Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Prayer diary Tuesday 31 Dec 2013 – New Year's Eve

The Word became flesh and lived among us. 
John 1. 14

This is the central mystery of our faith, that God himself became man for our sake. From this all else flows. If you truly know this in your heart, then obedience to his will in every aspect of your life is the only response you can make.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Prayer diary Monday 30 Dec 2013

When they had finished everything required of the Law of the Lord they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 
Luke 2. 39

Mary and Joseph were obedient to God in every aspect of their life, including the observances required by God of people of faith. So too must we be.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

the example of the Holy Family

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

It is a tradition of the Western Church that the first Sunday after Christmas Day is generally one where we reflect in particular on the Holy Family, the child Jesus, his blessed mother, and Joseph his foster father. Truthfully, we don't have a great deal of information to reflect upon. Scripture gives us very few details upon which to build a picture of that little family.

So let us begin with what we do know. We know that they completed the necessary Jewish rituals after the birth of a Son, taking our Lord to the Temple in Jerusalem where they met both Simeon and Anna. Not long after that they had to flee to Egypt for a few years soon after. How did they manage there? Joseph was a carpenter, so it is to be presumed that he found work to support them. And when it was safe they returned and lived in Nazareth. The only other incident reported in the Gospels concerns the time when Jesus was twelve years old and he went with his parents to the festival in Jerusalem where he stayed behind with the teachers in the temple courts when it was time to return home and his parents had to spend three anxious days searching before they found him.

Clearly as parents Mary and Joseph were good and holy people. Both were obedient to God's will, as is shown by their immediate resolve to do what was asked of them by the angels he sent them; both were observant to the demands of their faith, as is demonstrated by the few pieces of information we are given in the Gospels. So we can say with complete assurance that our Lord grew up in a house where the practice of the faith was central to their lives.

And as Joseph was a carpenter and Jesus must have had some way of earning his keep in the years between childhood and when he began his public ministry at the age of around thirty as it tells us in Scripture, the tradition that his foster-father passed on his skills to him seems to be most reasonable. As the culture was one where the extended family was of great importance,

we can imagine also that the small unit that was the Holy Family would have been part of a much wider group of various relatives; and also looking to the culture, we can expect that the upbringing of our Lord would have been fairly typical for the time and place that he was in, being educated by the local rabbis as to how to read and write, learning scripture, and the history and traditions of Jewish religion people.

All quite unremarkable, perhaps: a life where Joseph worked hard at a demanding physical job to put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads; where Mary did the endless round of domestic tasks from when she first rose in the morning until she lay down again at night to look after her home and family; where Jesus would have helped out around the house, learned his lessons, and learned his trade; all the while participating in the cycle of events of their small community, both social and religious.

As I said, unremarkable – and yet, this was the life that our Lord chose to prepare himself for what was to come. The Gospels focus on around three years of our Lord's life on earth; and of those short accounts, each spend a third or more detailing the last few days of that life. But the greater part of his life, thirty years out of thirty-three, was spent in that unremarkable setting of home and family.

Unremarkable – yet also very remarkable. Think of the parents in that home, Mary and Joseph … holy people, saintly people. The Word made Flesh chose to spend not just his early years but the greater part of his life with them. Knowing that Our Lord taught us by example in so many ways, should we not ask ourselves what he seeks to teach us by this example? The importance of the family in God's plan for all people? The requirement of parents, both mother and father, to be good, holy, hardworking people themselves so that by their quiet faithfulness they may teach their children the importance of the faith and doing God's will? The necessity for children to be obedient to their parents and learn from them, not just the skills to cope with the mundane world, but the values that will prepare them to travel through this life to eternal life in the next?

Important lessons gleaned from such little information. But the fact that our Lord spent so many years living in the bosom of that little family trumps the few words that the evangelists gave to it. Actions speak louder than words, especially in a case like this. And our Lord's actions tell us that the Holy Family should be taken as a model for the families of those who would be his followers; a place where he is at the centre of everything, and where holiness and obedience to the will of God is as natural as breathing … and so I pray that the example of the Holy Family will inspire you to try to make your home such as theirs, even as I ask that you pray the same for me. Amen. 

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Prayer diary Saturday 28 December 2013- The Holy Innocents

When Herod saw that he had been tricked … he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under. 
Matthew 2. 16

Evil not only refuses to hear the good news of Jesus Christ; it does all within its power to prevent others from hearing it also. Do not let the joy you have be taken from you by its empty promises, mockery, or violence.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Prayer diary Friday 27 December 2013 – St John The Evangelist

'This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and has written them, and we know his testimony is true.' 
John 21.24

The evangelist has passed on to us what he has seen and heard not only so that he might share his joy of the knowledge of Christ, but so that we might be equipped to share our joy with others. Study what he has written, therefore, and fill yourself with his joy, and from your abundance of joy bring that joy to all the world.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Prayer diary Thursday 26 December 2013 – St Stephen's Day

While they were stoning him, he prayed 'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.' 
Acts 7.59

St Stephen returned to his Lord full of peace and joy. His prayer is no bad one for us to have on our lips all days at all times, so that when we are called before our Lord we may meet him with equal peace and joy.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas gifts

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

Merry Christmas to you! 

Christmas is a time of giving gifts. Gifts come in many different forms, of course. Many begins with the sending of cards, the gift of a few moments of time taken in the buying, writing, and posting of a card as a token to remind those far away whom they do not see very often that they still think about them, that they still care. These days some make the extra effort to include a little note, a letter, or even a 'round robin', almost like a newsletter to let the friends and relatives they rarely see or talk to what has gone on with them and their family over the course of the year that has gone by.

