Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Campaign For Humanae Vitae

As I posted recently (here) on Humanae Vitae, musing on what a different world we might live in if its teaching had been followed, I thought some who like to stop by this blog now and again would be interested in this petition (part of the Campaign For Humanae Vitae tm) to Catholic bishops to encourage the undiluted teaching of that document. You can access and sign the petition online here over at the bellarmine forum site. And if it is something you think is important, please share the petition with others.

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Bezák Agenda

The situation that Archbishop Róbert Bezák finds himself in made it  into today's Irish Times. Just the letters page mind. A search of the paper's archives suggests that his actual removal never made it onto the radar here at all. 

So why now? Is it that we are just a tad slow or behind the times in Ireland? Maybe. Or maybe not.

The author of the letter, Brendan Butler, makes the case that the archbishop is a persecuted whistle-blower, forced out for uncovering and making public financial impropriety in the diocese from before he took office. Does he have the facts to back up this claim? Well no. Because the only public facts relating to the case are these. The archbishop was removed from his see by the Vatican on July 2nd. The Vatican (as is its wont) did not give reasons when it removed the archbishop. The archbishop as he was stepping down also did not make a statement (he did point out that he was precluded from doing so by the Vatican). 

And those are all the known facts. There are plenty of rumours. Google it yourself ... that way no one can claim that I tried to point them in any particular direction. And since some of the rumours are to my mind unsavoury I want no part in furthering the spread of them.

And yet Mr Butler builds this into a case of an outspoken clergyman being silenced by the Vatican. Does he have 'inside information?' He doesn't say. If he had, I have no doubt he would have let us know. So it seems to me that he has taken one of the rumours that are out there and built his case from that. And it seems a tad unreasonable to me to take one rumour and use it to build a case while 'silencing' the other rumours that seem equally credible. 

Now, confession time. I had never heard of the archbishop or his diocese until I read about them in this letter. Shame on me, I know! But the letter piqued my interest and I wanted to know more. And thanks to the internet in about five minutes time I did know more. A lot more. Enough to know that Mr Butler's letter did not fit the known facts. And what I find puzzling is why would anyone bother to write such a letter whose basis can be so easily undermined? So I did a little more online searching & I found out some facts about Brendan Butler. 

It turns out that the text of his letter was published on the Association of Catholic Priests site on 28 July - three days before it appeared in the Times. He also has at least one other piece published on the site - also on the topic of 'silencing.' And the site identifies him as someone who is a leader of We Are Catholics, a group that has a particular vision as to the future of the Catholic Church that it describes as being in accord with 'the theological spirit developed' from Vatican II.  

On the basis of what I found out I can not claim to know the heart and mind of Brendan Butler. But it does seem fair to say that he would have a particular agenda when it comes to the Catholic Church. An agenda that would be far better served by portraying the archbishop as a silenced whistle-blower than as a man who has been removed for reasons relating to doctrine, morals, or administrative failings. 

Don't get me wrong. He is entitled to his agenda. And he is entitled to to try to advance his agenda in the public square. That's what free speech and democracy are all about. The Catholic Church probably wouldn't approve. But if Mr Butler wants to batter his Church in public that's between him and his conscience. And maybe his bishop - but I wouldn't be well up on the nuances of such matters. However, I don't think he is entitled to present rumour & speculation as fact in furtherance of his agenda. 

And I don't think it is a clever tactic. Mr Butler is a man, I am sure, for whom religion is important. He thinks a letter like this will strengthen his case for church reform. I disagree. I think people are more likely to read this letter and see it as another nail in the coffin of organised religion. Loudly telling people in public how bad the Church is is not a great way to get them back into the pews. It's more likely to drive more people out. 

Am I wrong?

Saturday, July 28, 2012

One letter, three reactions

The Irish Times did publish that letter of mine responding to the suggestion that I was an advocate of tyranny. Good for them! As it happens they waited about 5 days to print it. I was away on a few days break and missed it. So my first hearing of its publication was from a friend I was meeting for lunch during my brief holiday.
'Good letter of yours in the paper yesterday,' were his opening words as he got into my car.
'Really? O good, they finally published it.'
'Yes. It was very clearly expressed. You made your points very well.'
We talked about it a little more. The kind things he had to say were of course gratifying. But more important was the fact that my friend is someone who would self-identify as being part of the liberal wing of the Catholic Church. He also happens to be gay.

The next reaction to the letter I got was to arrive home and find a rather breathless female voice on my answering machine. She was the host of a show on the local radio station. They had seen my letter. Would I call them back? I decided not to. The message was by now three days old and the moment had passed. But I don't think I would have been interested in going on the radio about this anyway. I wanted to make a very particular point. It would be too easy to be dragged down all the other highways and byways related to sexuality on a radio interview. 

