Thursday, December 31, 2015

prayer diary Thursday 31 December 2015

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. 
John 1.5

There are many troubles in the world but we must not let them cause us to lose hope. The light of Christ always shines. No darkness, however deep it seems to us, can ever overcome it.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

prayer diary Wednesday 30 December 2015

There was also a prophet, Anna … at that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. 
Luke 2. 36-38

How many there are in the world today who seek redemption, 
knowingly or unknowingly. We, like Anna, must speak to them, telling them of Christ and all he has done for us.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

healing the pain of Wounded Knee

Today marks the anniversary of the massacre of Lakota Sioux that took place at Wounded Knee on December 29th 1890. It was a far from glorious episode in American military history and one that should never be forgotten.

One important fact of this sad affair that is sometimes not remembered is that in the aftermath of the slaughter 20 of the soldiers involved were awarded the Medal of Honour, the United States' highest award for valor. There were around 500 hundred armed troopers with artillery support surrounding the Lakota encampment of approximately 350 souls that day. The majority were women and children; and most of the men had already surrendered their weapons when the firing began. 

When this brief 'battle' was over at least 150 of the Lakota were dead, many killed while trying to hide or flee. And of the 25 soldiers who perished, most died by way of 'friendly fire' during what was, according to even the most charitable accounts, a gross breakdown in military discipline. It was hardly the stuff of valor.

Nothing, of course, could restore the victims to life then or now. And it is far too late to seek retribution of their killers. But the high military honors awarded those soldiers could be rescinded. This is exactly what the National Congress of American Indians called on the US government to do in 2001. This has yet to happen. Perhaps now, on this significant anniversary of the massacre, is the time to take action. 

I don't think that the men who committed this atrocity were necessarily evil. I'm an old soldier myself and I like to think that most who wear the uniform of their country are honourable and decent. But sometimes things happen on the battlefield that are neither honourable and decent; madness takes over and otherwise good men do terrible things - things that cause them shame to remember and haunt them to the grave. 

Good men know that they do not deserve medals for actions such as this. And bad men should never have been allowed to wear a uniform in the first place. And whether these soldiers were good men acting out of character, or bad indulging their evil inclinations, it is an ongoing insult to the memories of those who died that those who killed them should continue to be remembered as deserving of the Medal of Honour.

prayer diary Tuesday 29 December 2015

'My eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.’ 
Luke 2. 30-32

These words of St Simeon spoken in the Temple in Jerusalem before the infant Messiah are words that we ourselves can speak with equal truth. We too have been graced to see that salvation, the light which is for the redemption of all mankind.

Monday, December 28, 2015

the holy innocents

Symbolically, the massacre of the innocents reminds us of how the world hated Christ from the beginning. And if it hated him, we should not wonder if we also must at times must suffer for our faith. There are those, of course, who suggest that the event is not historical, that it never took place, as such a horrendous slaughter of young children would have outraged the world of the time and been recorded elsewhere than in the Gospel of St Matthew. Their suggestion fails on a number of grounds. 

The first is that there are numerous historical events for which we have only a single source. To say that we must treat this as doubtful simply because that single source is St Matthew is special pleading. Secondly, we know enough about the character of Herod from other sources to know that this is an action he would have been well capable of. He did not hesitate to murder his own wife and several of his children, not to mention numerous others, to maintain his grip on power; a few peasant children would have meant nothing to him. And there is not, in any case, any reason to presume that such an action would have made the 'headlines' of its day and been recorded in multiple sources. A great many far worse occurrences are lost to history and known only now to God.

So it is foolish, I think, to try and argue that this event did not happen. Just as it was foolish of Herod to order the action in the first place. He knew the Messiah was sent by God. Did he really think that he, a mere mortal even though he was a king, could put a stay on God's plans? Which should be of comfort to us when we see so much opposition in the world to the Gospel message. God's plans can not be thwarted. It could not be done by Herod; and it can not be done by the evil men of our day either. 

prayer diary Monday 28 December 2015 (The Holy Innocents)

When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under. 
Matthew 2. 16

God's plans for mankind cannot be thwarted. But there are those who will do great evil in the world fighting against him. Pray that their hearts will be converted and their eyes opened to the truth.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

'Church: it isn't just for Christmas, it's for Life.'

May I speak in the name of the Almighty, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: Amen

On the first Sunday after Christmas, not surprisingly, it is customary to look at the newly formed Holy Family – newly formed, that is, in the sense of how we look at things from the perspective of our Church calendar. And this Sunday our Gospel reading from St Luke gives us our only scriptural insight into the life of the Holy Family. The evangelist describes their visit to Jerusalem for the festival – showing them to be a family for whom the religious customs of their time and place are of great importance. The piety of the boy Jesus is, not surprisingly, especially impressive. So desirous is he to be close to his Father in heaven in the great Temple that he stays behind while all others from his town travel home; and when he is found his response to the wonder of his parents is 'did you not know I must be in my Father's House?'

There is a stark contrast between our Lord's example, the one whom Christians are called to imitate to the best of their ability, and many who call themselves his followers today. This is particularly evident at Christmas time when the much fuller churches serve as a witness as to how comparatively empty they are the rest of the year. For many, it seems, there is no 'must' when it comes to being in their Father's house; once a year, if they can, suffices.

It brings to my mind the slogans used at this time of year by animal welfare societies along the lines of: Pets – they're not just for Christmas, they're for life. I sometimes wonder if the churches should not adopt some similar slogan, along the lines of  'Church: it isn't just for Christmas, it's for Life.' Because sadly many of those who say 'happy Christmas' to the the priest at the door as they shake his hand while leaving might easily add 'and see you again this time next year. ' Is to behave thus adequate when it comes to living the Christian life? I think we all know that it is not.

Consider the words of St Paul which we heard read earlier: 'Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.' The apostle paints a wonderful picture of Christian living here – one that would be difficult for most to achieve by way of a brief annual visit to the house of the Lord. Even great saints, who as part of their spiritual disciplines were living the solitary life, would have more frequent contact than that; and few of us are great saints and consequently need much more regular time in the company of our brothers and sisters in Christ, especially in our secular modern age.

But, of course, it was never part of God's plan that religion should be something reserved for a small corner of the year. It is something for every moment of every day of our lives from the cradle to the grave. We cannot, of course, spend every second of our life in church; but every thought, word, and action is to be done as Christ would have us do. And then, as God commanded, we must come together on the day appointed by him, gathering as his people, in his house; listening to his word spoken, being taught how to live out the Christian life more perfectly, asking pardon for our failings, receiving the holy food of the Blessed Sacrament from the Lord's Table, before being sent out into the world again, refreshed and strengthened, with God's blessing ringing in our ears.

