Monday, March 31, 2014

prayer diary Monday 31 March ( Day of Discipline and Self-denial)

Then Jesus said to him, ‘Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.' 
John 4.50

We naturally worry about the things we need in this life. Yet, how many worry so much about the body that they forget about the soul? Hard though it may be at times, always remember that eternal life is of greater importance than the comforts of this life ... and the road to eternal life begins with faith in Christ.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Christians are called to courage

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

The readings were rather lengthy this morning, so I'll try not to make this too long. Today is Gaudate or Refreshment Sunday, the middles Sunday of Lent, and a day when we can relax a little from all the austerities of the Season. At least you can if you have been practising any austerities; if you have not, you may prefer to take it as a reminder that there is still time to begin the traditional disciplines of this year of prayer, fasting, and alms-giving.

It is also Mothering Sunday, a time when we give thanks not only for our own mothers, but for all those who have mothered us in any way, whether that person was a grand-mother, an aunt, an older sister, a relative, teacher, neighbour, or friend. Later during the prayers, perhaps you'll give thanks to God for bringing those people into your life, especially those who are no longer with us, people whom you won't have the chance to thank today in person, or with a card or a phone call.

Coincidentally, we have a mother mentioned in our Gospel reading today, the story of the healing of the man born blind. It is an unusual account of a miracle, in that we get a lot of follow-up about the impact the miracle had on the life of the man who was healed, and also the lives of his mother and father. We're not told how old the man is. The only indication is that he is 'of age' – a phrase that is open to a wide variety of interpretations. However, since in the ancient world a man tended to be considered properly grown up, someone to be taken seriously, at around the age of 30 – the same age that Jesus began his ministry – the man born blind was probably at least that. This would mean the parents were in early middle-age at the youngest. You would expect them, then, to be delighted that their son has been healed. After all, now not only do they no longer have to support him, but, living in a society where your children were essentially both your pension and nursing home rolled into one, your only chance of security in old age, they should have been ecstatic!

So here they are: a huge burden has been lifted from them, and a huge gift given to them, as a result of this miracle; and yet, they can not bring themselves to give praise to God. When questioned by the authorities all they will do is confirm he is their son, and that he was born blind, but they refuse to say more about what happened. Why? Because they are afraid of the consequences. Ask our son, they say, he is of age. The approval of men is more important to them than giving glory to God.

Now the son might have been expected to do likewise. He's already had a tough life so far – born blind, having to beg to bring a little money into the house, still pretty much dependent on his parents even though he's a grown man, no real chance of marrying and having a family because he has no way of supporting a wife, and no chance at all of amounting to anything in society. And now he has a fresh start in life – why risk it all? And he knows the risks – if he hadn't figured them out for himself, his parents surely told him. Why throw it all away for the sake of defending Jesus?

But he does. He speaks the truth, despite the pressure to conform, to say what others want to hear. And his courage is something that we are all called to share. Because even as Christ freed him from physical blindness, he has freed us all from the spiritual blindness we would dwell in if he had not come into our lives. And we, like the man born blind, live in a world where many do not want to hear the truth. They put pressure on us not to speak about religion, to keep it is as a private thing.

But how can we? We are called to love our neighbour as ourselves; and if we truly believe that Christ is the way, the truth, and the life how can we not share that good news with them? How could we condemn those we love to live in such darkness. And, if we truly believe, how can we fail to obey the last command Christ gave to his disciples on earth – to make disciples of all people? During what remains of Lent, as you engage with those disciplines we are all called to practice this season, pray that they will make you a more courageous Christian, a braver warrior for the name of Jesus, that you will have the courage to speak the truth about him before all the world, whatever the risk, and whatever the cost. Amen

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Examin Saturday 29 March 2014

We all of us at some time have made a foolish choice and wished we had a second chance so we could make things right. God offers us that chance every day because, weak and sinful human beings, we make foolish choices every day and our Father in heaven holds out to us that second chance by his offer of forgiveness. But we can not be forgiven what we do not repent of; and we can not repent of what we refuse to recognise as sin. Humble yourself; be taught by Christ and his Church, that you may be forgiven and take that fresh chance at eternal life.

prayer diary Saturday 29 March 2014 (Day of Discipline and Self-denial)

But the tax-collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” 
Luke 18.13

We all need God's mercy. But we must know we need it before we can ask for it; and to do that we must acknowledge we are sinners, each and every one of us.

Friday, March 28, 2014

prayer diary Friday 28 March 2014 (Day of Discipline and Self-denial)

'you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.' 
Mark 12.30

It is from this love of God that all goodness in our lives flow; and this love is shown in our lives in how we show our love for all others.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

prayer diary Thursday 27 March 2014 (Day of Discipline and Self-denial)

'Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.' 
Luke 11.23

Our Lord does not appreciate those who sit on the fence. Make your choice and choose wisely; for to refuse to choose is to reject him.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Reflection for the memorial service for my mother on the occasion of her first anniversary on the feast of the Annunciation

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

We are gathered here for Mom's first anniversary. I was always particularly struck by the fact that she died on the feast of the Annunciation, even if last year it was transferred because it fell during Holy Week. The Annunciation is a feast very much connected with motherhood, being not only a celebration of the moment of the Incarnation, when the Word became flesh, but also the moment the Blessed Virgin Mary became the Mother of our Lord.

