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An Advent Message from Southwark’s Shepherd.

advent_12_pastoral (1)I am particularly fond of our spiritual Shepherd who oversees the vast pastures of the diocese of Southwark: His Grace, Archbishop Peter Smith.  His Advent pastoral letter  is worth ‘chewing over’ as he highlights the ever important alertness to be taken by Christians to live as faithful followers of Christ.archbishop_peter_160(Highlighted text is my comment)
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The season of Advent is given to us as a “spiritual wake-up call” as we prepare ourselves to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, and look, in the longer term, to the final coming of Christ and the completion of the Kingdom of God at the end of time. (As Christians, we await Christ’s return to earth, our lives should be lived as such, not just as Christmas time.) In today’s Gospel, Jesus urges his disciples to “stay awake”. Advent, which begins the Church’s new liturgical year, is a time for us to be alive and awake, to become ever more watchful and faithful disciples. It is a time to witness to the life and hope which has been given to us in and through Jesus Christ, in whom we see made visible the God we cannot see. It is a time to look forward with hope and confidence to renewing our personal relationship with Christ in our hearts so that we can live out our faith in our daily lives. (We need Spiritual ‘fuel’ to keep us going on this Christian Journey:- Advent is the perfect stop to refuel and re-energize) A key question for each of us, is to ask “What is God asking of me?” This is the question which I want each of you to consider and reflect upon prayerfully, not only this Advent, but throughout the course of this Year of Faith.

Beginning with the Incarnation, and culminating in the Paschal Mystery, the coming of Christ reveals and celebrates God’s faithful and unconditional love for all people and for all time. He revealed himself as the God of unconditional love and compassion, who has a passionate care and concern for our salvation and our eternal well-being. Advent is a unique opportunity each year to allow God to deepen our faith and proclaim that love by the way we live and relate to others. It is especially a time, given to us by the Church, for us to focus on our relationship with the person of the risen Christ – an opportunity to make a new start with ourselves, with God and with others. It provides a more focused time to open our hearts to God in prayer, to allow God’s grace to change and mould us into clearer images of Jesus Christ, and to live as renewed and more faithful disciples. So we need to take to heart Christ’s challenge to all of us in today’s Gospel: “Stay awake, praying at all times for the strength to survive all that is going to happen, and to stand with confidence before the Son of Man.”

We cannot hope to be changed, to be gradually transformed into more mature disciples, unless we keep alert to the opportunities of grace which God offers us day by day. The work of transformation and redemption is God’s work. It is literally a “labour of love” which God pursues through, with and in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. This season of Advent is a special time for us to co-operate with that work, opening our hearts to the presence and power of the Holy Spirit working in our lives. It is a time for us to make use of all the means which Christ has given his Church for our renewal and transformation – especially the gift of Holy Scripture, the Sacraments of the Eucharist and Reconciliation, and the gift of personal prayer. (This paragraph to me, is the most important part of the message.There’s nothing new being said here, but it is set perfectly in the context of the whole letter) 

Pope John Paul II, (The one and only!)whose life and ministry made such a profound impact not only on the Church but on the whole world, reminded us that, “To be Christians has never been easy, and it isn’t easy today either. To follow Christ means having the courage to make radical choices that often go against the current. (The ever-present secular tidal-wave.)Do not be afraid to accept this challenge. Be holy men and women. Do not forget that the fruits of the apostolate depend on the depth of the spiritual life, on the intensity of prayer, of continual formation and sincere adhesion to the directives of the Church.” (We are always growing as Christians into the person that God intends us to become. We’ll never know all there is to know. This is the beauty of our Faith. By SINCERELY following the directives of the Church, we’ll be taking steps on the path of knowledge, understanding and Truth.)

Through the Church, God, in Christ, offers us again and again the love, nourishment and strength we need to continue on our journey of faith – a journey towards the fullness of life and love in the kingdom of our heavenly Father. (This is the reason why we, as Christians need to be an active parishioner in our churches.) As we make that journey day by day, we should do so with hope, confidence and joy. These are gifts of the Holy Spirit which we need to ask for in our prayer, and which he asks us to share with those around us. We are called to be the “light of the nations”, the “salt of the earth”. Like Christ we too live with the life of the Holy Spirit and we too are called “to bring the good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives and to the blind new sight, to set the downtrodden free, to proclaim the Lord’s year of favour.” (Lk. 4: 18-19)

We are all called to proclaim the Gospel in the first place by the way we live. And we can only do that if we open our hearts fully and allow the Spirit, who dwells in the very depths of our being, to transform us more and more into the image and likeness of Jesus Christ. Only with his help will we have the courage, the strength and the power to do as he asks of us – to proclaim the Gospel of God’s love, to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, to welcome the stranger, to clothe the naked, and to visit the sick and those in prison. I pray that each one of us may grasp the opportunity that Advent gives us, listening to God’s Word, rejoicing in his gifts and confident of his love for us and for all people.

“Father in heaven, our hearts desire the warmth of your love,
and our minds are searching for the light of your Word.
Increase our longing for Christ our Saviour
and give us the strength to grow in love,
that the dawn of his coming may find us rejoicing in his presence
and welcoming the light of his truth.”
Yours devotedly in Christ,

Archbishop of Southwark

Given at Southwark,
26th November 2012