Sunday, January 31, 2016

Examin Sunday 31 January 2016

Proclaiming the mighty acts of the Lord is one of the primary duties of each Christian - in other words, evanglisation. There are three areas in which this must be done. The first is of yourself, as you cannot give what you have not got. Read scriptures; study the teachings of the Church; spend much time in prayer, fasting, and good works. Do not neglect Divine Services or the reception of the sacraments. Next comes other Christians. Do your best to support and encourage them in the faith. Correct their failings gently and exhort them to do better. Finally, we must evangelise those who do not know Christ. Preach the word if you are called to; support missionary agencies if you are not. It is these ways you play your part in proclaiming the Lord to world.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

prayer diary Saturday 30 January 2016

The wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, ‘Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?’ 
Mark 4. 39,40

The disciples feared the storm. But Christians need fear nothing that can hurt the body. Rather they should fear that which may afflict their soul and deprive them of their reward

Friday, January 29, 2016

prayer diary Friday 29 January 2016

‘The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how.' 
Mark 4. 26,27

It is not for us to worry about the success of God's kingdom. It is in his hands and is inevitable. Our part it to scatter the seed and trust in him.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

prayer diary Thursday 28 January 2016

He said to them, ‘Is a lamp brought in to be put under the bushel basket, or under the bed, and not on the lampstand?' 
Mark 4. 21

Christ shares with us his light; it is for us to share it with others. More, if we do not proclaim his good news to the world, we fail in our duty.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

haiku: January rains

January rains:
   deep driveway puddle,
    a hen-thrush bathing

prayer diary Wednesday 27 January 2016

'And these are the ones sown on the good soil: they hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.’ 
Mark 4. 20

We cannot all be great saints like St Paul or St Peter doing mighty works in the name of the Lord. But it is enough that we are faithful to God's will; and if we produce less fruit than others, because we are faithful what we produce is pleasing to him.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

putting the quiet on them!

This, I think, is a good one. An elderly priest of my acquaintance, a charming old-school warrior of the faith, recounted the following to me:
'On more than one occasion I've had militant atheist types come up to me and, in a deliberately insulting fashion, say something along the lines: 'So how are your imaginary friends getting along?' By 'imaginary friends' they mean, of course, Almighty God, the three persons of the Blessed Trinity. My response back is along the lines of: 'Well, now. If God's imaginary, I've lived a good life by believing in him and I have no regrets and will continue to do so until I die. But what of you? What happens when you die? What of you if you discover then that he's not imaginary? I'll tell you, that puts the quiet on them!'
A finer, and more down to earth, off the cuff exposition of Pascal's Wager I've yet to hear!

prayer diary Tuesday 26 January 2016

'Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.’ 
Mark 3. 34, 35

Great is the reward of the Christian life. However, that reward does not flow by merely claiming to follow Christ; but only from doing God's will.

Monday, January 25, 2016

the particular significance of the conversion of St Paul for today

Today is the day we celebrate the feast of the Conversion of St Paul. St Paul was, as we all know, the greatest persecutor of the Church of his time. Some Church Fathers believe that he not only watched the stoning of St Stephen, but took part; and they credit his prayers for his killers for the conversion of St Paul.

We live in an age when Christians are greatly persecuted. Watchdog bodies say Christians are the most persecuted group on all the earth today. And daily Christians are martyred for the faith, in Isis controlled lands and elsewhere. The lesson we have from the life of St Paul is that we must pray for these persecutors. Who knows but that their hearts may be turned from their evil ways; and that also they may be led into the light of Christ? Indeed, perhaps among those who commit such dreadful acts today stands someone who will one day be a great champion of the faith? 

So even as we pray for the safety of those persecuted, we must pray for those who persecute them. For prayer is a powerful thing. Something that St Paul, the man who urged us to pray constantly, would certainly agree with. 

the self is a mystery

A man who had himself lost his own father had this to say to me regarding my dad's recent passing: 

' ... our parents are immortal, and your dad will now frequent the third of your life that you spend sleeping, until you yourself pass over into God's dreamtime. Besides, Alzheimer's has this difficult teaching to offer a culture obsessed with intellection: that the self is not in fact a cogito but a mystery, the image of God and not the idea of man.'

Wonderfully profound ... and in many ways the most comforting thing anyone has said to me since he died. 

prayer diary Monday 25 January 2016 (The Conversion of St Paul)

Jesus said: 'everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold, and will inherit eternal life.' 
Matthew 19.29

St Paul, a man of position and power in his society, gave it all up for the sake of the Gospel. But he counted it as naught. He was rewarded in this life by becoming instead part of the great family that is the Church; and in the next with eternal life.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

three impediments to proclaiming the mighty Acts of the Lord today

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

It is a privilege to be asked here to speak today as part of our community's observance of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity and I offer my thanks to both you and your parish priest for this kind invitation. The theme for this year is 'Called to Proclaim the Mighty Acts of the Lord,' which is taken from the First Letter of St Peter. It is a powerful theme, reminding it us as it does of the great commission our Lord gave his disciples at the end of St Matthew's Gospel, telling them to make disciples of all nations. So I thought today I would consider briefly three things in the world today that make more difficult our task of proclaiming the mighty acts of the Lord – three issues which transcend denominational boundaries and which, if we were to set aside our human divisions and work together more closely as Christians, would help us all to be more obedient to Jesus' command to make disciples of all people. These are: militant Islam; strident secularism; and the religious indifferentism that afflicts so many Christians today.