But despite the fact that our mother was also called Mary, I am not going to attempt to compare her to the Blessed Virgin Mary – everyone loves their mother's, but that might be a step too far! But I will say that she was a good mother. She went to a lot of effort to make sure that Jim, Joan, and I were well fed, clothed, educated & housed; and while she was careful with money, she was generous to a fault with us in terms of helping out financially. None of her children would deny, I imagine, that they grew up in a loving home and were materially well provided for.

However, when a person has passed beyond the veil that separates us from life and death, our concern is, or should be, not whether they were good as the world might judge good, but whether they were good as God might judge it – were they holy? And being a good mother does not necessarily make you a holy person. As our Lord mentions in Luke 11.11, who among you, if your son should ask for bread will give him a stone? A parent who is good in terms of providing well in material terms for their children is not necessarily holy.

Now in relation to Mom, I think she certainly tried to be holy. I remember us well as small children, kneeling by the side of the bed in that tiny little apartment in New York that seemed so large to us then, learning to say the Our Father and Hail Mary; the care she took that we should go to Mass every Sunday and Confession regularly; how she encouraged Jim and I to be altar boys and the pride she took in it; saying the rosary in the car on those weekend trips to Newmarket by way of the Nad road through the bog and taking turns to lead a decade each. I remember her devotion to her parish church in Douglas, her involvement in fund-raising and the collecting of dues. And I remember once going to confession with her in Holy Trinity in the city, and as I waited my turn outside I heard her weeping inside. There are not many who weep over their sins, but my mother did. So she certainly tried to be holy.

But I don't want to go to the other extreme and turn her into some kind of plaster saint. In my calling in life I go to a lot of funerals and I am well aware of the tendency among the bereaved to apply their own canonisation process to their departed loved!

In truth, I think it is rather a dangerous process; I remember as a teenager, after the death of my grandmother, Nana in the terrace as we used to call her, sitting round the fireplace in the living room of my auntie Bridie and one of the mourners (her foster son, Sean Supple) saying that she was such a holy woman that we shouldn't be praying for her, we should be asking her to pray for us. And while that is a lovely sentiment, it runs the risk of our leaving that soul without our prayers. Our duty to those we love does not end with the grave; we must show our love for them even when they are gone from us by keeping them in our prayers. Both Nana and Mom were good women, God-fearing women; but I keep them both in my prayers every day. They may not need them; but I would rather not run the risk that they did and did not have them just because I thought they were too holy to need my prayers – it is not as if time spent in prayer is ever wasted.

And so, as I end, I would ask all here to continue to keep Mary Burke in their prayers. Please say the occasional Ave Maria, Memorare, or even a decade of the Rosary for her. We are told in the Revelation to St John that the saints in heaven pray unceasingly. We can be sure, I believe, that she will keep us in her prayers when she joins with the Communion of Saints and that she will pray unceasingly for all those she loved and cared for in this life. Amen

prayer diary Wednesday 26 March 2014 (Day of Discipline and Self-denial)

'whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.' 
Matthew 5.19

It is not only by our words that we teach others, but by the example of our lives. Take care then that you thus teach others to obey God's laws if you hope to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

prayer diary Tuesday 25 March 2014 (The Annunciation; 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

How important were those words of obedience from the Mother of our Lord. We also must, like her, seek to say 'yes' to God in every aspect of our lives.

(of your charity, please pray for the happy repose for the soul of my mother, Mary Burke, whose first anniversary occurs this day)

Monday, March 24, 2014


a Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) press release

The death toll in a gun attack on 23 March on the Joy in Jesus Christ Church in Likoni, near the Kenyan port city of Mombasa, has risen to six, after four victims died in hospital.

At least two gunmen are reported to have been involved in the attack, which occurred at around 10 am. According to eyewitnesses, the men mingled with the congregation before opening fire indiscriminately with a pistol and an AK-47 machine gun, killing two people and injuring 21 others, eight of whom are still hospitalised. Eyewitnesses report that after opening fire, the men casually walked away from the scene, mingling with the public. According to one local media source, the gunmen subsequently attempted to storm another church, but left quickly after realising that it was guarded by police officers.

Although no group has as yet claimed responsibility for the attack, it is widely suspected to be the work of the Somali Islamist terror group al Shabaab or its sympathisers. One hundred suspects have reportedly been detained for questioning by the police in connection with the attack; however the main culprits are suspected to still be at large.

The attack on Likoni comes a week after Mombasa police seized a stolen car full of powerful explosives and arrested suspected terrorists, two of whom were later charged with terrorism-related offences. It is the third significant religiously motivated attack to occur in the Likoni area. On Christmas Eve 2013, assailants torched Christ's Outreach Church in the Mweza area of Likoni Constituency. In June, at least 16 people were injured when an explosive device was thrown at an outdoor event at Earthquake Miracle Ministries in the Mrima area by two people on a motorcycle.

According to Kenyan police and intelligence sources, a combination of an active Al Shabaab cell and militant separatists is the source of much of the violence, particularly in Mombasa.

Other religiously motivated attacks in the area include an attempt to burn down the Baptist Church in Kisauni in October 2013. This was followed by the killings of Redeemed Gospel Church Pastor Charles Matole in Kisauni and Pastor Ebrahim Kidata of East African Pentecostal Church in Kilifi. Prior to his death, Pastor Kidata reportedly received threatening text messages and had informed his wife that his life was in danger. The pastors' murders followed rioting by Muslim youths angered at the killing of radical Sheikh Ibrahim Omar and three others on a road near Mombasa. In early December 2013 a text message suspected to have been leaked by Kenyan intelligence warned that jihadis led by a Mr Hassan Suleiman Mwayuyu, a wanted terrorist who was gunned down soon thereafter, were planning an arson campaign against churches in Likoni, Kisauni, Changamwe and Kwale. Subsequently, on 14 February 2014, Lawrence Kazungu Kadenge, an assistant pastor at Glory of God Ministries Church in Mombasa, was murdered while guarding the church building.

