Monday, June 18, 2018

prayer diary Monday 18 June 2018

'Foxes have holes, the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.' 
Matthew 8. 20

The material things of this world matter little. All that matters is following Christ.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

A sermon for Father's Day

May my words be in the name of the Holy and Undivided Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today, as I am sure you all know, is Father's Day. It is a kind of an 'invented celebration' … thought up to be a sort of male equivalent of Mother's Day … no doubt in the interest of some notion of equality … and, perhaps, more importantly very likely in the interest of selling more greeting cards and all kinds of consumer goods as presents for dads. As a father myself I know that dads all over the country today are getting gifts of things that they don't really need … the real gift being the joy of seeing the excitement on a child's face as he or she waits for their dad to unwrap the present that they got for them … It wasn't really 'a thing' as I was growing up, so I don't really have any memories of it … but I do, of course, have memories of giving gifts to my father.

One particular present was a small wooden box I had made. To say 'I had made' is not perhaps particularly accurate. I received a great deal of assistance from my father in its construction. When I was around ten I had gotten a carpentry set for Christmas and in teaching me how to use it my dad had helped me mark out a series of small squares on a sheet of sheet of half-inch ply, using a the carpenters square to make sure the angles were right, then cut them out using the saw, and then nail them together with panel pins. The result was a small, open box without a lid … which I then proudly gave my father as a gift for him to put things in in the garage … and he accepted it with great solemnity, put it on a shelf, and used it to store old nails and screws.

Giving gifts to our fathers, whatever the day, is a great joy … but of course it should be noted that the creation of Father's Day as a counter-part to Mother's Day has a certain false equivalence to it. Because Mother's Day, or more properly mothering Sunday, as I am sure you are all aware had nothing to do with our natural mothers, but rather had to do with our Mother the Church … the idea of the Church as our mother is an ancient one … St Cyprian of Carthage said in the third century 'no one can have God has Father who does not have the Church as Mother' … and the origins of Mothering Sunday goes back to the idea of gathering in the local cathedral, the mother church of the diocese, on the fourth Sunday in Lent … or at the very least trying to get back to your home parish on that Sunday if you lived away.

So there is a religious dimension to Mother's Day, at least in how it came about, that does not exist for Father's Day. And that, I think, is a pity; for just as the idealisation of motherhood that occurs on Mother's Day can help us better understand the role of God's Church in his plan for us in Salvation; so too it would be helpful to us all indeed to have day set aside when we thought particularly about what it means for us to have God as our Father.

There are, of course, bad fathers; fathers who are not there, or who are but might as well not be for all the attention they pay to their children, or worse, those who are cruel and it would have been better if they were not there. But let us not think of such as them today – let us consider good fathers and what is so very special about the love of such a man for his children. He is, it should go without saying, both a provider and a protector, and also a teacher of his children both in his words and by the example of his life; but what is most important about the love of a good father is that he loves his children not for what they are, but who they are. The world may care about appearance and achievement, the world may care whether someone is clever, or witty, or rich. But your father loves you simply because you are his child. Whatever your faults – and a good father knows his child has many – still he loves you.

But for even the best father there is much he does not know about his child. God, on the other hand, knows us perfectly. But as we read in the Old Testament, when the prophet Samuel is called to select the one who will replace King Saul, the Lord does not look upon someone's external appearance, but on the heart. He knows everything we do, even those things done in private when we think no one can see; he hears everything we say, even the cruel things we say in private to others with no one else to hear; and he knows our every thought, even those dark ones we have behind the mask we present to the world, our worst and secret thoughts that would shame us deeply if they somehow were to become known to others. He even knows those wrongs we have done to others, things that we and perhaps even they have long forgotten, things that may for some reason float to the top of our memory, things we may regard with some horror and cause to think to ourselves 'could I really have done such a thing?'

Our Father in heaven knows all these thoughts, words, and deeds – and he loves us anyway. And he will forgive us them all if only we will truly repent, with a firm commitment to amending our lives. There is no greater sorrow for a good father than for a child to turn his back on him; and no greater joy than when that child returns to his bosom. And for our Father in heaven the sorrow that comes from a child who rejects him can be infinitely greater; for some of those children will be lost to him not just for some years, or even a lifetime, but unto all eternity.