It is obvious to all that militant Islam is a terrible scourge in the world today. We have only to look to the two horrific incidents of terrorism that took place in Paris since the last week of prayer for Christian Unity. We also have the ferocious atrocities taking place in lands under the control of militant Islamic forces, which have led to the vast influx of refugees from those places into the Western World, as further proof. (Note: we must be careful to distinguish between these extremists and ordinary, decent Muslims who are respectful of the religious freedoms of others and simply want to get on with their lives in peace and the extremists of which I speak. Indeed, I suspect the extremists would like nothing better than for us to vent our fearfulness of them on their peaceful brothers and sisters in the hope of radicalising some and driving them into their arms.)

Alongside of its more general threat to Western society, we have to keep in mind the profoundly anti-Christian bias of militant Islam. Not only do they wish to destroy our society, they wish to destroy our religion as well. We see this happening in the parts of the middle-East that are under their control where they martyr, enslave, or drive out Christians. It has been described by world leaders like Hilary Clinton and Pope Francis as genocide. This persecution is not confined to the Middle-East. The Christian advocacy group Open Doors has identified Christians as the world's most persecuted group; and in 40 of the 50 countries where that persecution is most severe the perpetrators Islamic extremists. We must help these our brothers and sisters with both our prayers and material aid. We must do this out of justice. More, we must do it out of basic self-interest, for what they do in these places these extremists hope to do in our lands, and if they go unchecked there, the next stop is the West. And if we allow continue the situation where there are places where it is not safe for Christians to even let others know they follow Jesus, then how is it possible to proclaim the mighty acts of the Lord there?

The next issue is strident secularism. Secularism's adherents present it as being in some way neutral; but in truth they promote a very specific agenda, one that is in many ways hostile to religion. It is not for nothing that Ireland’s atheist and humanist societies, both of which have a vision for this land that does not include religion, have as part of their stated goals that Ireland should be a secular state.

Particularly disingenuous is the way in which secularists argue that anyone who allows their religious faith to inform their public actions amounts to an attempt to force their religious beliefs on others. This is false for many reasons, but I will mention just two. The first is that it ignores that Christian morality is, and always has been, in perfect accord with what is called by philosophers natural law. A Christian does not oppose, for example, murder only because the Bible condemns it, but because our natural reason tells us that it is an act of grave injustice to deprive an innocent person of their life. Scripture does not give us an arbitrary set of rules; rather the law of God conforms perfectly with the law of nature. And this should not surprise us, for both have the same divine author.

The second reason is that it is completely unreasonable for those with a particular belief system to assert that those whose beliefs differ to their own should have to keep silent, while at the same time maintaining that their own, in this case secular, beliefs should be given free reign, and indeed given priority in all debate. We must, of course, resist vigorously all attempts to silence us; for if we allow ourselves to be silenced, how are we to proclaim the mighty works of the Lord to the World?

The final issue is what I have termed religious indifferentism, those who are luke-warm in their faith – something that is condemned in the Revelation to St John. Far too many know little of their faith and practice it only half-heartedly. How can such a person proclaim the mighty acts of God? No one can give what they have not got; and just as if you have no food you can not feed the starving man, if you know nothing of the faith you can not share it with those who are spiritually hungry. This last issue is perhaps more serious than the first two, for its existence makes dealing with those others more difficult if not impossible. The fight against militant Islam is as much a spiritual battle as a temporal one; and if we will not arm ourselves with the spiritual strength that comes from our faith in Jesus Christ it is a battle that we will lose. And if we will not educate ourselves with the God-given wisdom of our faith, how can we expect to oppose secularism and prevent it from driving faith into an ever smaller corner of society?

These issues are serious challenges for us as members of the Church of God; but they are not insurmountable. Nothing is, for truly when it comes to fighting that which makes it hard for us to proclaim the mighty acts of the Lord God is on our side. When it comes to militant Islam we must pray, both for the persecuted and those who persecute that their hearts may be turned from their evil ways; and we must urge our government, in Ireland and Europe, to take action. When it comes to secularism we must refuse to be silenced and put forward our views with pride; and we must pray that those who are in positions of influence, particularly those we elect to represent us, will have the courage to speak boldly on our behalf. And when it comes to indifferentism, we must realise that evangelisation begins on our own doorsteps. It must take place within our homes, among our families, in our communities. 

For if we do not have the courage to proclaim the mighty acts of the Lord to those whom we love most, how can we hope to proclaim it to others? This is a task for all people of faith, regardless of their specific traditions, to work on together for the greater glory of God. And so I end by praying that all here will join with their brothers and sisters in Christ and joyfully together proclaim the mighty acts of the Lord. Amen

Examin Sunday 24 Jan 2016

What does it mean to follow one's conscience? It does not mean that one can do whatever one likes as long as one does not feel guilty about it. A man may not commit adultery, for example, and not sin no matter how much he may claim to feel no guilt for his actions, for his behaviour is objectively wrong. To follow one's conscience, then, means that one's actions are conformed to the will of God and in accordance with his laws as he has given them to us in the teachings of his Church. And if we break them we can not claim that we have not sinned by treating our conscience as if it were some higher court of appeal than Almighty God himself.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

prayer diary Saturday 23 Jan 2016

And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, ‘He is possessed by Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.’ 
Mark 3.22

What desperation, to try and claim that it was by the power of the devil that Jesus cast out demons! But wicked men will say anything when faced with the power of God.