Daniel Sinclair, Communications Director at Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), said, 'We extend our condolences to the families bereaved in the appalling attack on the Joy in Jesus Christ church service yesterday. The dangerous elements targeting the Christian community also represent a threat to security and rule of law in the country, which affects every citizen. We urge the Kenyan government to ensure that churches in Mombasa are adequately protected. We also urge the government to act swiftly to bring the gunmen to justice and deal robustly with the militant elements who are not only determined to deny the full enjoyment of freedom of religion to local Christians, but who also endanger the peace and security of the nation.'

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 or visit

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

prayer diary Monday 24 March 2014 ( Day of Discipline and Self-denial)

‘Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s home town.' 
Luke 4. 24

The blindness of the people of Jesus' time, rejecting him because he seemed to be one who came from among them, seems foolish to us today. Yet how many of us behave in exactly the same way, rejecting him even as we call him Lord?

Sunday, March 23, 2014

nothing is hidden in the light

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

When I was in the army, serving at Ft Bragg, we used to do field exercises in the summer when the heat in North Carolina was over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The medics advised us to drink gallons of water daily in the time leading up to the exercise and then about a litre of water every hour while we were out in the field. Even so, every day numerous soldiers collapsed from dehydration and heat exhaustion, especially during the middle of the day. The only sensible thing to do at that time was to sit in the shade, drink your water, and take a little nap. Anything else was madness.

And when I was in Israel I observed the same pattern of behaviour. In the middle of the day, when the sun was hottest, people stayed indoors and rested. It's noon when the story in our Gospel reading begins. Jesus, resting from his travels, sits alone by the well outside the Samaritan town of Sychar. A woman, appears, alone, carrying her water-jar to draw water. Why does she come at the time when others rest? We'll come back to that later.

Jesus asks her for a drink. Her reply is what nowadays we might term cheeky or smart: How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?’ Of course, we should wonder what she is doing talking to a strange man in a lonely place. Later, when the disciples come back, they are astonished at seeing them in conversation, because it is outside the social conventions of the day. This woman is certainly no shrinking violet. She and Jesus get to talking. He tells her about the living water that she can have within her, water that brings eternal life. We, unlike her, know that by that he meant himself. The woman, thinking he means ordinary water that satisfies bodily thirst, is eager for this living water and asks Jesus for it.

And at that point he says something curious. He says 'Go call your husband.' It seems an odd thing for him to say; and yet I think it is a pivotal moment in the encounter, for it is her reply that gives Jesus the opportunity to display his divine power to her; and changes the course not only of the conversation but her life. 'I have no husband,' she says. That's right, says Jesus – you've had five husbands and the man you're with now isn't your husband at all.

Now the evangelist gives us no more details about the woman's life, but he doesn't need to. His hearers – indeed all hearers up until quite recently – would have heard all they need to know that this was not only a sinful woman, she was a scandalous one. Five previous husbands and now living with a sixth – that would raise eyebrows even today … and evoke a far stronger reaction in Jesus' day. This is probably why she's at the well at the one time she could be sure the other women wouldn't be there. So having gone to the well at noon to avoid the gossip, the stares, the hostility, and accusations that her sinful life provokes, she meets a strange man … who bluntly tells her all about the life she was leading.

Her reaction to what Jesus says is very interesting, especially from our modern perspective. She had, after all, tried to conceal from him the fact that she was living with a man she wasn't married to. Does she bluster? Does she get angry? No. Her first instinct is to call him a prophet – a holy man sent by God, for he has seen into her heart and told her things about herself that he should not have known.

And I am reminded here of the parable of the publican and the Pharisee. She, like the publican, does not try to pretend that she is better than she is. She is not living as she ought to and she does not try to deny it. This is a first and necessary step toward salvation. Remember, in the parable it is the publican who goes away justified, for he has said before God: have mercy on me, a sinful man. Confronted with her sins, the woman attempts neither anger or denial. Instead, she shows humility. 'Sir,' she says, 'I see you are a prophet.' She confirms and accepts what he has to say about her; and sees what he has to say as neither accusation nor judgement but simple truth; as she later says to the people of the town - Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done!'

And, of course, she has gone into the town to share the news of the Messiah with the townspeople – the same townspeople who had rejected and marginalised her. From her eagerness to bring others to Jesus we are to infer, I think, that she is well on the road to salvation herself. As Origen says, she is almost turned into an apostle. Later, these people will say to Jesus that at first they believed because of what the woman said, but now they believe because they have heard for themselves and know that he is truly the Saviour of the World – indicating that not only have they become a community of believers, but that the woman has been reintegrated into their society; something that could not have happened if she was continuing in her old way of life. 

