Monday, September 1, 2014

prayer diary Monday 1 September 2014

They said, ‘Is not this Joseph’s son?’ 
Luke 4.22

We all face those who say things like 'who do you think you are to teach me anything?' Take courage from the fact that Christ himself faced the same problem; and that the teaching you wish to share comes not from you but from the Father of us all.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

three reminders from 'get thee behind me Satan'

Sermon: 31 August 2014 May my words be in the Name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: + Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

As I was preparing to write this sermon, the thought went through my head: what is a sermon? It surely isn't to teach, because if it was it would take a person a very long time to learn much about the Christian faith at the rate of 8 to 10 minutes a week, especially in an age when people can not be relied upon to come to church Sunday by Sunday. No, teaching is done elsewhere, at Sunday school, the home, and in confirmation class when we are younger; through our own reading of Sacred Scripture, spiritual books, and study, whether alone or in a group, when we are older.

So sermons really should be going over familiar territory, most of the time at least. Perhaps one definition of a sermon might be that a sermon is the preacher's way of reminding us of what we already know. Of course, occasionally during a sermon it is possible that one might hear mentioned a point of doctrine with which we are unfamiliar. But since a sermon is generally too short a thing to go over any doctrine in detail, it would serve in that case to remind the hearer of what area it is that they need to read up on some more; or at least ask the preacher to explain it to them more fully at some later point in time.

So what 'reminders' might I take from today's gospel reading, which contains our Lord's well known rebuke to St Peter: Get thee behind me Satan'? Well, the first and obvious one is that Satan is real. There are a lot of people today who like to think themselves too modern to believe in such things. Jesus was only speaking metaphorically, they say; we're not supposed to take his references to Satan literally. The funny thing is that Jesus never said that he was speaking metaphorically. None of his Apostles thought he was; or the writers of the Gospels; or other New Testament writers; or the members of the early Church; or the Church down through all the centuries. The idea has only even been suggested within relatively recent times. And frankly I think it is rather arrogant to think that we suddenly know better not only than all those before us, but those who walked and talked with Jesus as well. Our Lord taught that the Devil was real; and if you don't want to believe that, then I'm sure that Satan will be very pleased to hear it, because there is no quicker way of falling into his snares than thinking he doesn't exist.

The next reminder is that the Christian life is hard. Right after he rebukes St Peter Jesus says 'If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. ' Jesus isn't saying life may be hard, he isn't saying that troubles may come, he is saying that in order to be a Christian involves self-denial. We all need to take a good hard look at the way we are living on a regular basis – maybe as often as once a week – and see how it compares to the Way of Life that Christ taught. And the places where it doesn't measure up, where we have fallen prey to the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil, have to be set aside. That's something that isn't easy. But that's part of what denying yourself and taking up your cross means.

And the final reminder comes from Jesus' reaction to when St Peter tries to argue him back from what he is teaching. St Peter was his friend; he was the first apostle he had chosen; he was the leader of the 12; he was the one who, only minutes earlier he had said – Simon, thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church. And still he hammers him with what most be one of the sternest rebukes of all time – Get thee behind me, Satan! For trying to get Jesus to change his teaching, to walk an easier path, he is compared to the Devil himself. And note well what Christ says just after – he tells him that he is setting his mind not on divine things but on human things.

We tend to do that a lot, don't we? We say that teaching is too hard, why can't we make it easier for people? But, do you know, that's another thing that Jesus never said. He never said, if you find my teaching too hard, don't worry, I'll make it easier. Think about what happened when the rich young man walked away after Jesus told him that if he wanted to attain eternal life he needed to sell everything he had, give to the poor, and then come follow him. Jesus did not say: wait, come back, let me change that and make it easier for you. What he did do was turn to his disciples and say that it was easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. He was saying that the young man was risking his immortal soul by rejecting his teaching. And that made him sad, because he loved the young man, as he loves us all; but he didn't change his teaching so that they young man could think of himself as a follower of Jesus and still go on with his life pretty much the same as it had been before. Jesus didn't see that as being a possibility. And so therefore neither can we.

So, three reminders: Jesus taught that the devil was real and a threat to our salvation; that being a Christian was hard and meant turning our back on many of the things of this world; and we don't get to water the faith down to make it easier – even St Peter didn't have the authority to do that. Three fairly tough reminders of what it was that Jesus taught. But we must remember that he taught them for a reason – so that we might at last be with him in the kingdom of heaven. That should be reason enough for us to try to live them.

To him who is the shepherd and guardian of our souls, by whose wounds we are healed and who is with us always until the end of the ages, be glory now and forever. Amen

Examin Sunday 31 August 2014

It was Socrates who said that the unexamined life is not worth living. Something that was true in Ancient Greece is perhaps doubly true today. That great philosopher, groping though he was toward an understanding that there was but one God who stands behind all we see in the world, had not been privileged as we have been by the way that God has revealed himself to us, particularly in how he has told us of the hope we have eternal life through the promises we have from our Lord Jesus Christ. We therefore should feel ever impelled to examine our lives to see how they match up with what it is that God asks of us; and not only ask his forgiveness for the ways in which we fail, but strive ever harder to live the most Christ-like life we possibly can.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

prayer diary Saturday 30 August 2014

But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 
Matthew 25.18

We all know the fate of the servant who did nothing with the talent entrusted to him – his master called him wicked and lazy and cast him out. The gifts God gives us are to be used for his glory in the world. There is much to lose if you do not and everything to be gained if you do.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Padre Pio and Grief

'Talk to me about Padre Pio.'