Friday, January 22, 2016

prayer diary Friday 22 Jan 2016

He went up the mountain and called to him those whom he wanted, and they came to him. 
Mark 3.13

Note the obedience of these early disciples: Christ calls and they come. Thus we see that if we are to call ourselves Christians we must, like they, obediently follow Christ.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

prayer diary Thursday 21 Jan 2016

Whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and shouted, ‘You are the Son of God!’ 
Mark 3. 11

The forces of evil recognise the power of the Son of God. That is why they continue to fight against the truth of his words even today.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

prayer diary Wednesday 20 Jan 2016

A man was there who had a withered hand. They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. 
Mark 3. 1,2

Evil men will argue that good is evil if it suits their purposes. It was ever thus; and it remains so today. Do not be fooled by such wickedness.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

prayer diary Tuesday 19 Jan 2016

Jesus said to them, ‘The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath.' 
Mark 1. 27

This does not mean that the Lord's day is one we may treat as if it were any other day if we so choose. It is a day mandated by God as one to be set aside for our physical and spiritual well-being. The former makes it a day of rest; the latter one of worship.

Monday, January 18, 2016

prayer diary Monday 18 Jan 2016

Jesus said 'The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day.' 
Mark 1. 15

Fasting was set down by our Lord as part of the Christian life. By denying ourselves what it permitted we train ourselves to resist the temptation to do what is not.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

the wedding feast at Cana and the humanity of our Lord

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

Today our Gospel tells us of our Lord's visit to the Wedding Feast in Cana. We may imagine it taking place on a fine day in late spring or early summer. I say this because we know that our Lord began his ministry shortly after he turned 30; and we have good reason to believe the accuracy of the traditional dating of his birthday to late December. His visit to Cana takes place after his baptism by John and therefore also after his time of prayer and fasting and temptation in the wilderness. So we must be talking about some months later. And as wedding parties took place our of doors in that culture, even though the weather in winter in that area is not as cold as it would be here, it is reasonable to suppose that the time of late spring or early summer, when it was warmer but not the blazing heat of summer in that region, would have been seen as the ideal time for a wedding.
St John tells us that this was the first of our Lord's great signs – miracles that displayed his divine power and authority. But we can also see in it some great examples of the humanity of Jesus – something that is important, because we must ever keep before our minds that even as he was fully God he was also fully man.

And what beautifully ordinary things we see him engaged in on this occasion. He is there with his followers – in other words a young man has gone to a wedding with his friends. His mother is there also; so most likely this is some kind of a family occasion, where the bride or groom or possibly even both are some distant relation of his. This is a family event. And as all young men do on such occasions, our Lord is enjoying himself – eating the delicious food, partaking of the wine, conversing happily with friends and family, and no doubt dancing – but in a very appropriate fashion! There were none of your modern slow sets in those days!

But then his mother comes to him: they have no wine, she tells him. We can easily guess what has happened. If these are relatives of our Lord, then they are also a poor family. But they have been so generous in their joy on such an occasion that they have invited more people than they can hope to cater for … all the aunts, cousins, friends, neighbours for miles around are there … even those with only a slight acquaintance, such as the new friends Jesus made while at the Jordan have been made welcome. Too many! And they have run out of wine – the party is over; and all will see the poverty of this family on display. How embarrassing for them; and such a shame for the happy day to end in such a way … and perhaps be the first thing to be remembered by all there when they look back on this day.

And so his blessed mother goes to our Lord. His response might to our ears sound a bit curt, disrespectful almost: 'Woman, what concern is that to you and me?' Who calls their mother 'woman'? But we must remember we are reading the translation of a translation – from his spoken Aramaic to St John's Greek to our own English; and we must remember the very different cultural context in which he spoke her. In fact, his term of address shows the greatest respect and tenderness; it would be as if he were to call her 'my lady' in a more courtly age. Indeed, the echo of his words to his mother at the foot of the cross 'woman, behold your son' assures us that this is no brusque form of address. And consider how the response of 'my lady, what concern is that to you and me?' also serves in a sense to place them in a position of equality … which is courtesy indeed; for even though she is his mother he is God and they are not equal; for however great she is as the Mother of God, she remains infinitesimally less than God himself. But still, he calls her my lady and treats her with the courtesy due to an equal; thus displaying the full humanity of our Lord, and how he is indeed the perfect man. For we know that ordinary men, in their fallen state, may treat their parents with disrespect; but the ideal man never will … and Jesus is that ideal man. And, of course, that is not the totality of his reply. For he goes on to say 'My hour has not yet come.' There is a good reason for question he has responded to her with.

But we must also note that his response is not a refusal to act or a dismissal of her concerns; and his mother does not take it as such.

Instead she instructs the servants to 'do whatever he tells you.' And as we all know the day is saved. And again this is a beautiful insight into the full humanity of our Lord; he may be God, but he is also the son of Mary. And no good son takes the reasonable requests of his mother lightly. It is particularly beautiful how our Lord uses the prompting of his mother and the opportunity the occasion presents to perform his first great sign and to bring blessing upon blessing upon the special day of a couple who are doing as God commanded from the first and becoming one flesh in holy matrimony. How lovely that our Lord cares about such a seemingly simple and so very human thing as a family wedding to intervene to make sure the day is not spoiled.

