Our annual Retreat in Daily Life will be held from Sunday 24th-Friday 29th January 2021. A Retreat in Daily Life brings the experience of an individually guided retreat to you, fitting around your work and study commitments. You have the opportunity to meet daily with a prayer guide and explore the Ignatian approach to prayer. The retreat is open to everyone – students, university staff and parishioners. Those who have taken part in past years have found it a worthwhile and enriching experience. This year’s retreat will be held online, because of Covid restrictions. Put the dates in your diary now! For more information, email Fr Andrew.
Mary’s Meals provides a good meal to some of the world’s poorest children, every school day. Up to 31st January, your donations will be doubled by the UK Government. https://www.marysmeals.org.uk/
The Light that shines in the darkness
Today’s reading comes from the very beginning of John’s Gospel. Before telling us the story of Jesus’s life, John sets the scene with this strange and mysterious Prologue, reflecting on the Word of God.
The Word of God was with God the Father ‘in the beginning’ – at the creation of the world. The Word is the Light that shines in the darkness. The Word brings life into the world. The Word ‘was made flesh and lived among us.’ The Word of God is Jesus, the Son of God. The Word has become a man, and has come to live in the world that God made. The Son of God knows how we feel, because he experienced everything that we do. He felt hungry, thirsty, tired, sad. He wept when his friend Lazarus died. He felt lost and abandoned on the Cross.
Jesus is the Light that shines out in the darkness of sin and suffering. He brings hope and meaning to those who have lost their way in the dark. Jesus brings life; he heals the sick, and overcomes sin and death.
Jesus is the Light for all people. We are quick to divide people up, according to nationality, race or class. But with Jesus, there are no divisions. We are all God’s children, in the light of Christ.
We have lived through a strange and difficult year. As a new year begins, the world around us may still seem dark and frightening. But Jesus is the Light that shines in the darkness. He will show us the way.
The Feast of the Epiphany is this Wednesday, 6th January. The 7.00pm Mass will be live streamed. The obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and Holydays has been suspended by the Bishops of England & Wales, until further notice.
Thank you all for your kindness to me over the Christmas season, and for your contribution to the life of our parish during the past year. Let us pray for one another as we move forward into 2021 – Fr Andrew.
The Northern Catholic Calendar for 2021 is now on sale, price £3.50 ringbound, £3.00 flat. Please pick up a copy for a friend or neighbour who cannot get to church.
Mary was very young when the Angel Gabriel appeared to her – still in her teens. She lived in a small, obscure village in a remote part of the Roman province of Palestine. Almost certainly, she had never travelled far from her home. But God chose Mary for a unique part in the plan of salvation.
Luke tells us that Mary was ‘deeply disturbed’ when the angel spoke to her, and she wondered how she could conceive a child when she was still a virgin. Her reaction is not surprising. But, as the angel Gabriel tells her, nothing is impossible to God.
Although she couldn’t foresee everything that would happen, Mary must have realised that God was about to turn her life upside down. She had expected to marry Joseph and start a family with him, and instead, she would give birth to the Son of God. Nothing would ever be the same again.
God gave Mary a choice, and she said ‘Yes’ to God’s plan. She trusted herself completely to God, and put her life into God’s hands; and so God’s plan to save us from our sins could unfold. As we draw closer to Christmas, we celebrate Mary’s ‘Yes.’ She is a model for us; every disciple is asked to say ‘Yes’ as Mary did, and to welcome Christ into their lives.
Sunday 20th December is Sea Sunday, when the Church prays for all those who live and work at sea. There will be a retiring collection to support Stella Maris (formerly the Apostleship of the Sea), the official maritime welfare agency of the Catholic Church. This Christmas, around 400,000 seafarers and fishers are stranded far from home. https://www.stellamaris.org.uk/
The Diocesan Refugee Project Centre has recently been reopened, and we can accept donations of toilet rolls and biscuits again! Please bring items on Sunday 3rdJanuary, and place them in the specially labelled box in the church porch. Biscuits should be placed in a carrier bag, and if you bring in anything after Sunday 3rd please label it with the date that it’s been left, as items need to be left for 72 hours before being moved later in the week.
