ON THURSDAY I listened to the traditional Carol Service led by KS2 children at St Mary’s School – sadly once again this could not be in church for Covid reasons and was recorded from the school, and I concluded the service with a blessing as usual. As in the past one of the highlights was a rendition of Silent Night including verses in French, Spanish and German: when we take the trouble to do this we affirm our belief that Christmas breaks down barriers among peoples (the carol was famously sung at the unofficial Christmas truce in December 1914).

Last weekend I started our reflections for Advent with the insights of Pope Francis in his October 2020 letter Fratelli Tutti. This needs to be our guide both for Advent and all our efforts to renew and restore the mission of our parish as we engage in the synodal pathway which he initiated a few weeks ago. Next week we begin our parish reflections which will enable us both to share with others what we believe, but also renew the life of the parish. This is why the whole process is so important – all of you need to be involved in this.

In Fratelli Tutti two years ago the pope wrote, quoting what he had said earlier to a gathering of young people of varying backgrounds in Skopke (Macedonia):

‘It is my desire that, in this our time, by acknowledging the dignity of each human person, we can contribute to the rebirth of a universal aspiration to fraternity. Fraternity between all men and women. “Here we have a splendid secret that shows us how to dream and to turn our life into a wonderful adventure. No one can face life in isolation… We need a community that supports and helps us, in which we can help one another to keep looking ahead. How important it is to dream together… By ourselves, we risk seeing mirages, things that are not there. Dreams, on the other hand, are built together”. Let us dream, then, as a single human family, as fellow travellers sharing the same flesh, as children of the same earth which is our common home, each of us bringing the richness of his or her beliefs and convictions, each of us with his or her own voice, brothers and sisters all’.

The pope’s vision is crucial to why it is so good that children in our parish school sing Stille Nacht in different languages. As Britain descends into ever more toxic xenophobia, this is what makes us different as Catholics. The picture here is of the Jean Monnet museum north west of Paris, which I was able to visit recently. As some of you will know from various teaching programmes we have run over the years in this parish, Jean Monnet was one of the key figures in the setting up of common European institutions after the Second World War. The museum, which was his home for many years, is the place where in the 50s and 60s he pioneered work for reconciliation and peace in Europe. I have wanted to go to this place for many years: (https://www.jean-monnet-europe.eu/en/permanent-exhibition/museum); it is a bit out of the way but if you have the chance it is well worth a visit. I had studied Monnet for many years (thanks to the late Tony Kinch, whom many of us remember, I have the biography of him by François Dechêne) but it was incredibly moving. This was where the vision of European unity after the Second World War was forged; Monnet, Adenauer, Schuman, and De Gasperi were motivated by two things: the catastrophic destruction of much of Europe in two World Wars, and Catholic Social Teaching. This is why the Catholic Church supports European Unity.

While it was moving to be at the Monnet house I also found it rather depressing, more than I might have done a few years ago. Among photos in the house of people he had worked with were pictures including Harold Macmillan (MP not far from here in Bromley) and Edward Heath (again, Bexley and Sidcup); this country, with its sad flag-waving and xenophobia, has walked away from what Monnet’s house, and the teachings of the Catholic Church, try to say to the world. People in this country do not know much about Monnet – it’s not too late to put that right.

In Fratelli Tutti the Holy Father reflects on what is wrong with the world in the chapter ‘Dark Clouds over a Closed World’, and pays tribute to Monnet and the other founding fathers of today’s Europe (quoting his address to the European Parliament in 2014):

For decades, it seemed that the world had learned a lesson from its many wars and disasters, and was slowly moving towards various forms of integration. For example, there was the dream of a united Europe, capable of acknowledging its shared roots and rejoicing in its rich diversity. We think of “the firm conviction of the founders of the European Union, who envisioned a future based on the capacity to work together in bridging divisions and in fostering peace and fellowship between all the peoples of this continent”.’ (section 10)

Advent is not simply about looking at our own lives; nor is it simply about looking at our parish; it has to entail looking at the world in which we live. Pope Francis’ vision of breaking down borders and barriers, against so much hatred in our land, has to be central to how we try to keep a good Advent.