Case in point, reaction number three. The morning after arriving back at the rectory a fat envelope came through the door. A bunch of photo-copies with a lot of notes on them in red ink with a long hand-written cover letter. Basically, shame on me. Where did Jesus condemn gays or gay marriage? (Note: I did not condemn anything or anyone in my letter; I called for public debate of an issue.) I should read all the fotocopies (sic) and 'put them in Good English and write about the true evil - the evil that is Islam - to the papers.'

I've received that kind of letter before - the basic message is always that it is shameful, wicked, lazy etc to write about the issue you just did while cowardly, weakly, foolishly ignoring the issue that they have a particular interest in. These letters are generally, but not always, anonymous, and never have a return address. But if I could respond to them directly it would be to say: it would take considerably less effort to write a letter to the paper about the issue that exorcises you than to send me all that you did. So please be brave and write to the paper next time instead of wasting your time writing to me.

Anyway, three different reactions to the same letter. The Irish Times seems to have moved on from this issue for the time being, which is just as well. Maybe it'll give me the break I need to refocus so I can stop wasting my time and get stuck into to fighting evil. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

My Flesh is truly food

When we speak of the reality of Christ's nature being in us, we would be speaking foolishly and impiously--had we not learned it from Him. For He Himself says: `My Flesh is truly food, and My Blood is truly Drink. He that eats My flesh and drinks My Blood will remain in Me and I in him [John 6:56-57].' As to the reality of His flesh and blood, there is little room left for doubt, because now, both by the declaration of the Lord Himself and by our own faith, it is truly Flesh and truly Blood. And these Elements bring it about, when taken and consumed, that we are in Christ and Christ is in us. Is it not true? Let those who deny that Jesus christ is true God be free to find these things untrue. But He Himself is in us through the flesh and we are in Him, while that which we are with Him is in God.

St. Hilary of Poitiers, The Trinity [8,14] A.D. 356-359:

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A life's mission

'Convert those who do not believe with the example of your life, so that your faith has a motive. If God's Word pleases you, act accordingly - not only God's Word in your heart, but in your life so that you will form God's family, united and pleasing to his eyes in all your actions. Don't doubt, brethren, that if your lives are worthy of God, unbelievers will find faith.'
St Augustine

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Jesus Christ Superhero?

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

During the week in the parish the children enjoyed a fantastic summer camp … singing songs, hearing bible stories, playing games, doing physical activities and lots more. Two of my own boys went & one of them came home singing one of the songs: Jesus is my superhero. Now I have to admit my first thought was … hmmn … do I like the idea of the kids of the parish going around thinking of Jesus as a superhero … after all, isn't our Lord and Saviour a lot more than some comic book character?

But thinking about it, I had to admit that there were certain points of similarity … Jesus has mysterious origins … kind of a secret identity as he is the Son of God while most people think he's just the local carpenter … and he certainly has powers … lots of them … he can heal the sick, raise the dead, walk on water, calm storms, know what people are thinking, forgive sins, cast out demons, and take a few pieces of bread and use it to feed thousands!

And thinking about Jesus and superheroes made me wonder what would happen if people tried to treat the story of a superhero the way some like to treat the story of Jesus and try to strip away all the mystery and power … what do I mean?

Well, let's just think for a moment if the director of the latest Batman movie, Christopher Nolan (and let us pause for a moment to pray for those killed and injured in that horrendous attack in Colorado on Friday at a showing of that movie) wished to take on the Superman legend as his next project. But he decided he didn't want to do another action movie, but instead wanted to get behind the myth to the 'real' Superman. And he decided that that meant making a few changes to the story as we are familiar with it.

The first thing to go would be the bit where he comes from another planet … we all know that that kind of thing just doesn't happen. So no planet Kryton in this retelling. Of course the next thing to go would have to be all the super-powers … nobody can do the things that Superman can … that's just being silly! Flying, strength, speed, invulnerability, x-ray vision, they would all have to go. As would the costume. Dressing up in tights and running around in a cape … who could take someone like that seriously? And so stripped down the bone, Nolan would tell the story of the real superman, Clark Kent, an ordinary person like you or I.

How do you think the movie would go down? It hardly sounds like a recipe for a blockbuster, does it? I can't imagine too many people would be queuing up to see a two-and-a-half hour Superman movie that didn't actually have a superman in it! And just imagine the reaction of the fans … actually, you don't have to imagine it … you only have to do a bit of googling to see that each and every time some comic book story gets made into a movie the fans react with fury when what they think is important plot elements or characters get left out … not to mention what might be seen as rather minor changes to how the hero operates … think I'm joking? Where the last Spiderman series came out and the director had Spidey shooting his webs from glands in his wrists rather than gadgets that he had made, the internet erupted and literally millions of hours were spent by fans expressing their righteous indignation at what they saw as heresy!