Then there is the visiting and dropping by to people's houses, or perhaps going out for a drink or a cup of coffee; the giving of self, the giving of time. And the giving of time is not something to be disparaged. We live in a society where time is a precious commodity. Taking that time out of a busy schedule to call to the house of a neighbour, a friend, an elderly relative, or someone who lives alone almost certainly means more to them than anything else that you could give them.
Of course, the gift giving doesn't stop with time. Many like to give something small to those around them. I remember as a child one of the standard gifts an uncle or an aunt might give to a 'house' was a tin of biscuits called USA … so called, I believe, because back then anything associated with America had a certain glamour about it. And the tins became almost a form of 'gift currency' … you could only eat so many biscuits, after all; so once you had several given to you, tins would start being passed on, recycled really … there were times when I wondered if the tins were ever actually opened, but that instead they were simply passed back and forth year after year, the cellophane seals unbroken, while the biscuits inside crumbled to dust!

But such small gifts, whether tins of biscuits, or bottles of wine, or boxes of chocolates, or a dozen home made mince pies, are for those in the wider circle of friends and family. For those really close are the more personal ones … and yes, they may include pairs of socks, colourful ties, even more colourful jumpers … but they will also include items that show how much the giver really knows you and how much they care … things that you really want but would never think to buy for yourself … things that it never even occurred to you to want, but once you have them, you know immediately that not only is it something that you really needed but is absolutely the perfect gift for you … a gift that shows just how much the giver knows and loves you.

It was just such a gift that we all received on that first Christmas so long ago, given to us by one who knows us completely and loves us completely. At the heart of the Christmas story is the fact of God's wonderful gift to us … that beautiful, old, familiar story where Mary says 'yes' to God's message brought to her by the angel Gabriel; where Joseph agrees to raise as his own son the Holy Child; the story of a journey to a place where there was no room at the inn; to the birth in a stable and the manager that served as a crib; of angels singing in the skies, of shepherds visiting, of stars and wise men … at the heart of all that wonder lies something even more wonderful … that the Word was made flesh … that God himself entered into our world for us … that he gave of himself out of his love for us … the one who gives life to all gave the gift of himself so that all might have eternal life.

There is nothing we can give in return, for what can you give to the one who created and sustains all of creation? All we can do is receive it with thankfulness … and by living the kind of life that shows that we accept that gift, by showing we desire nothing more than the eternal life which is offered with it … and by playing your part in making sure others hear of the gift that was also given for them, so that they may know that Christmas is more than gifts under the tree.

Later, when you are unwrapping those gifts, take a moment to remember what they are tokens of … the love not just of friends and family, but the love of God himself, and the great gift he gave to each and everyone of us in the sending of his only Son … and as you remember, determine anew to make the most of that gift God gave you today and everyday … amen.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Examin - Christmas Eve 2013

We are now almost in the joyful season of Christmas. How often do you give thanks to God for all that he does for you? For the gift of life itself? All the blessings you enjoy? For the sending of his Son for the redemption of your sins and the promise of eternal life? We are a people of joy and hope. Give thanks and rejoice!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Prayer diary Monday 23 December 2013

Immediately (Zechariah's) mouth was opened and his tongue freed and he began to speak, praising God. 
Luke 1. 64

Many are quick to pray in times of need. Do not forget to give thanks to God, not only when you feel particularly blessed, but at all times of your life.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

a Christ-free Christmas?

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

Last Sunday, in between the Hospital's Christmas party at the Golf Club and the Carol Service in the Colliery, I sat down with the family in front of the fire to watch the Ice Age Christmas Special. For those who don't know what I'm talking about, 'Ice Age' is a series of animated movies set in, you guess it, the Ice Age and features as it main features a Woolly Mammoth, a Sabre-toothed Tiger, and a sloth.

Even though the cartoons are ostensibly about the antics of extinct animals from thousands of years ago, the characters are essentially human in their behaviour and emotions … and of course the values are pretty much what might be termed 21st Century Hollywood Politically Correct … which means that they are very pious on the surface about issues such as feminism and equality, inclusiveness, and suchlike, even as they reinforce many of the stereotypes around these issues in subtle ways …

This is all merely by way of background. And please don't misunderstand me – I find them fairly enjoyable and have no great objections to them; I just harbour no illusions about them either. But there were some aspects of the Christmas special that gave me pause for thought.

The clue as to why might be in the title: Ice Age Christmas Special. The film is set, as I pointed out, in the distant past, tens of thousands of years ago. And the first Christmas took place only two thousand years ago. So how can you have an ice-age Christmas Special that in any way reflects what Christmas is all about? The answer is, of course, you can't.

Oh, the movie was in many ways very cute. The sloth comes up with the idea of a Christmas Tree as an alternative to the mammoth's rather unwieldy Christmas rock (he says it'll never catch on); the tradition of giving presents exists; Santa Claus lives in the North Pole, making toys; some of the animals set out to find him to make sure they're not on the 'naughty list' – a concept the mammoth came up with on the spur of the moment because he's cross with the sloth for breaking his rock; on their quest to find him they are aided by a flying reindeer, and thus introduce Santa to Prancer and his crew; and they also find him the army of little helpers, thereby giving him the ability to not only make enough toys for every child in the world but also the ability to deliver them in his now flying sleigh.

As I said, all very cute. And yet, there was something niggling at me during the whole thing. How could you have Christmas long before the time of Christ? Bad enough that they had Santa Claus, whose full name is Saint Nicholas, a man who was a bishop of Christ's Church before he took on the role of world-wide gift giver, running around in his red suit thousand's of years before his time; but there seemed something profoundly wrong with taking one of the chief festivals of the Christian faith and ripping it from its context and jamming it into the pre-historic past.

It was, to my mind, saying that Christmas without Christ is fine. That Christmas was really all about the tree, the decorations, the presents. If you have those, you have Christmas. Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised: in many ways the movie only reflects much of what goes on in society … that for many the 'perfect Christmas' only has Christ as an optional extra … something that is true even of those who consider themselves Christian in a vague sort of way …

Please don't mistake me – I do think Christmas should be about celebration; but celebration for the right reason, not celebration for the sake of it; and I do think the giving and receiving of gifts is a lovely and appropriate tradition … after all, it mirrors what took place at this time all those years ago, when humanity received the greatest gift of all, God giving of himself to us in the Christ-child … why would we not celebrate? Why would we not do things that reflect our joy and attempt to share that joy with others?

