When we come together in the parish whether it be for the Mass, the sacraments, the worship and praise, the social events and various meetings of one kind or another, we should always try to see them as opportunities for growth, to draw closer to those we interact with and be sensitive to each other’s needs. In short, I hope we all endeavour to make whatever gathering we may find ourselves in, a positive experience.

I have been attending a number of events throughout this Advent season. The End of Term Mass at Bishop Challoner, the carol services of our parish and both St Mary’s and Bishop Challoner schools and the social gatherings afterwards, the SVP lunch where guests listened to carols sung by pupils from St Mary’s School, and the parish Afternoon Tea, spring to mind.

All of them had one thing in common and that was a spirit of joy. I sensed this in the lively banter; I saw it vividly in the faces. Many of the people had been starved of company, deprived of conversation, of sharing a meal with others in the last two years. It was a joyful release, and I found myself caught up in the wholesome atmosphere of friends being re-acquainted or individuals engaging for the first time. It was heartening to see.

“True communities are simply groups of people who keep coming together over what they care about”.  R Richardson, K Huyah, K E Sotto

The things people care about are many and varied and this often draws them together. What brings Christians together is the desire to follow in Jesus’ footsteps, ‘to love one another as he loved us’. Unity and support were paramount in the early Christian community where believers came together to pray and break bread, and where no one was left in need as ‘they shared their food gladly and generously’ [see Acts 2:42-47]. Also, the using of gifts and talents was encouraged for the building up and strengthening of the community.

“Just as each of our bodies has several parts and each part has a separate function, so all of us, in union with Christ form one body, and as parts of it we belong to one body”.  Romans 12:5

Woodrow Kroll once wrote ‘You are never alone when you are alone with God’. But to be alone has to be a voluntary act, it should never be imposed. Jesus was one who needed to be alone to pray and to ponder things. He would take himself off to the hills to be alone, but he was never isolated. There is a difference between isolation and solitude. One is healthy, the other not. Once he had prayed, he was ready to immerse himself in people’s lives, to engage with others, to choose disciples, to teach, to socialise as a sociable being. Having been born into a family, both men and women became his followers and friends. He would be invited to people’s houses, to social events, to weddings, and wherever he went he drew people to himself. He wanted to mix with others, to be involved in their lives.

‘There is a difference between solitude and isolation. One is connected, one isn’t. Solitude replenishes, isolation diminishes’.   Henry Cloud.

This Christmas Season, I hope you will be celebrating with family and friends. But in the midst of all this I encourage you to have some quiet time to yourself and while you do, perhaps consider ways in which you would like to be involved with the community of St Edmund’s. It would be a great step forward if we could gather people together throughout the year from time to time. It is said that Christmas is a season of goodwill, but Christian charity and community can never be confined to a season.

In solitude and together with others, I wish you all a very joyful and peaceful Christmas.

Fr Steve