And of course the real reason it wouldn't work is because Clark Kent isn't Superman … Superman really is Superman & Clark Kent doesn't really exist … he's just a name that Superman hides behind …

Now I'm sure the idea I just outlined to you sounds rather silly … who would be daft enough to try to make a Superman movie that removes everything that makes Superman Superman from it? But yet, you know, people do that everyday with Jesus … they really do. They try to tell the story of the 'real' Jesus, try to come up with explanations as to who he 'really' was, instead of being the Son of God, and more than anything they try to remove his powers and come up with 'natural' explanations for the miracles … for example, I wonder how many of you here have heard someone try to explain the miracle in today's Gospel, the loaves and fishes, by saying that Jesus couldn't really feed thousands of people with a few loaves … the real 'miracle' must have been that people had brought food and Jesus got them to share it …

But just as there is no point to Superman without powers, there is no point to Jesus without the miracles and all the rest. The 'real' story of Jesus is not the story of a carpenter who offered the world some friendly advice and then died 2000 years ago. The real story is that he was the Son of God, and the miracles are the witness that he was who he said he was. I'm sure you all remember the story of the paralysed man who was let down through the roof. Jesus' first words to him were: your sins are forgiven. And the bystanders said in their hearts, who does he think he is? Only God can forgive sins! And Jesus, knowing what they thought said – to show you that I do have the power to forgive sins, I say to this man, take up you matt and walk! And the man did … the miracle was the witness to the truth of whom Jesus claimed to be. The Son of God. A man who could forgive sins, just as God could. The attempt to get behind the miracles to find the 'real' Jesus is an attempt to make him ordinary, to make him safe … and it is an attempt to rob us of the truth of who he is … the Son of God who became man and came to earth to save us from our sins … greater than any superhero … the greatest hero of them all … something that I pray that you & all people will come to know more and more throughout your lives … in the Name of the + Father, the Son, & the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

sermon notes for 21 July 2012 (7th after Trinity)  

Friday, July 20, 2012

I, Tyrant!

Apparently I am an advocate of tyranny. Or at least that is the implication I take from a letter by Jessica Copley in today's Irish Times. You may recall that I had a letter myself in the Irish Times a couple of days ago, which I also posted on my blog in advance of publication. You can find that post here. In it I suggested that our politicians had no democratic mandate to legislate for same-sex marriage and that the people of Ireland were entitled to democratic consultation on the issue. 

I would have thought that what I was suggesting was very reasonable & the tone in which I phrased it was quite mild. I really thought that my letter, among so many that I would have thought far more inflammatory, was unlikely to attract a response. But no. Ms Copley believes my call for democratic consultation is a call for tyranny. I am the enemy and I must be exposed for the monster that I am, as must all who do not fall down and at once agree that whatever she decrees to be a right is exactly that.

Hmmn. Julius Caesar might have been a bit of a tyrant. Sulla was definitely a tyrant. T-Rex (the dinosaur, not the band) was probably a bit of a monster. But me? Little old, asking for a democratic vote me? A tyrant? Look at the pictures - is there any similarity between me & these tyrants? I think not!

I, of course, emailed a response to the Irish Times. It is not everyday one is accused by name of being in favour of tyranny in the national papers. One is inclined to reply to such accusations swiftly. On the off-chance that the Times does not publish my letter - they have limited space & my voice has already been heard on this issue - here it is:

Jessica Copley suggests I am an advocate of tyranny by virtue of wishing to see democratic consultation in respect of the issue of same-sex marriage (letters July 20th). Is that the Ireland of today? Where an individual or group may declare something is a 'right' by fiat and those who wish to discuss the matter are tyrants?

All citizens do indeed have a right to equality before the law, as Ms Copley states. However, the reason we are having a debate on same-sex marriage is that no law exists to establish it as a right. In our society law is established by the will of the people. That is a right I trust no one will dispute. It is not tyranny to wish to have a discussion followed by a vote to determine the will of the majority on an issue; it is democracy. Tyranny is more likely to be found where the few seek to take charge of a society and run it according to their own will and pleasure, irrespective of the democratic rights of the many.

Some of my parishioners were mildly outraged at the accusation. But truthfully I find the whole thing rather amusing. I mean seriously, declaring a wish to see public consultation on an issue is tyranny? She might wish to save her fire for less reasonable opponents than I. I can assure her they are out there. Wouldn't you think?

But in honour of my tyrannical status, here's T-Rex with their classic from 1971, get it on (showing my age, but I just love it! Marc Bolan, RIP).

Thursday, July 19, 2012

First woman bishop elected in Anglican Church in Africa

 The Rev Ellinah Wamukoya was elected Bishop of Swaziland at an electoral college presided over by Archbishop Thabo Makgoba on July 18th. The diocese of Swaziland has strong Irish links as it is the focus of several USPG Ireland projects. USPGI director, Linda Chambers, said: 'I am delighted to learn of Rev Wamukoya's election. I look forward to working closely with her in the years to come.'

The Rev Wamukoya is Chaplain at the University of Swaziland and St. Michael's High School in Manzini, Swaziland. She also serves as CEO of the City Council in Manzini. She will succeed the Rt Rev Meshack Mabuza who has been bishop of Swaziland since 2002. 

