Sunday, June 30, 2013

Prayers Sunday 30 June 2013

let us pray Heavenly Father, 
you promised through your Son 
to hear the prayers of those 
who ask in faith:

Your Son told his followers 
that the Son of Man 
may we as his Church 
always prize spiritual values 
above the material; Lord in your mercy: 
hear our prayer

Even as we pursue 
the the teaching of your Son 
and try to be more spiritual, 
may we never forget 
to share with those who are in need;
Lord in your mercy: 
hear our prayer

In a world where secular values 
are increasingly seen as more important, 
may our communities be beacons
of the truth your Son taught;
Lord in your mercy: 
hear our prayer

Even as Your Son 
shared his teaching with others 
we give you thanks for those 
who now share that teaching with us; 
we ask your blessing on bishop, priests, and deacons,
and all who work in lay ministries; 
Strengthen us, and all your Church, 
to be One, as your Son prayed 
we should be One; 
and raise up others who will answer your call 
to the ministries of your Church.
Lord in your mercy: 
hear our prayer

We thank you for those 
who have lived this life 
in the hope of eternal life 
and have now entered into 
that fullness of life with you; 
comfort for all who mourn; 
strengthen the sick and dying 
& those who care for them; 
grant peace to all who struggle 
in these difficult times; 
and give guidance to all who struggle i
n their relationships, 
with others or with you.
Lord in your mercy: 
hear our prayer

And we ask that you hear 
the prayers of our own hearts, 
both for ourselves 
and for those who are in need of prayer 
(pause for silent prayer)
Lord in your mercy: 
hear our prayer

Merciful Father
accept these our prayers
for the sake of your Son
our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

prayer diary Saturday 29 June 2013 (St Peter's Day)

'You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.' 
Matthew 16. 16

Christ himself founded the Church, giving it not only authority on this earth, but the promise that no power, not even that of the evil one himself, could stand against it.

Friday, June 28, 2013

prayer diary Friday 28th June 2013 (day of discipline & self-denial)

'Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat; but I have prayed that your own faith may not fail.' 
Luke 22.31

Christ himself prays to strengthen us that we might be protected from the forces of darkness. But if we are to share in that protection, we must have faith in him.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

the gandolfini funeral

Soprano's actor James Gandolfini was laid to rest today, may he rest in peace (yes, I was a fan: see my previous post here). I was surprised though to read (here) that the funeral was conducted in the Cathedral Church of St John the Divine, New York, as I thought that is Episcopalian ... a wee Google search confirmed I was right about that ... so there's a surprise ... I would have expected, given his background that Gandolfini would be Catholic ... maybe he 'swam the Thames' at some point? Or maybe it just goes to show that just because someone's name ends in a vowel one shouldn't jump to conclusions? (there's a statement the Italian-American business-men's league would be sure to agree with!)

One interesting thing I discovered while Googling St John's was this interesting post (here) claiming that it is not really Christian, and offering as evidence it's Masonic links and all the strange carvings and symbols ... they even have services where animals and bicycles are blessed, and a procession of ghouls in the church at Halloween (OK, that last one does sound very strange). Proof of sinister forces at work? Or just that Dan Brown has a lot to answer for? You, gentle reader, be the judge!

prayer diary Thursday 27th June 2013

'I am among you as one who serves.' 
Luke 22.27

Leave behind all your petty disputes and ambitions, not only at the door of the church, but from the moment of your baptism; for in that you were made one with him, and if our Lord and Saviour came to serve, so then should your life be one of humble service.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

prayer diary Wednesday 25th June 2013

'Do this in remembrance of me.' 
Luke 22. 19

At the institution of the Eucharist Christ gave us the holy gift of his own body and blood and commanded us to eat and drink. We must approach this sacred mystery with reverence and awe – not only in the way we behave in church during the liturgy, but in the manner in which we live our lives, lest we partake unworthily.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

prayer diary Tuesday 25th June 2013

Every day Jesus was teaching in the temple; and at night he would go out and spend the night on the Mount of Olives. 
Luke 21 37

We know from elsewhere in scripture that the Mount of Olives was a place that our Lord went to spend time in prayer. Here and many other places in the Gospels w have the example of the long hours he spent in prayer. As he did, so should we.

Monday, June 24, 2013

John the Baptist: still working hard after all these years!

One of the titles of John the Baptist is that of 'Precursor ', the one who came before. As we hear said of him in the Gospels, he came to prepare the way for the coming of Christ. Interestingly, there are still those who would deny that Christ ever came, that he is a made up figure. No serious scholar accepts this suggestion. One of the reasons that they don't is because of what are called extra-biblical sources – documents outside the canon of scripture which serve as testimony to the fact that Jesus was a real historical figure.

The most important of these was written by the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, in his work the Antiquities of the Jews. There we find a short paragraph dealing with Jesus:

Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.
(antiquities of the jews 3.3)

Of course, there are those who claim this is an interpolation, a forgery inserted into the work for the sole purpose of of providing just such an extra-biblical source. But again, serious scholars reject this suggestion, even though they think it may have been lightly 'edited.' A major stumbling block to those who argue against the authenticity of this passage is the fact that Josephus also has a section on John the Baptist:

Now some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod's army came from God, and that very justly, as a punishment of what he did against John, that was called the Baptist: for Herod slew him, who was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, both as to righteousness towards one another, and piety towards God, and so to come to baptism; for that the washing [with water] would be acceptable to him, if they made use of it, not in order to the putting away [or the remission] of some sins [only], but for the purification of the body; supposing still that the soul was thoroughly purified beforehand by righteousness. Now when [many] others came in crowds about him, for they were very greatly moved [or pleased] by hearing his words, Herod, who feared lest the great influence John had over the people might put it into his power and inclination to raise a rebellion, (for they seemed ready to do any thing he should advise,) thought it best, by putting him to death, to prevent any mischief he might cause, and not bring himself into difficulties, by sparing a man who might make him repent of it when it would be too late. Accordingly he was sent a prisoner, out of Herod's suspicious temper, to Macherus, the castle I before mentioned, and was there put to death. Now the Jews had an opinion that the destruction of this army was sent as a punishment upon Herod, and a mark of God's displeasure to him.
(antiquities of the jews 5.2)

John is of course inextricably linked with Christ. Those who argue against the reality of Jesus will often then argue against the authenticity of this passage also. A major problem with that is the fact that what Josephus has written is certainly not something that a Christian would have written, using the Gospels as his sources. And the thing that strikes me every time is the fact that the passage on John is slightly more than twice the length of that about Jesus. What Christian would have written such a forgery, giving more space to the Precursor than to the one he came to prepare the way for? The reinforcement this gives to the extra-biblical sources to my mind means that John the Baptist is still doing the work he came to do all those years ago – preparing the hearts and minds of those who would hear him that they might know and accept the Messiah.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

facing our demons

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

Our Gospel reading puts us face to face with one of the most frightening things we hear of in scripture – demonic possession …the encounter we read about in today's Gospel is perhaps the most famous such accounts we have from the Gospels. I am legion, says that which oppresses the Gerasene demoniac … a phrase that has had the power to haunt and terrify down through the ages. And look at what this man's life has been like as a result of his possession – he lives, a feared and fearful outcast, among the tombs, his voice a constant scream, naked and ashamed in a society that did not embrace public nudity, cutting open his own flesh over and over again … there is nothing he can do to help himself … and there is nothing that anyone else can do to help him either. They've tried chains, but does didn't work. And we must presume that chains were the last thing that they tried, not the first … so most likely they have tried talking with him and they have tried doctors but to no avail …

And then Jesus comes … and the change is almost instantaneous … because Jesus has power and authority over what is hurting this man … so much so that the horror that calls itself Legion pleads with him for mercy! And that is something for us to note very well: There is no contest, no struggle; Jesus says 'get out' and they are gone … something that we see in many, many other places in scripture. There is absolutely no hint that the devil, the demonic, the powers of evil, the forces of darkness are in some way on a par with God, with Jesus, with good, with light, with truth. Jesus has so much power, so much authority that the people who had been afraid of this poor afflicted man are now afraid of him!

Because these kind of things do scare us – there's no point denying it. Perhaps that's why we tend not to talk about them too much any more. And yet the fact of the devil and the demonic not only remains part of the teaching of the Church, but indeed the Church continues to this day to train and commission priests as exorcists – and that includes the Church of Ireland. And indeed, we have what are called minor exorcisms built into the fabric of our liturgy … for example, every baptism includes a series of minor exorcisms, when the candidates or their sponsors are asked to reject the devil and renounce evil … these same minor exorcisms are also used at Confirmations … and the Lord's prayer, which is part of every liturgy, ends with the line commonly translated in English as 'deliver us from evil' … which in the original Greek reads 'rescue us from the evil one' … words given to us by our Saviour Christ himself when his disciples asked them to teach them how they should pray …
And why would Christ tell his followers to pray to be delivered from the evil one? Because he knew he existed. Not as some kind of abstract idea, but as something real. And because he knew that to pretend that an enemy doesn't exist is to give him a powerful advantage. Because he wanted to arm us in our spiritual battle against the evil forces at work in the world whose purpose is derail us from the path we were created to walk, to prevent us from achieving the destiny God made us for, to ultimately be with him in heaven for all eternity.

It is frightening to think there exists that whose sole purpose is to get between us and eternal life. But what do we hear Jesus say so many times in the Gospels? Be not afraid … we do not have to be afraid of facing up to the reality that is evil in the world … because we can trust in the words that Jesus spoke assuring us that he has power over these forces … words that he backed up again and again by his actions in Holy Scripture … we are protected by the baptism he gave us, incorporating us into his body the Church, by prayer, & by Christ himself. God can and will protect us from this evils … and every time we pray the Lord's prayer, and say 'deliver us from evil' we ask him to. I pray that you will trust the witness of Christ that it a prayer that we must say; and believe both what the prayers says and its power as you say it: in the name of the Father, the Son, & the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Protection of life during pregnancy bill 2013

Our government is currently debating the controversial 'Protection of life during pregnancy bill 2013.' Controversial because for the first time in this county it will legalise the deliberate and intentional taking of an unborn life, as opposed to relying on the principle of double-effect to provide any and all life saving treatment to the mother; and controversial because of its inclusion of the threat of suicide as grounds for an abortion. (You can read the proposed legislation here with notes; but you can pretty much ignore the notes, as they have no legal force; it is only the text of the legislation itself, and the interpretation which the courts may give it, which counts.)

The section dealing with threatened suicide makes interesting reading, part of which I copy below: 

Head 4 Risk of loss of life from self-destruction
Provide that 
(1) It is not an offence to carry out a medical procedure, in accordance with this head, in the course of which or as a result of which unborn human life is ended, where –
(a)that procedure is carried out by a registered medical practitioner at an appropriate location, 
(b)one obstetrician/gynaecologist, who must be employed at that location, and two psychiatrists, both of whom shall be employed at a centre which is registered by the Mental Health Commission, and one of whom shall be attached to an institution where such a procedure is carried out, in accordance with this head, jointly certified 
in good faith that –
(i) there is a real and substantial risk of loss of the pregnant woman’s life by way of self-destruction, and 
(ii) in their reasonable opinion this risk can be averted only by that medical procedure.

Now, it occurs to me on reading this that the bill says that an unborn human life can only be ended where 'there is a real and substantial risk of loss of the pregnant woman’s life by way of self-destruction' and it is the reasonable opinion, made in good faith, by one obstetrician/gynaecologist and two psychiatrists that the risk can be averted only by the ending of the unborn life (& from the plain reading of the text it would seem that all three must be ad idem on this). As the expert testimony put forward at the public hearings on this matter was that there was no evidence whatsover that suicidal ideation could be treated by an abortion, the logical conclusion is that there can be no good faith, reasonable opinion supportive of abortion proffered by any medical professional in any case where their opinion is sought. 

Can we be assured then that the Minister, in keeping with his statements during the Dail debate on this bill, will use his powers to suspend 'services' in any institution that seeks to abuse the legislation by offering abortions on such a basis? This is, after all, the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill; and during any pregnancy there is more than one life to be protected. Or are the ministers words nothing but blarney; and this section of the bill will be used to justify a regime of de facto abortion on the demand, just as the section of the UK's 1967 Abortion Act dealing with a woman's mental health (here) has been used? I pray for the former, but very much fear the latter if this Bill is passed.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

prayer diary Saturday June 22nd June 2013

'No one can serve two masters.' 
Matthew 6.24
Where does your true loyalty lie? What matters most to you? Would you be afraid to say grace before eating lunch in a restaurant because you worried what others might think? Is a late night out on Saturday more important than being able to get up on Sunday for worship? Are you sure you know who your true master is?

Friday, June 21, 2013

Human trafficking in Ireland

US state department's latest report on human trafficking (full report here;  the section having the report on Ireland here): 

Ireland is a destination, source, and transit country for women,
men, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor.
Sex trafficking victims originate in Eastern Europe, African
countries including Nigeria, South America, and Asia. Adult
labor trafficking victims are reportedly from South America,
Eastern Europe, Asia, and Africa. Forced labor victims are
found in domestic service and restaurant work. According to
local reporting, within the last several years some victims have
been subjected to domestic servitude by foreign diplomats on
assignment in Ireland. According to NGO experts, children are
subjected to prostitution in various cities in Ireland, including
Kilkenny, Cork, and Dublin.

The Government of Ireland fully complies with the minimum
standards for the elimination of trafficking. The government
took important steps to investigate and prevent domestic
servitude among employees of diplomats posted in Ireland.
During the year, the government prosecuted and convicted a
sex trafficker for the prostitution of a minor. The government,
however, has yet to fully prosecute and convict any trafficking
offenders, as defined by international standards using the
country’s 2008 anti-trafficking law.

The report goes on to say:

The government investigated 53 new trafficking cases in 2011, including 12 labor trafficking cases, compared with 75 cases  investigated in 2010, and it prosecuted nine suspected sex, and no labor, trafficking offences. The government continued its  investigation of an officer for trafficking-related complicity  initiated in November 2010. According to an NGO review of the National Action Plan in June 2011, the low number of  prosecutions for trafficking contributes to an underestimation  of the severity of the trafficking problem in the country. Although the government reported four trafficking convictions  in 2011, only one conviction involved a human trafficking  offense consistent with international standards. 

Probably pretty small beans, relatively speaking. But nothing to be proud of either. And remember, they think the numbers are underestimated. I think I'd agree. Which means we really have nothing to be proud of. Because trafficking is slavery and rape. And even one case is too many.

prayer diary Friday 21st June 2013

'Store up for yourself treasure in heaven.' 
Matthew 6.19

When this life ends, the only thing that will matter is whether you were a good and faithful servant or not. Focus on what truly matters.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

gandolfini the grey ...

(warning: strong language alert on the video clip)

James Gandolfini has passed away, may he rest in peace. I'll begin by saying that I think he was a fine actor. His work on the Sopranos was groundbreaking ... & I really did love the theme music! 

However, there were times when the violence, nudity, and strong language gave me pause. In fact, I think the programme gave me one of the most uncomfortable evenings of my life. I was visiting with my parents & we sat down to watch telly for the evening. 

'What'll we watch?' says mom. The tv guide was consulted.
'The Sopranos are on,' I say chirpily.
'What's that?' says dad.
'Oh, a very good show. It's winning loads of awards. Fine acting, great writing,' I enthuse. 

My parents were swayed. The correct buttons on remotes were pressed. Roll credits ... followed by the violence, nudity, and strong language. Especially the strong language. In fact it seemed like every second word out of every characters' mouth was strong language. I began to sink deeper in the cushions in the couch, avoiding looking at my parents. We watched the show. I think they enjoyed it. But I never suggested it again. I couldn't have borne a repeat of the experience. 

Anyway. May Mr Gandolfini rest in peace. He was a fine actor. The show he came to fame on was groundbreaking. And I really did like the theme music ... 

prayer diary Thursday 20th June 2013

'Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.' 
Matthew 6.8

In which case, you may ask, why pray? Because even though God knows what you need, it is likely you do not. Pray and listen so that you may learn of him.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

an interesting Brand

I am not, and am unlikely to become, a fan of Russell Brand. I am however willing to think better of him after watching him effortlessly take control from a bunch of chattering heads on American breakfast television ... 

prayer diary Wednesday 19 June 2013

'Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them.' 
Matthew 6.1
Let your worship flow from love of God; if it is not, you are fooling no one but yourself.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

prayer diary Tuesday 18th June 2013

'Love your enemies; and pray for those who persecute you.' 
Matthew 5. 44

What Christ calls us to is more than mere emotion but a moral decision resulting in virtuous action that is the hallmark of his followers.

Monday, June 17, 2013

prayer diary Monday 17th June 2013

'If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other one also.' 
Matthew 5.39

Violence can not be overcome with more violence; only good can overcome evil.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Prayers, Sunday 9 June 2013

let us pray

Heavenly Father, 

you promised through your Son 
to hear the prayers of those who ask in faith:

Your Son forgave the woman's sins
teach us to seek your forgiveness, 
so that strengthened in your love, 
we may seek to share that love with all the world; 
Lord in your mercy: hear our prayer

Your Son taught the Pharisee 
the meaning of compassion;
teach us compassion also, 
that none in the world 
may go without the basic necessities of life;
Lord in your mercy: hear our prayer

The women he healed 
formed a community of sharing 
with your Son; 
help us also to make our communities 
places where all care for the needs of others;
Lord in your mercy: hear our prayer

Your Son called people to him, 
that he might share his teaching with them; 
we give you thanks for those 
who now share that teaching with us; 
we ask your blessing 
on your bishops, clergy, 
and all who work 
in the lay ministries of your Church. 
Strengthen us, and all your Church, 
to be One, as your Son prayed 
we should be One; 
and raise up others 
who will answer your call 
to be priests of your Church.
Lord in your mercy: hear our prayer

We thank you for those 
who have lived this life 
in the hope of eternal life 
and have now entered 
into that fullness of life with you; 
comfort for all who mourn; 
strengthen the sick and dying 
and those who care for them; 
grant peace to all who struggle 
financially at this difficult time; 
and give guidance to all 
who struggle in their relationships, 
with others or with you.
Lord in your mercy: hear our prayer 

And we end our prayers 
we ask that you hear the prayers 
of our own hearts, 
both for ourselves 
and for those who are in need of prayer 
(pause for silent prayer) 
Lord in your mercy: hear our prayer

Merciful Father
accept these our prayers
for the sake of your Son
our Saviour Jesus Christ. 

three things some Christians don't wants to talk about anymore

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

In our Gospel reading today, as well as hearing the dramatic and touching story of the woman who anoints Jesus' feet, we also hear about some other women whom we are told, almost as an aside, that Jesus had cast out demons from. And so in a single short passage we have touched upon what must surely be the three least talked about topics in Christianity today: sin, hell, and demons. Sin, because we are told the woman who anoints Jesus is a notorious sinner; hell because of the woman's extreme gratitude for having been forgiven of her sins tells us that she is aware of the consequences of her sins, should they go unforgiven, which is of course hell – after all, if there were no penalty for sin and no benefit to being forgiven, what would be the point in being grateful, and showing gratitude in such an extravagant way as washing Jesus' feet with her tears, drying them with her hair, and then anointing them with expensive oil?; and the demonic by way of the evangelists direct reference to the fact that the Magdalene and other women who accompany Jesus had been freed from demonic possession by him.

Oddly enough, even though these three topics are ones that are generally thought of as being uncomfortable topics to the modern ear, they are probably the three most talked about ones in the Gospels themselves, and talked about by no less a person than our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ himself. He makes it abundantly clear that he has come to save people from their sins; he calls people to repent of their sins; he forgives them their sins; and after he heals them he often tells them to go and sin no more.

Clearly Jesus wasn't a fan of the attitude common to so many whereby they simply shrug their shoulders when sin is mentioned and say 'so what of it? I'm not so bad?' Rather his attitude was that all were sinners and all were in need of redemption … and generally, if you read scripture carefully, it was exactly those who thought they were good upright people who were actually the ones who were in need of redemption most! 

As for hell, well not only is Jesus the one who talks about it most in the Gospels, he actually mentions it more than any other individual topic. He is constantly warning people that it is real and that people will go there if they do not turn from their sins and repent and believe in him and the good news that he brings. And that brings us to the demonic – and casting out demons is one of the kinds of miracles of healing that Jesus performed very frequently.

If we were to leave out all the references to the devil, Satan, the demonic from the Gospels they would be a lot thinner, I can assure you. And if we left out as well all mention of sin and hell as well, not only would they be slender books indeed, neither would they be the Gospels … because, like it or not, these topics are part of the Good News that Jesus came to bring us. To try and deny them, or try to airbrush them out of the picture, is to deny the Gospels; and to deny the Gospels is to deny Christ.

So why do these topics make people so uncomfortable? Well, perhaps because to call something a sin sounds so judgmental  and being judgmental is, ironically, something of a secular sin these day; hell suggests that there are consequences for immoral behaviour, and that just doesn't sit well in our 'live and let live' society, that likes to think there is no real right or wrong, but rather what's wrong for you may be ok for me, and hell means there really is a set of absolutes where what is right is right for all people; and what's wrong is wrong for all people. And as for demons, well they may be fine in movies, but in the 'real world' the idea is a bit embarrassing and supernatural.

And that last word is key: supernatural. It doesn't mean spooky creatures and things that go bump in the night. It means above nature … which is what religion is about … connecting humanity with the ultimate reality that is above or outside the natural world in which we live. Try to strip the supernatural out of religion and you don't have religion, you have a club with rules; and it doesn't really matter if you don't obey the rules, because there are no consequences for not sticking to them. In fact, you can make the rules up as you go along if you really want.

But that's not what Jesus told us. He told us there a real moral law set by God, and that breaking that law was sin, and that to lead a life of sin and risked punishment, hell; and that the forces of hell, the demonic, entered into this world wanting us to do wrong, longing for us to be punished, to separate us from God. Jesus came to warn us and to save us. And he can't save us if we don't listen to his warning and act accordingly. The woman who wept at his feet knew his power to forgive and save; the Magdalene and the other women knew his power to protect us from evil. They listened to his warning, lived by his words, and were saved. He calls us to do likewise. I pray that you will: in the name of the Father, the Son, & the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

prayer diary Saturday June 15th June 2013

Who ever divorces a woman causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. 
Matthew 5.32

This is sometimes seen as one of the hardest of Jesus' teachings. It was hard to hear in his own day, down through the years, and in our own times. And yet it is a teaching that Christ has given us.

Friday, June 14, 2013

prayer diary Friday 14th June 2013 (day of discipline & self-denial)

It was said 'you shall not commit adultery. But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 
Matthew 5.27-28

Look into your hearts; if you long to do what Christ and his Church teaches is wrong, then you sin, even if the deed itself goes undone. Not having the chance to do the wrong you wish to do will be no defense on the day of judgement.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

prayer diary Thursday 13th June 2013

It was said to those of ancient times 'you shalt not murder;' … but I say to you that if you are angry with your brother you will be liable to judgement. 
Matthew 5. 21,22

The love of Christ is no 'soft option,' equivalent in some way to the 'live and let live' attitude of modern society. He was not afraid to call sin what it was, and often was even stricter in his interpretation of the moral law than the Old Testament prophets.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

prayer diary Wednesday 12th June 2013

Do not think I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have not come to abolish but to fulfill. 
Matthew 5.17

Jesus made it clear in his teaching that the Old Testament continued in its authority. Something to consider when you hear people claim Jesus was 'silent' on particular issues. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

prayer diary Tuesday 11th June 2013 (Feast of St Barnabas, companion of St Paul & Martyr)

You are my friends if you do what I command you. 
John 15.14

There are many who cry 'Lord, Lord' who refuse to live as God commands. And they attempt to lead others astray, so that they may feel justified in their disobedience. Think of them as false prophets and don't listen to them.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Ireland's largest ever pro-life gathering!

Numbers are a funny thing. Both the Irish Times, the 'paper of record', and RTE, our national broadcaster, are trying to say the numbers claimed for the Pro-life vigil on Saturday, June 8th in Dublin are lower that the 40,000 claimed by the organisers. But the two minimisers are giving differing lesser numbers: the IT claims it was well under 20,000; while RTE says around 30,000. As I said, numbers are a funny thing.

Now, having walked those particular streets in Dublin where the vigil was held, I have no problem thinking not only is 40,000 the more accurate figure; in fact it seems to me to be a conservative estimate. But no doubt I'll be told that I would think like that - conservatively, that is!

Whatever number you like, it's a lot of people out there on a sunny Saturday afternoon when they could be doing something else with their leisure time. At the BBC, they reckon a single letter of protest equates to something like a few hundred disgruntled viewers, given the effort required to write a letter. So how many disgruntled voters can it represent when someone goes to the trouble to give up half their weekend to go to Dublin for a vigil?

Of course, our glorious leader Enda Kenny isn't going to be troubled by mere numbers. After all, as he says, he was elected to govern. Except he wasn't; he and those he leads in government were elected to represent the people. In which case, those numbers should matter. Because when his government was voted in, it was on the promise of not introducing abortion into this country. And the funny thing about elections ... they have a nasty habit of coming around again ... and on an issue like this, people who were lied to and then ignored are likely to have long memories ...

haiku: fresh grave

fresh grave
   -on the path beside
        two robins

prayer diary Monday 10th June 2013

Blessed are those who hunger & thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 
Matthew 5. 6

And what is righteousness other than to hear and obey completely and willingly all that God wants of us?

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Prayers Sunday 9 June 2013

let us pray:
Heavenly Father, 
you promised through your Son 
to hear the prayers of those who ask in faith:

Your Son restored the widow's son to life
infuse new life into your Church 
so that we may share 
his promise of eternal life with all.
Lord in your mercy: hear our prayer

Your son showed compassion 
for a grieving mother; 
inspire us also to show compassion to others 
so that none may know need;
Lord in your mercy: hear our prayer

The people of Nain 
gathered to comfort and support 
a mother in her grief; 
guide us to make our communities 
places where we help bring 
your comfort and love to all;
Lord in your mercy: hear our prayer

The widow's son 
answered your Son's call to life; 
we ask your blessing 
on all who have answered your call 
to bring others to new life in your Church; 
We pray for our bishops, our priests, 
and all who work in the lay ministries of your Church. 
Strengthen us, and all your Church, 
to be One, as your Son prayed we should be One; 
and raise up others who will answer your call 
to be priests within your Church.
Lord in your mercy: hear our prayer

We thank you for those 
who have lived this life 
in the hope of eternal life 
and have now entered 
into that fullness of life with you; 
comfort all who mourn; 
strengthen the sick and dying 
& for those who care for them; 
grant peace to all 
who struggle financially at this difficult time; 
and give guidance to all 
who struggle in their relationships, 
with others or with you.
Lord in your mercy : hear our prayer

And we ask 
that you hear the prayers 
of our own hearts, 
both for ourselves 
and for those who are in need of prayer 
(pause for silent prayer)
Lord in your mercy: hear our prayer

Merciful Father
accept these our prayers
for the sake of your Son
Our Saviour, Jesus Christ.

why? why? Why?

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

Our Gospel reading today concerns the raising from the dead of the Son of the widow of Nain. Each of the four Gospels contains just a single example of such a miracle: which to my mind raises the question as to 'why?' - the first of three 'whys?' in this sermon. Why relate only one incident of Jesus raising someone from the dead in each Gospel? We know that he raised more than one; the Gospels themselves tell us so, because even though each evangelists limits himself to only one such incident each, they mostly chose different miracles to tell us about. So Matthew and Mark tell us about Jairus' daughter; Luke the young man of Nain; and John probably the most well known of all such accounts, that of Lazarus.

Most likely there were many more to chose from. St John makes it clear that his Gospel contains only a sample of all that Jesus did – the world couldn't contain all the books if every detail were written down he tells us. And in St Matthew's Gospel, when St John the Baptist sends his followers to ask Jesus if he is the one to come, our Lord's response is to point to all the deeds of power that are done: the blind see, lepers are cleansed, the lame walk, and the dead are raised … which suggests that Jesus raised many more from the dead than we are told about.

So why are we told about so few? Perhaps because the evangelists are exercising a degree of restraint. Jesus performed miracles, as I am sure you have been told again and again, not for their own sake, but for the sake of proving the authority of his teaching. Too many miracles wouldn't have left much room for the far more important teaching! And an over abundance of truly spectacular miracles such as raising people from the dead could well have proved distracting. Enough to know that Jesus could indeed raise people from the dead – there was no need to tell us every detail of every single occasion on which he did.

That brings us to my second 'why?' - why did the evangelists chose to tell us about the ones that they did? Well, I think if you were to sit down and read the four Gospels accounts of these miracles in the order in which most scholars thinks they were written, Mark, Matthew, Luke, & John, an interesting pattern emerges.

Mark's relates that of Jairus' daughter. As Jesus is on the way to the house, friends come to tell the father she is already dead; but Jesus goes anyway, and finds the house in tumult, with people weeping when he arrives. Pretty much what you'd expect if someone had just died. Matthew's account is much shorter; he omits the detail of the friends coming to let them know the girl has died; but he adds the details that the flute players have already arrived and are playing; in other words, the funeral rites have already begun. Luke tells us the widow's son is being carried out on his bier for burial. In a land where a person was buried relatively soon after death, the next day at the latest, but not before the body was properly prepared by washing, anointing, and being wrapped in burial cloths, we enter this scene at least some hours after death; perhaps early the next day. And St John goes to great lengths to emphasise how long Lazarus has been dead, so that we know beyond doubt that four days have passed when Jesus stands before his tomb and calls him forth.

I'm sure you can see where I'm going with this: each evangelist, as they move further from days of Jesus' ministry, chooses his miracle, or the details of his account, in order to stress the amount of time that has passed from the moment of death to the moment when life is restored. In Mark's account it might be minutes; Matthew's an hour or so; Luke's many hours; and in John's several days. And they are doing this, I would suggest, for the sake of emphasis. They are stressing not only the fact that the person in each case is truly dead; but also, by their emphasis, the fact that Jesus truly is the master over death.

My first 'why' was why only one raising of the dead per gospel? My second, why did the evangelist chose the particular one he did? And so we come to our final 'why': why didn't Jesus raise more people from the dead? After all, isn't death the most terrible thing that can happen to anyone? Well actually no: the most terrible thing that can happen to any person is to fail to achieve the purpose for which God created them, which is to be with in heaven for all eternity after life on this earth. 

Jesus came so that that would be possible for every one of us. He did not come to raise every person from the dead; any more than he came to heal every sick person, calm every storm, or solve every food shortage by way of miraculous multiplication. He came to save us from our sins; and so that we would know that we could trust his teachings, he showed his authority by way of miracles. But it is the teaching that matters. Jesus performed the miracles to show his authority; the evangelists related them so that we might know his authority; and we read them today so that we might accept his authority, lead our lives according to his commands, and ultimately come to be with him in heaven for all eternity. And so I pray that all here today, reflecting on the authority of Jesus over life and death, will chose life – eternal life – the eternal life that he desires for us all.


Saturday, June 8, 2013

prayer diary Saturday June 8th June 2013

Jesus said 'Truly I tell you that this widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury.' 
Mark 12.43

Of your weekly 'budget' of time and money, how much goes to the Lord? Is it only from what is 'left over' - an amount that you wouldn't miss? Or is it more – like the widow, everything that you have to live on?

Friday, June 7, 2013

A boy from Nain

The accident happened in a moment. Nathan and Samuel had been playing on the roofs of their houses. Their game was an old one, one they had played since they were six or seven, half their lifetimes ago. The houses of their village were mud-brick, single story structures, flat-roofed. Stairs went up the outside to them, so that people could sit out in the evenings, in hope of a cool breeze in the hot Galilean summers. Rickety shelters topped with woven palm leaves sat on top to provide shade. Thick wide parapet-walls ran waist-high along the edges to prevent anyone accidentally falling off, as the Torah wisely commanded.

The game was to run along the parapet of one house and then leap onto that of the next. It wasn't hard; the gap was only about four feet. And with the parapet walls being nearly two feet thick the running, jumping, and landing was easy. And with the fall to the ground below being only about 12 feet, the danger was largely illusory. More than once the boys had piled straw on the ground below and deliberately leaped down. Well, they had until they had been caught by their parents, who had not been impressed by their antics. Nathan's father had tanned his bottom to impress on him the importance of not repeating the activity. And then, as Samuel's father was dead and there was no elder brother or other male relative available, he obliged Samuel's mother by tanning his bottom also.

That of course had been years ago. They were much better at not being caught doing what they weren't supposed to be doing now that they were older!

The afternoon of the accident was hot. They had been at their studies with old Mordecai, but the heat was making them woolly-headed and nothing he said seemed to make any sense.

'Go outside,' he said with a smile. 'Walk around. Run. Get some blood into your brains so you can think. Come back in a few minutes.'
All the boys ran outside, whooping with glee at the chance of a break. As they tore threw the little village, Nathan tugged at Samuel's arm.
'Fancy some roof jumping?' he said, nodding at the stairs to the roof of his own house. Samuel rolled his eyes.
'That's a baby game,' he said. 'It's what we used to do when we were kids.'
'Not getting afraid of heights in your old age, are you?' teased Nathan. In reply, Samuel pushed Nathan and raced for the steps, with his friend close on his heels. Once on the roof they both lightly hopped onto the parapet-wall.
'The old game?' said Nathan.
'Why not?' said Samuel. 'You lead.'

The old game was quite simple. The two houses were next to each other, separated by a narrow ally. The game was to run along one wall, jump the gap, run along the opposite wall as fast as you could, make the turn without falling off, race along that wall, turn again, race toward the gap, jump, and then so on until both were too tired to continue. The boys raced round several times. Long before they grew tired, though, they began to tire of the game.
'I think you were right, Samuel,' confessed Nathan, 'this really is a baby game.'
'It really isn't much of a challenge any more,' agreed Samuel. 'Anyway, it's probably time to be getting back.'
'Once more around?' suggested Nathan.
'Anything to delay getting back to lessons,' said Samuel with a grin.

Nathan raced along first. The jump was so easy it was barely a step. He tore to the first corner, took it too fast, and almost skidded off the roof. He fell to his knees and grabbed the parapet-wall to keep himself from going over the edge.
'Whoa!' he said, laughing. 'Did you see that?' He turned to see his friend's reaction. He expected to see Samuel standing there, a few feet behind him, laughing at his foolishness. But there was no one there. He was alone on the roof. Puzzled he got to his feet. He didn't understand. Had his friend gone back to class without him? He walked back along the wall toward the gap between the houses and stepped across. As he did so he glanced down and what he saw almost caused him to stumble and fall. Samuel lay on the ground below. He wasn't moving. For a moment, Nathan did nothing. He just stood there staring. Then he called out.
'Samuel?' but there was no response. 'Samuel!' This time he shouted, but again his friend didn't answer. Then he moved almost faster than thought. He dropped to his bottom on the wall, twisted grabbing at the edge, letting himself fall and hang by his finger-tips and then dropping the remaining few feet onto the hard earth below. 
'Samuel,' he called again, taking his friend's shoulder and shaking. But still he didn't answer, didn't move. His face was the colour of ashes. A large purple bruise marked his temple, half-hidden by his curls. Nathan sprang to his feet.
'Help,' he cried, wildly. 'Somebody help us!'


People had come running. Gently, strong men had carried the boy to this mother's house. Old Miriam, the nearest thing the village had to a doctor, was sent for. Nathan stood fretting with the others from his class outside the door. Long minutes passed. Then from within came a heart-rending wail. Nathan knew the cry came from Samuel's mother, even though it sounded hardly human. His father, one of the men who had carried Samuel home, emerged from the gloom of the house. His face was white, his eyes cast down. And Nathan knew his friend was dead.

Tears sprang to his eyes and he ran. He heard his father calling his name but he didn't stop. He ran blindly down the street of the village heedless of where he was going. Within moment he crashed into what seemed like an immovable object. Strong arms enfolded him.
'Easy now,' said a soft voice. It was that of old Mordecai. He was built like a barrel, short and wide, and though old he was still one of the strongest men in the village. He held Nathan to his chest while the boy sobbed.
'So he's dead then?' the old man asked, once the tears had ceased to flow. Nathan nodded.
'It's my fault.'
'How so?'
'We were playing on the roof. It was my idea. He didn't even really want to do it. He thought it was a baby game.'
'No, no,' said Mordecai. 'Boys play on the roofs. I did as my father did before me, as do my children and grandchildren, and as will their children and grandchildren. It was an accident.'
'But it was my idea and he's dead,' wailed Nathan. Mordecai held him tighter.
'I know,' he said.
'And his mother,' wept the boy. 'He was her only child. She's alone now. He always used to talk about how he'd look after her when he was older so she didn't have to work so hard. Who'll look after her now?'
'Perhaps you will?' suggested Mordecai. 'Perhaps we all will. The people of Nain are good people. We will not abandon her now that she is alone.'


They walked back together to where the crowd had gathered by Samuel's house. His father and some of the older men of the village took his aside to question him as to what had happened. No one blamed him. As Mordecai had said, they had all played on the roofs as children themselves. No one had ever been hurt before, at least not badly, and certainly no one had ever been killed.
'He must have slipped and fallen badly,' suggested one. The others nodded. A sad accident, they all agreed.
'Come,' said his father, putting his arm around his shoulder. 'We must go.'


The next few hours were a blur. All the village had gathered by now, to mourn, and to give comfort to the grieving mother. All spoke of what a terrible loss it was for her. A widow and Samuel her only son, the one who would have looked after her in her old age, and provided the grandchildren who would have been such a joy to her. All that was gone now. Murmuring, they spoke of how they would look after her. But Nathan knew that none of that could replace what she had lost. And if times grew hard, as they often did, would they remember what they had promised today, as they struggled to put food on their own tables? He swore to himself that whatever happened he would not forget, that he would treat her as if she were his own mother, in memory of his friend.

Women came to prepare the body for burial, carrying white cloths and spices. Nathan shivered. Not long before his friend had been laughing and playing. Soon he would be buried beneath the dry, hot ground. Funerals had to take place quickly in their warm climate. He heard some of the men talking, discussing whether their was time to do so before the sun went down.
'No,' said one, his father. 'we can't do all that's needed before dark. We'll dig the grave now. The morning will be time enough to lay the child in it.' The others nodded and agreed. Several volunteered to do the work of digging. Nathan went along with them to the small plot, fenced in by a low stone wall, that served as the village burial place. They selected a spot, but before they could start, Nathan spoke.
'Please,' he said 'can I help?' The men stared at him. 
'This isn't work for a boy,' said one, not harshly.
'Please,' he said. 'He was my friend.' The men looked at each other. Wordlessly, one handed him a spade. He began to dig. Soon the sweat poured off him as he worked in the hot evening. He was glad. With his face covered in sweat, no one could see his tears.


That night was terrible. After the grave was dug, the men returned to the village. Women were wailing in Samuel's house. His father, seeing him, had lead him inside to pay his respects to his friend. After the bright sunshine, at first he couldn't see. Then, as his eyes adjusted, he saw on the table in the centre of the room what looked like a large, oblong white package. With a shudder, he realised it was his friend, dressed in his grave clothes. The women lined the room, crying out their grief. One came forward and threw her arms around him. It was Samuel's mother.

'You were his best friend,' she cried. 'He loved you like a brother.' Nathan resisted the urge to pull away from her and run. He let her hold him and cry; stiffly at first, then his muscles relaxing, he leant into her, and put his own arms around her, and he cried with her. Soon others came and she let him go as she went to greet them and thank them for coming and Nathan slipped away. He went home. The thick walls of both houses should have silenced the sound of the wailing, but it did not. The doors were open, as were the shutters to the windows, and the sounds of grief were loud in his ears. He lay down in his bed, but sleep would not come. The sound of weeping from next door continued all night.


Just before dawn, he must have dozed off. Suddenly his father was shaking him awake.
'It is time,' he said simply. Nathan followed him outside. Samuel's wrapped body lay on a make-shift bier, the door of a house, in the street outside. His father went and stood by the front corner of the bier. He glanced back at Nathan, then nodded to the corner by him. Nathan realised he was expected to join the men who were to carry the bier. He stepped forward. There was now someone at each corner, and another in the space between. The six stooped and carefully lifted. Slowly they began to walk toward the cemetery. The crowd fell in behind them, led by Samuel's mother. All were silent save her; she continued to weep softly, tears still streaming down her face. 

As they walked in the half-light to the place of burial, he heard voices up ahead. Nathan saw in the dim morning light what looked like another procession coming towards them. It was a group of men and women walking along the road towards them. They fell silent when they saw the funeral coming towards them. Nathan recognised the man who walked in front of the group. It was Jesus, from the nearby village of Nazareth. Everybody knew him. He had been known as one of the best carpenters in the area until recently; then things had suddenly changed. He had become a wandering preacher. People told amazing stories about him; that he could heal the sick, and cast out demons. What a pity he hadn't been here yesterday, thought Nathan sadly, when Samuel had fallen. If he had been, perhaps he could have healed him before he died.

The two groups came face to face on the road. Both stopped. There was silence except for the sound of Samuel's mother's soft weeping. Jesus looked steadily past the bier and its carriers at her. After long moments he said softly:
'Do not weep.' He gestured to the six to set the bier down. After a moment's hesitation, they did. Jesus knelt by the bier. Gently, he pulled away the wrappings from Samuel's face. In the grey dawn, his skin looked even than grayer than yesterday. Jesus leaned closer and said so quietly it was almost a whisper:
'Young man, get up.'
For a few seconds nothing happened. But Nathan, standing right next to them so something he could hardly believe. The grayness was leaving Samuel's skin. And then, he groaned:
'Where am I? What happened?' All the men by the bier moved suddenly away in astonishment and fear. But Nathan dropped to his knees by his friend and said:
'Samuel; Samuel! Are you all right? Can you hear me?'
Samuel groaned again.
'What happened? My head hurts!'
'You fell. We were on the roof playing and you fell.'
'I knew that game was a bad idea.'
Nathan laughed. He couldn't help it. All the crowd who had followed behind the bier has also drawn back, all save Samuel's mother, who stood there with wondering eyes. Jesus gestured her forward.
'Women, come take back your son,' he said quietly. She rushed forward then, and embraced her son tightly in her arms.
'Ow!' said Samuel. 'Take it easy.' She grabbed Nathan into her arms also. Together they hugged tightly for a while, with Samuel muttering
'I don't know what all the fuss is all about. It's not like I'm really hurt.'
By the time she let them go, Jesus and his followers had gone. Nathan could see them continuing on down the road. 

Later, he asked Mordecai what he thought it all meant. Mordecai said he didn't know. People thought, he said, that Jesus was the Messiah. Perhaps he was. And perhaps this meant that the Messiah had power even over death itself. Some months later, Nathan heard that the Romans had crucified Jesus, egged on by the Jewish authorities. And his followers said that he had risen from the dead. Many laughed at the idea and said they were fooling themselves. But not Nathan. He had been there that morning when Jesus had restored his dead friend back to his mother, back to him. He had no doubt that Jesus could do anything. Anything at all.

(note: if you're telling this story to younger children, before you start warn them that someone is going to get hurt and die, but that everything will be OK and that the story has a happy ending!)

prayer diary Friday 7th June 2013

Jesus said: 'David himself calls him (the Messiah) 'Lord'; so how can he be his Son?' 
Mark 12. 37

Christ wanted to make it clear to all that while in his manhood he was of David's royal line, in his divinity he was Lord of all. We also, even as we wonder at his humanity in his Incarnation, must never forget to be in awe of his divinity.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

prayer diary Thursday 6th June 2013

(After the scribe had spoken publicly in support of Jesus' teaching) he said to him: 'You are not far from the kingdom of God.' 
Mark 12.34

The more closely you align your heart & mind & soul to the will of God, the more nearly you draw to him; bringing true happiness in this life; and in the next, eternal life.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

prayer diary Wednesday 5th June 2013

Jesus said: He is not God of the dead but of the living 
Mark 12.27

Eternal life is ours in Christ. Never forget to live your life in the knowledge that how we live our lives in this life determines our fate in the next.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

prayer diary Tuesday 4 June 2013

Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's; and unto God what is God's
 Mark 12. 17

 We fret if we are late with some trivial bill or how we will pay some new tax; do we give even a fraction of the same concern over what it is that we owe to the God who created us and sustains us?

Monday, June 3, 2013

Food Not Fuel

Terrible things are happening in Guatemala. In a place where the soil is fertile enough to grow food in abundance for all who live there, people go hungry and malnutrition is rampant. Why? Because the wealthy claim ownership and drive the poor off the land farmed by their ancestors since time immemorial ... so they can grow sugarcane to produce bio-fuel and sell it abroad. It is hard to imagine what hardness of heart it must take, to allow people to go hungry so you can squeeze profits from their land to fatten your own bank balance. There's a video about it above that you can watch or click here.

prayer diary Monday 3rd June 2013

The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone
 Mark 12.10

Christ, rejected by the powerful of his day, was the incarnate word. The powers of this world reject him still; we who claim him as our Lord must make him the cornerstone of our lives.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Corpus Christi

I had a sermon off preaching today - we had five baptisms & two confirmations in the parish Sunday and we had the bishop in doing all the work! So just enjoy this hymn that is appropriate for the day that it is ... perhaps not the best version, but the best I could find, & quite intriguing in its own way!

Saturday, June 1, 2013


Memory is a slippery thing. I based the roof-top scene in the story I posted yesterday on childhood recollections. I was born in New York and lived until almost seven in a dilapidated 'brown stone' (ie brick) apartment building in a run-down part of Manhattan. There were wide alleys behind, narrow ones between, and the alleys, streets, and roof-tops were our playground. It seems insane now to think that at age 4, 5, & 6 I was running around unsupervised in such places, sometimes even alone, but those were different days, and nothing untoward happened or was even hinted at.

Some of the brownstones were adjoining - what we'd call a terrace here in Ireland. Every few had a narrow ally in between. When I was writing the story and telling it to the children at the local school I was absolutely convinced that I had run around those roofs as a child ... hopping from one to another when the buildings were linked ... and sometimes braving the wobbly planks that bigger boys placed between those divided by narrow alleys. 

But thinking about it after, I wondered if it could possibly be true. Those buildings were five or six floors over basement - the drop from the roof would have been 40 or 50 feet. Surely I as a small child wouldn't have dared to cross over such a chasm? One of the teachers thought that I might have ... you wouldn't believe what small children will dare, she said; often they're more fearless than older kids, being less aware of the dangers.

I still find it difficult to believe, reflecting upon it, that I would have done such a thing as a child. And yet, it is what I remember. And there is no way of checking if that memory is right or wrong. So I guess, for all intents and purposes, having only memory to go on, I must have. But still, I wonder ...

prayer diary Saturday June 1, 2013

(The religious authorities, having challenged Jesus' authority, but unwilling to answer his challenge as to source of John the Baptist's authority, answered): 'We do not know.' And Jesus said to them 'Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.'
 Mark 11. 33

To those with eyes to see & ears to hear, the authority of Christ was evident. The authorities of the day sought words so they could twist them against him, but Jesus could not be caught in such a snare. His example is something for us to keep in mind when challenged by those who seek debate solely for the purpose of sneering and mocking.