Sunday, July 31, 2011

feed the world

If you've ever had to feed a lot of people at short notice, then you'll idea how the disciples must have felt when Jesus told them to feed 5000 with no warning! The Eucharistic overtones of the story, where Jesus took blessed the bread & broke it, remind us of God's concern that his children are spiritually fed. But Jesus' concern that the people be fed physically reminds us also that God wishes that none of his children go hungry either. We live at a time in history when for the first time not only is there is enough food to feed everyone, but we have the technology to get that food to every mouth. No one in our world should have to go hungry. But they do. So many things still get in the way - war, politics, weather, our own 'compassion fatigue.' But we have to persevere. The Eucharistic echoes in the feeding of the 5000 remind us also of Jesus words at the Last Supper - do this in memory of me. We are not just called to feed our brothers & sisters spiritually, but physically as well. However hard & frustrating it is at times, we must persevere. Jesus told his disciples not to send the crowds away, that they had to give them something to eat. We must do the same with all who hunger in the world today.

(core message of sermon preached today, the 6th Sunday after Trinity)

Saturday, July 30, 2011

John Stott

File:John Stott.jpg

John Stott passed away this week. I can't claim to know a whole lot about the man (here's a link to a tribute from those more expert). But he was certainly a 'giant' in his field. Even someone who is fairly catholic like me found it impossible not to have a number of his books on my shelves. Despite being called evangelical, I always thought he defied simplistic pigeon-holing. In his writings I always found him to be balanced and fair - he was quite happy to give credit to the other side of an argument where he felt it was due.

Despite his many talents & deep scholarship he never achieved high honours - that is if we are to consider a bishopric a high honour. My understanding is that he had offers, but declined them as he thought they would interfere with the calling that he had from God. Nevertheless, his worldwide influence was so great & over such an extended period of time that there are probably few bishops one can point to who had a greater impact on Anglicanism (& the faith development of many outside that circle). He may well be the best Archbishop of Canterbury that the Church of England, & indeed the Anglican Communion, never had.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Church costs

Wow. Patsy McGarry believes the Vatican & the Catholic Church are to blame  for the high costs of the investigations incurred by the state in the various reports into clerical abuse. Public opinion is cheering him on. I wonder what he thinks were the cause of the high costs of other public inquiries in this country, such as the Beef Tribunal, Moriarty, Mahon, or Travers? Between these it cost us over a billion and nary a cleric in sight. Is it just possible that the costs are due to the system the state set up to investigate, particularly the open ended method of paying lawyers fees for these inquiries? Or should I wait with bated breath for the revelation that it was baleful religious forces that led to corruption in high places in Ireland & all the other failings of the nation & that therefore the Church was ultimately responsible for the costs of all other investigations also? Perhaps we need a tribunal to inquire into the matter.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Ireland's new poll tax

It's not really called a poll tax, it's called a 'household charge'. Of course, even that is a bit of a misnomer as it is to be applied to houses (or dwellings) rather than households. Because it is flat rate, someone living in a studio apartment in the mid-lands will pay the same as someone living in a mansion in Dublin 4. Of course, hard cases aren't the real point. The real point is that the charge is unjust because it takes no account of ability to pay and treats all properties the same irrespective of value.

There has been some talk of a boycott in relation to this. But will people boycott it? They are angry about it now, but there is a tendency in Ireland for folk to grumble and then do nothing. That's why there hasn't been riots as in other countries. That's why the architects of the financial mess aren't in jail. So my suspicion is that after a lot of blowing and puffing, people will pay. But perhaps I'm wrong. Perhaps, after all that has gone before, people will finally say 'enough is enough.'

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

the seal of the confessional 2

I was up early this morning baking bread for the Frugal Lunch we're having in the curacy house in aid of famine relief in East Africa. Around 8.15 I got a text. 'Congrats on making the airwaves!' What on earth could that mean? Then I had a dreadful thought - what if some local radio station had got hold of one of the fliers for the lunch that we'd passed out in the local area & were 'helping out' with some free publicity ... given the size of the house we have room for quite small numbers ... if it was on the radio we might get more people than we could cope with!

So I called the texter back. 'No, no,' they said 'the morning show on RTE had read out your letter in the paper, in their 'what it says in the papers' slot.'

That was great, but what letter? I do write to the Irish Times & they do occassionaly publish what I send them, but I hadn't sent anything in for a while. But I got straight online & sure enough there was a letter with my name on it. I'd sent it in a couple of weeks ago nearly, in response to a reply to a previous letter of mine. They had edited out my reference to the other person's letter (for timliness sake I imagine) & then used the most of what I wrote.

What a surprise - who knew the Times saved lettters up for when they had space? It's funny though, coming so close on what I posted yesterday, that the letter should be about the seal of the confessional.