Swaziland is the first of the 12 Provinces of Africa to elect a woman as bishop. The Anglican Church of Southern Africa, which includes Angola, Mozambique, Namibia and South Africa, voted to ordain women at the 1992 Synod, which conincidentally met in Swaziland.

The diocese of Swaziland was founded in 1968. It comprises the country of Swaziland. It is divided in three archdeaconries, Eastern Swaziland, Southern Swaziland and Western Swaziland.

The Revd Ellinah Wamukoya is only the second woman to be elected bishop of a mainline church in Africa. The first was the Rt Rev Joaquina Nhanala of Mozambique elected as a United Methodist bishop in Africa in 2008.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Yesterday Today (in other words, an update!)

A quick update on my post of yesterday. The Irish Times published the letter in this morning's edition. This could mean that the letter was more inflammatory than I realised ... or that the IT is indeed interested in fostering reasonable debate on this issue, rather than setting the two sides at one another like pit bulls and rubbing their hands gleefully while blood and hair covers the walls and ceiling. In all charity and humility I incline towards the latter supposition. 

The other letters on the topic in today's paper also adopt a fairly reasonable tone. One pokes fun at the institution of marriage & suggests in the modern era it is irrelevant so why on earth should anyone want gay marriage? Another points to the hyperbole of calling it the “civil rights issue of this generation” at a time when there are so many injustices affecting so many people.

The letter from Louis Hannon (who identifies herself as Co-chair Labour LGBT, by which I take it she is affiliated with the junior party of our coalition government, whose leader was the one who described this as “civil rights issue of this generation”) was interesting. It was moderate in tone, avoiding calling anyone who doesn't agree with her a bigot, which is to be appreciated in this debate. If I might 'fisk' one short paragraph of her letter?

This negativity (fair comment; the chap she was responding to, Frank Farrell, was quite negative towards the idea) towards civil marriage (interesting that she specifies 'civil marriage' ... in other jurisdictions the debate has moved on to demand church marriages for same-sex couples ... even before the civil marriage issue has been settled) people of the same sex overlooks the fact that people fall in love (is being in love the main prerequisite for  marriage?  Personally, I am of the opinion that the modern notion that marriage exists primarily to express romantic love between adults has been quite damaging to the institution. Because if that is the reason for the marriage, clearly there is no point to the marriage continuing once the couple cease to 'be in love.' Hence the high level of marriage breakdown. It is a topic I have been meaning to post on.). Their sexuality cannot be changed (ohh, there's dynamite ... this is a particularly controversial subject ... she's laying down a bit of a challenge to her opposition, I suspect). It’s the way people are born (the testimony of Lady GaGa to the contrary, I thought the jury was still out on this? By which I mean that I understood that the scientists were not sure as to whether this was a nature or nurture issue, but most of the current science leans towards nurture at the moment ... but perhaps someone could point me to the latest science?). It’s a fact of life (essentially making the previous point again. Emphasis?).

You can read the rest of her letter, & today's other letters, here. 

All in all, good to see the debate beginning in a fairly calm & reasonable fashion. Let's hope & pray it continues that way.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Irish Constitution and same-sex marriage

Below is the text of a letter I sent to the Irish Times yesterday. They haven't published it - yet at least. Maybe they will in due course. They've done that to me before. Once it was almost two weeks later. Let me tell you that there is nothing stranger than someone congratulating you for a letter that appeared in that morning's paper and you having no idea what it is! OK, there is, but you know what I mean. Hyperbole and all that. I admit it - I'm prone to. Heck, I use it a thousand times a day. See? That was hyperbole again (or was it, you muse?).

Anyway, the letter. So far unpublished. And since it seemed a pity to do nothing with it ... 

There appears to to be a drive to legalise same-sex marriage without the democratic consultation of a constitutional referendum. Dr Conor O’Mahony (Opinion July 17th) suggests that the major political parties are on board for a legislative change. I wasn't aware that they had sought a mandate to do so at the last general election. And why the eagerness to avoid a referendum? One might almost wonder that some worry the people will not give them the result they want.

However, I think it advisable that people have the chance to engage in debate. This is a highly emotive issue. It would be best to avoid the possibility that this change, should we make it, be tainted by the charge that it was done without meaningful consultation.

My personal opinion is that, wherever one stands on this issue, there has to be open, honest debate. As I said in the letter, the government has no mandate for this. And regarding the Constitutional issue, despite Dr O'Mahony's opinion to the contrary, I think it does require a referendum. But then, that would just be me siding with the top legal opinions in the country on the matter. 

But even if an amendment were not required, I don't think this is a decision to be made without talking it through as a country first. I'm sure I read something somewhere in some pop psychology journal about it being a good thing for people to 'own' a decision. So, if we don't go down this road, and there is no discussion, it will be left as a festering sore. If we do and there is no discussion, I think there is the risk of a future backlash. There has been a ferocious amount of social change in a very short amount of time in Ireland. Some would think too much. And certainly it is arguable that it is too much to absorb in so few years. 

