26th December 2020

Dear Parishioners,

This weekend it is a Boxing (St. Stephen’s) Day greeting that comes alongside the weekly Newsletter, with the hope that you have had a blessed Christmas populated by the faces, voices, and even the presence of some of those closest to you. Above all, I trust that these very special days of the Octave of Christ’s nativity will give you the opportunity to pause and reflect on that first Christmas night and day, when the Word became flesh and began to live a life like our own – except for sin – with all its highs, lows, achievements, failures, moments of adulation and times of despair. Unsurprisingly you have been very much in my own thoughts and prayerful remembrances as I’ve celebrated Holy Mass this week, both in the closing days of Advent and now in Christmastime. Our unity as a community of faith is unwavering and I would like to think, a source of strength for us all to draw upon.

Last Sunday I took a giant leap for this specimen of mankind and ventured from sitting in the kitchen with Dad, on my weekly visit, to crossing the hallway into our living room. With childlike excitement and enthusiasm my appetite for a taste of festive magic was never going to be satisfied with a glimpse of our family Christmas tree from the outside of the living room window. Instead I wanted to sit near to it basking in the coloured lights reflecting from its array of baubles, revisiting Christmases past and looking forward with maturing expectation to Christmas 2020 and those in the future. And so I did ! Socially distanced from Dad, and wearing a facial covering (yes, I am as strict and necessarily observant in private as when in the public gaze !). As our family home occupies a corner position, our illuminated tree offers the first sign of Christmas to all who turn into the cul-de-sac, and full marks to Dad for his annual efforts to ensure it looks so well decorated. This includes a foray into the loft for various carefully labelled boxes, incredible patience with the strings of lights seeking the one rogue bulb that has caused the rest to go out on strike, and with great care hang each decoration, varying in both size and fragility. My own contribution is the tree itself, which I bought for my parents about thirty years ago, and carried home on a crowded bus from Leeds to Otley. Acknowledging the size of the box it was packed in I would not have blamed the driver for charging me extra for it, but, with seasonal goodwill, he didn’t.

Away from public gaze is our crib, possibly as old as myself, or even older. I could once date it to at least 1970 by the pieces of yellowing newspaper in which the figures were wrapped but even that hasn’t proved to be as enduring as the figures themselves. It stands above the television and quietly attracts its own audience of viewers. Last weekend, with the exception of the manger containing the baby and Magi, the figurines were all awaiting the arrival of the Christ-child, although the shepherds mysteriously numbered just two until I managed to locate the third still snuggled up in his protective wrapping paper, as I joking said to Dad, he must have been on the night shift of shepherding duties. Even the Angel had arrived, and taken up its rather aloof position on the exterior of the crib’s thatched roof. From being very young I was often allowed to help with the arrangement of the nativity figures, but the affixing of the Angel was another of Dad’s jobs, as the eye (a technical term learnt at a young age !) on its back had to be carefully affixed to a hook on the front of the stable. Too much wear and tear caused by youthful energetic frustration would have caused the hook to lose its tension and long ago the Angel would have found itself standing amid the hoi polloi with its message of “Gloria in excelsis Deo.” After decades of display the Angel remains hanging above the stable scene, not quite miraculously, but thanks to care, patience and a little bit of creative help from my Dad and his toolbox.

It was whilst looking at the Angel that I recalled the following words of blessing, which I felt would be more than appropriate to offer to you at this particular time. As God’s messengers and constantly in His presence they form another layer of His protective care for us. This Christmastime I prayerfully ask that the Angels continue to journey with us, enabling our prayers, hopes and aspirations to be given a hearing in God’s presence, and more profoundly that in return He will ask the Angels to keep us, and those we hold closest, safe, well and content as one year begins to fade and another dawns.

A Christmas Blessing.

May the Angels in their beauty bless you.
To come alive to the eternal within you,
Into sources of refreshment.

May the Angel of the Imagination enable you
At ease with your ambivalence
Through the glow of your contradictions.

May the Angel of Compassion open your eyes
Where your life is domesticated and safe,
Where all that is awkward in you
To the beauty of your senses
As a temple of the Holy Spirit.

