Message from the Bishop
Advent is a time of hope. It is a time when we joyfully prepare for Christmas. It is a time when we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmas and when we renew our desire for His second coming at the end of time. True, Advent can be busy. There’s food to order, gifts to buy, cards to send. But spiritually, what should we be doing during this Advent season? We should be praying to God for the theological gift of hope and the renewal of that gift in our lives. We often pray to God for deeper faith and deeper charity but how often do we pray for stronger hope, the hope that comes from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in our hearts? Hope is essential to the Christian life. It’s hope that gives us joy, energy, enthusiasm; it makes us smile; it puts a spring in our step; it assures us that with God the impossible can be possible, that obstacles can be overcome, that the gloom can be transformed into light. More, it is hope that enables us to glimpse the joy of our true home in heaven.
“Why are you cast down my soul? Hope in God; I will praise Him still, my Saviour and my God” (Psalm 41). This Advent, let us pray for the gift of hope.
2020, this last year, has been like no other in living memory; our lives have changed forever. The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in many lives being lost, in much sickness, suffering and hardship. Yet amidst the devastation, the Lord did not desert us. Indeed, He has been very much with us. We know that thanks to His victory on the Cross, ‘nothing can come between us and the love of Christ’ even if we have to suffer many trials (Rom 8: 31-39). It is thanks to God’s grace that during the pandemic we have seen many acts of goodness and courage, a veritable rekindling of the commandment ‘Love thy neighbour’. Many people have engaged in works of selfless generosity. I think especially of the key workers who have risked their own health in order to help protect, assist and support others in their need.
During this Year of the Word, I find joy in the beauty and poetry of the Advent readings, especially those from Prophet Isaiah. I cannot help but be lifted up - my heart rejoices - when I read and reflect on Isaiah’s beautiful words. They were meant to give the Israelites encouragement in the midst of the struggles and difficulties of life. My wish is that during these Advent days, you too will take the time to listen and to reflect on these encouraging words of scripture, to allow them to take root in your own heart and mind. Sursum corda ‘Lift up your hearts’ is the invitation from the priest in every Mass. May Isaiah lift you up and replenish you with God’s gift of hope.
Here are four of my favourite verses from Prophet Isaiah. You could pick one for each week of Advent to add to your personal prayer and reflection.
“They shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation; neither shall they learn war anymore” (Isaiah 2:4).
“There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit and the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him” (Isaiah 11: 1-2)
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level and the rough places a plain; and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together” (Isaiah 40:3-5)
“He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom and gently lead those that are with young” (Isaiah 40:11)
I invite you to join me in keeping this holy season of Advent amidst all the chaos, and the crisis – for the Lord is coming to save us.
In Corde Iesu
Bishop of Portsmouth
Join Bishop Philip on an Advent journey. Prayers and readings for you and your family to use throughout Advent as we prepare to welcome Jesus Christ into our homes this Christmas.