Monday, February 29, 2016

prayer diary Monday 29 Feb 2016

They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. 
Luke 4.29

Jesus angered many by preaching the truths of the Gospel. We his followers are called to proclaim those same truths. This Lent consider how you might better do so.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

when all time runs out ...

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

We have now reached the third Sunday in the Holy and penitential season of Lent. How time flies, as the saying goes; barely yesterday, it seems, we were beginning this special time of preparation for Easter … and already we are close to being half-way through it. The time for taking advantage of what Lent offers us, the great gift that God has given us through his Church of having a time set aside to reflect deeply where we have most particularly gone astray from the path he has laid out for us, is passing; a time of encouragement and support for the prayer, fasting, and other means of self-discipline we may and should engage in so that we not only show that we are sorry for all that we have done wrong, that we truly repent of our sins, but also so that we may gain the strength, with God's help to do better in the future.

But, as I said, the time is passing; Lent does not last forever, even if there are times when it seems as if it might, particularly to those who engage with it fully; all too soon it will end. The time to take advantage of its blessings will be gone; and who is to say whether those opportunities will be offered again? For Lent is not the only thing that is passing; as our Lord told us 'we know not the day nor the hour'; and who is to say that this Lent may not be our last chance to prepare ourselves to stand before the throne of glory … a place that no one wishes to stand in a state of unreadiness or unworthiness.

The passing of the season almost seems like a metaphor to illustrate the words of our Gospel today. It begins with a reference to a particularly nasty event: some Galileans, it seems were coming to offer sacrifice; and somehow they got caught up in an incident with some Roman soldiers. We have no way of knowing if they were instigators of some kind of civil unrest or just unfortunate bystanders who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time when violence broke out. However it began, by the time it was done their own blood ran on the ground to mix with the blood of the animals they had brought to offer in sacrifice to the Lord.

Now this, of course, was an age when people often thought that unfortunate events were God's way of punishing the worst of sinners. It is a particularly smug and dangerous way of looking at the world I think: smug, because those who think that way think that their own good fortune in having avoided calamity is some kind of proof of their own virtue; and dangerous because it can thereby blind them to their own flaws and failings and desperate need amend their own sinful way of life.

However, this way of thinking is just plain wrong, as Jesus makes plain. Those who died by the Roman sword were no worse sinners than anyone else. And to make it doubly clear, our Lord draws another example from the headlines of his time, so to speak. A tower has collapsed in a part of Jerusalem called Siloam, killing 18 people. Their deaths are not to be taken as God striking them down in the guise of a natural disaster or shoddy building standards. They were no worse than those around them.

But having said they were no worse, in speaking of both these examples our Lord ends by saying 'No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.' What does he mean by this? That we are all given our time in this life; we all are sinners called to repentance; and those who do not repent but instead die in their sins will perish, will lose eternal life. That, I think, is made clear by the parable he tells immediately afterwards. We are all given enough time to bear good fruit; indeed, more than enough. And during that time God helps us in every way he can – his grace, his sacraments, his Holy Spirit in our lives, his holy word speaking to us in our hearts and through the sacred Scriptures – symbolised in the parable by the work the gardener does by making every effort to make the tree bear fruit. But time is not unlimited; and no man lives for ever. 

And the one who will not acknowledge their sins, or think they may sin and sin and sin and repent at some future date may someday find that all their time is gone: the axe is laid to the root of the tree; the weapon in the hand of the violent man finds its target in them; the building they stand in crumbles under their feet. Their time is done. The time for repentance is gone. They can not claim that they found the burden of temptations they faced too great to resist; for as St Paul tells us, no one is tested beyond their strength and to all who are tempted by the world, the flesh, and the devil, God provides the way to endure that testing. But to endure we must heed the words of the prophet Isaiah, we must 'Seek the Lord while he may be found,' we must 'call upon him while he is near;' and that time is now, the time of this life, for by the time of the next it is too late. And if, paraphrase the prophet, the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts and return to the Lord, he will have mercy on them and pardon them.

