at Allen Hall, London, on 19th December 2019
Celebrant and Preacher: Cardinal Michael Fitzgerald
Christmas, which we shall celebrate next week, is a feast of gifts, because it is the feast of the greatest gift of all, the Father’s gift to humanity of his Son who comes among us, who is born for us, who becomes one of us so that we may share in his life.
This forthcoming birth is anticipated in today’s readings by the account of two unexpected births, that of Samson and that of John the Baptist. I want to comment on the Gospel passage.
John is the precursor. It is foretold that from the beginning of his existence he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. He will go before, to turn the hearts of fathers towards their children… preparing for the Lord a people fit for him.
To my mind we could say that John the Baptist is engaged in missionary work. Missionaries do not bring salvation; they only prepare the way for people to encounter Jesus, their Saviour.
Could we not say the same about l’Oeuvre d’Orient, and about FACE, its British branch? The work of these bodies is to help build up, to restore, to enable, so that the local communities of Oriental Christians can survive, and not simply survive but even thrive. They are, as it were, preparing the way. Aid is given not to replace the local communities but to assist them and to allow them to play their rightful role.
Do we believe in this? Do we think that it is possible for Christians to continue in existence in the Middle East? Or are we a bit like Zechariah, inclined to doubt, thinking that this is impossible. Support for Christians in the East is an act of faith, and an expression of hope, as well as being a sign of active charity.
Things may not work out as we hope. Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth had prayed for a son, presumably one who would carry the family name further. The angel tells Zechariah that this prayer has been heard. Elizabeth will indeed bear a son, and he shall be called John.
I would suppose that Zechariah and Elizabeth, both of priestly caste, had expected that John would become a priest like his father. I somehow hope that their days on earth had been fulfilled by the time John the Baptist started his missionary work. What would they have made of this son of theirs, living like a drop-out, preaching in the desert, calling people to repentance, telling them not to count on their title of children of Abraham if they are not doing the works of Abraham. The parents might have been surprised at the conduct of their son, perhaps even ashamed of him for not wanting to be part of the religious establishment, but rather putting himself on the margins of society, .
Yet God works in marvelous ways. John was preparing the way for Jesus, and Jesus said of him; “of all the children born of women, a greater than John the Baptist has never been seen”, before adding “yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he is.”
Let us entrust the work of FACE to the Lord, really trusting in the Lord who makes all things new. Let us have confidence in the Wisdom of God that the liturgy acclaims in these days before Christmas:
O Wisdom, you come forth from the mouth of the Most High. You fill the universe and hold all together in a strong yet gentle manner. O come to teach us the way of truth.