Sunday, August 31, 2014

three reminders from 'get thee behind me Satan'

Sermon: 31 August 2014 May my words be in the Name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: + Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

As I was preparing to write this sermon, the thought went through my head: what is a sermon? It surely isn't to teach, because if it was it would take a person a very long time to learn much about the Christian faith at the rate of 8 to 10 minutes a week, especially in an age when people can not be relied upon to come to church Sunday by Sunday. No, teaching is done elsewhere, at Sunday school, the home, and in confirmation class when we are younger; through our own reading of Sacred Scripture, spiritual books, and study, whether alone or in a group, when we are older.

So sermons really should be going over familiar territory, most of the time at least. Perhaps one definition of a sermon might be that a sermon is the preacher's way of reminding us of what we already know. Of course, occasionally during a sermon it is possible that one might hear mentioned a point of doctrine with which we are unfamiliar. But since a sermon is generally too short a thing to go over any doctrine in detail, it would serve in that case to remind the hearer of what area it is that they need to read up on some more; or at least ask the preacher to explain it to them more fully at some later point in time.

So what 'reminders' might I take from today's gospel reading, which contains our Lord's well known rebuke to St Peter: Get thee behind me Satan'? Well, the first and obvious one is that Satan is real. There are a lot of people today who like to think themselves too modern to believe in such things. Jesus was only speaking metaphorically, they say; we're not supposed to take his references to Satan literally. The funny thing is that Jesus never said that he was speaking metaphorically. None of his Apostles thought he was; or the writers of the Gospels; or other New Testament writers; or the members of the early Church; or the Church down through all the centuries. The idea has only even been suggested within relatively recent times. And frankly I think it is rather arrogant to think that we suddenly know better not only than all those before us, but those who walked and talked with Jesus as well. Our Lord taught that the Devil was real; and if you don't want to believe that, then I'm sure that Satan will be very pleased to hear it, because there is no quicker way of falling into his snares than thinking he doesn't exist.

The next reminder is that the Christian life is hard. Right after he rebukes St Peter Jesus says 'If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. ' Jesus isn't saying life may be hard, he isn't saying that troubles may come, he is saying that in order to be a Christian involves self-denial. We all need to take a good hard look at the way we are living on a regular basis – maybe as often as once a week – and see how it compares to the Way of Life that Christ taught. And the places where it doesn't measure up, where we have fallen prey to the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil, have to be set aside. That's something that isn't easy. But that's part of what denying yourself and taking up your cross means.

And the final reminder comes from Jesus' reaction to when St Peter tries to argue him back from what he is teaching. St Peter was his friend; he was the first apostle he had chosen; he was the leader of the 12; he was the one who, only minutes earlier he had said – Simon, thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church. And still he hammers him with what most be one of the sternest rebukes of all time – Get thee behind me, Satan! For trying to get Jesus to change his teaching, to walk an easier path, he is compared to the Devil himself. And note well what Christ says just after – he tells him that he is setting his mind not on divine things but on human things.

We tend to do that a lot, don't we? We say that teaching is too hard, why can't we make it easier for people? But, do you know, that's another thing that Jesus never said. He never said, if you find my teaching too hard, don't worry, I'll make it easier. Think about what happened when the rich young man walked away after Jesus told him that if he wanted to attain eternal life he needed to sell everything he had, give to the poor, and then come follow him. Jesus did not say: wait, come back, let me change that and make it easier for you. What he did do was turn to his disciples and say that it was easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. He was saying that the young man was risking his immortal soul by rejecting his teaching. And that made him sad, because he loved the young man, as he loves us all; but he didn't change his teaching so that they young man could think of himself as a follower of Jesus and still go on with his life pretty much the same as it had been before. Jesus didn't see that as being a possibility. And so therefore neither can we.

So, three reminders: Jesus taught that the devil was real and a threat to our salvation; that being a Christian was hard and meant turning our back on many of the things of this world; and we don't get to water the faith down to make it easier – even St Peter didn't have the authority to do that. Three fairly tough reminders of what it was that Jesus taught. But we must remember that he taught them for a reason – so that we might at last be with him in the kingdom of heaven. That should be reason enough for us to try to live them.

To him who is the shepherd and guardian of our souls, by whose wounds we are healed and who is with us always until the end of the ages, be glory now and forever. Amen

Examin Sunday 31 August 2014

It was Socrates who said that the unexamined life is not worth living. Something that was true in Ancient Greece is perhaps doubly true today. That great philosopher, groping though he was toward an understanding that there was but one God who stands behind all we see in the world, had not been privileged as we have been by the way that God has revealed himself to us, particularly in how he has told us of the hope we have eternal life through the promises we have from our Lord Jesus Christ. We therefore should feel ever impelled to examine our lives to see how they match up with what it is that God asks of us; and not only ask his forgiveness for the ways in which we fail, but strive ever harder to live the most Christ-like life we possibly can.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

prayer diary Saturday 30 August 2014

But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 
Matthew 25.18

We all know the fate of the servant who did nothing with the talent entrusted to him – his master called him wicked and lazy and cast him out. The gifts God gives us are to be used for his glory in the world. There is much to lose if you do not and everything to be gained if you do.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Padre Pio and Grief

'Talk to me about Padre Pio.'