And what are those of us who try to emulate of Lord's love for his Father's house by our regular Sunday attendance to do about those who do not? Do we mind our own business, saying and doing nothing, even though we greatly fear the spiritual danger their absence places them in? No; for neither is that the Christian way, to ignore the lost sheep and leave them to their peril. Instead, we are to pray for them; to encourage and exhort them to extend their presence beyond their annual visit – always gently, but always firmly. We are to hold before them the love the Holy Family had, and above all the love our Lord had, for God's house. How could we not? They are our brothers and sisters; and our concern for their souls must be as great as that which we have for our own. Amen. 

Examin Sunday 27 December 2015

During the Christmas season we are reminded much of angels. There is the archangel Gabriel who brings such good news to Mary and Zechariah; there are the angels who appear in the heavens at the birth of Christ; others visit Joseph and the Wise men in dreams, helping them know what they ought to do. The word angel come from the Greek word for messenger. And it is an appropriate word for these celestial beings for in the interactions they have with men that are recorded in Sacred Scripture they act as God's messengers. But we too may act as messengers from God. We do so every time we share with others the Good News of Jesus Christ. This Christmas do not be afraid to be an angel of the Lord yourself. Share with those you meet the message we have all been given by God in the Scriptures, his holy word that is for all mankind.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

prayer diary Saturday 26 December 2015: St Stephen's Day

Jesus said 'You will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.' 
Matthew 10. 22

Small indeed is what we are asked to endure for the faith compared to the price St Stephen paid. But even if our fidelity should cost us our life, what of it if by doing so we earn, like him, the martyr's crown?

Friday, December 25, 2015

the story of Christmas

Almighty, eternal, and merciful God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: we pray that as we meditate upon your Word you will lead us deeper into all truth that we may better know and do your will and grow in holiness day by day. Amen

We all, I am sure, know the story of the first Christmas. Or do we? I sometimes think all the imagined details used in Christmas cards and carols and films loom larger in the minds of many that the story as told in the Gospels. So let us tonight go over the story of the birth of our Lord as given to us by the evangelists St Matthew and St Luke, for it is they alone of the four gospel writers who give us any details of Jesus' life before his ministry began.

The story begins with Mary, a young woman who is betrothed to a man called Joseph. According to the custom of the place, this is legally a marriage, but they are not living together as man and wife. This young woman is visited by an angel who brings her startling news: she is to have a child, the Son of God, and not the son of any man. Mary, calling herself a handmaid of the Lord, agrees. She then goes with haste to the hill country of Judea to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who is also with child. There she spends three months.

Meanwhile, Joseph is considering what to do, for he knows of Mary's condition; presumably because she has told him. He decides he will end the marriage quietly so as not to expose her to any public disgrace. We should not, I think, suspect that he doubts her story, for St Matthew says he plans this because he is a righteous man; and why should a righteous man wish to be thought of as a wicked man who would cast aside a young and pregnant wife for the sake of protecting her from the disgrace of her own actions? More likely such a man would think himself unworthy to be the husband of a woman chosen by God to be the mother of his Son. But he is visited by an angel in a dream and told not to be afraid of taking her as his wife. And when he awakes he does as the angel commands.

Israel at the time is under the control of the great power of its day, Rome; and the emperor decides he will conduct a census and orders all the people to go to their ancestral towns. Joseph is of the house of David and so he and his wife Mary must go to the city of David, Bethlehem. We do not know how they travelled there. Perhaps Mary did indeed ride on a donkey as it is so often depicted; she was, after all, very close to her time. But she may have walked, for it was common for groups of people to make such journeys on foot together when making the journey for festivals and the like; and such groups could only have gone as quickly as the slowest member. There would have been elderly folk and young children in any such group; so the pace would not have been too fast for a woman who was heavily pregnant in an age when people were used to life being harder than it is now – for most in the West, at least.

When they arrive in Bethlehem, they can find no place to stay. Why we can not be sure. It is a small town with most likely only one inn; perhaps with so many people there for the census it is already full. And so Mary has her baby in whatever place it is that they can find to take shelter. St Luke does not mention a stable, only that the child is laid in a manger. Inns of the time commonly had courtyards where guests could keep their animals and so mangers would have been needed in them, perhaps even under a lean-to of some sort. If it was there our Lord was born, it is unlikely that sheep or cattle would have been present; some donkeys belonging to guests are not impossible, maybe even a horse or two if some wealthy people were staying. But the evangelist makes no mention of what animals were present; only the manger.

Images of the scene often show snow on the ground. This is not likely. It does not often snow in Israel, not even in winter. And we can be quite sure that it was winter, sometime in December, even if we not be totally sure it was the 25th. No less a person than St John Chrysostom has taken the details given to us by St Luke of when Zechariah, the father of St John the Baptist, was in the temple offering incense, and used them to calculate when John was conceived; and from that date, knowing that John was six months older than Jesus, we know that the Nativity of our Lord took place in December.

While our Lord is being born in Bethlehem, in the nearby countryside the shepherds are being visited by angels, who tell them of the Messiah's birth and how they will recognise him: a child, laying in a manger, wrapped in swaddling bands. And they go to Bethlehem – just the shepherds, for the angels, as St Luke tells us, have returned to heaven - and find it just as they were told. How the shepherds find them in the town we can not know; but of one thing we can be sure; there is no star hanging over the place where the manger is placed to guide them as is so often shown in Christmas cards; and neither do the wise men join the shepherds at the manger as is so frequently depicted, for they came later, as St Matthew makes clear – perhaps many months later.

So what have we left; what do we know for sure of that night? Bethlehem in the mild winter-weather of the Near-East, shepherds visited by angels in the night, and Mary and Joseph and the child in a manger wrapped in swaddling bands. Does removing all the embellishments of storytelling and song lessen the picture of the first Christmas in any way? I think not; for these added details, even though they can often help us see things more clearly in our mind, add nothing essential to the story of Christmas. What is essential is that God has been made man and come to dwell among us; that this tiny baby lying in a manger is the one who brings salvation to us all; his birth is the beginning of the Good News that will redeem all mankind and open the way for us to eternal life in heaven. We lose nothing by removing imaginary or misplaced details from the story of his birth because by his birth we are given all we could ever need, and more than we could ever hope for, imagine, or deserve.