We know that the early Church was quite strict about such matters. In Matthew 18, Jesus tells his disciples that those who offend and refuse to listen to the Church are to be treated as Gentiles or tax-collectors; that is, as being outside the Church. And in First Corinthians five, St Paul very starkly says that the immoral brother must be expelled. This was done for both the good of the sinner and the good of the Church. It is medicinal in the case of the sinner; they are to be expelled in the hope that this strong action may bring them to their senses and lead to repentance; and for the good of the Church so that all may know that this is not what Christian living is and they may not be led astray in the mistaken belief that the Church that Christ established condones such behaviour. So I think we can be sure that the woman Jesus met at the well in the heat of the noon-day sun has by the end of the story repented of her ways. And, as I have said, the pivotal moment was when Jesus confronted her with her sins and she acknowledged them. This is as it must be, because no one can repent of their sins without first admitting what those sins are. It is like one of those 12-step programmes, designed to help those with problems in their lives, all of which begin with the person accepting that they have a problem.

This season of Lent is a penitential season, a time when we strive more than ever for our own spiritual growth, and a turning from our own sins. And we cannot do that unless we, like the woman of Sychar, first acknowledge them. Over the weeks that remain of Lent I urge to reflect upon your lives, examining them in the light of the Commandments. Turn to your Bibles or your Prayer Books and read over them, slowly and carefully, not just once, or weekly, but daily – every night before you lie down to sleep. In the presence of no one but your God honestly consider how it is that you offend against them. Remember them when you next come to Church to make your confession and receive Absolution. It is in this way we deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow Christ. We must not fear or hesitate to take up that cross, for in the cross, as St thomas A Kempis reminds us, is salvation, in the Cross is life … in the Cross is the perfection of holiness … therefore, take up your Cross and follow Jesus and you shall go into life everlasting.'

The woman at the well met with Christ in the bright light of the noon day sun and found that nothing in her life could be hidden from him. In the great and terrible day when we stand ourselves before the Light of the World, neither we will be able to hide anything from him. Pray now for the strength to take up your cross so that you may, like the woman, gain the water welling up within you to eternal life. Amen

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Examin Saturday 22 2014

Lent is a time for turning from all that is wrong in our lives. One of those wrongs is our failure to forgive others. Each time we say the Lord's Prayer, we acknowledge that the forgiveness we crave from God is dependent on forgiving others. And note well that in the Liturgy of Holy Communion we recite the Lord's Prayer immediately before receiving the Body and Blood of our Lord. As you prepare to approach the altar rails and kneel, consider well whether you harbour within your heart a refusal to forgive another lest you eat and drink judgement upon yourself.

Prayer diary Saturday 22 2014 (Day of Discipline and Self-denial)

“Quickly, bring out a robe, the best one, and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!” 
Luke 15. 22-24

It is never too late to repent. And great is the rejoicing in heaven when one does. And great is the sorrow for every soul that is lost.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Prayer diary Friday 21 2014 (Day of Discipline and Self-denial)

'Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom.' 
Matthew 21. 43

Do not be complacent. Your place in heaven is not assured because you once cried 'Lord, Lord.' You will be judged according to the fruits you have produced. Work and pray that they may be the fruits of the kingdom.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

St Joseph & Lent

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

In this season of Lent, what does St Joseph of Nazareth have to teach about self-denial? In St Joseph we have a man who set aside whatever plans he had for his life to be obedient to the will of God. Tradition tells us that he was an older man at the time he first planned to marry Mary. His disappearance from the Gospel narratives in the early chapters gives weight to the tradition. Another part of the tradition of the older Joseph is that Mary was already a consecrated virgin at the Temple in Jerusalem at the time of her betrothal; and that Joseph was chosen by the Temple authorities to give the young woman the protection of his name so that she would be left in peace for her life of prayer and devotion to the Lord. In this scenario, Joseph would have foreseen himself as playing a very minor role in the day to day life of the young woman he was betrothed to.

Whatever the accuracy of the traditions, we can be sure, I think, that up to the moment of the dream that he had soon after his decision to quietly set aside the young woman he was betrothed to, that his plans had not included being the foster father to the promised Messiah. They had not included visits from wise men from far countries to worship the child and bring him gifts. Nor had they included fleeing from the wrath of a jealous and ungodly king to Egypt to live the life of a refugee among the Jewish diaspora there. They had not included returning to his homeland with the worry that he and his little family might still be in some danger.

The night he had that first dream, Joseph's whole life was turned upside down. But he was, as the evangelist tells us, a righteous man. He did not hesitate to walk away from the plans he had for his life to follow God will; and to play his part in the story of salvation that God had set in place for all mankind. In this season of Lent, we would do well to reflect on the difference between the life we would like to have, a life filled with all the empty pleasures the world has to offer, and the life that God calls us to, a life of doing his will by following the teaching of his Son, and the true and eternal joy that it offers. That was the path that St Joseph followed. I pray that the example of his life will help you to follow that path also. Amen. 

Prayer diary Thursday 20 2014 (Day of Discipline and Self-denial)

He called out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.” 
Luke 16. 24

The rich man cared only for his own pleasure in this life. He did not heed the warnings of Scripture and was blind to the suffering of others. Too late he learned his folly. Take warning from his fate.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Prayer diary Wednesday 19 March 2014 (St Joseph of Nazereth; Day of Discipline and Self-denial)

An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.' 
Matthew 1.20

How blessed was St Joseph, having the privilege of having the Son of God as his foster son. Do not we also share in some of that blessing when we welcome our Lord and Saviour into our hearts and homes?

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Prayer diary Tuesday 18 March 2014 (Day of Discipline and Self-denial)

All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted. 
Matthew 23.12

Let all you do be for the greater glory of God. For if you do it for the praise of men, even if it is God's work, you have had your reward here on earth rather than laying up treasure in heaven.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Prayer diary Monday 17 March 2014 (St Patrick's Day; Day of Discipline and Self-denial)

Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. 
John 4.34

Nourished by his faith in God, St Patrick returned to the land of his enslavement to bring the freedom that comes from the Gospel. God also sends you to share that Good News. Do you complete the task you were given?