The woman had recently been bereaved. She wasn't a parishioner, but I'd call in for a chat and a cup of tea anyway when I was passing. We tended not to talk too much about her loss. Every neighbour up and down the road did that with her, as did all her family and friends. I was there to talk about something else, to provide some moments of distraction from her grief. But, of course, her grief was all around us and the consolation I provided was by being there. 

St Padre Pio was always popular in Ireland, even before his canonisation (I'll refer to him as Padre Pio from now on, as that's how most people in Ireland that I know refer to him). You'd go into shops and there'd be collection boxes on the counter with his image on it; people would have framed photographs of him in their homes, or calenders, or sometimes prayer cards on the fridge or noticeboard; some had medals or small plagues with him on them in their cars, presumably seeking his prayers that they might have a safe journey.

I've always had something of a soft spot for him myself, mainly because I received my secondary education in a school run by the order he was a member of in Cork. Pictures of him in his habit remind me of my old teachers. It seems inevitable that I'd know stories about one of the most well known members of the order, although looking back, I can't recall a single occasion on which one of the priests actually told us anything about him, or even mentioned his name. Perhaps he was simply in the air around us in the place. 

I often run into people who profess their devotion to him. They tell me of the comfort they find in reading about the difficulties he faced in his own life; how their faith is strengthened in pondering how he was blessed with the Stigmata; or simply how much peace they find in gazing upon his serene smile in a photograph. As I said, he's popular in Ireland. One woman recently told me how she has carried a relic of him in her purse or on her person since she was a young woman. One of her children had been very ill 30 years ago; a neighbour gave her a relic of Padre Pio; the child was soon better; and she has had a devotion to him ever since.

I forget how his name came up while I was in the bereaved lady's house. There wasn't a picture on the wall or a holy water font by the door with his image on it, no obvious reason for the conversation to turn in his direction. Maybe he just wanted to be spoken about, in this house, with this woman. 

'I'm quite fond of him myself,' I told her. 'I kind of admire the way he dealt with suffering.'
'You mean his stigmata?'
'That too. But I was thinking of the way at one point he was forbidden by Rome to say Mass publicly or hear confessions. That hurt him. How could it not? Bringing the sacraments to the people is what a priest does. And he was a great man for hearing confessions, a regular hero of the confessional. People came for miles to confess to him. I remember one little old lady in Cork telling me it was one of the biggest regrets of her life that she hadn't traveled to Italy to see him when she had the chance.'
'Why did Rome do that?'
'They didn't believe he was for real. The stigmata, the visions, and all the rest. I suppose they thought he was faking it and doing it for the fame.'
'And what did he do about it? Did he protest? Did he fight it?'
'That's just it. As far as I know he accepted it. He was very humble about it all and obedient to those set over him. He knew they were wrong about him, but his response was that of humility. He didn't rail against the injustice; he didn't get angry and shout that it was all so unfair. It was simply what had been sent his way. I suppose he offered it up, as my mother used to say.'

We were quiet then for a while. For some reason, in the silence, the thought came to me that my story about Padre Pio's quiet acceptance of his years of hardship was relevant to the grief this woman was feeling. That his example of quietly accepting what must have been so very difficult to him was something that could be of comfort to someone in their pain and loss. That there is suffering for us all, suffering that is not justified, not right, but yet is part of life; and with God's help we can get through it.

I wondered should I mention this to her. Would it be too heavy handed? Would it seem forced to compare what Padre Pio had gone through to her own raw pain and loss? Would it break our unspoken rule that I was there to be there, rather than addressing her suffering directly? I looked over at her. She was gazing down at the table. Her face seemed calm. And it seemed to me that she was thinking the same thing that I was, that she was drawing the same conclusions from what I had said. She didn't say anything. She didn't have to. It just seemed to be in the air. 

Examin Sunday 7 September 2014

Persecution rages against our Christian brothers and sisters in Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere. They deserve, nay they are entitled, to our prayers; prayers that the hardness of their persecutors' hearts will be relieved and they will cease from their vile acts; prayers that if the persecution continues that these our brethren will have the strength to persevere to the end; and prayers that our world leaders will take note of their plight and take action to assist them. We too must do what can to assist them further, whether by giving to relief agencies or appealing to our politicians to speak out. Christ said that if we gave even a cup of cold water to one in need, we gave it to him. How then can we neglect to do our utmost for those who face martyrdom for their fidelity to his name?

prayer diary Friday 29 August 2014 (day of discipline and self-denial)

Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, “Lord, lord, open to us.” But he replied, “Truly I tell you, I do not know you.” 
Matthew 25.11,12

This life is but a preparation for the next. And there will come a moment when all the time for preparation is gone and you will be judged on what has gone before. Pray that your life will be such that Jesus knows you and opens the door.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

prayer diary Thursday 28 August 2014

'Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.' 
Matthew 24.42

We know neither the moment of our own death nor the day when our Lord will come again. Therefore it is plain common sense to live as if either might take place at any moment.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

prayer diary Wednesday 27 August 2014

‘Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth.' 
Matthew 23.27

There is more to your life of faith than convincing the neighbours you lead a God-fearing life. What goes on behind closed doors where they cannot see matters also, as does your own interior life which is known only to you and your Creator.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

hoaxing with death

I received a text/sms message last night, from more than one person, which was clearly being forwarded on from person to person, a chain-text so to speak. The message was:

"Urgent text message from Open Doors - Christians in Northern Iraq are calling for urgent prayer backing as they are in great danger - serious threat of beheading of all Christians in a few hours."