May the Angel of Justice disturb you
In worth and self-respect,
That presides in your soul.

May the Angel of Death arrive only
And you have brought every given gift
And joyful guardians.

(John O’Donohoe 1956 – 2008)

As ever, Fr. Nicholas

19th December 2020

Dear Parishioners,

Once more it is good to be able to greet you with a few words along with the Newsletter for the coming week. In doing so I trust that life is unfolding kindly around and before you in these latter days of Advent. It is a great Season and one that wherever we may be physically we journeying through together spiritually in a unity of prayer and affection.

Last Sunday I made a timely trip down memory lane. As ever I was a man on a mission. The purpose of my journeying was to deliver a Christmas gift to my younger Godchild and his brother. As all clergy do, I arrived at the most inconvenient of times, just as the family were about to sit down for their evening meal. Even from the driveway it smelt delicious, and I knew that in normal circumstances an extra chair would have been drawn to the table, and I would have been invited to share their roast. However, for the time being at least, things are different, and even though a chair had been placed in the porch and a tempting coffee was offered by way of luring me out of the dark, wet and cold to sit socially distanced from the family, I declined. Not only was it the right thing to do, but also with children, example is an incredibly important textbook from which they can learn. So I stood outside, beneath an umbrella in the pouring rain, bringing a little Christmas cheer and delighting in all that truly mattered: seeing the faces of loved ones, in that instant a couple I had been privileged to marry, and two children I had the pleasure of baptising. A fabulous and thrilling moment.

So where was I, and why the reference to memory lane, I can hear you ask. I was in north Leeds, in an area still as fresh and familiar to me as the streets and roads of Heckmondwike and Cleckheaton are currently. This was the soil of my first appointment as a priest. Ordained on the fourth Sunday of Advent twenty-seven years ago, I did not take up an appointment straight away, as it would have meant moving at least one other priest within the diocese to accommodate me at the busiest time of the year, so I remained in Garforth, where I had served as a deacon, until the end of January. Hence it was in February 1994 that I took up my role as curate at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Moortown, Leeds, from where I also served as Chaplain to Cardinal Heenan High School. Having served as a priest in the Catholic landscape of Kirklees for a quarter of a century next year, the fact that I have ministered elsewhere may actually come as a surprise to some ! My time in Leeds was brief, just two and a half years. It was an excellent grounding, working alongside one of the then Vicar-Generals, Monsignor Kieran Heskin – a very fine priest, scholar, and man, who provided me with an equally excellent example, wise counsel and a happy and homely presbytery-life. Unusually no second curacy followed instead I was appointed full-time Chaplain to Huddersfield University, bringing me to Kirklees, where I have stayed ever since.

Our parish in Leeds 17 boasted a number of synagogues, which when the difference was explained to me was done so in terms of strictness of observance, rather like the Methodists in days of old. Their Feasts and festivals were noticeably observable due not only to the movement of people, all smartly attired and often in family units, but practically too as businesses closed, and also in symbol. It was the latter that struck me so powerfully last weekend as I travelled along the lengthy and almost biblically straight roadway of the rather affluent Alwoodley and Wigton lanes. Many houses were illuminated bringing welcome light to a drab and dank evening. Noticeable amongst the illuminations was the presence of the Menorah (the symbolic candelabrum) both in the windows of houses and also in gardens. Undertaking my journey at the beginning of celebration of Hanukkah, the eight day Jewish wintertime festival of lights, I could not help but reflect on our own lighting of candles at this time of the year. Like our tradition in respect of the Advent lights, the oil, or candles, on the Menorah, are lit one by one, but over successive days rather than weeks.

Hanukkah celebrates the defeat of the occupying Greek forces by Judas Maccabees, and the reclamation of the great Temple in Jerusalem for the worship of Almighty God by his chosen people. Seeking to acknowledge the sacred nature of the Temple as the dwelling place of the Most High the first task of those who entered it was to light the Menorah. The symbolism and importance of which is akin to our Sanctuary Lamp. On their entry into the Temple they discovered just a single vessel containing olive oil that had not been sullied by secular use at the hands of the Greeks. Sadly such a limited supply was only enough to offer a single day’s light, not long enough for more oil to be prepared and ritually purified, allowing it to be suitable for use in the Temple. Day by day the Temple Attendants noticed that the oil was burning much more slowly than normal. In fact, the one day’s supply of oil lasted for the full eight days. Deemed miraculous, the festival of Hanukkah was instituted in the Jewish calendar.