But, as I said above, this is only my opinion. I'm sure you have your own. I'd be interested to know what you think.

UPDATE: The IT published the letter this morning

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Seven gifts to help you towards Eternal Life

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

A few years ago a clerical colleague of mine was asked to pray for rain during a long hot summer, if you can imagine such a thing in Ireland. With a certain degree of trepidation my friend agreed and the prayers were duly said. And in a few days it began to rain. He went off on holidays and a couple of weeks later he received a text. It said: thanks for the rain. Now would you ever say some more prayers to make it stop?'

The weather over the last number of weeks has been simply frightful; and I know large numbers of people have been praying for a change. It is not just fact that we are having such a wet and gloomy summer – as if that wasn't bad enough – but it is how the effects of the rain spill over, so to speak, into other areas of life. For some it may be no more than a minor inconvenience, such as to having to run the central heating in summer because the solar panels on the roof aren't providing much by way of hot water. For others there is the serious headache of having children off for the summer holidays hanging around the house all day – slowly going mad with boredom themselves … and driving their parents mad in the process!

And there is the economic impact of it all … this is a country parish and we don't need to look far to see the misery that the weather is causing. There is worry about crops being ready to harvest and there being enough fodder for animals; those whose livelihoods depend on providing goods or services to the farming community are also deeply worried … because when things are tight for the farmers, then things are tight for them also …

And over us all hangs the spectre of what a poor harvest will do to food prices. What can not be grown here, must be bought in, at far higher prices. Which is not a happy thought for people who are already suffering from the economic crisis that our nation is going through.

So what do we do? Pray, naturally … which many have been doing … but we all know full well that prayer is not magic … it is not automatic that if we pray for dry weather then the sun will suddenly blaze forth from behind the clouds … if that were so, then the rain would have stopped several weeks ago … that is not to say that prayer is useless … But the truth is that our understanding is limited and God's ways are not our ways … and the simple fact is that when we pray we ought not so much be trying to conform God and his creation to how we think it should be, but rather trying to conform ourselves to God's will … by which I mean, to learn our place in the scheme of things and accept it with joy rather than despair.

This is not to say that we should be blind to what goes on in this world … the new testament is full of injunctions to those who would lead the Christian life as to how they must help others with what they need to live … nor does it mean that God is indifferent to what happens on earth … the Gospels tell us that even the hairs on our head are numbered by God … but it does mean that we should never lose sight of the fact that our time on this earth is not intended to make it heaven on earth, but rather to prepare us for eternal life in heaven … that is rather a mouthful, so I'll say it again: our time on this earth is not intended to make it heaven on earth, but rather to prepare us for eternal life in heaven.

That may sound like cold comfort when it has been bucketing out of the heavens for the last several weeks … but it should help to keep things in perspective. As long as we have enough to live, we have enough. Difficult though it may be to focus on such things when it seems that even more economic misery is coming right down the tracks towards us, we must always keep in mind how much we have to be grateful for.

And our Epistle this morning reminds us, I think, very strongly of just how much we have to be grateful for. I counted seven different gifts contained in just this one short passage of scripture, though of course that depends where you you put the 'breaks' in the passage. But let me list off for you the seven that I counted:

1. God has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places;

2. he has chosen us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love;

3 . He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ;

4 In him we have redemption through his blood and the forgiveness of our trespasses;

5. he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth;

6. In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will; 

7. In him also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, you were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit;

All of these gifts that God gives us mentioned in this single short passage have something in common … none of them promise or imply material happiness or comfort … instead they are all gifts that relate to our spiritual well-being … because it is gifts like these that will help us achieve our true destiny of eternal life in heaven. Life may be a bit miserable now … but we know that it will eventually pass … just as we know that eventually our life here on earth will pass … and the occasional discomfort we endure now will seem of so little relevance … and so we pray for fine weather now … and hope that we will not in a few weeks hence have cause to pray just as earnestly for rain … I pray that you will take to heart the great gifts that God gives you for the sake of eternal life … in the Name of the + Father, the Son, & the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

Sermon Notes 15 July 2012 (6th after Trinity)  


Saturday, July 14, 2012

New Oxford Movement, Ireland?

Today is the anniversary of John Keble's famous sermon on National Apostasy which launched the Oxford Movement. (Much thanks to the Catholicity and Covenant blog for the reminder.) The post there has two interesting links. Apparently there is talk that the time might be ripe for a New Oxford Movement to begin. One link is from the UK and the other from the US. Both links are well worth checking out. 

Naturally, to my mind, there occurs the question as to whether there would be any appetite for a New Oxford Movement in Ireland. The conditions that make such a discussion appropriate in the US and UK are no less valid in this land. Secularism is on the rise. The Church is increasingly marginalised. And it is not as if the Church of Ireland did not have its own associations with the original Oxford Movement. Indeed, Keble's sermon was prompted by the government of the day's interference with the organisation of the Church of Ireland. 

