Thursday, February 11, 2016

prayer diary Thursday 11 Jan 2016

Jesus said to them all, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.' 
Luke 9. 23

To follow Christ is to accept the cross. If there is no cross in your life it is not because you have not been offered one, but because you have refused to take yours up.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Do you reject the devil and all proud rebellion against God?

May I speak in the name of Almighty God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: Amen

As I said on Sunday, Lent had its origins as a time of preparation for those about to be baptised; which is why Easter Sunday itself has always been seen as a day when it is especially appropriate for all Christians to renew their baptismal vows. I will therefore be looking at those vows during the course of our mid-week Lenten services. And if any should wish to remain behind after the service for a brief discussion of any issues raised they are more than welcome to do so; these discussion will form our Lenten study group this year.

So let us look today, Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, at the first of the baptismal promises we first made for ourselves at our baptism, or were made on our behalf by our sponsors and were re-affirmed by us personally on the day of our Confirmation. Do you reject the devil and all proud rebellion against God? I reject them.

What does it mean to reject the devil? Well first it would be helpful to look at who he is. Satan was created by God as an angel. As such he is pure spirit and possesses an intellect far superior to mortals. Angels, like humans, were granted by their creator free-will; and Satan looking at the great gifts he had been granted with God was filled with pride and thought himself at least equal if not superior to the one who had created him. This pride led him and others to rebel against God; a rebellion that was, of course, doomed to failure. Cast out of the bliss of heaven Satan and his followers have an revocable hatred against God; and therefore against us his creatures.

And his hatred for humanity can not be stressed sufficiently. Being a spiritual being, pure intellect and will essentially, once his mind has been made up it can never be changed. Therefore he can never repent of his pride and seek forgiveness for his sin. But we mortals are both body and spirit; and any decision we make to love God the Father as he created us to do or reject him is not fixed until we die and leave our mortal body behind. Satan not only hates that such a choice lies within our power, and that at any time, no matter how steeped we are in sin, we may yet repent and turn again to God; but he also seeks to wound our Father in heaven by seeking our damnation. For he knows that God mourns deeply every one of his children that is lost to him; even as he rejoices greatly when those in danger of being lost return, as Christ himself told us.

Satan therefore seeks to ensnare us in his proud rebellion by tempting us to abuse the free will given to us by God and sin. He has been engaged in this hateful battle against humanity from the very beginning, tempting Adam and Eve into the first sin in the Garden of Eden that led to our fall. We risk falling into his snares in many ways. One is by allowing ourself to be seduced by the idea that he is not real, that he is some kind of myth. This is, of course, a prideful rejection of the direct testimony of Sacred Scripture that he is real, rejecting not only the inspired Word of God on this matter, but the recorded words of the Word made flesh himself, our Lord Jesus Christ, who speaks in the Gospels many times of the devil. Refusing to accept an enemy exists makes any resistance of him, much less the defeat of his evil plans, difficult to achieve indeed.

Another is in the deliberate rejection of God, so common an evil these days. Some do by refusing to believe, preferring instead to live life as they please; and others, while believing, prefer to live as if they did not, falling prey to the all too prevalent notion that even though God calls us to obedience to his will, he will not punish those who transgress against his laws. This, alas, is also a prideful rejection of the clear witness of scripture where we are warned again and again of the fate of those who can not bring themselves to love God.

And a third form of rebellion is the path taken by those who think they can achieve salvation by means of their own strength, and thereby reject Christ and all he did to save us from the power of sin. This is the heresy of Pelagius and it is a grievous sin, the prideful rejection of the power of the Cross and our Lord's own sacrifice of himself there for our sakes. Jesus told us that he was the Way, the Truth and the Life and that no one comes to the Father except through him What great pride it takes to rebel against the words of God himself there as by the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity and believe any can attain heaven by his own power. The pride it takes to hold such a belief place the soul of such a person in great danger. And such a belief, like all the examples of rebellion I mentioned, serve to make Satan smile.

There are other ways of joining with Satan in his proud rebellion against God. I do not have space here to list them all; and it would be in any case a type of pride if I thought myself capable of constructing an exhaustive list! But it, I hope, enough for such a short reflection as this; and sufficient to strengthen us in our daily goal of rejecting the devil and all proud rebellion against God. And it is a daily battle – it is not something we simply promise once and then forget about forever. But thinking of the promise daily and praying to God for help to live it out will indeed help us live that promise out faithfully all our days. Something that I indeed pray for all here and all our brothers and sisters in Christ. Amen

prayer diary Ash Wednesday 2016

Jesus said; 'when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret.' 
Matthew 6. 17.18

Our Lord said 'when you fast' not 'if you fast.' Clearly then Jesus expected fasting to be practised by those who followed him. Why then do so many fail to follow this teaching?

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

prayer diary Tuesday 9 Jan 2016

Jesus said to them, 'as it is written,“This people honours me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”' 
Mark 7.6

Many claim to be people of faith while little of the Way Christ taught is seen in their lives. If the Gospel is truly in your heart, living it is as natural as breathing.