But we are all blessed indeed, for we still have time. Time in this life to avoid dying unprepared; time in this Lent to use it as a means of finding the extra strength to fight all that would keep us from find our place in heaven. I pray that you will use the time that remains to you to find true repentance, and through that true pardon from our Father in heaven who pardons abundantly all who turn from their sins. And I ask that you pray the same for me. Amen

Examin Sunday 28 Feb 2016

Your Christian journey began with baptism. The promises made that day are not to be left behind but carried with you all the days of your life. Therefore ponder them deeply during this season of Lent. Consider what they mean and seek insights from them as to how you may better follow the path to heaven. Learn from them what you must daily do in order to gain the salvation God offers.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

prayer diary Saturday 27 Feb 2016

'This son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!” And they began to celebrate. 
Luke 15. 24

Great is the joy in heaven when a straying soul comes to his senses and returns to God. And what child does not wish to have his father rejoice? Renounce
, therefore, all that is evil in your life and enter into the welcoming embrace of your Father in heaven.

Friday, February 26, 2016

prayer diary Friday 26 Feb 2016

‘Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?’They said to him, ‘He will put those wretches to a miserable death.' 
Matthew 21. 40,41

God has granted us free will and will not force us to love and serve him. But there are consequences for rejection of him freely made.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Llent 3: 'do you repent of the sins that separate us from God and neighbour?'

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

During the course of our mid-week Lenten reflections we have been looking at our baptismal promises. This evening it is the turn of the third of those: 'do you repent of the sins that separate us from God and neighbour?'; the reply to which is, of course, 'I repent of them'. There are two questions, therefore, we must ask ourselves, if we are to consider this promise even cursorily: what is sin? And what does it mean to repent of it?

Let us begin with sin. Put simply it is anything that is against God's will; and it may be committed, as we know from each time we say the Confession, by an act, a word, or a thought, or by failing to do something that we are obliged to do. Therefore to steal is a sin, as is telling lies, hating someone in our hearts even if we are civil to their faces, and neglecting to instruct children under our care in the faith. The seriousness of the sin depends on the gravity of the offence; therefore it is a greater sin to deliberately murder someone than it is to steal a five-cent coin. But both, of course, are sins. And we are expected to know what God's laws are. He has given them to us in his Sacred Scriptures and the teachings of his Church and he has written them on our hearts. When we are little, it is our parents, teachers, or other responsible adults in our lives to teach them to us; and when we are older we have the responsibility for learning them passes to ourselves.

Sin, it must be noted, does not require some kind of deliberate intent to offend God; it only requires that the offence is something that a reasonable person might know, or be expected to know, is wrong. Therefore the person who steals a sum of money does not to have the conscious thought in their head: 'I do this as much to break the commandments as I do to deprive the rightful owner of this money and gain the benefit of it for myself' in order to sin. The fact that the thief know it wrong to steal is enough. If you conscience tells you that it is wrong then it is a sin.

There are those, it must be said, who use the idea of conscience as some kind of 'get out of gaol free' card. A thief may excuse their behaviour on the grounds that the one they steal from has more than enough and so no one is harmed or that their need for the item is greater than the one who owns it; an adulterer may excuse their infidelity by claiming that the affair makes them happy and as long as they are careful to ensure their spouse does not find out no one is harmed. They claim that they are able to take these action 'in good
conscience'; what is in fact the case is that they have a lax conscience and are attempting to legitimise acts that are objectively wrong by claiming some kind of subjective justification for them.

However, what to act in good conscience actually means is that we must reflect carefully before we act to be sure that what we will do is in accordance with God's will. Some things will be simple; others more complex and need much thought. Indeed some may even require the wise guidance of some trusted spiritual adviser. But the principle remains the same with all; that we base our decisions on God's law rather than trying to redefine God's laws so that they suit ourselves and then claim we have acted in accordance with them.

