Tuesday, August 30, 2011

debt forgiveness

The topic of debt forgiveness is making the news. Hardly surprising with over 50,000 in arrears on their mortgage. And it seems likely that figure will grow, sadly.

Some find the idea scandalous. Why? Did we indenture ourselves to the international money-lenders for the sole purpose or artificially propping up the balance sheets of our high-stakes gamblers (otherwise known as bankers and developers)? Or did we also hope to benefit the ordinary people who are now struggling to hang onto their homes? I know whom I would rather help.

That may require higher taxes from the rest of us who are fortunate enough to still have jobs or to have bought before the market went mad.  So be it. These people were not 'financialy illiterate' and 'reckless' as some would have it; they wanted to buy a home and made the mistake of listening to the bankers, economists, and politicians who told them that buying a house at those prices was a prudent investment.

Nay-sayers think they were sensible in the past and don't think they should pay for the mistakes of those who were reckless. And perhaps some did make 'sensible' decisions because they were wiser than most in our society - wiser even that the so-called experts. Most, I think, realise that the only reason that they are not also facing financial ruin is by the grace of God. The only way to show we are grateful for what we have is to be generous to those among us who are struggling now.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Sinead O'Connor's home truths

Sinead O'Connor was quoted recently as saying: 'We don’t necessarily need religions but we like rituals ... The only real use for priests is for bereavement or dying. In the 21st century we don’t need anyone dictating to us what we should think.'

I've been a fan of Ms O'Connor since Mandinka made the charts. It didn't hurt that I was an Irishman abroad & it made me feel proud that this singer with the hauntingly beautiful voice was also Irish. However, I find I must disagree with her views on this. Perhaps as a priest I am biased! The problem with that line of thinking is that the prayers and rituals of the Church are inextricably intertwined with its teaching. The ancient Christian principle of 'lex orandi, lex credendi' (loosely 'as we pray, so we believe') is as true today as it ever was.  

However, it is also true that the days when the Church could be accused of dictating what people should think are long gone. Today, it simply offers its teaching, which people are free to accept or reject. A problem arises, of course, when people reject the teaching but feel uncomfortable with any reminders that their behaviour is not in accordance with that teaching. Ironically, they are most likely to encounter such reminders during the end-of-life rituals that Ms O'Connor approves of. While I sympathise with their dilemma, it seems unreasonable to suggest the solution is that the Church keep silent and restrict its role to that of some on-call provider of ritual.

It would not, in any event, work. As I said, the ritual contains teaching woven into its very fabric. Perhaps the time has come for people to ponder whether, since they need this ritual and teaching at difficult times in their lives, are they right to reject it as part of the remainder of their lives?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

on the trafficking of women

Around a thousand women are available in Ireland at any time for the sex trade. A large proportion of these women have been trafficked, according to Ruhama, the organisation dedicated to 'supporting women affected by prostitution and human trafficking.'

I know there are those who argue that consensual sex between two adults for cash is nobody's business but their own. I don't agree, but leaving that one aside for the moment, a women who has been trafficked has not consented to anything. She has been kidnapped, enslaved, transported, tortured, and raped. Any man who has sex with her does not have her consent. He has bought the consent of the men who control her. It is rape. Even if she seems to comply, it is only so that she will not be further tortured by the men who think they own her. It is rape.

If we do the math, the picture is hideous. Presuming several dozen men for every woman in the trade, that gives tens of thousands of men using these women. That's equates to thousands of rapes taking place in this country every week. That does not paint a picture of Ireland of which we can be proud.

It has to stop.

This is going on everywhere in Ireland. In big cities & small towns; in housing estates and apartment buildings. It thrives on people keeping their eyes closed and minding their own business. So keep your eyes open. And stop minding your own business. Evil thrives when the good do nothing. If you see men coming and going for no obvious reason to a house or flat near you, let the guards/police know. So what if you're wrong? No harm has been done. And there's a chance you may do some good.