Open Doors are a well known international advocacy group supporting persecuted Christians, so my first response was to take the message very seriously indeed. So seriously that instead of automatically forwarding it on, I went straight to my computer and pulled up their website. My thinking was that something of this magnitude would warrant some kind of press release on their site. I wanted to know more (and anyway I've always had an innate distrust of chain letters and their ilk). But ...


I tried calling their Belfast and London offices, but they were closed at that time. So then I started googling - surely if some fresh horror were about to be visited on the suffering Christians of Iraq, there would be something about it on the web. I know that the mainstream media tries to downplay persecution stories, but there are enough other outlets, especially those who focus on human rights, religious freedom, and the persecution of Christians that there was bound to be something.


I was left feeling deeply uncomfortable about the whole thing. So I said a prayer anyway - there is so much suffering and persecution going on in Iraq that they need all the prayers that they can get - but didn't forward the message on. The answering machine for the Belfast office of Open Doors said they opened at nine. At 9.01 I had them on the line. And it was a hoax. The message was nothing to do with Open Doors. They had heard nothing of any new threat to Christians in Iraq. Their Australian Office, which is 'ahead' time-wise, already had a message to that effect on their site. Which meant, of course, that this hoax was a global thing, not just a local one in Ireland.

Who does that kind of thing? Did the person doing so think it was funny? Did they think they were doing a good deed in some way, by high-lighting persecution, even if it was with a lie? Was it intended to discredit Open Doors in particular and reports of persecution in general? 

One thing it was not, is an honest mistake - falsely putting the name of a specific organisation to the message makes such a suggestion incredible. And I wonder did they think for a moment the real distress their message would cause to those who read it and believed it, thinking that hundreds, perhaps thousands of people were about to be savagely murdered, martyred, for their faith? I know one of the people who forwarded the message on to me was horrified to think someone would engage in a hoax about such a thing and had been very upset when they received the original message. Such a hoax would be in poor taste at any time; coming so close to the brutal murder of James Foley displays an alarming lack of any kind of sensitivity. 

So even as you breathe a sigh of relief that things have not gotten worse in Iraq, remember to keep them in your prayers for the terrible conditions they already endure. And pray for the person or persons who foolishly sent round this text message, that they may learn that to do such a thing, what ever their motivations, was wrong and not to be repeated. People are already suffering dreadfully in Iraq. Telling lies about what's happening is an insult to them. 

prayer diary Tuesday 26 August 2014

'You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!' 
Matthew 23.24

Is that not true of many of us, that we take great care over the smaller matters of our faith while ignoring the major ways in which we breach God's holy laws? What Jesus condemned in his own day is made no less sinful by the passage of time.

Monday, August 25, 2014

prayer diary Monday 25 August 2014

‘But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves, and when others are going in, you stop them.' 
Matthew 23.13

Reflection Who locks people out of heaven by their harsh teaching today? Perhaps there is now a new danger - those who try to make the faith seem so easy that it asks nothing of us at all.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

who do you say that I am?

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

Our gospel reading today has the rightly famous account of St Peter's confession of faith. Jesus asks his disciples: who do people say that I am. He receives various answers: some say he is Elijah; others John the Baptist; others still that he is Jeremiah or one of the prophets. And then, having tested the waters, Jesus asks them an even more important question: but who do you say that I am? And St Peter gets it spectacularly right when he declares that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God.

I'm sure you've heard on many occasions before that this is a question that we must all ask ourselves – who do we say that Jesus is? Indeed, it is something that all should ask themselves on a regular basis, because as Christians Jesus stands at the centre of our faith and the answer we give to that question very much decides what kind of Christians we are. But today I would like to consider Jesus' response to Peter's declaration: blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. Peter and the others apostles have been with Jesus for two and a half years or more at this point. They have seen Jesus heal many, raise people from the dead, calm storms, walk on water, feed thousands from a few scraps of bread; and, of course, heard the teaching of such sublime wisdom that it could not be other than divine. And yet Jesus says to Peter that for him to recognise him for who he was, Messiah and Son of God, is only possible because God the Father has revealed it to him.

There is an important lesson there for us. Being a Christian is about more than a mere intellectual assent to some basic principals that have been passed on from person to person over time. Real faith is much more than that – it comes from an action of the divine within us, from God revealing himself to each of us directly.