And if Christ is not at the heart of it all, then what are we celebrating? That the sun has risen on another day? That another year nears its end? That it is the middle of winter and we have survived so far? Christmas without Christ is a hollow event; and Christ with Christmas is a joyous event, with or without trees, tinsel, a turkey-dinner, and a stocking stuffed with toys. Because it is the day our Redeemer came to save us from our sins, to earn for us, through his selfless self-giving, eternal life.

That is why I rejoice. I pray that is why you do also. Let us all pray that all the world will rejoice for that reason also. Amen.

an ungrateful nation

Senior officials in Brussels are 'unhappy' that Ireland isn't properly grateful for the misery they inflicted upon us, and we took, for the sake of saving Europe's currency, banking systems, and economies - not to mention a great many political and bureaucratic careers. 

What did they expect? That we would do as naughty boys used to have to do as they were caned and exclaim 'Thank you sir! Please, may I have another?'

Saturday, December 21, 2013

blue movie

The Irish Times did a poll of its readers to find out what they thought was the best film of 2013. The winner: Quentin  Tarantino’s 'Django Unchained.' Wasn't that the one many reviewers described as revenge porn?

Still, the paper's film critic is pleased that the paper's 'erudite' readers went for 'Blue is the warmest colour,' a movie with many lengthy and explicit lesbian sex scenes, as the runner-up. Why did the 'sexually explicit drama' do so well, he muses? Is it  because 'our followers skew towards the young and tolerant?' Or is that they are 'fans of Franco-Tunisian neo-realism?'

Ho-hum. And maybe guys buy Playboy for the articles. 

Pro-life campaign Ireland press release

Commenting today on news that the Minister for Health has signed the commencement order for the recent abortion legislation, the Pro Life Campaign criticised the Government for the 'dishonest' debate leading to its passage. The legislation will take effect from 1st January 2014.

Cora Sherlock of the Pro Life Campaign (PLC) said:

“The debate that led to this legislation was shamefully dishonest. Everyone in Government knows that the legislation was not needed to save women’s lives. That is why the Government had to brow beat their TDs to vote with their party and against their consciences.

“As has been widely publicised the Government had to spend time and money on focus groups to come up with language that would confuse the Irish people into believing the legislation would be good for women. It will take time but the lies that have been told will eventually be exposed.”

click here to view the PLC site 

Examin Saturday 21 Dec 2013

The end of the year draws near. What has been your greatest failing over the last 12 months? What area of your life has been the most filled with sin, the greatest cause of spiritual danger that puts at risk your immortal soul? Read through the commandments and the Catechism with care; allow those to be your guides as you examine your conscience. With patience, humility, and prayer discover what it is that threatens to deprive you of the eternal happiness for which you were created. Then resolve that this year you will, with God's help, defeat the power that it has over your life.

Full Marx: Groucho or Karl?

It's a funny old world. I was just reading about one Helena Sheehan, a retired professor. She describes herself as a Marxist, but also says she doesn't like naming her worldview 'after a man who lived in the 19th century.' She says her worldview is too complicated for that.

Complicated? I'll say.

Still, she's in good company - Karl Marx is himself credited with saying 'All I know is that I'm not a Marxist.' 

And indeed, perhaps there is true wisdom in her reluctance to go for the full-Marx in her self-description. Wisdom epitomised by the words of another Marx: 'I don’t care to belong to a club that accepts people like me as members.'

prayer diary Saturday 21 December 2013

Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?' 
Luke 1.41-43

Allow the Spirit to fill you as he did Elizabeth that day, as he longs to do. The reward is to understand that you have been blessed to stand in the presence of your God. 

Friday, December 20, 2013


A Christian Solidarity Worldwide Press Release
Security forces raided the homes of four Christians in Karaj, Iran on 15 December, including that of Kristina Irani, the wife of imprisoned Church of Iran pastor Behnam Irani.

According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide's (CSW's) sources, the homes of Silas Rabbani, Amin Khaki and an unnamed Christian were raided by members of the security forces, who confiscated bibles, even though none of these homes are house churches. The three men were subsequently informed that they would be receiving a summons for a court hearing.

The fourth raid involved the home of Kristina Irani, the wife of Pastor Behnam Irani, who is currently detained in Ghezal Hesar Prison. During the raid her laptop and some Christian materials were confiscated, and she was shouted at and intimidated by the security forces, which frightened her two children. It is not yet clear whether Mrs Irani will also be summoned to court.

CSW has also been informed, that on 11 December Pastor Irani was told that he was no longer allowed to walk around the yard of Ghezal Hesar Prison, or to communicate with other prisoners. These orders were reportedly issued by a man known as 'Farhadi', who is the official responsible for religious minorities in Alborz Province.

Behnam Irani, who pastors the Church of Iran congregation in Karaj, was first arrested in December 2006, and in 2011 was sentenced to six years imprisonment on charges of 'action against the state' and 'action against the order.' The verdict against him includes text that describes the pastor as an apostate and reiterates that apostates 'can be killed.'

Despite suffering from severe medical complications, Pastor Irani has not received adequate medical attention. Furthermore, as a political prisoner, he is denied cultural activities, is subject to regular inspections and can only see his family once a fortnight.

During the first few months of his imprisonment in Ghezal Hesar, Pastor Irani was held incommunicado in a small cell, where guards repeatedly woke him from sleep as a form of psychological torture. He was moved to a cramped room where inmates could not lie down to sleep, before being transferred to a crowded, filthy cell, which he currently shares with 40 criminals, many of whom are violent. He has been subjected to physical and psychological pressure, and has suffered regular beatings from cell mates and prison authorities, as well as death threats.

CSW's Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said, 'These raids amount to nothing less than the harassment of innocent citizens. They have suffered arbitrary interference with their privacy and homes, which is expressly prohibited under article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Iran is party. The Rouhani presidency initially gave rise to cautious optimism for an improvement in human rights in the near future, however, as Christmas approaches, the authorities are showing no signs changing what has become an annual and insensitive ritual of arresting Christians at this time of year. We urge the Iranian authorities not to initiate charges against these people and to ensure that they are able to fully enjoy the rights and freedoms to which they are entitled under national and international law, including the right to freedom of religion or belief.'