Keep your eyes open. Make the call. This is rape. And it has to stop.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

ireland's oil and gas


Who to believe? If Fintan O'Toole is correct, then the deal the Irish government is proposing to enter into with the multi-nationals for our gas & oils reserves is a pretty terrible one. If Pat Rabbitte is correct, the minister with responsibility, then it is the best deal available ... and still a terrible deal. Given that, the most pragmatic approach would be to do nothing. Leave the gas and oil where it is. Better that some future generation get some real benefit from it, than we get a pittance for it now while enriching further some faceless corporation. So far all this generation is bequeathing to our posterity is an enormous debt. It'd be nice if we left them something that might help pay it off.

Monday, August 22, 2011

and upon this rock ...

We hear some pretty famous words in today's Gospel: 'you are Peter, & upon this rock I will build my Church.'
The word 'church/ekklesia' doesn't appear very often in the gospels – it appears a lot in the rest of the NT - 73 times in fact - but not very often in the gospels – only twice; here and in Mw 18. So what we have here today is one of the few times we have the word 'church' on the lips of our Lord … so I thought we might think a little about what church means today  - the church we're about to baptise a little baby into today … and why it remains important in a world where we have a crashing economy, global warming, riots in London …

First, let's look at the question that prompted Jesus to mention 'church': who do people say I am? And he gets all kinds of answers: John the Baptist; Elijah; one of the prophets … so then he asks: but you: who do you say that I am? And you know, I kind of think that Jesus sounds a bit frustrated there … that maybe he's starting to wonder would anyone ever figure out who he was ... think about all that he had done up to this point:
he'd given them sublime teaching, like the sermon on the Mount;
he had healed people – people who couldn't walk, those who couldn't see …
he had fed the 5000, walked on water, calmed the storm;
he had even raised the dead …
and still nobody seemed to get who he was …

and I wonder if he wasn't starting to get a bit anxious as well … time was running out … it's easy to miss, because the question comes in the middle of the gospel, but in terms of the chronology of his mission, Jesus has only a few weeks left before he arrives in Jerusalem – there is still some miracles and teaching to go, but if you go and read the gospel closely, you will see that very soon after this Jesus will begin his journey to Jerusalem, the place where he is to suffer and die …

so maybe he is starting to worry … with all that has gone before and so little time left, maybe the man Jesus was wondering if it was all going to work out all right … but then Peter gives the right answer and you can almost feel his relief as he exclaims: 'you are Peter, & upon this rock I will build my church.' Because while he had come into the world to suffer and die for our sins, he had also come to found a church, a church that would pass on his teaching from generation to generation … and listen to what he says next: the gates of hades will not prevail against it ... this is what the Church is, something that can withstand all that the wold throws against it ... something that can help us get through all we may to deal with in this life ... and he wanted his followers, those who hadn't known him when he was on earth, but who would come to know him through the faith of others, to have a way of learning the way of life that he he had taught his apostles and disciples ... and that's exactly what happened … right after the moment of Pentecost they started calling themselves a church and acting like one … if we were to go back there now, we would find it in many ways familiar … the meeting on a Sunday for worship and the sacraments … the constant re-telling of the teaching of the master … the understanding that gathering together isn't just something that is nice to do, but is something that we are called to do by our Lord … this is the Church that Jesus wanted for us ... for the baby we're baptising today ... because it is through the coming together as church we both learn and pass on to others the way of life – the morals and values – that Jesus wanted us to have, that he came to teach us – the morals and values that continue to be of relevance in the world today – the morals and values that will guide us through the problems we face in life -

So that is what I pray for us all today – as we gather – that we will continue to build upon the faith that Peter confessed – that we, like he, will always recognise Jesus as the Messiah – and through the way  we are Church in the world we will continue to pass that faith on to others, so that they, like us, will always have a Church that will prevail against anything … amen.