Let me elaborate on that. A person may by dint of their own mental inquiry arrive at the conclusion that the universe around us could not come into existence by way of some accident; and that mere chance is by no means a plausible explanation for the finely tuned order we see in all things from the actions of sub-atomic particles to the movements of the infinite number of galaxies that surround us; and the idea that not only life, but conscious life, could have occurred independent of a creator with a purpose and a design is an insult to the limited intelligence that we possess. And therefore the only rational explanation is that there is indeed a God who stands behind all we see, the uncreated creator of all else that exists.

From that, it is only a step to wondering what form that God might take. No amount of theorising can provide an answer to that. The unseen God who stands hidden behind his creation can only be known by what he decides to reveal to us. But if the inquirer casts a questioning mind honestly and openly about, then he is bound, I think to encounter the Christian faith; and if that is examined with equal honesty and openness, then he is bound to be convinced by its claims.

For example, there are those who have tried to attack our faith on the basis of its central claim, that Jesus rose from the dead. It is as St Paul said in his letters – if he did not rise, then our faith is in vain. Frank Morison was one such person. He felt Christianity stood on shaky ground with this claim and it would not take much to prove it wrong.

Yet the more he tried, the harder it was for him to deny the truth of this claim. He was convinced essentially by his inability to answer one key question: if Christ did not rise, then what happened to his body? Who moved the stone and took it? The Romans had no reason to do so. If it was the Jewish rulers of the day, then all they had to do to collapse the faith they hated and hounded was produce the dead body of the leader his followers claimed had defeated death. If the disciples, then how had they managed to take it from the guarded tomb? And even if they had, why would they have suffered and died to proclaim something that they knew to be a lie? The only thing that made sense was that he had indeed risen and that his followers had met and spoken with him again as they had claimed. So convinced did Morison become by his research into the matter that he wrote a book on the topic, 'Who moved the stone', which has become something of a classic and is well worth reading.

But of course all that evidence is available to any who cares to see it and still there are those – many – who not only deny that Christ is risen and is the Son of God but that God himself exists. Which brings us back to our Lord's response to St Peter's declaration of faith: blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. When it comes right down to it, God is not revealed to us by philosophical investigation or rational inquiry – these are of use mainly when it comes to dealing with those who claim that to believe is rational and that to have faith means leaving your reason at the door. Faith comes from an act of God's grace; he reveals himself to us; it is in his direct interaction with us that we know not only that God exists but that Jesus is his Son.

This is not the same as saying it is God's fault if any do not believe, because he has not given them that grace. He offers that grace to all – some simply chose to reject it. As in the parable of the sower, just as the seed is planted on all soils, so God's grace is offered to all his children. But some let the cares of this world, the temptations they face, or the pride they take in their own cleverness, choke that grace down. This means that even as give thanks for all that God gives us, especially the grace he fills us with so that we must truly know him, so we must also pray the eyes and ears, hearts, souls, and minds of all those who push that grace back will be opened so that they will be able to answer with us Christ's question – Who do you say that I am? – in the words of St Peter: you are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.

To him who is the shepherd and guardian of our souls, by whose wounds we are healed and who is with us always until the end of the ages, be glory now and forever. Amen

Examin Sunday 24 August 2014

Make a mental audit of your life. On one side of the ledger place all the ways in which your life is of service to others and to the one who made you. On the other place what you do for the sake of your own comfort and pleasure. Be honest. For example, if you work long hours, is it so that you can better provide for your family and be in a position to help those in need? Or is it for recognition and advancement, for the money for a better car, a more luxurious holiday, for greater comfort and pleasure in how you live? When you are done, look at the balance for each and ask yourself where does your treasure lie, on earth or in heaven?

Saturday, August 23, 2014

prayer diary Saturday 23 August 2014

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

Those who seek power and position in this life risk paying a high price. True glory lies in humbly serving both God and your fellow man.

Friday, August 22, 2014


a Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) press release

Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram reportedly overran the headquarters of Gujba Local Government Area (LGA) in Yobe State, north-east Nigeria, on 21 August, and is imposing its religious strictures on the local population.

Eyewitnesses reported to Nigerian media that on 21 August Boko Haram insurgents overran Buni Yadi Town and hoisted their flag over the residence of the District Head, which they are said to be using as a base. The militants also began enforcing their law on residents; summarily executing two people for smoking, administering 80 lashes to a man who was allegedly cohabiting with a woman who was not his wife, and reportedly killing a known drug dealer.

Buni Yadi has suffered several attacks this year. In February, over 50 people were murdered, most of them students, when sect members attacked the Federal Government College. In May, at least 14 soldiers, 11 policemen and two civilians were killed after troops were taken unawares by Boko Haram gunmen. Less than two weeks ago, Boko Haram gunmen reportedly abducted a traditional ruler and a local chemist.

The takeover of Buni Yadi comes two weeks after the sect overran Gwoza Town in neighbouring Borno State, killing hundreds of residents and causing hundreds more to flee to nearby hills, where some remain. The militants also hoisted their flag and went on to appoint their own Emir. Nigeria's National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) currently puts the number of people displaced by the takeover of Gwoza at 11,442.