Anyone interested?

Friday, July 13, 2012

Of magic pills and creaking Gates

Melinda Gates and company plan to change the lives of 120 million women in the developing world by providing $4.3 billion for contraception, according to an Editorial in today's Irish Times. By my reckoning that works out at less than $36 per woman, barely enough to cover costs for a year of supplying whatever kind of drugs or devices are to be used. And of course, the programme will have to be overseen and administered, which will take a hefty chunk out of those billions before ever a woman sees a single pill.

What then? Will further billions be provided annually ad infinitum? Somehow I doubt it. So in a year's time nothing will have changed except for the balance sheets of companies that manufacture and supply contraceptives.

Alternatively, this kind of money would make a huge difference to health and educational programmes which would a real long-term difference to women's lives.

Mrs Gates and her friends need to either rethink their policies or redo their maths.

Of course, all that is to leave aside the issue of the advisability of pushing what might be called a 'contraceptive culture.' That's worked out so well in terms of what it has done to sexual practices in our society that we should be calmly confident about exporting it to other societies.

Wouldn't you say?

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Cat Crazy

My cats can open doors inside the house. My cats can manage to get the lids off pots and devour the contents. They get open the box of cat food when their dish is empty. They can go out the cat flap I spent many hours installing on the back door of the house. So why do they sit by the back door and mew endlessly to be let in instead of pushing open the cat flap themselves and just coming in? Why? Why?

Sigh. Cats. I'm typing this with a kitten sitting on my left arm. I kid you not. Not my lap. Not my shoulder. Not the cushion I set near my desk. No. The kitten had to settle on my arm as I was typing.

Just hit share. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Holy Writ

I came across the below article online recently. I found it rather amusing, so I thought I'd stick it on the blog. Bear in mind in comes from less PC times ... & certainly less ecumenical ones! You have been warned ... if you take offence, all I can say is that you did it to yourself!

Holy Writ
by H. L. Mencken (from the Smart Set, October 1923)

Whoever it was who translated the Bible into excellent French prose is chiefly responsible for the collapse of Christianity in France. Contrariwise, the men who put the Bible into archaic, sonorous and often unintelligible English gave Christianity a new lease of life wherever English is spoken. They did their work at a time of great theological blather and turmoil, when men of all sorts, even the least intelligent, were beginning to take a vast and unhealthy interest in exegetics and apologetics. They were far too shrewd to feed this disconcerting thirst for ideas with a Bible in plain English; the language they used was deliberately artificial even when it was new. They thus dispersed the mob by appealing to its emotions, as a mother quiets a baby by crooning to it. The Bible that they produced was so beautiful that the great majority of men, in the face of it, could not fix their minds upon the ideas in it. To this day it has enchanted the English-speaking peoples so effectively that, in the main, they remain Christians, at least sentimentally. Paine has assaulted them, Darwin and Huxley have assaulted them, and a multitude of other merchants of facts have assaulted them, but they still remember the twenty-third Psalm when the doctor begins to shake his head, they are still moved beyond compare (though not, alas, to acts!) by the Sermon on the Mount, and they still turn once a year from their sordid and degrading labors to immerse themselves unashamed in the story of the manger. It is not much, but it is something. I do not admire the general run of American Bible-searchers -- Methodists, United Brethren, Baptists, and such vermin. But try to imagine what the average low-browed Methodist would be if he were not a Methodist but an atheist!

The Latin Church, which I constantly find myself admiring, despite its frequent astounding imbecilities, has always kept clearly before it the fact that religion is not a syllogism, but a poem. It is accused by Protestant dervishes of withholding the Bible from the people. To some extent this is true; to the same extent the church is wise; again to the same extent it is prosperous. Its toying with ideas, in the main, have been confined to its clergy, and they have commonly reduced the business to a harmless play of technicalities—the awful concepts of Heaven and Hell brought down to the level of a dispute of doctors in long gowns, eager only to dazzle other doctors. Its greatest theologians remain unknown to 99% of its adherents. Rome, indeed, has not only preserved the original poetry in Christianity; it has also made capital additions to that poetry—for example, the poetry of the saints, of Mary, and of the liturgy itself. A solemn high mass must be a thousand times as impressive, to a man with any genuine religious sense in him, as the most powerful sermon ever roared under the big-top by a Presbyterian auctioneer of God. In the face of such overwhelming beauty it is not necessary to belabor the faithful with logic; they are better convinced by letting them alone.