However, I'll have to leave this for now ... still baking bread ... running back and forth between loaves to pick out a couple of lines at a time here. I suppose I should be pleased what I wrote was deemed worthy of two organs of the national media, but right now the Frugal Lunch seems more important.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

the seal of the confessional

The Catholic blogosphere is alive with posts about the suggestion that the Republic of Ireland may include statements made in confession in any new mandatory reporting laws. They are right to be worried. Enda Kenny, who describes himself as a Catholic, supports the idea ... and lest anyone think this is simply politicians pushing for this, a friend of mine whom I always thought of as being a staunch Catholic told me recently that he didn't see why the seal shouldn't be broken in such cases.

It seems that either Catholics no longer understand confession or don't care. Either is grim news for the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland. Right now I'm betting on don't care. People are very angry over this.

And it's too easy for defenders of the Church to say that this is all about attacking the Church. That's part of it; any organisation that has enemies can expect those enemies to use every opportunity to advance their own agenda against that organisation. But there is a wider constituency of hurt and pain here. And the truth is that after all that had gone before, to discover that in Cloyne that child protection was not being taken seriously is a step too far for many.

The simple fact is that the failure of Cloyne is seen as the failure of the whole Church & the latest in a long line of failures. This is where the Church is at; this is the point from which healing has to begin. 

Monday, July 25, 2011

Breaking glass

'So what will you do after this?' someone asked me following the funeral this afternoon. 'Do you have more work to do?' This was around 3 pm. I smiled.
'Well, I've pretty much been going non-stop since Friday morning,' I replied. 'I think I might go home, have a cup of tea, and spend some time in the bosom of my family.'

A few minutes later I was home. I did have the cup of tea in my hand when the phone rang. Vandals had been at one of the other churches in the parish. Windows had been smashed. It looked like they might have gotten in. I looked at my watch. I had only been home ten minutes.

The gardai were called & the premises duly inspected. The damage was a lot less than feared. Some mullioned windows in the side porch was smashed, but none of the lovely old stained glass that's literally irreplaceable hadn't been touched. And having smashed the window, the vandals gave up & never actually went in.

Piecing the story together, it looked like they had done their 'work' around 3pm. Broad daylight with people coming and going in the church yard and surrounding area. One of my sons had come with me to help clear up.
'I don't understand,' he said. 'What was the point?'
'There's no point,' I told him. 'That's what vandalism is. Destroying stuff for no reason.'

It seems to me there's a peculiar irony in vandalising churches. In modern life, a lot of people seem to do without organised religion in their day to day life. But most, at some deep level, find a profound need for the rituals that religion provides at the important moments of their lives. Not all, of course, but a lot. Perhaps the vandals are among those who will feel the need for the church one day. I wonder if they will remember today when that time comes?

Sunday, July 24, 2011

on inspiration

It's been a busy weekend. Not only the normal three services & all that entails, but we also had a death in the parish & so there has been the funeral to organise. We had the removal this evening & as we were singing the last hymn, in the middle of the second last verse, it occurred to me that this prayer from the BCP might be a good one to read:

O almighty God, whose way is in the sea and whose paths are in the great waters: Be present, we beseech thee, with all seafarers in the manifold dangers of the deep; protect them from all perils, prosper them in their course, and bring them in safety to the haven where they would be, with a grateful sense of thy mercies; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The man had had an interest in the sea all his life, beginning with the boys brigade, and so the family found it very appropriate. The guidance of the Holy Spirit is a wonderful help in such things! But reading it then, and now, it strikes me as a wonderful prayer to help guide us through the journey of life.  We all need the presence of God when we face the daily dangers of this world. And we all have the hope of coming to God's safe haven at the end of our days.

So even though right now I'm tired & pretty worn out, I thank God for little moments like that. For the sudden thoughts and gifts that lift our spirits, that show us that inspirations isn't just for great matters but also quiet moments ... & also remind us of the love that God has for us.

Saturday, July 23, 2011


The situation in Somalia is one that makes it difficult to know what to do. Bad enough that there is a drought; bad enough that the world is only know really waking up to the problems there; but to make matters worse, the 'warlords' who control the worst affected regions won't let aid agencies in. 

It seems to beggar belief that those in charge won't let food in. They are afraid, apparently, that those offering help have another agenda besides assisting the starving. One can only presume that those making these decisions are not going hungry themselves or watching their own families weep with hunger.

What can we do when something like this happens? Military force, of which I am not an advocate, doesn't work. If I remember my history, it was tried in this region before with disastrous results. I wonder what would happen if we were to offer the people of Somalia a safe haven to come to for food, could that work? Where could they go to anyway? Would any country be brave enough to invite them in, or would the fear that they'd end up with millions of refugees as permanent residents prevent them? Would the warlords let them travel? No doubt the same fear of an hidden agenda would be just as compelling for them in this scenario. Would the starving people be strong enough to travel? Would they even want to leave their homes?