Boko Haram insurgents are also reported to have re-grouped to overrun a police training centre situated in the predominantly Christian town of Limankara on 21 August, killing an unknown number of trainees and forcing the rest to flee to the nearby mountains or to neighbouring Adamawa State. This attack follows an unsuccessful attempt a fortnight earlier, in which many insurgents died.

The seizures of Buni Yadi and Gwoza are part of a recent pattern. In late May, the insurgents hoisted their flags in the Ashigashiya Ward of Gwoza LGA, declaring it their headquarters and vowing to launch further attacks on surrounding villages. In a 14-day period from late May to early June, Boko Haram overran 21 communities in Damboa LGA, one in Askira Uba LGA, and another in Chibok LGA, all in Borno State. In each of these communities, the group removed Nigerian national flags and replaced them with its jihadi flag. The fall of Gwoza Town and surrounding areas meant the insurgency was in full control of three LGAs in Borno State.

Special Forces were subsequently deployed to Borno State and are reported to have reclaimed Damboa, Manga, Wanga, Delwa and Mustafari Villages from the insurgents. However, efforts to retake Gwoza have stalled due to stiff resistance from the well-resourced militants, many of whom are said to come from the Ansaru and Harakatul-Muhajiriin terrorist groups, off-shoots of Boko Haram, which are alleged to have a combined force of around 10,000. On 19 August, militants were reported to be chasing away the elderly women, who had been allowed to remain in Gwoza to bury murdered townsfolk, in preparation for an all-out battle with the army

Mervyn Thomas, Chief Executive of Christian Solidarity Worldwide said, 'The appalling excesses of IS in Iraq and Syria have galvanised the international community into renewed efforts to combat Islamist extremism; however these efforts should not be confined to the Middle East. Islamist terror groups like Boko Haram, which appear to be primarily active on the African continent, also pose a threat to international peace and security. The fact that the alleged mastermind of the Nyanya bombings near Abuja in April is a British Nigerian who was radicalised while studying in Wales and was extradited from Sudan, where he reportedly travelled on a British passport, illustrates this point. Parallels between the actions of IS and those of Boko Haram and its allied offshoots are not coincidental. A less compartmentalised approach must be adopted in order for militant jihadism to be addressed effectively, with punitive measures formulated at international level against IS replicated in the case of Boko Haram and other similar groups, including the disruption of funding. Nigeria is facing a transnational and existential threat and every possible assistance must be rendered to this strategic nation as a matter of urgency.'

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.

haiku: August sunshine

August sunshine
   -the morning robin
      on the washing line

prayer diary Friday 22 August 2014 (day of discipline and self-denial)

'And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” 
Matthew 22.39

What does it mean to love your neighbour? To do all you can to ensure that they are happy in this life is doubtless important. But earthly happiness must never be bought at the expense of eternal happiness in the world to come.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Knock anniversary

Today is the anniversary of the apparition at Knock. In the course of the last number of days tens of thousands of people have visited. Just because fewer go to Mass in this country doesn't mean they're not interested in religion, it seems!

Maybe you've never heard of it? Well on this day in 1879, a large group of people saw what they said was an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary, St Joseph, and St John the Evangelist. They stood in adoration for hours in the pouring rain until it finally disappeared. Subsequent investigations by Church authorities declared them to be credible and reliable witnesses. And so Knock has been a place of pilgrimage ever since.
I've never been - I always intended to take my mother, but it never worked out ... I'd offer and she'd say 'soon' ...  but it was like when I was a kid and wanted to go somewhere or do something and she'd say 'soon' and I'd think it was taking forever and soon would never come. In this case it really didn't.

She had an interest in Knock, though ... I have an old book about the shrine that she'd had on her shelf for years: Knock, the Shrine of the Pilgrim People of God by Michael Walsh. She was more a Mills & Boone romance reader than a fan of non-fiction, so the fact that she not only picked up a copy of this book but hung onto it says a lot. 

The book gives a good account of the apparition, the investigations that followed, and some of the history of the shrine. It's probably out of print - at least I can't find any after having spent a whole five minute slaving over a hot Google - but there's another book by the same author on the same topic written a few years earlier available from Veritas. If you'd like to have a look for yourself, you can find it here. If a whole book is a little more than you're up for, there's always the Wikipedia entry

Who knows, it might whet your appetite for the book.

prayer diary Thursday 21 August 2014

“Tell those who have been invited … come to the wedding banquet.”But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business,while the rest seized his slaves, maltreated them, and killed them. 
 Matthew 22. 4-7

The pleasures of this world can distract some from the higher prize, some even to the point where they mock or abuse the faithful. But let not that dishearten you, but rather let knowing what they risk loosing cause you to work even harder for the salvation of their souls.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

prayer diary Wednesday 20 August 2014

'When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage.' 
Matthew 20. 9,10

God has but one reward for all who truly love him, eternal life. But do not presume therefore to delay entering into his service lest, like the foolish virgins, you find that the chance has passed you by.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

prayer diary Tuesday 19 August 2014

‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.' 
Matthew 18. 3,4

It takes humility to enter God's kingdom. We must, with the joy and trust of children, let go of all our pride and accept that the One who created us asks that we hear and obey the holy laws he has given us in His Son's divine teaching.

