Inhabit Advent

Raidió Teilifís Éireann, shortened to RTÉ, is the national broadcaster of Ireland.

One of the programmes of the broadcaster is called ‘The Late Late Show’ hosted by Ryan Tubridy. It is essentially a talk show with guest appearances.

A recent show had the legendary Irish singer/songwriter Christy Moore as a guest.

One of the songs Christy sings during the show is titled  “December 1942”, by the Cork songwriter Ricky Lynch, that watches a train from the Warsaw ghetto arriving at Auschwitz “to unload its human cargo/met by demons and by devils and their savage dogs”.

The song is very sombre and Christy sings it with great feeling.

In conversation with Ryan Tubridy after the song Christy made a comment that brought me to attention, “you have to inhabit the song”.

My trusty Oxford Dictionary defines “inhabit” as ‘to live in a place’.

Roget’s thesaurus helps with words like ‘reside’, ‘occupy’, ‘dwell’, ‘stay’.

Maybe we are invited to ‘inhabit Advent’, to stay, to reside, to dwell in Advent!

On most occasions we ‘journey through’ Advent on our way to Christmas.

That is understandable, we have much to occupy us; the Christmas card list, Christmas presents, whose turn is it to host Christmas lunch, will Covid restrictions allow us to celebrate with joy and humour.

Then, if you are part of a Liturgy group in your local parish attention is drawn to the hymns for use at the celebration, do we have sufficient readers, and of course the biggie, “where are the figures for the crib?”, who put them away and where?

Then there is the real biggie – can you have midnight Mass at 8pm?!!

All the while, Advent, while not forgotten, does in fact run a distant second.

Let us ‘inhabit Advent’.

inhabit advent

Christ the King Year B

The feast of Christ the King has not always been a part of our Christian calendar; the feast was established in 1925 by Pope Pius XI.

When I close my eyes and ruminate on the word “king” many words and images come immediately to mind; a jewel-encrusted crown, a big palace with many rooms and servants, privilege, wealth, power, and authority over, a bell is rung and others come running to be of service.

None of this sits easily with me in relation to Jesus.

Then when I consider the word “kingdom” images of wars and dominance, getting bigger by beating other people into submission and taking over their land and their indigenous way of life and supplanting that way with a supposedly “superior” way.

Again, there is within me a disquiet.

Then along comes, Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde, an Irish poet and playwright, known to most as simply Oscar Wilde (1854 – 1900).

Wilde wrote a short story titled “The Happy Prince”, a story I read and heard read on the radio throughout my childhood.

Now I know that a prince is not a king, however, they are a sort of ‘baby’ king!

In Wilde’s story, I found an entry into today’s feast.

A short synopsis of the story, and as you read have in mind the Jesus of the Gospels: During his life on earth, the prince had lived a very sheltered life.

When he died the people erected a statue of him in the main square of the capital city.

The statue was gilded all over with leaves of gold. It had two sapphires for eyes and a large red ruby on the handle of the sword. One cold evening, a little swallow, on its way south, landed at the base of the statue.

As he was resting there a few drops fell on him.

He looked up and saw that the Happy Prince was crying.

“Why are you crying?” the swallow asked.

“When I was alive, I saw no suffering,” said the Prince.

“But from my perch up here I see that there is a lot of unhappiness in the world. I’d like to help but I can’t because my feet are fastened to the pedestal. I need a messenger. Would you be my messenger?”

“But I have to go to Egypt,” the swallow answered.

“Please stay this night with me.”

“Very well, then. What can I do for you?”

In a room, there is a mother tending a sick child. She has no money to pay for a doctor. “Take the ruby from my sword and give it to her.”

The swallow removed the ruby with his beak and bore it away to the woman and she rejoiced.

The doctor came and her child recovered.

The swallow came back and slept soundly. The next day the prince asked him to stay another night.

Then he asked him to take out one of the sapphires, and to give it to a little match girl down the square.

She had sold no matches that day and was afraid she would be beaten when she got home.

Once again the swallow did as he was asked.

As he was running these errands of mercy, the swallow’s own eyes were opened. He saw how much poverty and suffering there was in the city.

Then he was glad to stay with the prince and be his messenger.

One by one, at the Prince’s urging, he stripped off the leaves of gold and gave them away to the poor and needy.