Preaching is not an essential part of the Latin ceremonial. It was very little employed in the early church, and I am convinced that good effects would flow from abandoning it today, or, at all events, reducing it to a few sentences, more or less formal. In the United States the Latin brethren have been seduced by the example of the Protestants, who commonly transform an act of worship into a puerile intellectual exercise; instead of approaching God in fear and wonder these Protestants settle back in their pews, cross their legs, and listen to an ignoramus try to prove that he is a better theologian than the Pope. This folly the Romans now slide into. Their clergy begin to grow argumentative, doctrinaire, ridiculous. It is a pity. A bishop in his robes, playing his part in the solemn ceremonial of the mass, is a dignified spectacle, even though he may sweat freely; the same bishop, bawling against Darwin half an hour later, is seen to be simply an elderly Irishman with a bald head, the son of a respectable saloon-keeper in South Bend, Ind. Let the reverend fathers go back to Bach. If they keep on spoiling poetry and spouting ideas, the day will come when some extra-bombastic deacon will astound humanity and insult God by proposing to translate the liturgy into American, that all the faithful may be convinced by it.

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Monday, July 9, 2012

Sunday, July 8, 2012

What should YOU do when Jesus is rejected?

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

Not long after I was ordained I did a course in Chaplaincy, called clinical pastoral education. It was a very good course & very useful for pastoral ministry. It taught me a lot about listening to people, really listening, and trying to dig down beneath what was presenting on the surface to get at the feelings that underlay what the person was saying …

While I was doing the course, I remember having a discussion with my wife … I use the word 'discussion' deliberately, as of course we would never have an argument … & full of the joys of all my new listening skills I tried to really get to the heart of the matter … provoking the response: 'I'm not someone you're visiting – don't think you're going to use your listening skills on me!'

The point being, of course, that it is never a really a good idea to try to use your professional skills on your family or friends … the relationship is different … the person you sit down at the dinner table with every night or go for a pint with in the local is always going to have difficulty relating to you in a different role … and truthfully, you probably would have difficult relating to them differently also …

Which is possibly what is happening in our Gospel reading this morning … Jesus, early in his ministry, has come home … in fact, in St Luke's version of this story it is at the very beginning of his ministry … and the people send him away. They knew Jesus when he was in short trousers, so to speak, & they just can't take seriously the idea of him being someone to whom they should listen to. And they send him away.

Jesus, it must be said, adopts a very philosophical attitude to it all. 'A prophet is never accepted in his home town,' he says. You can almost see him shrugging his shoulders. I tried. They wouldn't listen.

I wonder what most people think when they read that passage today … is it that the people of Nazareth didn't listen, but of course others did? Somehow, I don't think that is how the early Christians saw this passage. Not too long after this event, two or three years, Jesus would be rejected by the Jewish people & crucified … the prophet rejected in his own land … and when Mark was writing his Gospel, perhaps 30 years after Jesus was crucified, it was a time of persecution. The Gospel had spread to all parts of the Empire, but the Church existed only in little pockets, pockets that risked hatred, torture, & death on a daily basis. The prophet was still being rejected … rejected by the wider world of the Mediterranean culture …

But of course, all that changed when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire … or did it? After 2000 years, Christianity is still rejected by the majority of the world's population … there are six billion people and only around two billion belong to some form of Christian denomination …

So in a very big way, Christ is sill being rejected in his home town … he came into the world that was his own, and his own would not know him …

But still, of course, in Western society, in what used to be called 'Christendom', Christianity is by far the majority faith and it can not be said that Christ is being rejected here … our society is his home-town and the prophet is welcome here … how many here believe that those words are true? Would it not be truer to say that ours is a society that is culturally Christian, where a great many are nominally Christian, but for whom Christian teaching makes little or no impact on how they live their daily lives?

A small example: we are commanded in scripture to keep the Lord's Day holy … for how many in our society a holy day and for how many more is it another Saturday? And that's just one of the ten commandments …

In a very real way Jesus is being rejected daily in our society … and we, those who call ourselves Christians, and think of ourselves as being more than simply 'cultural Christians' have a calling and a duty to do something about it … we are not called to be 'get along' Christians, doing anything for a quiet life, and not caring what our neighbour is doing as long as we are free to practice our faith for ourselves … if we are doing that, we are failing as Christians … and we are rejecting Christ in our own lives …

What are we supposed to do? Well, there are some very powerful words on just that topic in our Old Testament reading today. It says:

Mortal, I am sending you to the people of Israel, to a nation of rebels who have rebelled against me; they and their ancestors have transgressed against me to this very day. The descendants are impudent and stubborn. I am sending you to them, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God.’ Whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house), they shall know that there has been a prophet among them.

At the end of our Gospel reading today, Jesus sends the 12 out to preach the Word. And Jesus sent each of us when he gave the great commission to his disciples at the end of St Matthew's Gospel. And before you start thinking that all the bad weather is getting to the rector, this is why he is preaching a doom and gloom sermon, I don't think this is a gloomy state of affairs! We should rejoice that there is a challenge before us - be energised by the call that has been given us - be lifted up by the fact that God himself has entrusted this task to us ... we are honoured and privileged by the calling he has given to us! The thought of what we have to do should put a smile on your face!

