In wishing readeri a holy and happy Christmas for 1973, we have our eye very much on the scriptural readings for the Third Sunday of Advent. With the new three year cycle, we now have no less than nine readings for this Sunday. All of them in different ways reflect the theme of spiritual joy in the midst of material adversity.
This three year cycle officially came into operation in April, 1969, with Pope Paul's solemn promulgation of the reformed liturgy in his "Missale Romanum". Those with a strongly "protestant" rather than fundamentally Catholic outlook have chosen to follow their own private judgment rather than that of the Holy Father in the matter of the reform and enlarged scope of the Church's offical form of worship. Not a few of such dissidents have harboured much unedifying bitterness in their hearts ever since. But most have had the courtesy and courage to remain silent about their dissent.
Those however who have not churlishly refused the Pope's invitation to an enriched spiritual and scriptural banquet have received their reward. Or rather, the reward is, year by year and week by week, ever more strikingly making itself known to the faithful.
The Supper, Calvary and the Mass remain — three-inone and one-in-three — the eternal cornerstone of Christian worship. But the Laodicean lukewarmness that the Lord would spew out of his mouth lies heavily on the Church of God in some parts of the world today. It is traceable surprisingly often to an appalling lack of familiarity with sacred scripture.
The means of remedy are at hand and about an hour's personal study of the fascinating background to each week's prescribed scripture readings could well work a revolution in the life of the individual Catholic.
The spirit of what used to be called "Gaudete" Sunday has meanwhile far from disappeared. This year the classic passage from St. Paul's letter to the Philippians was the second Reading. His message from prison, with peril and perturbation all around him, to Europe's first Christian community, was one of thanksgiving and hope: "what I want is your happiness."
The same theme suffuses the other readings for this Sunday, in each of the different three years: the prophet Zephaniah's "shout for joy"; St. Luke's "Good News"; Isaiah's soul as it "rejoices in my God"; the Pauline exhortation to the Thessalonians to "he happy at all times": the stress, in the "catholic" epistle of St. James, on not losing heart while awaiting the Lord's coming. And the much misunderstood "responsorial psalms" echo the corresponding spirit as fittingly as on every Sunday of the year.
This year is more appropriate than ever for the Christian who can distinguish true happiness from forced gaiety. One can surely borrow our 1973 Christmas greeting from St. Paul: "May the God of peace make you perfect and holy; and may you all be kept safe and blameless, spirit, soul and body, for the coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ. God has called you and he will not fail you."
Carol singing at underground stations is really money for old rope. On this year's form I recommend Baker Street and Charing Cross. Both have helpful Londou Transport inspectors, and in two 1-} hour bursts a very mixed group managed to tease SIN out of galloping commuters rushing home. The good cause was one of the overseas aid agencies — War on Want. The only problem a very affectionate drunk.
Hut what does it really add up to? The most valiant efforts of all the Third World agencies, including our own Cafod, produce substantially less than £15 million a year. Yet as a nation we spend nearly £2,000 million a year on alcohol and £1,500 million on tobacco. "Defence" takes about £3,500 million — just £1,000 million more than the National Health Service.
Are carols therefore a waste of time? Not at all, because to interest people at the level of immediate aid is the beginning of getting them to look at the world from new points of view. it's not a nice, cosy, Hampstead Garden Suburb world, It's a world of international greed, selfishness, racialism, militarism and waste.
If we stop at immediate succour then we are doing what the Canadian bishops once called "putting Band Aids on the wounds of society." It is exactlthe agencies which are opening our eyes to all the structural injustices of the world in which we live.
Violence, after all, is not just knocking an old lady on the head with an umbrella. It is every denial of human potential. The Africans
of Chad, where life expectancy is in the mid-thirties, are as much the victims of violence in their way as the passenger who meets sudden death at the hands of an urban thug in a railway station. This is not off the point. We have still some time to plan ahead liturgically, educationally and socially for Peace Sunday on January 6. "Peace," says Pope Paul, "is the fruit of anxious daily care to see that everyone lives in justice as God intends." We are very good at identifying what I call "bang-bang violence." We are not so bright at noting and tackling, at home and abroad, the hidden, crushing violence of the system. Do we realise that what the Arabs are now doing to us we have done to primary producers all around the world for generations? The Pope this year has given us the theme "Peace depends on you too." But what can we do? The very least — and it doesn't take five "A" levels — is to begin to know the real face of the world: a world which can be so smoothly cruel.
If we do no more than join our hands piously together, say our prayers, make our meditations, give up sweets for Lent and confess uncharitable thoughts weekly, then we will look very like the Levite who passed by while the world lay bleeding in a ditch.
To know the facts, to feel responsibility, is the beginning of wisdom, "We'll build a new world, but some other day" says the hymn much twanged by guitars these days. Peace Sunday is a blunt reminder from Pope Paul that we ought to start now. Even with Christmas carols!