Sunday, September 30, 2012

being grateful for what we've got

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

I must confess that when I first got involved with the Church of Ireland one of the most things I found most difficult to get my head around was the concept of the Harvest Thanksgiving Service. The parishes I was first involved with were both firmly anchored in an urban environment. I found the whole business of decorating the church with apples from Israel, potatoes from Poland, oranges from Seville, bananas from Africa, etcetera, etcetera, all bought from the local supermarket, with the occasional cabbage or stick of rhubarb from some one's garden, and the even more occasional few turnips that someone managed to acquire from a country cousin a bit of a puzzle. And who could ever forget the ritual of bringing out the few small, dried sheaves of wheat each year, which were carefully stored in the vestry!

But of course, I got used to it! In a way, it rather reminded me of my childhood. I was born in the US, where as you all know Thanksgiving is an important national holiday. It was different, of course, as Thanksgiving is largely a secular holiday, and Harvest Thanksgiving is a Church one, but they have their roots in a common idea, and what is being celebrated is much the same.

Which brings us to the idea of what are we celebrating this year? After all, it has been one of the wettest summers on record. The harvest has hardly been spectacular. You could say that they only thing to grow this summer is the rector's beard … and mores the pity the rector's wife might say! As I've gone round the parish I've seen vegetables rotting in the ground; I've heard the sorrowful tales of how difficult it is, if not impossible, to get the silage or hay in. There hasn't been much sun for ripening grain. The livelihoods of those who rely on the land are under severe pressure; and all of us face rising food costs … because on a global scale it has been a bad year and a poor harvest means rising costs everywhere.

Our Gospel reading tells us not to worry … but sometimes it is hard not to worry … where are threshing floors full of grain and the vats overflowing with wine and oil that the prophet Joel promises?

But maybe that last bit is the key … the Old Testament is always talking about Israel as being a land flowing with milk and honey … and there are numerous others places where they give thanks for all the bounty that God supplies them with … but the truth is, Israel isn't all that fertile a place … it's a dry & dusty land … it is pretty much a desert in some places … it is a hard place to scratch out a living from … that's true today with all the benefits of modern technology and the ability to pipe water to irrigate crops … and it was even more so back in the day when the texts of the Bible were being written … these people are eking out a precarious living in a tough environment and yet they are singing God's praises … because they have enough to live …

That's pretty much the same background story to the US Thanksgiving holiday … there are many versions as to how the holiday began … one of the more common ones is that the early settlers were of Puritan English stock … and not long after they had started their colony they realised they were in trouble … they were struggling … they didn't know the land … they didn't know how to work it … and they didn't know how to find the food that occurred naturally in their new homeland … hardly surprising … they were strangers … but their were potentially deadly consequences to their ignorance … if they couldn't change things they were going to run out of food … the truth was that a lot of people were going to starve to death … unless something changed ...

And something did change … the 'locals,' 
 the native Americans, saw the trouble they were in, and they helped them. They taught them what crops would grow, and gave them seeds, and taught them how to hunt the local wildlife and to fish … and so when the autumn came, the time for harvest, they were in better shape … not, I stress, in 'barns bursting so they had to tear them down and build new ones' kind of shape … but 'we're not going to starve during the course of the winter' kind of shape … they had enough food so that they and their children wouldn't die … and they were grateful … and these Puritans had a tradition of having a festival of thanksgiving any time anything good happened in their lives … so that's what they did … they gave thanks for the harvest … not a harvest that would make them rich … probably not even a harvest that would make them fat … but a harvest that would keep them alive … a harvest that would see them through the winter for the chance to start again next spring …

and maybe we can learn something from those Hebrews of along ago who gave thanks for their meagre harvest … and those old Puritans who gave thanks for a harvest sufficient to keep them alive through the winter … yes we have had a rotten summer followed by less-than-average harvest … yes food prices will go up and put pressure on our already tight budgets … but we have enough to survive … more than enough … no one will starve in our community … no one will go hungry … and I seriously doubt if too many of us will be nothing but skin and bones come the spring!

We have enough … which means we have much to be thankful for … which is why we gather for this harvest thanksgiving service … to give thanks to God for all that he has given us … perhaps more in some years than in others … but always enough … and so we give humble thanks to God: Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen. 

Sermon notes 29 September 2012 (Harvest Thanksgiving) 

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Tobit and marriage

Today being the feast of St Michael and all Angels it is no surprise that the lectionary contains a reading from Tobit. Below is a part of today's passage from the Douay-Rheims version which gives an interesting perspective on marriage:

Then Tobias answered, and said: I hear that she hath been given to seven husbands, and they all died: moreover I have heard, that a devil killed them. Now I am afraid, lest the same thing should happen to me also: and whereas I am the only child of my parents, I should bring down their old age with sorrow to hell. Then the angel Raphael said to him: Hear me, and I will shew thee who they are, over whom the devil can prevail.  For they who in such manner receive matrimony, as to shut out God from themselves, and from their mind, and to give themselves to their lust, as the horse and mule, which have not understanding, over them the devil hath power. But thou when thou shalt take her, go into the chamber, and for three days keep thyself continent from her, and give thyself to nothing else but to prayers with her. And on that night lay the liver of the fish on the fire, and the devil shall be driven away. But the second night thou shalt be admitted into the society of the holy Patriarchs. And the third night thou shalt obtain a blessing that sound children may be born of you. And when the third night is past, thou shalt take the virgin with the fear of the Lord, moved rather for love of children than for lust, that in the seed of Abraham thou mayst obtain a blessing in children. (6.15-22)

A few points of difference there from the NRSV rendering, I'm sure you'll agree! And some thoughts on marriage worth pondering.

Friday, September 28, 2012

The arctic ice caps are melting.

Colour me confused on the whole global warming thing. My having a degree in geography doesn't help much. It does help understand the science that is put out about it. But it doesn't help much in sorting the wheat from the tares of all the conflicting claims. On the one hand I've lived with these threats of doom all my life, all basically saying the world is going to end. And it hasn't. On the other hand the weather has definitely developed a mind of its own over the last number of years. And it seems beyond doubt that the arctic ice caps are melting, as this article points out. I'm a bit puzzled about how that's working out. The doom-sayers of my youth said the polar caps would melt; but they also said coasts would be flooded around the world & that doesn't seem to be happening ... where is all that water going? Maybe it's in the atmosphere & that's why we're so much extra rain in Ireland this year as the hydrological cycle goes into overdrive trying to cope? Anyway, the next big problem seems to be with the polar ice gone, the big white sheet reflecting loads of solar energy back into space is gone too. Which puts us in danger of the planet heating up even faster. May I make a suggestion? If a large white area is what's needed (one about 2% of the surface of the earth) then can't we make one? No, not a giant bed sheet! But maybe start using white roof tiles in all our cities and painting existing roofs white ... of course, maybe all the acid rain would wash it away, or all the dust and soot from pollution would blacken it all & make things worse? I dunno. What suggestions do you have? Think hard - remember, the future of our planet may depend on you! 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

too busy to pray?