I have no ideas. If you have an innovative solution please share. In the meantime all we can do is to continue to try support the aid agencies in their difficult and frustrating and dangerous work. And, of course, pray.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Guard

Dinner for two in Bully's, Douglas, using a special voucher: €20; two tickets for the Gate Cinema, Douglas (full price - we forgot the two for one voucher!): €15; Brendan Gleeson in the Guard: priceless!

See this movie! Not only is Brendan Gleeson fantastic (& Don Cheadle), but all the cast is bril, including  a great cameo by Finnoula Flannigan. And if you ever wondered by the crazy guy from Sunshine looked like under all that makeup ...

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Simple pleasures

I was woken this morning by shouts of 'Santa has come & he's left presents for all of us!' No, I hadn't fallen into a time warp! My youngest, who was four a couple of weeks ago, had gone down stairs early to discover an unexpected surprise in front of the fireplace. His Godmother, who had missed his birthday party, had dropped off his presents last night (plural because she is just way too generous!). When his mother explained what they were he looked at her seriously and asked 'so, am I four again today?'

So then came the unwrapping and the whoops of delight to discover a cowboy suit, water pistols, books, a DVD and -roll of drums - a trike! In a box, waiting to be assembled! Well, big brothers declared they would assemble it for him. Five minutes later they were all outside fighting a water war and dad was grumbling and sorting through the chaos of packaging looking for the pieces that were now scattered to the four corners of the room. Next came the search for the tools which big boys had borrowed and not returned.

There followed the ceremonial presentation to the tiny cowboy of his three wheeled steed. This was quickly followed by the giggling first ride round the garden. Followed by the predictable abandonment of the steed to further engage in water war.

There's a lot of terrible things going on in the world. But today I'm thanking God for simple pleasures and small blessings. And I pray that you will find them in your life also.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

William Wilberforce

My wife and I watched the movie 'Amazing Grace' on DVD last night. I'm not one for weeping, but I had a wee tear in the corner of my eye for most of it. The dedication and self-sacrifice of William Wilberforce was stunning. The world needs more people like him, those who will work tirelessly, patiently, & peacefully in pursuit of causes they know to be just, whatever the personal cost.

Wilberforce's drive to change the world came as a direct result of his personal faith. We who profess faith might well ask ourselves what are we doing to change the world. For example, as my wife pointed out to me while we were watching, slavery still exists today in other forms. There is, for example, human trafficking. A particularly odious example of this is the trafficking of women for the sex trade. APT is an Irish organisation working against this horrible form of exploitation. Perhaps you could assist their work in some way. Or perhaps you work against the trade in some other way. I have a hard time imagining that if William Wilberforce were alive today he wouldn't be at the forefront of this fight.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

young people & alcohol related death

Teenager Sean McNair is missing in the sea off the coast of Donegal. Apparently he and some friends were down the pub celebrating a mate's 18th birthday & in the early hours of the morning they decided it would be a good idea to go for a swim off the pier in Rathmullan. I was in Rathmullan a few weeks ago when I was on holidays in Donegal. There were teenagers jumping off the pier that day also. But that was in daylight & they were all wearing wetsuits. Even then, when they climbed out after the brief swim back to the ladder, they were shivering.

I think it would be safe to presume that Sean & his friends hadn't brought wetsuits with them down to the pub that night. This is starting to look like the beginning of a very hard time for his family & friends.

I wonder when we're are going to start looking seriously at the serious dangers alcohol brings in its wake. I'm not suggesting that Sean had been drinking. He was under-age & I'm going to assume that the staff of the pub in Rathmullan were responsible people and did not serve Sean any alcohol. I'm not even suggesting that his pals slipped him a few cans when no one was loking. But the whole affair is suggestive of a group of young people, most of whom had been drinking, getting a little exited and doing something that was really dangerous without thinking through the possible consequences. That drink was a factor here seems without a doubt.

Our children & young people are precious. The reports are that more of them die from alcohol than from anything else. When are we as a society going to start behaving as if we believed that by doing something about the grip that alcohol has on modern Ireland?

Monday, July 18, 2011

East Africa

As I understand Christianity, we are called to a transformed life. A life where our direct experience of Christ is the lens through which we look at the world ... a life that must be dedicated to making real the kingdom of God.

And O do we fail at that. You would have to have been living in a cave for the last while not to realise how badly we fail at it. Maybe it's not the succeeding but the trying that's important. But there are some things that we absolutely need to try harder at.

Take world hunger. Take what's going on in East Africa right now. A quarter of a century after Live Aid and this is where we are. Most of the children in that region will go to bed hungry tonight. Two out of five of the littlest ones are suffering from malnutrition. The food shortages are going to get worse. A humanitarian disaster is in the offing.

