Wednesday, December 31, 2014

prayer diary Wednesday 31 Dec 2014 – New Year's Eve

'I am the voice of one crying aloud in the wilderness “make straight the way of the Lord.”' 
John 1. 23

The words of the prophet concerning John the Baptist apply to all who follow Christ. We all dwell in the wilderness of this world; and we are all called to proclaim him so that others may find the path to him.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

prayer diary Tuesday 30 Dec 2014

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

This is the central mystery of our faith. From it all else flows. God himself became man for our sakes. He loved us that much. How do you respond to that love?

Monday, December 29, 2014

prayer diary Monday 29 Dec 2014

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

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

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Prayer diary Saturday 27 Dec 2014 St John the Evangelist

(The disciple whom Jesus loved) was the one who had reclined next to Jesus at the supper … this is the disciple who is testifying to these things and has written them, and we know that his testimony is true. 
John 21. 20-24

The writers of the Gospels give witness to what they saw and knew. Understanding and accepting this is vital; for on this truth depends the salvation of all mankind

Friday, December 26, 2014

lighting a candle on St Sephen's Day

Church attendance is down, but people still seem to have an awful lot of interest in religion. That struck me very strongly this afternoon. 

Today is St Stephen's Day. Attendance at a celebration of Holy Communion in my parish this morning was small. I wasn't too surprised. The day after Christmas is a day when people traditionally take it easy. And the weather was pretty cold, wet, and miserable. So it wasn't a cause of amazement that there wasn't a great turnout.

This afternoon, my wife and I went for a walk. The streets were near empty; most businesses were closed; and the weather continued blustery, cold, and wet. As we passed the local Catholic Church, I thought of the fact that today was also my parent's wedding anniversary. Today would have marked 55 years of, if not wedded bliss, then at least rubbing along together remarkably comfortably. We decided to go in and light a candle and say a prayer.  

The church was empty. But both votive candle racks in the building blazed with light. Nearly 50 were alight in the big one at the back of the church beneath a statue of our Lord; and the smaller one at the front, which stands beneath an icon of the Madonna and child, was nearly full with around 40. With around 90 small candles burning at the one particular moment I happened by, it seemed reasonable to suppose that over the course of the day hundreds must have been lit. 

I placed my own candle in the rack and knelt; my wife lit one also. Leaving, I again marveled at the blaze of light in the dim church from the votive rack at the back. Not as many people may be going to church services. But an awful lot of them are still going to churches to express their faith in the divine, to use them as spaces to try and connect with the reality beyond this world. 

Prayer diary Friday 26 Dec 2014 St Stephen's Day

Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. 
 Acts 7. 58

It may seem strange that our Church calender goes from celebrating the birth of Christ one day to the death of the first martyr the next. But it reminds us the child in the manger was born for the wood of the cross – and that we are all called to take up our own cross and give witness to Christ.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Gift: a homily for Christmas Day

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

Merry Christmas! Most of us have been saying 'Merry Christmas' or 'Happy Christmas' for several weeks now, but today is actually Christmas Day and so the first day that it truly applies. And there is something else that we might say today: Happy birthday, Lord. For today is the birthday of our Saviour. I was really reminded of that by my youngest son, Malachi, over the course of the last week because each night during prayers he would pray that Jesus would have a lovely birthday.

God bless him, because I don't remember at a similar age having any particular thoughts about Christmas other than what presents I would receive. In fact, I actually remember the Christmas when I pretty much exactly the same age as Malachi very well. It was 1969 and it was my first Christmas in Ireland. That August my parents had moved the family back from America and we were living with my grandparents in Newmarket in North Cork. Our apartment in
New York had been tiny – too small for a Christmas tree; and this year I was determined that we should have our first one.

But on my grandparents' farm, while there were many pine trees growing, there were none suitable for a Christmas tree. My grandmother, being a very clever and imaginative woman, improvised, and broke a huge branch off one of the pine trees – well over seven feet long. It made for a rather flat, two-dimensional tree, but it was otherwise the right shape, and I was more than happy. A galvanised bucket from the farmyard was filled with earth, wrapped in coloured paper, and used for a stand. But then, what to decorate it with? We had no lights, no tinsel, no baubles. So every small, shiny thing that could be gathered up was pressed into use and hung on the Christmas branch. I particularly remember the gold plastic hilt of a broken toy sword that made for an especially glittering decoration.

I thought the tree looked very nice; but it was decided by higher authority, by which I mean the grown ups, that at least a few commercially produced baubles were needed. And so a trip into town was organised, to Terry Eddies, the local purveyor of books, newspapers, cards, toys, and all kinds of other trinkets and ornaments.

And it was there that I spotted what I really wanted for Christmas – a table top pinball machine. It was about two foot by one, made of wood, with blunt metal spikes for the pins, marble sized steel ball-bearings for the balls, and a pull-back spring mechanism to shoot them around powerful enough to break bones. It was another age and absolutely no concessions were made to health and safety concerns with this gadget. The only parent who would buy it today would be one who was hoping to take a lucrative court case against the manufacturer by New Year's Day.

I thought it was fantastic One of Santa's spies must have been watching as I stood there in the shop with my mouth open staring at it, because it, or something remarkably similar, appeared under the Christmas branch, duly wrapped, on Christmas morning. I was over the moon, and cared nothing for one of my uncle's observations that if anyone were to fall on those spikes it would certainly be a Christmas to remember.

Thankfully, no one was injured by this potentially lethal device, and it continued to be a favourite toy of mine for years. In fact, it proved remarkably durable, and I remember playing the occasional game of pinball on it even in my college years. Alas, when I left home, it was consigned to my parent's damp garage where the wood warped, the pins rusted or fell out, and the firing mechanism seized. When I came across it again some years later, it was fit only for the skip. Perhaps it is just as well; the temptation to pass it on to my own children would have been too great, and the chances that yet another child would manage to spend a childhood playing with it unscathed are probably as remote as my being able to track down the manufacturers at this stage to bring a case against them.

But, and it may seem strange, that deadly pinball machine is practically the only Christmas present I remember from my childhood. I vaguely recall a slinky I got when I was younger that didn't survive a trip down the long, stone stairs of the brownstone apartment building we lived in in New York; and I think some years later I got an American Indian set, with a rubber tomahawk and a headdress with some coloured feathers. But nothing that lasted as long or made quite the impact as the toy that had the potential to accidentally pierce ears or remove fingers.

And it would be nice to think that all the children here, young or old, whether less than nine weeks or more than ninety years, would have a memory like that of a great Christmas gift – the perfect present that remains in the mind always, bringing a smile to the lips and a warmth to the heart whenever you think about it.

But, of course, even if there is never something wrapped under the Christmas tree that ends up matching that description, there is one gift that we all received on Christmas that should bring joy to the heart – the gift of his very self that God gave to us by taking on flesh and being born on Christmas day. A gift that brings joy to the world and the promise of salvation to all. The greatest present that could be given to anyone was made by the Lord Jesus on the day of his birth. And so if the thing you really wanted most of all didn't arrive this morning – if Santa somehow forgot to bring it, or misread your list and brought you something else instead – it really doesn't matter; you've already been given the greatest gift of all, a gift that can never warp or rust or break or get lost; a gift that can never be taken away from you; the gift of Christ the Lord.

To God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, three persons in one God, be praise and glory for evermore: Amen.  

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas journeys: a reflection for the first Eucharist of Christmas

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

And so our Advent Journey has come to an end. The white candle on our wreath has been lit, signifying the birth of the Christ child. During the weeks of our journey we have thought of the patriarchs, the prophets, John the Baptist, and the Blessed Virgin Mary; all the while remembering the time when our Lord first came – even as we thought of the day when he will come again. But our time of journeying has come to an end, or, at least, this particular journey has ended, with the birth of our Lord.

Many other journeys ended on that first Christmas day. Most obviously, that of Mary and Joseph arriving in Bethlehem after days of hard travel from Nazareth to find no room in the inn. But also that day there was the journey of the angels, whom in there thousands burst forth from heaven, proclaiming God's glory, and the birth of his Son. Then there was the journey of the shepherds, who travelled from the fields and hills into the town, seeking to find the child they were told about by the angels, finding him in a manger, and discovering all that had been proclaimed to them was true. Still travelling, but perhaps nearing the end of their journey, were the wise men, following a star from the East, to find the king spoken of in prophesies.

But there was one there that night whose journey was far from finished – the Christ child himself. He had not come so that we might have a cute image of a new born babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger to decorate our Christmas cards; he had not come so that we might have crib scenes to place under our trees, or on our mantle pieces, or at some place in our churches; he had come so that all the world might be saved through him – and that part of his journey was only beginning.

And so as we place ourselves in our minds' eyes before that child in the manger, as we kneel to adore him with his blessed mother and St Joseph, with the shepherds, with the ox, and ass, and sheep, there is another figure there that we cannot see, but whose shadow seems to catch at the corner of our eye – that of Jesus the man; and we see in our imagination the journey that still lies before this child: his journey to Jerusalem to be presented in the temple; his flight into Egypt to escape those who would destroy him; the return to Nazareth and the quite life of his hidden years, his disputing with the doctors in the temple of Jerusalem as a boy, his loving obedience to his parents, his learning his trade as a carpenter; then his baptism by John, his time in the desert, the beginning of his ministry, his deeds of power, his preaching and teaching, his challenging of all mankind to a change their ways; of his one last journey to Jerusalem, and then to Calvary.

But we will not dwell on Calvary this night, but rather look beyond it; for our Lord was wrapped in his grave clothes and laid in the tomb for the very same reason that God became a helpless baby who was wrapped in swaddling bands and laid in a manger – that all might be saved. The joy of Christmas is that God loves us and will do anything so that we might be with him in heaven.

And so, like the Christ-child, the journey that ends for us with Christmas day, is really not an ending but a beginning. Our journeys are far from over. Because the joy we feel this night at the birth of the Christ-child is not just for Christmas day, but every day. And for the rest of our journey we must share that joy with others, the good news that a Saviour has been born for all mankind, and that he has set out a path for all our journeys – a path that will lead us all to heaven where we will dwell in joy forever.

To God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, three persons in one God, be praise and glory for-evermore - Amen.  

nights drawn in

It was the winter solstice on Sunday, the shortest day of the year.

That reminds me of a grumble I read somewhere recently. The author was complaining that within a day or two of the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, he was bound to encounter some glass-half-empty sour-puss who, determined to suck all the joy out of life (he may not have used those exact words) would mournfully remark that the 'nights were beginning to draw in.'*

In the spirit of glass half-full cheerfulness, may I be the first to remark that isn't there a grand stretch to the evenings, now?+

*for those unfamiliar with this particular expression, it means that the days are starting to become noticeably shorter.

+which, translated, means that the days are getting longer.

Prayer diary Wednesday 24 Dec 2014 Christmas Eve

'By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.’ 
Luke 1. 78, 79

This is Christmas Eve. This night we remember when the true light dawned in the world for the very first time; the night when the Messiah was born for the redemption and salvation of all.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Prayer diary Tuesday 23 Dec 2014 (day of discipline and self-denial)

Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God. Fear came over all their neighbours, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. 
Luke 1. 64,65

The first reaction of Zechariah was to speak of the wonders he had seen and praise God; and the first reaction of his neighbours was to speak of the wonders they had seen. What is your reaction to all that God does for you? Do you speak of them to others? Or do you say nothing, taking them all for granted?

Monday, December 22, 2014

Prayer diary Monday 22 Dec 2014 (day of discipline and self-denial)

And Mary said, ‘My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour 
Luke 1. 46, 47

These words of our Lady reflect the joy she felt in serving God. Our lives should also reflect similar delight in serving the Lord with every thought, word, and action of our lives.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Joseph's story

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

Christmas is almost upon us. It is a time when we rightly think of the Christ-child and his mother, of shepherds and angels, of inn-keepers and wise-men. But this morning I'd like to concentrate on another important figure on that story – I'd like to focus on St Joseph, and on the role he played in the greatest story ever told. So I'm going to tell you a little story of my own, an imagining of what that first Christmas was like for the man who would become the earthly father of our Lord, as he might have told it in his own words: 

I confess that I was worried when the decree was issued for the census. A trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem was no easy thing at the best of times, but in winter, and with a young girl, and she due to have a baby at any time? The whole idea was troubling.

But then, so much in my life had been troubling lately. It began when they asked if I would marry Mary. I was a little shocked – I was an old man, older than her father, and she was really just a child. But her parents said she was a holy girl, one who lived a life of prayer in the temple; but she was also very lovely, a true beauty – and the young men couldn't keep away. They buzzed around her like flies drawn to sweet dates. She needed the protection of a husband. And the temple authorities also asked me to marry her. 'We know you are a righteous man, Joseph,' they said. 'Do this for her; do this for us.'

Well, what was a righteous man to do? Could he say no when even the priests asked it of him? So we were betrothed. Legally she was my wife, but she still lived with her parents. And then she came to me. She told me she was with child by the Holy Spirit, that she had been visited by an angel, and that the child was to be the promised Messiah.
Did I believe her? Completely. Had not the prophet Isaiah foretold that a virgin would bear a son? And who better to be the mother of the one that God was sending to save Israel than this holy creature,? I did not doubt her for a moment.

But I did doubt myself. I thought that I was unworthy to play any part in this. So I decided that I would set her aside – quietly, so as not to cause her any trouble. Let people think that I was the father and that I was abandoning a young girl to raise the child on her own. What did I care what people thought of me, as long as no one thought badly of Mary? But then the angel came to me, in a dream, and told me not to be afraid. And when I awoke I knew that God wanted me to be the one to protect this mother and her child. An old man seemed a strange choice; but who was I to question God.

But then came the census. The thought of the journey troubled me. It was nearly 70 miles to Bethlehem – with me on foot and Mary on the donkey it would be a long, slow journey; not that we could travel fast, with Mary so close to her time. And as it turned out the roads were so rough that it took longer than I expected - six days. I worried about bandits – with so many travelling, they were bound to be out looking for easy prey. Mary said not to worry; that God would protect us. She was right, of course.

We stopped early each night and I gathered wood for a fire – the nights are cold at that time of year, even if the days are fairly mild; and I put together a little shelter for Mary. I was always good with my hands.
But I was glad when we got in sight of Bethlehem. Mary was looking so tired. I was tired. It had been a hard road and I am an old man. The worst was over, I thought.

And then Mary turned to me and said it was her time. What; now? I said, foolishly. She just smiled at me. The inn was full, of course; with so many arriving for the census it had to be. But the people there were good and kind. They made sure there was room for us in the stable. With plenty of clean straw it was probably more comfortable that the inn itself; the bodies of the animals warmed it as well as any fire; and with the baby soon to come, it was more private.

And so that was where he was born. The easiest birth I've ever heard tell of; a miracle in itself, for often the first born is hard on a woman, especially when she is very young. But one moment I was chewing my nails with worry; the next there he was. We wrapped him in his swaddling bands and then, because there was no where else, I packed the manger full of hay and laid him in it. Mary took me by the hand.
'This is our son,' she whispered, her voice full of wonder.
'This is our Messiah,' I whispered back. Silently we sank to our knees, gazing at the child. The animals gazed at him too; and it seemed that they, like us, worshipped him.

As the night passed others came. Shepherds from the hills with tales of the heavens bursting open to reveal heaven itself and choirs of angels. Later still, wise men came, kings who had come to worship another king, a greater king than themselves, a king sent by God to all the world. When they had gone, I thought we would go home. But that night as I slept, I had another dream. The angel warned me that this new king's life was in danger, that a king of this world wanted to take his life; he warned me to take them away, to keep them safe. And so when I awoke I faced another journey, a longer one. But I did not care. Old and tired as I was, God had chosen me to protect this king, and to protect his mother. And I would do whatever I could to do so, travel any distance. I was old, but I knew I could not fail; it was as Mary said – God would protect us. And so I was not afraid. I knew I need not fear or worry or let anything trouble me again.

To God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, three persons in one God, be praise and glory for-evermore - Amen.  

Saturday, December 20, 2014

prayer diary Saturday 20 Dec 2014 (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

Our Lady said 'yes' to God despite all the risks she ran in the society she lived in. Why do we then so often say' no' to him when the risks are so small and the rewards for saying 'yes' so great?

Friday, December 19, 2014

prayer diary Friday 19 Dec 2014 (day of discipline and self-denial)

When Zechariah saw the angel, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard.' 
Luke 1. 12,13

Zechariah was a righteous man yet he trembled before God's messenger. How much harder must it be for those who reject all that is holy to stand in the presence of God himself when the time comes?

Thursday, December 18, 2014


a Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) press release

Christian Solidarity Worldwide has received confirmed reports that Bishoy Armia Boulous, an Egyptian convert to Christianity who is currently serving a prison sentence, is being mistreated in prison.

Bishoy Armia Boulous, formerly known as Mohammed Hegazy, is being held in Tora Prison, Cairo. His lawyer has informed CSW that Mr Boulous is being held in solitary confinement in a cell designated for those awaiting capital punishment. Prison staff are abusing him verbally on account of his religion and are also abusing him physically; including breaking his glasses and making him walk barefoot to hearings in Minya Misdemeanour Court. There are unconfirmed reports that Mr Boulous has begun a hunger strike in protest at his detention and maltreatment.

After originally being imprisoned in December 2013 on allegations of  'sectarian strife', Mr Boulous was released then re-arrested on the same day in July 2014. He was working as a correspondent for El-Tarek TV, a Christian TV channel, when he was arrested and his camera was confiscated. The arrest document from the Head of the Intelligence Police in Minya Province stated: 'It came to our knowledge that a convert from Islam is photographing the demonstrations.' Mr Boulous' solicitor asserts that in reality these charges were precipitated by his client's attempt in 2007 to change his religious designation in his national ID card.

CSW's Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said, 'We continue to have serious concerns about the charges brought against Bishoy Armia Boulous, as well as the unacceptable mistreatment he is being subjected to in prison. Mr Boulous was merely doing his job as a camera man when he was arrested. Moreover, the charge levelled against him lacks substance, adding credence to assertions that he is being mistreated because of his earlier attempts to seek official recognition of his conversion. The new Egyptian constitution states in Article 64 that freedom of belief is absolute, and in Article 9 the State undertakes to ensure equal opportunity for all citizens without discrimination. We call on the Egyptian Ministry of Justice to urgently investigate the mental and physical abuse Mr Boulous is receiving in prison, to adhere to the constitution by dropping any charge he faces in connection with his religious status or conversion, and to release him.'

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 Thursday 18 Dec 2014 (day of discipline and self-denial)

All this took place to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: ‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son.' 
Matthew 1. 22-23

God chose as his Mother not a Queen, or a person of wealth and power, but a woman of great holiness, a woman obedient to God's will. We also must strive to be holy if we would welcome the Christ-child into our hearts at this time.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

prayer diary Wednesday 17 Dec 2014 (day of discipline and self-denial)

So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah,fourteen generations. 
 Matthew 1.17

Do your eyes glaze over when you hear the genealogies of Jesus in the Gospels read? You're probably not alone! But these accounts are important, for they stress the continuity of the Old Testament with the New and how the promises made by God to his Chosen People were fulfilled in Christ.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

haiku: by my window

by my window two starlings, 
        from the gutter

prayer diary Tuesday 16 Dec 2014 (day of discipline and self-denial)

“Son, go and work in the vineyard today.” He answered, “I will not”; but later he changed his mind and went ... the second ... answered, “I go, sir”; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?’ 
Matthew 21.28-31

Any willfulness from the early part of your life matters not at all in the face of later obedience to God's will. It is never too late to change your ways.

Monday, December 15, 2014

happy birthday, mum

Today would have been my mother's 80th birthday. She was the most unsentimental of women, so there probably wouldn't have been a huge 'do.' She thought cards were a 'gimmick' and didn't think much of them - although she did appreciate a nice hand made one (appreciate in the sense it didn't go straight into the bin and be displayed on the mantelpiece for a few days); she had no time for gifts of stuff she didn't want or need; and eating out in restaurants was a 'waste of money' - a home cooked meal was far better at a fraction of the cost, she always said. 

So today would probably have involved my wife and I badgering the children into producing some cards and driving the two-and-a-half hours to visit her in the nursing home with presents of thick socks and maybe a new cardigan (perhaps even some of the thick flannel nightgowns she liked). Jacob (12) has become quite good at baking cakes - he made the one for his brother's recent 18th birthday - so we could have got him to make one and stuck a few candles on it and sung (badly) happy birthday in the day room and then shared the cake with some of the staff and some of the other residents (checking carefully first that their swallow was ok and they weren't allergic to anything). Mum would have smiled at first to see her increasingly large grandsons, but after a few minutes she would have yawned and said she was getting tired and suggested that we should be on our way as we had a long drive home. I'd have protested that we'd only just got there. She'd have said no one forced us to come. And grumbling I'd have packed everyone back into the car, muttering sotto voce to the wife how disappointment it all was. 

How I wish it was happening today. Happy birthday, mum.

prayer diary Monday 15 Dec 2014 (day of discipline and self-denial)

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

There are always those who want to challenge the authority of Christ and his teachings. Don't worry about what they think; consider instead what it is that you believe - and why.

Sunday, December 14, 2014


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

As I've said all through Advent, rather than preaching on the four last things this year - death, judgement, heaven, and hell – I'm instead simply going to remind you of them each week and ask that you use them as a lens to consider what it is that our readings have to say to us as we journey through Advent. In any event, I always find it a difficult topic on this Sunday, the third Sunday, Gaudate Sunday, the Sunday when we kind of take a break from the penitential aspect of the season. Guadate is from the Latin and means 'rejoice' and it's difficult to rejoice if one is dwelling on the somewhat grim seeming topic of the four last things! So I thought instead today I'd think about John the Baptist, who is the focus of our readings,  and the causes in his life that he had to rejoice.

I don't think rejoicing is the first thing people think of when they think of John the Baptist. He's the guy living out in the desert, dressed in scratchy camel hair, living on bugs, warning people of the wrath to coming, and telling them to repent of their sins. Not most people's idea of a good time. But you know I bet that John was a happy guy – why? Because he was doing the Lord's work – he was doing what God called him to do and even though it was tough, he was surely rejoicing in the Lord all the time.

Now you and I might think how could a hard life like John's be joyful? Well, remember, this person we see in the Bible did not spring fully grown wearing rags and shouting 'repent' from his mother's womb. He started out as a baby like everyone else; and that baby grew into a boy and then into a teenager; and if he was anything like teenagers today then he probably felt a bit different to everyone around him, maybe like he didn't fit in. Only in this case, John would have been right. He was different. First, he came from a priestly family. Remember, in ancient Israel priests weren't chosen like today – where a person feels a calling and then goes and talks to the Church about it and goes through a whole process of selection and training; you were born into it. If yours was a priestly family, then all the men would end up being priests – and from the very beginning this would have marked John out as being different.

As well as that, there would have been all the prophesies made at the time of his birth – the prophesy made by the Archangel Gabriel by his father in the temple, and those made by his father when he was given the name John and his father who had been unable to speak since meeting the angel suddenly started talking again and prophesying about what his son would become. People would have heard all this, they would have kept them in the back of their minds, and it would have been hard for them not to look at John differently. Teenagers always seem to think people are staring at them, and most of the time they're just imagining it, but in John's case he would have been right. People were looking at him, and wondering.

Now to start with he probably thought it was because he looked different to the other boys. Oh yes, even then he looked different. Remember what the Archangel Gabriel said: he was never to taste wine or strong drink – and that means more than just being teetotal – that means he was to be a Nazarite – and perhaps you can remember another Nazarite in the Bible? Samson – and you'll no doubt remember that part of that meant never cutting your hair, or combing it either. And even though the boys back then wore their hair longer than is common nowadays, this would really have made John stand out.

But then the day came when his mum or his dad or maybe both took his aside and told him: 'Son, we've got some stuff to tell you.' And then his dad would have told him what the angel said, about his bringing many people back to God and preparing people for the Lord; and his mum would have told him about the visit from her cousin Mary and how she had known that the child in her womb, his cousin Jesus, was the Lord, the Messiah; and his father would have told him about the prophesy that he himself had made at the time they decided to call him John, in accordance with the angel's prophesy, and he had told all present that his son was to be a prophet, who would go before the Lord to prepare his way, and to give knowledge of salvation to God's people.

And in a moment he goes from being the somewhat odd but basically ordinary John, a young man with a bad haircut – or rather a bad no hair cut – to being John the Prophet, John the forerunner of the Messiah, John the one who is going to call people to repentance from their sins and save the souls of many. And I can only think he reacted with – great! This is fantastic! This is brilliant! I have been specially chosen by God! Joyful? He must have been over the moon! And that's why I think the life he led later, that seem hard from the outside was surely filled with joy, because it was fuelled by his understanding that he was called by God to do something incredibly important.

As have we all. It might not be as easy for us all to know what it is as it was for John, but be assured that he calls us all. He has a plan for us all. It may be great, it may be small, but guess what? The end is the same for all who are faithful to that call – being with God for eternity in heaven. Reason for us all to rejoice on this Gaudate Sunday. And so I pray that all here with be filled with that joy this day and always. Amen.  

Examin Sunday 14 Dec 2014

Our time in Advent is a double journey: a time of remembering the first coming of Christ; and a time of preparing for when he comes again. Do not focus so much on the first aspect of this season that you neglect the second – or indeed, ignore it completely. To do so would be to refuse one of the precious gifts of God's Church to you at this time. A gift that we all need – for which of us is so perfect that we need no preparation for the day when the Lord will come?

Saturday, December 13, 2014

a prayer for her troubles, whatever they might be

It was ten o clock in the morning. I was coming back from the school. I'd been called in to deal with a minor problem and I was preoccupied with that and almost didn't see the woman. A little lane way separates the school from the square. She was standing in the middle of it, looking a bit lost. I gave her a nod and a smile.

'Good morning,' I said.

I don't think she'd really noticed me before that. Middle-aged, like myself, she clutched a heavy dark coat around her against the biting cold of the day. Looking at me in a distracted fashion she caught sight of the clerical collar peeping out above the top toggle of my black duffle-coat. 

'Good morning, Father.' Looking a little anxious, she took a step closer. She had an envelope in one hand. 'Excuse me, Father,' she said. I stopped.
'I'm sorry,' I said. 'Yes?'
'Is there an funeral parlour around here?'
'There's a couple.' I pointed across the square to a green entrance. 'That's one there. Coady's.'
She shook her head.
'I think it's the other one I'm looking for.'
'Moran's? That's just up here on the left. I'll show you.' We walked on together.  'I'm not exactly sure which it is - I haven't had much dealings with them. But it's one of these.' 

I peered at the doors. Three houses up, there it was. Just an ordinary house on the square, with a small railed garden to the front. A little tree in it obscured the small sign in the front window with the words 'Moran's undertaker' in plain black type. 

'Here we are.' 

The door was open. Hanging from the knocker were some black ribbons. The woman took a deep breath and started for the gate. I glanced at the envelope in her hand. A Mass card? 

'Are you calling to pay your respects?' I asked. She paused.
'No,' she said. 'I have other business.'  She looked weary.
'Are you all right?' 
'I'm grand. Thank you, Father.'
'Are you sure?'
She just smiled at me. Did I only imagine it was a sad smile? Could it be any other kind on a woman who had business in a funeral parlour early on a bitterly cold morning? She walked slowly up the short path and disappeared through the open door. I turned and went on my way up the square, saying a little prayer for her and her troubles, whatever they might be.

prayer diary Saturday 13 Dec 2014 (day of discipline and self-denial)

'But I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but they did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man is about to suffer at their hands.’ 
Matthew 17.12

The shadow of the Cross lies over the child in the manager. Therefore remember to keep Advent as a penitential season; for it was for your sins that the Christ-child was to suffer and die.

Friday, December 12, 2014


'Did you hear that story on the radio?'

Settling myself comfortably into a chair by the fire, cup of tea in one hand, digestive biscuit in the other, I confessed that I hadn't listened to the radio that day.

'That hospital is in the news again. A woman was on - she went in for a scan and they told her the baby had no heartbeat. They told her to come back in a couple of days for the D and C. When she came back a different nurse found the heartbeat no bother. There was nothing wrong with the child at all.'

'That must have been very hard for the poor mother.'

'Dreadful. Joy and anger, she said. But imagine if they'd offered to do the D and C there and then. And she'd said yes. Just imagine. Her baby would be dead. She must be thinking that. The poor woman. She had a lucky escape.'

'She did,' I agreed. The conversation continued. I sipped my tea and nibbled my biscuit. And in the back of my mind I thought of the women hearing that story on the radio who had attended that hospital over the years, women who had been told there was no heartbeat, women who had had a D and C based on what they were told. 

It was terrible to think what they must be imagining as they heard the story.

prayer diary Friday 12 Dec 2014 (day of discipline and self-denial)

'For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, “He has a demon”; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners!” 
Matthew 11.18,19

Those who wish to find fault with you will do so whatever course you take. Ignore them and focus instead on following the path Christ sets before you.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

haiku: morning thaw

morning thaw
  -in the melt
     the frost pattern remains

prayer diary Thursday 11 Dec 2014 (day of discipline and self-denial)

'Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.' 
Matthew 11.11

Who one is in this life is as nothing compared to gaining heaven in the next. Strive to grow in holiness so that you may at the last be numbered among the saints.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Ireland today

Today we had protests in our nation's capital over the proposed introduction of water charges. 

Today we also had flood warnings issued by Met Éireann. 

It's a funny old world.

prayer diary Wednesday 10 Dec 2014 (day of discipline and self-denial)

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

The struggles of this life are endless. And in the end what are their purpose? You can take none of its rewards past the grave. Turn instead to Christ. In him you will find true meaning and true purpose.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

prayer diary Tuesday 9 Dec 2014 (day of discipline and self-denial)

'If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray?' 
Matthew 18. 12

Reassess your life this Advent. Consider whether you have become self-satisfied and complacent. The lost sheep the Lord is seeking may not be your neighbour – it may be you.

Monday, December 8, 2014

prayer diary Monday 8 Dec 2014 (day of discipline and self-denial)

Just then some men came, carrying a paralysed man on a bed … when Jesus saw their faith, he said, ‘Friend, your sins are forgiven you.’ 
Luke 5. 18-20

The first concern of Jesus was not for the man's illness, but for his soul. Something for us to ponder in an age when so many seem to think that the top priority of religion is making the world a better place.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

preparing the preparer - a reflection on St John the Baptist

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

Today is the second Sunday of Advent; and as you know it is traditional during Advent to focus on the four last things: death, judgement, heaven, and hell. But as I said last Sunday, rather than preaching on those directly this year, I am simply going to remind you of them each week and ask that you use them as a lens to consider what it is that our readings have to say to us each week as we journey through Advent.

Now, the second Sunday in Advent is a time when we look with particular attention at prophets, those who foretold of the coming Messiah. In our readings today we look in particular at one of these prophecies: the prophet Isaiah tells us of one who will cry out in the wilderness to 'make straight the ways of the Lord.' St Mark clearly identifies St John as being that person who was prophesied by Isaiah as being the one who would prepare the way for the one who was to come. And St John himself proclaimed that he was as nothing compared to the one who was to come after him, one whose sandals he wasn't worthy to untie.

So John's role is very much one of preparation, of preparing the people of Israel for the coming of the Lord. This is why in the Eastern Church he is better known as St John the forerunner, to emphasise that role of preparation.

And perhaps it would be no harm for us to consider the preparation of the Forerunner – what it was that prepared him to accept the role that he was to play in God's plan of salvation, to answering the call that had been placed on his life. For John, like us all, had free will – he was no puppet, unable to say 'no' to what it was that God was asking of him. And it seems to me that his parents must have had an important part to play in this – that the way that they raised him would have been very important in helping be able to say 'yes' to what God was asking of him.

We know John came from a very religious family. His father Zechariah was a priest who served in the Temple; not only that, but St Luke's Gospel tells us that both his parents were righteous people, devout, who kept all of God's laws; and we see both of them speaking prophetically in that Gospel. His father, has a vision with an angel and later speaks prophetically about his son; and his mother Elizabeth speaks prophetically on the occasion of the visit to her by the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is likely that this was a poor family, just as the family of Elizabeth's cousin Mary was poor. But they were rich what what our Lord would later describe as 'treasure in heaven' – spiritual values, the love of God, and the love of his laws. And they would have passed these values on to their beloved, miraculous child, while also, of course, seeing to his material needs as best they could; an example, it should be said, that modern parents might bear in mind at at time when so many swamp their children with unneeded material goods, especially at his time of year, while making only the most token efforts, if not neglecting entirely, their children's spiritual well-being. What does it profit a child to have every toy and gadget from the shop, if he or she knows nothing of eternal life and are not prepared in the slightest to lead a life that will help them enter into it?

Words that one could almost imagine St John the Baptist crying if he were engaged in his ministry today. But how did he, in his own time, answer the call God gave him, of preparing the way for the Lord? He told people that the kingdom of God was at hand and that they must repent – repent of what? Of their sins. And what is sin? Sin is the way our lives fail to conform with what God wants of us, the things that we think or do or say that are not in accordance with his holy laws. And what is repentance? It is more than simply saying sorry and then continuing on as before. It is recognising and accepting that what we have done is wrong, that it is indeed sinful, and rejecting it, making a firm intention to change our ways, to do better in the future. Why? Because sin is offensive to God and worse it separates us from him – sin is our choosing to reject God – which means that we are choosing to refuse what he created us for – to be with him in heaven for all eternity. To chose sin is to reject salvation.

This is how St John the Baptist prepared the people of his time to meet the one who would come after him, how he prepared them to meet the Christ. With strong words and stern warnings and a call to radical change. And in this time of Advent, when we think of when Christ will come again, when we think of when we ourselves will meet him, his way is a way we can prepare ourselves for that day – a day that I pray all here will find themselves prepared for. Amen.  

Examin Sunday 7 Dec 2014

Advent is the season when we are called to prepare ourselves for the time when Christ will come again. All we can say of that day is that it will come unexpectedly. Therefore we must live as if it might come any minute. And of all the days and months and years we have lived in a manner that would mean we would not be found worthy on the day of his coming, Advent is the time to reflect and repent and turn from all that might keep us from being found to be good and faithful servants on the day that our master returns.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Prayer diary Saturday 6 Dec 2014 (day of discipline and self-denial)

The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few. 
Matthew 9.37

To truly say 'Yes, Lord' to Jesus means serving him & working for the salvation of souls. In what ways do you answer his call on your life?

Friday, December 5, 2014

Prayer diary Friday 5 Dec 2014 (day of discipline and self-denial)

The blind men came to him; & Jesus said to them 'Do you believe that I am able to do this?' They said to him 'Yes, Lord.' 
Matthew 9. 28

Jesus offers us many things. Do we say yes to his promises?

Thursday, December 4, 2014


a Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) press release

Sudanese authorities demolished part of the main church building belonging to Khartoum Bahri Evangelical Church on 2 December and arrested 37 people who were praying inside.

Police and security officers arrived at 6am in nine police vans and began demolishing part of the church building before arresting 37 people who were praying in the church. The group of 15 women and 22 men were detained before being charged under sections 69, 77 and 99 of the criminal code with 'breach of the peace, public nuisance and obstruction of a public servant during the course of his duty'.

Eleven of the detainees were then transferred to Khartoum Bahri Criminal Court, which acquitted two of the group and found the rest guilty of the charges, imposing a fine of 250 Sudanese Pounds (SDP) ($43 USD). Eleven others were sent to Omar El Mukhtar court in Kober, Khartoum North. They were found guilty of the charges and were also fined 250 SDP. The final 15 were tried at the El Jireif West Criminal court and were all acquitted.

The raid on 2 December is one of a series of actions taken against the Bahri Evangelical Church in recent weeks. On 17 November, security personnel arrived at the church and demolished a wall of the main building and neighbouring houses. Security personnel presented the church leaders with a court order demanding that the property be given to a Muslim businessman who was the alleged owner. On 18 November, the church leaders filed a formal challenge over the legal ownership and are awaiting a court decision. On the same day, security personnel arrived with a second court order requiring that all property be removed from one of the houses and padlocks belonging to the Muslim businessman fitted on all doors. Church members formed a human shield preventing the security personnel from interfering with the property.

Finally, on 25 November, eight people were arrested for refusing to comply with the court orders to hand over the church to the Muslim businessman. The group, including five church leaders named as the Rev. Daud Fadul, elder Fathi Hakim, elder Nouh Manzoul, deacon Iman Hamid and Tilal Mafishi.

Local sources report that police officers are still surrounding the church, indicating their intention to take further action. The raid on Khartoum Bahri Evangelical Church is the third incident of the government destroying church buildings during 2014, and indicates an escalation of intimidation against Christians. In July Sudanese government reiterated their policy of not allowing new church buildings to be built, two weeks after another church was demolished with only 24 hours notice given to the church leaders. The attacks on churches have extended to the Nuba Mountains where the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) have been at war with the Sudan People's Liberation Movement - North since 2011. In October 2014 the SAF dropped four bombs on the Episcopal Church of Sudan (ECS) compound in Al Atmor, South Kordofan, destroying the church, a house and adjoining properties.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said 'We are deeply concerned by the continuing action of the Sudanese authorities against the Khartoum Bahri Evangelical Church. The destruction of a religious building is a violation of congregant's rights to freedom of religion or belief as guaranteed in article 6 of the Sudanese constitution. Furthermore the arrest of 37 congregants whilst they were praying is not only a violation of their rights to freedom of religion or belief, but also their rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly which are all guaranteed under Sudan's constitution. We call on the Sudanese authorities to use utmost restraint and allow for the legal challenge of the ownership of the Church to be concluded in the courts whilst ensuring that the rights of Khartoum Bahri Evangelical church are no longer interfered with. CSW calls on the international community, in particular the African Union to hold Sudan to its international obligations as prescribed in article 18 of the ICCPR as well as articles 8, 10 and 11 of the African [Bangui] Charter of People and Human Rights which Sudan is a signatory.'

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 Thursday 4 Dec 2014 (day of discipline and self-denial)

No one can serve two masters. 
Matthew 7.24

Where does your true loyalty lie? Are the values praised by the world your guide or those given us by Christ? And have you the courage to proclaim it?

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

haiku: sunshine after frost

sunshine after frost
   -bed sheets on the line

Prayer diary Wednesday 3 Dec 2014 (day of discipline and self-denial)

They put them at Jesus feet and he cured them, so that the crowd was amazed when they saw … And they praised the God of Israel. 
Matthew 15. 30,31

The crowds reaction was to praise God when they witnessed all that Jesus could do. Do we do likewise? And do we do it it for all the world to see?

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Prayer diary Tuesday 2 Dec 2014 (day of discipline and self-denial)

Jesus said: 'Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets & kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it.' 
Luke 10.23,24

How aware are we of the privilege we have of knowing Jesus? It is a blessing beyond compare from God himself. Are we correspondingly grateful?

Monday, December 1, 2014

Prayer diary Monday 1 Dec 2014 (day of discipline and self-denial)

'Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof.' 
Matthew 8.8

Reflection: How many of us approach God & all his gifts to us with a sense of entitlement, rather than humbly, with a true sense of our own unworthiness?