Have you ever thought about the number of currency changes you have experienced during the course of your life? Our current euro coins and notes came into use on January 1st, 2002, which means no one 21 years old or younger remembers our own national currency. We moved away from pounds, shillings and pence to the decimal system on February 15th, 1971, and that means there are fewer than three quarters of a million people who remember that particular changeover. Change is a feature of our lives. And change forces us be alert, to be ever conscious of the world about us.
A few days ago I found an old Irish sixpence from the pounds, shillings and pence era. It’s a lovely coin with an Irish wolfhound on one side and the Irish harp on the other.
At the top of the coin the denomination is written as 6d. It never once dawned on me what the “d” stood for, nor did I ever think of asking what it meant. And that was the currency I used all during my teenage years. Only last month, when I found the old sixpenny piece, did I take the trouble to discover its meaning. It stands for the Latin word denarius, meaning an ancient Roman silver coin. It really is astonishing what we miss, what we don’t understand, what we don’t bother to discover. There is so much going on right in front of our eyes and it never dawns on us to wonder and ask.
Over the last number of weeks I began feeding a wagtail. Slowly but surely, the bird appeared at my door every morning. We became friends and I enjoyed its arrival every day.
If only we kept our eyes open, we’d be astonished with the ever-changing newness. Heraclitus, who lived in the sixth century BCE, held that everything is constantly changing.
It’s too easy to be like the ostrich and bury our heads in the sand.
We grow accustomed to feeling secure in our own small worlds. Ignorance can make us frightened, frightened of other people. It can make us create scapegoats, demonising those who differ from us.
In tomorrow’s Gospel (Mark 13: 33-37) Jesus advises us: “So stay awake, because you do not know when the master of the house is coming, evening, midnight, cockcrow, dawn; if he comes unexpectedly, he must not find you asleep.”
Inspiring words, advice to all of us to avoid living our lives in a rut, doing things because that’s what we are accustomed to doing.
The Christian message is one of adventure, pushing us out to new horizons, tempting us to ask questions we never dare ask. Christianity has nothing to do with staidness or being caught in a time warp. Christianity does not mean doggedly following a rule book written in and for the past.
Regarding the synod held in Rome in October, Pope Francis said: “That expression – ‘We have always done it that way’ – is poison for the life of the Church. Those who think this way, perhaps without even realising it, make the mistake of not taking seriously the times in which they are living.”
They are powerful words. Far too often we are afraid of the unknown, afraid to change. It’s so tempting to lash out, to shout and roar, to be violent when we are afraid. John Hume has given us a great example of a wise, adventurous man, who craved change but always in the context of peace and reconciliation.
Brendan Hoban, a priest in the diocese of Killala, wrote about the pontificate of Pope Francis in the Rite & Reason column in this newspaper recently: “Instead of a restoration of the old church, there is now a rediscovery of the vision of Vatican II. Instead of control by the ordained, there will be governance by the baptised. Instead of an endless winter of discontent, there is now a new springtime of hope and promise.”
That’s exactly what the season of Advent is about, and it begins tomorrow. How delighted I am that I found that sixpenny piece. It has made me realise how important it is to be curious, to be adventurous, to see Advent as a time of change and excitement, a time of growth. These are great days, Alleluia.