To the Almighty and Eternal God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, to him be all honour and glory, now and unto the ages of ages: Amen. 

Thursday, December 24, 2015

bereaved at Christmas: a homily

May I speak in the name of the Almighty, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: Amen

I'd like to thank Fr O'Mahony for his kindness in inviting me to preach the homily this morning. I won't speak too much about my father – my brother will be saying a few words about him later and two eulogies not only are unnecessary, but Jim will do a better job telling you about my father than I ever could. Suffice it to say that he was a good Catholic all his life and a fine example of Christian living to all who knew him, especially his children, and I am sure God in his infinite mercy has received him kindly into his eternal reward.

Christmas is often thought of as a bad time for a bereavement. No time is a good one to lose a loved one; but Christmas, a time when families gather together to celebrate can be a particularly hard one to have a place at the table that has only recently been left vacant, with perhaps presents under the tree that will now never be opened by the person they were intended for.

And yet, let us think of what the message of Christmas is. It is the time of the Incarnation, when God himself became man and came into the world as a tiny baby. But he did not do this so that we might have sweet images of a mother and child to put upon our Christmas cards or romantic nativity scenes full of shepherds and angels and wise men to place beneath our Christmas trees or somewhere in our churches. He came to redeem to world – for God so loved the world that he sent his only Son that all might be saved, as St John tells us. He came to save us from our sins: the original sin of our first parents; and the sins we commit ourselves, whether by what we do or by what we fail to do, in thought, and word, and deed.

To do so, that tiny baby was, when he grew up, going to suffer and die for you, for me, for everyone who has ever lived, and who will ever live until the end of time. The wood of the manger the helpless baby lies in reminds us also of the wood of the cross that the grown man would chose to allow himself to be nailed to. Because by doing so he opened the door to heaven for all mankind.

And during his life he promised that all of those who trusted in him would enter into that eternal life that he had become man to purchase for them. And when each of us dies, we face the fulfilment of that promise – the promise that had its beginning at this birth at Christmas. That means that although it can make this a hard time for those left behind to be bereaved and face a funeral, it can also be seen, in a way, as being a particularly fitting time. The promise of eternal life is brought to its fulfilment at the time when we remember most the time when that promise first was made, the anniversary of the birth of Christ.

Losing a loved one at Christmas time takes away not a single happy memory we have of that person or of Christmases past that we had with them; and indeed, if we have hope that they spend this Christmas with other loved ones in heaven, we may consider that we have only another happy memory to add to those we already have. I have no reason not to believe that my father at his passing from this life did not enter into the fullness of the eternal life that Christ promised him, as he promises us all. He lived all his life as a good Catholic and a faithful son of the Church. He did all that was asked and expected of him as a Christian, not grudgingly but lovingly, as someone who loved God and knew himself to be known and loved by him. And I can only pray that when the day comes for each one here to end their journey through this life, those they leave behind will have the same comfort that Jim, Joan, and I, and all who knew and loved Jerry Burke in believing that he knows today the joy of the promises all mankind received through the birth of our Lord on the day of that first Christmas so long ago. Amen.
written for the occasion of the funeral of my father, Jeremiah Burke, Christmas Eve 2015.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

prayer diary Wednesday 23 December 2015

He asked for a writing-tablet and wrote, ‘His name is John.’ 
Luke 1,63

Zechariah names his son thus for no other reason than obedience to God. So too must we be obedient to God's will, even when do not understand, trusting in his infinite wisdom.

Jeremiah Burke, RIP

Jeremiah Burke + 13 Nov 1927 - 22 Dec 2015

Please pray for the soul of my father, Jeremiah Burke, who passed away this morning. A gentle man and a gentleman who was, inter alia, God-fearing and a true son of the Church, a faithful husband, a good father, a loving grandfather, a loyal friend, a fine saxophone player, and a superb car mechanic. 

He let me watch the greatest comedy ever made, and still my favourite,  'Some like it Hot' when I was four, used to let me sit on his knee while we watched the 'Dean Martin Show' late at night on our huge black and white television in our apartment in New York while my mother was on the grave-yard shift in the hospital where she was a nurse and my brother and sister slept, and paid for a new kitchen in the old house I was doing up by presenting me with a wad of cash fat enough to choke a horse that he won by placing a fifty-pound note that he found blowing along the pavement on a 60-to-one long-shot to win!

Alas, he was known to add 7-up to malt whiskey! But I suspect that will not be held against him in the place where tears and sorrows are no more.

May light perpetual shine upon him; may he rest in peace to rise in glory. 

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

prayer diary Tuesday 22 December 2015

'Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed.' 
Luke 1. 48

How prophetic are the words of the Virgin Mary! And why would we not call her blessed? For she has become he Mother of God and through her our salvation enters into the world.

Monday, December 21, 2015

prayer diary Monday 21 December 2015

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country. 
Luke 1.39

The words 'with haste' indicate the eagerness with which the Blessed Virgin did God's will. We must be like her, consumed with enthusiasm to do what it is that our Creator asks of us.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Advent IV: hell

Almighty, eternal, and merciful God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: we pray that as we meditate upon your Word you will lead us deeper into all truth that we may better know and do your will and grow in holiness day by day. Amen

Today is the final Sunday of Advent. This means that it the last of our series of sermons looking at what are called the four last things: death, judgement, heaven, and hell. And although it may seem somewhat grim to speak of such things this close to Christmas, this means that today we turn our attention to the topic of hell.

Perhaps it is necessary that we do so. At a function recently I met a person who over the first course decided they would like to discuss theological matters – an occupational hazard for a priest! So over the soup they told me: 'I don't believe in hell. Why would a merciful God create such a place or send anyone there?'

It is a question I have been asked before; and in an age when people's thinking have been more formed by the secular media and Hollywood's output on on television and cinema screens, perhaps not a surprising one. So let us consider it.
But before we consider why God would do such a thing, let us first consider whether or not he has. Does hell exist? And the answer to that is a very firm 'yes.' And we know this because Jesus taught us that it does. And that is why the Church has always taught that hell is real, a place for those who rebel against God.

There is another issue that is related to this. And it goes something like this: 'yes, hell exists; we cannot deny that it does, or else Christ would not have warned us against it. But it is empty! There is no one in it! For God loves his children so much that he sends no one there.' This is a suggestion that has been made by more than one theologian in modern times. And again it is an idea that is false. Not only is hell real but people do indeed go there. And we know this because Christ himself told us that they do. We need only look to the parable of Dives and Lazarus, where the rich man who neglected his poor neighbour in this life is in hell in the next; and also the prophecy/parable of the sheep and the goats where Jesus speaks of his own second coming and separating one from the other, welcoming the faithful into his kingdom, and the wicked going to eternal punishment.

So hell is not something that man for some perverse reason or other invented to frighten people; it was something that Christ taught us about and warned us against. Because of that it is something that we can not have any doubts about; and the Church, who was commanded by Jesus to teach all nations all that he had commanded them too, must also teach people of hell, now, and always, unto the end of the ages.

But knowing that it exists does not necessarily tell us why it exists. Perhaps to answer that, we should look at the matter from the opposite direction and instead ask the question that no one seems to ask: why heaven? The person who says they do not believe in hell are quite happy to believe in heaven. But who is heaven for? It is the place that God created us to be; but God forces nothing upon us. We have free-will. And just as our first parents through the misuse of their free-will lost the paradise that was Eden, so too may we lose the paradise that is heaven if we misuse our free-will by being disobedient to God and sinning.

Heaven is the place for those who love God. And, as Christ tells us, those who love God are those who know and do his will. So how can those who commit serious sin, freely, knowingly. and deliberately, without any sorrow at what they do, be said to love God? More, if they will not trust in his mercy and ask his forgiveness, if they will not do as Christ asked and repent and believe in his good news, how can they be said to love God? The merciful God the person who told me they did not believe in hell spoke of will grant this mercy to all who ask; but he will not force it upon them. And neither will he force into to heaven to dwell in his presence for all eternity those who refuse to love him.

They have rejected God and so have rejected heaven. But God has created them with an immortal soul and he will not annihilate them. What then is to become of them if they will not enter into heaven? They must go somewhere; and that somewhere is hell. And they go there not because God is without mercy and condemns them in spite of their begging him for forgiveness; they go there because they will not repent and a merciful God respects their freely made decision to reject him. Hell is their choice.

Advent is the time when we remember that Christ came into the world to show us how we may best avoid making such a choice, so that all who listen to him may instead have eternal joy with him in heaven. I pray that all here will choose to listen to him.

To the Almighty and Eternal God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, to him be all honour and glory, now and unto the ages of ages: Amen. 

Examin Sunday 20 Dec 2015

God established a time for his promises and a time for their fulfilment. The time for promises was the time of the prophets, until John the Baptist; from John until the end is the time of fulfilment.
From a discourse on the psalms by St Augustine

We live in the time of fulfilment, the time after the coming of Christ when we must prepare ourselves for when he comes again. God helps prepare us through the sacraments, through his Holy Word, and through his Church. We play our part by living in obedience to his will. Consider you life. Do reject what obedience may gain you for empty promises and false pleasures that will pass?

Saturday, December 19, 2015

prayer diary Saturday 19 Dec 2015

'With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him to … make ready a people prepared for the Lord.’ 
Luke 1. 17

First came the prophets and then John the Baptist to prepare the world for the coming of Christ. Now that he has come we must all turn our hearts and live as those who know the wisdom of the righteous.

Friday, December 18, 2015

prayer diary Friday 18 Dec 2015

His mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 
Matthew 1.18

The evangelist here makes explicit that Christ had no human father. Mary, the spotless virgin, is with child by the Holy Spirit; and her Son is therefore the Son of God.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

prayer diary Thursday 17 Dec 2015

' … and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah.' 
Matthew 1.16

Matthew's genealogy traces Christ's human ancestry so that we may know he was truly man. But he makes it clear that Joseph was not his father in the flesh so that we may know he was truly divine.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Advent: mid-week reflection

In our Gospel reading this evening St John the Baptist sends two of his disciples to ask Jesus the question: ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?'

It would be easy, from this, to make the mistake of thinking that John is having doubts. He is at this time in prison. He surely knows his time is short. King Herod may be unwilling to kill him, but Herodias the queen hates him for speaking out and saying their marriage is unlawful, meaning that it is no marriage at all, and she is therefore someone living in adultery with a man who is not her husband, a public sinner, and no queen at all. Such a powerful enemy will eventually find a way to bring about his death; and sadly we know that this will all too soon prove to be the case.

And sitting in prison, seeing the end of his life drawing near, we could easily imagine that the one who knew it was his task to prepare the way of the Lord would begin to wonder if he had indeed fulfilled his mission in life. Was he right to name Jesus the Christ? Can this man who preaches peace be the Messiah of God? Is such a man the one who not only will lead his people to freedom, but bring all people's to kneel before the one true God? And so he sends two of his followers to Jesus.

But it would be wrong to think John doubts. This is the man who said of Jesus: 'he must grow greater and I must grow lesser' and 'behold the lamb of God, the one who takes away the sins of the world.' He not only knows Jesus is the Christ, his words describing Jesus as the lamb of God indicates the he knows the Christ must suffer and die, for that is what lambs do in Judaism. He understands that this Christ will be a suffering Messiah.

No, John does not doubt; and he does not want his disciples to doubt either. And this is why he sends them to Jesus. They arrive as Jesus is performing many great acts of power. They witness for themselves the miracles, that 'the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them.' Such acts show that Jesus is indeed the Messiah and that they need have no doubt that is indeed who he is.

St John the Baptist sent his followers to Jesus that they might know that the Christ had indeed come. And we learn the same thing in our reading of the Sacred Scriptures: that the second person of the Blessed Trinity did indeed come and dwell among us. More, we learn that he will come again. Advent is the season when we ponder deeply the first so as to better make it part of our lives so that we will be ready when he comes again. Advent is the time when through prayer and the reading of scriptures we ask for ourselves the question that St John sent his followers to ask: ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?' And our God-given answer is that he was indeed to the one who was to come; and that we need expect no other, but only that he will come again. Amen.

prayer diary Wednesday 16 Dec 2015

‘Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them.' 
Luke 7. 22

Whenever you have doubts, reflect on the witness of the Gospels. They speak to us of the deeds of Christ; and through them we may know who he truly is.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

book recomendation


The ever erudite Dom Mark Kirby of Silverstream Priory has a book recommendation on his blog here: The Gentle Traditionalist by Roger Buck  It sounded so interesting that I ordered a copy. I do enjoy books that serve to kill two birds with one stone, as it were - a relaxing fictional story that carries beneath the surface some true learning. Robert Graves 'I, Claudius' and 'Claudius the God' remain among my favourite books. I read them as a  teenager - a great story that helped me with my Roman History studies in college no end! 

I'll post a review of the book after it arrives and I've read it. But as Dom Mark enjoyed it so much he read it twice you may care to trust his recommendation and order your copy now. If so, why don't you follow this link here and go buy it through the author's website? Doing that gives him a bit of an extra percentage on the sale. Every little helps and it'll make for a nice little Christmas bonus for him!

prayer diary Tuesday 15 Dec 2015

(A man asked his two sons to work in the vineyard). The first said “I will not” ... but later he went ; the second said, “I go, sir”; but he did not go. 
Matthew 21. 28-30

Some pay lip-service to the faith, but do not live by it. Others struggle and stumble but do their best to be obedient to God's will. It is they who will enter his Kingdom.

Monday, December 14, 2015

prayer diary Monday 14 Dec 2015

'The chief priests and the elders ... said, ‘By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?’ 
Matthew 21. 23

Did the religious authorities really need to ask such question? The truth was before them if they did but look. But they did not care to. There are many like them today.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Advent 3: Heaven

Almighty, eternal, and merciful God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: we pray that as we meditate upon your Word you will lead us deeper into all truth that we may better know and do your will and grow in holiness day by day. Amen

Today is the third Sunday of Advent. During this season it is traditional to preach on the four last things: death, judgement, heaven, and hell. Today is also Guadate Sunday, the Sunday of rejoicing, when the penitential aspect of the season is lightened somewhat. It is therefore very appropriate that we look at that most joyful of topics, the place we were created to spend all eternity: heaven.

Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, the author of such classic novels as 'The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, once remarked that he would chose heaven for the climate and hell for the company. Mr Clemens was, as you will be aware if you have ever read any of his works, a man of great wit. But his humour in this case betrays a profound theological ignorance. This is not surprising; he was, while not an atheist, someone who was highly critical of organised religion and who found the concept of divine revelation implausible. Perhaps this is what led him into his error.

The first place where he goes wrong is with the idea that heaven is full of boring people. Consider all the interesting characters that we know who are in heaven: Jesus Christ himself, and his mother the Blessed Virgin Mary, for example; St Peter and St Mary Magdalene, King David and his great-grandmother Ruth who stood among the alien corn; Moses and his sister Miriam who hid him in his basket among the rushes; St Patrick and St Brigid, those great saints of our own land; and St Francis of Assisi and his co-worker St Clare.

These are not dull people! And the Bible and the various lives of the saints that have been written down through the ages have thousand of more examples of those who are numbered among the company of heaven, all great heroes of the faith not one of whom can be considered boring or someone that would not make for a lively companion for a conversation that might last an hour a century or some other part of eternity.

And the second place he goes wrong, and more seriously I would suggest, is that his joke presumes that he knows who it is who goes to hell. Those he considers fun people, are in the light of his joke, surely damned. And this is not the case; for as Christ himself told us, who are we to judge? This is why the Church will teach how it is that a person may sin and as a result lose out on the eternal happiness of heaven; but never who. No matter how bad a person has been in the eyes of the world, the Church has never dared to say that that person is in hell.

Hell is real, or else Christ would not have told us of it; and people do go there, or else he would not have warned us against it. But as to who those people might be, we cannot say. It is not beyond hope that the person who seems in the eyes of the world to have lived a life of absolute depravity and reached the end of their life unrepentant of all their sins, caring not how their wickedness may have hurt others or offended God, may have in fact secretly had a change of heart, even if only at the last minute; that in their dying moments, with their last breath or last thought they cried out to God: 'Lord, have mercy on me, for I am a sinner' and been forgiven. 

I would not, of course, recommend leaving things to the last minute like that; nor would I recommend gambling with your eternal soul by leading a life of wickedness thinking that you will have time to repent at the last moment! I am merely saying that it is not impossible that such may happen; and therefore it is not possible for us to say who fails to achieve heaven. It is for God to judge and he is merciful.

And God wants his children to go to heaven. That is why he created us. Mark Twain might have found it funny to joke about how only the good but dull will end in the sunny climes of heaven; and those who like to have a good time will go to where things are a great deal warmer and far less pleasant; but for God it was no laughing matter. He took it so seriously that he sent his only Son into the world that all might be saved. Therefore, let us all, on this Guadate Sunday, rejoice in the hope we have of heaven through our Saviour, Jesus Christ!

To the Almighty and Eternal God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, to him be all honour and glory, now and unto the ages of ages: Amen. 

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Examin Sunday 12 Dec 2015

'We know that there are three comings of the Lord. The third lies between the other two. It is invisible … in his first coming our Lord came in our flesh and in our weakness; in this middle coming he comes in spirit and in power; in the final coming in glory and majesty.'
St Bernard, abbot

St Bernard's words should not surprise us. Did not Christ tell us he would be with us always, even unto the end of the age? Therefore he is indeed with us and knowing well our weaknesses he will support us when we are in danger of stumbling and falling. Cry out to him always for his help if you would be ready when he comes again in glory and majesty.

prayer diary Saturday 12 Dec 2015

'I tell you that Elijah has already come, and ... they did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man is about to suffer at their hands.’ 
Matthew 9. 37

The joy of Christmas can sometimes cause us to think only of the babe in the manger. But we must keep in mind always that the Christ-child came to suffer and die for our sins.

Friday, December 11, 2015

prayer diary Friday 11 Dec 2015

'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.'' 
Matthew 11. 18,19

Those who love evil will hate the good no matter what they say or do. Therefore do not try to win their favour; instead, stay faithful to the will of God.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

VIETNAM: lawyer attacked for teaching Catholics about their religious rights

Vietnamese Christian lawyer Nguyen Van Dai suffered a serious and prolonged assault at the hands of police after attending a human rights conference. Three of his friends were also attacked. 

On the morning of the 6 December, Mr Nguyen travelled to Nam Dan District, Nghe An Province, to facilitate and participate in a human rights forum, accompanied by three of his friends named Trung, Minh and Thang. The forum was open to the public and intended to serve as a platform for Nguyen and his friends to educate the citizens of Nghe An about their rights, including the right to freedom of religion or belief, as guaranteed in the Vietnamese Constitution. CSW has received several reports of FoRB violations in Nghe An, which has a significant Catholic population

Approximately 60 people attended and the event proceeded without interruption, despite initial requests by the police to cancel the forum. Afterwards, Mr Nguyen and his friends travelled to Quan Hanh, the capital of Nghi Loc District. Upon their arrival they were met by approximately 20 plain-clothed police, who proceeded to confront them and beat them with wooden sticks, striking their shoulders and thighs.