What are we doing to stop it? Is the amount we are doing the behaviour of those whose life has been transformed by our experience of Christ? Or are we just like the 'evil & adulterous generation' in today's Gospel, who will be 'condemned at the end of the age.' We can't fix every problem in the world. We can't stop every disaster from happening. But surely we can feed hungry children?

Sunday, July 17, 2011

foucus on your mission

The wild & windy weather we're having today puts me in mind of my time in the Azores, where it sometimes got so windy it used to rain sideways! When I was in the Azores I worked with a chap called Dan. Dan was tall and thin and full of energy ... & Dan was great at figuring out all the problems of the world ... I was his boss, so he came to me with all his great solutions - particularly with his ideas as to how I could do my job better! The problem was, all of these things had nothing to do with him or his work. I finally had to take him to the side & quietly ask him focus on his own job and let others concentrate on theirs.

Dan puts me in mind of the parable we hear today. The master sows good seed. An enemy sneaks in & sows some weed seeds. Nobody realises until both are growing. The slaves spots the problem ... and like Dan they rush in, all enthusiastic to sort things out. But the master is very wise. He tells them no. It's not possible to root out the weeds without damaging the crop. So he tells them it must be left until the time of the harvest. And when that time comes it will be the job of the reapers to sort things out, not them.

So why did did Jesus tell this parable?  Well, a lot of Jesus' followers saw the Messiah as some kind of a conquering hero, come to rid the world of God's enemies. In this parable Jesus is explaining to them that God can look after himself, thank you very much! He doesn't need us going around the place, rooting out those we think are his enemies and making things worse than they were in the first place in the process. And wasting our energy trying to do things that aren't for us to do.

Also, when Matthew was writing his gospel, there were already lots of divisions among Christians. We see this in St Paul's letters – written not long before the Gospels … including this parable in his gospel was his way of reminding his listeners that there master had already warned them that this was not something to get all worried about … we are not the ones tasked with the job of figuring out who are out there in the world working against the word of God … our job is to spread the word … to save our energies for that …

This is the kind of thing we can all too easily get caught up in today ourselves ... thinking it's our job to sort out all the problems ... of course, often our 'problem solving' can be little more than a finger pointing exercise. As we hear in another parable, it's very easy to see the speck in someone else's eye & miss the beam in our own. We need to focus on our own task - leave the tasks of others to them - and especially leave the tasks of God to God.

Dan finally got his chance to take charge and sort all the problems he saw. I went on holidays & left him in charge. I could see from the glint in his eye that he couldn't wait to finally start fixing things. When I got back a few weeks later, I never saw anyone looking so pale ... he looked like he hadn't slept all the time I'd been gone! Being in charge had forced him to focus on the task he had to do ... and he had found that it was quite enough for him!  Dan had learned the hard lesson that if you are to do well ... if you are to be the good and faithful servant ... they thing to do is to do what it is that you are supposed to do ...

It's a good lesson to learn ... sometimes we all need to be reminded that our mission is to serve God as we are called ... and to trust the rest to his gracious love and mercy. something that I pray for myself, and for you, and all others - Amen.

(outline of the sermon I preached this morning 17 July 2010, the 4th Sunday after Trinity)

Saturday, July 16, 2011

More on Cloyne

St Colman, patron saint of Cloyne

The debate around the Irish Government's proposals that the seal of the confessional be no defense to their proposed new mandatory reporting regime continues. Yesterday I had a letter in the Irish Times suggesting such a move might be un-constitutional. Today there was a response arguing I was wrong. We shall see. No doubt a great many lawyers will get rich arguing the toss as the issue makes its way through the courts. I suppose we shouldn't begrudge them the few bob. After all there is a recession on and there's many a lawyer on the dole.

The debate has sparked interest elsewhere. In the US Fr Z's blog has this to say; and in the UK Fr Blake has also taken note (I suggest you look at the comment boxes to get a flavour of the opinions being expressed).

Closer to home, Fr Burke, a Cork based priest has this to say, making valid points about how mandatory reporting could have a lot of unforeseen consequences. It seems to tie in what the social workers who'll be in charge of following up on all these complaints have to say - basically, that such a law, if actually followed, would generate so many complaints that the child protection system wouldn't be able to cope.

It would make you wonder if the government has really thought this through? Mind you, perhaps all their sound and fury might have something to do with drawing attention away from their own child protection failures. Which are many as Breda O'Brien points out in the Irish Times: State in the Dock over Child Protection Failure & David Quinn does in his article in the Independent: Where is the media frenzy when the State fails children? That reminds me: I said I was angry about the government's role in this in yesterday's post. I guess I'm not the only one.

