ONE OF THE KEY FIGURES of the season of Advent, beginning this weekend, is Isaiah, shown here to the left of the Nativity scene (Duccio, Nativity with Prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel, National Gallery of Art, New York

At Mass today we hear these rousing words from chapter two of his book: ‘He will wield authority over the nations and adjudicate between many peoples; these will hammer their swords into ploughshares, their spears into sickles. Nation will not lift sword against nation, there will be no more training for war.’ Advent marks the beginning of a new year in the worshipping life of the Church, the chance to make a fresh start – if we look at the violence in the world this last year, particularly since the invasion of Ukraine in February, we can see how far the world needs to listen to Isaiah’s message.

In recent weeks in this newsletter we have reminded you of the reinstatement last May of the Sunday Mass obligation. I suspect in most places this reminder has been offered alongside a rather sluggish return to Mass attendances post-Covid. This is an issue for us all to address in our synodal pathway / parish renovation process and meetings: but I want today to look at another problem area: Confession. Traditionally Advent is seen as a penitential season, although not in quite the same way as Lent: so purple vestments are worn, we don’t normally say or sing the Gloria at Mass, and (except on the third Sunday of Advent) we avoid flowers and the use of the organ beyond the sustaining of singing. It is a subdued time for Christians, somewhat at odds with much desperate partying going on around us. The word ‘desperate’ might seem rather patronising, as we do have to recognise that people do feel rather desperate for very good reasons – it has been a rather awful year at various levels and people understandably feel entitled to have a party in the next few weeks because it has been so awful: the horrendous war in Ukraine, the continuing economic collapse of the country post Brexit, the worsening cost of living crisis, the unbelievable extent to which the people of this country have been let down and betrayed by mendacious politicians devoid of integrity, the growth in so many places of demonic nationalism…the list goes on. Sometimes in looking at our consciences and the world many of us simply need to listen to young people. For Catholics and many others the only light in the tunnel has been the ongoing ministry and witness of Pope Francis – but this has been the ministry of an old, frail man who can hardly walk or celebrate Mass in public, who needs our prayers and support.

When we seek new hope in Advent our starting point has to be our need for forgiveness and reconciliation. The practice of going to confession was already rather fragile before the epidemic which began in the spring of 2020; but in the worst period of it going to confession was either completely impossible or, when it did restart, surrounded by many restrictions. It was not easy, but my basic plea, this Advent Sunday, is simply for you all to do one simple thing between now and Christmas: go to confession. You may not have been since before the pandemic, you may not have been since you were a teenager, but please go! Look at your life in these extraordinary times; realise, please, how you were not made by God to be a self-sufficient, independent, self-reliant, self-made, selfish individual. Rather we were made to be persons in communion with each other, interdependent, dependent upon God: going to confession is the antidote to the selfish individualism which dominates the culture of our country. When we go we should also look at our complicity in the sinfulness of our broken country and a world which is very definitely not hammering swords into ploughshares or spears into sickles: war and militarism are getting worse all the time. War pollutes everyone, not just the aggressor: militarism is a poison in our society. Many of us also collude in public policies which promote contempt for the poor, hatred towards migrants, scorn for people in prison, indifference towards political corruption, the glorification of naked greed and many other serious structural sins in our country – these are things to bring to God if we manage to get into the confessional box.

Our Advent reconciliation service here at St Edmund’s is on Saturday 17 December at 4pm. In recent months we have also made it easier than ever to come to confession by being available, normally, for confession every day after the 10.00 am Mass (in addition to the regular Saturday times of 10 30 am and 5.00 pm). At the beginning of a new year in the Church’s life we have the chance to make a fresh start, in the hope that we can help our violent, often hate-filled world make a fresh start as well. But we cannot preach to the world unless we get our own house in order.

Fr Ashley