Sunday, May 31, 2015

Trinity Sunday

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

That Trinity Sunday takes place the Sunday following the Feast of Pentecost in our liturgical calendar seems, to my mind, to be a very clever and appropriate place to put it. All during Lent we have readings where Jesus reminds us that he is the Son of God sent by the Father to suffer and die. These claims of divinity are given powerful and unanswerable witness by his rising from the dead, his post-resurrection appearances where he proves to his disciples that he is no ghost, but flesh and blood whom they can touch, and who eats and drinks with them; and then his return to where he had come from by his Ascension into heaven. During those forty days before his ascending, he made a further claim: that when he had gone, he would send them someone else – the Holy Spirit. And on the day of Pentecost he does just that, filling his disciples on that day, and all who have come after them, with a strength and courage that literally changed and changes the world.

So what better time to discuss the Trinity than the Sunday after Pentecost? In a short sermon it is not possible to go into great depth on the subject – the third of our Creeds, that of St Athanasius, the one that we will be using today, does that beautifully, in any case – but I think it important to note that our understanding of God existing in Trinity comes by way of Divine Revelation – it is something that God himself has revealed to us about himself. It is perfectly possible to understand much about God by way of philosophical speculation – that he exists, that he is eternal, all powerful, all knowing, creative, and loving for example – but that he is both One and Three is something we can only know by his telling us about it himself.

And this reminds us of something very important: God interacts with his creation. The universe is not like some clock that he made and wound up and left ticking and then walked away from, taking no more interest in what happens after that. He is active in his creation; not only did he create it out of nothing in the beginning, he re-creates it moment by moment as he sustains it in being by his creative will, and he both watches over and cares about what is taking place in it. 

We know this because of his self-revelation to us in Sacred Scripture and the Incarnation of the second person of the Trinity in Christ Jesus, and also because of the Holy Spirit that he sent to guide his Church. God Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit cares for and is concerned about our lives, and is in conversation with us, hearing us in our prayers, and responding to us both in action and in the Words of Holy Scripture.

That God teaches us about himself and how he wants us to live our lives is very important – it helps sustain us at those times of difficulty or doubt when we wonder if his Church really has it right or if we would be better listening to the voice of the world, the endless, pounding drum-beat of secularism that comes to us daily on a thousand radio and television stations, from every screen down at the local multi-plex, dominates much of the internet and the press, and has even colonised most of the interactions we have with those in the communities in which we live and work, worship and socialise. 

Knowing that God has revealed both himself and his teachings to us helps us to sustain our faith in the face of this onslaught – it is as if, to paraphrase our reading from Romans, when we cry out to God, ‘Abba! Father!’ in our pain, confusion, and doubt at all that challenges us in the world, he replies to us by way of His Holy Spirit, his very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ— and what we suffer in the world is not in vain for if, in fact, we suffer with him, so also may we be glorified with him. 

Or as Christ told Nicodemus, having been reborn of the water and the Spirit, who ever believes in the Son will have eternal life. Strengthened by all this, we are given the courage to carry out what Christ told us before he returned to heaven – that we are to make disciples of all nation, baptising them in the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit – and with that strength, I pray that you will respond to Christ's call in the manner of the prophet Isaiah, who when he heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ replied ‘Here am I; send me!’ Amen

Examin Sunday 31 May 2015

The first degree of humility is obedience without delay. This is the virtue of those who hold nothing dearer to them than Christ; who, because of the holy service they have professed, and the fear of hell, and the glory of life everlasting, as soon as anything has been ordered by the Superior, receive it as a divine command and cannot suffer any delay in executing it. Of these the Lord says, "As soon as he heard, he obeyed Me" (Ps. 17[18]:45). And again to teachers He says, "He who hears you, hears Me" (Luke 10:16). 
from the Rule of St Benedict, Ch 5

This kind of instant obedience is not, of course, expected of those living in the world. Even so, humility is a virtue required of all Christians; and the humble of heart will always consider whether their every action is obedient to the teachings of the Church that Christ himself gave us and the words of Sacred Scripture.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

prayer diary Saturday 30 May 2015

So they answered Jesus, ‘We do not know.’ And Jesus said to them, ‘Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.’ 
Mark 11. 33

The source of Jesus's authority was before their eyes, even as was that of John's. Sometimes people just want not to believe, no matter what the evidence. Pray for them, that their blindness will be lifted.

Friday, May 29, 2015

prayer diary Friday 29 May 2015

He was teaching and saying, ‘Is it not written,“My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations”? But you have made it a den of robbers.’ 
Mark 11. 17

God's house is a holy place. Are you careful to behave with due reverence at all times when you are within?

Thursday, May 28, 2015

prayer diary Thursday 28 May 2015

'And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.' 
Luke 16. 9

What is translated here as 'dishonest wealth' might be better put as 'worldly riches.' Christ is telling his disciples to use the goods they are blessed with in this life as but another means of entering into eternal life.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

prayer diary Wednesday 27 May 2015

'Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.' 
Mark. 10.43,44

It is one of the seeming paradoxes of the Christian life that greatness is attained through humility, and lordship by humble service. But in truth, there is no paradox at all, for the things of the world are a passing splendour; and the things that bring greatness in this life matter not at all in the next.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

haiku: Sunshine on stained glass

Sunshine on stained glass
    ~a butterfly flutters against it
           inside the church

prayer diary Tuesday 26 May 2015

'There is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the gospel, who will not receive a 100-fold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 
Mark 10.29, 30

The sacrifices one makes in this life are abundantly made up for by one's joining into the fellowship of the family of Church. What is more, things that will soon fade away are given up for the sake of what is eternal.

