By the Rev Msgr Harry Entwistle
Sunday 16th December, 2018
Most travellers admit that it is nice to be home. After all, Aussies all over the world still call Australia home. The prophet Zephaniah talked about home to the Jewish people before their leaders were marched off into exile in Babylon. The prophet berates them for their lack of faithfulness in God, but after his tirade he strikes a more hopeful note and says that the only people who would survive the destruction of Jerusalem will be a remnant of humble, faithful people who placed themselves under God’s protection. Pope Emeritus Benedict believes that the Church in our age will shrink to being a faithful remnant, and this remnant will be truly at home because God will be in their hearts.
IIt was St Augustine who said, ‘Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee.’ GK Chesterton picks up this theme in a Christmas poem, ‘The House of Christmas’ where she writes,
‘To an open house in the evening
Home shall all men come……
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home.
God became homeless to give us a home in himself, and that is what we prepare for in Advent and celebrate at Christmas. Home is where God is present.
John the Baptist told the crowd lining the banks of the Jordan River that their home is not found in the security of material goods, or in the exercise of power. After all, everyone leaves everything behind when they are carried out in a box. Our true home, says John, is the one who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. John is the messenger, not the message. It is the Messiah who will lead us on a pilgrimage, and any pilgrimage means the pilgrims must be prepared to let go of some of what was in order to travel in uncharted territory and embrace what it new. Once on the journey, there can be no turning back. Those who turn back to what was known and comfortable lack faith in God. Faith is a four letter word spelt R-I-S-K.
Many of TS Eliot’s poems focus on the risks of a spiritual journey. This is true of the Church itself as much as of individuals. In the quartet East Coker he writes
In order to arrive there
To arrive where you are, to get to where you are not
You must go by a way where there is no ecstasy.
In order to arrive at what you do not know
You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
In order to possess what you do not possess
You must go by the way of dispossession.
Jesus lived a life of dispossession. He borrowed everything needed for his ministry, including his disciples who he said must, like himself, not be possessed by anyone or anything. On the pilgrimage, no baggage is allowed. You can see why true Christianity is not appealing. The prospect of carrying nothing but a cross is in stark contrast to the gospel of health, wealth and happiness that is preached by some Christian evangelists as well as secularist motivators.
The uncertain way of the Cross will create anxiety, and that is why St Paul told the Philippians to rejoice in all things, because anxiety can paralyse Christians. Deep anxiety can convince us that there is no future, so either we turn back to the familiar, freeze on the spot or abandon the altogether.
We must take heart. Times are difficult for the Church, but they always have been. Was it tough for the Children of Israel? Was it tough for Jesus? Was it tough for Our Lady? Was it tough for the first disciples and countless saints, both known and unknown ever since? Yes it has.
What Zephaniah and John the Baptist says is true. The Messiah is among us, and that is why St Paul says that we should, ‘Rejoice in the Lord always.’ In the darkest times as well as those filled with light, we must focus on what God has done for us both as individuals and as a Church and that will make us cheerful. Our joy is based on what God has done and still does for us. Rejoice, for once again we will soon celebrate the One who has brought Joy to the world. The one whose name is Emmanuel, which means God is with us.
Monsignor Entwistle is the first Ordinary of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of the Southern Cross. Educated at St Chad's Theological College, he was ordained a priest in the Church of England Diocese of Blackburn in 1964. After reception into the Roman Catholic Church, he was ordained to the priesthood in St Mary's Cathedral, Perth on 15 June 2012.