Monday, February 8, 2016

prayer diary Monday 8 Jan 2016

When they got out of the boat people at once ... rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. 
Mark 6. 54,55

It is the natural response of those who are unwell to turn to God. So too must we turn to God when in need; asking his healing or the strength to carry our cross.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

how the Transfiguration helps prepare us for Lent

May I speak in the name of Almighty God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: Amen

Our Gospel reading today concerning the Transfiguration of our Lord is, I think, a particularly appropriate one for the final Sunday before Lent begins. One reason this is so is because this passage essentially marks the middle of the Gospel narrative. Before the transfiguration we have signs and miracles – Jesus essentially establishing who he is and from where his authority comes - and teaching . And after, while miracles and teaching continues, the context has changed; for our Lord has set his face toward Jerusalem and begun his journey there – a journey that will end with his passion. And Lent is for his Church very much a journey of remembrance, a spiritual journey where we walk with our Lord during that season to the place where he will be arrested, put on trial, tortured, crucified, and die.

There is also the fact that the story of the Transfiguration resonates very strongly with the accounts of our Lord's baptism. Again we have the voice from heaven declaring him to be the beloved Son; again we have the Holy Spirit, in the first represented by the hovering dove, here by the overshadowing cloud. And it is good to think of baptism at this time; for I am sure you all remember the original purpose of Lent. It was the time of final and special preparation for the catechumens of the early Church, those who were being taught the faith, to get them ready for the wonderful day when they would be baptised – a sacrament that was in those times administered only on Easter Sunday as a general rule. And so they would spend the forty days before in a time of prayer and fasting and other spiritual disciplines and exercises to prepare themselves for that great day.

It was quite natural, I believe, that others of their Christian family who were already baptised would wish to show solidarity with them in their joyful but austere preparations by supporting them by keeping this time of self-discipline with them. As time passed the Church recognised the value of this Lenten season for its own sake; and when the day came when adult baptism was rare and infant baptism the norm the keeping of Lent as a special season of preparation for Easter was commonly practised throughout the Christian world.

This resonance with our Lord's baptism also serves to remind us of what happened immediately after his baptism – his 40 days of fasting and temptation in the desert. It is on these 40 days that our own season of Lent is modelled. And this is particularly interesting, given Lent's association with preparation for Baptism. This is because, as you will of course know, that during his time in the desert our Lord faced Satan; and three times Satan tempted the Lord to turn from God to him, trying to use scripture to do so; and three times our Lord responded by not only rejecting Satan, but providing a scriptural reason why one should instead turn to God. So three rejections of Satan and three turning instead to God. And at baptism the candidates are asked a series of six questions; you, of course, know what they are, but let us hear them again, and the responses that candidates or their sponsors on their behalf make:
Do you reject the devil and all proud rebellion against God?
I reject them.
Do you renounce the deceit and corruption of evil? I renounce them.
Do you repent of the sins that separate us from God and neighbour? I repent of them.
Do you turn to Christ as Saviour? I turn to Christ.
Do you submit to Christ as Lord? I submit to Christ.
Do you come to Christ, the Way, the Truth and the Life?
I come to Christ.
And I am sure you will note that these questions are made up of three rejections of Satan; and three turning instead to Christ, the second person of the blessed Trinity.

With so many baptismal associations with the season of Lent, it is little wonder that Easter Sunday has always been seen as a day when it was particularly appropriate for the renewal of baptismal vows. Therefore, as you are reflecting during the time left to you as to how you will keep a holy Lent this year, it might be an idea this year to place yourself in the role of a catechumen of old: look again at the basic tenets of the Christian faith, consider deeply and honestly how you might live them out better, even as you ask God's pardon for your failings and his strength to do better; reflect daily on the baptismal promises that you will make again when the season is over; prepare yourself to make them well by the spiritual disciplines you practise during the season, keeping in mind the importance of engaging in a particular way those of prayer, fasting, and alms-giving. I will try to assist you in those matters by going through, one by one, those promises during our Wednesday services during Lent. In addition, I would suggest it might well be of great benefit for each and everyone here to pray those questions and responses daily, meditating up them briefly about what they mean to you and how you should live out your Christian faith that day. Doing so is a great way to prepare for the glories of Easter morning, when you will make again those vows – and it is my prayer that all here will do so worthily and joyfully. Amen

Examin Sunday 7 February 2016

We must be on our guard, therefore, against evil desires, for death lies close by the gate of pleasure. Hence the Scripture gives this command: "Go not after your concupiscences" (Ecc 18:30). So therefore, since the eyes of the Lord observe the good and the evil (Prov 15:3) and the Lord is always looking down from heaven on the children of earth "to see if there be anyone who understands and seeks God" (Ps. 14:2), and since our deeds are daily, day and night, reported to the Lord by the Angels assigned to us, we must constantly beware, brethren, as the Prophet says in the Psalm, lest at any time God see us falling into evil ways and becoming unprofitable (Ps.14:3).

From Chapter 7 of the rule of St Benedict: On Humility