A thought came to me as I was setting up for Morning Prayer this today in the parish hall next to the school. It is a new initiative that I began a couple of weeks ago. It is quite informal. Just a small table with a candle in the corner of the hall. 

I'm not getting many attending. Often I am alone. I don't mind. As I told the parish, I say Morning Prayer every day as part of my daily office. I'm happy to do it in a place where others can join me if they wish. It is about creating the opportunity for them to pray. And reminding them that the needs of the parish are being prayed for every day.

As I was setting up this morning I could hear the parents outside, rushing to drop the children off, then rushing off again to whatever was next on their agenda. Thinking, perhaps, that they were too busy to join me for a few minutes in the hall. And the thought flitted across my mind:

Saying you are too busy to pray everyday is like saying you are too busy to be a child of God.

Is that a quote from somewhere I wonder? I read so much that it is not impossible that it is a pearl of wisdom I came across elsewhere. And there is wisdom in it, wherever it came from. We do need to take time to pray everyday, speaking to God, thanking him, bringing our problems before him, and listening to what he has to say. 

I do not know, of course, that all those people rushing about so busily this morning do not pray everyday. I hope they do find the time somewhere in the day. That they make the time. Because no one should think they are too busy to pray. No one be too busy to take a few moments each day to remember that they a child of God.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Pope, the Taoiseach, & the Mobile Phone

Picked up an interesting piece of video from the The St Genesius Blog. If you watch it carefully you will see our Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, checking his mobile phone more than once during his recent visit to Castel Gandolfo while the Pope was addressing those invited. 

There is a letter in the Irish Times today from an Anthony Murphy expressing surprise that in the wake of the audience Mr Kenny seemed to think that the Pope had had nothing of importance to say, even though others there thought he had made some important points. Well, there is your answer Mr Murphy. The Taoiseach had other things on his mind during the address.

I wonder what could have been so important that, sitting as his was in the front row with nothing between him and His Holiness but empty air, he couldn't leave the phone alone? In normal circumstances this would be a serious breach of protocol. However, in charity I must bear in mind that all the facts of this incident are not known. Perhaps there was a serious family emergency that Mr Kenny was monitoring. Perhaps there was a crisis of state so extreme that he was obliged to stay in touch (though I would think if something that important were going on we would have heard about it). But if something else was going on that he thought was so important that he couldn't put his phone away, surely it would have been better to postpone his visit rather than risk giving the impression that he was willfully being discourteous? 

Still, whatever the case, I can't imagine it'll have done his chances of a private audience with the Holy Father, which recent PR indicates that he wanted, much good. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

some philosophical questions

Summa Philosophica
There's a good series of posts just started on William M Briggs' Blog. He's working his way through Peter Kreeft's book Summa Philosophica . As his title implies, Kreeft is adopting the style of St Thomas Aquinas to deal with some philosophical question. I suppose it is surprising that no one ever thought of doing this before - after all, if it's good enough for the Angelic Doctor & theology, it's bound to be a wise choice for any number of other topics ... especially philosophy. 

To give you a flavour of Briggs' series (Briggs is in bold, Kreeft in italics:

Which brings us to scientism, which is dealt the first of many blows. The assumption that “the scientific method is the only valid or legitimate method” for uncovering truth
is self-contradictory and self-eliminating because it cannot be proved by the scientific method. If the objection [we are past philosophy and onto science] assumes that only verifiable or falsifiable ideas are legitimate, and that only empirically or mathematically verifiable or falsifiable ideas are verifiable or falsifiable, that very assumption is self-contradictory and self-eliminating because it is not empirically or mathematically verifiable or falsifiable.
No matter how many times this (simple, really) argument is presented, it never seems to sink in; the dedicated empiricist just can’t admit to having an ultimately unverifiable philosophy. 
I'd heard of Kreeft's book before, but hadn't looked into it. After Briggs' 'taster' I felt impelled to go and order the book. And I can't wait for it to arrive!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

how to be the greatest

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

There seems to be a natural tendency for people to want to be better than everybody else, to lord it over them … we see it in the Bible a lot … Cain wants to be better than Able … Jacob wants to be better than Esau … the Philistines want to lord it over than the Hebrews … so do the Egyptians … we see it in History too … that's why we have characters like Alexander the Great and Pompey Magnus or the great one … or Peter the Great … or even Mohamed Ali being called the Greatest …

So we shouldn't be too surprised the the disciples in today's Gospel are arguing about which of them is the greatest … they're only following human nature … but Jesus, despite the fact that they are only doing what is natural, seems to be disappointed in what's going on … But before we go into that, let's back the story up a bit, and see how we got to where we are …

Our reading begins with Jesus and his followers walking … they are in the region of Galilee … a fairly dry and dusty place unless you are right near the freshwater of the lake itself … the colours of the landscape are sandy reds and light browns … with some greens when the season is right … vines, olives, other small trees … and the season is right in our story today … because in this part of the Gospel Jesus is just about to start his journey to Jerusalem, to the scene of his passion and death … that will take place during Passover … the time we know would think of as coming up to Easter … so it is springtime … there are green-shoots everywhere … and blossoms on all the trees amidst the different shades of browns … but that is not what Jesus is thinking about as they walk along … he is thinking of his passion that is to come … he has already told his followers about it twice now … but they don't understand … we heard him tell them about it in last week's Gospel … and St Peter tried to tell him he was wrong! He tells them about it again in this week's Gospel, but they don't really seem to understand …

So maybe that's why Jesus is walking alone as they journey home to Capernaum … the Gospel doesn't say that in so many words, but it seems to imply it … because when they get back to the house on the Lake that is their base and Jesus asks them what they were talking about, there is a guilty silence … they hadn't realised he had heard … so he must have been walking a little apart from them …

Can you picture this group of people as they walk? Jesus and the 12 of course; but others too, other disciples, and as we know Jesus had women followers as well as men, they are a mixed group … not too rich, so their clothes, robes we might call them that flow down to their ankles are probably plains colours, different shades of brown, their feet in sandals … the women with their heads covered as was the custom, the men probably bare headed in the spring sunshine … Jesus a little bit ahead … in Mark's Gospel everything is done with urgency … there are a lot of 'and thens' & 'at onces' pushing us from scene to scene … Mark is trying to convey Jesus' sense of mission, I think, to show the drive & dedication he had to the task he had … so he is walking briskly, but perhaps with his head down … seemingly lost in thought … and why wouldn't he be? He knows what is to happen soon … he knows he is to suffer and die … it is on his mind & he has finally started to talk about it … but his disciples don't understand … and even though his own situation looms large in his mind he can still overhear snippets of the chatter coming from behind him as the men and women following him shorten the road with some conversation …

