Tag Archive: advent

The Rumble Strips of Advent


Homily given today for the first Sunday of Advent (Year B) at the Holy Name Church, Manchester

Stay Awake

images We know that there are certain activities that we engage in where it is dangerous when we are tired, when we are sleepy ……  Probably top of the list is driving …. driving vehicles. If you nod off at the wheel, just for a few seconds, it can be fatal.   On Motorways and A roads in Britain they have rumble strips on the side of the roads – so that if you start drifting off the road, when you reach the edge the tyres hit these rumble strips.  The vibrations of the tyres rattles the whole car – so that you are alerted, you wake up, to drive safely and stay on the road.  Advent is the liturgical equivalent of these rumble strips…..  Jesus’s central message in this first advent Gospel is ‘Stay Awake….. ‘   ‘Be Vigilant’……  this is the spiritual state that we have to cultivate in Advent –  Being Spiritually Alert …..  Sharpening our senses as we watch and wait.  And what are we waiting for – the coming of Christ both now (soon at Christmas) but also the final and definitive coming of Christ.

So there are two ways we can enter advent – firstly let us think of what is it that makes us Spiritually Drowsy….. and secondly…. What is it that distracts us from being vigilant? ……   Or if you like what sedates us and what distracts us.

Complacency makes us spiritually drowsy…….  whenever I go home and visit my mum and brother, I love to light a real fire….. I love the sound of the logs crackling, or the heat of the coal.  You can relax, forget about all your worries, everything is all right and inevitably I fell drowsy and nod off.  So it is complacency that makes us spiritually drowsy…   The big challenge of advent is to feel the need for a saviour ….  it is so easy to think of Jesus as a guru, or a nice guy, a teacher…..   Jesus is greater than that…..  He is our saviour – our redeemer.   In a culture that is obsessed with ‘self help’, it is tempting to think that we can sort all our problems out with discipline, having a healthy lifestyle etc…… but you just to have look at the news to see how this is no enough.  St Paul famously said ‘I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do–this I keep on doing.

If we are honest we know we cannot do it ourselves –  if we think of the world of addiction – the universally popular recovery programme, for alcohol, or gambling, or sex …. Is the 12 step programme –  and the key to this is  Embracing a higher power ……………. Even in the field of psychology  and therapy – there is more and more written about strategies of ‘Intervention’.  The incarnation, the birth of Christ, God becoming man – is intervention at a cosmic scale. Advent is a time to wake up – out of our spiritual drowsiness, out of complacency and remember that we need God, that we need Christmas.

Secondly – Jesus tells us in today’s gospel – it is not just about staying awake, it is also about being alert – watching and waiting.  Not to be distracted from what really matters.   Technology is creating a culture of distraction – just look at how we use our mobile phones…. Perhaps this hour in church for some of us is the longest we go in our waking hours without checking our phones………  Advent is a time to refocus….  To hone our expectation …. To keep focused on what we are waiting for ……   The key way of doing this is prayer…..  A Jesuit told me once that prayer is making yourself ‘extraordinarily available to God’.  However for many of us prayer is not easy – we get bored, easily discouraged. This is why next week we are offering a Week of Guided Prayer …..  It is a superb opportunity to learn how to pray – we will be providing a team of spiritual directors – who are available for a daily meeting, at whatever time is convenient, as well as evening workshops on prayer on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. It is the best way to prepare for advent ….   We have some places left – however I strongly suggest you pick up a form at the back of church and fill it in as soon as you can if you want a place…..

So let us use these four weeks of Advent well – Staying awake, watching and waiting, praying and learning to pray – so that this year we can enter into the joy of Christmas in a deeper way than ever before….

Longing & Advent


Last week we hosted a very interesting talk from Dr John Healey the Professor of Semitic Studies at the University of Manchester.  John and his wife, Elizabeth,  are just back from a visit to Iraqi Kurdistan, where they visited a number of churches and monasteries and also went to see the Chaldaean Archbishop of Erbil, Bashar Warda (who is a Redemptorist).  We had a group of students from Syria and also a student from Iraq at the talk.  It was very powerful, but also very depressing.  Some of the most powerful interventions where from the students. One talked about her family in Damascus, who said to her recently ‘We don’t belong here any more’.  Their family have been there for generations.  Another talked about how he grew up in Baghdad with many Muslim friends and neighbours, but how a darkness had descended and they no longer mixed.

