Advent my dear people is a season that prepares us liturgically for the coming of Christ at Christmas. As such, it asks us to prepare for the greatest event in the history of the world, the coming of God to us as a helpless child in a manger. Is there any image more unlike the all powerful God of popular expectations? At the same time, is there any image of God more suitable for our violent world today? Indeed there is so much mystery hidden in the season of Advent that it seems altogether too short for the preparation we need. Sadly Advent and Christmas become a tragedy when the season comes and goes meaning nothing more for many people than Santa Claus and shopping. Let us therefore determine this Advent not to waste its superb message of God’s arrival in our midst.
Today however, without in any way diminishing its immediate importance, I ask you to place this Advent in an even wider context. As Archbishop I would like to try to shape the next seven years (God willing) into one big Advent of preparation for the coming of Christ into the life of the entire Archdiocese. I ask you to join me in that project. Over the past six months I have been visiting Churches throughout the Archdiocese, to ask people to pray for vocations to priesthood and religious life. However, after visiting a number of parishes, I came to realize that, despite our critical need for such vocations, there was an even greater need for the faith renewal of the entire Archdiocese. If such renewal could happen, vocations to priesthood and religious life would fix themselves. Above all, what we need to do is to lead people to an understanding of how marvellous it is to be a Christian, and how marvellous it is to believe in Jesus Christ, God’s greatest gift to us. Moreover when faith becomes the dominant driving force in our lives the desire to share it as widely as possible with others automatically follows.
In 2005 the Archdiocese will promote a Lenten study programme called “One Light, Many Journeys” that will focus on the Church as “communion and mystical body”. I recommend it to the entire Archdiocese. If each and every parish could establish at least one study group on this critically important topic of theology, and invite into that study some of those 600,000 Catholics who live in the Archdiocese, but do not regularly worship, then 2005 could become one long metaphorical Advent. Moreover if the programme can help us arrive successfully at some understanding of “communion” and “mystical body”, which is another name for “Church”, then our desire to share that understanding with others should also automatically follow. We may then once again see our Archdiocesan Churches filled to overflowing, not only at Christmas and Easter but on every Sunday of the year. That is my dream, and I hope you can help me make it a reality for the Archdiocese in 2005.
This Advent I encourage each and every member of the Archdiocese to prepare as well as possible for the truly great feast of Christmas 2004 that rushes upon us, and I ask the intercession of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and St Joseph her spouse, that these few weeks of Advent may make the entire year of 2005 one great Advent of renewal that reaches out to all Catholics with the good news of Jesus Christ.