And what are they talking about? Well their leader is the Messiah! Peter said so and Jesus agreed with him! And something amazing just happened up the mountain! Peter & James and John won't talk about it much, but it must have been something amazing, cause they are looking at Jesus with a new sense of awe in their eyes … whatever happened it must have really confirmed that he is the Messiah … how could he not be? Haven't they all seen the miracles? He cures people, casts out demons, even has control over the weather! He is the Messiah and they are his followers … his first followers … which means that when he takes over, they are going to be the first in line for helping him run the show … so they are getting really excited about what is happening …. and they start to have an animated discussion about which of them are going to be top of the heap when that day comes when the … which of them are the greatest …

But they don't want Jesus to hear, because he has already told them that to be his followers means a life a self-denial … and so when the get to the house and the closed of his followers have gone in with him … and he asks him what they were talking about, they fall silent … they are ashamed and don't answer him … because they already know that this isn't what he expects of his followers …

So what happens next? He calls the 12 near to him … think about this scene … there's too many for everyone to fit in the house … only the closest are with him … from those he calls the 12 to be near him … so think of rings or circles … and the nearer you are to Jesus, the higher up you are, the more important you are … and what does he do? Who does he call to be right next to him? A child. A lowly child. Someone who was of no importance in that time and place. This is the one he takes into his arms. This is the one he holds up to the adults. This is the one he tells them they must be like. The one who is closest to him is the one no one can think of as being of any importance … someone no one can think of as being the greatest … a child … he wants them to put aside all their worldly ideas … all their man-made ideas of what it means to be great or important … and just follow him … just serve him and serve others in his name … just listen to his teaching … and live their lives the way God wants them to … not the way that they want to … not with ambition or greed or self-importance … but humbly … and if you can do that … if you can humbly serve those whom human society sees as being of no importance … and welcome them in Jesus name … and in the name of the Father who sent them … then you have come to understand what it means to be 'great' in the kingdom of God … by being the one no one thinks of as the greatest …. not an easy thing to do, to set aside all our worldly ambition and seek only to do the will of God … but Jesus helped his disciples to understand finally … and to live their lives accordingly … and it is something that I pray you will understand and do also, with the help of God: Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.
sermon notes for 23 September 2012 (16h after Trinity) 

Saturday, September 22, 2012

a referendum on children's rights?

I can't say if we need this latest referendum or not. I'm finding the hype around it all but impenetrable. 'The most needed thing in this country since ... ah ... that last referendum we had about whatever it was,' cry those in favour.' Doom, doom, all is doom,' cry those against. 

Sigh. Black or white, with no grey between. It makes life so simple.

Whoever is right, all I can say is that I am not sure that I believe this 'children's referendum' is one of those 'it does exactly what it says on the tin' jobs, as the old ad used to say. Maybe I grow cynical as I grow older. All the media reports around this are calling it 'the referendum on children's rights.' Why would we need something like that? I was under the impression that children were already citizens of this state with all the rights that implies. Is the referendum intended to create a separate class of citizens, who have extra inalienable rights that expire the moment they turn 18? No? Then what is it intended to do?

Because someone is going to acquire more rights and powers as a result of this amendment. That's what constitutional amendments do. And if not children, then who? The interest groups composed of adults who have been pushing for this change for years? If that is the case, perhaps it would be more honest to call this the 'referendum on additional rights for agents of the state and other bodies who know better than most, especially parents, what it is that children need.'

Far less catchy and certainly less emotive than the current title. But no where near as disingenuous.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

too much weight for so little papyrus to bear

The media & the blogosphere are ablaze with what Dr Karen King is calling the 'Gospel of Jesus wife.' Don't know what I'm talking about? Scroll back up ... that's it right there: all of it. All 8 cm X 4 cm of it. All 8 incomplete lines. Incomplete because it has been ripped out of whatever document it originally came from. There's no way of knowing what was above, below, to the left, or to the right of what we have ... in other words no context. And of course we don't know where it came from - to use more fancy language it lacks provenance. And we don't really know when it dates from: 2nd century AD? 4th? Older? Younger? No one really knows.

So why all the fuss? 'Cause one of the partial sentences it contains reads: ... Jesus said to them my wife ... And what does that mean? Who knows without the rest of sentence and the context from which it has been taken. Of course, there are lots of folk jumping to all kinds of conclusions. Some of them are journalists. Some are even Ivy League scholars. One frequent theme: this shows Jesus was married & it changes everything. And all I can think about them is: they get paid for this? Really? 

And if you disagree with my thinking that they really are putting too much weight on a wee bit of papyrus that no one truly knows when or where it came from, there's the translation below: Coptic to the left, English to the right. In my opinion you could make what we have say just about anything you want. Play the game for yourself. Fill in the blanks of what goes before and after each fragmentary sentence ... hours of fun for all the family I'm sure. And don't feel you're wasting time ... after all, Harvard's best and brightest are doing it too. And if it is good enough for them, it is surely good enough for you ... enjoy!

(much thanks to Thomas L. McDonald  at the patheos blog  where I found both the image and translation)

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

One last thing about 'those photos'

I remember not long after I was first appointed to the Civil Service I was asked to 'man the phones' in our office one morning. A few minutes later the phone rang. A taxpayer had a query. I didn't have the needed information to hand, but I promised to research it and get back to him.

A few minutes later I had the answer and returned his call. I found his response surprising.
'You called back,' he gasped.
'Of course I did,' I said, puzzled. 'I said I would.'
'I know. They always say that. But you did!'

I don't know how fair that image is to those in the employ of the state in general, but there certainly is a bit of an impression out there that getting information out of them is difficult and getting a response to a phone-call, letter, or email, is a slow and painful business.

My most charming exchange of emails with the Office of the Press Ombudsman yesterday following the publication of 'those photos' certainly puts the lie to the notion that communicating with public servants can be difficult. Their promptness in replying was stunning and their courtesy unflagging. But I was surprised to learn that as I was not the subject of the offending images I had no standing on which to make a complaint. I suspect I was not the only one to discover that interesting fact this week.

I take their point that as the Ombudsman publishes the results of his investigations to allow others lodge complaints might cause further distress when the subject prefers to take no action. I also accept that members of the public have alternate ways of expressing their disapproval, such as a refusal to subscribe to their publications further (not really an option when it comes to RTE) or writing a stiff letter to the editor (which may or may not be published).

However, I still think it a pity that in cases where the injured party does complain, and the issue is one of genuine public interest, the general public may not join with their complaint. Not only to show solidarity with the victim but because in such cases publishers invariably put forward the defense they were acting in the public interest. In other words they claim to have been acting in the name of the people of Ireland; in my name. And I would appreciate there being a formal mechanism for me to register my rejection of their claim and my offence that they have attempted to make me a party to their actions in any way.