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Nicodemus and Lent

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

Today in our Gospel reading we have the famous scene where Nicodemus visits Jesus by night. Now most of our readings during Lent tend to be about prayer, fasting, and self-denial, reminders of the need to do penance, to take up our cross, and follow Christ. Which might make one wonder how the story of Nicodemus fits in. And the answer, I think, is that the most obvious way of taking up one's cross is to follow Christ at whatever the cost. And from what we know about Nicodemus, he certainly did that.

So what do we know? Well, everything we know of him is from Scripture, and from that we learn that he was a Pharisee, which means he was intelligent and highly educated; and he was a leader of the Jews, which means that he was a man of power and influence, possibly even of some wealth. He appears three times in St John's Gospel. We meet him first in chapter three, our Gospel reading today. He has seen the signs that Jesus has performed and he knows from them that Jesus has been sent by God. Perhaps he even suspects that Jesus is the promised Messiah. Certainly, he addresses him respectfully, calling him Rabbi. But he has come by night; he is a cautious man; he wants to talk to Jesus, but he's not ready to do so publicly. He's worried, no doubt, about what others will think about his going to talk with this Galilean.

This night time conversation about needing to be born again of water and the spirit seems to make a powerful impression on him though. This is not surprising - as we read in the letter of St James: draw near to God and he will draw near to you. And Nicodemus in his encounter with the Word made flesh has drawn very near to God indeed. The next time we come across him is in Chapter 7 and he is more openly on Jesus' side, though discreetly so. The other Pharisees are not happy about what the people are saying about Jesus, the speculation that he might be a prophet or even the Messiah. They send the temple police to arrest him, who of course fail to do so. 

Alone of all these rich and powerful men, Nicodemus speaks out against what they are doing. He says that the law does not allow a man to be judged without a hearing. We know that Nicodemus has already given Jesus such a hearing; that he has already admitted to him that he knows him to have been sent from God. It seems as if Nicodemus is trying to get his brother Pharisees to listen to Jesus for themselves and be convinced as he was. The other Pharisees rubbish his suggestion; and it is worth noting that Nicodemus' courage only takes him so far. He doesn't stand up to the others. He doesn't declare that he has been convinced by the claims of Jesus, that he has seen the signs and knows him to have been sent by God. He is not yet willing to go all the way with this, to risk his position of power and privilege.

But Nicodemus' journey of faith was far from over. Because when we encounter him again for the third and final time in chapter 19, gone is the caution that had him visiting by night, and gone is the discretion that kept him from declaring openly to his brother Pharisees who it was that he thought Jesus was. When almost everyone else has fled, disciples, apostles, even Peter who had said he would die with him, it is Nicodemus who stands at the foot of the cross with the few who remain: St Joseph of Arimathea; the beloved disciple St John the Evangelist; and the Mother of Christ herself, the Blessed Virgin Mary. He no longer cares what his brother Pharisees think. He and Joseph tenderly take our Lord's body from the cross, publicly and unashamed, and gently place him in his mother's arms. Then they take him and reverently lay him in a tomb carved from the rock, wrapped in linen, layered in spices – a royal burial.

Did St Nicodemus pay a price for what he did? Scripture doesn't tell us; but it does tell us how Saul, a younger Pharisee of far less relative importance, was treated. So it is unimaginable that at the very least Nicodemus did not lose his position of power and influence in Jewish society. And I do not call him St Nicodemus accidentally, for we must remember that the Church, both East and West, has from ancient days called him a saint, even naming churches in his honour. How could we not consider a saint one who risked everything to stand at the foot of the cross, one who treated with awe and reverence the body of our Lord which was broken for all mankind? Such a one has nothing to fear when that day spoken of in the Book of Revelation takes place, when the books of men's deeds are opened and all are judged according to their works.

And so I think that it is very appropriate to think of St Nicodemus during this season of Lent, a time when all of us are called to examine our lives and see how much more we need to do in order to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Christ. I pray that his example will inspire all here to be true followers of Christ, unafraid to sacrifice everything, unashamed to stand at the foot of the cross of our Lord and throw ourselves upon his divine mercy, so that on that great and terrible day when the books of our lives are opened and read before the Heavenly Throne, we will have nothing to be ashamed of and nothing to fear. Amen

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Examin Saturday 15 March 2014

The Book of Common Prayer tells us 'to observe a Holy Lent by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God's Holy Word.' This is a time set aside by God's Church so that all who follow Christ may grow stronger in their faith and draw closer to God. Lent has just begun; if your life during this season is currently no different to any other time of year, reflect deeply and prayerfully on those words from the Prayer Book and consider how it is that you may keep a Holy Lent.

prayer diary Saturday 15 March 2014 (Day of Discipline and Self-denial)

'But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.' 
Matthew 5.44

As Christ was nailed to the cross, he prayed for those who hated him enough to make him suffer so. Therefore we, who are called to be like him in every way, must also pray for those who love us not.