One might think at this point that I am spending a great deal of the time we have talking about sin and very little about repentance! However, it is not possible to repent unless knows what it is that one has done wrong … and accepts that one has done wrong in doing it. For to repent is to have a true and heartfelt sorrow for the wrongs one has done and the firm resolve and purpose that one will sin no more. How important is repentance? Well, you will no doubt know that the Gospels record that Christ began his ministry with a call to repentance: 'repent and believe in the good news!' He cried. Perhaps we can not truly believe in that good news if we will not repent; certainly, if we do not think we have any need to repent we are rejecting the very words of that good news.

Without repentance, it must also be remembered, it is not possible to receive Holy Communion worthily, as we are told both in Scripture and reminded constantly by Church teaching. The unrepentant sinner effectively cuts themselves off from this vital channel of God's grace. And finally, let us think of the words of the baptismal promise we are considering today and what it teaches us. It asks 'do we repent of the sins that separate us from God and neighbour:' And as all sins offend against God, the ones that offend against neighbour also offend against God. So all sin, therefore, serves to separate us from God. Those who refuse to repent of their sins deliberately choose to separate themselves from God.

And this, as you all know – or at least I hope you know – has eternal consequences. Repentance is therefore necessary for salvation. And this is why when we are baptised into God's church we promise that we will repent of our sins, for if we will not then we wash away in those waters the stain of original sin only to make a clean place to lay all the new sins that we will commit ourselves, sins that separate us from the God who created us and died on the cross for us, sins that will deny us reaching our final home in heaven. I pray brothers and sisters that you will use this season of Lent as a time to better reflect on how you may repent, and indeed on how you may ask God's help that you may do so; and I ask that you pray the same for me. Amen

prayer diary Thursday 25 Feb 2016

'Remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony.' 
Luke 16.25

Do not be tempted by the false pleasures of the world, the flesh, and the devil. What they offer is fleeting; what they cost is eternal.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

prayer diary Wednesday 24 Feb 2016

'Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?’ They said to him, ‘We are able.’ He said to them, ‘You will indeed drink my cup.' 
Matthew 20. 22,23

His disciples thought of earthly glory, but Christ promised them instead a cross. And if we are to follow Christ we must take up our own; but be not afraid – for carrying it leads to heaven.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

prayer diary Tuesday 23 Feb 2016

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

Humility is the key to all virtue, for it is humility that lets us acknowledge how weak and lowly we are and in need of salvation. But woe to those who are too proud of heart to lower themselves to accept that which God offers to us all.

Monday, February 22, 2016

prayer diary Monday 22 Feb 2016

‘Do not judge, and you will not be judged.' 
Luke 6.37

It for God alone to decide the final destination of any soul. However that does not mean we must not try to correct those who are in error; indeed, we are urged elsewhere in Scripture to do so.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

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

Today is the second Sunday of the Holy and penitential season of Lent. Our Gospel reading today shows us how our Lord refuses to be turned from his path, the one leading to Jerusalem and his Passion, when the the Pharisees warn him to flee, because King Herod wants to kill him. But before we consider how unwavering Jesus us when it comes to his mission on this earth, let us first consider some other matters relating to this episode.

First, we might wonder why would Pharisees seek to not only help Jesus, but help him in such a way that would save his life? Were they not enemies of Jesus? Did they not also seek his life? Surely then they would have been delighted that Herod wanted to kill Jesus. Indeed, we might have expected them to try and delay the Messiah so that the King's soldiers might catch up with him and execute him. But instead they warn him to flee.

The seeming lack of logic here has caused some to consider that the Pharisees were trying to trick Jesus. Enemies don't warn enemies that they are in mortal danger; and so the Pharisees must have been lying to Jesus. Perhaps because they want him out of their territory; perhaps because they cannot kill him themselves they want him out of the way, hiding from this king who was well known to kill those who were inconvenient to him; and a man in hiding is as silenced as one who is dead, even though not as permanently.

But against that thought, the idea that these men are liars, goes the fact that Jesus treats their warning seriously. We know from many other places in the gospels that Christ always saw through all the traps and tricks of his enemies; he could read the hearts of men and knew their secret thoughts. If these Pharisees were lying to him, he would have known it; and I think we can be sure that Jesus would not be slow to call them out on their trickery.

