It caused quite a stir upon publication. It is not obvious why this crime novel and psychological thriller is titled thus. Only after reading the book does it slowly become clear what it means, for there is no obvious ‘postman’ in the book. While ‘the ring’ is an exploration of the role of fate in people’s lives, it can also describe the action of God in our lives.
As Advent continues, we might do well to think about the way God interacts with us. God not only always rings once, twice, but three, four and many times, and knocks on the door of our heart insistently. So many times we see Advent as something we do. Might we think of it also as something God does?
In 2022 our faith has once again been tested, with the continued impact of COVID upon all aspects of our lives, floods, war in Ukraine, troubled finance markets to name but a few.
The gift of faith allows us to see that at the same time as all these difficulties, this year has also been a time of grace and blessing. The gift of faith, especially poignant in Advent, reminds us that before we even begin to respond to God, God has taken giant steps towards us. When we are overburdened, as so many are at the moment in our society; when our horizons narrow or even look backward from whence we came rather than forward to life with God forever, it is easy to think we are alone, somehow left stranded with everything around us but feeling empty inside. Voices of fear seem to be louder these days than voices of hope. Faith leads us in another direction. Advent reminds us of that.
Our ocean home
In preparation for the General Assembly of the Federation of Catholic Bishops’ Conferences of Oceania (FCBCO) in February 2023 in Suva, Fiji, an event entitled Our Ocean Home was held online in November, together with the Australian Catholic University and the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development. The style and format of Our Ocean Home was framed by processes of storytelling, reflection and theological dialogue, akin to cultural experiences of Talanoa, the Fijian term for yarning circle-style conversations.
In one of the presentations a scientist admitted to not being overly religious but said that the ocean filled them with great wonder, and prompted questions such as ‘who’s in charge of all of this?’ and ‘how did all this get here?’ So often we wish to care for creation and are less ready to embrace the Creator. In the small groups, Bishop Paul Bird of Ballarat encouraged people by saying ‘while we like to watch movies, it is important to stay for the credits’.
Watching and participating in the fine presentations was a reminder that everything is interconnected and that the concerns of our sisters and brothers in Oceania and ours are one in the same. Faith binds us together, knowing that God will be all in all (1 Corinthians 15:28).
In that sense this is the movement of Advent. An Advent that insistently rings in our lives, not once, but twice and many times. It reminds us to be aware of the greater story, the story of ‘God-with-us’.
This gathering follows on from the very positive experience of the Plenary Council in July 2022, and for us in Adelaide, our second Diocesan family gathering at the Diocesan Assembly.
It anticipates the gathering of the Church for the World Synod in Rome in October next year and in October 2024.
I remember the reflections during the gathering of the FCBCO in April 2018 in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. At that time the Australian Church was preoccupied in absorbing the final report of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. This was an important and necessary activity in which to engage. Yet one of the unintended consequences was to focus in on ourselves a little too much. The gathering in Port Moresby reawakened us to the church ‘on our doorstep’; the one we had not so much forgotten about, but because we were preoccupied with other things, had neglected. This was the ‘postman ringing’. Reminding us to see the bigger picture. Please pray for these coming gatherings.
Advent the ‘always’ work of God
The book mentioned previously has the word ‘always’ in its title. This is the way our forever God works. God is always at work, it is we who often doubt this. Advent is a time to see that ‘always’ at work.
At his Angelus message on the First Sunday of Advent this year, Pope Francis prayed with the pilgrims ‘may Advent awaken us to God’s presence in our daily lives’. The divine postman is ringing, awakening us, the one who is God coming to meet us.
During Advent we sing the hymn, O Come, O Come Emmanuel. A wonderful hymn that sums up our longing for the divine postman to ring, not once, twice but insistently and prays that we might summon up the grace to answer and receive this welcome guest. I close with the question Pope Francis asked us at the beginning of Advent, ‘how can we recognise and welcome the Lord?’ God is ringing, might we answer?
A blessed Advent and Christmas to everyone.
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