Friday, March 14, 2014

prayer diary Friday 14 March 2014 (Day of Discipline and Self-denial)

But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgement; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, “You fool”, you will be liable to the hell of fire. 
Matthew 5.22

Refrain from the violence you do to others from anger in a look, a word, or a thought. The satisfaction it gives is fleeting; and the damage is does to you is eternal.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

prayer diary Thursday 13 March 2014 (Day of Discipline and Self-denial)

‘Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.' 
Matthew 7.7

How is it that we may ask anything of God other than through prayer? And what better thing to ask for than the strength to turn from our sins that we may attain unto eternal life? If you in faith ask such of God, he will not deny it to you.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

prayer diary Wednesday 12 March 2014 (Day of Discipline and Self-denial)

‘This generation is an evil generation; it asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah. For just as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so the Son of Man will be to this generation.' 
 Luke 11. 29-30

The people of Ninevah repented in sackcloth and ashes, fasting, when God spoke to them through Jonah. We have our warning through the Son himself. Can our response be less than the people of Ninevah?

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

prayer diary Tuesday 11 March 2014 (Day of Discipline and Self-denial)

'For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.' 
Matthew 6. 14-15

Forgiving those who have wronged us is not easy. Yet we hope that God will forgive us of our wrong-doings and Christ tells us for that to be possible we must also forgive. This Lent consider past hurts you have suffered and pray for the strength to forgive those who caused them.

Monday, March 10, 2014

prayer diary Monday 10 March 2014 (Day of Discipline and Self-denial)

'When the Son of Man comes in his glory … he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats ... And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’ 
Matthew 25. 31,-32, 46

The season of Lent is a time of cleansing, a time to grow spiritually and rid ourselves of that which separates us from God so that on that last day we may be found worthy to be counted among the righteous.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

every word that comes from the mouth of God

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

While I was serving in the US army I became a vegetarian. A few months after I made that decision, my unit went to spend a day down at the firing range. We got an early start – I think we loaded up the troops on the trucks at around 6.30 in the morning. So you can imagine that when lunchtime rolled around we were all pretty hungry. Lunch that day consisted of packages of M-R-Es – meals ready to eat. If you haven't come across those, the packages have all kinds of things individually wrapped and sealed inside a thick brown plastic bag about the size of a good sized lunch box – a main course, a desert, a chocolate bar, coffee powder, some dried milk, a sachet of sugar, and a few other bits and pieces.

Now this was in the days before the army had different kinds of MREs to cater for different dietary requirements, so there was no vegetarian option. But there was one where the main course was divided into two separately wrapped portions, one a large piece of ham and the other potatoes au gratin, basically potatoes and cheese. I normally took that, gave away the meat and ate the rest. But this day there wasn't any of that available. The one I got had as the main course a pack of spaghetti bolognese which had the meat and the pasta and the sauce all mixed together. So rather glumly, I ate the desert and the chocolate bar, but I was still hungry. I rooted around in the bag, and found a little roll of hard candies. But I was still hungry. So I swallowed the sachets of sugar and dried milk too … and I was still hungry. All I had left was the sachet of coffee and the spaghetti bolognese. I guess I might as well tell you now that a spoonful of coffee powder on its own not only does nothing at all to take away hunger pangs, but it tastes pretty awful too. So that just left me staring at the spaghetti bolognese, thinking that it was going to be a mighty long time before the trucks started rolling back to our unit and I'd have a chance to get something more to eat. And I have to admit that my resolve was starting to weaken. The longer I looked at that packet the hungrier I got and all the reasons I had for becoming a vegetarian were starting to seem pretty weak … there's few arguments as loud or as strong as a rumbling stomach!

It is extraordinary, isn't it, what a powerful force a little temptation can be? Becoming a vegetarian was not a decision I had made lightly; I had thought long and hard about it for many years and there I was, ready to chuck it in because I wanted a bigger lunch! Which is why today's Gospel reading today, with Jesus being tempted in the wilderness, is so important. It not only shows us that being tempted is normal, but also that it isn't beyond us to resist the temptations we face. And note carefully the reply that Jesus makes to the devil during the first temptation, to abuse his powers to turn stones into bread. He says: It is written, One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” The profundity of that statement is immense. First, it reminds us that God is the creator and sustainer of the universe – it was his creative word that brought all things into being and causes them to continue in existence. It is literally by his word that we live and have the things we need for this life. Secondly it speaks of the fact that we were created by God to be in relationship with him and part of the way that he fosters that relationship with us is through his revealed word in Sacred Scripture. As St As St Augustine famously said: 'You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.' We need more than just bread to live; we need that living word from God so that our hearts can rest in him, the place they are meant to be. And it also reminds us of the need we have for Christ in our lives; for he is the Word made flesh. Having been tempted himself, he understands what it is we face daily; and he strengthens us to resist, because as weak and frail human beings we can do nothing in our own strength; and he forgives us when we fail, as long as we truly repent and resolve to turn away from those sins that separate us from him, from the Word of God by which we truly live. And he comes to us himself in the Holy Eucharist, to fill our souls with the grace and strength that we need to resist temptation and lead our lives in accordance with the will of God, the lives we created to live. Without bread we will indeed die; but without the bread of life Christ gives us as the Word made flesh in the Holy Eucharist we die to eternal life.

The story of my vegetarian dilemma has a happy ending, you'll be glad to know. Just as I was getting very close to thinking I had no other choice but to rip open that packet of spaghetti bolognese, someone shouted over 'Hey, wasn't someone over there looking for potatoes au gratin?' And my very minor problem was solved. We all face much greater problems every day; much greater temptations; and the damage done by giving into them is far more far-reaching. But if we hold fast to our faith in God, trusting that we sustained by his almighty word, and strengthened by the sacraments he provides through his Church, then we will overcome all obstacles. It is my prayer that you will – in the Name Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.  