But even as we marvel at the humanity shown by our Lord on this occasion, neither can we lose sight of the divinity. For that is the reason that his mother bring the matter to his attention – she the one who we have heard so often said during the readings leading up to Christmas and during it saw and heard so many wondrous things and pondered them in her heart – knowing that he could help, because she knew that he was not only her son, but also the Son of God. That is why she could say with confidence to the servants: 'do whatever he tells you.' And this is why we must also listen to the words she spoke that day as if she stood before us know and spoke them to each and everyone of us individually … and do whatever it is that he tell us. Amen

Examin Sunday 17 Jan 2016

St Luke tells us that in the moments immediately after his Baptism, and just before the descent of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, our Lord spent time in prayer. And we see him many other times in the Gospels in prayer, sometimes for many hours or even the entire night. So it is therefore of great importance for those of us who follow him, and thus must strive to be as like him as possible, to spend much time in prayer. Not just a few minutes occasionally if we can spare the time; but as an essential and non-negotiable part of our day, as vital as food or sleep or the very air we breathe. For our Lord showed us the way of salvation as much in his actions as in his words; and the time he spent in prayer tells us that our life of prayer is a vital part of our journey not just towards holiness but heaven itself.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

prayer diary Saturday 16 Jan 2016

When Jesus said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.’ 
Mark 2. 17

Those who thought themselves righteous were indignant at the time our Lord spent with sinners. Alas; they thereby showed their ignorance of the Scriptures which tells us that all men are sinners.

Friday, January 15, 2016

prayer diary Friday 15 Jan 2016

When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’ 
Mark 1. 5

See how Christ's first concern was for the soul of the afflicted man! So also we must make the salvation of souls our primary work, even as we do not neglect the material needs of those who require our help.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

prayer diary Thursday 14 Jan 2016

Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter. 
Mark 1. 45

Even as Jesus sought people out so also they hungered for his word and came to him. People still hunger for his truth today; and therefore we must proclaim it so they may hear it and know its power.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

prayer diary Wednesday 13 Jan 2016

Jesus answered, ‘Let us go on to the neighbouring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.’ 
Mark 1.38

Christ did not sit still wait for people to come to him. He went out into the world to bring them his Good News. So also must we.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Space Oddity/International Space Station mash up!

So there we were, my boys and I, sitting in front of the big-screen in the living room watching David Bowie videos on Youtube. Call it nostalgia time for dad and forced history of music for them! Some they had heard of and liked; others they hadn't and were less sure of. Attention span drifted; a laptop was opened; a different Youtube video was thereupon watched.

'This is so cool,' said one. 'We should watch this on the big-screen.'
'This' was a time-lapse video from the international space station.
'It kind of fits your Bowie theme,' said another. 'We could watch it while playing that Major Tom music.'

'OK,' says I. 'Open a new tab; put up the space station video. Mute the audio on that. Pull up Space Oddity. Then play them both at the same time.'

You know what? It was really cool watching the space station footage while playing Space Oddity as the background music. The video and the audio matched up really well; and the two videos are roughly the same length so it words out. Try it. I think you'll like it!

prayer diary Tuesday 12 Jan 2016

'What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.’ 
Mark 1. 27

Christ showed the authority of his teaching by bending demonic powers to his will. God has given us the freedom to refuse to obey him; but how foolish we would be to do so.

Monday, January 11, 2016

David Bowie RIP

I was born in 1962. That means that by the time I became aware of popular music David Bowie had been a star of popular music for so long that he seemed to be a permanent fixture of that particular firmament. 

I think I was always a fan. Why? Well everyone has their own individual reasons. I remember once while I was in college in 1981 trying to explain why I liked him so much to a gang of my fellows; we were in Brittany on a field-trip and as we wandered, only slightly drunkenly, through the darkened streets of a sleeping Breton town I pontificated: 'Others may make music; but Bowie is the music. That's why people will listen to him forever.' 

Whatever about forever, 35 years later I remain a fan. I am far from being alone. His death brings sadness and surprise to all who loved his music. Our loss doesn't compare to that of his family and friends - they have lost a husband, father, friend ... a person that they knew and loved. But for us others it leaves a gap nonetheless, and brings a certain sadness. We still have the music; but the man who made it is gone and nothing more will be added to it. May he rest in peace.

prayer diary Monday 11 Jan 2016

‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’ 
Mark 1. 15

One of the greatest dangers of the modern world is its seductive message that we have nothing to repent of. But Christ called us to repentance. Therefore not only do we have much to repent us but we must repent of it if we are to be saved.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

the baptism of our Lord: a lesson in prayer and humility

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

Today is the third Sunday after Christmas Day and the first after the feast of the Epiphany of the Christ-child to the Gentiles. It is the Sunday when we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord in the Jordan by his cousin, St John the Baptist, who is also called John the Fore-runner because of his prophetic work in preparing the way of the Lord. His role in God's plan for the salvation of mankind is described in all four of the Gospels; and it is a role he willingly accepted. Sinful pride and worldly ambition were not part of this saint's character; there is no sense of resentment that another will stand on his shoulders, as it were, and do even greater things. And this is because John sees more clearly than most. Why should any man take undue pride in what he has achieved, or fret that another may seem to gain the glory for his efforts, when both do God's work, and all is done for the greater glory of God?