Monday, August 18, 2014

prayer diary Monday 18 August 2014

Jesus said to him, ‘If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.' 
Matthew 17.21

Not all are called to sell all we have; but we are to be detached from our possessions so they do not serve to distract us from our relationship with God. For if the focus of our lives becomes our earthly goods then we are without treasure in heaven.

haiku: west window's sun

west window's sun
-a golden path
to the tabernacle

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Jesus offensive?

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

Looking at our Gospel reading today the image that some people have of Jesus being all meek and mild takes a bit of a battering. In the first part of it he's told the Pharisees are offended by what he is saying and not only does he apparently not care, he continues with teaching that they will surely find even more offensive… not exactly meek and mild territory … but then, it seems to me that, remembering that in the first book of the Bible we are told that God created man in his own image, that some people decided to return the favour by, if not creating, then at least presenting God in their own image. Hence the meek and mild, completely inoffensive Jesus beloved by some … and image that flies in the face of what we actually read in scripture.

We can learn a lot, I think, from the tougher, realer, Jesus we read about in scripture today. I've picked out three things. The first comes from the way he reacts when he is told his teaching is offending the Pharisees. And as has already not been noted, Jesus not only doesn't retract what he has already said, he continues to say things that doubtless will make their ears burn. Why? Doesn't he care that they are offended? Offending people hurts them, it wounds their feelings. Isn't that a bad thing? And the answer is yes, but only when one is being gratuitously offensive, offending people for the sake of it. That is not what Jesus has set out to do. He has come to preach the truth. And if speaking the truth is a cause of offence, then the problem lies with the one offended, not the one speaking. There are many people who don't like hearing the truth, especially today when the truth of God's Holy Laws contain truths that are very inconvenient to the way that many lead their lives. And not only do they not want to hear the truth, they say they are offended when anyone reminds them of it. But Jesus' actions today remind us that nonetheless we must continue to speak the truth boldly.

And then having spoken the truth boldly, Jesus goes away. He withdraws to the region of Tyre and Sidon. He doesn't stay to fight and argue with the Pharisees. He says what he has to say and then moves on. And the lesson to us, I think, is that we are not required to be in people's faces 24-7, haranguing them endlessly with the word of God. And that makes sense, because frankly that kind of behaviour would be counterproductive. No one listens to a person who does nothing but correct and give out all the time. The Christian speaks the truth clearly, refuses to change or modify that truth for anyone, is available and open to share that truth with anyone at any time, but does not obsessively hound those they think are ignoring it or not living up to it as fully as they would like. That, I suggest, would be to be more like the Pharisee than Christ.

And the final lesson comes from the encounter with the Canaanite woman. A desperate mother seeks healing for her child, and what is the first response of Christ? 'I was sent only for the lost sheep of Israel.' In other words, you're not Jewish, so too bad. Not exactly what we would call today a politically correct response. And when she persists, Jesus' far from unbending, speaks to her even more harshly – it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs. What's going on here – is Jesus being uncaring or deliberately offensive? No, in fact he is still simply telling it as it is. He was sent by the Father to carry out a certain mission. And that mission was to bring his message of salvation to the people of Israel of his time. It is clear from scripture that Jesus had great compassion – he would doubtless have loved to go everywhere that people were hurt and need of healing. But he did not put his own feelings above the will of the Father.

And in fact there is great wisdom in this. If he had tried to spread himself too thin, how much could he have achieved? Instead, he focused on his own mission, and did that well. And then he gave the follow up mission to others to carry on elsewhere, who in turn passed on the task to others, until in a very short time his good news had traveled throughout the world.

And all of this teaches us not to try to take on too much. There are great problems in the world that need dealing with – people turning from the faith – people who call themselves wise who publicly sneer at religion and call much of the morality it teaches evil because they say it interferes with peoples' choices and enjoyment. Jesus' focus on his own mission reminds us that we don't have to try and deal with all the world, just on what we ourselves are called to do. God calls us all to act for him in a particular place and time. We must be faithful to that call, even as we trust that he will call others to do the work elsewhere.

So that's it, three lessons: don't be afraid to speak the truth of the faith, even if those who don't want to hear it try to batter you into silence with the offensive stick; don't be singing the one note all the time, say your piece and move on; and play your part in God's plan, whatever it is, and have faith that God will do the rest. Because sometimes being like Jesus means remembering that we cannot always be meek and mild ourselves.

To him who is the shepherd and guardian of our souls, by whose wounds we are healed and who is with us always until the end of the ages, be glory now and forever. Amen

Examin Saturday 16 August 2014

We are told in scripture that love is not selfish. And faith is expressed in love of God and love of neighbour. Therefore, our faith must not be selfish either. It cannot focus solely on attaining heaven for ourselves with no care for others. Our loving faith must work for the eternal salvation of others as much as if it were our own. If we deliberately neglect trying to bring others to Christ and so to heaven we fail not only in our duty of love but, as a result of our selfishness, risk our own salvation also.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

prayer diary Saturday 16 August 2014

But Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.' 
Matthew 19.14

These words remind us that evangelisation begins in the home. Those who have children in their care must help bring them to Christ by diligently bringing them up in the faith.

Friday, August 15, 2014

haiku: white butterflies

white butterflies
above pink roses
-the scent of horse manure

prayer diary Friday 15 August 2014 (day of discipline and self-denial)

'So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.’ 
Matthew 19.6

Christ's disciples found this teaching so hard that they wondered if it would be better not to marry at all. But consider what is implicit in their thinking – that it was preferable to deny oneself and lead a celibate life than risk disobeying Christ.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

prayer diary Thursday 14 August 2014

'Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.' 
Matthew 18. 21,22

God's forgiveness is limitless. And, hard though it may be, so must ours be also.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

haiku: all the day

all the day
my finger finds
the place the razor missed

prayer diary Wednesday 13 August 2014

'If the offender refuses to listen even to the Church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax-collector.' 
Matthew 18.18

Harsh sounding words from our Lord. But what was the attitude of Christ's Church to those whom Jewish society saw as irredeemable sinners? Was it not to try and bring them to repentance and offer them welcome?  So too must we try gently and persistently to open the ears of those who refuse to listen to Christ's Church.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

broken promise (29 October 2012)

Driving west from Waterford
the road is a grey ribbon
in the dark green 
of the evening's fields,
slendering as it reaches
the plum line of mountains.

Erupting from behind
them is a sky of fire,
streaks of crimson
and dark orange
flaming north and south
and billowing east as if
the sunset could 
cross the dome of heaven
to fall behind us
and rise again.

'It's a red sky tonight:
we'll have sun tomorrow,'
I tell the boys in the back
with a worldview limited
to their lapbound screens.

But my weather wisdom fails
and the day that follows is grey.

haiku: in the silence

in the silence
between compline prayers
~cattle lowing

prayer diary Tuesday 12 August 2014

‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.' 
Matthew 18.3

Children are innocent and trusting. We must humble ourselves and be like them for the sake of the kingdom.

Monday, August 11, 2014

prayer diary Monday 11 August 2014

'The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised.’ And they were greatly distressed. 
Matthew 17. 22,23

The disciples were distressed at our Lord's prophetic words, as are we when when we consider he suffered and died for our sins. Why then do we continue to sin willfully?

Sunday, August 10, 2014

walking on water

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

I wonder which of the the things that he got wrong in his life St Peter regretted most; something that if he could have gone back and changed just it, just that one thing, and done it all differently, which one would he have picked? Now admittedly, we know very little about St Peter, just what we have in the gospels, as well as some fairly well attested traditions, such as the one about returning to Rome to face his martyrdom and asking to be crucified upside down, feeling himself unworthy to be treated in the same way as his Lord. There are also some mentions in Acts, St Paul's letters, and of course his own. But all these really add to what the Gospels tell us is his concern for orthodox teaching and practice within the early Church.

So we'll look at the Gospels only. Would he have chosen not to run that night in Gethsemane, when he abandoned Jesus to the thugs who came to arrest him? Would it have been denying him three times as he skulked in the courtyard while Jesus was on trial, brave enough to be there, but not brave enough to admit he was a disciple? Would it have been his attempt to argue with Jesus when he told them that he was going to suffer and die, and for which he received the stinging rebuke of 'Get thee behind me Satan!' Or would it have been something smaller, something of seeming less consequence such as the brief loss of faith he suffered as he walked across the waves to Jesus and as a result began to sink?

For my own part, I think it is the smaller things I got wrong that loom largest in my mind. I've lived a rather varied life and there are plenty of decisions I made that if I had chosen differently would have been potentially life changing. There were a few property deals that I could have gotten involved with but didn't that ended up being very lucrative; career choices that would have taken me on a very different path which offered a life of excitement and adventure. But as I am more than content with the place where my life choices have brought me to, I find it difficult to regret too much those big choices.

But there are a few small ones that I think about. One of them is about a night when I was 16 and I went with a bunch of mates to a RoryGallagher concert in the Arcadia in Cork. It was New Year's eve 1978 and going off for the night was a very big deal, one of the first really grown up things I did. When we got into town, the doors of the Arc didn't open for an hour or so and rather than wait outside in the cold we went into a bar across from Kent station just down the road – my very first time, might I add, going into a bar without my parents or some other grown-up relative. In the bar were some friends of one of our group – one of whom was over 18 – and they offered to buy us a drink. Now I had never had more than a coke or a red lemonade in a bar before, but all the others said yes and I didn't have the moral courage to say no, so I said I'd have a beer. What kind, I was asked? Well my dad drank Bass so I asked for that. I drank it, didn't especially enjoy it, and we headed for the Arc. And not long after I got there I began to feel terrible; I felt nauseous as if I was going to throw up and I felt that way for the rest of the evening. I remember the night vividly – I can tell you what I was wearing – jeans, cowboy boots, a brown check shirt, and my fake leather bomber jacket with its fake fur collar - what the Arc looked like – dingy with many old wooden galleries, and creaking floor board - even details of what Rory looked like on stage – he was was wearing jeans and a check shirt too, but his was blue. But can I recall one thing about what the man who is certainly the greatest blues guitarist this country has ever produced, and one of the finest in the world, sounded like on the night? Not at all. I know it was loud, but feeling ill as I did, it merely made my head hurt.