The central symbol of Hanukkah is the Menorah candle stand, often capable of holding nine flames, the central light of which, called the Shamash (or Attendant), is a continuous flame used to kindle the other eight lights, which are lit amid seasonal prayers, blessings and songs. Unlike our Advent candles, which are mainly church-based, the Menorah is a feature of individual households, to be displayed in a doorway or window, visible for all to see, whilst they are also lit in synagogues and in public places. Unsurprisingly for a Jewish Feast, the festival is accompanied by table-fellowship, where it is customary to eat food fried in oil (a further reminder of origins of the Feast), play games including, for younger children, one involving a four-sided spinning top on which Hebrew lettering forms an acronym for “a Great Miracle Happened There,” and the giving of monetary (“Gelt”) gifts to children, based on their behaviour and spiritual learning, allowing them to donate what they have received to a good cause, culturing the virtue of charitable giving.

The placing of the Menorah, with its increasing array of light, culminating in eight lamps offering substantial illumination, in a place where it can be seen on a regular basis, and is never far from view, is done so with purpose and intent. Purposefully it reminds those looking on it of miraculous events long ago. Its intention is to encourage those who celebrate the Feast to live enlightened lives. Primarily to stand up for what is right, lead a good life in the public domain which is faith-based, and to constantly recall that a little light goes a long way, acknowledging that even the smallest of flames defeats the darkness that existed before its arrival.

Whether symbolised by the ostentatious outdoor Menorah with their vivid colours that I passed as I drove along the roads of north Leeds, or the simple, much used, and accident scarred Menorah that will have been lit in houses and homes across the world in recent days the message remains the same: light always overpowers darkness. Hanukkah is a Feast of eight days, rather like our own festivals of Christmas and Easter, which are celebrated over an Octave period. One of the reasons for which is to give us a longer opportunity to reflect on their significance and importance, the eternal concepts of which are far beyond our comprehension.

The lighting of the fourth Advent candle in our churches this weekend will remind me of my own Ordination day, celebrated in liturgical purple, and a Gospel reading depicting Our Lady striking the match of redemptive hope in the generous response she made to the invitation she received from Almighty God, through the ministrations of Gabriel, to become the Mother of the Word made flesh, the Light of the world. Despite the roughness of the road that Our Blessed Lady often journeyed along, both before and after Christ’s birth, her openness and willingness to embrace and live God’s will for her, gave the world an unquenchable Light that continues to overcome all things not least our anxieties, apprehensions and fears at this particular time in our human history. As I light that fourth candle this weekend my silent prayer will be that we shall truly live as a people of light. It is often said that the darkest hour of the night is that which precedes dawn. Whilst many may feel that we are journeying through that hour currently, let us not forget that the pathway we travel is illuminated with our Advent lights – hope, joy, gentleness and prayer – to reassure and sustain us until the Light that we are awaiting comes to birth in our hearts afresh and renewed in the celebration of Christmas.

In signing off this weekend I ask that you all continue to keep yourselves safe and well, thinking of others too, by observing the guidance being offered to us in the interest of our nation’s health and well-being, alongside that of ensuring our NHS can deal with all that is arriving at its doors day by day.

Be assured of my continuing remembrance of you and your loved ones in both prayer and affection.

As ever, Fr. Nicholas

12th December 2020

Dear Parishioners,

It is good to be able to greet you once more alongside the delivery of our weekly Newsletter, and I trust that you are keeping well and safe in these trying times. What great scenes of hope and optimism we’ve witnessed during this last week in the initial distribution of a vaccine to members of our national family. Let us continue to remain up-beat that it will be available for many more of us before too long, bringing a refreshing normality to our lives. Until then we continue to respond to the invitation to behave appropriately to our circumstances.

