Chaplain’s Advent & Christmas Letter 2020
As we began the season of Advent, we reminded ourselves of the kingdom coming for which we watch and wait. We remembered not just Christ’s coming among us in history, but we looked to the end of time when he will come again. It’s a season in which we remember that we are called onwards to be changed and renewed.
Advent is too brief a time for all our preparations to be completed but it acts as a prompt. Our whole life is our Advent, during which we prepare ourselves for the moment when we enter fully into the life of God. Our present world is never enough to satisfy us.
This Advent and Christmas may you re-discover that sense of the Sacred. May you be drawn a little further along the way and may you have courage to let God make you holy.
On a practical note, I would like to suggest you encourage everyone to have a crib at the heart of your Christmas decorations. Also, I suggest each of us tries to do something this Christmas to alleviate suffering and hardship in society. 2020 has felt rather dark. Many of us have had moments of anxiety and uncertainty about the future. For some there has been fear and sorrow, loneliness and isolation. Others have experienced illness and loss. All of us have endured unprecedented restrictions, limiting our physical contact with those we love and forcing us to keep our distance from each other.
So let us all make the Mass our main event of Christmas, even if it is inconvenient. Finally, I ask you to pray for unborn children. They are children of God, present in the world, just as Jesus was present in the womb of Mary for those nine months prior to his birth.
With every blessing to you and the ones you love during the Advent and Christmas Seasons.
Chaplain’s Easter Letter 2018
You may have noticed the contrasting claims for priority in our lives on two important days this year with Ash Wednesday falling on the 14th February (St Valentine’s Day) and Easter Day on the 1st April (All Fools Day). My secular diary gives All Fools Day priority over Easter Day telling us how far Christianity has been side-lined in modern secular Britain. If you are wondering how the date for Easter Day is fixed, it is the Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring Equinox. If you are like me, it does not seem five minutes since Christmas. For those of us walking the Way of the Cross, these forty days of Lent (which exclude Sundays) are a long journey and a time for reflection.
But we are surely right to affirm and hold dear to the notion that God loves us unconditionally but that is not an excuse to do what we want because ‘God will forgive me’. That idea was rightly challenged back in 1937 by a German theologian and pastor called Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He challenged the Nazi’s during the war and was eventually put to death for that opposition. Himmler ordered Bonhoeffer to be hanged in April 1945. In 1937 he wrote a book called ‘The Cost of Discipleship’ in which he came up with the phrase ‘cheap grace’ and defined it as:
‘The preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, and grace without Jesus Christ’.
It is no accident that Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s statue stands with the other martyrs chosen to remind us about the cost of discipleship behind the Nave Altar in the Cathedral and Abbey Church of St Alban.
The journey through Lent is a journey that follows Christ all the way to a hill called Calvary. A journey that shows that God’s forgiveness came at an amazing cost; hence the term ‘cheap grace’ when we don’t want a cost. Yes, it can be a hard journey. It is a journey that calls for an honest look at ourselves. Lent is a time for repentance and amendment of life. Lent is a time to recommit ourselves to be Disciples of Christ.
Let me quote another great Christian man from history. This one is Spanish and lived many centuries before Bonhoeffer. I refer to St. Ignatius of Loyola (born 1491) who wrote a very famous prayer that sums up what it means to be a Disciple of Christ.
Teach me to serve you as you deserve;
to give and not to count the cost,
to fight and not to heed the wounds,
to toil and not to seek for rest,
to labour and not to ask for any reward,
save that of knowing that I do your will.
I hope your journeys through Lent this year have stirred your imagination and deepened your faith as you dared to get closer to our Lord’s Passion.
Wishing you and your congregations every blessing for a joyous Easter.