So the much anticipated concert was for me a complete washout. And not being a great concert goer, that turned out to be my only chance to see Rory Gallagher live. Which in hindsight is a great pity, because my father-in-law, who passed away before I met my wife, was the manager of the Impact show-band, which some of you may know was the group in which Rory started his professional career. And I would love to be able to share some personal memories with my children of what the great guitarist that their grandfather helped get started sounded like live. But I cannot. All because of one foolish decision in a bar one night.

But hopefully we learn from our mistakes. I learned that beer didn't agree with me and didn't touch it again for years. What did Peter learn from his unceremonious dunking in front of all his fellow disciples, and more importantly in front of his Lord? Did loosing faith in Christ even as Christ stood before him on the water teach him anything? Did he look back on the time he was sinking beneath the waves and remember how he had cried out for help and the Lord at once took him by the hand and saved him? Perhaps that moment of divine grace and mercy more than made up for him losing out on the bragging rights of being able to casually mention to folk the time he went walking with Jesus on the Sea of Galilee; instead he was able to recount to them how he learned how Jesus will reach out to those who call on him, even when, and perhaps especially when, we doubt and think we can no longer go on. Worth a dunking. And perhaps not something to regret at all.

To him who is the shepherd and guardian of our souls, by whose wounds we are healed and who is with us always until the end of the ages, be glory now and forever. Amen

Examin Sunday 10 August 2014

Why do so many have such a gloomy view of faith, thinking of it only in terms of rules and regulations, of restricting people from following their natural inclinations, of trying to squeeze all the fun out of life? Who would, if given a map to a wonderful land full of great treasure that could only be found by following a certain narrow path, complain how the map constrained his choices as to how he might travel, and how unfair it was that the treasure could only be found in this one place by following this one path? Would he not rather joyfully follow the path, regarding as inconsequential any difficulties he encountered, for the sake of reaching this wondrous place? So too must we be joyful on our journey of faith, grateful that our loving Father has shown us the way we must travel – and we must let our joy be seen by all we meet so that they also may share in it.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Prayer diary Saturday 9 August 2014

'If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, “Move from here to there”, and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.’ 
Matthew 17.20,21

Is that you have never made a mountain move an indictment of your faith? Your prayers are answered for a much greater miracle than that: God's help in increasing in holiness and doing his will.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Prayer diary Friday 8 August 2014 (day of discipline and self-denial)

Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 
Matthew 16.24

A good verse for a Friday, traditionally a day of discipline and self-denial for Christians. Consider this day how it is that you deny yourself and where is the cross in your life - and what does it mean if you struggle to answer?

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Prayer diary Thursday 7 August 2014

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ 
Matthew 16.13

We all know that it was St Peter who gave the correct answer, that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. Ponder deeply if you can truly answer as he did on that day.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Prayer diary Wednesday 6 August 2014 (The Transfiguration)

Then from the cloud came a voice that said, ‘This is my Son, my Beloved; listen to him!’ 
Luke 9.35

In the Transfiguration we learn the importance of listening to Christ. And we must therefore consider: what is the point of listening if we do not obey?

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Prayer diary Tuesday 5 August 2014

But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ 
Matthew 14.30

St Peter, even faced with our Lord walking on water, had doubts. So too must we not be discouraged by our own doubts, but rather, as St Peter did, call upon the Lord for help.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Prayer diary Monday 4 August 2014

And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children. 
Matthew 14.21

Christ's care for the hungry reminds us that we must care also. Those to whom God gives abundantly have no excuse not to share.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

haiku: the earlier rain

the earlier rain
a mist over the road
in the August sun

Examin Sunday 3 August 2014

Again and again Christ warns of the coming judgement. Is it something you refuse to believe? If so, you make him a liar. Do you believe, but presume upon his mercy? God is indeed merciful but requires that we repent of all that is not in accord with his Holy Law. And that means truly turning away from all these evil things, not sinning again and again and causally saying 'sorry' occasionally and thinking it enough.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

prayer diary Saturday 2 August 2014

For Herod had arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because John had been telling him, ‘It is not lawful for you to have her.’ 
Matthew 14.3,4

John the Baptist was fearless in preaching the truth, even in the face of death. We face far less, yet often we fear to speak out.

Friday, August 1, 2014

prayer diary Friday 1 August 2014 (day of discipline and self-denial)

Jesus said to them, ‘Prophets are not without honour except in their own country and in their own house.' 
Matthew 13.57

Sharing Christ's word can be hard indeed when it comes to those closest to us. But because we love them, all the more reason not to shirk from the task. It is a poor kind of love that does not include caring also for the fate of their immortal soul.