Notes for sermon preached Sunday, 21 August (9th after Trinity)

Saturday, August 20, 2011

anything for a drink

It seems some people will do anything for a drink. The Irish Times has a report on how common it is for young Irish people heading off to the US - mostly on a J1 visa for the summer - to alter their details on their passports so that they appear to meet the age limit for drinking in the US. They do this in the full knowledge that it is a crime. They might end up in gaol. They might be refused entry in the future. They do it anyway. Why? So they can have a drink. The idea of 2 or 3 months without alcohol is just too much for them.

And these are college students - our brightest and best. It says a lot about our relationship with alcohol. And what it is saying isn't good.

I understand that the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association has been suffering a bit of a decline. Maybe it'd be no harm for some young Irish folk to take the pledge before they got on the plane for America - temporarily of course. Come to think of it, maybe it'd be no harm if a few more people were to take the pledge in this country - permanently.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Holy Smoke!

The US government wants people to stop smoking. Good idea, you might say. It's not just smelly and expensive, it's bad for you - so bad it can kill you. To that end they have come up with some graphic new images to go on cigarette packaging and advertising. Whoa,hold on say the tobacco companies. Health warnings are one things. But this stuff might actually put folk off smoking. So they are suing the US government. It's a free speech issue, you see. Tobacco is legal & they, as purveyors of the product, shouldn't be forced to be complicit in cutting their own throats, so to speak. 

Now my own take on this is as follows. I take the view expressed in 1 Corinthians that the body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, to do anything that willfully damages my body or my health is wrong. And to do anything that will damage the body or health of others is even worse.

This means I don't have a very high opinion of those who knowingly set out out to cause damage in the way tobacco companies do. Tobacco is one of the few legal products that if used as intended will injure or kill the user. If the tobacco companies don't like the ads on their legal product, there is an obvious solution. Make it illegal. That would put the big tobacco companies out of business, in the US at least, even if it didn't stop smoking. 

The best compromise is for them to be quiet & do all they can to warn people about the dangers of smoking. It even may be to their benefit - it may undermine the cases of those who want to sue them for the damage their products causes people.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

mad world

File:Gay Byrne.JPG

Gay Byrne thinks Ireland is being run by mad people in Brussels. Anyone think he's wrong?

(I'm still on hols - just got close to a computer for a few minutes!)

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

David Norris 2

(note: I'm off on a bit of a holiday, so posting will be sporadic - mainly only if I get to a library computer - for the next couple of weeks!)

Enda Kenny was incandescent a couple of weeks ago over what he regarded as interference by the Vatican in the affairs of our sovereign nation & he lambasted Rome unmercifully in the Dail as a result. He must be ready to explode over a recent similar incident from another source. It appears a blogger with a grudge is attempting to interfere in our democratic process, if Fintan O'Toole's account is correct. Not content with the havoc he has already wrecked, I understand from radio reports this morning that the disgruntled blogger is threatening more revelations if David Norris does not end his presidential campaign.

What an outrageous assault this is on the sovereign nation of the Republic of Ireland. Bad enough to have other sovereign nations even giving the impression that they might be interfering - but to have a mere blogger all but holding a gun to the head of one of our presidential hopefuls and demanding he withdraw beggars belief. All I can say is thank goodness that we have a head of government who has made it clear to the world that he will not stand idly by when this sort of outside interference is attempted. I can hardly wait for Mr Kenny's staunch defence of our sovereignty in the Dail concerning this matter.

UPDATE: David Norris withdrew from the campaign today. Now more than ever we need our leaders to speak out against these external attacks on our democratic system!

Monday, August 1, 2011

David Norris

What complicated times we live in. Opponents of David Norris leak information to the press which link him with paedophilia. Naturally, no one feels comfortable publicly accusing him of any such inclinations. After all, we've gone beyond the days when we automatically think being a homosexual male is the same thing as being a paedophile, haven't we? However, the stories damage his campaign as they make his supporters 'question his judgement.'

Quite rightly so. His judgement is quite clearly in question if he thought that his opponents wouldn't use these sort of tactics. Or that they wouldn't work in modern Ireland.