And because of this honour given to us, we can not say to ourselves that these are our neighbours, friends, & family, they will not listen to us … we must speak … because we are all called to go out into the world and proclaim the truth of Christ's Gospel … to say humbly but confidently, knowing that we have God's grace to strengthen us, that 'thus says the Lord.' They may not listen to us in the streets of our own towns … just as they did not listen to Christ in his own town … but even if they will not listen, they will know that a prophet has been among them … a prophet who has spoken in the Name of the + Father, the Son, & the Holy Spirit. Amen.

8 July 2012 (5th after Trinity) 

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Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Will Dawkins go to Heaven?


Dreadful theology, Father, no doubt you're saying. And doubtless you are right.

But it would be a priceless moment, wouldn't it? 

So what are your thoughts? Where do you think the 'great man' will end up ... and why?

And, of course, now as always I ask that you share this with others!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The joy of baptism

The baptism I administered Sunday went swimmingly well (yes, I meant that awful pun!). Baby M was handed to me sound asleep by the font & other than a little wrinkling of her nose, & the teeniest mewl of protest, hardly stirred. I was able to hand her back to her parents still asleep though slightly damp!

I love baptisms. Why wouldn't I? The welcoming of a new person into the household of faith should be a joyous occasion. As we do them in the context of the main Sunday service in our parish, they are both a family & a community event. There's a lot of smiling, both from myself & all others present.

What are the baptisms like that you attend: joyful, solemn, etc? And what do you think is the best approach?

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Sunday, July 1, 2012

Baptism: entry to the fullness of life

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

We have a baptism in the parish today … in a little while I'll have the privilege of baptising little baby M … and a baptism is always a good chance to talk a little about what it is we do in the sacrament of baptism … it is, after all, the gateway sacrament … the sacrament that admits us to the other sacraments … the one that makes us part of the body of Christ …

As the sacrament is administered, we talk about dying to sin and being born to new life … new life in Christ … what does that mean? Well, I think our Gospel reading today gives us some ideas …

In it we hear two stories … one of a girl raised from the dead … and one of a woman who is cured of a serious medical condition …

If we look at the second one first … the woman is suffering from a 'flow of blood', a haemorrhage, which she has had for 12 years … she has spent all she has on doctors and they have been able to do nothing for her … but Jesus can … Jesus cures her from her disease … but he has done more than simply cure her …

think again for a moment about this flow of blood … it is a menstrual flow … have you any idea what that meant in Jewish society? Bad enough that she had for 12 years suffered the pain and cramping that goes along with this … the discomfort and embarrassment in a society where sanitary facilities are not what they are today … the weakness that comes from continually loosing blood, everyday, week after week, year after year … she had much more to her suffering that that …

While a woman had her monthly period she was considered ritually unclean during it and for seven days thereafter … so this means that the woman was permanently ritually unclean. And what did it mean to be ritually unclean?

Well, to start with, it meant that a woman's husband could not have intimate relations with her … and so in this case, it means that the woman was almost certainly unmarried … this disease meant that she had either never been able to marry … or if it had afflicted her after her marriage it almost certainly would have caused her marriage to end … either way, the woman was doomed to a very lonely personal life …

But she was also excluded from any sort of social activities …no one could interact with her, for to interact with one who was unclean would make one ritually unclean oneself … all the ordinary daily activities of life, common task like drawing water from the well, baking bread at the communal oven, chatting over the washing of clothes … everything … this woman would have had to do alone …

And even public worship would have been denied to her … because at its heart, to be ritually unclean meant to be unfit to take part in the religious rituals and ceremonies of her faith … so that most of all would have been denied her … it was almost as if her disease cut her off from God …

And all this while leading a life of grinding poverty … because she had spent all she had on physicians … desperately seeking a cure for her disease …

And it is all this that Jesus takes away from her when he cures her … disease, pain, poverty, loneliness, exclusion … he does not just cure her disease … he gives her her life back … more, he gives her a life she had never known before … he gives her a new life … after that healing encounter with Jesus she it truly born to new life …

Which is why the story is tied to that of a girl who is brought back to life … Note the age of the girl … 12 years old … the same number of the years that the woman had suffered …

Together the two stories dramatically interact to tell that Jesus not only wants us to have new life, but have it abundantly … why? It is as our Old Testament reading today tells us …

for God created us for incorruption,
and made us in the image of his own eternity

God created us for incorruption, to have full and abundant life … but things went dramatically wrong in the world … which is why Jesus came to put things right … and for each of us that 'putting things right' begins with our baptism … it is not a magic wand … there is nothing magic about it at all … M's parents, and all the rest of us will have to work to bring her up in the faith … and later she will have to work hard herself … to claim that faith for her own … and to make the hard choices that comes with being a follower of Jesus … of taking up one's cross to follow him … it is a journey that begins for her today, just as it began for all of us at our baptisms … a journey that, with God's grace, she will continue to grow on all her days … as indeed, will all of you … something that I pray for us all: In the Name of the + Father, the Son, & the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

Sermon notes for  July 2012 (4th after Trinity) 

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