Perhaps if the legislation in this area is revisited this is a matter that should also be reconsidered.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Duchess, privacy, & those photos: updated

I have an update to my post about the behavior of the Irish Star. The Irish Press Ombudsman emailed me back before 10 am today (fair play to them on that score). What they had to say was this:

Thank you for your communication about the Irish Daily Star.

I attach for your information a press release which the Press Ombudsman issued on the matter yesterday, Monday l7th.

It is essential that any complaint about this particular matter be made by the subject of the photograph, with her authorization, or with her permission. I can again assure you that any complaint lodged by or on behalf of the Duchess of Cambridge will be immediately considered by this Office.

Yours sincerely

The contents of the press release are as follows:

Press Release: Immediate

Statement by the Press Ombudsman, Professor John Horgan
17 September 2012

I have had a number of queries about the publication in the Irish Daily Star of photographs of the Duchess of Cambridge.

As the Irish Daily Star is a member publication of the Press Council of Ireland, any complaint lodged by, on behalf of, or with the permission of the Duchess of Cambridge will be fully considered by this Office.

No such complaints have been received.

PH:  (01) 6489130

Given the somewhat formulaic response I received, I suspect I am not the only one who was unaware how restrictive are the regulations as to who may make a complaint to the Ombudsman about what the press chooses to publish! My reply to the Ombudsman's office was as follows:

Thank you for your swift response. I was aware of the press release, by way of the Irish Times mentioning yesterday in their online editions that no complaint had been received; hence my making one. Might I say that I find it interesting that the parameters are so limited as to whom the Press Ombudsman will accept a complaint from? The newspaper has justified its decision to publish on the grounds that it acted in the public interest; why therefore should any member of the public not be in a position to make a complaint once the offending item is in the public domain? When it comes to advertising, any member of the public who finds an item offensive is entitled to complain; I find it odd that a different standard should apply to the press. It might be something to be considered in the future, if for no other reason than to make the Ombudsman aware of the level of offense a particular article has caused. It should also be borne in mind that in this instance the actions of the Irish Star has, in my opinion at least, were such as to damage to the reputation to the people of Ireland as a whole. I find it unsatisfactory that there is no formal means for others or myself to lodge a complaint with the Ombudsman in this situation.

The Duchess, privacy, & those photos

The Irish Press Ombudsman, John Horgan, stated in the Irish Times yesterday he could not respond to queries about the photographs published of the Duchess of Cambridge in the Irish Star as he had not received any complaints. I have remedied that situation. He now has a complaint. I know because I submitted it.

Complaint Submitted to the press ombudsman at 00.05 Tuesday, 18 September 2012: 
I wish to make a formal complaint about the Irish Star's publication of photographs of the Duchess of Cambridge in a state of semi-undress. The photographs were taken without her consent and were a gross violation of her privacy. Their publication served no public interest and served to deepen the violation of her privacy. The behavior of the Irish Sun in this matter serves only to foster prurience & as such is demeaning to the people of Ireland and women globally. I would also add that given the Duchess's position on the world stage and the completely unjustifiable manner in which these pictures were taken, their publication is grave stain on the reputation of this country.

Let us see how he responds.  

If you would like to contact the Irish Press Ombudsman to make a complaint about this matter, you can find the details here.  One may make a complaint up to three months after the publication of an article.

Note: I have an update to this post here.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Slurry pits

It is time we did something about slurry pits. The dreadful farm accident in Antrim, where the Spence family lost three loved ones and nearly lost a fourth is not the first time something like this has happened. I speak from experience. About six years ago my uncle Willie-Joe died in a similar accident. He was out walking his dog near the North Cork town where he lived. He was alone, but what happened, as best it can be pieced together, is that the dog ran into a field off the road where he was walking that had one of these slurry pits in it. The dog got into a bit of trouble. Willie-Joe went to his aid. The dog made it out. Willie-Joe did not.

These pits are lethal. The fumes from them render a person unconscious in moments, leaving the helpless victim to drown in liquid animal excrement. How many more have to die before something is done to make them safe?

Please keep the Spence family in your prayers. And my uncle Willie-Joe. And all others that have suffered because of these dangerous, dangerous things.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

living God's way, not our own

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

Our Gospel reading this morning lies at the literal and spiritual or theological heart of St Mark's Gospel. Literal because it lies near enough exactly half way between the opening and closing verses of that Gospel … and it is a hinge moment … before that, all that has gone before concerns teaching and healing and miracles … shortly after Jesus turns his face to Jerusalem and begins his journey to the place where he will suffer and die … and this is why it is at the spiritual & theological heart also … because this is where Jesus for the first time explains to his disciples what his messiah-ship entails – the cross – and what the true meaning of being a disciple of his means also – that we should take up our own cross …

The passage can be broken down into three sections: the first is where Jesus asks his disciples who do people say that he is, with the result that St Peter confesses that he is the Christ; the second is where Jesus begins to explain that he is going to suffer and die & Peter tries to correct him … only to be told that he is putting worldly things before Godly; and the final section is where Jesus explains the true meaning of discipleship … that we must deny ourselves, take up our cross, & follow him … and as a result gain eternal life ...

It is a vital passage, not just for the understanding of the structure of the Gospel, but for all Christians in order to understand what it means to be a Christian. It would be impossible to overestimate the implications of this passage for what it means to lead the Christian life … to truly devote ourselves to God's calling to us and our attempt to lead a Holy Life.

If let us follow through the sections again. In the first, St Peter confesses Jesus as the Christ … and that must be the starting point for us also … to truly accept Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God … because unless we accept that truth with every fibre of our being, then it is not possible to truly follow him …

And once we have accepted who he is, we have to understand that we must accept him on his terms, not ours … this is what he teaches St Peter when he tries to correct him … Peter tries to tell Jesus what it is all about … because he thought he knew better than Jesus what the Messiah was … and Jesus uses the strongest possible language to correct him: No – to speak like that is to speak like Satan – it is to try and place human things above divine things …

And then lastly Jesus explains what it means to place divine things above human things … it is to deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow him … and we have every reason to do this … because to refuse to do so is to refuse eternal life ...

Now that may sound all very grand in theory … but how do we make it work in practice? How do we, having accepted that Jesus is Lord, and understood that we must put aside worldly things in favour of divine, actually live a holy life? How do we deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Christ? Well, an essential part of doing that is taking into our hearts the faith as it has been passed down to us generation after generation and doing our very best to live it out for ourselves … we have scripture and we have the One, Holy, Catholic, & Apostolic Church that Christ gave us to guide us … we also have those people who have been called by God and who have been affirmed in that calling by God's Church by the laying on of hands as our teachers and preachers and pastors and priests … and we have our own consciences, guided by that teaching, our own prayer lives and reflection …

And please keep in mind that saying that you felt you could do something 'in good conscience' is not some kind of 'get out of jail' free card, a licence for all kinds of behaviour. When it comes to your actions what matters is not that you can justify it to yourselves, not that you can in some way rationalise your actions, not that you can play 'barrack room lawyer' with right and wrong and somehow always come up with the answer that doing exactly what you want to do, whatever that may be, is right. The key here is rather that you should act according to informed conscience … and that means looking at your actions in the light of what Scripture and Church teaching has to say on the matter … you can not say, for example: 'well I know that the Bible states clearly again and again that adultery is wrong; and I know that the Church has taught for almost 2000 years that it is wrong; & I know that a lot of other people are going to be hurt if I do this; but I feel that I would be a happier person if I did this, and God wants me to be happy, so how can it be wrong? It may be a sin for someone else to behave like this … but for me, it is OK because I can square it with my conscience.'