Monday, May 25, 2015

prayer diary Monday 25 May 2015

Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, ‘You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.' 
Mark 10.21

It was out of love, for the sake of his immortal soul, that Jesus told the rich young man to let go of the things of this world. How does this warning apply to your life? Do the treasures of this life - including the praise of others - mean more to you than those of heaven?

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Pentecost - what were they waiting for?

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

What were the disciples waiting for in the Upper Room, or Cenacle as it is properly known, on the day of Pentecost? Truthfully, I don't think they really knew. Christ had told them he would send the Holy Spirit – whom he called the Paraclete, which means Advocate, Councillor, and Comforter – but there's no indication that they understood what he had meant by that, any more than they had understood what he meant when he said that the Messiah must suffer and die and rise again. So we may see their actions that day, their quiet abiding in the Cenacle as one of faithful obedience. They did not know what to expect; but they did know they had been asked to do this by the One they had seen both rise from the dead and then ascend into heaven – returning, he told them, to the place he had come from.

But we know that what they were waiting for was one of the great moments in Salvation History. It might be good, at this point, to remind ourselves of what some of those other great moments were. The first is the promise of the Messiah, which is hinted at immediately after the Fall, where God tells the serpent, the devil, that there will be enmity between his offspring and that of Eve's, and that 'he shall strike at your head.' Many Church Fathers have seen in God's use of the word 'he' there – meaning a singular man – as being the first foretelling of the New Adam, Christ, who will defeat Satan and restore a right relationship between God and man. Even as he cares for their physical needs by providing them with clothes and the means to live, albeit now by the sweat of their brow rather than at their ease in the paradise they have lost by their own free will by chosing sin over obedience, so also he cares for their spiritual needs by the promise of a Saviour. That promise is, of course, made far more explicit elsewhere in the Old Testament. And we might see the time between that promise being made and the time of the New Testament as one extended moment, the time of preparation; the preparing of mankind for the time when that promise would be fulfilled.

The fulfilment of that promise began in the next great moment of Salvation History, the Incarnation, when during what is often called the Annunciation, the Blessed Virgin Mary said 'thy will be done' to God's request and she was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit and the Christ child was conceived within her womb. Next is the Nativity, a moment so wondrous that the angels of heaven could not help but come down and sing for joy. And then, after his hidden years, our Lord begins his earthly ministry – which we might again consider an extended moment in our Salvation History, for the teaching of the One who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life – and our obedience to that teaching - is such an essential part of God's plan for our Salvation.

After that we have several moments in rapid succession: our Lord's Institution of the Holy Eucharist at the Last Supper, his suffering, crucifixion, and death, followed by his Resurrection – his dying for our sins and his rising from the dead to destroy the power of death being of almost inexpressible importance to the salvation of us all. After Christ's Resurrection we have the 40 days of his appearances to his followers until his Ascension, his return to the Father to sit at his right hand in heaven. And in many ways we may hold that the Ascension and Pentecost are inextricably linked, given that Jesus said that it was necessary that he send the Holy Spirit to us, but that it was something that he could not do until he had ascended to the Father. So the Ascension not only stands alone, as a moment by itself, it also serves as the guarantee of the next moment, Pentecost itself.

And that moment came like a bomb-shell, like a spiritual hand-grenade going off in that upper room. Tongues of fire hovering over the heads of those present, a sound like that of a rushing wind, speaking in other languages – not babbling, mark you, but the named and recognisable languages of those present - crowds gathering in the street to wonder both at the noise and the sudden ability of these people to speak in foreign tongues. And the spilling forth from the Cenacle, like a wave of living water, of the disciples who were now filled with the Holy Spirit, people who until he descended upon them were still afraid despite their faith in the Risen Lord now boldly going forth to preach the good news of Jesus Christ.

This sudden outpouring from the Cenacle should not surprise us. The day of Pentecost is often called the birth of the Church; but it might equally be called the beginning of another long moment of the Salvation History of the world – the time of Evangelisation, the time when the followers of Christ must carry out his Great Commission of making disciples of all nations and baptising them in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. That is the moment that we now find ourselves in, a time powered by that outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the Cenacle that day, an outpouring that continues down to this very moment, and will continue until that last important moment of Salvation History, the Parousia, the second coming of Christ, that great and terrible day when he will come to judge the living and the dead, a day which Jesus spoke of in Matthew 25, in the parable of the sheep and the goats, where those who have not lived out his teachings 'will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.'