Finally, he arrived back one evening.

The night was very cold.

The next morning the little swallow was found dead at the base of the statue.

By now the statue was bare, having been stripped of all its ornaments.

The prince had given away all his riches, but he could not have done so without his faithful messenger, the little swallow.

Christ, our King, gave himself away totally while he lived on earth.

Even as he died, he was still giving to those who were receptive. And from his lofty perch in heaven, he surveys the plight of God’s children on earth. But his feet are fastened, his hands tied, and his tongue silent.

He needs messengers.

He needs us.

He has no hands but ours, no feet but ours, no tongue but ours.

And it is his riches, not our own, that we are called on to dispense – his love, his forgiveness, his mercy, his good news….

What is involved is helping in simple things, things that are available to everyone – giving a hungry person something to eat, or a thirsty person something to drink, welcoming a stranger, or visiting someone who is sick or in prison….

To do things such as these one doesn’t have to be either wealthy or talented.

All one needs is a warm and willing heart.

Everyone can do something – yes, even a little “swallow”.

A Note of caution: if like the swallow, you give of your time to your “King” you may never get to Egypt!

33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time – Year B

Before the invention of printing, the Gospels and other holy writings were copied out by hand.

Conscious of the intrinsic and spiritual value of a book many laborious hours were spent copying and ornamenting these manuscripts.

In a darkened room at Trinity College, Dublin one such manuscript is on display. It is the 1200-year-old Book of Kells.

It is quite possibility the richest, most copiously illuminated, manuscript version of the four Gospels in the Celto-Saxon style that still survives.

The black ink script is complemented by richly coloured paints and ornamented with fantastic abstract animal and human forms.

Walking around these vellum folios (pages) several observations came to my mind.

For all its fame, surprisingly little is known about the Book of Kells.

Its place of origin is contested; for some it was begun on the island of Iona and brought to Kells (County Meath) when the abbey was founded by St Columba around the 6thC, AD.

Others maintain the origin of the manuscript is the Abbey of Kells itself.

We do not know who the copiers and illustrators were!

Similarly, there is somewhat of a disparity between the consummate draughtsmanship of the decorations and the crudity of the portraits of the human figures.

The figures are quite naïve!

Was this done on purpose – the figures too holy to be drawn with fidelity to the human form?

Then there is the text itself; the pages which introduce each of the Gospels are swamped with quite dazzlingly beautiful and elaborate illuminations, that unless you knew the beginning of each Gospel you might well struggle to understand the text. And maybe, just maybe, this has been done on purpose, namely, as an invitation to the individual to approach the text not with the mind open, rather with the heart ready?

This Sunday’s Gospel ends with the words “my words will not pass away”. (Mk 13: 32).

As one with the privilege and responsibility of proclaiming God’s Word, am I guilty of such decoration, such embellishment, that the Word is lost?

The image is the folio (29R) of the opening words of St. Matthew’s Gospel from the Book of Kells. The Gospel of Matthew begins, “an account of the genealogy of Jesus.”

In Latin the text reads, “Liber generationis”. So, apparently does this page from the Book of Kells!!

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

The Gospel this Sunday is most commonly referred to as The Widow’s Mite.

This excerpt is part of the Psalm response by Edwina Gateley to the Gospel passage and the painting by the acclaimed portraitist Louis Glanzman.

The full poem and others of women in the Scriptures may be found in a book titled ‘Soul Sisters’ published by Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York, 2002

One day as I stood outside my little house,
I saw an old woman shuffling towards me,
clutching a package all wrapped tight in banana leaves.
She looked up at me
– bent as she was and badly stooped –
but her eyes were deep and moist, like yours, sister.
She had no coins,
just the banana parcel which she thrust into my hands.
Her words stay with me still:
“Thank you for staying with us” whispered in broken English.
Then off she stumbled,
back into the bushes from where she had crept.
I peeled away the banana leaves,
and found there,
all snuggled and warm together,
the gift,
the treasure
– three tiny chicken eggs. . . .
All she had, given to me, though I had all.
Three tiny eggs – a fortune against her poverty,
the Widow’s Mite – for me.

Towards the end of her Psalm response, Gateley asks the question, “Are my treasures found, not so much in the coins themselves, as in the desire to hold them?”