May They Be Kept Safe From All Harm - Third Sunday of Advent 2014

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May they be kept safe from all harm
Third Sunday of Advent 2014

This week the Pope received His Beatitude Ignatius Youssef III Younan, Patriarch of Antioch and all the East of the Syrians, accompanied by the bishops and faithful of the Syriac-Catholic community. He acknowledged that the peoples of Syria and Iraq are “living through a time of great suffering and fear in the face of violence” and expressed his solidarity and compassion for these communities.

In the course of the meeting the Pope expressed what is the great dilemma for the Church in the Middle East at this time. Those Christians forced from their homelands are naturally seeking a place of safety and security which in many cases would involve emigration to other countries who would receive them. If there is an exodus of the Christians from the Middle East to Europe, or America or Australia, what will happen to the Christian presence in this part of the world? He expressed it in these words, “This movement of the faithful towards countries that are considered safer impoverishes the Christian presence in the Middle East, the land of the prophets, the first preachers of the Gospel, the martyrs and many saints, the cradle of the hermits and monasticism.”

The Church wants to encourage the Christians to remain close to their ancient homelands so that there may be a possibility in the future of the restoration of Christian communities in places like Iraq and Syria, and indeed across the Middle East. These places are the ancient homelands of the Christian faith. The Churches there have rich traditions of faith and the people have deep allegiances to the Christian faith.

I am very aware of this dilemma facing individual families and the bishops as I go to the Lebanon and Iraq tonight. I ask firstly for your prayers to accompany me as I seek to be a source of comfort and compassion. I wish to witness to our deep fraternal love for them in their great sufferings.

I am aware that when I was ordained a bishop I was asked to assume the pastoral care of the portion of the Church entrusted to me, and I was asked to have, what the Church calls, “solicitude for all the Churches”. In other words, a bishop is not just to have concern for the people entrusted to his pastoral care, but also to be aware of brothers and sisters in the faith in other communities, particularly those who are suffering. I have a personal concern for these fellow Christians in such desperate situations because of their faith. They are being persecuted for one reason only: they are Christians. They have been prepared to sacrifice their homes, their possessions, their ancient lands, in order to preserve their faith. They suffer because of their faith in Jesus Christ. This is why we as a Catholic community here in Tasmania want to express our love for them and to encourage them in their difficult times.

The Lord said that he would not be the instrument of peace that he longs to be, but he would be a cause of this followers experiencing suffering, even death. He did say that his followers will need to take up the cross and follow him. This has become the lot of our brothers and sisters in the Middle East.

Christmas is fast approaching. We, here in the freedom and beauty of Tasmania, prepare for the joy of our Christmas celebrations. The theme of joy is captured in the liturgy of this Gaudete Sunday. The entrance antiphon for this Sunday declared: “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say, rejoice. Indeed the Lord is near”. The reason for our Christian joy is our celebration of the coming of our saviour.

St Paul beautifully captured the way of life of the Christian that is the path to living in the joy of the Gospel. He said, “May the God of peace make you perfect and holy, and may you be kept safe and blameless, spirit, soul and body, for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ”.

We receive these words for ourselves. We ask for the grace to be perfect and holy. We ask that we may be kept safe and blameless.

My brothers and sisters, let us give thanks for the gift of our faith. Let us lift our hearts to God in deep gratitude for all the good we enjoy. Let us resolve to life our faith with deep dedication. Let us seek union with the living God and desire to grow in holiness of life.

Let us not take what we have for granted. Let us not become complacent in our faith and take it lightly.

We are blessed to know the true God. We are blessed to be able to live our faith in freedom. We are blessed to enjoy peace and security.

Let us lift our hearts in joyful thanksgiving to God. Let us bless his holy name.

Today we can also hear these words also for our persecuted brothers and sisters in the Middle East. We pray that this Christmas they may find fresh hope and experience consolation in their suffering for Christ. We pray that they may remain faithful and trusting in the Lord. We pray that they may be kept safe. We pray that the God of peace may touch their hearts and lives this Christmas.

God is the giver of life and salvation. Blessed be His name.

Archbishop Julian Porteous
Saturday, 13 December 2014