For further information or to arrange interviews please contact Kiri Kankhwende, Press Officer at Christian Solidarity Worldwide on +44 (0)20 8329 0045 / +44 (0) 78 2332 9663, email kiri@csw.org.uk or visit www.csw.org.uk.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is a Christian organisation working for religious freedom through advocacy and human rights, in the pursuit of justice.

no surprise

It's hardly surprising that the Grillo sisters have been found 'not guilty' of fraud. After all, based on the media coverage, it was clearly Lawson and Saatchi who were on trial.

(news report on the verdict here)

school discrimination? 2

Tut, tut - there's a chap in the letters pages of today's IT proudly proclaiming that his school's enrollment policy is free of the discriminatory 'hurdles' he feels affect religious schools (see my previous post on this debate here). He's the chairman of the board of management of an 'educate together' school, where they operate a 'first come, first served' policy, which is far better than all the 'extra hurdles' that denominational schools use as part of their admissions policies, he reckons (see his letter here).

We'll leave aside for the moment that first come, first served policies are considered discriminatory to immigrants and new comers to an area and are, as far as I am aware, soon to be banned by the department of education for that reason. Fact is, if the gentleman thinks this debate is actually about discrimination he is sorely mistaken. It is a naked attempt to deny parents their constitutional right to chose a denominational education for their children, motivated by an openly stated desire to prevent children being 'indoctrinated' in the faith of their mothers and fathers and ancestors. The 'D-word' is simply a very useful weapon in that ideological battle. 

However, if he thinks a lack of a religious ethos will prevent the school of which he is so proud from becoming a casualty of this struggle he is equally mistaken. Any dismantling of the current system will impact not only on the ability of all schools to determine their admission policies, based on the needs of communities in which they are based, but also the values they wish to pass on to their children. It can not be done any other way; to do otherwise would be to court accusations of discrimination. 

prayer diary Friday 20 December 2013 (Day of discipline and self-denial)

Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ 
Luke 1. 38

The Blessed Virgin's obedience is a model to us all. Her 'yes' risked much out of faith in God. We who risk much less should also humbly submit to his will.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

prayer diary Thursday 19 December 2013

Zechariah said to the angel, ‘How will I know that this is so? 
Luke 1.18

Zechariah, a priest and a holy man, could stand in the presence of an angel and question what was promised. We should not be surprised then that we are also at times capable of doubt.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

school discrimination?

There is something going on at the Irish Times. There's been four articles hostile to our denominational school system in less than a week (here , here, here, and here).

The first two are by Kitty Holland. Ms Holland is seething because her darling four year didn't get one of the scarce school places in Dublin 6. She calls it discrimination. She hasn't had her child baptised and says Holland junior can't get into a school as a result. She conveniently forgets that only two of the four schools that said no are in fact denominational. But then, bringing that up would make the discrimination case harder to make.

It seems to me that she has been treated the same as everyone else and I commend the various school Boards of Management she applied to for having the courage and integrity to stick by their admissions policies even at the risk of incurring the wrath of a well-known journalist.

In my opinion Ireland has a very flexible and open primary school system. Any group, of any ethos, whether that is a faith, philosophy, interest, or 'none of the above,' is free to come together to organise a school to meet their needs; and our government will assist by means of grants, subsidies, the payment of teachers' salaries, etc. The organisers, naturally, must put in a great deal of hard work, including the fund-raising needed to make up the shortfall between what the Department of Education pays and what it costs to run the school.

There's a well known shortage of school places where she lives; and an equally well known absence of schools of an appropriate ethos for her in Ireland as a whole. The obvious solution was that she join with like-minded people and apply to the Department like any other group. That she did not do so is hardly the fault of those who did. And it would be true discrimination if she were allowed to hijack their efforts and force the schools they have worked so hard to build and maintain to change their ethos to match hers.

Her claim that some are only getting their children baptised for the sake of a school place & otherwise have no involvement in religion unintentionally brings up an important issue that any such parents will not thank her for raising; that faith-based schools should look for more by way of proof of adherence than they do. Those willing to mime their way through a Sacrament should not be able to gain an unfair advantage over those who have too much integrity to do so.

The third article is from the Ombudsman for Children, Emily Logan. She's also banging the discrimination drum. She says she wants to see a better balance between the autonomy of schools and national oversight to ensure that difficult to place children are not denied their right to an education by being refused a place in school.

The example she uses is of a child in care who was refused by 20 different schools. As far as I can make out, the refusals were not on denominational grounds, but because the schools didn't think they could manage the child. Still, if the schools didn't have the right to set admissions policies, then kids like this couldn't be refused, she reckons.
She doesn't seem to take into account that a school place does not automatically equate to an education; it has to be one in a school equipped to meet the individual needs of the child that led to their being difficult to place. If it is not, then their rights will not be met by forcing the school to take them; and the educational rights of the other students will be infringed as the school struggles to cope.

The issue here isn't discrimination; it's lack of resources. For children like this to get the education they need any school that takes them needs the required resources. Otherwise it will simply be a charade that damages the education of all the children involved.

The last article is about a call from the Integration Council to change the law so that denominational schools can't 'discriminate' in favour of those belonging to their ethos. Ehh ... colour me confused, but if that were to happen, wouldn't they cease to be denominational schools? And wouldn't that discriminate against parents who want a denominational schooling for their children, something that they are entitled to under our Constitution?

One thing that is clear from all of the above: the Irish Times, which is no friend to religion, has our schools firmly in their sights. Time to start manning the metaphorical barricades, folks. And get ready to man the literal ones which may come later.

prayer diary Wednesday 18 December 2013

When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 
Matthew 1.18

The virginal conception of Christ is a stumbling block to many. Such things can't happen, they argue; therefore this can not be true. They forget to ask themselves 'and if this is true what does this mean for me and all humanity?'