It was distressing to hear – on one level we can only pray, but on another we started the first inter-faith soup run for the homeless  in Manchester last  week.   Maybe moderate forms of Islam & Christianity in the West may eventually exert pressure back in those countries where the Christians are slowly being exterminated. One of my favourite Advent Hymns is ‘ O Come, O Come Emmanuel,  and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here, until the Son of God appear…..’   This longing for peace from all forms of captivity and diminshment is a very powerful part of our advent prayer…..  watch this below……  as a friend tweeted (@austeni)…   Stunning. Listen, and pray.


I’m giving an advent day of reflection in Gorton today – thought I’d share my reflection below

impatientHave you noticed how quickly technology moves from being a luxury to an essential …..  When Television was invented it for many years it was only to be seen in rich houses, but now we can’t imagine not having a television, often a large flat screen, digital …. So we moved from thinking about television as being a luxury , now it is a necessity.  The same is true about cars, computers,  mobile phones and now not just an internet connection but a fast connection. A modern problem is when can’t connect.  Our mobile phone signal is patchy – and we get angry and frustrated.   Our internet connection is slow and we start clicking the mouse furiously or open new tabs.  All of this incredible digital stuff wasn’t around 20years ago but now our expectations have been raised……    The digital revolution is speeding things up – but the result is this – we are in danger of losing the habit of patience and the practice of waiting…..  Advent is about waiting  ……waiting in hope and waiting in joy………. this is an important part of Christian life.

maxresdefaultThere is a beautiful image in scripture of the watchmen waiting for the dawn.  For millennia, before our scientific age, when we didn’t understand how our solar system operates – there was always this slight nagging uncertainty about would the sun rise again? Panic ensued during a solar eclipse.  In the far north when the Arctic Winter means a perpetual twilight for weeks – when the sun rises for the first time in weeks – communities go out to greet the rising of the Sun .  This is in image that John Paul II was fond of as we approached the third millennium – to be alert waiting for sunrise  – watchmen and women waiting for the dawn of new hope  that Jesus beings afresh every Christmas.  He often called us to be sentinels of the Gospel, turning our eyes to the future, we confidently await the dawn of a new Day… Quoting Isaiah he said “Watchmen, what of the night?” and we hear the answer: “Hark, your watchmen lift up their voice, together they sing for joy: for eye to eye they see the return of the Lord to Zion”…. “As the third millennium of the Redemption draws near, God is preparing a great springtime for Christianity and we can already see its first signs.” May Mary, the Morning Star, help us to say with ever new ardour our “yes” to the Father’s plan for salvation that all nations and tongues may see his glory  (POPE JOHN PAUL II, Message for World Mission Sunday, n.9, October 24th, 1999)

downloadThis waiting is the heart of our prayer.  St Augustine says that God often doesn’t answer our prayers immediately because he is waiting for our hearts to grow so that we can receive all the graces he wants to give us.  Our hearts grow in that silent and joyful, patient ,waiting. So can we prayerfully wait in prayer this advent. Three suggestions – firstly draw closer to the Lord, come to mass more often ( if you are just a Sunday Catholic – than choose one day in the week you can come to) – you are guaranteed the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.  Secondly in adoration – the faithful silence presence in front of the Blessed sacrament  – there you hearts will grow,  remember that Promise that Moses gives in the book of Exodus (14) –  The Lord will fight for you, you only need to be still, you only need to be silent.  Take all those distraction that prevent you from joyfully waiting – those worries, those wounds and lay them before the Lord in adoration. Thirdly watch and wait with the Rosary – praying your beads compels you to slow down – as you go round in a circle, That rhythm can become a rhythm of hope.  If you drive hang  your rosary  round the rear view mirror – when you are stuck in traffic – instead of getting angry or impatient take it down – keep a list of names of people you can pray for in the car…..

Remember advent is a great opportunity to slow down and rediscover the art of waiting and hoping and growing your heart in expectation.