A statement on a school classroom wall read: “You are a piece of God’s plan.” It is a great reminder that we all have a part to play in something greater than our own unfolding lives. Kirkwood Hospice have a team of volunteers who ensure that all the pieces are in jigsaws donated to them making sure that no paying customer, having laboured for hours, arrives at the frustrating moment of realization that there is a piece missing ! Alongside attending church and preparing her own Christmas Day meal, Mary Berry ensures that there is a jigsaw in her kitchen for all comers to begin the process of putting together. If a single piece is missing from a near-complete jigsaw that solo omission catches our eye, almost to a point of compulsive captivation and distraction. When complete, we fail to see the individual pieces, focusing our attention instead on the masterpiece before our eyes. Much of life, of who we are, and what we achieve is piecemeal. A jigsaw. This extends to our Liturgy and things we are familiar with in the context of our church rituals. One of the most noticeable prayers that is made up of many parts is the Eucharistic Prayer, hopefully so familiar to the congregation and prayed well enough by the celebrant that the varying parts of it blend into a seamless unity.

One of our daily intercessions in the Eucharistic Prayer of the Mass is for our Holy Father, Pope Francis, whom we pray for by name together with our Bishop, Marcus. Without a doubt knowing that they are being supported by the prayers of the Faithful across the world must be a great source of encouragement to our successive spiritual leaders. The Holy Spirit gifted the twentieth century with no less than nine successors to St. Peter, each reassuringly a hugely different personality to his predecessor, bringing to their role and office an abundance of gifts and skills, some perhaps, like everyone else’s, more obvious than others. Of the nine, four have been canonized – Pope St. Pius X (1903 – 1914), Pope St. John XXIII (1958 – 1963), Pope St. Paul VI (1963 – 1978) and Pope St. John Paul II (1978 – 2005) – and two others are journeying toward sainthood, currently holding the title of Venerable – Pope Pius XII (1939 – 1958) and Pope John Paul I (1978). The remaining three names of the Servant of the servants of God (“servus servorum Dei”) are Pope Leo XIII (1878 – 1903), who at his death in 1903 at 93 was the oldest man to hold the office; the scholar-athlete Pope Pius XI (1922 – 1939), who was sometime Prefect (i.e. in charge) of the Papal Library, although I doubt that he stamped many books or collected fines for those that were overdue !; and Pope Benedict XV (1914 – 1922), of who, when it came to the production of a biography of him in English, was described as “The Unknown Pope.” As with anything, amongst the ranks of our Popes are personal favourites whether we have lived under their pontificates or not, often highlighted by the number of teenage boys who take the name of the first Pope, St. Peter, at Confirmation.

Amongst those that I most admire are three of the twentieth century pontiffs. The earliest of them is Pope St. Pius X, who encouraged more frequent reception of Holy Communion amongst the Faithful, and whose tomb is close to one of the doorways of St. Peter’s Basilica, from where he continues to spiritually greet pilgrims to the Eternal City.



Pope John Paul I is pictured at the Vatican in 1978.

The most recent is Pope (Venerable) John Paul I, whose infectious and captivating natural smile on his election in 1978 illuminated hearts the world over, my own included.  A smiling Pope, whose public persona was so different from that of his predecessor the rather austere looking Pope St. Paul VI. His smile, captured on a photographic image, hangs on my kitchen wall, silently reminding me of some words of St. Teresa of Calcutta – “Peace starts with a smile.”




The other member of my papal triumvirate is Pope Benedict XV, “The Unknown Pope.”Aged just 59 at his election in the early days of the Great War, following the demise – from a broken heart, it is said, caused by the war – of Pope St. Pius X, Benedict XV, was a relative youngster in comparison to many of his predecessors. Chosen, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, for his diplomatic skills and prowess when the world dwelt under very dark skies, he had only been a Cardinal for three months before his election in early September-1914. Within just a few short weeks he had embarked on a personal mission to bring a lasting peace to a broken world. With the initial hopes of an end to hostilities by Christmas fast fading he called for a Christmas Truce. Whilst political leaders acknowledged the goodwill behind the call, they failed to back the initiative. At grass-roots level the voice of the Pope was heard, and during the week leading up to Christmas reports were made of British, French and German soldiers acknowledging the Season by crossing, in peace, into the no-man’s land that separated them. There are varying accounts of what the ordinary soldiers actually did with some reports of an exchange of greetings and small gifts, others of carol singing or football matches, whilst others speak of soldiers on opposing sides combining forces and resources to bury fallen comrades with dignity and appropriate ceremony, and others recording the handing back of prisoners of war. It was sporadic, but significant enough for it to make headline news. Truces in successive years were not nearly as many due to the determined opposition to them by military leaders, and even amongst the ranks of ordinary soldiers a hardness of heart, borne from the daily grind of war, ended most acts of festive goodwill.