No doubt there's a lot more to come on this. In the meanwhile, please remember to pray for all those who have been wounded by these terrible events. God bless.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Cloyne Report


It's hard to begin to even express how I feel about what has come out in the Cloyne Report. Disbelief would be one feeling. How on earth, all these years after the revelations about abusers like Sean Fortune and Brendan Smyth & all the rest came out, could anyone or any organisation not take child protection seriously?

There's a lot of anger too. Anger that children were put at risk. Anger that children suffered because of a failure to protect. Anger that those who were abused continue to suffer because of the lack of response to their complaints by those with the responsibility to act.

I'm angry too that the irresponsible behavior of those with a duty to making sure that child protection policy in Cloyne was rigorously enforced have done even further damage to religion in this country. As a priest I, not surprisingly, think religion is important. The inexcusable failures to protect in Cloyne have damaged not only the children involved and their families but a vast circle of people whose faith is in tatters as a result of the seemingly endless scandals that continue to emerge.

I'm bewildered, frankly, that Cloyne could have behaved so stupidly. The consensus of the report is that the hierarchy there prioritised the reputation of the Church over the rights of the victims. Not only is that contemptible, it is foolish beyond all words. Were they not paying attention when all the other scandals broke? Did they not comprehend the damage that the perception that the Church was trying to cover this stuff up was actually doing to the Church? It seems an act of sheer madness to continue with more of the same.

And in any case, it's bad theology - then, now, and always. Today's Gospel reading from Matthew, about Jesus' disciples picking grain on the Sabbath, puts me in mind of the parallel passage from Mark where Jesus says: ‘The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath.' The same thing goes for the Church - it was made for people, not people for it. Those who neglected child protection should have remembered that.

There's other emotions in the mix too. Horror, because the stories that have come out would horrify any right-thinking person. And grief, because I can identify with the pain of the children and parents involved. Not only am I a parent myself, but before I was ordained my wife and I worked as houseparents in a children's shelter where many of the children had been sexually abused. I've seen first-hand the trauma abuse causes to the victims ... and the feeling of helplessness it causes when you know that someone you care about has been treated in such away.

I'm pretty angry at the Government too, by the way. They are the ones ultimately responsible for the protection of all the people of this country. It beggars belief that they failed to provide adequate oversight in this area.

I really can see no way forward for this but for every diocese of the Catholic Church in Ireland to be the subject of a thorough investigation. This is something the Church should be leaping forward to do as a way of showing the people that what happened in Cloyne is a one off & that the rest of it's house learned from the mistakes of the past & got things in order. I would pray that none of the rest have been as irresponsible as Cloyne. But if they have, the investigation would hopefully root out the bad practises. The Government needs to get more involved in this area too. Not just by way of knee-jerk, sound-bite blustering and threats to bring in ferocious legislation. They've had over 15 years to bring in proper laws. And laws are meaningless unless they are enforceable.

What's needed is a dedicated body with real authority to oversee the child protection regime of every organisation in this country that has any involvement with children. They need to be able to tell these organisations where their child protection policies are failing and shut them down in a moment if they don't cooperate.

Anything less is to invite an endless litany of the kind of failure to protect that took place in Cloyne. Anything less is to be just as irresponsible as those who failed to take child protection in Cloyne seriously.

Today's Gospel: Matthew 12.1-8

Thursday, July 14, 2011

my burden is light

Today's Gospel: Matthew 11.28-30

When Jesus speaks in today's Gospel about the weary & heavy-laden coming to him for rest and taking on his yoke, one might well wonder how does taking on this burden reduce the one that you are already carrying. But in the Greek, the word that Jesus uses for 'yoke' is like a balancing beam or scales: it is intended for two. Jesus' yoke is easy becuase it is to be pulled by two. Taking on this yoke gives us rest because it is not a burden we take on, but rather an acceptance of Christ's offer to share our burdens. 'I know life is hard,' he is saying, 'but look - I will stand along side you, I will walk with you, and I will help you.' His offer of help still stands today. And it is something that people need today as much as they ever did.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

junk bonds


I have only the vaguest notion of what it means when the Irish Times runs a headline like 'Irish debt cut to junk bond status.' If I understand what wikipedia has to say on the matter of junk bonds, then it is something along the lines of speculators being able to invest in Ireland, like a company on the stock market, if they like - but those in the know are saying it's not a very high-risk bet.

Apart from feeling a wee bit insulted by being told we are investment 'junk' I can't help wondering if this whole investment thing is a good idea when it comes to national economies - we're talking about people's lives here; should we really treat them just like any other investment opportunities? Especially when most of the people whose lives they impact have very little idea of what's going on, if they are anything like me. And I'm not all that convinced that the people in government know much more. Didn't the Wright Report, issued not long after the whole Celtic Tiger thing started to collapse, make it clear that the department of finance had hardly any trained economists on staff?