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

food poverty in Ireland

2014 is the 135th anniversary of the Famine of 1879, the 'mini-famine' or 'An Gorta Beag' that caused widespread hunger rather than mass death in Ireland. Like its more devastating 'big brothers' of the 1840s and 1740s it affected mainly the poor, the powerless, and the vulnerable.

One would be forgiven for thinking it a not very important anniversary of an almost forgotten event in our history. However, with nearly half a million of our citizens currently suffering from food poverty (here) it is a reminder, perhaps, that things have not changed as much as we like to think they have.

reported speech

As I was eating out the other day, I overheard the conversation of couple of ladies sitting near me. They were quite exited by Pope Francis.

'He's so different,' said one. 'I know he's going to really modernise things and bring the Church up to date.'

'He'd better,' said  the other. 'If the Church doesn't change its teaching on contraception and divorce and things like that, a lot of us will be going to hell.'

prayer diary Tuesday 17 December 2013

An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham. 
Matthew 1. 1

Where our translation gives 'account' the Greek reads 'biblos' or book. Matthew is telling us plainly what his purpose is: to give us a book that as a whole offers itself as witness as to who Jesus is and that our faith is grounded on a sure foundation.

Monday, December 16, 2013

prayer diary Monday 16 December 2013

When he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, ‘By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?’ 
Matthew 21.23

There are always those who question authority of the Scripture and the Church, especially those whose comfort zones are challenged by that authority. Do not refrain from helping them through this; it is better for them that they deal with the challenge, rather than be allowed to avoid it.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Reflection for the 3rd Sunday of Advent

May my words be in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In our epistle, Saint James writes that we should be patient until the coming of the Lord; and as an example of suffering and patience he urges us to look to the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.

St John the Baptist is, of course, one of those prophets of whom James speaks. Indeed, our Lord today in the Gospel calls him 'more than a prophet.' Why would he not? John had a unique role – he was the one who came to prepare the way of the Lord.

And yet in our Gospel reading we also hear that St John sends his followers to Jesus to ask the question: 'are you the one who is to come; or are we to wait for another?' Does John doubt who Jesus is? I would find that hard to believe of the one who declared 'behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world,' and who stated bluntly that he was the one who should be baptised by Jesus. So why does he send them?

The answer to that question lies perhaps in the answer Jesus gives to the question they are sent to ask: ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offence at me.’

Jesus' response is pretty much to say that his actions speak for him; and that his actions are not those that many were expecting of the Messiah. John sends his followers so that they might know that Jesus is the Messiah; he is not seeking reassurance for himself; rather he seeks to reassure those who follow him, so that they may follow the one whom he was sent to prepare the way for.

In this season of Advent, as we we wait for when the Lord will come again, let us not lose patience in our waiting; let us remember that Jesus is the God of surprises just as John reminded his followers; and let us follow the example of St John and the other prophets and not be afraid of what it may cost us to be faithful to the Word of the Lord. Because the price we may pay in this life through the giving up of its pleasures or approval is treasure laid up for the next. Amen.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

faster than a speeding photo on facebook ...

This is doing the rounds ... around in the world in 80 clicks ... or less. Think before you post, children (hmm ... perhaps someone should have said that to me before I posted some of the dumb stuff I've posted in the past ... hopefully someone will remind me of it before I post more dumb stuff in future ... but will it work?).

Examin Saturday 14 Dec 2013

Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven

We pray those words every time we say the Lord's Prayer. But how seriously do we take them? We know well from Sacred Scripture, the teachings of the Church Christ founded, and the law God has written in the hearts of all men what God's will is for his people. How hard do we try obey his will in every aspect of our lives. Do we seek God's grace and strength to do his will through prayer, the sacraments of his church, and the faithfully hearing him speak to us through Scripture? And when we fail, do we humbly admit it and ask his forgiveness?

Prayer diary Saturday 14 Dec 2013

‘So also the Son of Man is about to suffer at their hands.’ 
Matthew 17.12

Christ knew that at his first coming he would suffer and be rejected. It will not be so when he comes again in power and great glory to judge the living and the dead. Be ready for that terrible and wonderful day.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Prayer diary Friday 13 Dec 2013 (Day of discipline and self-denial)

'For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, “He has a demon”; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners!” 
Matthew 11. 18-19

Some look upon virtue and needs must twist it and call it vice in order to justify their own actions. It is all too easy for those who do not wish to see to find reasons for their blindness.

why heaven?

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

during Advent we have been looking at the traditional themes for this season; death, judgement, heaven, and hell. Tonight is the turn of the third of those, as we ask the question: 'Why heaven?'

I suppose we should begin by talking a little about what heaven is. Heaven is the place where God dwells. Which since God is omnipresent in a sense could be taken to mean that heaven is also everywhere. But when we talk about heaven as the dwelling place of Creator of all that is, visible and invisible, we tend to think in terms of somewhere outside of the limits of time and space in which we have our existence.

But of course, we would have little interest in heaven, except in an academic sense, if it were not for the possibility that we ourselves will go there. So what is heaven for us? It is not, I think, much like the images that art and Hollywood gives us a place full of fluffy clouds where we'll sit around all day polishing our halos and playing our harps.

Heaven for us is the place of supreme and perfect happiness; it is the abode of not only of angels, archangels, and all the other choirs of angels, but what we call the Communion of Saints – the place where all those who die in a state of Grace will go to spend all of eternity in the presence of the one who made them; they will see God 'face to face' as St Paul tells us in first Corinthians as they stand forever in the beatific vision; it is our final home, the place where we were created to be, the place we spend all our life on earth working to attain, even as we know that we are not worthy of it, and therefore hope that God in his mercy and through the merits of our Saviour, will bring us there at the last.

