Friday 15 December 2017
Advent Season of Creation. Day of Penance.
Isaiah 48:17-19. Psalm 1:1-4, 6. Matthew 11:16-19.
Those who follow you, Lord, will have the light of life – Psalm 1:1-4, 6.
They listened neither to John the Baptist nor to the Son of Man.
I have heard plenty of children calling out to each other, if not across the marketplace then certainly across the yard at school. For some years I have taught teenagers. I start every class with an ancient prayer, one which I learnt at school from an old man who had learnt it at school himself from someone who had also learnt it. I tell my class that if it picks up nothing else in the year other than this prayer, then that will be something and not a small something either.
Come Holy Spirit
Fill the hearts of your faithful.
Enkindle in them the fire of your love.
Send forth your Spirit, Lord,
And they shall be created
And you will renew the face of the earth.
This prayer takes a few seconds, and sometimes it happens on automatic while I am busy trying to remember what we are supposed to be doing today. But that those few old words embody a great deal of my vision of teaching and learning, two activities we are all called to it some way or other. The Holy Spirit is never rushed nor hurried nor hassled nor fearful. The Holy Spirit seldom looks at the clock and tends not to have problems getting the technology to work. The Holy Spirit occupies the present moment, filling hearts, renewing the face of the earth.
The Gospel today has a rich understanding of what St Ignatius called ‘discernment of spirits.’ Jesus uses his fine sense of humour to mock the crowds. They complained when John the Baptist fasted and they complained again when Jesus was seen eating and drinking. They are out of tune, like raucous children hanging around with nothing to do, waiting for something to happen. They can’t read the season. The first reading offers an alternative. It uses the word ‘alert.’ Being alert is one of the great themes of Advent, a time when we are called to discern the presence of God in the busy marketplace of our own lives afresh. Those who have their eyes and ears open for God experience a force of nature: ‘your happiness would have been like a river, your integrity like the waves of the sea.’
One time, I saw a student I had taught a few years before on the other side of a noisy street in a shopping centre. He was pushing a pram, had a backpack full of baby paraphernalia and had the weary look of a young parent. He noticed me on the other side of the road as I was trying to find coins to pay for the parking.
‘Hey sir,’ he yelled across the traffic, smiling. ‘enkindle the fire.’
I was glad he remembered the prayer. The spirit will be as alert to his needs and those of his baby as the spirit is to all of us.