But look at how much God has done in order that we should be with him in the place he created us to be, which is with him in heaven; and look at how every moment in the Salvation History we have reminded ourselves of this day has been at his gracious initiative. He wants us to be saved, and he acts that all may be saved. This day as we celebrate that wondrous first day of Pentecost, I pray that you will open your hearts to be filled with God's Holy Spirit that you may be at the last saved, even as I pray that you will strive daily for the salvation of others as well as yourselves, in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen

Examin Sunday 24 May 2015

Let the Abbot always bear in mind that he must give an account in the dread judgement of God of both his own teaching and of the obedience of his disciples. And let the Abbot know that whatever lack of profit the master of the house shall find in the sheep, will be laid to the blame of the shepherd. On the other hand he will be blameless if he has faithfully shepherded his restless and unruly flock, and took all pains to correct their corrupt manners.'
The Rule of St Benedict, Ch 2. 6-8

We all are under the spiritual authority of some other person. Just as in the monastic community it is the faithful abbot, so in the parish and diocese it is the faithful priest and bishop. All must teach teaching according to the Lord's decrees, for which reason all of their flock must pay them careful heed.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

graduation address - Castlecomer CS 2015

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

It is a privilege and a pleasure to speak you on this occasion and I thank your principal and your chaplain for their kind invitation. It is made all the more special by the fact that we may well be making history this evening – as far as I am aware, this is the first time the priest who is preaching at this Graduation Mass has been one of the parents of the graduating class. It shows just how far ecumenicism has come in Ireland – it is a sign of a mature society when the differences between different groups of people are no longer a cause for automatic discomfort; and that we are able to respect differences without trying to pretend that they do not exist.

The fact that things are changing in this country brings us rather neatly, I think, to the theme you all chose for this Mass: 'Learn from the past, Live in the present, Believe in the future.' Now I'm a great fan of programmes like Dr Who, and the whole past, present, and future motif rather puts me in mind of Time Travel. So perhaps you'll forgive me if there are a few references relating to time travel in this talk – especially if you don't find any of them funny! So let us begin with an experiment. If you're a fan of the Big Bang theory, you may recognise this. Time travel, as you know is not possible – yet! But you look like a smart group of young people; perhaps one of you will be the person who invents it. So let us make a deal. I would like you all to agree that if you do, you will promise to return here, to this very night, five seconds from now – do you agree? Very well, so let us count it down: five, four, three, two, one … Ah … I guess not. Still, not to worry; just because none of you invent time travel, I'm sure that doesn't mean that you're all not still very clever people.

Or perhaps one of you was not only clever enough to invent time travel, but also wise enough not to come back. Those of you who watch Dr Who will know that the past is not something to interfere with lightly. The past is important – think about all your memories, all your experiences; they are a very important part of who you are – would you really want them taken away from you? I realise that with the leaving cert looming, some of you may very well be wishing you could travel back in time and spend more time studying for your exams; and that all those episodes of Breaking Bad or those evenings hanging out with your friends that seemed so vital then, may not seem quite so important now. But don't worry about it: not only can you do nothing about it, it probably wouldn't be a good idea to try even if you could. We learn from our mistakes; and if we don't make them, we can't learn. And in any event, in a few weeks the exams will be over, in a few weeks more you'll have the results, and no matter how well you did or didn't do, life goes on.

Time for another joke about time travel. As it happens, I heard a very good one about time travel tomorrow … and I'll tell it to you yesterday. But that brings me to the next phrase in your theme: live in the present. Yesterday is gone, tomorrow may never come, so don't spend so much time going over and over things that are over and done with that you can't change, or worrying so much about things that may never happen that you miss out on the here and now. In a very real sense this present moment is all we have. If there's someone you know you should help, do it now; tomorrow may be too late. Have you done wrong to someone else and it is eating you up, going round and round in your head? Stop wasting your time thinking about it; go say sorry to that person now. Is there a change you need to make in your life, something important? Do it now, because tomorrow may never come. Because though you are not able to change the past, and you don't know what the future holds, you can act in the present. Today was a very good example of that, as it was the first opportunity many of you will have had to vote. No doubt some of you could have registered and did not; others were registered and did not go.

And if you are not happy with the result that emerges tomorrow you may well have some regret. But there will be nothing you can do, for today was the day to act. Those of you who did vote, I congratulate you – I may not agree with the way some of you may have cast your votes – personally, I think that 21 is too young to be the president, but that is only my opinion – but you took action and for that you deserve much credit.

Time for another joke, this one about travelling to the future. A scientist, a business man, and a comedian was each allowed to travel into the future for a few minutes. The scientist came back grinning and said 'I went 10 years into the future and I looked up lots of future Nobel prize winning ideas and I'm going to publish all those works myself. I'm going to be the greatest scientist that ever lived!' The business man came back with a huge smile on his face and said 'I went 15 years into the future. I looked up which companies are doing really well on the stock exchange; I'm going to invest in them and become the richest man that ever lived!' The comedian came back, looking rather sad. He said 'I went 20 years into the future. Does anyone know how to make nuclear war sound funny?'

That bring me to the last part of your theme: believe in the future. That's rather a no-brainer, isn't it? It is something we all have pretty much no choice but to do – after all, if we didn't, there wouldn't be much point in getting up out of bed in the morning. You all already know what it means to believe in the future – for the last five or six years you have essentially worked hard every day – in the present moment – toiling toward the future goal of your Leaving Cert exams, believing that the sacrifices you were making would ultimately prove to be worth it. Many of you are doubtless hoping to go on to third level, where you will again make sacrifices in the now for the sake of making a better future for yourselves. You will all be looking to the future in some way: jobs, careers, relationships, starting a family, travel … all of which depend on action in the present with an eye on the future result, a belief that the hopes and dreams of the present are possible and can be realised in the future if only you make the effort to make them happen. And I certainly hope that all of you are able to make real in your future lives the ambitions that you have in the present moment.