Mr Nguyen was pulled onto a motorcycle and driven to a different province about 20km from Nghi Loc, where the beatings continued and he received a blow to the head. Mr Nguyen’s possessions were confiscated, including documents, his phone, camera, and wallet. His jacket and shoes were also taken from him and he was pushed into the cold sea.

Eventually, Mr Nguyen managed to borrow a phone and contact his friends, asking for help. However, Mr Nguyen was followed and suffered a further attack. With the help of some Catholic residents in Nghe An, Nguyen was eventually able to return to Hanoi on 7 December.

Trung, Minh and Thang also had their possessions confiscated. Some Catholic residents helped Trung and Minh to escape and return to Hanoi. Thang has also returned to Hanoi.

CSW Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said, “We call for an immediate investigation into the violent attacks upon these individuals, and for those responsible to be held to account. Lawyer Nguyen Van Dai and his friends were simply seeking to educate Vietnamese citizens about the rights stipulated in Vietnam’s own Constitution, including the right to freedom of religion or belief.

'We echo the words of the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders Michel Forst in calling for better support and protection of defenders by States, donors, and the general public. We agree that human rights defenders, including those who promote the right to freedom of religion or belief, deserve our unequivocal support. We call on the Government of Vietnam to protect the rights of individuals like Dai and his colleagues, and to allow them to carry out their vital work without interference or threats to their personal safety.”

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.

Advent mid-week reflection

The theme of Advent is remembering the first coming of Christ and preparing for his second. It is, to paraphrase St Augustine, the time when we strive even more to take all that Christ offered us through his Incarnation so that when he comes again we will not be found wanting, that we will not be numbered among the goats when we stand before him in judgement, that we will not find ourselves in the outer darkness that is the absence of God's presence instead of the light eternal for which he created us.

Perhaps for some that seems too daunting a prospect. Perhaps that is why Christ speaks of us as carrying heavy burdens. But if that is the case, we have no need to fear. Does not Christ promise that he will give rest to those carrying heavy burdens? And does he not also say that his yoke – which is to live out as fully as possible always helped by Divine grace the Christian life – is easy? Our Lord's words here should remind us of those spoken by the prophet Isaiah which we also heard read earlier: those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint. The one who trusts in his own strength for the journey through life, the journey that will take us all to stand before Christ's judgement one day, will grow weary, he will faint, no matter that he is young and strong; without God's help there is no hope of salvation. 

But with his help there is every hope. He has sent his Son. And his Son has told us the sure way, the perfect way. It is the way where we throw off the burdens the world would seek to place upon us and let Christ give us rest from them; and replace them with his yoke which is easy and with his burden which is light. If we will learn from the one who is gentle and humble in heart, the Son of God himself, then we need have no fear that we will fail to make the Lord's way our way in life. We will have made his first coming the basis for how we live and and we will therefore have no need to fear the day when he will come again. Amen. 

prayer diary Thursday 10 Dec 2015

'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. 12

Christ speaks here while John was still alive. No matter how great a man seems on earth, he is as nothing compared to the one who has achieved his eternal destiny and been welcomed into the heavenly kingdom.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

prayer diary Wednesday 9 Dec 2015

'For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’ 
Matthew 11. 30

And why is that burden light? It is because Christ helps carry it for us. Let him help you and you also will find it easy to bear.

prayers for a dying child

Please pray, if you would, for Charlotte, aged five. She has a serious brain cancer and she is not expected to live much longer. Her great-uncle called to the rectory earlier today. When I suggested trying some particular prayers for a couple of weeks, he said he didn't think she had that long left. 

All that is left is prayer. All in our local community, Roman Catholic, Church of Ireland, and others are praying for her. Please join us. Perhaps our prayers for the healing of a child will be granted and she will get the miracle she needs.  

If you do pray for her, perhaps you will include the following in your prayers:

'Phil*, in your many years of suffering you showed great faith and perseverance and we believe you to be numbered among the saints in heaven. Please pray now for little Charlotte that she may be healed of what causes her to suffer that she may be restored to her parents as a healthy little girl. In Jesus name, amen.' 

(*Phil is the wonderful lady who I talked about in my post Light no Candles.) 

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

prayer diary Tuesday 8 Dec 2015

'And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray.' 
Matthew 18. 13

Salvation of the lost brings our Father in heaven great joy. Therefore if we would please him we must always work to bring those lost souls back to him.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Norway takes children away from Christians

Just when I begin to think I've heard it all, there comes this story from about a couple in Norway who are reported as having had their five children removed by state officials for teaching them the fairly basic Christian belief that God punishes sin. Their teacher didn't like it, in fact considered it abuse, and contacted the authorities, who lost no time swinging into action. 

What's next? Government intervention for mentioning Christ to child? Having them baptised? Possession of a Bible within 50 feet of a minor?

This story, if the facts are reported are true, is appalling. It is something that a democratic country should be ashamed of. Abuse? The only abuse taking place here is that the family is suffering at the hands of a few narrow-minded bureaucrats.

It is to be hoped that everything possible will be done to restore justice to this family immediately; not only for their sake, but for the sake of the reputation of the people of Norway. Supporters of the family have set up a facebook page with links to a petition and details as to how to email various members of the Norwegian government to voice a concern. Read the story for yourself. And if you think they are being treated abysmally, then go to the facebook page and do what you can to help them out. Thanks.

(BTW: I do realise that there are two sides to this story. However, only one side seems to be putting out any information ... and the other side has not acted to contradict that information or publish its own side. I'd really much rather it turn out that the authorities took the kids away from these parents for another reason; I don't want to believe that we live in a world where a democratic country will start behaving like a secular totalitarian state ... and I'm sure that all the external media attention this story is getting - in the near total absence of any in Norway - can only help the truth emerge.)

prayer diary Monday 7 Dec 2015

They went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles … When he saw their faith, he said, ‘Friend, your sins are forgiven you.’ 
Luke 5. 19,20

Christ's first concern was always the salvation of souls. Even as we care for the physical needs of others we must not neglect their spiritual welfare.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Advent 2: judgement

Almighty, eternal, and merciful God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: we pray that as we meditate upon your Word you will lead us deeper into all truth that we may better know and do your will and grow in holiness day by day. Amen

Today is the second Sunday of Advent. During this season it is traditional to preach on the four last things: death, judgement, heaven, and hell. Last Sunday we looked at death; therefore this Sunday it is when we must look at the topic of judgement.

Judgement Day is often thought of as being a rather scary prospect. Not so much because that it may result in our being found to have good and faithful servants and so go to heaven; but rather because we worry that that may not be the case. Therefore, let us look at the concept in the form of a story, so as to illustrate the risks we face and where they actually come from.

This is coal mining country, so imagine you are a miner down a very deep mine. It is so deep, miles underground, that it can only be reached by a single shaft. That is the only way in or out. At the bottom of that deep, deep shaft are many tunnels heading off in all directions. The mine has been in operation for many years, so that the tunnels go on for vast distances – so vast, there is a rail system in place to take the miners to where the work goes on. It takes a long time to get from the elevators to the workings so that it would be impractical for the miners to go up and down every day; so when they go down they must stay down for many weeks. But because the mine is rich in precious jewels the pay and accommodation is good. Naturally, there are some conflicts between the workers and management, but no more than usual, and for the most part things go along quite well.

The day comes when something goes wrong. Sudden tremors rock the mine. A message is sent out over the loudspeaker system: the mine is in danger of collapse and everyone must evacuate. There is plenty of time for every one to get out safely, but only if there is no delay. So everyone must start walking toward the great bank of elevators that lead to the surface and bring nothing with them. It will take several days; but the tremors have damaged the rail system so walking is the only option.

Some refuse to go. The have been mining for years and they don't believe there is any danger. They are going to stay and wait for the rail system to be fixed. Others don't trust the management. They think it is a trick to get all the workers out of the mine at the same time so they can be replaced by people who will do the work for less money. So they stay behind while most begin to walk.

All goes well for a while and the miners, though worried about the danger of the mine collapsing, are cheerful enough. But after a few hours, some begin to complain. The walking is hard and the journey is long. The tremors seem to have stopped. Perhaps the danger has passed? So one after the other they stop walking; they will wait and see what happens; perhaps they will start again after a rest, perhaps not.

The rest carry on. But then some begin to struggle. They have filled bags with jewels and are carrying them despite the great weight, despite the warning not to bring anything. Their friends urge them to lay their burdens aside, but they will not. But the weight slows them down and they begin to fall behind.

The rest carry on. They come to what used to be a station along the rail system, where the line branched off in many directions to other areas of the mine. People from those areas have gathered there. But instead of carrying on with the journey, they are having a huge party, eating and drinking to their hearts' content. 'Come join us' they cry out to all who pass by. Many do. They are hungry and thirsty and tired of walking. Food, drink, and a rest are all very appealing. They do not seem to notice that very few who have stopped to party continue on, but rather stay and continue to eat, drink, and be merry.

The rest carry on. With only a few hours to go before they reach the elevators, they pass a great crack in the tunnel opened by the tremors. It is larger than any tunnel and it opens into an enormous cave. And the cave is filled with jewels even larger and more valuable than the ones they had been mining so far away. Many rush in and begin to claw them from the rocks with their hands. They first fill their pockets; then they take off their jackets and close them up and tie the sleeves closed to use as crude bags. These they also begin to fill. Those outside the cave cry out to them to stop, to leave the jewels, to keep walking. Safety is so very close now. But they will not stop.

And so the rest carry on. In a few hours they reach the great bank of elevators that lead to the surface. And the men operating them, waiting to take them to safety are astonished at how few have come. 'Where are they?' they ask. 'The danger is great and time is short.' And those who have come tell them where they are and what they are doing. 'Can you wait for them? Can you send help to those who stopped? Can you send messengers to those who would not come and tell them to change their minds?' But those who operate the elevators shake their heads sadly. 'There is no time,' they say. 'Get in, we must go.' And those who had made the long journey, stopping for nothing, following the instructions they were given for their safety, get into the elevators and are taken up to safety. They reach the surface. And not long after they do there is another great tremor. The mine collapses. And all who stayed behind are lost.

Whose fault is it that they were lost? There is no one to blame but themselves. They would not listen to the warnings. They made bad choices; and they suffered the consequences of those choices. And that is what judgement is. God sent his Son that we might know the way to safety, the way to him in heaven. If we refuse to listen, if we refuse to follow the path he has laid out for us, we have no one to blame but ourselves. To answer the questions we began with: what are the risks that we face? That we may allow the things of this world come between us and heaven. And where do those risks come from? From many places; but ultimately from the choices we ourselves make. I pray that all here will make good choices all their lives so that at the end they will be saved and end in heaven.

To the Almighty and Eternal God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, to him be all honour and glory, now and unto the ages of ages: Amen. 

Examin Saturday 5 December 2015

'Our obligation is to do God's will and not our own. We must remember this if the prayer that our Lord commanded us to say daily is to have any meaning on our lips.'

St Cyprian, bishop and martyr

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Prayer Diary Saturday 5 December 2015

'The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few.' 
Matthew 9. 37

Christ's words were not just for his day but always. We are all called to labour for God's harvest. Do you answer that call?

Friday, December 4, 2015

Prayer Diary Friday 4 December 2015

Jesus said, ‘According to your faith let it be done to you.’ And their eyes were opened.Matthew 9. 29,30

The reluctance to live out Christ's hard teachings is a form of spiritual blindness. Call on him to heal you so that the eyes of your soul may be opened

Thursday, December 3, 2015

a house of prayer

Let the oratory be what it is called, a place of prayer; and let nothing else be done there or kept there. When the Work of God is ended, let all go out in perfect silence, and let reverence for God be observed, so that any brother who may wish to pray privately will not be hindered by another's misconduct. And at other times also, if anyone should want to pray by himself, let her go in simply and pray, not in a loud voice but with tears and fervor of heart. He who does not say his prayers in this way, therefore, shall not be permitted to remain in the oratory when the Work of God is ended,
lest another be hindered, as we have said.
The Rule of St Benedict, Chapter 52

Something to think about when so many think of their local church as a fine place to catch up on all the gossip before and/or after the sacred liturgy begins. Not to mention the amount of churches that I've seen where the gallery or one of the transepts is used as a storage area for any manner of things that are no longer of use but people can't bring themselves to throw away ... 

Prayer Diary Thursday 3 December 2015

Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord”, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only one who does the will of my Father in heaven.' Matthew 7. 21

Salvation is inextricably linked with obedience. Conform your will, therefore, to that of the Father so that what he wants of you is your deepest desire.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Prayer Diary Wednesday 2 December 2015

Jesus said, ‘I have compassion for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat.' 
Matthew 15. 32

Christ did not allow his desire for the salvation of souls to blind him to the human needs of those around him. So too are we less than Christian if we neglect those in need.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

freedom of the press, Vatican style

Reporters Without Borders are calling the prosecution of the two reporters who published material gained from the so-called 'Vatileaks 2' scandal 'censorship.' I'm not entirely sure about that. I'm a former journalist and have a natural sympathy for freedom of the press. But I also think that freedom has limits. And I would want to be sure that those limits were not transgressed before I agree that the journalists in this case are being unfairly treated. 