That heaven exists is a natural and logical outcome that follows upon the existence of God. But why he should not only have created us, but created us to be with him in heaven for all eternity, is less obvious. Revelation and reason teach us that God is complete and perfect in and of himself; he needs nothing from us; he gains nothing from having created us. This of course stands in opposition of the popular 'straw-man' argument put forward by militant atheists, that the God of the Bible is greedy for worship, almost pathetic in his need to be praised and adored; so much so that he is forced to create lessor beings so that they will endlessly feed his ego; and threatening with dire punishment all who dare to resist his demands. Naturally they heroically refuse to worship such a God. 

Personally I have never quite understood why they get so worked up about something they don't believe in; nor why they should attempt to cast themselves in so brave a light, if they truly believe that the punishments this angry God threatens them are figments of the imagination.

But, of course, this caricature of God itself stands in opposition to centuries of what both Scriptures and the Church teaches: that God created the universe out of nothing, not out of any need that he had, but out of love. God is the fullness and perfection of love and part of the expression of that love is our creation in his image and likeness. In that love he offers us a place with him where he dwells himself for all eternity. In his love he gives us free-will and does not force us to accept what he offers. And in his love, knowing our weakness and frailty and foolishness, he goes to unimaginable lengths to help those who wish to be with him to attain that beatific vision, to see him face to face, to join with the angels and saints and enjoy the perfect happiness of being in his presence for all eternity.

And that is why there is a heaven that awaits those who end the days of this life in a state of grace – because God is love and wills that it be so.

This is the most wonderful news possible for all people – that they have been created by a loving God; and they have been created for a purpose; and that purpose is eternal life with him in heaven; and he will do everything possible to ensure that we fulfil our destiny. Heaven tells us that our lives have meaning; that in the grand scheme of things we do matter; and that as small and weak we may seem and feel, we are loved and held as precious by the most powerful force in the universe, the one who created and sustains it.

So let us pray that you and I, and all his children will accept the offer he makes to us in his love, and the saving Grace that he offers to help and guide us, and come at the last to the place he created us to be; with him in heaven for ever. Amen. 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Catholic Archbishop of Delhi arrested during peaceful protest for Dalit Christians & Muslims

The Catholic Archbishop of Delhi, Anil Couto, was among those arrested and taken to a police station when police broke up a peaceful demonstration by thousands of people in New Delhi who were calling for an end to the statutory discrimination against Dalit Christians and Muslims on the basis of religion. Police used lathis (canes) and water cannon to break up the march towards Parliament, and arrested the leaders. Several people, including nuns and priests, were injured. The archbishop was later released without charge. 

He said in a statement, 'Government after government have been turning a deaf ear to the demand of Christians. Now they are going to the extent of brutally beating up our priests and nuns and now arresting us too.' Protest leaders have filed a case against police for their manhandling of women protesters.

The march began at Jantar Mantar and headed towards Sansad Bhavan (Parliament House), in defiance of a ban on protests along Sansad Marg (Parliament Street). Protesters in Delhi often court arrest by approaching the restricted area, but the police response this time was uncommonly heavy-handed.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today apologised in person to some of the protest leaders for the heavy-handed police response, and promised that their demands would be discussed at the next Cabinet meeting.

The march was held to call for a change to the law excluding Dalit Christians and Muslims from a range of special measures granted to Dalits of Hindu, Buddhist or Sikh background, who are classified as Scheduled Castes. These measures include reservations, a quota system applicable in public sector education and employment, and legislation dealing with caste-based crimes against Dalits. This issue is being challenged in a Supreme Court case, which has been delayed since 2005 by the failure of the government to state its position. Several government commissions, as well as UN human rights mechanisms, have issued clear recommendations that the discriminatory legislation must be changed.

Dr John Dayal, a senior civil rights activist and member of the government's National Integration Council, was among those arrested briefly. He said, 'We are outraged at the police violence against peaceful Christians agitating for the restoration of their constitutional rights. This strengthens our resolve to continue the struggle.'

Fr Ajay Singh, a Catholic priest and human rights activist from Orissa who was also present, said, 'The Prime Minister's apology must be followed by action to end more than 60 years of injustice done to Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims, which is totally against the spirit of equality and secularism. He should not play politics with the millions of Indians deprived of their human rights. The police response to the protest shows how the state ignores the multiple layers of discrimination against the most vulnerable and marginalised minority communities.'

Mervyn Thomas, Chief Executive of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, said, 'It is deplorable that in India, a peaceful protest on such an important issue is treated in this way. India is increasingly at risk of gaining an unseemly reputation for its restriction and mistreatment of human rights defenders, which is profoundly inconsistent with its proud democratic tradition. We urge the Indian government to rise above this, and allow civil society to flourish. As for the subject of the protest, the mandate to address this historic discrimination is very clear, and the government should take action as soon as possible.'

Based on a press release from Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW). For further information or to arrange interviews please contact Matthew Jones, Public Affairs Team Leader at Christian Solidarity Worldwide on +44 20 8329 0063, email matthewjones@csw.org.uk or visit www.csw.org.uk.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide is a Christian organisation working for religious freedom through advocacy and human rights, in the pursuit of justice.

Walter Scott, 1916

I read in the paper today that Walter Scott 
died in Dublin in nineteen-sixteen;
he, and thirty seven other children,
playing, out of windows peeping,

picking through the Rising's debris,
or cradled in a mother's embrace
were caught in the hot breath
of the grown-ups' debate.

They used gunboats, Gatling-guns, 
rifles, and revolvers to develop
their arguments. Walter, 
aged eight, was walking to the shop

with his mother when the bullet found
him; he died, days later, from the festering wound.

(see the Irish Times report on this here)

Down with this sort of thing

Conservatives turned Dan Brown into a best-selling author by reacting with outrage to the Da Vinci Code. Liberals, it seems, can fall into the same trap (here). The fastest selling book in Spain at the moment is Cásate y sé sumisa or Marry and Be Submissive. Well, even without reading the book, the title rather hints as to why it might attract the ire of all kinds of people. 

And its not doing their blood-pressure any good at all that the Catholic Archbishopric of Granada are the publishers of the book in Spain. They are already trying to have the book withdrawn or banned. Without a hint of irony they are saying it reminds them too much of the bad old days of Franco's fascist regime.