The woman had recently been bereaved. She wasn't a parishioner, but I'd call in for a chat and a cup of tea anyway when I was passing. We tended not to talk too much about her loss. Every neighbour up and down the road did that with her, as did all her family and friends. I was there to talk about something else, to provide some moments of distraction from her grief. But, of course, her grief was all around us and the consolation I provided was by being there. 

St Padre Pio was always popular in Ireland, even before his canonisation (I'll refer to him as Padre Pio from now on, as that's how most people in Ireland that I know refer to him). You'd go into shops and there'd be collection boxes on the counter with his image on it; people would have framed photographs of him in their homes, or calenders, or sometimes prayer cards on the fridge or noticeboard; some had medals or small plagues with him on them in their cars, presumably seeking his prayers that they might have a safe journey.

I've always had something of a soft spot for him myself, mainly because I received my secondary education in a school run by the order he was a member of in Cork. Pictures of him in his habit remind me of my old teachers. It seems inevitable that I'd know stories about one of the most well known members of the order, although looking back, I can't recall a single occasion on which one of the priests actually told us anything about him, or even mentioned his name. Perhaps he was simply in the air around us in the place. 

I often run into people who profess their devotion to him. They tell me of the comfort they find in reading about the difficulties he faced in his own life; how their faith is strengthened in pondering how he was blessed with the Stigmata; or simply how much peace they find in gazing upon his serene smile in a photograph. As I said, he's popular in Ireland. One woman recently told me how she has carried a relic of him in her purse or on her person since she was a young woman. One of her children had been very ill 30 years ago; a neighbour gave her a relic of Padre Pio; the child was soon better; and she has had a devotion to him ever since.

I forget how his name came up while I was in the bereaved lady's house. There wasn't a picture on the wall or a holy water font by the door with his image on it, no obvious reason for the conversation to turn in his direction. Maybe he just wanted to be spoken about, in this house, with this woman. 

'I'm quite fond of him myself,' I told her. 'I kind of admire the way he dealt with suffering.'
'You mean his stigmata?'
'That too. But I was thinking of the way at one point he was forbidden by Rome to say Mass publicly or hear confessions. That hurt him. How could it not? Bringing the sacraments to the people is what a priest does. And he was a great man for hearing confessions, a regular hero of the confessional. People came for miles to confess to him. I remember one little old lady in Cork telling me it was one of the biggest regrets of her life that she hadn't traveled to Italy to see him when she had the chance.'
'Why did Rome do that?'
'They didn't believe he was for real. The stigmata, the visions, and all the rest. I suppose they thought he was faking it and doing it for the fame.'
'And what did he do about it? Did he protest? Did he fight it?'
'That's just it. As far as I know he accepted it. He was very humble about it all and obedient to those set over him. He knew they were wrong about him, but his response was that of humility. He didn't rail against the injustice; he didn't get angry and shout that it was all so unfair. It was simply what had been sent his way. I suppose he offered it up, as my mother used to say.'

We were quiet then for a while. For some reason, in the silence, the thought came to me that my story about Padre Pio's quiet acceptance of his years of hardship was relevant to the grief this woman was feeling. That his example of quietly accepting what must have been so very difficult to him was something that could be of comfort to someone in their pain and loss. That there is suffering for us all, suffering that is not justified, not right, but yet is part of life; and with God's help we can get through it.

I wondered should I mention this to her. Would it be too heavy handed? Would it seem forced to compare what Padre Pio had gone through to her own raw pain and loss? Would it break our unspoken rule that I was there to be there, rather than addressing her suffering directly? I looked over at her. She was gazing down at the table. Her face seemed calm. And it seemed to me that she was thinking the same thing that I was, that she was drawing the same conclusions from what I had said. She didn't say anything. She didn't have to. It just seemed to be in the air. 

Examin Sunday 7 September 2014

Persecution rages against our Christian brothers and sisters in Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere. They deserve, nay they are entitled, to our prayers; prayers that the hardness of their persecutors' hearts will be relieved and they will cease from their vile acts; prayers that if the persecution continues that these our brethren will have the strength to persevere to the end; and prayers that our world leaders will take note of their plight and take action to assist them. We too must do what can to assist them further, whether by giving to relief agencies or appealing to our politicians to speak out. Christ said that if we gave even a cup of cold water to one in need, we gave it to him. How then can we neglect to do our utmost for those who face martyrdom for their fidelity to his name?

prayer diary Friday 29 August 2014 (day of discipline and self-denial)

Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, “Lord, lord, open to us.” But he replied, “Truly I tell you, I do not know you.” 
Matthew 25.11,12

This life is but a preparation for the next. And there will come a moment when all the time for preparation is gone and you will be judged on what has gone before. Pray that your life will be such that Jesus knows you and opens the door.