With the declaration of the neutrality of the Holy See, Pope Benedict worked tirelessly throughout 1916 and 1917 to mediate a peace between the warring nations. On 1st August 1917 he produced a seven point Peace Plan, which gained a relatively favourable hearing in England and amongst some other nations, however it was rejected by America and the German response was far from united or clear. Despite his earlier dismissal of the plan, President Woodrow Wilson’s fourteen point Peace Plan of January 1918 contained more than just a hint of Benedict’s objectives. Imitation they say is a form of flattery ! Not totally drained by the energy of his diplomatic initiatives, Pope Benedict threw an equal amount of passion into humanitarian efforts to lessen the growing impact of the war. Manifested in attending to the needs of prisoners of war, the exchange of wounded prisoners and ensuring that food deliveries reached near-starving communities in Europe and beyond, Benedict was also one of the few world leaders to both condemn and highlight the desperate plight of the Armenian people who were subject to barbaric treatment by Turkey including acts of genocide. At a local level, it would be good to think that Joseph Duddy, whose name appears on the Cleckheaton War Memorial, already a prisoner of war in the hands of the Germans by Christmas 1914, benefitted from the compassionate initiatives of Pope Benedict.

Even with the ending of hostilities in 1918, Pope Benedict continued to proclaim a message of reconciliation amongst nations, culturing and seeking tangible signs of a more harmonious relationship between people of differing cultures and backgrounds. Aware of the continuing devastation and hardship that were a daily reality in the lives of many ordinary people acts of great humanitarianism continued in his name among peoples of many nationalities until his death in 1922. He was certainly a remarkable “piece of God’s plan” in the lineage of the twentieth century papacy.

The message of the Christmas Angels to the shepherds in the fields was “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom He is pleased.” (Luke 2:14) In the cast of a nativity performance there can only be one Joseph or Mary, but there is always room for a spare angel or two ! Rather like characters mentioned last week, they can be seen to be on the periphery, but their message was fundamental: peace and harmony. In the jigsaw of the Christmas story they are small pieces, often portrayed above and beyond the central scene with its major characters. The absence of the angels would leave a very noticeable gap, drawing our eyes away from the stable, distracting us from the arrival of the Christ-child. Their role is as a “piece of God’s plan” and their message is as significant to our world of today as it was to that of two thousand years ago, and each unfolding generation. A little over a century ago, a currently untitled Pope in Church circles, was guided by the message of the Christmas angels in seeking a lasting peace amid an embittered generation of humankind. He played out his part on the world’s political stage, for many observers in a minor capacity. Whilst history may see him very much as a part-player in the events of the Great War, to those who put down their tools of destruction and walked across no-man’s land to chat, laugh, sing and exchange token gifts, for an all too brief period of time, his vision of a Christmas Truce was a reality.

Perhaps our own willingness and openness to being a “piece in God’s plan” will allow something of His Kingdom to dawn in our lives this Advent and Christmastime. That illumination of the new day may not always be where we imagine either. In the case of Pope Benedict XV one of the very few memorials to him is in Turkey, a predominantly non-Christian county, in the courtyard of St. Esprit Cathedral (Instanbul). The plaque on a statue acknowledges him as: “The great Pope of the world tragedy … benefactor of all people, irrespective of nationality or religion.” How refreshing to know that God’s peace – conveyed through a limited human channel – has the potential of reaching to all people of good will.

Holding you and your loved ones in prayerful remembrance and affection.

As ever, Fr. Nicholas

5th December 2020

Dear Parishioners,

How good it is to be able, once more, to send you the Newsletter and also the Readings for Holy Mass this weekend, with the hope and wish that you and your loved ones remain well and safe.