No. That person may not feel bad about what they are doing, but that does not mean that what they are doing is not sinful … and that they know that it is sinful, even if they try to tell themselves that it is not. They are falling into St Peter's initial error … letting themselves be guided by worldly things, not divine. But we must never lose sight of what Christ had to say of such behaviour: it is of Satan … in other words it is sinful, it is wrong … it is not the life we are called to as Christians … it is not to deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Christ … it is not the way of holy living … it is not the path to eternal life …

It is not easy to lead such a life … but it is the life that we must all try to live … remembering always that not only is it the life that God calls us to live … but it is the life that he will help us to live, if only we will let him, by opening ourselves fully to him & his grace … by answering the question that Jesus put to his disciples – who do people say that I am? As St Peter did … by confessing that he is the Christ, the Son of God … and then living fully and completely what that confession means with our hearts and minds and souls every second, minute, hour, & day of our lives … something I pray that God will give you the strength to do, in the Name of the Father & of the Son & of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

sermon notes for 16 September 2012 (15th after Trinity)

Friday, September 14, 2012

Marriage: where the whole community must play their part

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

I threatened them at the rehearsal with a long, theologically convoluted sermon lasting at least 40 minutes … of course I was only joking … I don't intend to go on for much more than 30 minutes …

Any way, to start with the deep theology … Some of you may remember a movie from a few years ago called the Wedding Crashers … for those who haven't, without giving anything major away, it is about a couple of young men, played by Vince Vaughan & Owen Wilson (no relation to any of the Wilsons of this parish I'm sure), who make a habit of going to weddings to which they have not been invited. They have it down to a fine art: they know that between the fact that most of the bride's side of the family doesn't know the groom's; and given that there's always a few distant relatives or friends invited that most don't know or haven't seen in years make it easy to fake one's way into a slap up meal followed by a good party! At this point you might want to look around and be sure that you really know the person sitting next to you … although, now that I think of it, I do seem to recall that the ushers were checking id's at the door, so perhaps we're all ok!

The downside for the two heroes was that they had to go to an awful lot of wedding ceremonies in order to get to their free grub and entertainment … as a result of which, they became very familiar with the readings that are typically used at weddings … and in fact they used to place bets with each other which 'luvy-dovey' readings were likely to come up in order to while away the time!
I suppose it is not surprising that the two boys have so quickly become familiar with the readings used at weddings … because we do use rather a limited number of them … all ones about love & commitment & until death do us part … of course there are other passages of scripture that concern marriage and relationships that are not quite so 'rosy' … they don't get mentioned at weddings … no one picks the one about Adam & Eve getting into all that trouble in the garden & Adam pointing the finger at Eve … or any of the many passages about the prophet Hosea's unfaithful wife Gomer … or about what a difficult woman Jezebel was & all the problems she caused for her husband … or how the great romance of David and Bathsheba was founded on adultery, deceit, and ultimately murder … and you certainly never hear any of the passages dealing with the pain of childlessness, siblings fighting with each other, floundering relationships, bereavement, worrying about where the next meal to feed your family is going to come from, money worries, keeping a roof over your head, or problems with the in-laws!

The reason I'm thinking of the less romantic biblical passages is because we had a real doozy of one at our mid-week Communion on Wednesday night … the reading was from 1st Corinthians and in it St Paul is advising his readers that they really shouldn't be too concerned about getting married, because: 'those who marry will experience distress in this life, and I would spare you that.' Perhaps someone should have shared those particular words of wisdom with the happy couple before today … but it is too late now! No, don't shake your heads! Look at it like this: if you back out now, you have to give back all the presents and you still have to pay the hotel!

But all jokes aside, St Paul is right: those who marry will experience distress in this life … they will have worries that only come to those who are sharing their life with another in the intimacy of marriage … they will have joys too … and I thank God that for most of us the joys outweigh the sorrows … but it is inevitable that the sorrows will come … and when they do, they may seem, for a time at least, to be more than one can bear, too much to cope with in spite of the joys that have come before …

And that is where the rest of us come in … there is a reason why most people choose to marry in Church, before God, community, and family … and the reason is not so that they can give everybody a good day out … although we appreciate that, of course, and I thank you for that in advance! But there is a much deeper reason for celebrating marriage in such a public way … not only is a public declaration of their commitment to each other … but it is also a recognition that there will be times that they will need help … and that the places where they expect that support to come from is their family and friends, the communities in which they live, and from God … God of course needs no reminding of the help he will offer to Dawn and Sean in the good times and in bad … even though it is perhaps no harm to remind them that when times are rough, they should remember to lean on him in prayer … and that it is also only right to give him thanks when times are good … but we, as representatives of their family, friends and communities, we may need reminding that we as a whole are duty bound to support them … to be there for them at those times of distress … and to do our best to not be the cause of distress … and certainly not be the ones to throw stumbling blocks in their way, especially any temptations that might cause them to stray from their commitment to each other that they are declaring here this day. It is the job of us all to make this marriage work … not just the happy couples's … it may primarily be theirs, but we all have a role to play ...

There's another scene in the Wedding Crashers where the Owen Wilson character displays his uncanny talent for looking at a gift wrapped package and guessing what is inside … but at a wedding the greatest gift is marriage itself… it is one of God's greatest gift to us … most of us have no way of knowing today what lies under the wrapping for these two young people as their marriage goes forward from day to day … but they do have the assurance that it is a gift, every day of it … & I hope that they will also have the re-assurance of knowing that everyone here is committed to ensuring that they daily feel truly blessed by that gift … something that I pray for them in the name of God + Father, the Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

A deadly compassion

unborn baby
There's an opinion piece in the Irish Times today by David Adams titled 'Real life demolishes absolutist stances on abortion.'  My first thought would be that what the content of his article actually demonstrates is how easily he moves from presenting abortion as the 'compassionate' option in difficult and emotive cases to his statement that 'it should be the woman’s wishes that prevail.' In other words abortion on demand whatever the circumstances of the pregnancy.

After I read it I looked up some statistics on abortion in the UK. You can find those figures here and here. And having looked over the figures, I think Mr Adams leaves out some important points. That there are, of course, some very different real life results to his type of 'compassion.' In 2010 there were 189,574 medically induced abortions in England and Wales. Almost none of these were for the kind of hard cases that he uses as the starting point for his argument. When it is considered that the live birth rate for 2009 was 706,248, this means that over 20% of pregnancies ended in abortion. And in 1969 the figure for abortions was 49,829. What he argues is 'a last resort' inevitably becomes normalised over time into the first, best, and only option for many.