There is no question that the material they used was acquired illicitly. That in itself does not mean that they should not have used it. Sometimes this is the only way that information that the public has a right to know can be made available. The public has a right to know about what corrupt politicians or public institutions are up to; and sometimes even the activities of private organisation deserve public scrutiny against their wishes. The public would have no way of finding out this information if there were not people on the inside willing to go public. This is why we have whistle-blower laws. Sometimes it is the higher duty of all involved to make public information that some would prefer to keep private. And those who respond to that higher duty need to be protected.

Is the case here? It would seem not. No one, as far as I'm aware, is suggesting that the two Vatican insiders who leaked the material should not be prosecuted because they were whistle-blowers acting in the public interest. And if they were not acting in the public interest, then neither were the journalists. That the public might be interested in reading the story does not make it a story that must be heard for the good of the public.

Therefore, it would seem to me that the limits I spoke about at the beginning have indeed were transgressed. Essentially if those who took the information deserve to be prosecuted because they weren't acting in the public interest, then it is only fair that anyone who, knowing how the information was obtained (if that is the case here - and, again as far as I'm aware, no one is saying they didn't) should also be prosecuted. Whether they are found guilty or not is a matter for the courts to decide once the evidence has been heard and the applicable laws considered. Freedom of the press is a necessary good in a healthy democracy; but it isn't the same thing as the press having the freedom to do whatever they like and say their actions must go unchallenged for the sake of freedom of the press. 

Prayer Diary Tuesday 1 December 2015

Jesus said, ‘I thank you, Father ... because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants.' 
Luke 10.21

Christ does not mean that Christianity excludes those who are clever. Rather that true wisdom lies in the simplicity of heart that allows us to know and love God.

Monday, November 30, 2015

droning on and on and on

In the video Jeremy Clarkson declares this a story from the not too distant future. A little girl's soccer shoe 'emergency' is dealt with swiftly by way of an Amazon drone.

Humanity is an interesting species. We invent drones. What do we do with them? Use them as toys. Use them as a weapon of war. Use them as a bolt on for online shopping. 

Isn't there a better use? What about, for example, to deliver food, medicine, and other necessities of life to those who are starving and dying in war-torn regions ... but the normal channels for aid are blocked by those who are doing the fighting and killing. 

That's the story I'd like to hear from the not too distant future. How this kind of technology is being used to save lives. That, and an end to the fighting and killing that would make their use in delivering aid necessary. 

Sunday, November 29, 2015

advent 1: death

Almighty, eternal, and merciful God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: we pray that as we meditate upon your Word you will lead us deeper into all truth that we may better know and do your will and grow in holiness day by day. Amen

Today is the first Sunday of Advent. During this season it is traditional to preach on the four last things: death, judgement, heaven, and hell. And being someone who thinks tradition is important, especially within the Church, we begin today with death.

Death has always been something of a mysterious subject throughout all of human history. How is it that one moment a person can be alive and the next dead? Why can a person sometimes can survive what appears to be catastrophic injuries and recover fully, while something that seems trivial in comparison can carry someone off within moments? How is it that an apparently frail human being can be afflicted with some serious and chronic condition and yet go on and on living for years, while a robust and healthy person can contract what seems to be no more than a bad cold and yet can slip rapidly from his loved ones into the unyielding embrace of death?

And yet, mysterious as this cessation of life has been, mankind has always instinctively known that death is not the end. We know this from archaeology, and the respectful way that even from the earliest times man has treated his dead. Buried with people are often found provisions, tools, weapons, and jewellery; all things that are needed by the living but are of no apparent use to the dead. They speak of an understanding that life continues beyond the grave. And the mythologies of later cultures developed that understanding into stories of what form that life might take – generally seeing it as being a shadowy kind of existence that was grim compared with this life. It matters little that their notions of what life after this life might be like was different; what is important here is that the idea was widespread and spoke of a universal tendency to find irrational the thought that the spark that had brought life to the dust of which we are made could ever be totally extinguished.

The tendency to realise this is, I would suggest, a form of natural revelation, knowledge of how the universe works gained from observing the natural world. It is the same reason that most people, even without exposure to religion, intuitively understand that there must be a God, for without a creator how could anything exist? Or the natural inclination toward morality and realising that certain things are right and certain things are wrong. But it is only through Divine Revelation that man is guided towards being able to take things to the next level, so to speak. Therefore, through natural revelation we know there must be a God; but it is through Divine revelation that we know that he exists in Trinity; natural revelation gives us some sense of morality, but Divine Revelation tells why it is that certain things are right and others wrong, which is that which is wrong does not conform with the Creator's intentions for how those he created should behave; and natural revelation speaks to us of life after death; Divine Revelation gives a vision of what that life will be, which is that it is eternity in heaven with the Creator and the reason for which he created us in the first place.

This knowledge of what life after death is and that it is part of God's plan for us is of unimaginable importance. Without that knowledge the life we have on this earth has very little meaning. What would be the point of life if everything ended in decay; if all we had done would be forgotten shortly after we die in the vast majority of cases and even those handful whose names live on for generations will eventually be lost, for in time all the universe will be gone? What would be the point of struggling to lead a good and moral life if its sole reward was the good opinion of those around you who will themselves soon enough be dead and forgotten?

But the right understanding of death granted us through Divine Revelation prevents that; it prevents us from falling into the trap of thinking life is ultimately meaningless and as a result leading a life that is useless or hedonistic. God created us for a purpose; and that purpose was to love him, to show that love in the manner in which we lead our lives, and at the last be with him. Whether we are, at the last with him, depends on how well, with the help of God's grace, we live out the words of Christ that those who love him are those who hear and do God's will. Whether we have done so, and therefore hear the words on the last day that we are good and faithful servants who are to welcomed into their master's joy, or wicked servants cast out into the outer darkness where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth, will be decided when Jesus returns again to judge the living and the dead. But as judgement is our topic for next week, I will simply end here with the prayer that all will use the time granted them during this Advent season to prepare well for when he comes again and by it not be found wanting on that day.

To the Almighty and Eternal God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, to him be all honour and glory, now and unto the ages of ages: Amen.