This week I took advantage of our liturgical new year and resolutely broke a habit that has been almost life-long. I parted company with an invited guest into my various homes, a travelling companion as I journey from place to place, someone who has shared desk and table fellowship with me, and has, in short, been an intrinsic part of my daily life. The grand action of which I speak was to turn the radio off between the hours of 12 noon and 2.00 p.m. Yes, I gave Jeremy Vine the elbow ! From the beginning of my memory storing its catalogue of events and scenarios the radio has provided its own easy-listening soundtrack against which life’s journey has been played out. My various addresses have provided homes for numerous radios dotted around living and work spaces. Although often commented on with a light air, they are in truth all tuned into one station – BBC Radio 2. Someone did once mention that other stations are available ! However, I’ve never ventured from the mountain of satisfaction to explore such rumours. There was never the need to break free from the long-held, and endanger wonderful memories of childhood played out against familiar voices and a pleasing choice of music. In my pre-school days Mum and I listened to Radio 1, but as disciples of Jimmy Young, we switched along with him to Radio 2 in 1973, and that is where the dial has remained ever since. Its programmes remain true to Lord John Reith’s mission statement that they should inform, educate and entertain. A giant of a man, he stood at six feet six inches, even taller than my former broadcasting companion, Mr. Vine.

My decision to separate from Jeremy Vine was an informed one, and came in response to the growing number of whingers, moaners and darn-right negative individuals that populate the window of opportunity he affords to listeners airing their views on news items and current affairs. Having been informed and educated by worthy and appropriate guests, not even entertainment could generously describe the views and opinions of some of those phoning-in. So, even imbued with a decent level of patience, this listener switched-off. Negativity rarely travels alone, it usually arrives with its off-spring, corrosion and destruction who, once sat at table, will soon devour any optimism and goodwill set before them.

Life experience over the larger part of 2020 has been difficult for many, and for significant numbers very tough indeed. It has thrown up many challenges and also a produced a huge number of shining stars, if not heroes. In the face of challenge I’ve heard many comments about the things that people have been unable to do or experience, in short called upon to sacrifice. Within most of us is the potential draft of such a list, more than likely quite a lengthy one, and compiled with relative ease. The harder path to pursue is to see the challenge and ask the question: what can be done about it. The words of John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s Inaugural Address as President of the United States of America come to mind: “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” In the face of adversity, and words of despairing negativity, I have often had to reassure people that even with limitations and restrictions things are possible and can become a reality through extra effort, creativity and openness. Hence even with limited numbers, doors closed, and an inability to be tactile within the context of celebrating Sacraments, as a community we have celebrated arrivals, departures and unions amongst ourselves. I can assure you that at no time in my seven years of training did anyone give us instruction on how to conduct a meaningful Funeral in ten minutes or to use cotton buds safely during the anointing of a wriggling infant with the Holy Oils on the day of their Baptism, let alone how to stage-whisper the sacred vows of Marriage through a three-ply facial covering. Like many of my colleagues, who were able to continue to minister in Lockdown, I simply got on with it, learning all the while, and at times rehearsing many times over, in order to get the balance right, and not lose the precious significance of a moment that could not be replayed.

With the celebration of Christmas drawing ever closer there are many disparaging voices, announcing their discontentment loudly, pointing out what we are not going to be able to do or have: limited numbers around a table, no public houses in which to gather, overcrowded transport networks as everyone gravitates towards family homes at the same time, the inability to purchase or exchange gifts … to name but a few of the comments that have reached my ears. Having heard a colleague preaching along similar lines in Ireland recently, he drew his reflections to an end by saying: “Imagine if all that was left of our Christmas was the birth of Christ !”