And now comes to the point to bring a little bit of religion into this – you may have been thinking that I was perhaps going to let this occasion go by without it, but seriously – get real! This is a sermon, and this is your graduation Mass – it really is obligatory for me to bring religion in it! Let's say for the sake of argument you all achieve your wildest dreams … you all become fabulously wealthy, you have perfect lives with big houses, fast cars, husbands or wives that look like movie-stars, foreign holidays every second week, and children who don't give you even a fraction of the hassle that you gave your parents … what then? Well for that, it would perhaps be appropriate to consider a little warning about the future that Jesus Christ gave us in what is called the parable of the rich fool; it goes like this: The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?” Then he said, “I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.’ And what Christ is saying there is that this life will pass; and if all your thoughts for the future have only been concerned with this life, to the exclusion of the next, then your future is rather bleak. Don't get so caught up in dreams about the future you hope for in this life that you forget about the reality of life in the next, and so, for the sake of something that is passing, lose out on something that is eternal.

One last joke: After years of mockery from his colleagues at the university, who told him he was wasting his time, a scientist finally perfected his time travel machine. Sadly, on the same day, his dog died. His assistant, a very sympathetic young lady, said 'Professor, I'm so sorry about Rover. Shall we bury him before we take the machine for a test run?'
'Naw,' said the Professor. 'Let's do both at the same time.'
'What do you mean?'
'I mean I want to take Rover back about 100,000 years, dig a hole on the side of the Iron Mountain, and bury him there. Wearing a crown and holding a machine gun!'
'Why on earth would you want to do that?'
'Because Bob in archaeology has been the worst of all those giving me a hard time over the years and he has a dig starting tomorrow in the exact spot I'm going to bury Rover. Let's see him try to explain that!'

If any of you do invent time-travel, I hope you make better use of it than that. But whatever your future holds, I would like to end this evening by thanking God for all that he has given you in the past, ask that he bless you in the here and now, and guide every step of your future lives, particularly over the important weeks to come, through all of this life and into the next. Amen

prayer diary Saturday 23 May 2015

But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. 
John 21.25

How could a short account hold within it all that the Word made flesh did during his life? Yet we have what we have, the inspired words of Sacred Scripture, and are blessed indeed to have them.

Friday, May 22, 2015

prayer diary Friday 22 May 2015

‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ 
John 21.15 

Christ asks his question using the Greek word for all-embracing, divine love; Peter responds with the tepid equivalent of admitting he likes him. How often does the love you show for God resemble that of Peter's on that day? Or is it often even less?

Thursday, May 21, 2015

prayer diary Thursday 21 May 2015

'Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.' 
John 17. 24

See with what great fervour our Lord cries out to the Father that all who follow him may be saved! Why would he not - was it not for just that reason that he suffered and died for us, that we might be saved? Will you wound again the one who died for you by refusing his offer of salvation?

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

prayer diary Wednesday 20 May 2015

'I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.' 
John 17.14

This world is not our true home. Why then do we so often act as if we had no other?

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

prayer diary Tuesday 19 May 2015

'Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.' 
John 17.11

Christ prayed his followers should be one in a unity that mirrored that of the Holy Trinity. What efforts do you make to undo the brokenness of his Church?

Monday, May 18, 2015

poem: Cats are out to get you,

Cats are out to get you,
I realised that today
while bringing in the shopping
and my cat got in the way.

My wife had been out shopping,
she'd loaded up the car
and as I helped to bring it in
the cat slipped through the door.

The entire house was hers
to wander and explore;
but no, she chose to sit herself
and daintily lick a paw

in the middle of the hall,
the very path I had to step
as I struggled with my load,
the perfect spot to cause a trip

and that's just what she did.
As I cursed and staggered
she eyed me with a look
so serene and satisfied

that I knew it was not chance,
that this was no accident.
She had been out to get me;
and that's just what she did.

prayer diary Monday 18 May 2015

'In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!’ 
John 16.33

Our Lord did not promise a life of ease to those who followed him; indeed, he warned them of hardship. We see many brothers and sisters today who endure suffering for the sake of the Gospel; their example should give us courage to face our own much more minor trials.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

those who are not of this world

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

I think if I were to tell you that there are creatures who walk this earth – creatures who look just like everyday, ordinary human being – but who were not of this world, you might think I was telling you the premise of a science fiction movie. After all, there have been many famous Hollywood films that have exactly that theme. Some of you may recall the classic 'The invasion of the body snatchers,' where aliens were able to copy and replace human beings so exactly that their own nearest and dearest found it difficult to tell the difference. Something similar happens in 'The Thing' where a group of researchers in the Antarctic come across an ancient life-form from outer-space that kills and copies them one by one, so that soon no one knows who is real or who they should trust.