And so St John was not perturbed by the arrival of Jesus by the Jordan, that the one whose sandal he was not fit to undo had arrived, that the time had come when he must grow lesser and the Christ greater; for this was all part of God's plan, and he was God's obedient servant.

But however great the humility we see displayed by St John, we see even greater displayed by our Lord. For the one who is without sin has come to be baptised. Not because he has any need of baptism, because he is without sin. But because by his baptism he consecrates the waters of the world that we might be sanctified by them in our own baptism. Also because he wishes to show himself in complete solidarity with sinful humanity; and because each man and woman ever born needs this baptism, the only man ever born who does not will also submit to it – both to show how fully human God-made-man is and to lead us by his example. All Christians are to be as Christ-like as possible; and so if Christ will submit to baptism, then so must we.

That may well seem to be a moot point. We are all here, except perhaps for one or two infants among us, already baptised – most of us when we were still babies. How then are we to follow Christ's example, since we cannot be re-baptised, the sacrament being unrepeatable, a literally once in a life time event? We submit to this baptism by accepting the implications of what it means for us to have baptised into Christ, and by allowing what was begun in us at our baptism to grow and grow all through our lives.

There are two ways that we may more perfectly do this that are suggested by our Gospel reading today. The first is to remember that while our Lord specifically encouraged us to be baptised by his own, he also thereby modelled for us the Christian virtue of humility. We must therefore always keep before our eyes the humility our Saviour showed on this occasion, and many, many others, and always strive to emulate it. Humility helps us to be more obedient to God's will; that obedience helps us to follow his teachings more completely and imitate his Son more nearly; and by the living of that more Christ-like life we will grow in holiness as the Holy Spirit does his work in us and helps us on our road to heaven.

The second way is to follow the example of a tiny detail that we have in St Luke's account of the Baptism of our Lord. He alone records the following moment from that occasion: 'Now when all the people were baptised, and when Jesus also had been baptised and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove.' Jesus was praying as the Holy Spirit descended upon him, something that is easily missed as neither St Matthew or St Mark include it … and which therefore also serves to highlight the importance of the way in which the varying gospel narratives complement and support each other. If it were not for St Matthew, we would not know of the conversation that Jesus and St John had prior to the baptism in which John protested his unworthiness; St Mark tells us that it was from Nazareth that our Lord came to the Jordan; and St Luke, as already mentioned, that our Lord's immediate reaction to his baptism was to pray and that he spent the few moments between it and the descent of the Holy Spirit in prayer. 

This, and the many other examples of how our Lord frequently spent time in prayer we have in the Gospels, reminds us of the importance of prayer in our own lives. St Paul exhorts us to unceasing prayer … something that can be achieved by most if they begin each day by prayerfully dedicating every thought, word, and deed to God in advance … making thereby not only the whole day a prayer to the Lord … but also, hopefully, helping us to avoid consciously committing wrong actions … for why would we deliberately offer what we know to be sinful to God?

And, I think it reasonable to say, that the two suggestions we have from today's Gospel are mutually reinforcing. The person who grows in humility will naturally wish to spend more time in prayer to God; and the one who spends much time in prayer will unavoidably grow in humility as the time spent in conversation with the Divine can only serve to make profound the understanding of how great Almighty God is, how little we are in comparison, and how good and gracious he is in all he does for us.

And so as I finish I pray that our reading today of St Luke's account of the Baptism of our Lord will not only remind you of your own baptisms, and all you have gained thereby, but also serve to guide you to more perfect obedience of our Lord by following the example of our Lord on the occasion of his own baptism by leading a life of ever increasing prayerful humility. Amen

proud father moment!

I had a lovely 'proud dad' moment at a recent parish carol service (a festival of lessons and carols with an Epiphany theme) when I got to sing 'We three kings' with my two oldest sons. It was made all the better by the fact that due to our recent family bereavement I completely blanked on the fact I had included this item on the programme as a piece with individual voices soloing on the verses ...  and didn't realise my error until late the night before the service! So not only no rehearsals (other than a couple of quick ones on the day) but I didn't even get a chance to ask the boys if they'd do it with me that afternoon until the morning of! They proved themselves real troopers by not only agreeing to help their poor, befuddled old dad out, but doing a good job at the singing.

The next eldest videod it on his smart-phone and posted it to his youtube channel which means I have the chance to share this proud moment (& if you listen careful to the background singing, the youngest son is chiming in lustily on the choruses ... sitting next to the videographer his voice gets picked up pretty well ... meaning that all four of my boys are in the mix with this in one way or another!).

Examin Sunday 9 Jan 2016

The twelve days of Christmas begin with the birth of our Lord and the visit of the angels to the shepherds. They end with the coming of the Magi to visit the Christ-child having followed a star from a far-away land. The first visit reminds us that the Messiah came for all people, including the poor and lowly of the world; the second that he came just as much for the stranger, the 'outsider,' as for those who think of themselves as being at the centre of any group or society.Therefore in our comfort we must be constantly vigilant to be sure we are welcoming to the poor, the vulnerable, the stranger; for Christ called them to him, just as he calls us.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

buried treasure!

You know that feeling of surprise or delight you get when you put on a coat you haven't worn for a while and find a fistful of change in the pocket that adds up to quite a bit? Or when you're cleaning the couch and find a bunch of coins down the back? Take that feeling and multiply by a factor of about 20 and you'll be where I was yesterday evening when I finally got round to unpacking a box in my office that was packed up who knows when.