That is the actual real life results of this sort of 'compassion.' There are, of course, real life 'hard cases' out there. But we mustn't allow them to be used by those with an agenda for abortion on demand to use them as part of their campaign as a form of moral blackmail to get what they want. However they like to paint it, we must never allow ourselves to forget that their idea of compassion in this issue is deadly.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012


USPG Ireland is trying to send filled pencil cases to children in Swazi schools. Can you help? They need, in each pencil case:

PENCILS - They don’t have to be new, but not too short, and nice and sharp.
COLOURED PENCILS - Again, not too short, and different colours!
A SHARPENER - It’s good to put a sharpener in, so that the boy or girl who gets your pencil case can keep the pencils sharp.
A RUBBER/ERASER - Just in case of mistakes!
AND A €2 OR £2 COIN - To help get the pencil cases to Swaziland and to buy paper there.

USPG Ireland is an Anglican mission agency working in partnership with the Diocese of Swaziland which manages 26 schools: 22 primary and 4 secondary. The total number of pupils in these schools is more than 11,000. The HIV/AIDS pandemic and the economic crisis in Swaziland have both contributed to the lack of investment in education. Conditions in schools are basic, and there are few resources. Many children come from homes where the head of the household is either a child or a grandparent. Families struggle to feed children, pay school fees and buy uniforms. The  introduction of free primary education for grades 1-4 has resulted in overcrowded classrooms and 18-year-olds in class with 6-year-olds.
A full pencil case will be a wonderful gift for the young person that receives it.

Please contact Linda at 086 8586337 or in N Ireland Gerry at 079 17818640. For more information go to

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


No, not a comment on 50 shades of grey ... not a riff or a bad pun based on that particular work either ... just a short post to say that I was born this day 50 years ago. I almost said entered this life, but since life begins before we emerge from the womb, I held back on that one. 

Had a nice surprise party on Saturday. And the plan is to have a quiet evening with my family this evening. Other than that, just hoping to have a 'chilled out' day.

I must say, being 50 doesn't feel very different. But then, over the years I've watched people freak about turning 40 and some even at 30, and those 'milestones' never bothered me. Maybe it's because I have always felt, even with the odd hiccup I've faced along the way, that I have had a truly God blessed life?

In any event, happy birthday to me ... but as today is also a day that many remember with pain, perhaps you will spare a moment to add your prayers to mine for their suffering, for the souls of those who perished on 9-11, and that those who were the cause will come to repentance? And I also pray that you, whatever your stage in life, will feel just as blessed as I do today.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Prayer and silence

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

On Monday I visited Jerpoint Abbey, the ruined Cistercian Monastery not far from here … it is quite moving to stand in the well-preserved Chancel where the original altar stone is still in place, imagining the thousands upon thousands of celebration of the Mass that would have taken place in that spot over the hundreds of years before the dissolution of the monasteries … or to walk in the semi-ruined cloister, feeling the presence of the generations of tonsured monks who would have spent time there daily in quietness and in prayer …

Because of course for Cistercians, also knows as Trappists, silence is an important part of their daily routine. It may be difficult for us in our busy world to remember the importance … the vital need … for silence when it comes to prayer and worship … while I was in Jerpoint there was a bus full of American visitors taking a tour and that was one of the points they made to the woman who was explaining the history of the Abbey: how could these men spend so much time in silence? They seemed to find the concept awe-inspiring, almost super-human … And I do not believe their difficulty in relating to the prayerful silence of our long-departed brothers in Christ had anything to do with their being Americans … but more to do with what seems to be our modern terror (which I do not think is too strong a word) with silence …

Reflecting on this experience, I thought it might be a good idea to preach on the subject the next time one of the Sunday readings seemed appropriate to that theme … and it seems that perhaps that the Lord agrees with me that this is something that I ought to preach on, because our Gospel today shows us Jesus attempting to find some quiet time … and being denied it!

In our reading from St Mark today, our Lord arrives in the region of Tyre, goes into a house, and wishes that no one should know that he is there. If we go a little further back in Mark's Gospel from where our reading begins, we see that he has come from the region of Gennessaret, which is near Lake Galilee … a journey of around 100 kilometres as the crow flies … but of course, he didn't have wings, so he would have had to travel by foot on the dusty roads of his day, so the actual distance travelled would have been considerably longer … so he has been walking for the last six or seven days at least, accompanied by his companions. He is tired from the journey, no doubt, but all that time he has had little time alone. And so when he arrives in Tyre, he wishes to have some time alone, to rest I'm sure, but also to have some time for quiet prayer … how often we see Jesus often seeking out quiet places for prayer in the Gospels …

We should not be surprised that Jesus frequently by his own example teaches us the importance of quiet prayer. If we look at scripture we are told many times to seek God in silence.

The prophet Zechariah says 'Be silent, all flesh, before the LORD' (2:13); the prohpet Zephaniah says: Be silent before the Lord GOD (1:7 ); and the prophet Habakkuk says :the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him. Quolleth in Ecclesiastes reminds us that there is a time to keep silence; and the Psalmist says: For God alone my soul waits in silence.

The Church fathers & other spiritual writers, mindful of the witness of both scripture and our Lord, and their own experience of the experience of other faithful Christians, have had much to say about our need for prayerful silence:

Elder Ephraim of Philotheou tells us 'Love silence, which gives birth to all virtues and fences in the soul so that the evil of the devil does not touch her' and he also says 'When we keep silent, we have the time for interior prayer which brings full assurance and for luminous thoughts which fill the understanding and the heart with light.'

Prayerful silence is not the same as to simply stop talking. John the Solitary says: ' I am not speaking of the silence of the tongue, for if someone merely keeps his tongue silent, without knowing how to sing in mind and spirit, then he is simply unoccupied and becomes filled with evil thoughts: ... There is a silence of the tongue, there is a silence of the whole body, there is a silence of the soul, there is the silence of the mind, and there is the silence of the spirit.'

In such silence the devoted soul will find much benefit. St John Climacus says 'Intelligent silence is the mother of prayer'; Nikitas Stithatos says 'silence is the fastest path to virtue;' and St Seraphim of Sarov says 'From solitude and silence are born tender contrition, and meekness.'

Is it easy to engage with prayerful silence? Of course not … we are a naturally talkative species. Metropolitan Kallistos Ware says: To achieve silence: this is of all things the hardest and the most decisive in the art of prayer. Silence is not merely negative — a pause between words, a temporary cessation of speech — but, properly understood, it is highly positive: and attitude of attentive alertness, of vigilance, and above all of listening.