Indeed, whether at national level or for private companies, what are all these 'financial products' that banks and brokers and the ilk come out with? Do we need them ... or are they in reality get rich quick schemes thought up by people who are very bright but ultimately produce nothing of any real value to society? After all, aren't the woes of the world-wide economic meltdown to be laid at the feet of such people ... most of whom remain very wealthy, while the ordinary person in the street groans under the burden of job losses, increased taxes, and government cutbacks?

In which case, the Irish people shouldn't worry about being told their bond status is junk. Just concentrate on producing food and the things that people need to get on with their everyday life. I'm sure those in the know would just shake their heads sadly and say this proves how little I know about economics. I'd be delighted if they could explain it to me.

But for the moment I can't help wondering if this isn't a little bit like what Jesus was talking about in today's Gospel, where he gives thanks to God that even while the so called smart people don't understand him and his message, 'infants' - the plain folk - do. The whole world of 'infants' are starting to cast a very unhappy eye on the so-called smart people who created this mess and seem unable to come up with a solution to it ... other than one where the 'infants' bear the cost. I think the time has come for the smart ones to explain exactly why we should continue to think that they are really smart at all. And why we shouldn't think that this whole financial house of cards they tell us we need isn't junk.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

the wisdom of women

today's reading:  Matthew 11: 20-24

There seems to be a wee bit of frustration in our Lord's tone in today's reading! Hardly surprising really - the places he's put the most work into seem to be yielding the lowest results. I'm sure most people can identify - we all have something that gets to us.

Take yesterday evening for example. My wife had popped out & I was getting one of the kids ready for bed. The phone rang. I should have left it, but like a lot of people I find it hard to ignore. And I always worry that that it might be something important - surely no one would ring in the evening unless it was something pressing? So I answered it.

The person on the end of the line was a stranger to me. They began the conversation by saying that they hoped it wasn't a bad time, but who knew what was a good time for a clergy person, and then went straight into their request. Of course, it was nothing urgent. I dealt with their question & went back to my task, but my heart was grumbling within me. Partly because I hadn't let the answering machine take the call. And partly because of the implication that if it was a bad time I had no one but myself to blame.

I shared my grumbles with my wife when she got in. There is clearly a reason why Wisdom is depicted as a woman in the Bible because she was having none of it.

-It is up to you to let people know when to call, she said. And of course she's right. If you don't say to people to please keep non-urgent matters to normal office hours then you can't complain if they don't.

It is, of course, a delicate issue. On the one hand, you don't want people to be put off calling you when they genuinely need to talk to you. On the other, you trust that people will use their common sense when it comes to things that are not in any way urgent. Everybody needs some down time. Not to mention the fact that having a clergy person as a spouse or parent is tough enough without there being the general impression that family time will always take a lower priority than even the most trivial piece of business with even the vaguest church connection.

I went into my office and changed the message on my phone. I politely said that if this was a routine matter then I would get back to them during office hours the next working day; but that if it was a pastoral emergency I would deal with the matter as soon as I received the message. I also changed the ringer on the phone to 3 rings instead of 8!

Later, we settled down with a couple of the older boys to watch a movie. About 9.40 the phone rang. I started to move. My wife looked at me. I sank back down into the couch. A few minutes later I muttered something about a tea break, paused the DVD, & slunk into my office to check the machine. Surely it was something urgent if someone was calling that late? So urgent that they hadn't even left a message.

Wisdom is indeed a woman.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

the force of nature

today's readings

10 July (3rd after Trinity)
Below is the outline of the sermon I preached today

I once heard a story about computer workers in Silicon Valley who asked their priest if they could decorate the Church differently for harvest festival to reflect what they did in the computer industry

Not sure what they did, exactly, but we can imagine:

mobiles made of computer disks hanging from the ceiling;
braids of computer mouses, like they do with onions in France, on the ends of the pews;
lap tops with displays of their programs on the window ledges;
piles of hard-drives & printers on the chancel steps;
perhaps some DS players and e-boxes in the sanctuary, with a few handfuls of flash-drive scattered around them.

And having adorned the church with the fruits of their labour, they never did it again … next year, they went back to nature as it were – because no matter who you are or what you do, nature speaks to us … it doesn't matter how many stories you hear about school children not knowing what a cow looks like or thinking milk comes from a shop … we can all identify in some way with nature … that's why there are so many images from nature in the Bible … and so many in our readings today … the OT, the Psalm, the Gospel …

it doesn't matter how disconnected we think we are from nature, when we hear a passage like the parable of the sower we can relate to it … any school child who has tended a few cress seeds in wet cotton wool or looked after a window box as part of a class project can identify with the imagery of the parable of the sower ...

