem, the Church reminds us of God’s call for each one here to safeguard a sense of the sacred. Each one is called to know the Holy One. Each one is called to be holy. But this is not something we are comfortable with. Why is that so?It seems, for many regular Catholics, to have become the worst possible sin to love right, to pursue holiness, to seek objective truth. Such people are typically characterised as being against progress, lacking compassion, maintaining a "rigid" and somewhat nostalgic adherence to "old fashioned" rules. Yet in reality, this focus is fundamental to the Gospel, because the truth of our reality is that we are drawn inexorably towards the good the true and the beautiful; it is the aspiration to be with God that is fundamental to Christian life. This is not a failure to recognise the struggles and difficulties of real-life situations, but it is a refusal to be enslaved by them. This is why the Gospel is so powerful. Sin chains us and Christ frees us from those chains. God gives us Mary to show us that perfection in our humanity is possible. The Church gives us the saints to inspire us to be the best we can be no matter where we live or how difficult our situation.
Anyone who preaches acceptance without μετάνοια (metanoia - the change, or repentance which is the first call of Christ in His public ministry, c.f. Matthew 3:2; 4:17) essentially robs the saving Cross of its power. The whole Good News relates to our admission of guilt and subsequent acknowledgement that we need Christ's help, which we receive through the Grace we gain from worthy reception of the Sacraments of the Church, to change our lives and conform to Him.
This is in no way in opposition to a mission to "the margins": the whole message of Advent is one of radical immanence. God does not remain in His transcendent perfection, but rather He reaches out to us in our brokenness and calls us to Him; to holiness and to happiness untainted by the stain of our concupiscence. As Bishop Swarbrick puts it in his Pastoral Letter:
That message [of Advent] tells us first of God’s love for us and our need for that saving love. It begins to tell us that we can begin to know the Lord. It tells us that He has heard our cry, our distress and come to us.The scandal of the Incarnation reveals God to us in a radical way.
We can begin to know the mind and heart and even the face of God. No longer do we have to guess. Once we have that confidence we become guardians of that humble knowledge, that truth, that certainty.I was particularly struck by the conclusion to the letter, wherein the bishop offers some practical ways he wishes his flock to enter into the spirit of Advent and prepare for the coming of Christ: