Wednesday, July 31, 2013

prayer diary Wednesday 31 July 2013

'The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one of great value he went and sold all that he had and bought it.' 
Matthew 13. 45,46

We all want the best out of life. Those who are truly discerning discover that there is nothing better in this life than the life God offers to his faithful servants. And knowing that, they allow nothing to stand in their way of achieving it, even if they have to give up all else.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

prayer diary Tuesday 30 July 2013

'the weeds are the children of the evil one … Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so it will be at the end of the age.' 
Matthew 13. 38-40

To fail to live a good and holy life is by default to become children of the evil one. Rejection of God does not require one great moment where you loudly proclaim to the world that you are turning your back on him; for most it is done by thousands of tiny steps, thousands of tiny decisions of which one is hardly aware … but the end result is to come to the day of judgement and meet the fate of the weeds.

Monday, July 29, 2013

prayer diary Monday 29 July 2013

'The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed … the smallest of all seeds, but when it is grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree.' 
Matthew 13.31,32

The tiny seed of faith planted in us at Baptism has the potential to grow into something mighty. We must be careful to nurture it through prayer, worthy reception of the sacraments of God's Church, and by our holy living. To do otherwise is to choke the life out of the tender plant of our faith and to deny ourselves eternal life.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

when you pray ...

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

In our Gospel reading today, one of the early follower of Christ says to him: 'Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.' That person clearly thought that it was one of the duties of a religious leader that he should help his followers with their prayer life. And our Lord clearly agreed with his follower's assessment, as he at once gives the asked for guidance.

But before he gives that guidance, he makes a very important point: he says 'when you pray.' When, not if. Christ expects that his followers will pray. To be a Christian is to be a person of prayer. Someone for whom prayer is an important and integral part of their life, not simply something that they do occasionally when they have a free moment or because they find themselves in a situation of great personal crisis.

Obviously as a priest I see it as being part of my role within the Church to help and encourage others in their prayer life – especially those of this union of parishes. One of the ways in which I try to do this is by way the parish prayer diary which I produce each week and which is available at our parish services each Sunday and which is also available both on my blog and on our parish website for those who, for whatever reason, have not attended services in this parish on any particular week.

The diary consists of a short piece of scripture taken from that day's Gospel reading for Holy Communion – usually only a verse, and often less – followed by a short reflection on the piece of scripture – no more than a line or two. Think of it as a ten second sermon! To read the verse and reflection and then say the Lord's Prayer would certainly take less than a minute. If you do not already begin your day by spending some time with the Lord, then a very good way of beginning would be to read this short piece of scripture, followed by the short meditation on it, and then reverently reciting the prayer that our Lord himself gave us.

And, just as our Lord saw it as being his responsibility to teach and encourage his disciples in their prayers, and I as your priest see it as part of my duties to teach and encourage you in yours, consider who it is that you might have a duty to teach and encourage in their life of prayer. Parents have a particular responsibility in this area … because parents, as we all know, are the primary educators of their children. That responsibility does not stop at sending them to school to be taught reading, writing, and arithmetic. Neither does it stop at sending them to Sunday School. The promises that you made when you brought them for baptism included that you would bring them up in the faith … and that, I am afraid, means that you must take personal responsibility for teaching them how to pray and encouraging them to persist in it. And of course one of the best ways you can do that is by praying with them, thereby not only teaching them how, but leading them along the path of faith by way of your own personal example.

The personal example we give to others, is of course, not limited solely to the young children in our charge, but to all with whom we come in contact. Which makes our own personal prayer lives of double importance: because it not only helps us with the salvation of our own souls; but also allows us to help others with the salvation of theirs. Something which is certainly worth praying for – and something that I pray that I, and you, and all God's children will be given the Grace to do. Amen.

Examin Sunday 28 July 2013

You shall not dishonour the Name of the Lord your God

advice for the examination of your conscience
Do avoid taking God's name in vain? Well done! Now what of other foul language? St Paul tells us that the same mouth and tongue used to praise God should not also be used for profanity. Indeed, if the way you speak is course and filthy, how long can it be before your behaviour follows? And even if you do not go down that road, what of the example that you are setting others? Repent.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

promises, promises, promises!

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

I have no intention of speaking for very long, I'm sure you'll be glad to hear. I'm very much aware that at weddings people's attention-span tends to be somewhat short, what with the excitement of the day. Indeed, I have often thought that the fact that the liturgy places the sermon directly before the exchange of vows is somewhat unfortunate – William Shakespeare himself might have written the sermon, and Laurence Olivier declaimed it, only to have the congregation mutter to themselves, I wish the silly old fool would get on with it and stop delaying what we all came here for!

So I will confine myself to a few brief remarks. I'm sure you are all aware that for a wedding to take place that there are three essential elements. The first is the happy couple themselves; the second is the two witnesses; and the third is the priest. What you may not be aware of is that each of those parties make some serious promises, either explicit or implicit, during the course of the ceremony.

I'm sure you are wondering at what I mean by that – surely it is only the bride and groom that are making promises today? So let me explain. I'll begin with myself, the priest who solemnises the marriage. I am not here today representing myself. Rather I am here as a representative of God's Church; and in that role, my presence indicates that Douglas and Laura are making their vows in the presence of God. And when a couple are joined together in the sacrament of Holy Matrimony, the promises made are not just one way. Just as they promise to be faithful to one another, so God, who is always faithful, promises that he will always be with them, giving them through his Grace the support they will need to remain true to their vows.

Our Gospel reading today is indicative of the over-abundant generosity God will employ in the pouring out of his grace. At Cana, the couple ran out of wine; Jesus, having been appealed to by his Blessed Mother, stepped in to save the day. And if you do the math on how much wine is provided, it comes out to somewhere between 700 and 1000 bottles … abundance indeed … indicative, I think, of the grace upon grace God provides to all who enter into this holy state.

The vows of the bride and groom are very, very, explicit. And indeed they are very well known, not only because we have heard them at every wedding we have attended, but also because every book we have read, or film or TV show we have watched, with a wedding in it will have had those vows or some variation on them. So familiar are they, that perhaps we hardly hear them. Today I urge you to pay close attention. Because in those vows are very relevant to all here today.

This brings me to the third party, the witnesses. Weddings are a public event, and the official witnesses, like the priest, serve in a representative role … it would be rather cumbersome, not to say very lengthy, if everybody present here today had to sign the paperwork to say that Douglas and Laura had indeed made the needed vows. But when the best man and maid of honour sign on your behalf that the bride and groom have indeed made their vows, they are also declaring that they have been married in accordance with the rites laid down by the Church. And those rites include, directly after the bride and groom have made their vows, that the congregation are asked if they will support and encourage the couple in their marriage. And you declare that you will. 

So note well the vows that Douglas and Laura make in a few minutes. When they promise to love each other, you will soon promise to encourage them in that love; when they promise to be faithful, you will also promise to support them in that fidelity; when they vow to cherish each other until death parts them, you promise to do everything in your power to help them live up to those sacred vows.

So no pressure then! But don't be too alarmed … because remember, the wine at the wedding feast at Cana wasn't only for the couple; it was for the guests also; God's Grace is for all; and he will support you in your task of supporting Douglas and Laura, just as he will support you in all aspects of living your lives according to his plans … if only you will accept his help … and that is something that I pray that all present will do … and especially that Douglas and Laura will always be open to God's grace and help … this day and always: this I pray in the name of the Father, the Son, & the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Prayer diary Saturday 27 July 2013

'At harvest time I will tell the reapers 'Collect the weeds first and bind them into bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.' 
Matthew 13.30

It is not for us to know who in this life are the wheat or the weeds. But we ourselves by our choices in life decide which we are and whether we ultimately go to the barn or the fire – heaven or hell.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Prayer diary Friday 26 July 2013 (day of discipline & self-denial)

'As for what was sown among thorns, this is is the one who hears to word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word and it yields nothing.' 
Matthew 13. 22

Hearing the word is not enough; it must lead to a change of heart and a radical change of life. Do not smugly assume you will inherit eternal life if in truth your heart still belongs to the world and its ways.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Prayer diary Thursday 25 July 2013 (Feast of St James the Apostle)

Whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant.'
 Matthew 20. 26
Christ taught James and the others this because they still believed that to follow Christ was a path to earthly glory. They came to understand the truth and were faithful to that truth unto death. Their witness is a blessing to us.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Prayer diary Wednesday 24 July 2013

'Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundred fold, some sixty, some thirty.' 
Matthew 12. 8

It does not matter how great your yield is, or indeed even whether you yourself ever know how much fruit your efforts have borne. What matters is that you should be good soil – which you will be through faith, and obedience to God's will

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Prayer diary Tuesday 23 July 2013

'Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.' 
Matthew 12. 50
Faith in Christ and obedience to his teaching brings with it the ultimate reward. But remember, refusal to do the will of God has its cost.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Prayer diary Monday 22 July 2013 (Feast of St Mary Magdalene)

(At Golgotha) there were also women look on from a distance; among them was Mary Magdalene. 
Mark 15. 40

After all others had fled in fear and confusion, the women remained. They understood what was happening no better than the rest, but they remained faithful. Those who stood by and were witness to his death were later rewarded by being the first witnesses of his resurrection. Even at times of fear and confusion, faith is rewarded.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Examin Sunday 21 July 2013

You shall not dishonour the Name of the Lord your God

advice for the examination of your conscience
Presuming that you do not use causal blasphemy yourself, do you tolerate it? Do you accept its use in your home or in your presence? Do you correct your children if they use it or other young people in your charge? Would it bother you to remind others that you are a Christian and that it you find it offensive to hear the the name of your Lord and Saviour treated as if it were some 'four-letter word? ' Yet to keep silent is to promote a culture of acceptance towards such behaviour. Repent.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

prayer diary Saturday 20 July 2013

(having watched Jesus heal on the Sabbath) the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, to to destroy him.' 
Matthew 12. 14

The Pharisees saw Jesus as a threat to their way of life. What excuse have we, who claim to be his followers, and yet often also conspire against him as we undermine the Truth of his message by the way we live our lives?

Friday, July 19, 2013

prayer diary Friday 19 July 2013 (day of discipline & self-denial)

'The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.' 
Matthew 12. 8

Jesus fully man and fully God is Lord of everything, including the Sabbath. That is not the same as saying that we his followers are lords of the Lord's Day. We must keep it holy, worshiping in the way he has taught us through his Church, and not treat it as a day of 'down time' with worship being an optional extra.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

prayer diary Thursday 18 July 2013

'Come to me all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens and I will give your rest.' 
Matthew 11. 28

Life can weigh us down in many ways. The worst burden of all is sin. And the worst way of dealing with it is to pretend it does not exist. But that is a burden that Christ can take from us. Indeed he longs to take it from us and was willing to die that he might do so. Open your hearts and let him and be freed from your burden – and in so doing, accept also eternal life.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

prayer diary Wednesday 17 July 2013

Jesus said 'I thank you Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants.' 
Matthew 11. 25

Reflection: There is nothing new in the idea that some think themselves too clever or sophisticated for God or his laws. But there is nothing particularly smart about ignoring the simple truth that is known to all if only they will choose to listen.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

prayer diary Tuesday 16 July 2013

'But I tell you that on the day of judgement it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom than for you.' 
Matthew 11. 24

Reflection Our age is uncomfortable with the idea of judgement. Yet Christ was unambiguous in speaking of it. Therefore we must, as St Paul reminds us, work out our salvation with fear and trembling.

Monday, July 15, 2013

prayer diary Monday 15 July 2013

'I have not come to bring peace but a sword.' 
Matthew 10. 34

Christ came to challenge people to follow the will of God. Some refuse that challenge and are offended by those who do not and accuse them of judging them or trying to impose their morality on them. Trying to placate them is not only a false peace; it can not be done without rejecting the teachings of Christ yourself.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Examin Sunday 14 July 2013

You shall not dishonour the Name of the Lord your God

advice for the examination of your conscience
Is causal blasphemy – taking the Lord's name in vain – part of your usual way of talking? Using the name of our Lord and Saviour as if it were on the same level as some 'four-letter word' is something that should be a cause of shame to anyone who calls themselves a Christian. More, it is an offence before God. Repent.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Prayer diary Saturday 13 July 2013

'Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.'
 Matthew 10. 28

Ironically, we live in a world where many won't defend their Christian faith against the values of secular society out of fear of a harsh word, or that they won't be popular. Christ warned us to fear nothing of this world – because if we do, the price we pay may indeed be that of our soul.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Prayer diary Friday 12 July 2013 (day of discipline & self-denial)

'See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves.'
 Matthew 10. 16

The work of being a Christian and spreading the good news is not without its dangers. We should welcome them with joy, knowing that in facing these dangers we are doing God's work.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Prayer diary Thursday 11 July 2013

(Jesus, sending out the twelve to proclaim the good news, said): 'You received without payment; give without payment.' 
Matthew 10. 8
The gift of the good news of Jesus Christ was something freely given to us by God. It is our work to freely pass that good news on to others.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Prayer diary Wednesday 10 July 2013

Jesus, sending out the twelve, said) 'As you go, proclaim the good new 'The kingdom of heaven has come near.' 
Matthew 10. 7

As Christians we are all called by Christ and sent forth into the world. In what ways do you proclaim to others that the kingdom of heaven has come near?

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Prayer diary Tuesday 9 July 2013

'The harvest is plentiful but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send labourers into his harvest.' 
Matthew 9. 37-38

How often do you pray that people will answer the call to the ministries of the Church, especially the ordained ministries? How often and in what ways to your encourage or help others to answer that call? And how often do you listen to know as to what ways God may be calling you?

Monday, July 8, 2013

Prayer diary Monday 8 July 2013

He saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him 'follow me.' And he got up and followed him.' 
Matthew 9.9

To the Jews of Jesus time tax-collectors were the worst of all sinners. And yet, being called, Matthew responded at once. Sometimes even those we think of as being the worst of all people only need the slightest nudge to jump at the chance of redemption. Who have you called lately?

Sunday, July 7, 2013

a battle between two extremes

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

We see St Paul caught in a battle between two extremes in our Epistle reading this morning. The first is from those who see no point in the moral law. To those he says: Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. St Paul is telling us there is no point in trying to trick yourself into thinking that you can behave in any way you wish and then achieve the promises of Christ.

The second extreme view is from those who argue for circumcision. His reply to them is that it is not needed by Christians, whatever the 'circumcision party' may say. Really what we have being played out here is the difference between what is essential and what is non-essential to living a Christian life. Pretty important, I'm sure you will agree.

It would help to understand what's going on here if we were to talk a little about the circumcision party. Who were they and what did they want? Well, they were a movement in the early Church who felt that if someone wanted to be a Christian, then they had to convert to Judaism first, and obey all of its laws. That included diet, dress, worship and temple sacrifice, and, if you were a man, circumcision. Because circumcision was the distinguishing mark of the male Jew.

St Paul, a devout Jew himself, who had originally been trained as a Pharisee, wasn't having it. Partly it was practical wisdom. The Jewish religion had always been greatly respected throughout the Roman Empire for its strict moral code. Quite a number of non-Jews associated themselves with its teachings and were known as 'God fearers.' But they rarely took the step of full conversion. One of the biggest stumbling blocks to that was circumcision. Well, it is easy to understand why! And the Jews themselves didn't really mind that they weren't winning many converts as they weren't really a religion that was interested in that kind of thing. They were more a national religion that someone had to be born into for the most part.

But Christianity was different. Christianity wanted converts. Christianity had been commanded by their founder to go and make disciples of all people. It was an essential part of the faith. And Paul wasn't about to disobey an essential, to make disciples of all people, in order to demand what he knew to be a non-essential. And becoming a Jew, and adhering to all their laws and rituals was not essential to being a Christian.

Which is the main reason Paul wasn't about to insist on circumcision for gentile converts. If it had been, he would have insisted on it. Because St Paul understood that the faith wasn't like some popularity contest, telling people what they wanted to hear, and that they could lead any kind of life they liked and still be a Christian. Such a notion is rubbish, and Paul is not afraid to call it. 'God is not mocked,' he says, 'you reap whatever you sow.' Lead a life that is full of the corruption of the flesh, and you reap one reward; lead one that adheres to Christ's teaching and you reap another. But don't fool yourself, or let someone else fool you, into thinking that you can lead the first kind of life and receive the reward of the second. That is not going to happen. God is not mocked.

So that was the battle that St Paul faced. On the one hand he had those who wanted to pile on all the extras they could think of, raising the barrier incredibly high, making it impossible for most people to become Christians; on the other there were those who wanted to remove every obstacle, so that all you had to do to be a Christian was call yourself one, and nothing else, no change of life, no adherence to Christ's teaching.

It is a battle we still have today. There are still those who insist on such extremes when it comes to the faith that no one could live up to them. Luckily, no one has to. And there are still those who think that there really is nothing essential to the Christian faith, that all you have to do is claim the name and you will be saved. Indeed, that maybe you don't even have to do that much. That just being born is enough. That, and maybe not being a mass-murderer or something really, really bad.

