Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Advent is here.
It turns us to the coming of Christ, his three-fold coming: as the child of Mary born in Bethlehem; as the glorified Son of man at the end of time; and, in between, in our daily lives.
Advent has its own atmosphere and character, symbols, words and music. It’s a season with its own content, beauty and grace. It shouldn’t be swamped by premature Christmases. It’s like a hand stretched out, eager to take our hands and lead us beyond “the cares of life” into the presence of the God who comes.
Our diocese currently has seven (7) students for the priesthood. Many of you will know one or more of them. They are good news. But our resources are strained. It costs us just short of £200,000 per year to cover the formation of seminarians. There is an annual collection on the 4th Sunday of Easter for the Bursary Fund which meets these expenses. But this collection is not adequate in our present circumstances, nor are our other normal means of funding. I am therefore asking for your help – for any help, in fact, small or great. It is much needed. There is a leaflet available this Sunday with some suggestions as to how to contribute. Please take a copy.
We know the clergy are not supermen. We know that in all matters of the soul each of us stands alone before God. But we also know we need each other’s help. We are blessed to belong to a community of faith and love, the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. Just as Christ came to Israel in the humanity he took from Mary, so now he comes to us through the Church, our Mother, by way of word and sacrament. And priests are the ordained ministers of these things. In this sphere, in union with the bishop, they can act “on the authority of the Lord Jesus.” Priests are a good thing. For myself I can say that I have been blessed, often decisively, by many of the priests I have known. They really can be helpful! The ministry of priests is one of the ways the mercy, truth and peace of God the Father can touch our lives. Through it, Christ baptizes, confirms, feeds, forgives and anoints us. He blesses our marriages. He accompanies our dying. He, our Redeemer, keeps his Sacrifice before us in the Mass. He prays for us. He teaches, counsels, comforts, corrects and strengthens us, often, through his priests, in very human, heartfelt, even humorous ways. Our whole life, with its hardships and happiness, turns into a real Advent and we are gradually prepared for a final, merciful meeting with the Lord.
In a world with some very dark corners to it, we need people who will keep relighting the candles – the candles of faith, hope and love. This is the mission of the priest.
It is a sign of life that the Church in this diocese has priestly vocations to nurture. May there be still more! They are a sign of the divine mercy Pope Francis wishes us to rediscover this coming year. So, I thank you in advance for all you can do to support our seminarians, present and future.
Yours devotedly in Christ,
Hugh Gilbert OSB,
Bishop of Aberdeen