Here's how the story goes. About 13 years ago I did a sponsored head shave for charity. Having a pony-tail at the time and getting the support of a lot of my civil service colleagues behind me I raised a fair amount. A lot of that came in coins ... which I duly counted and bagged up. I wrote a personal cheque for the total raised and sent it off to the charity. The bagged up coins were supposed to go into my bank account.

As you can guess, that didn't happen. Shortly thereafter we moved house ... a frequent occurrence in our lives (we've moved six times since the head shave). The coins got packed up (obviously, although I have no memory of it ... I thought the coins had gone to the bank like they were supposed to!). The box I found them in has books-on-tape that I was listening to while making the long, lonely journeys each week from Youghal to Dublin while I was in Theological College (seminary) about eight years back, so I've no idea how the coins ended up in it. 

But hey! great fun to find them. Small handfuls have been given to my children as they headed off to the Young Scientist Exhibition in Dublin today to spend on such necessities as chips and pizzas. Another reasonably sized handful was given to my wife to pay for the parking to enable the children to do the exiting things they would do in Dublin (with enough left over, I think, to pay for some essential coffee and cake if she should so chose). 

The rest were carefully placed, still in their bags, in a drawer. Perhaps I shall buy myself something nice in the coming weeks. Unless I forget and don't find them again for another 13 years!

prayer diary Saturday 9 Jan 2016

Jesus dismissed the crowd. After saying farewell to them, he went up on the mountain to pray. 
Mark 6. 45-46

How often in the Gospels do we see our Lord in prayer! We who are called to be like him must then devote ourselves to frequent prayer; for if the Son of God thought it needful that he pray, how much more it is necessary for we who are so much less than he.

Friday, January 8, 2016

not so tweet?

I read that Twitter may raise the character limit of tweets to as high as 10,000. As the word tweet in this context rather gives the idea of brevity, what then will we call these more verbose posts? A twaddle? A twattle? Surely this longer prose needs some other name? for it still can't be a tweet!

prayer diary Friday 8 Jan 2016

He saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. 
Mark 6.34

Christ in his compassion recognises how lost so many in the world are. His solution to that problem was to offer them his teachings. So also must we share those teachings with those we meet.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

prayer diary Thursday 7 Jan 2016

From that time Jesus began to proclaim, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 
Matthew 4.17

It may seem strange to us that so soon after Christmas that our lectionary turns to the ministry of Jesus; and particularly his call to repentance. Yet this is why the Christ-child was born into the world, to save men from their sins and teach them the road to heaven.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The Epiphany: a reflection

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

The Epiphany, symbolically, serves as a counter-balance to the apparition of the angels to the shepherds at the Nativity of our Lord. The shepherds are visited by heavenly beings; the wise men see a star. The shepherds are poor and lowly; the wise men are wealthy and powerful. The shepherds are Jews; the magi are gentiles. The response of the shepherds is to seek out the Christ; the response of the wise men is to seek out the Christ.

The differing reactions to the seekings of these different groups of men is instructive. The shepherds tell of their experiences to Mary; and the mother of God ponders all these things in her heart. The wise men to Herod and his court; and the earthly king seeks to destroy the heavenly one. We do not know if Herod had heard of the strange events that had recently taken place in Bethlehem. If he did, he ignored them. Why should a king care what poor shepherds have to say? But these visitors from the East are different.

We call them kings often, while scripture only calls them magi, wise; but they can afford a lengthy journey to a distant land from which they expect no material gain. And they feel comfortable stopping to ask directions at the court of a king. They may or may not be kings themselves; but they are certainly great men as the world judges such things. And what they have to say is taken very seriously indeed by Herod. And being a wicked man, Herod can only see the arrival of the Messiah in earthly terms – there is a new king in his kingdom and that can only be seen by him as a threat to his temporal power. So he acts to destroy this new king.

This should remind us that earthly power will sadly all too often see heavenly in terms of a threat to its own – and seek to destroy the heavenly in order to protect the earthly. There have been many other examples of such behaviour down through history to mirror that of Herod's. We need only think of the Roman Empire's attacks on the early Church during the first few centuries; and, even more sadly, that of Christian emperors and kings to control the Church in the centuries that followed. Today the secular, liberal forces that hold so much sway in our Western societies continue to see the Church as a threat and fight against her; for the message of Christ stands in opposition to their vision.

But they will succeed no more than Herod did. For God will not be defeated. Even the apparent successes of secular powers, or any others, will be turned against them; for, as we read in Genesis, what man intends for evil, God uses for good – the good of advancing his kingdom. All the martyrs the Romans created in the early years did not dissuade Christians from being Christians – they served more to persuade others of the truth of their faith and bring them to Christ … just as the star led the wise men to Christ.

