Preserving Hope

Homily at St Philip Evans, for the Friday of the First Week of Advent, 2013.

Change for the better is possible! If you take action, you can make it happen.

Divine Providence has brought us, this morning, the unlikely combination of Santa Claus and Nelson Mandela.Nelson Mandela

Nelson Rolihlahla Dalibhunga Mandela, the first black president of the rainbow nation of South Africa, died last night, the fifth of December. This morning’s news media are filled with tributes to a remarkable man, a politician who championed love above bitterness, peacemaking above revenge. Some have called him “the closest thing to a living saint”; others, struggling to balance journalistic duty with respect for the dead, have gently observed that he did not achieve the same success in his family relationships as he did within the political world. All will agree that in Mandela, a man born in a mud hut rose to become one of the pivotal figures of the 2oth Century.

Meanwhile today, the sixth of December, the Catholic Church honours a saint of a much earlier age, Bishop Nicholas of Myra. The true story of Nicholas is lost in the mists of history; the Church’s official register of saints, the Roman Martyrology, merely states that he was Bishop of Myra (in Turkey) and famous for his holiness and the miracles worked in answer to his prayers to God. An ancient legend tells how he provided dowries for three daughters otherwise unable to marry; out of this and other tales of his generosity emerged the modern figure of Santa Claus.

Today’s Gospel tells of two men who refused to be cowed by the expectations of the crowd among them. They knew that change for the better was possible. Because of their boldness, they received new vision.

Saint Nicholas believed he could change individual lives for the better. In his name, millions of parents arrange for their children to experience the extraordinary generosity of Christmas.

Nelson Mandela believed he could change a nation for the better. The tributes being poured out around the world today confirm that no barriers can stop a man with hope in his heart and love in his soul.

Change for the better is possible! Few are called to change a nation, more to change a neighbourhood, and many to change the life of one or two neighbours. What better day to give the gift of love, than the Feast of St Nicholas? If you take action, you can make it happen.

St Nicholas, pray for us!

Nelson Mandela, rest in peace.