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Third Thursday of Advent - Living in the Past?

Thursday, December 17, 2015
If you were to draw up two columns and in the first write down your major priorities in life and in the second what you expend most of your time, money and energies upon, do you think there would be a certain incongruence? In this Year of Mercy we might consider whether our time spent on facebook looking at pictures of friends outweighs our time spent in prayer for those friends? Does the time spent watching inspirational videos online outweigh the time spent actually feeding the hungry?

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is generously praising John the Baptist, telling those assembled that John is a prophet and yet much more than just a prophet; in fact, he says, ‘... of all the children born of women, there is no greater than John.’ But then, with his very next breath, he gives us this startling revelation, ‘... yet the least in the kingdom is greater than he is.’ As Brendan Byrne says in The Hospitality of God, ‘John the Baptist is respectfully, but firmly, put in his place as belonging to an era now past. Implied, by contrast, is the extraordinary “blessedness” of those who belong to the community of the kingdom.’

Many of the Christian prayers and professions of faith regularly said in private and at Mass mention eternity and the afterlife, and yet, when it comes to how we live, it’s so easy to become rapt by more ephemeral concerns. This Advent, I want to pose a question to each of us, and I appreciate it may cause a raised eyebrow, coming from someone who wears a habit and wanders around the medieval city of Oxford, but I think it’s pertinent nonetheless: “Are you living in the past?” It’s often said that the Church needs to modernise, but maybe it’s us who need to catch up?

Am I giving my time, treasures and talents to things that are going to pass away? Am I neglecting ultimate goods and the salvation of my immortal soul? Jesus said, after washing the apostles’ feet, ‘A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’ I have to ask myself, if I shed my habit, would it still be obvious that I was a disciple? It can be all too easy to love things more than people.

It’s not always easy to prioritise goods. Often it’s not so simple as a straightforward choice between good and evil, but instead we find ourselves confronted with competing goods. It can be all too easy to put a short-term gain before the long-term. I have listened with a wry smile to people trying to be strong on a diet telling one another: ‘A moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips’, followed by a pause for a few seconds, a cagily said ‘just this once!’ and then the eating of the cake. There was an analogous scene around the biscuit tin last night in the Priory.

Many of us have probably had the experience of going to confession and confessing the same things over and over. We know our own weaknesses and we can be frustrated by them. Ultimately we know that these weaknesses can only be overcome by the grace of God, not through our will power alone, but nonetheless we have to cooperate with God’s grace, not resist it. One form of resistance might be those two columns mentioned above - one of priorities and one of actions - looking like they were written by different people. Advent is a time to get our lives more integrated and more focussed on the things that really matter.

Toby Lees O.P.

Br Toby Lees O.P. Fr Toby Lees is assistant priest at Our Lady of the Rosary and St Dominic's, London.  |  toby.lees@english.op.org


anon commented on 18-Dec-2015 08:14 PM
(hmm...'now there's revolution,but they don't know what they're fighting'?)

Every year in my ACN diary I write in the 7 O Antiphons; I am able to do this because Godzdogz had posted charming audio clips of the Dominicans chanting the Divine Office for Advent: I hope they are archived somewhere on your website as a discoverable treasure for others!

All good wishes and blessings.
Br Toby commented on 22-Dec-2015 12:08 AM
( you're never too old to Rock'n'Roll if you're too young to die.)

You can find all the recordings of the 'O Antiphons' if you type that in the search bar at the top right of this page.

God bless,

Br Toby

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