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Examin Saturday 8 March 2014

Self-denial can seem like an 'optional extra' to the Christian life in the modern age. Yet Christ specifically calls his disciples to a a life that includes fasting and self-denial, telling them to take up their cross if they would follow him. There is no a-la-carte option to following the Gospel, we do not get to pick and chose the parts we like and leave out the rest. This Lent consider carefully how well you live up to this part of your Christian calling.

prayer diary Saturday 8 March 2014 (Day of Discipline and Self-denial)

After this he went out and saw a tax-collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he got up, left everything, and followed him. 
Luke 5.27.28

Levi abandoned wealth, power, and position for a new life with and in Christ. What do you leave behind for the promise of eternal life?

Friday, March 7, 2014

Prayer diary Friday 7 March 2014 (Day of Discipline and Self-denial)

And Jesus said to them, ‘The wedding-guests cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.' 
Matthew 9. 15

Giving things up for Lent can sometimes seem old fashioned. But Christ envisaged that his disciples would fast, and there is never anything that he calls us to do that is out of fashion, for his message is the same yesterday, today, and always.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

prayer diary Thursday 6 March 2014 (Day of Discipline and Self-denial)

Then he said to them all, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.' 
Luke 9.23

Christ calls his followers to a life of daily self-denial. Consider your life and ask yourself this: in what way have you taken up your cross?

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Will you fast? a reflection for Ash Wednesday

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

I hope that this season of Lent will be for you a time of hunger and joy. I say this because in our Gospel reading today we hear Jesus talking about what are often considered the three traditional disciplines of Lent: prayer, fasting, and alms-giving. And our Lord says when you give alms, when you pray, and when you fast – the emphasis being on 'when' not 'if.' I mention this because I know that for so so many people today Lent will be no different than any other time of the the year; and that even for those who will mark Lent in some way, few will make any element of fasting part of their 40 days.

Why is that, I wonder, when Christ clearly saw fasting as a practice his followers would engage in? It is not as if the verses in today's Gospel is an isolated reading – we also have his words from Matthew 9, when Jesus tells those who challenge him about his followers lack of fasting that when he, the bridegroom, is taken away from his them, they will indeed fast. And then there is the example Christ himself of his own fasting in his 40 days in the desert, on which our season of Lent of Lent is modeled. Fasting was integral to our Lord's 40 days; why is it absent from the 40 days of so many people today? In Luke 9, Christ tells us that we must deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him. One of the most basic ways we can deny ourselves is through fasting. Yet few will.

Why is this? Fasting used to be one of the defining characteristics of Christians – they fasted every Friday; before receiving the Body and Blood of our Lord and Saviour at Holy Communion they observed the Eucharistic Fast from midnight the night before; and the Lenten Fast was particularly stringent – no meat, no eggs, no dairy. The Eastern Church still maintains the tradition of fasting with great rigour, but in the West we have allowed it to fall away, observing it in only the most token sense, when we observe it at all.

What has changed? Is it that we no longer understand the value of fasting? By which I do not mean the potential it brings to lose a few much needed inches from our waistlines! I am speaking of the Spiritual benefits that it brings.

So what are those benefits? St Thomas Aquinas gives three main reasons as to why we should fast. The first is to help us to reign in the desires of the flesh – practising self-discipline in one area of life helps us have greater self-discipline in others. The self-control we gain by voluntarily denying ourselves some food helps when it comes to resisting the temptation to sin. Secondly, fasting allows the the mind to turn more easily to the contemplation of heavenly things; for example, in Daniel chapter 10 the prophet fasts for three weeks, and after that he receives a revelation from God. Thirdly, there is the penitential nature of fasting, the way in which it helps us to recognise the sinfulness of our natures so that we might turn again to God. As we heard it said in our reading from the prophet Joel earlier: "Turn to Me with all your heart, in fasting and in weeping and in mourning." Turning from sin to God is what it means to repent – and it was Jesus himself who told us to repent. And as St Augustine tells us: "Fasting cleanses the soul, raises the mind, subjects one's flesh to the spirit, renders the heart contrite and humble.'

Perhaps it is the benefits that are the problem – or rather the way the modern mind perceives those benefits, no longer seeing them as desirable or beneficial. The second one about contemplating heavenly things and perhaps receiving revelations sounds a bit mystical and in our overly rational age we are a bit nervous or even skeptical about anything that smacks of mysticism. The first speaks of self-discipline, which goes very much against the spirit of the age which tells us that it is fine for us to indulge ourselves in anyway we want because we are 'worth it' as the ad has it. And when the particular self-discipline involves controlling our impulses to sin it is going to be doubly unpopular at a time when sin is thought of as a quaint notion - when it is thought of at all. And since repentance requires the recognition and turning away from sin to God we can easily see why the third point about fasting being an aid to repentance has little attraction.

Be that as it may, the practise has the warrant of scripture; and is specifically commended to us by word and example by Christ himself. And at this point, I think it well to recollect the opening verse from our Gospel reading for last Sunday, from Matthew chapter 7:  ‘Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord”, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only one who does the will of my Father in heaven.' If we are to be obedient to Christ, we must be obedient in all things; and the cross of fasting is a cross, I believe, that we may not refuse to carry.