The laments voiced today had their comparisons almost two thousand years ago. The road to Bethlehem was overcrowded as those of “David’s house and line” journeyed “in order to be registered.” The public houses were open, but so crowded that as “there was no room for them [Joseph and Mary] in the living space” the newly arrived Christ-child was “laid in manger.” No mention is made of a table. The only image of feeding in that stable scene is “a breastful of milk” described by Christina Rossetti in the carol “In the bleak midwinter.” As to any form of gifts, Sacred Scripture tells us that the shepherds “hurried away and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger,” in response to the angelic message they had received, but it makes no reference to them taking any presents along. Even in the visit of the gift-bearing Magi as told by St. Matthew, there is a very large clue that the presents of gold, frankincense and myrrh arrived quite some time after the first Christmas, perhaps up to two years judging by the age of the innocents slaughtered as a result of Herod’s insecurity.

Perhaps if all we have to celebrate this Christmas is the birth of Christ, the impact of that event will be more profound than usual. Christmas after Christmas the invitation is made to worshippers in our crowded churches to spend a moment of contemplation in front of the rather rarified crib-scene. In anticipation of present-opening and the veritable banquet that awaits extended family units hasty retreats are made, with a promise to do it next time.

Amid the characters populating the Christmas scene are those who are often overlooked, even mocked or criticized. Let us be more positive about them. The Innkeeper, who despite having a full house, had the compassion necessary to offer what little was spare – an outbuilding or cave, warmed by the body heat of its animal residents. The Shepherds who heard “news of great joy” and responded by going in search of “Christ the Lord,” displayed a generous trust in providence, believing that all would be well with that on which their livelihoods depended – their own sheep. And the Magi who never gave up on the hope afforded them by the “star they had seen rising” and which went ahead of them until it “halted over the place where the child was.” Beneath ever altering skies they journeyed on, sometimes with light step, sometimes trudging.

Earlier I mentioned shining stars and heroes that our time of adversity has produced. Some maybe almost household names like Captain Sir Tom Moore or Marcus Rashford, but in our midst have shone many who have reached out to others in tremendous acts of compassion, forged dependable friendships out of the limited materials of nodding acquaintance. Those who care for others through life-choice, not just the sick, elderly and vulnerable, but also the staff in our schools, who have done so much to provide new forms of education to the children of others. Not to mention the pastoral care that comes from seeing need and addressing it. These are the people within our community and society who are called upon to take risks, and in their rising to the challenge bear contemporary witness to the providential confidence of St. Luke’s shepherds. Others trudge onward, like the Magi. For them 2020 has brought untold heartache, uncertainty and darker skies than they’ve ever known, despite which they still seek the star to guide them. They journey on with a “hope that is not deceptive” (Romans 5:5).

Listening to the negative, whether it is the voice of stranger on the radio, or even someone who lives beneath the same roof as ourselves, being dismayed by the critical and guided by those without hope is not the recipe for the feast that we are journeying toward through these days of Advent. Such counsel places us in danger of letting Gospel good news slip through our fingers, replaced by a self-centred indulgence. If all we have on December 25th is the opportunity of celebrating the birth of Christ perhaps our celebration will be more authentic, honest and contain an integrity lost in years past by the “fripperies” poetically spoken of in a John Betjeman classic. The arrival of the Babe of Bethlehem as told by the authors of Sacred Scripture revealed the unimaginable love that God has for each and everyone of us, delivered amid the obscurity and randomness of history.

Pausing to reflect on that gift this year may we discover the contagion of that priceless love. Desiring to share it will bring joy in reaching out to others. In the effort made and the opportunity embraced our redemptive history will achieve its aim and goal. It will also find us displaying the gifts of those seemingly peripheral unnamed characters of the early pages of our Second Testament; the Innkeeper, shepherds and Magi – compassion, trust and hope. As Muhammad Ali once said: “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room on earth.” Whatever our address – stable, palace or any and all postcodes in between – may our homes be places of optimism, hope and joy this Advent and Christmas.

And if you’re wondering what or who has replaced Jeremy Vine ! I have dug out, dusted down and charged up a decade old Walkman, filled with music, songs and humour, personally chosen, which makes the world I populate feel an okay place, and one with a fabulous and glorious future ahead of it ! So perhaps the voices of the BBC Radio 2 listeners described earlier as whingers, moaners and negative individuals, have actually done me a good turn after all.

May we continue to remain faithful to each other through prayer and affection, united in the great hope that one day we shall be united again in the houses of God familiar to us.

As ever, Fr. Nicholas