Down with this sort of thing, as Fr Ted used to say. They seem to have forgotten two old adages: word of mouth is the best form of advertising; and there's no such thing as bad publicity.

The book was first published in Italy and recently translated into Spanish. Doubtless it will soon make it into English. It'll be interesting to see what reaction it gets here. And, naturally, there is already a sequal: Cásate y da la vida por ella or Marry and Give Your Life for Her. That one's aimed at the fellas. I wonder how that's going to go down in Spain?

Prayer diary Thursday 12 Dec 2013

'No one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the Kingdom of Heaven is grater than he.' 
Matthew 11. 11

Christ honours the Baptist in his role as the one who prepared the way for the Saviour. Even so, that glory is as nothing compared to what awaits all who enter the Kingdom.


A press release from Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW)

Local sources are reporting that almost 1,000 people have been killed in the last week after fighting broke out between the Seleka rebel coalition and anti-Balaka groups in Bangui, capital of the Central African Republic (CAR).

On 9 December the Red Cross had confirmed 400 deaths in Bangui. However, local eyewitnesses report a number of unburied or uncollected bodies in many parts of the city.

Seleka, a predominantly Muslim rebel coalition, took power in a coup in March 2013, suspending the constitution, dissolving the government and National Assembly, and eventually installing one of its leaders, Michael Djotodia, as president. In September, Djotodia officially disbanded Seleka; however many rebels refused to disarm and began sectarian killings, looting and burning villages, with worrying reports in November of an influx of extremists from other countries. The sustained and severe human rights violations eventually resulted in retributive violence following the emergence of anti-Seleka groups commonly referred to as 'anti-Balaka' (anti-machete), and largely composed of ex-Seleka members, vigilante villagers and former members of the national army.

The latest fighting intensified after daybreak on 5 December, when armed anti-Balaka groups declared an invasion of Bangui. Local sources reported the sound of heavy artillery in the Gobongo, Boy Rabe, Kassai and Boieng districts before the anti-Balaka forces retreated to the hills and forests surrounding Bangui. Muslims in the Km5 district were reported to have subsequently taken to the streets destroying property belonging to non-Muslims. Unconfirmed reports also state that members of the Seleka militia went from door to door searching for men, destroying property, and killing civilians. Victims included a pastor of the Elim church in the PK12 district and his grandchildren. According to local reports, Seleka members also abducted his four children. Similar atrocities are being reported from the interior of the country.

Over the weekend reprisal attacks on Christians continued in which families with young men were reportedly targeted. In districts across the capital, civilians are currently seeking refuge in church buildings, while others are hiding in the bush or at Bangui airport.

While the anti-Balaka groups have been generally described as Christian militia, their actions have been condemned by the Church in CAR, which is calling for peace, the disarming of all armed groups and national reconciliation. Church leaders have also been working with imams in the tense months following the coup to bring reconciliation, and calling for a return to peaceful coexistence between the two religious communities.

On 5 December the UN Security Council approved a proposal to increase the numbers of French and African Union troops in the country with a mandate to disarm militias. On Monday 9 December two French paratroopers were killed in Bangui in a clash with unidentified men.

Also on 9 December, and following comments by President Hollande questioning the effectiveness of his leadership, Djotodia is alleged to have implied on radio that there would be fighting between French troops and Seleka, and that the country would be divided along sectarian lines if he is removed from power. According to unconfirmed reports these remarks were also being broadcast in mosques, and could stoke sectarian tensions even further.

CSW's Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said,'CSW condemns the killings of civilians and the widespread violations of human rights, including of freedom of religion or belief. We echo the call of the Church in the Central African Republic for peace, and urge both sides of the conflict to embrace reconciliation and co-existence. The restoration of security is paramount, as is the need to combat impunity. We therefore welcome the Security Council's decision to increase troop numbers in the CAR, and call for investigations to identify those suspected of involvement in gross human rights violations with a view to bringing them to justice. We also urge UN member states to ensure that the international forces are sufficiently resourced and to respond swiftly to the worsening humanitarian crisis in the country.'

1. The Central African Republic is a majority Christian country with a 15% indigenous Muslim population. Since independence in 1960 the country has been plagued with instability and has endured a series of rebellions and five coups, including the Seleka coup. The recent Seleka coup was the first in the nation’s history to divide the country on sectarian lines. 

2. Since March, there has been a growing humanitarian crisis, and widespread violation of human rights. International observers and CSW sources have noted a weakening of state institutions, widespread insecurity, arbitrary detentions, summary executions and no access for humanitarian assistance. According to current estimates, approximately 10% of the population has been internally displaced and living in dire conditions.

For further information or to arrange interviews please contact Matthew Jones, Public Affairs Team Leader at Christian Solidarity Worldwide on +44 20 8329 0063, email matthewjones@csw.org.uk or visit www.csw.org.uk.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is a Christian organisation working for religious freedom through advocacy and human rights, in the pursuit of justice.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013


A press release from Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW)

A Cuban pastor was barred by government officials from leaving the country last month despite having a valid passport and visa. Reverend Bernardo de Quesada Salomon attempted to travel on 27 November to attend a religious conference in the Dominican Republic when he was informed by Cuban immigration officials at Havana airport that he had been categorised as Limited and would not be permitted to board the plane.

The Cuban government eliminated the need for Cubans to obtain an exit visa in order to travel abroad at the beginning of 2013, but for reasons of national security reserved the right to prevent some Cubans from travelling.

Reverend de Quesada Salomon, who traveled to the United States and to Brazil to attend religious events earlier this year, was not given any explanation for the change in his status and was told to contact the National Office for Attention to the Population (NOAP) for more details. When he did so, the NOAP suggested that he submit a written request for information to the National Director for Immigration. He has not received a response.