So I think we can accept that the warning of these men was genuine. And that should teach us an important lesson. It is not safe to generalise about a group of people based on the actions of some of its members. Yes we have many examples of the Pharisees showing themselves as enemies of our Lord; and we have many examples of Jesus condemning the actions of Pharisees. But from that we cannot conclude that all Pharisees were wicked and that he condemned all the actions of them all. Only some hated him; those whose wicked actions or foolish teachings he pointed out. But others were good men who found wisdom in what the Lord had to say; as is demonstrated here when they try to save his life.

So Herod indeed sought the life of Christ; which bring us to another question to ponder: why? After all, do we not read in St Luke's account of our Lord's passion that Herod was glad when Pilate sent Jesus to him, for he had long wished to see him because he hoped to see him work some miracle? However, we must also consider that when Herod had John the Baptist in prison he visited him frequently, for he liked to hear him talk. And liking to hear what John had to say did not prevent Herod from having his head cut off. And we also know that Herod feared that Jesus was John raised from the dead. And if he had reason to kill John for calling his marriage to Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, condemned by Scripture as incestuous, then he had more reason to kill Jesus; for Jesus taught that to marry someone who was divorced was adultery.

Given that, it only follows that he should want Jesus dead. That he didn't kill Jesus when Pilate sent him to him should not surprise; he was not king of Judea and had no authority in Jerusalem. But having had his chance to talk to Jesus, he sent him back to Pilate who did have that power … a power that the Roman governor exercised. Perhaps that is why the Jewish king and the Roman Politician thereafter became friends … Pilate had given Herod exactly what he wanted from his actions.

But whether the Pharisees were trying to trick Jesus or this was a genuine warning, the important thing here is the reaction of Jesus: he will not be frightened from his mission. The threat of death will not dissuade him his preaching the word of God; or his Journey to Jerusalem … which, as his reply to the Pharisees shows, he knows full well will end in his death – it is impossible for a prophet to be killed away from Jerusalem.

Which brings us back to where we began and raises the question of why will Christ not flee death, but rather willingly walks toward it? And the answer is that he knows that it is by his death that all men may have eternal life. And even his perfect foreknowledge of all that will happen to him – his arrest, farce of a trial, his scourging the pillar and his crowning with thorns, his condemnation to death, the carrying of his cross and being nailed to it, and on which after hours of agony and mockery he died – a foreknowledge of a death so terrible that in his agony in the garden sweat poured from his brow like blood – none of that will stop him. He gives his life that all may have life, life in all its fullness and abundance, eternal life in heaven. He would not let anything prevent him form going to Jerusalem to make that sacrifice. 

Therefore you must ask yourself what will you let stand in your way to prevent you from having that eternal life that he died that you might have? He did not shrink from death that you might have it; will you shrink from fighting against the trickery of the temptations that will lead you astray and deny you it? Like Christ you have been warned of the dangers you face; I pray that you will use this time during Lent to ponder how you may better heed that warning and  gain the eternal life he offers us all; and I ask that you pray the same for me. Amen

Examin Sunday 21 Feb 2016

'Let us join St Philip in saying 'Lord, show us the Father and we shall be satisfied' (John 14.8). He alone can fill our all our emptiness, satisfy all needs, content us, and make us happy. Let us then empty our hearts of all other things, for if the Father alone suffices, then we have no need for material goods, less for exterior wealth, and still less for the honour of men's good opinion. We do not even need this mortal life; how then can we need those things necessary to preserve it? We need only God. He alone suffices. In possessing him we are content.'
Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet 

Lent is the time when we examine ourselves for our worldly attachments and seek to rid ourselves of them. We need things of the world to live; but ultimately we are but exiles in this life, sojourners from our true home in heaven. Therefore even as we use the things of this life they should mean nothing to us. And those things we find ourselves in danger of becoming too attached to we must cast aside; and trust that the Father is enough for us.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

prayer diary Saturday 20 Feb 2016

'But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.'Matthew 5. 44

Think of the great persecutions taking place in the world against Christians today. Do you pray for those who do such evil, that they may desist and turn to Christ? Much evil in the world surely is to be laid at our door because we will not pray as Jesus asked us to.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Do you renounce the deceit and corruption of evil?