So, as I said, if you think that the idea that there are people on earth who are not of this world and yet look like regular, normal people sounds a bit like science fiction, it is not surprising. And yet, I am not making this up – it is in fact true. The people of whom I speak look no different from anyone around them. In fact, there is no test devised by science that could distinguish them from everyone else. No check of their blood or DNA or scan by X-ray, ultra-sound, or MRI will reveal the slightest difference; a medical exam by a team of the greatest doctors in the world will find nothing; and if one were to die and the most detailed autopsy were to be carried out everything found would conform to the most precise detail with everything found in the standard medical texts.

So how do I know such creatures exist? I know, because I am one. And all here, as it happens, are one also, as far as I am aware. I speak, of course, of the fact that I am a Christian, and that you are Christians, and Christians, while we live in this world, are not of this world. Consider carefully the words of our Lord Jesus Christ in our Gospel reading today: 'I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.'

We do not belong to the world: that is what Christ tells us. More, we do not belong to the world just as he does not belong to the world. It may be readily apparent to all here why Christ should be able to say that he does not belong to the world. After all, he is the Son of God, the Second person of the Blessed Trinity. He existed before all worlds; and through him everything was made. Quite naturally the Person who existed before even so much as a speck of dust existed can say with absolute truth that he is not of this world; but how can he say that we, his disciples and followers, are also not of this world? Our bodies are made up of the dust, the earth, the ashes of this place; it is here that we live out our lives and where we take every breath. And it is to that dust, earth, and ashes we will return when we die. So how can Christ say what he does?

It is because we are more than the dust of the earth. We are creatures made in the image of God; and, most importantly, at our baptism we were baptised into Christ, even as we are fed by his body and blood when we partake of the Blessed Sacrament in the Holy Eucharist. Christ is in us and we in him; and this is what the One who is all Truth means that we, like he, do not belong to this world.

Because of that, we belong to the place where he belongs, the place from which he came from and returned, the heavenly courts of his Father and our Father. There is the place we were created to be; and is the place that we will be welcomed into on that great and terrible day when he comes again at the end of the ages, when time itself shall cease, and this world shall be no more. We shall be welcomed in – but I must say that no one will be forced in. To gain entry we must answer Christ's call to us to love him and to show that love to him through obedience to the Word he gave us – the word the world hates us for. And why should the world not hate his word? For it is not of the world. And why should we not love his word? For we, like he, are not of the world. 

And so I pray that you will indeed hear and obey his word, so that on the day when you leave this world, this place to which you do not belong, you will enter into the place where you do belong, your eternal home with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen

the pigeon

It was a thing I'd never seen,
a pigeon standing in a stream.

But as I passed the rushing brook
there he was amidst the waters;
and I could not help but stop and look
as the ripples brushed his under-feathers.

Moments passed as he calmly stood,
moments passed as I stood and thought.
He had lessened the depth with a rock
- was he hurt to choose such a perch?
Or was this some secret of his kind
to, heron-like, hunt where waters run?

Then he took to wing, and was gone,
with me wondering if I'd see the like again.

Examin Sunday 17 May 2015

We live at a time when there is great persecution of our brothers and sisters in many parts of the world. What do you do to support them? Do you pray for them? Contribute to charities that try to offer them relief? Publicly cry out and draw attention to their suffering and call on our public representatives to take action by offering them a place of refuge among us? They are part of our Christian family; even as their witness, often unto death, inspires and humbles us, so too should it inspire us to action on their behalf.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

prayer diary Saturday 16 May 2015

I came from the Father and have come into the world; again, I am leaving the world and am going to the Father.’ 
John  16.28


Christ left the world, yet is with us still. For did he not promise that he is with us until the end of the ages?

Friday, May 15, 2015

prayer diary Friday 15 May 2015 St Matthias (transferred)

‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.’ 
John 15.12


Christ’s love entailed laying down his life for us. Therefore, no sacrifice we make for our brothers and sisters, especially those that lead them to Christ, can be too great.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

haiku: mist on the mountain

mist on the mountain
~ the wind turbine blade
     invisible on the upturn

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

prayer diary Wednesday 13 May 2015

‘When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.’ 
John 16.13


Christ guides his Church. When the world brings troubles and challenges, do not fear then that she will be led astray.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

St Lydia of Thyatira: a reflection for a Mother's Union end of year service

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

Our readings from Sacred Scripture this evening are the ones set out in the Revised Common Lectionary for celebrations of Holy Communion for this day; by which I mean that I did not choose them especially for this evening's End of Year service for our local Mother's Union branch, but that they are the ones being read wherever the Holy Eucharist is being celebrated today. And so I was rather interested to see that the appointed reading from the Acts of the Apostles concerns that of the conversion and baptism of Lydia and her household by St Paul as it seems to me to be a particularly appropriate one for such an occasion as this.

The incident takes place during the course of St Paul's second missionary journey. He and his companions, Silas and Timothy, have travelled to the city of Philippi, a Roman colony in the Greek territory of Macedonia. They pass some days there – perhaps they spend the time working, as they often did, making awnings or some other items from canvas, for St Paul as we know was a skilled tent-maker. Then on the Sabbath day they set about preaching the Gospel. Now St Paul's usual practice was to go first to the synagogue and begin with the Jewish residents of whatever city he happened to be in; this time instead he goes outside the city. Why we can not be sure. Perhaps there wasn't one in this place; or perhaps, if there was one, it had already been made clear to him that he would not be welcome to visit; or perhaps he was impelled by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that it was outside the city on this day that he would find fruitful ground in which to sow the Word of God.

