Pastoral Letter

To be read at all Masses on the First Sunday of Advent 2004

My dear people,

The season of Advent is a short but precious time. It is important that we recognise the spirit and the message of this season, and do not simply see it as a build-up to Christmas. The spirit of Advent is one of waiting and expectation. These are attitudes that are integral to what it means to be a Christian. We are people who look forward in hope, a hope that we express each Sunday in the Creed, when we say: "He will come again in glory." To enter into the spirit of Advent, we must recognise that the Child whose birth we celebrate at Christmas is now our living Lord. We look forward to his coming in glory, and that looking forward is at the heart of Christian spirituality.

This year, from October 2004 to October 2005, has been designated by Pope John Paul as a year of the Eucharist. The year began in October, but Advent - the beginning of the Church's year - is a good time to reflect on its significance for us all. In the Eucharist we look back to the saving death of Christ, which is made present in our celebration of Mass. But the liturgy of the Eucharist also propels us forward to a future that has yet to be revealed. Just before we receive Communion we are reminded that "we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Saviour Jesus Christ." But, we also look forward to God's action in our own lives, in the Church and in the world. Both in the Mass and in our personal prayer we focus on the living Lord who is truly present and active among us. That is why we bring to prayer all the hopes and intentions that we carry in our hearts.

In this year, we should seek to celebrate Mass with renewed fervour and devotion. I would also strongly encourage personal prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. I would suggest that in our prayer we bring before God the great challenges that face us as a Church as we move into the third millennium. As we think about our future, we might reflect on some words of Fr Raniero Cantalamessa in a conference given recently to priests. He said: "By praying, we 'put the question to God' (cf. Ex. 18:19); we rid ourselves of any personal interest and ambition of deciding on our own, and God is given the possibility to take action, to make us understand his will." I would like us, as a diocese, to use this year in order to ask God's guidance about the future of our Church and to do so with a genuinely open mind. Any projects and plans we may develop should arise from our discernment of God's will and not from our own anxieties or ideologies.

We should, of course, pray for ourselves, seeking the grace for a deeper knowledge and love of God. We pray, too, that we may all recognise and use the gifts God has bestowed on us for the life of his Body, the Church. We continue to pray for an increase in vocations to the priesthood and religious life as well as seeking wisdom as we seek to ensure future pastoral provision for our parishes and chaplaincies. We pray for justice and peace in our world and for respect for all human life. I know that there are people already praying about ways of evangelising our society afresh. This, too, I commend to your prayers together with your own personal and private intentions.

I also wish to propose a diocesan "Day of the Eucharist" towards the end of this special year. It will be on Saturday, 17th September 2005 at Aylesford Priory, where we will have Mass followed by a Blessed Sacrament Procession and Benediction. I would like to see this day as a culmination of months of sustained prayer and would hope that parishes will be able to organise events on that day for those who do not come to Aylesford.

The Pope has written a beautiful Apostolic Letter to guide us during this year, called "Mane Nobiscum" - "Stay with us". If we stay with the Lord in this year, then he will stay with us. He will lead and guide us. He will speak to the personal issues in our lives and to our concerns about the future. Let us make our own the words of the psalmist: "Lord, show me your ways, so that I may walk in your truth."

With my warm good wishes and my blessing.

+ Kevin
Archbishop of Southwark

Given at St George's Cathedral, Southwark,
on 10 November 2004,
the Feast of St Leo the Great