How can we be hopeful in this season of hope?

Jeremy Cain, Community Particiation Coordinator for Hallam diocese, is shivering in Middlesbrough today.

Snow in Middlesbrough

Even Middlesbrough looks nice in the snow! The view from our Volunteer Centre window.

It’s cold out today. You may have noticed. I’m in Middlesbrough and, whilst the view is pretty good, my toes have yet to thaw out from the journey in. Maybe I’m getting old but it’s definitely not T-shirt and shorts weather.

It does feel Christmassy though and anyone who’s dreaming of a white one this morning must be feeling pretty optimistic. But it’s still two weeks to Christmas and, given the glorious unpredictability of our weather, it’ll probably be a balmy fifteen degrees by then. At least my toes hope so.

Desert island

Christmas 2017. What are the odds?

Even so, I’m trying not to think about this too much; it’s still Advent and I’m making the effort to take one day at a time, live in the moment and enjoy what the season has to offer. And I’m trying to feel hopeful because it is, after all, the season of hope.

But it’s not so easy. My life is pretty good right now and I’ve no reason to think that this won’t continue, but when I look a bit further, and particularly towards the parts of the world where CAFOD works, things are a lot less rosy. People are struggling in situations where hope seems to be misplaced optimism. Yet listen to this:

“The journey was very difficult, but when I arrived here it felt like I had been reborn.”

Mohammed

Mohammed, fleeing from the war in Afghanistan.

This from a man who had to flee his home in Iran, with his wife and their baby, leaving his whole life behind. Yet now he has been offered shelter in a Greek refugee hostel he can begin to see a future for himself once more. If that’s not a statement of hope, I don’t know what is.

You can find his story, and many others like it, on our online Advent calendar. It’s a great way to remind ourselves what our faith teaches us about hope. As Tomas Merton says, “The fact that the world is other than it might be does not alter the truth that Christ is present in it and that His plan has been neither frustrated nor changed: indeed, all will be done according to His will. Our Advent is a celebration of this hope.”

 

Welcome to Advent

Jeremy Cain, Community Participation Coordinator for Hallam diocese, reflects on a season of challenge and beauty.

No ChristmasThere were lots of people who thought our last Parish Priest was a bit of a misery- parishioners would shake their heads in sorrow whilst primary school teachers would tear their hair out in despair. The problem? He wouldn’t do Christmas during Advent. No Christmas dinners, no Christmas parties, not even Carols by Candlelight, a long-cherished parish tradition.

Increasingly, I find myself agreeing with him. The pub at the top of our road booked up for Christmas dinner sometime in September, whilst a few doors down there’s a house that’s been displaying an electronic countdown to Christmas from mid-October. If it wasn’t for my fear of CCTV and the criminal justice system, I would have stolen it by now.

Advent candles

A light in the darkness

Aside from everything else, the problem is that we’re missing out. When we jump over Advent and get straight into Christmas, we lose the opportunity to experience a season of beauty and meaning. We are culturally conditioned to be impatient, but waiting can bring us to a deeper sense of joy and reveal things that otherwise would be missed.

Our current parish priest is a bit different. He loves his parties and books Santa in for the kids every year, but he’s takes Advent seriously too. In his homily yesterday, he urged us to enter into it as a season of prayer, to renew our lines of communication with the Lord and dream of a world that should be a better place. Isn’t that the meaning of the Incarnation? Shouldn’t “God is with us” be a good thing?

CAFOD ‘s answer is an emphatic yes- making the world a better place is exactly what we are about. So Advent is a welcome opportunity to pause and reflect on the parts of the world where the answer appears to be no.

Razir

“I have nothing now,” says Razir, a refugee from Syria

The Advent Calendar on our website offers a helpful way to do this.Today’s reflection focuses on Razir, a Syrian woman who fled to Lebanon because of the war, and her experience in the light of the Old Testament promise that nation will not lift sword against nation, there will be no more training for war (Isaiah 2: 1-5). It makes for uncomfortable reading, yet our faith always offers us hope and, by putting our faith into action, we can also offer hope to Razir.

Advent looks to the coming of the light even whilst we still live in darkness. Yet, if we take the time to look, we can see God present in the darkest of places right now, calling us quietly to bring about his kingdom

Have a happy Advent!

A strange gospel for the poor?

Jeremy Cain, Community Participation Coordinator for Hallam diocese, looks forward to the World Day of the Poor.

English breakfast
“The first will be last…”

 

Staying in a retreat centre over the weekend, my friend and I found ourselves first in the queue for breakfast. “The first will be last,” my friend said, quoting Matthew 20:16, though, of course, it didn’t stop us tucking in!

 

For CAFOD supporters these are comforting words, with the assurance that God will one day fix the unjust world that we live in. However, five chapters later, Jesus seems to contradict himself, at least on the face of it. Once again it’s a parable about money (Jesus had quite a few of those), but this time he’s not talking about small denarii, but great big bags of gold! Yes, it’s the Parable of the Talents which, finishes with the rather worrying words, “for to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.”

Bag of gold

“For all those who have, more will be given…”

It might seem an unfortunate gospel to fall on the upcoming World Day of the Poor, inaugurated by Pope Francis this year on Sunday 19th November. But, of course, Jesus isn’t talking about money and if I’d have been there listening to the parable, the question I hope I would have asked is: “All those who have what, teacher?”

We live in a world where we measure success by our wealth and, as I read about the Paradise Papers in the news, it certainly seems that more is being given to those who really have quite a lot already. Yet we all know that money isn’t everything; given the choice between a healthy bank account or loving relationships, I think most people would go for the latter. So the answer I suspect Jesus would have given would have been love, or maybe faith, or maybe joy; but definitely not money.

Prayers-in-Kenya-CAFOD

Kenyans at prayer

At CAFOD we work with the poor on a daily basis and know from experience that they often possess love, faith and joy in abundance. This doesn’t make their poverty OK- far from it-  but it does suggest that our world of material wealth can somehow insulate us from what really matters: “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” So how can we break through this insulating barrier? How can we fill our lives with love, faith and joy? Or, as the astonished disciples put it, “then who can be saved?” The answer Jesus gives is simple, yet deeply challenging to our postmodern self-sufficiency: “for God, all things are possible.”

With nowhere else to go, let us pray for the Lord’s mercy.