As we approach Christmas, I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for all your hard work for your parish and the diocese in this time of pandemic. To those who have helped to keep our churches open for Mass and those who have reached out to the less fortunate I want to say a big thank you. It is by our faith and unity that we can be a sign to the world of the love Christ showed us in becoming one of us in the holy season. I would like to wish you and your family a happy and peaceful Christmas and a blessed New Year.
Durham Churches Together New Year’s Eve Service will be held online this year. The service will be available from 6pm on 31st December on the Durham Cathedral Facebook page:
St Cuthbert’s Care is our diocesan charity, which works to improve the lives of some of the most vulnerable members of our communities. To find out more about their work, and to donate, see https://stcuthbertscare.org.uk/
In today’s Gospel reading, John the Evangelist introduces us to John the Baptist. We are told four times that John the Baptist is a witness. ‘He was not the light, only a witness to speak for the light.’ Jesus will light up the whole world. The Baptist will prepare the way for him.
John makes it clear that his ministry is not about himself. He is preaching and baptising the people because God has called him, just as God called the prophets of the Old Testament. John is not speaking about himself; he is preparing the way for Jesus, who has not yet appeared in public. He is a witness to speak for the light.
John is the messenger foretold by the prophet Isaiah, who brings good news for the poor. We shouldn’t spiritualise this message; it has a practical, concrete meaning. It is a call to us, the disciples of Christ, to be good news for the poor, to ‘bind up hearts that are broken’ and to search for justice. Like John the Baptist, we too are called to be witnesses for Christ. The best witness that we can give is our care for others.
Home Mission Sunday is on December 13. We celebrate and pray for the Church’s work of evangelisation. There will be a retiring collection in aid of this work. Details and resources at https://homemission.org.uk/home-mission-sunday/
An order has been placed, and the equipment for live streaming will be installed at St Cuthbert’s soon.
Until 31 January 2021, public donations made to Mary’s Meals ‘Double The Love’ appeal will be doubled by the UK government, up to £2 million. For details and to donate, see www.marysmeals.org.uk
Today’s reading comes from the very beginning of the Gospel of Mark. ‘The beginning of the Good News about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.’ But before Jesus appears, we first meet John the Baptist. John seems a scary figure. He lived alone in the desert, he dressed in a camel skin, and he was fierce and fearless in his preaching. And yet, the people flocked to hear him. John’s message was good news for them. The ordinary people of Judaea and Jerusalem were poor and downtrodden, suffering under Roman rule and burdened with sin. John called them to repent; to turn back to God. When John baptised the people in the river Jordan, it was a sign that they were leaving behind their sins, receiving God’s mercy and beginning a new life. His message was one of change and of hope.
The people flocked to John, but he didn’t seek glory for himself. He told his disciples that someone more powerful was coming – Jesus, the Saviour, who would baptise them with the Holy Spirit. The Jewish people knew the words of the prophets, and they recognised John as the messenger sent by God to prepare the way for the Saviour, just as the prophet Isaiah had foretold. The Lord was coming with power.
In the season of Advent, we look forward to Christmas, and we prepare ourselves to welcome the Saviour. We may feel downtrodden and burdened, like John’s disciples. But with Jesus, there is always hope. We can always turn back to God, be forgiven and make a new start. There doesn’t seem to have been much good news in 2020; but the coming of Jesus is good news.
Friends of the Holy Land is a non-political charity that supports Christian communities living in the Holy Land. This year is particularly difficult for those communities, as Covid-19 has devastated the tourist industry on which they depend. For details and donations, see https://www.friendsoftheholyland.org.uk/
Durham Winter Night Shelter will be providing emergency accommodation for homeless people in the city on the coldest nights of the year. This year, the shelter has had to adapt in order to become Covid-secure. Please support Durham Winter Night Shelter with your prayers, and financially if you can, via https://www.justgiving.com/northeast-mission The shelter also needs volunteers – contact Fr Andrew if you’re interested.
Catholicism and Music. Presented by Sir James MacMillan, University of St Andrews. Sir James MacMillan is one of today’s most successful composers, and a Durham graduate. Wednesday 9th December at 6.00pm, online. See Centre for Catholic Studies website for details and registration.