They went outside the gate to the river to where they supposed there was a place of prayer. Often, we know, if there was no synagogue in a town or city, those wishing to worship the one true God sought out a spot near living water. And there, we are told, St Paul and his companions found a group of women. They were led, it seems, by a woman called Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a city of Asia Minor, which is modern day Turkey, and she was a dealer in purple cloth. Purple dye and purple cloth were expensive luxury items; so it appears that this Lydia must have been a business woman, and a person of some means. She is called a 'worshipper of God' – in other words what was known as a 'God-fearer' someone who even though they are not Jewish have come to believe in Judaism's understanding of who God is. Her household seems to make up a large part of the group of women who are there that day to pray and worship, if not in fact the entire group.

It is Lydia's heart whom God opens, and she listens eagerly to what St Paul has to tell these women. And her heart having been opened, and water being nearby, it is not difficult to imagine Lydia saying to the Apostle words similar to those spoken by the Ethiopian Eunuch to St Philip in the reading we heard some Sundays ago – 'here is water; what is to prevent us from being baptised?' The 'us' in that phrase is because it is not just Lydia who is baptised, but her household with her.

Who is this Lydia who became the first recorded European convert to Christianity? Other than what I have said, we do no know. Because she is running a business and appears to be in charge of things in her life – for example, there by the river, without consulting anyone, she invites St Paul and his two companions to come and stay in her home; and later, after St Paul and his companions having been arrested and freed from prison, it is back to her house that they return, her home apparently having become the base of operations for his ministry in Philippi - it has been speculated that she is either a single woman or a widow; the thinking being that if there was a husband on the scene inviting a group of unknown men into the home on her own authority would be unthinkable.

But in truth, we do not even know that. Women in the ancient world often had much more control over their own lives than we like to give them credit for, especially women of reasonably high social status as Lydia appears to have been. So she might have been single, she might have been married, she might have been a widow. If one of the last two, then among those of her household who were baptised might have been her own children; certainly if she had children of her own she would have wanted that for them – for who would want their servants to enter the saving waters of baptism and not wish the same for their own children?

Because of her association with purple cloth and dye, Lydia became the patron saint of those whose work involves dying cloth. But I wonder if she might not also have been a good patron of the women of the Mother's Union? She is a prayerful woman, seeking God and seeking to do his will, her heart ever open to be led deeper into his truth; a woman who is hard-working – she could hardly be a successful businesswoman if she were not; and caring for others, both in material terms, shown by the way she opens her home to the Apostle and his companions, and in a spiritual sense, as we can see from the way she led her household to prayer by the river on the Sabbath, and helped bring them to faith in Christ and be baptised into the Church along with herself. A woman who I think would have fitted in quite comfortably into any group of Mother's Union members – women who are strong, independent, hard-working, prayerful, and willing and able to help others both materially and spiritually.

I began by saying that I did not choose this passage for tonight's end of year service. But that is not the same as saying that I think was read here tonight by chance or accident. God speaks to us through his Sacred Scriptures; I think he speaks to us tonight by reminding us of the life, work, and witness of St Lydia. And I pray that your hearts, like hers, will always be open to eagerly hear what it is that God has to say to you all, this night and always. Amen

prayer diary Tuesday 12 May 2015

‘It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.’ 
John 18.8

Christ promised to send the Church his Holy Spirit. That promise was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost. He has not left us alone in our faith.

Monday, May 11, 2015

a funny conversation

Ahem. I thought this was a funny conversation and that I'd share it.

I asked my 12-year old son if he wanted to come to the early morning Eucharist for the Ascension this year (we have one every year near a mountain-top overlooking a wide valley, followed by a cooked breakfast).

'Do I get breakfast? Do I get off school for it?' he asked.
'Yes. No.' I replied.
'OK. Yeah.'

My wife, half-listening, asked:
'What are you doing Tuesday?'
'Thursday,' I said. 'The Ascension is always on a Thursday. It's a bit like Ash Wednesday always being on a Wednesday.'
'I didn't hear what you said. You are so mean,'  she said, laughing.
'I knew that. And yes, I am.'

'You know what else should be on a Thursday?' asked my eldest boy, now 18.
'What?' said his mother.
'Mother's Day. Then it could be call Mothursday.'
'What?' I asked, being very slow.
'Mo-thurs-day,' he said, very slowly.

That is all. Thank you.

prayer diary Monday 11 May 2015

‘Indeed, an hour is coming when those who kill you will think that by doing so they are offering worship to God.’ John 16.3

Christ warned us that there is a real possibility of suffering for our faith. Do not grumble then if you suffer some minor inconvenience for yours; rather, thank God for it, and the witness of those who suffer far more.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

no greater love than this

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

In  our gospel today, Jesus says to us: ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.’ That he uses the word commandment should tell us something very important straight away - that for the Christian love is not something that is dependant upon the emotions. It is not a feeling, something that we either have or do not have, over which we have no control. It is a decision, an act of will. If it were not, how could Jesus command us to love others? for then he would be asking of us something that it was impossible for us to do.