After my father died and we were clearing out his garage I found that box still there, sitting on a shelf, still with old nails and screws in it. He had kept it and used it for 40 years or more. And it would be nice to think that every time he took it down it brought a little smile to his face as he remembered it had been a gift from his small son. This Father's Day, it would be good to think of the joy we can bring God our Father through sincere repentance and conversion of heart. As his Son who came into the world to save us from our sins tells us in St Luke's Gospel, there is greater rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who have no need of repentance. I pray that we will all, this day, and every day, give our Father the gift of our repentance … not only because of the joy it brings him, but because it is a gift that gives the giver far more in return … the chance of being with our Father in heaven and sharing in his joy for all eternity. Amen.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

prayer diary Saturday 16 June 2018

(Jesus said): 'The day will come when the bridegroom is taken from them, and then they will fast.' 
Matthew 9.15

Fasting, along with many traditional penitential practices, have gone somewhat out of favour. Yet we know from Sacred Scripture that they were recommended by Christ himself. Should not then we, who call ourselves his followers, follow his teaching as much concerning this as we do with all other matters?

Friday, June 15, 2018

Mother Cabrini

For as long as I can remember my late father – may God be good to him - wore a religious medal on a chain around his neck. Every night before he went to bed he took it off, pressed it to his lips, and then laid it on the night-stand. And every morning he took it up, venerated it once more by touching it to his lips and put it back on again. It depicted the face of a woman, so I presumed it was of our Lady. It was only when my father was well advanced in his Alzheimer's that I took a closer look one day. I realised then that it wasn't the Blessed Virgin, as it showed an elderly woman in religious habit. I turned it over. There was an inscription on the back. And it said that the face belonged to St
Frances X Cabrini, the first American saint.

Now, I had never heard of her so I had to look her up online. She was a nun from Italy who had been sent to America to help the many Italian immigrants who were struggling to make a life for themselves in a new country at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries. The website showed that she had a shrine in New York city where her body lies beneath an altar, encased in a glass coffin. Seeing the images of her coffin online came as a bit of a shock as I realised I had been there. One of the abiding memories of my childhood is going for a walk with my father one day when I was four and being taken to a church where a lady lay beneath the altar.

At this point I suppose I should mention that when I was a child we lived in New York. My parents did what many Irish immigrants did back in the 50s and 60s – they went to America when times were tough, married and began a family, and then returned home when things picked up. I checked the address of the shrine. And sure enough it was only a short walk from where we had lived.

I have no idea why my father was so devoted to this saint that he wore a medal of her for over fifty years. By the time it occurred to me to ask he could not answer. But as I remember standing before that glass case, I can see my father's lips moving. I know he is explaining to me why he has brought me here. But I cannot hear the words. The answer to my question of his devotion stands at the edge of memory, tantalisingly close; but I can not reach it.

Perhaps I one day will. Until then I have the comforting thought that it was indeed something he wanted to share with me. And I hope I will some day get the answer. Not in this life, of course; but in the next. 

published in the Kilkenny Reporter, 13 June 2018 

prayer diary Friday 15 June 2018 (day of discipline & self-denial)

'For I have come to call not the righteous, but sinners.' 
Matthew 9. 13

And we know, of course, that Christ came to call all people to himself; for all indeed are sinners. But woe onto those who think they are without sin; for in that way they reject Christ's mercy and his promise of eternal life.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

prayer diary Thursday 14 June 2018

When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic 'take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.' 
Matthew 9. 2

We all remember that Jesus told the man to take up his mat and walk; how many remember that he did so that he might display to the world he had the authority to forgive sins? For that was why he came, to save us from our sins. Do not deceive yourself, and thereby reject Christ, by believing you have no sins to be forgiven of.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

prayer diary Wednesday 13 June 2018

Thomas answered him 'My Lord and my God.' 
John 20.28

The phrase 'doubting Thomas' has entered indelibly into common parlance. Yet this is the same man who was the first to clearly and unambiguously recognise and declare the divinity of Christ. We who walk the path he first trod should daily give thanks for his inspired witness to the truth of whom Christ is.