We could come up with a similar parable for the modern age I suppose involving computers … wouldn't have the same impact … not just because we're not all into computers … but because at a fundamental level computers aren't about life and death issues … and nature is … seeds growing is a matter of life and death … you only have to look at the news and see what is happening in the Horn of Africa at the moment to know that … imagery drawn from nature works in the bible because, no matter what we do in life, it connects with us as dealing with things of real importance … and it connects with our innate sense of the profound truth that things to do with faith are life and death matters also … of incredible importance … stories like the parable of the sower don't touch us just because the imagery is universal … but because they touch that part of us deep within that knows the importance of producing an abundant harvest of things spiritual as well as material … something I pray for all here and all in the world … amen.

boxes of games and programs in the porch;

Saturday, July 9, 2011

cruelty to animals

Today's Gospel

Hand on heart time. I'm a vegetarian leaning towards veganism. When I read passages like the one in today's gospel: 'Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground unperceived by your Father' they indicate to me that God cares for all the creatures in his creation. Which makes it difficult for me to accept the casual cruelty we inflict on the animal world. Factory farming. Battery hens. The destruction of habitat. For the sake of argument, I'll allow that the eating of meat is ok from a scriptural point of view (while pointing out that there is a case to be made that the ideal in the Bible is a vegetarian diet!) ... but that is not the same as saying it is ok to inflict pain on the creatures that St Francis called our brothers and sisters ... or to kill or allow them to die for no other reason than our convenience. But maybe I shouldn't be surprised. We can be so blind to the suffering of our fellow human beings. Why shouldn't we be blind also to the suffering of two-a-penny sparrows?

Friday, July 8, 2011

talk about it

today's Gospel


I heard a comment on the radio the other day by a well known figure in the Irish arts world that 'religion is a private matter' or words to that effect. What he said doesn't surprise me. It has become very much the 'PC' thing to do, to keep one's faith very quiet indeed. Weddings and funerals and school applications and census forms apart, it has become the 'done thing' not to talk about religion. In a way it rather the flip side of that line the Kevin Spacey character speaks in 'The Usual Suspects' - 'The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist.'  CS Lewis said pretty much the same thing years earlier in The Screwtape Letters. And it seems to me that being all private and PC about religion is a good way of convincing people that it doesn't exist either.

It's a long way from the sentiments expressed by Jesus in today's Gospel reading. There he clearly expects that his followers will be very public about their faith ... whatever the cost. It seems a little sad that many today would rather be 'private' about their faith rather than risk the comparatively mild 'cost' of not being a perfectly PC person. I don't mean that we should all be getting in people's face about our faith 24-7-365, but we shouldn't hide it either. For example, I've lost track of the amount of times when I was trying to organise something for a weekend with a group and being told that it would have to fit in around some match on the telly ... why not be brave enough to say to your friends that any weekend plans will have to fit in around Sunday worship? Or people return from holidays and talk endlessly about what they did while they were away ... why shouldn't we, on return from a retreat or pilgrimage, do exactly the same?

Because here's the thing. If a relationship is important to us, we don't keep it private. And if our relationship with God is important to us, then we shouldn't keep it private either.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

free gifts

Today's Gospel

Today we hear Jesus tell his disciples: 'You received without payment; give without payment.' Taken literally, he is talking about the good news he has come to preach. But it is something that we could apply to all areas of life. All the gifts we have, whether personal talents or the bounty of the world around us, are things we received without payment. We do not make the sun shine or the rain fall so that the crops will grow and we will have food to eat. If we are smarter or stronger or more determined than those around us and thereby have a life of greater material comfort than those around us, we did not create those innate abilities within us. These were free gifts to us ... and must be freely shared with all.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

the kingdom of God is near

today's readings for Holy Communion

12 brothers in one reading, 12 apostles in another. In the the story of Joseph, in Genesis, food is shared in time of need & forgiveness is given for wrongs done. In Matthew, Jesus tells the apostles to go out to the people and tell them that the kingdom of God has come near. Hard not to believe that what Jesus is proclaiming in the Gospel is what we have an example of in Genesis so long ago. And hard not to believe that if only we could bring ourselves to share with those in need & to forgive wrongs, real or imagined, that the kingdom of God would be near us today. We like to point the finger in all directions when it comes to what is wrong with the world. The truth is a start can be made by each of us. The kingdom can be brought in a little at a time, if we play our part.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

reaching out

today's Gospel Matthew 9.32-38

As I mulled over today's Gospel, it was difficult not to think of St Teresa of Avila and her prayer: 

Christ has no body now but yours
No hands, no feet on earth but yours
Yours are the eyes through which He looks
compassion on this world
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

In today's Gospel reading Jesus looks at the people and has compassion on them. He thinks they are harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. He tells his disciples that the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. He asks his them to pray for more workers.

