November 2020: The Deep End
The Deep End
Solemnity of All Saints
1 November 2020
Saints in the making
There is a patron saint for almost every situation you could imagine. When we’ve lost something, we talk to St Anthony; faced with a hopeless situation, we pray to St Jude. We ask St Christopher to help with a safe journey, and St Cajetan to intercede for a job interview. As we discovered this year, there are even patron saints for pandemics – St Edmund and St Roch. The list goes on. Many people have a favourite saint they reach out to in times of need.
There is something about the saints that touches even the most cynical of hearts. Turning to a favourite saint is more than mere superstition. At its most basic level it is a reminder that we are not alone, that there is a life beyond this one and we are connected to it. At a deeper level it is an opportunity to reflect on these holy women and men who were shining examples of faith and virtue while alive, and who continue their great work by leading us closer to God.
This All Saints Day, the Beatitudes challenge us to look beyond the difficulties of this life and see the bigger picture. They offer a way of life that leads to eternal life. The saints whose help we seek embodied many of the qualities of the Beatitudes – gentleness, mercy, fighting for justice, working for peace, bearing suffering with dignity. We all know people who embody these qualities – the many saints who may never be canonised but who show us how to live as followers of Christ. As we reflect on those who have gone before us, it leads us to ponder how we are doing: are we saints in the making?
‘To be saints is not a privilege for the few, but a vocation for everyone.’
Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
8 November 2020 • Prisoners’ Sunday
The time is now
I am a procrastinator. If a task is awkward or unpleasant, I am likely to put it off till another day. In any given week, I have a ‘to-do’ list I need to get through. The most important items always get done – things that can’t be avoided, like work deadlines or paying bills. But bigger projects often get put on the long finger and I find myself transferring items to the following week’s list. It is part of life to learn how to prioritise, and to be prepared to tackle the important things. Even when we are not ready to face a certain situation, sometimes we need to push ourselves to just dive in.
Among the wedding customs in Jesus’ time was a night-time procession from the bride’s home to the grooms. The bridesmaids would go out with torches lit to welcome the groom and his entourage. The parable in today’s gospel sets two groups in contrast – the ‘foolish’ bridesmaids who run out of oil because they have failed to prepare, and the ‘sensible’ ones who are ready with their lamps and oil, who recognise the importance of the task. Only one group was ready when the groom approached.
This parable encourages us to focus on the here and now, to nurture our relationship with God in the present and to live well. There is no point in procrastinating, or waiting until the bridegroom is at the door. As well as having the light of faith, we need the fuel – the actions – to keep it lit so we are ready when the Lord comes.
‘It’s a terrible thing, I think, in life to wait until you’re ready. I have this feeling now that actually no one is ever ready to do anything. There is almost no such thing as ready. There is only now. And you may as well do it now. Generally speaking, now is as good a time as any.’
Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
15 November 2020 • World Day of the Poor
Rising to the challenge
It is hard not to feel sorry for the third servant in today’s gospel. The first two servants are praised for making the most of the ‘talents’ (money) given to them by their master. In return, they are promised even greater things. The third man, paralysed by uncertainty, buries his small amount of money in the ground instead of doing something with it. His actions are based in fear – he has heard the master is tough and he does not want to take any risks. At least he is able to return what he has been given, he reasons.
But he is shocked to learn that instead of praise, or even a neutral reaction to match his own neutral actions, he is reprimanded as ‘wicked and lazy’ and cast out. This parable has been described as a story of ‘tragic miscalculation’. The servant didn’t do anything awful – which is why we tend to have some sympathy for him – but he didn’t do his best either. The real tragedy is not that he didn’t make any more money; it is that he failed to appreciate the opportunity he had been given and to make the most of it.
We are all dealt different cards in life, and undoubtedly some are much tougher than others. We are like the servants in the parable who are given different amounts of money to look after. The point is not the amount of ‘talents’ given to each. It is not the circumstances of our lives or our natural gifts that are important, but how we use them. Jesus was cautioning against playing it safe. Instead of turning inwards or living in fear, we are called to meet challenges head on and discover what wonderful things might happen.
‘Talent is like electricity. We don’t understand electricity. We use it.’
Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe
22 November 2020
A different sort of king
Today’s gospel leaves us in no doubt as to what Jesus expects of his followers. It is a gospel of contrasts. It begins with a scene of judgement, with Jesus in the role of king, sitting on the throne of glory. It would have been a familiar image to the people of the time, who were expecting a great Messianic king. In the time of Jesus, kings were powerful rulers, and some were tyrants. We know from earlier in Matthew’s Gospel that kings like Herod were capable of brutal acts. It is an image that remains familiar to us today, thanks to popular fairytales, movies and TV shows – the all-powerful ruler sitting on their throne, passing judgement on their subjects.
But the king that Jesus talks about here turns these images upside down. He is not focused on riches or power, or inciting terror or fear. Instead, he is a fair judge, a shepherd who knows his flock. He invites all those who have acted with justice and generosity to take their place in his kingdom. He is in solidarity with the ‘least’ of his people – a king whose main concern is those who are hungry, displaced, sick or imprisoned. He refers to them as ‘brothers’.
Jesus’ kingdom is centred around charity, compassion and forgiveness. He expects us to treat everyone we encounter with welcome. There are simple acts of kindness we can carry out each day. Such love for others is love for God: ‘In so far as you did this to the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me.’
‘In the evening of life, we shall be judged on love.’
St John of the Cross
First Sunday of Advent
29 November 2020
Finding our feet
It can be very hard to live with uncertainty. Back at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, a counsellor was interviewed on radio about how people were coping with the ‘lockdown’. People were anxious and fearful, she said. Many were experiencing loneliness, as their normal routines and social life came to an abrupt halt.
Another thing that people really struggled with was the inability to make decisions. They felt trapped and stuck, unable to plan ahead. They couldn’t make plans to visit family or go on holidays. They didn’t know if their jobs were secure, or if their children would return to school. When things are up in the air, it is hard to find your feet and feel grounded. Many of us are still struggling with these feelings.
Today we enter a new church year, and our first Advent season since the pandemic hit. Many of us are feeling more subdued than normal as we begin our preparations for Christmas. It will be very different from the usual family and social occasion, and we are saddened and worried by this.
In today’s gospel, Jesus urges his disciples to ‘stay awake’. We might feel we have no choice at the moment – the feeling of not knowing what is coming is very familiar. We are on our guard, on edge, waiting for the latest news. Yet already, there are initiatives springing up to support those who are vulnerable or in need this Christmas. In our own families, we are plotting ways to ensure no one is alone or isolated. We are ‘awake’ to the strange circumstances, and we are finding ways to cope. We pray today for the strength to guide us through the coming weeks, and for the peace and joy of Christ to lift our hearts and carry us onwards.
‘In this time of tribulation and mourning, I hope that you will be able to experience Jesus, who comes to meet you, greets you and says: ‘Rejoice.’