The listening is important … because prayerful silence is above all else our listening to God. Eberhard Arnold reminds us that: 'Before we speak to him, God must have spoken to us. And he always speaks. His Word is always active. But we do not always perceive it. This is why we need to be quiet in the depths of our souls where we hear his voice and see his light.' Without silence we can not hear God speaking to us. And how much we lose if we refuse to allow ourselves to listen to what he has to say to us personally: Benedict xvi says 'Silence has the capacity to open a space in our inner being, a space in which God can dwell, which can ensure that His Word remains within us, and that love for Him is rooted in our minds and hearts, and animates our lives.'

So how do we find this vital silence in this busy world of ours? It is always useful, I think, in a sermon like this to make a practical suggestion. And my suggestion is that one place we may find it, indeed should expect to find it, is in God's House … it is unfortunate that our churches in the union are locked during the week … that may be something for us to look … but there still remains the few minutes before and after a service that can be devoted to prayerful silence … so if I may make a suggest … perhaps even stronger than suggest … that all unnecessary talk and chatter be avoided before and after the service during the time you are in the Church itself … and as you enter, start to mentally prepare yourself for the worship that is to begin by maintaining a prayerful silence … sit or kneel as you wait for the service to begin and spend the time in quietness before the Lord … and even if you find it difficult for your own sake, think about the fact that others present may wish to spend the time in silent prayer … and have no need to have their prayers disturbed by overhearing conversations about the weather or the chatter of others as they catch up on the local gossip that could easily have taken place before entering … or could wait until leaving … and as you leave, also try to keep silence … extend the time of prayer and worship for as long as you may … allow the words of the prayers, the hymns, the readings, and indeed the sermon a moment or two longer to sink in, to speak to you … give God those extra few moments to speak to you … spend a few more moments listening for what he might say … and give others those extra few moments also so that they might hear what God has to say … surely anything that you might wish to say can not be more important than that?

Finding a quiet place may be difficult, as our Lord found into today's reading … but once you find a place, keeping silence it is not impossible, as the Cistercians of Jerpoint found out all those years ago … and it is something that I pray that you will find out, with the help of God, + Father, the Son, & the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

Sermon notes: 9 September 2012 (14h after Trinity) 

Friday, September 7, 2012

latest abuse reports

The letters page of the Irish Times was today full of angry letters condemning the Catholic Church in the wake of the latest audit reports concerning child protection in some Irish dioceses and religious orders. Like most parents, like most human beings, I am always shocked by what these reports contain. 

The reports are very important - they expose the wrongdoings of the past, and they act as a reminder of how important the child protection that most organisations have put in place over the last number of years.

Not that I have time to trawl through the reports. There are seven this time - I haven't the time to read them all ... or even give them a decent glance over. And I'm guessing that the angry letters writers haven't had time to read them either (although I am open to correction). 

Like most people I rely on the journalists to provide me with a balanced review of what these reports contain. Like this opinion piece in yesterday's Irish Times by their religious affairs correspondent. And yet having read it, for all the indignation, it seems to me that, shocking as individual incidents are, most are from the past. Almost all mentioned are from the 70s, 80s, and 90s. Isn't that something positive? 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Christ Saving India Ministries 2

Some months back I did a short post on Christ Saving India Ministries. You can find that post here. It came about because I was contacted by CSIMin on this blog with some rather flattering comments about my posts. They wanted my email address to enter into private correspondence. I declined to do that, but thought it no harm to do a very short post, essentially pointing people to their website, stating that knew nothing much about them, & would appreciate it if anyone knew more they would pass that information on.

In the time since, I have learned nothing more about CSIMin ... but I have had several comments from people saying they had been approached on their blogs in a similar fashion to me; they had googled them, found my post, & wanted to know if I could say more. I could not & said so. 

Today I received what I consider a rather odd request from CSIMin. It is in the combox for the original post, but here it is in full: 

Respected Fr Levin, Greetings To You in Jesus Our Lord. I have Read All of Your Answers to The People who asked You about Our Ministries.

Can You Please Remove all of Our Ministry Details from Your Website, Please?

I Believe That Our Great God make The Good Ways for HIS People.

Please Remove all Of Our Details from Your Website.

Please Forgive me in Jesus Our Lord, I should not have asked Your Help for HIS Work in India.

Thank You

I went back over the post and comments to see if there was anything factually inaccurate. I do not think that there was. I therefore gave the following response:

Dear CSIMin,

first off it is 'Fr Levi' not 'Fr Levin.' 

I am not sure about the wisdom of removing your details from my blog. It has clearly served as a way for people who have been made uncomfortable about your method of approach to try and find out more about you & discuss matters with others you have approached in a similar fashion. 

I am however very glad that you have made contact with me again. I would very much like it if you could provide some details I could verify about your ministry. For example if you could give me the names & contact details (preferably email addresses) of some people who are unconnected with CSIMin who could vouch for the good work that you do - ministers from local churches, officials of local charitable organisations, people involved in the government of the region in which you operate. It would be important that they are independent of your organisation & that it is possible for me to verify they are who you say they are.  So far, all I can find out about you is your own website and facebook page. I can find no other reference to you anywhere & frankly I find that very odd. Anyone can download a few pictures and put them on a website. It does not mean they are who they say they are. 

I am sorry if this seems to be lacking in trust. You must understand that people in my position are frequently the target of people who are not who they claim to be. Hard experience has taught me to be cautious. If you can gain my trust by providing the information I ask for, I will publicize it & do my best to help you in your work. If you can not demonstrate that you are who you say you are and are doing the work that you claim to be doing, then I honestly do not think I would be doing the right thing by removing this post and the words of cautious advice that exist in the comments box.

I hope this is satisfactory to you. For the sake of convenience I have done another post on CSIMin about this issue & I will do another when you send me the details I have asked for (which I pray that you will). 

So let us see what develops. I hope & pray that this all turns out well and this man is who he says he is and is doing the work that he claims to be.

Monday, September 3, 2012

A visit to an abbey followed by Aztec Hot Chocolate

The 'advantage' of being in the middle of coming down with a cold is that it means that one can not in good conscience do any pastoral visiting, lest one 'share' the unwelcome condition with the visited! And the dull, throbbing head makes study or paperwork not very attractive either. As this morning was sunny I had the choice of feeling sorry for myself and lying in my bed, or doing something a bit more productive and visiting Jerpoint Abbey which is only about 40 minutes from my door. I'm thinking of trying to organise some trips for the parish school to some local ecclesiastical sites, so this would be by way of reconnaissance.  I chose the latter!

What a beautiful place - it was lovely to stand in the well preserved chancel and sanctuary (which has the original altar stone in place) & stroll through the ruined cloister, imagining I was joining the tonsured monks from 700 years ago at their prayers. I always find it uplifting to get in touch with our religious heritage. And fair play to the OPW (Office of Public Works). They have always done a lovely job of restoring and conserving any of the sites in their charge that I have visited. 