But because he puts it in the form of a command, we know that it must be something that we can either chose to do or not. And it is obvious that this must be so, since God would never ask of us something that it is impossible for us to do. For that would put us in the position of failing to obey his command, and thereby sinning, while yet being unable to obey his command. But we know that God does not do that; he can not do that, for God is love, and how could the one who is love do such a thing as deliberately causing those whom he loves to sin? And so when he tells us to love one another - more, when he tells us to love our enemies - we know that it is something that we can do - that we can decide to do - and that our emotions do not come into the equation at all.

The next thing we must understand about love is that it must express itself in action. Just as it is not an emotion, it can not take its form as some kind of warm and fuzzy feelings about others. This should be obvious to us from the actions of God himself. He not only created us, he created the world and all that is in it to provide for our needs; and he sustains us in existence by his will. This is his love in action.

More, he loved us so much that when the relationship of humanity with him was damaged by sin - that is, by refusing to obey his commands - his sent his only begotten Son into the world that we might be saved, that the relationship between God and man might be restored. This is his love in action. And more still, that Son, having become man, and having experienced all the things of life that we do - heat, cold, hunger, thirst, pain, and loss - he then died for us, for our sins. This is God’s love in action - the greatest love of all, to lay down his life for us.

So God teaches us by his love that our love must take form in action. And that, again, should be obvious to us. What person, being told by another that they loved them, would believe it to be true if that person then left them hungry, thirsty, cold, without clothes, without shelter, or other basic necessities of life? Actions speak louder than words, as my late mother often told me; and love that limits itself to words, to vague expressions of goodwill without anything concrete to back them up, is no kind of love at all.

And then the next thing about love we must realise is that is has to move beyond the physical into the spiritual. Again, this should be obvious to us from the example of God’s love. The Father did not send the Son into the world so that we might be warm and well-fed, but that we might be saved; the Son did not lay down his life for us so that we might not thirst or lack for adequate clothing, no - he died for our sins; and when the Holy Spirit comes upon us, as we see him doing to the gentiles in our reading from Acts, he does not do so for the sake of our having all the material comforts of life - he does so for the sake of our souls, for the sake of our salvation. So God’s love itself teaches us, that if we are to love others in the way that he loves us, we must not just be concerned but take action for the sake of the spiritual welfare of those whom we love, those whom he commands us to love.

Again, this should be obvious to us. This life is not all that there is; how then could it be love if we limited our love to making sure that those we are called to love had the things they need to be well in this life but did nothing at all to help them enter into eternal life? It would not be love, but a cruel trick if we were willing to help provide a person with the things they need for this life which is passing, but did nothing at all to help provide them with what they need for the next life which is eternal.

So Christ calls us to love one another; it is a command, not a choice; and it demands that we care not only for the body but the soul of those we are called to love. I pray he will give you the grace and the strength to love others in the way he commands; even as I pray that those who love you will also love you with the same Christ-like love. 

Examin Saturday 9 May 2015

He, therefore, is the devout man, who lives no longer to his own will, or the way and spirit of the world, but to the sole will of God, who considers God in everything, who serves God in everything, who makes all the parts of his common life parts of piety, by doing everything in the Name of God and under such rules as are conformable to His glory .... Now let any one but find out the reason why he is to be thus strictly pious in his prayers, and he will find the same as strong a reason to be as strictly pious in all the other parts of his life … and make Him the rule and measure of all the other actions of our life. For any ways of life, any employment of our talents, whether of our parts, our time, or money, that is not strictly according to the will of God, that is not for such ends as are suitable to His glory, are as great absurdities and failings, as prayers that are not according to the will of God. 

William Law
chapter one

Saturday, May 9, 2015

prayer diary Saturday 9 May 2015

‘If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you. ' 
John 15. 18

Faithfulness to Christ may bring you the mockery or hatred of others. It may even bring you death. What does that matter as long as you are faithful to Christ?

Friday, May 8, 2015

prayer diary Friday 8 May 2015

‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.' 
John 15. 12,13

The faithfulness unto death of Christian martyrs have brought many to faith. Just as Christ laid down his life for us that we might have eternal life, so we must be ready to follow the example of our Lord and die for the sake of eternal life for others.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

prayer diary Thursday 7 May 2015

'If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.' 
John 15.10

To abide in God's love means living as Christ did, a life of love and obedience to the Father. Nothing we do can cause God not to love us; but we can, by our actions, reject him, and thereby reject the eternal life he offers to all who love him.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

prayer diary Wednesday 6 May 2015

'Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.' 
John 15.6

To reject Christ is to reject all he offers. Do not be seduced by the false promises of the world; cling instead to Christ, the one who has the words of eternal life.

prayer diary Tuesday 5 May 2015

'Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.' 
John 14.27

Christ's peace is that which comes from being one with God. Such peace drives out all worry, all fear.

Monday, May 4, 2015

prayer diary Monday 4 May 2015

'They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me.' 
John 14.21

Christ calls us to show our love for him by obedience to what he teaches. How can you not do as he commands?