Reverend de Quesada Salomon is a national leader of the Apostolic Movement, a large but unregistered network of protestant churches in Cuba. Despite repeated attempts to register the group, the government has refused to allow them to do so and has aggressively targeted churches associated with the network with fines and threats of confiscation of property. Another Apostolic Movement leader, Reverend Mario May Medina, was also denied the right to travel in January of this year. As in the case of Reverend de Quesada Salomon, Reverend Travieso was told that he was in the Limited category and was given no other explanation.

CSW's Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said, 'We were disappointed to learn of the Cuban government's return to limiting its citizens right to travel. Reverend de Quesada Salom's participation in a Christian conference in the Dominican Republican cannot seriously be considered a threat to national security and CSW is concerned that this may open the door to the Cuban government arbitrarily banning other religious leaders from travelling out of the country. We urge the Cuban government to restore Reverend de Quesada Salomon's ability to travel and to fully implement this reform by allowing its citizens to travel without hindrance.'

For further information or to arrange interviews please contact Matthew Jones, Public Affairs Team Leader at Christian Solidarity Worldwide on +44 20 8329 0063, email matthewjones@csw.org.uk or visit www.csw.org.uk.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is a Christian organisation working for religious freedom through advocacy and human rights, in the pursuit of justice.

fake sign language at Mandela memorial?

The reports are saying that the chap on stage 'signing' at Nelson Mandela's memorial was a fake, that he didn't know sign language, and that his hand gestures were the equivalent of gibberish. 

I don't know sign language, so I can't judge for myself. But if this is the case, why would somebody do it? Was it someone so desperate for a few minutes on camera that they didn't care they were making a mockery of a much loved international figure's memorial service? Or that they were making their nation look foolish in the eyes of the world? 

Perhaps there is some other explanation as to what was going on. I really hope there is. Something along the lines of that he is the member of some obscure and oppressed tribe in SA; that the signing that's being called gobbledygook is in fact in his own native language; and he was simply taking the opportunity to highlight his people's plight on the world stage.

Something like that I think would bring a smile to the face of an old freedom fighter like Nelson Mandela. Somebody high-jacking a state occasion for 15 minutes of fame, I think, would not.  

UPDATE: the latest on the man at the memorial is that is that is a qualified signer, who has done interpretation work at many important state function. He says that he is on medication for schizophrenia but had an episode during the service. Poor man; that puts rather a different light on the whole affair. I hope he's better now & this won't end his career. (see newspaper report here)

another fine mess ...

This has been bugging me for ages. Am I the only one who sees a resemblance? 

really? how about this one from when he was a bit older?

OK. I guess it is just me then.

“evangelise or fossilise”.

The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, speaking at a Christian conference recently, warned that Christianity is in danger of dying out in a generation in Britain unless something is done. He spoke of clergy gripped with feelings of defeat and a public who just rolls their eyes and yawns at the idea of religion. 

Soon after, The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, told the Church of England's General Synod said the time has come to “evangelise or fossilise” as he laid a report before them warning that numbers in national church were falling dangerously low. He called for a new missionary stance saying that their constant internal debates were like no more than “rearranging furniture when the house is on fire” and that was needed was a campaign for the “re-evangelisation of England”, modeled on the ministry of saints such as Cuthbert, Hilda and Aidan missionary efforts in Anglo-Saxon times.

How did Synod respond? They voted to set up a committee.

You can read the article in the Telegraph on this hereAnd there's an interesting podcast, giving an Orthodox perspective on this issue, here.

Prayer diary Wednesday 11 Dec 2013

'Come to me all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest.' 
Matthew 11.28

There is no greater burden in any life other than the burden of sin. And there is no greater rest from that burden than that offered by Christ.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

'... and Paddy with his words at will'

You may recall my mother passed away just after Easter this year (may she rest in peace; please continue to pray for the happy repose of her soul). Going through her stuff, my sister found a letter from her mother, written in 1965, which my mother had kept until her dying day. She scanned it and sent me a copy. 

Reading through it, at first I wondered why she had hung on to it. It was mostly just bits of news about family, friends, and neighbours. But then I realised that a lot of the letter was about a visit we had paid to my grandmother not long before. 

My parents both came from Newmarket in North Cork. Like a lot of people in the 1950s they emigrated, for the sake of work and a better life as Ireland was going through one of its periodic economic slowdowns. It was in New York that my parents fell in love, got engaged, married in 1959, and had their three children. In the summer of 1965 they made their first visit home since leaving. My grandmother's letter was written not long after.

So, of course, that gives an added poignancy to my Nana talking about how much she'd enjoyed our visit and how much she missed us. It was the first time she had seen her daughter in over eight years and the first time she'd seen her grandchildren. And who knew when she'd see us again, if ever. I can imagine the letter must have torn at my mother's heart-strings. And no doubt she was especially touched by my Nana's description of her children, which I've copied above, but to save your eyes, I'll transcribe:

'But we really felt bad after our own Burkes. (some neighbours, also called Burke, had just been to her house on a visit) I can still see my Joan Marie with those curling black lashes and blue eyes, and she all about us, and Jim's good moods when he was so nice, and Paddy with his words at will. Billy was dying after them too, and Sadie (Billy & Sadie are an aunt and uncle who were still living at home); the grandfather calls Joan M his own girl.'

I checked my reading with my sister, and she thinks I have it right. She also thinks that my Nana's words about us indicate that she was a pretty little thing, my brother was moody, and I was a little chatterbox ... and for her and I nothing has changed!

As I said, my mom kept the letter until the end. Faded and stained, my sister found it among her things. From the creases and tears, I'd say it had been handled a lot. She clearly treasured it. Who's not to say it didn't play a part in decision, a few years after it was written, to move the whole family back to Ireland? In which case, it would have been a life-changing document, one that played an important part in a pivotal moment in the lives of her and her family. 

I have to say I'm quite tickled by my Nana's description of me (I would have been about three at the time). My sister showed the letter to a cousin and she picked up on the phrase at once, saying that it was a talent that no doubt proved useful in my ministry! 

To be honest, I like the phrase so much, that I'm thinking of changing the name of the blog to it. I've been blogging now for just over three years - it's probably time to give this 'space' a bit of a facelift. What do you think?