And so I return to my opening statement that I hope this Lent will be a time of hunger for you. Not the random hunger that comes when you miss lunch or are late for dinner; but the purposeful hunger that comes from a self-disciplined self denial undertaken for the sake of spiritual growth and from a feeling of true repentance and a desire to turn from our failings and grow closer to God. I do not expect that anyone will be able to copy the heroic fasting that was common in the earlier days of the Church. But perhaps you can do without a meal – or even just do without eating between meals – or eat smaller meals during this season. Not enough to starve; but enough to add a little touch of hunger to your lives for the sake of trying to live out the Gospel in your lives. 

And I have not forgotten that I said I hoped for joy along with the hunger when I began. Because I think that hunger undertaken for that purpose will bring with it joy – the joy that comes when a small amount of self-denial brings with it the great spiritual rewards that come to all those who hear the Gospel and obey. And so I end as I began, by hoping that this Lent will be for you a time of hunger and joy; and by praying that in a little hunger you you will find a far greater joy. Amen. 

prayer diary Ash Wednesday 2014

But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 
Matthew 6. 17,18

From the earliest days, Christians have observed Lent as a penitential season. It's 40 days echo Christ's own time in the wilderness. We, who are called to imitate Christ, must use this time to be ever more like him through the prayer, self-denial, and alms-giving that are the hallmarks of this season.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

prayer diary Tuesday 4 March 2014

Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 
Mark 10.29-30

There is everything to gain by turning to the Gospel. As you prepare to begin Lent tomorrow, think as to how this time of prayer and fasting will help you achieve eternal life.

Monday, March 3, 2014

prayer diary Monday 3 March 2014

Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, ‘You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ 
Mark 10. 21

The rich man refused to heed Christ's call. The material things of this world can stand between us and Christ, between us and eternal life. As you prepare for Lent this year consider how you may defeat the hold that the passing things of this world have over you and gain instead treasure that is eternal.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Oh, Noah

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

Hollywood has an endless fascination with the Bible – almost from the beginning of the industry Sacred Scripture has been used as a source material for films … and the trend continues with Hollywood's take on our Old Testament reading this morning, Noah and the Flood, due out later this month. As it hasn't been released yet, all I have to go on really is the trailer, but it looks like it is going to be entertaining … as long as it is isn't the case, as it so often is, that all the best bits are in the trailer!

Now the trailer is only around two minutes long and the film itself over two hours, so it seems obvious that they will have had to take some liberties with their source material if the movie is going to be a financial success … actors like Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, and Anthony Hopkins don't come cheap and somehow I don't think a film that is mostly about how to build a large boat in the ancient world and then sit in it while it rains is going to sell enough tickets in cinemas around the world to cover the cost of their fees. So I'm not surprised to see in the trailer that they have roped in Ray Winstone to play a sort of warlord character who is leading an army of local nasties in Noah's neighbourhood before the flood … and who leads the charge to take over the ark for himself once the flood arrives. Even from the trailer, it seems apparent that there will be other changes or additions to the Biblical narrative … yet even from the trailer it seems clear that the main themes of the story will be adhered to: humanity has become brutish and violent; as a result the earth has become a horrible place; God resolves to destroy the world; but this is not to be an end, but a new beginning; so he warns Noah that a flood is coming; and he builds an ark as a refuge for the few righteous people, and for the animals of the world to join him two by two.

Now it has been reported that some Christian groups in the US have been shown previews of the movie and that they aren't too happy with the treatment that the story has been given. As I've only seen the trailer and they have seen the entire film I can't say whether they are being overly sensitive or not … but I do think that, presuming that the film-makers haven't gone way off track with what they've done, there are some positives to be taken from the fact that this film has been made. The first is that it demonstrates that the biblical stories still exert a powerful draw in our society – when I last looked, the trailer had received nearly seven millions hits on Youtube and that's not the only place that it is available. Part of the reason for this might be the star power of Russell Crowe; but it doesn't seem unreasonable to believe that a large part is also down to the genuine excitement people feel about seeing this particular story hit the big screen. It is a story familiar to most people from their childhoods, no matter how little interest they have in religion; it is a story that they know deep in their bones.

And, irrespective of whether the movie succeeds or fails at the box office, the excitement in advance of its release is telling … it is after all, a story about people being justly punished by God for their wrong-doings, a story in which only the righteous survive … with the righteous being defined as those who are obedient to God's will … and are obedient according to God's judgement as to what constitutes obedience, not their own. Decadent as our society often seems, it appears that this theme of of just judgement for evil actions is one that still resonates.

It might be too much to hope that the film will induce those who do not already read the Bible to delve into it for themselves … but it might serve to remind them of something that they probably already know in their hearts … there is such a thing as right and wrong in the world … and there are consequences for the choices we make, if not in this life, then the next. And perhaps those who have led lives that consists of one bad choice after another will have their consciences pricked by the film … and if they do, perhaps they will remember something else from the Bible … that there is salvation for those who turn from their evil ways and throw themselves upon Christ's mercy. I pray that they will … even as I pray that all here have not only done so long ago, but continue to do so daily. Amen

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Examin Saturday 1 March 2014

As you begin this Holy Season of Lent, consider the effect of the example of your life has on others. Examine you life and your conscience carefully: are those who see how you live and worship built up in the faith? Or is your example rather a stumbling block to them? Remember what the stern words of the Lord for such such as those – that it were better for them that a millstone were hung around their neck and they were cast into the sea. Use this time of fasting, prayer, and alms-giving to make the needed change, not only for the sake of those around you, but for your own sake also.

prayer diary Saturday 1 March 2014

Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.’
Mark 10.15

God is our Father and we are his children. And we must be his loving children, obedient to his will, if we are to enter into eternal life.