Sunday, May 3, 2015

from dying unprepared, good Lord deliver us

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

The execution by firing squad in Indonesia of a group of convicted drug smugglers has many around the world shaking their heads in dismay. The death penalty is a difficult issue for many. In this case, on the one hand, there seems little doubt that these men were guilty of the crimes they had committed, and were given a fair trial according to the laws of the jurisdiction they broke the law of. They knew the risks and they have paid the price; no injustice has been done in that sense, save in the case of one whom it is alleged was seriously mentally ill. 

On the other hand, I have never been persuaded of the effectiveness or the necessity of the death penalty. I understand that society needs to protect itself from dangerous criminals; and so, for example, if one man needs to shoot dead another who is threatening his life or that of somebody else I understand fully that it is something that must be done, even if I regret the necessity of it. But the cold-blooded brutality of taking a person out and shooting them or hanging them or however it is done, often many years after whatever crime they have committed, is something I find not only hard to stomach, but difficult to justify morally. In the self-defense case I mentioned earlier, if his assailant, on seeing his intended victim was armed were to put up his hands instead of continuing the attack, and our man shot him anyway, we would not think of that man as justified.

In the case of these men in Indonesia, they had been incarcerated for around ten years; clearly prison proved a sufficient means of society protecting itself from them for all that time; and there is no reason to presume that more time in prison would not have proved an equally adequate protection.

Leaving the issue aside, I wonder what went through those men's minds in the days and hours before they were led out to die? Samuel Johnson once said to his biographer Boswell 'Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.' That is sometimes put a little more pithily as 'the prospect of being hanged focuses the mind wonderfully.' The point being that the prospect of immanent and unavoidable death tends to get a person thinking about what is most important. I know from my own experience of ministering to the dying that many like to make use of the time they have left in making peace with those around them; and, very importantly, making peace with God. 

While I know some people say they don't want to see death coming, I know for my own part that I would appreciate a least a little time to make some final spiritual preparations before stepping over the threshold from this life to the next. Those of you who recall your Shakespeare may remember that it was a source of great bitterness to Hamlet's father that his brother murdered him in his sleep, as his ghost says 'Cut off even in the blossoms of my sins … no reckoning made, but sent to my account with all my imperfections on my head.' It is with good reason, I believe, that in the litany we pray 'from sudden death deliver us.' And so we may hope, that even if the lives of those men in Indonesia were cut short – very short indeed, for they were all young men – that they did not die unprepared and go to meet their maker with, like the ghost of Hamlet's father, all their imperfections upon their heads.

These thoughts about the risk of dying unprepared, tie in with both our epistle and Gospel today, both from St John. The first tells us that if we abide in God's love we stand with boldness before him on the day of judgement – in other words, unafraid that our soul will be found, to again quote from Hamlet, 'as damn'd and black as hell, whereto it goes.' For, as the second says, our Lord himself speaking in our Gospel reading, 'whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.' But of course Christ gave us this warning so that we might not die unprepared; he died for our sins and rose from the dead that we might have eternal life; and through our baptisms we have also died and risen – died to sin and risen to new life in Christ. We continue in that new life by abiding in him – by loving God and loving each other, by hearing and obeying his word.

Accounts of the last days of those men in Indonesia speak of their seeking comfort and guidance from their priests, their spiritual advisers; so we may hope at least, that whatever else they suffered, they were spared the fate of dying unprepared. Let us pray that they may rest in peace, even as we pray for the consolation of their loved ones at this difficult time for them; and pray also that God may grant us that most joyful of gifts - that of ending our own lives as those who abide in Christ. Amen

Examin Saturday 2 May 2015

Then Jesus cried aloud: ‘Whoever believes in me believes not in me but in him who sent me. And whoever sees me sees him who sent me. I have come as light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in the darkness. I do not judge anyone who hears my words and does not keep them, for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. The one who rejects me and does not receive my word has a judge; on the last day the word that I have spoken will serve as judge,for I have not spoken on my own, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment about what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I speak, therefore, I speak just as the Father has told me.’ 
John 12. 44-50

The above is sometimes called Christ's summary of his teaching; from this point on in the Gospel of St John he sets his face towards Jerusalem. His words can be uncomfortable to modern ear, speaking as they do of obedience in this life and judgement in the next. Perhaps it would as well for all who call themselves Christians to consider their lives in the light of these words.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

prayer diary Saturday 2 May 2015

'Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father”? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? ' 
John 14. 9-10

Do not be troubled if you find the oneness of the Son with the Father difficult to understand, for the Apostles themselves found it difficult. Rather consider why it is that you, a limited human being, might think that you should be able to understand all the mysteries of the universe and the One who created it.

Friday, May 1, 2015

a simple rule of life

An elderly woman I was talking to today was reminiscing about her childhood.

'I had a good father,' she said. 'There was only three things he insisted on: that we kept ourselves clean; did our school work; and said our prayers. He let us get on with the rest ourselves!'

I thought about what she had said.

'You know,' I replied, 'keep yourself clean, do your work, and say your prayers, giving glory to God in all you do, wouldn't be a bad rule of life for anyone whatever age they were.'

'That it wouldn't, father,' she agreed.

prayer diary Friday 1 May 2015

'You will see greater things than these. … truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.’ 
John 1. 50,51

Christ told St Philip of the wonders that those who follow him will see. He makes that promise to us also.