And these wise men, these wise kings, had the better reaction to that of Herod's. His was to rage and destroy and kill the innocent in an attempt to do the impossible – to prevent God from ruling his creation. He was indeed a foolish king. But the reaction of the Magi was that of the truly wise; for they came to honour and adore and pay homage, bringing gifts fit for a king. Theirs was the wise reaction, for it is the only one that is fitting for a man when faced with the plans of God. And so, therefore, must we emulate their wisdom, and love and honour the king of heaven who was made man for our sake: this night and always. Amen

prayer diary Wednesday 6 Jan 2016 (The Epiphany of our Lord to the Gentiles)

On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. 
Matthew 2. 11

The visit of the Magi remind us that the Good News of Jesus Christ is for all people. Those of us within the Church must work to share that message with all others until the end of time.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016


a Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) press release

Christian Solidarity Worldwide has learned that Pastor Hafiz Mengisto, senior minister of the Khartoum Bahri Evangelical Church was acquitted of obstructing a public servant from performing the duties of his office on 29 December 2015. Mohaned Mustafa, lawyer for the church who was charged with the same crime had his case dismissed on 23 December 2015.

Mr Mustafa and Pastor Mengisto’s trial began on 14 December 2015 at the Khartoum Bahri Criminal Court. On 23 December, the court accepted that the prosecution had failed to follow procedure when initiating a criminal case against a registered lawyer and dismissed the case against Mr Mustafa. The case against Pastor Mengisto continued until 29 December, when the court ruled that the church leader had not committed a crime.

Pastor Mengisto and Mr Mustafa were arrested and charged on 1 July 2015 after police officers arrived at Khartoum Bahri Evangelical Church with a court order to demolish a building on the church’s property. Pastor Mengisto sustained injuries to his head and ear while in police custody and required medical attention upon his release.

The trial of Mr Mustafa and Pastor Mengisto occurred in the midst of a crackdown against Christians in Sudan. DuringDecember 2015, National Intelligence) and Security Service (NISS) agents arrested a Christian activist and two religious leaders. Talahon Nigosi Kassa Ratta, an activist and member of the Sudan Evangelical Presbyterian Church (SEPC), was arrested on 14 December 2015 in Khartoum and Reverends Kwa Shamal and Hassan Abduraheem of the Sudan Church of Christ were arrested on 19 December 2015. While Mr Ratta’s parents were able to visit him in Kober Men’s Prison at the end of December 2015, he has since been moved to an unknown location and remains detained without charge. Reverends Shamal and Abduraheem are also being held in unknown locations without charge.

CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said, “We welcome the court’s decision to acquit Pastor Mengisto and dismiss the case against Mr Mustafa. However, we remain deeply concerned by the State’s repressive actions against religious minorities in Sudan, as exemplified by the arrest and detention of Mr Ratta and Reverends Shamal and Abduraheem. We call for their immediate and unconditional release. Their detention without charge is in clear violation of their right to liberty and security of person as detailed in article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Sudan is a party and we appeal to the international community, and in particular to the African Union, to hold Sudan to its obligations under international law by pressing for their immediate release.”

For further information or to arrange interviews please contact Kiri Kankhwende, Press Officer at Christian Solidarity Worldwide on +44 (0)20 8329 0045 / +44 (0) 78 2332 9663, email or visit

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

prayer diary Tuesday 5 Jan 2016

The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow me.’ 
John 1. 43

When Christ walked the earth his followers showed their fidelity by walking with him. We who follow him today must show our faith by faithfully obeying his teachings.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Christmas cake!

The most excellent home-made, hand-iced & decorated Christmas cake a parishioner gave me as a present. And yes, it did taste as good as it looks!

prayer diary Monday 4 Jan 2016

He first found his brother Simon and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which is translated Anointed).And he brought Simon to Jesus. 
John 1. 41,42

The early disciples quickly and eagerly brought others to Christ. We too must follow their example and do all we can to lead our brothers and sisters to the Lord.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

may we share in the life of his divinity

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

Our collect today for this first Sunday of the year begins with the words: Almighty God, in the birth of your Son you have poured on us the new light of your incarnate Word and shown us the fullness of your love. It is essentially a reflection on our Gospel reading for this day, the famous prologue to St John's Gospel which includes the verses: 'In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God' and 'The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world' and 'And the Word became flesh and lived among us.'

This is the story of Christmas as we have it from St John, the beloved disciple: that the eternal God who was from the beginning and created all things, including time itself, had chosen to take on mortal flesh and be born as a man and live among us as if he were one of us and experience all the things of life that we do – cold, heat, hunger, thirst, tiredness, sadness, grief, and all the rest – for the sake our our salvation.

God had made us in his own image, but through sin we had fallen. And for the sake of restoring us, of bringing us back from that fall, he sent his only Son, the second person of the Blessed Trinity, to become man and die for those sins that damage that image of God we were created in. That is why, in last week's collect, the collect for the First Sunday of Christmas, we pray: 'Grant that as he came to share in our humanity so may we share in the life of his divinity who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.'

What does it mean to pray that we may share in the divinity of Christ? It means that we are to do all we can to keep alive and growing within us what was begun at the moment of our baptism. The grace we were given then must be fed with grace upon grace though out our lives so that when this life ends and we stand before the judgement throne Christ himself will look into our faces and see enough of his own image there that he may welcome us as his brothers and sisters into our heavenly home.

But how are we to receive this grace? I will mention three ways this morning. They should be nothing new to you, unless you are very young, either in age or in terms of the faith. But they bear repeating; for all of us, no matter how far we have come on our Christian journey, need to be reminded of things now and again … or simply encouraged to do the things that we know that we ought to do if we are to grow in holiness as Gods wants us to.