Note that Jesus is impelled here by compassion. This isn't about his increasing his followers (or, by extension, we in the Church filling up our pews); it's is about giving people what they need. Lives where they are not 'harassed and helpless.' The harvest is not fuller churches; the harvest is the fulfilled lives of individual human beings. For that to happen it needs people to act, to reach out to each other.

And that is why Jesus tells his disciples to pray. So that more and more people will learn to live their lives reaching out to other in compassion and love. Because as St Teresa reminds us, we are Christ's hands on earth now.

Monday, July 4, 2011

happy birthday

today's Gospel Matthew 9.18-26

Four years ago today my youngest son, MW, slid into this world in a birth-pool in Youghal. My next youngest, JS, who was supposed to be upstairs with his brothers watching a dvd, stood in the doorway, fascinated to witness this everyday miracle. Co-incidentally, he was four at the time. Right now he is upstairs with his older brother JJ arguing over who was the first of them to hold MW that day.

Watching children grow up is an amazing business. They go from being completely helpless to increasing independence. As I watched MW sleep last night I found it almost impossible to believe that the little red creature that I held in my arms four years ago was this same small person who so proudly goes to the loo all by himself, gets himself dressed, & helps lay the table for dinner.

Later on today we'll have the party (in Youghal, because that is where MW chooses to have it!) & no doubt chaos will reign & perhaps a moment will come when my wife and I will look at each other and exchange a silent, despairing glance which roughly translates into 'why are we doing this?' But the answer is upstairs now, in the quiet giggling, voices talking about birthdays and days they were born. It may be the only quiet moment of the day. Please don't blame me if I choose to savour it!

Sunday, July 3, 2011


Today's Gospel

As today is the feast of St Thomas I, perhaps not surprisingly, preached about him today. I've never liked the sobriquet 'Doubting Thomas' - we don't, after all, call St Peter 'Denying Peter' or St Paul 'Persecuting Paul' - and I went through Thomas' story ... what we know of his life from scripture and tradition, or what we may reasonably extrapolate from what we know, to show how his life was so much more than just one incident. His life shows him to have been a man of not inconsiderable bravery and faith. So if he questioned? It is not as if the other disciples, hiding in the room when Jesus' first came to visit them, had believed the women when they told them he was risen. They had to see with their own eyes as well! Thomas questioned, and having questioned, moved on in faith.

Over coffee after the service someone came up to me. -Are we not to accept like little children? he asked. -Indeed, I replied, but when was the last time you told a child something and didn't receive a thousand questions in reply.

Saturday, July 2, 2011


today's Gospel

On one level today's Gospel has a fairly simple message. Outsiders come and ask Jesus why don't his followers behave like them, like all pious people - why don't they fast? Jesus says that while he, the bridegroom, is around, his followers can't be expected to fast. But when he's gone they will.

So far so simple. But at a deeper level, I think Jesus is saying his followers need to look at each situation and prepare themselves for its demands accordingly. In the context of the time they talk about fasting, but we shouldn't get bogged down on a particular word or practice. The important message is that every mission has it's own unique requirements. A one sized fits all approach doesn't work. What is required is to prayerfully look at the situation and then engage with it.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Jesus calling

today's Gospel reading

It's a funny old world. When I was in Taize a couple of weeks ago the passage we were focusing on for our Bible study during the week was today's Gospel reading. As we sat around, on folding metal chairs under the trees, one thing seemed apparent to us: the gospel text doesn't give us the whole story of the calling of Matthew. Well, why should it? St John in his Gospel basically says what we are getting is the edited high-lights of Jesus' ministry. How could the few lines we have about this incident possible convey everything that could possibly be known about it, especially the context in which it took place. For example, what drove Matthew to be a tax-collector and collaborate with the hated foreign enemy? What was his life like thereafter, excluded and isolated within his community, hated and despised by all the 'righteous' people around him? Had he seen Jesus before? Capernaum was, after all, Jesus' town, his base while in Galilee. Had Jesus seen him before, seen the reject of society looking at him with a certain wistful longing as he gathered followers around him? And what was it like for the hated man to suddenly be invited in, to be made welcome in the face of all that the 'good' people of the town had to say about him? We don't know for sure the answer to any of these questions. But we do know the answer he gave to the invitation that Jesus offered him to be his follower. He took it. He walked away from his old life and began a new one.

When you read that story, who do you see yourself as? Are you like the 'good' people of the town, so sure of yourself and your own goodness that you don't need anyone to call you to follow them? Or are you like Matthew, so sure that you are outside the bounds of society that you don't expect anyone to call you ever - and can hardly believe it when they do? Whichever you are, funnily enough, doesn't really matter. All need the attention of the physician that is Jesus. Then only difference is that some of us are more keenly aware of the fact than others.