After a brief visit there, we thought we'd get a 'cuppa' & a scone at the nearby Jerpoint Park's cafe. There was no answer at the door & no sign of life within, so we decided to try Thomastown on the way back home. A man with a wheelbarrow waved us down as we were leaving & said the cafe was open & the lady must not have heard us & we should try again. But do you know the way sometimes when you have started to move on & have already shaken the dust from your feet & are reluctant to turn back? We thanked him & told him that we didn't live far away & would be back again soon & carried on.

In Thomastown we fancied trying the Watergarden, a cafe attached to a non-residential facility for adults with special needs, which has a good reputation. Alas, they were closed on Mondays! Time was starting to press on & we were very tempted to just get back in the car. But we decided to have a very quick wander for an alternative venue & if we didn't get lucky fast give up & go home. We spotted a place called 'The Truffle Fairy' just round the corner, a real artisan chocolatier that also has a small cafe area with a few seats inside, including a chaise lounge on which this weary traveler (who was really starting to feel he had overdone things at this point) gladly plonked himself! . 

The chalk board outside had mentioned, inter alia, 'Aztec Hot Chocolate.' That sounded intriguing, so I went for that, with a generously sized brownie that was just lovely. The Aztec brew was just what the doctor ordered - so thick it was like a chocolate soup, and spiced with chilli that really warmed me up & temporarily dispatched all cold-like symptoms! 

Before leaving I asked how to make it. It's really simple: heat some milk (soy will do if you are vegan; water too but it doesn't work as well) but don't let it boil; stir in about three tablespoons of 70% dark chocolate drops (I bought a pack of them there, but I imagine that if one were to grate a chocolate bar it would do); add chili powder to taste - mild, hot, or take your head off! 

All in all, much better than spending the morning in bed!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

'strong' language& Holy Living

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

I was struck in our Gospel reading by what our Lord had to say about 'evil things' coming from within. The idea stuck with me particularly because over the course of the last week I have thinking about an 'evil thing' that literally comes from within us and out of our mouths … I am talking about what is often referred to as 'bad language.'

There are two main reasons that I was thinking about this particular evil … the first is that I had occasion to re-read a document called 'The Didache' this week … for those of you who are unfamiliar with it, the Didache is one of the earliest documents of the Church … it was written around the time of St Paul's epistles … which means that it was written even before the Gospels … it is an early instruction manual for early Christians … the word Didache literally means the teaching … and it was written to teach the new members of the early Church of what it meant to be a Christian and how they were expected to behave … several times in the course of the Didache, the writer explicitly states that that Christians are to refrain from 'filthy language' … we should not be surprised that such a rule is to be found in an instruction manual for Christian living … after all, St Paul also condemns 'bad language' … St James in our epistle this morning says that we should 'bridle our tongues' ... and the ten commandments reminds us that taking the Lord's name in vain, which includes casual blasphemy, is sinful … but to find the subject mentioned several times in this short document – one might read it in about 20 minutes from end to end – emphasises I think just how important this particular rule was to the early Church … one of the defining marks of the Christian was that he or she would not speak in such a way …

The other reason I have for having this topic on my mind is the fact that I have been involved in something of a literary 'to and fro' on the topic of profanity in the letters pages of the Irish Times this week, as some of you may be aware. The history of that little exchange is as follows ... & I recount it mainly to demonstrate that I do not speak idly, but rather about a topic that I think is important and close to my heart:

On Monday an Opinion piece in the paper, written by a Cork hurler, talked about his experience as coming out openly as homosexual. In the course of the article, he used, and the newspaper printed in full, what we call in polite company the 'f-word.' I thought it inappropriate for a prestigious national paper to print this kind of language, and wrote a letter stating that if the time had come when it was acceptable to use that kind of language in the Irish Times then perhaps the time had come for a campaign to stamp it out.

My letter was printed on Tuesday (not the only letter objecting by the way) and on Wednesday, another letter writer wrote in saying that this kind of language was so common – and he gave examples of how common it was – that'd I'd have my work cut out for me trying to change things … and in any event he was more concerned by the fact that the author had suffered from homophobic abuse, by a man in the stands using a megaphone, while on the pitch.

I of course responded and on Friday, the Irish Times printed this letter of mine:
A chara, – Having occasionally strayed from my ivory tower, I am not unaware of the levels of profanity currently prevalent in our society, as Patrick O’Byrne seems to think. I nonetheless thank him for his list of where and how I might find such profanity used.

Regarding Donal Óg Cusack’s account of homophobic abuse from the terraces, Mr O’Byrne might wish to consider that if the use of profanity was socially unacceptable, then Mr Cusack might have been spared such a foul-mouthed tirade.

If not, then at the very least onlookers and officials might have felt empowered to deal with the loud-mouth with the megaphone.

 – Is mise,

That last point, by the way, is not mere wishful thinking. I once witnessed in the USA, where the use of profanity in public is no where near as acceptable as it is here, a man in the middle of a foul-mouthed homophobic rant being shut down in no uncertain terms by someone in a position of authority on the basis that such language was not acceptable. Freedom of speech may entitle one to hold whatever views one wishes, it does not however, entitle one to use cuss-words in the public square!

But the important point I think that emerges from my exchange on the letters page, is that bad language is becoming more and more common, and people either think it is acceptable or they don't care, which amounts to the same thing. They see it as 'part of our culture' … which begs the question, are we, as Christians, being counter-cultural in this regard … or are we blending in, with our voices and the words that we use no different from the secular world around us. If we were to follow the congregation of an imaginary church to some local hostelry for their Sunday lunch, where they mingled with those who had risen late from their beds for a bit of brunch, would we be able to distinguish those who go to church from those who do not ? Or would the use of casual blasphemy and other profanity be heard equally from both groups? I would hope not, but I wonder …

because an important part of being a Christian is to behave in a way that is different from those that are not … to behave in a way that is Holy in all aspects of our life … and one of the ways we are to show this Holiness is by controlling the language that comes out of our mouths … by not falling into the trap of thinking that since 'everybody else' is doing it, then it is ok for us to do so also … it is not: we are told this in scripture, in both the Old Testament and the New; the early Church thought it important enough to put it in to their short instruction guide more than once; and your rector thinks it important enough not only to write letters to the Times about it, but to preach about it to you … I am not sure which of these will convince you most … but I pray that one if not all will … in the Name of the + Father, the Son, & the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

2 September 2012 (13h after Trinity) 

Saturday, September 1, 2012

a haiku moment.

after the rain
on the swollen weir
a heron

Taking advantage of a few minutes of sunshine in our 'rainy season' summer, I went for a short run early yesterday morning. As I crossed the old stone bridge that separates the town I live in from the woods in which I like to run, I glanced left at the river, fuller than normal from all the rain, which was pouring over the weir. Motionless at the edge of the water, ankle deep, stood a steel grey heron. Truly a haiku moment.