The first is the Holy Eucharist. This is the primary sacrament of God's Church, the one in which we meet, miraculously and mysteriously, our Saviour face to face. And as we feed upon this holy food, it fills us with grace and strengthens us spiritually so that we may grow in holiness. It is not to be neglected; for as Christ himself told us, the one who does not eat his flesh or drink his blood has no life in them. 

But remember that it is not to be taken unworthily, for that is to eat and drink judgement upon yourself, as St Paul tells us. By unworthily he means to do so lightly, irreverently, or most particularly in a state of serious sin. So you must remember to examine your consciences thoroughly and honestly before you partake of the Blessed Sacrament, confessing your sins and seeking God's absolution so that you may be worthy to receive the body and blood of our Lord. And do not fall into the error of thinking that it does not matter if you do not partake of this sacrament as often as you may; which of you undertaking an important journey would think it wise to starve yourself along the way? Why then would you think it wise as you undertake this most important journey of all, the journey you hope will end in heaven, to deliberately starve yourself of the God-given spiritual food you need to strengthen you along the way?

The next thing I would remind you of is to pray regularly. We see our Saviour at prayer regularly in the Gospels. We have his very own example of how necessary a life of prayer is. We are called to be like him, as like him as it is humanly possible to be. We can not even begin to do so if we do not pray. More, he was the Son of God and he thought it necessary to pray. If we in our humanity wish to share in the life of his divinity how can we hope to do so if we, in how we live our human lives, do not follow the example of Christ as he lived his human life? 

We must pray and pray regularly. Not just when we want something or some crisis in our life or the world emerges; and not just when we have sinned in some particularly egregious way, so seriously and wilfully that the normal self-justifications and excuses will not suffice and we know we must pray to God for forgiveness there and then, because we know if we were to die there and then we would perish in our sins and our hope of heaven might have been thrown away in that moment of wilful disobedience. We must pray daily, morning and evening at least and more often if we can; placing ourselves under God's protection at the beginning of the day and asking us for his grace to strengthen us in all we will face throughout the day and for his forgiveness at night for the many ways we will have failed him over the course of that day and that he will watch over us as we sleep and welcome our soul to heaven if we do not wake.

And the third thing I will remind you all of is the importance of reading the Sacred Scriptures. St Jerome tells us that the person who is ignorant of Scripture is ignorant of Christ. How can we hope to share in the Divinity of the Word made flesh if we will not read that word as revealed to us in the Holy Bible? Every book of it speaks to us of Christ, the Old Testament prophesying or pre-figuring when he would come; the New telling us of the fulfilment of God's promises that he would send a Saviour; and all of it speaking to us of our Father's purpose in creating us and his divine plan as to how we should live our lives.

This Sunday is the first of 2016. It is a time when in the secular world many make what are called new year's resolutions. They usually entail some way of living their life more fruitfully or productively: eat more healthily, take more exercise, spend less time watching television and more reading good books. Perhaps the reminders I have given you today could form the basis for new resolutions for your spiritual life: that from now on you will read a short passage of scripture each day; that you will begin and end each day in prayer; and that you will let nothing but the gravest of reasons prevent you from being in Church each Sunday to receive the life-giving Grace God offers you in the Holy Eucharist. They are resolutions that would help you on your journey to eternal life. And it would be a response of love to the love that, as our morning collect reminds us, God has shown us in pouring out upon us the light of his incarnate Word. Amen

jenga extreme!

So, the youngest had his mother and I play a round of Jenga Extreme. When we got to 28 levels we thought we were doing pretty well. When we got to 30 we even got a little excited ... so we took a picture as we completed each level. The picture above is level 31 ... which is as far as we got! Still, not too bad for an eight-year old and his parents. I don't know what the record is ... thirty-something for ordinary Jenga bricks. But we were chuffed so I thought I'd share our (fleeting) achievement!

Examin Sunday 3 January 2016

We live in a strange world. There are those who think that religion 'spoils' the party atmosphere of Christmas. And there are those who, while acknowledging the holy nature of the season, see religion almost as something to be taken out of the box with the other decorations … and to be put back again when the holiday is done until next year. Yet Christ is not for a single day or a short festive season but for all the year. Christ came that all might be saved and must be at the centre of our lives from the moment of our baptism until we enter into eternity.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

prayer diary Saturday 2 January 2016

He said, ‘I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, “Make straight the way of the Lord” ’, as the prophet Isaiah said. 
John 1. 23

Poor indeed we may be in faith when compared to John the Baptist. Yet each of us may, in our own small way, teach others of Christ and so prepare the way for him in their hearts.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Happy New Year

I'd like to wish all those who read this blog a happy New Year.  I don't know why you read it; I'm sure you have your reasons! I do it - mostly - to help those who dip in with their spiritual lives in some small way. If you are a regular, I hope you find it useful to you.

If you do - find it useful that is - perhaps you would consider leading others to this blog? What is useful to you might well be useful to them. And if you find it helpful, there is not reason to think that others would not find it equally helpful. So if you could see your way to sharing on facebook, emailing links to friends, etc, etc, I'd appreciate it ... and hopefully the friends you share with will also.

A very blessed and holy 2016 to you and all whom you love. 

prayer diary Friday 1 January 2016

After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. 
Luke 2. 21

The obedience of the Holy Family to the religious customs of the day are an example to us. When pride tempts you to look at our own practices and say 'why do I need to do such things?' remember their humility and likewise humbly obey.