And as in St Paul's time, the answer to both extremes remains a firm 'no.' Some things are essential, some things are not. We have to tread the path in between. We have the guidance of Sacred Scripture, Holy Tradition, and our mother the Church to help us on that path. And with God's grace we will walk it all the way to heaven. Something I pray for you, and I, and all people in the name of the Father, the Son, & the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Prayers Sunday 7 July 2013

let us pray

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

Your Son gave his followers 
the sound doctrine of his teaching; 
may we his Church 
always remain faithful to it. Lord in your mercy
hear our prayer

Even as we the share 
the teaching of your Son with others, 
let us never forget to share with them food 
and the other things they need to live;
Lord in your mercy
hear our prayer

May our faithfulness 
to your Son's teaching be such 
that by it that the communities 
in which we live & work & worship 
are places of peace, love, and hope. 
Lord in your mercy
hear our prayer

We give thanks for all those 
who have answered your call 
to share the teaching of your Son with others; 
we ask your blessing on all clergy, 
and all who work in the lay ministries of your Church. 
Inspire 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 
faithful to the teachings of your Son 
& have been rewarded 
by entering into your nearer presence; 
comfort for all who mourn; 
strengthen the sick and dying 
& 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. Amen

Saturday, July 6, 2013

prayer diary Saturday 6 2013

'The day will come when the bridegroom is taken from them, and then they will fast.' 
Matthew 9.15

Fasting, along with many traditional penitential practices, have gone somewhat out of favour. Yet we know from Sacred Scripture that they were given us by Christ himself. Should not then we, who call ourselves his followers, follow his teaching as much concerning this as we do with all other matters?

Friday, July 5, 2013

Sanctuary for Edward Snowden

The arrest warrant for Edward Snowden US authorities handed our government, on the off-chance his plane stops at Shannon, presents them with quite a dilemma. If he comes and they ignore it, who knows what action the US may take? Why they might even refuse to allow their 'first family' to drop by on their vacation ever again. They'll certainly be accused of 'cow-towing' to the might of the US. 

But if they serve it, then they must deal with Mr Snowden's asylum request. Which, of course, by current standards should take at least five years to process. Any less, and they'll be accused of giving him special treatment just because he's a US citizen. Or rather, because he is a US citizen whom the US government really, really wants sent back to them quickly ... presuming that they decline to grant him asylum. If they grant it, who knows what action the US may take? Why, they may even refuse to allow their first family ... oh wait - I already said that. But in this scenario, no accusations of 'cow-towing' ... unless, it is instead to the liberal, 'right-on', groovy, PC Crowd.

All in all, I rather hope he does land at Shannon.

UPDATE: a version of this post appears as a letter in today's Irish Times here.

prayer diary Friday 5 2013 (day of discipline & self-denial)

'For I have come to call not the righteous, but sinners.' 
Matthew 9. 13

And we know, of course, that Christ came to call all people to himself; for all indeed are sinners. But have pity on, and of your charity pray for, those who think they are without sin; for unless they recognise they are sinners and repent, they reject Christ's mercy and his promise of eternal life.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

transportation once again

There once was a time when the thieves and rogues of this nation were clapped in irons, thrown onto leaky ships, and transported far away where they could do us no more harm. Now we condemn our best and brightest to leave our shores, many never to return, while the thieves who plunged us into economic chaos and the rogues in government who facilitated them stay, living well and laughing at the shame they have brought us as a people.

Is there any chance we could return to the old ways? A 'shame drain' has to be better than a 'brain drain' any day.

prayer diary Thursday 4 July 2013

When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic 'take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.' 
Matthew 9. 2

We all remember that Jesus told the man to take up his mat and walk; how many remember that he did so that he might display to the world he had the authority to forgive sins? For that was why he came, to save us from our sins. Do not deceive yourself, and thereby reject Christ, by believing you have no sins to be forgiven of.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

prayer diary Wednesday 3 July 2013 (Feast of St Thomas)

Thomas answered him 'My Lord and my God.' 
John 20.28

the phrase 'doubting Thomas' has entered indelibly into common parlance. Yet this is the same man who was the first to clearly and unambiguously recognise and declare the divinity of Christ. We who walk the path he first trod should daily give thanks for his inspired witness to the truth of whom Christ is.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

prayer diary Tuesday 2 July 2013

And Jesus said to them 'why are you afraid, you of little faith?' Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a dead calm.' 
Matthew 8. 26

Death comes to us all. But for those who put their faith in Christ, there is nothing to fear in this world.

Monday, July 1, 2013

prayer diary Monday 1 July 2013

Foxes have holes, the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.' 
Matthew 8. 20

The material things of this world matter little. What matters most is following Christ.