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

During the course of Lent I will be looking at the vows we make at baptism and renew at our confirmation, Lent having its origins as a season of preparation for baptism. Last week at our Ash Wednesday services I spoke about the first, which is: 'Do you reject the devil and all proud rebellion against God? I reject them,' and talked about how Satan is consumed with desire to tempt humanity into joining in his rebellion against God, fuelled by an implacable hatred of his Creator, and determined to wound him by preventing us from ending where we created to be for all eternity – with God in heaven. This evening we look at the next of those promises: Do you renounce the deceit and corruption of evil? I renounce them.

Let us begin by asking ourselves the question as to what is evil? Many would suggest that it is anything that causes them or another discomfort or pain; and in this age when the ideology of individualism is so prevalent, many would argue that anything that acts to prevent a person doing exactly as they please is evil. The first can end with equating a rainy day when you hoped for sunshine with evil; and the second often neglects the duty one has to the common good, and often justifies the claiming of greater and greater rights for the individual with no thought at all to the responsibilities that person might have to others … or that indeed wanting something is not the same as being entitled to it; or that not all the things a person wants can be for their good and that satisfying those desires may cause harm to the person when they get them.

However, in discussing evil in the context of our baptismal promises we must do so in light of the preceding question, which had to do with the devil and his proud rebellion. We must therefore consider moral evil. And what is that? Well, God is good; and all that he wills for us is good; and any behaviour that is disobedient to his will is evil. We know God's will for he has written his laws in our hearts, as St Paul tells us in Romans; this is what we call the 'natural law.' And in addition he gives us his laws by way of revelation, given to us not only in the Sacred Scriptures but in the good and Holy Traditions of the Church his Son established, and whom he said his Holy Spirit would lead into all truth. Revealed law never contradicts natural law; it can not, for both have the same divine author.

But, as is made clear in our baptismal promises, evil seeks to deceive us. It will even try to tell us that what is good is evil and what is evil is good. Evil is not afraid to call the Church's own teaching evil, even where that teaching is most explicitly based on words that came from the lips of Christ himself; although, of course, often this will be phrased in such a way as to claim it is not Christ they condemn, but rather the interpretation that his Church has placed upon his words.

A further deceit is given example to in the modern phrase: 'well, you have your truth, and I have mine.' As if truth was in some way a subjective thing, dependent like beauty on the eye on the beholder; what a profound lie! Something is either true or it is not. It can not be true for one person and not for another. It may be a matter of taste as to whether one person prefers chocolate ice-cream and another vanilla. But it is not a matter of opinion that ice-cream is a dairy based product served chilled. That is a matter of fact. And so it is with truth. Something is either true as a matter of fact, in which case it is true; or it is not in which case it is a lie. And most certainly God's laws cannot be true for some and not true for others. We either accept them as true, for us and for all men, in which case we walk in the light; or we do not, in which case we are deceived and we walk in darkness.

This is so obvious a thing, it almost seems at times that people wish to be deceived. Why would that be so? Well, of course, there are a great many thing we do wrong – and let us call them what they are: sinful and evil - that we can find quite pleasant. And so even as we wish to do them, we do not wish to be condemned for them; so we are all too ready to believe that not only they are good, but that those who try to tell us otherwise are the ones who are evil. And this is how evil corrupts us. It begins with lies and deceit; but our consciences know that what we do is wrong, no matter how seductive the lie is. But if we continue in it, the evil corrupts our consciences so that we may truly come to believe our evil is good. But we cannot be held guiltless in this; for even if we had never heard God's holy law, he had written his natural law in our hearts; and in order to be taken in by the evil and corrupted by it we first had to willingly reject God's will for our lives.

That is why we must go continually back to the source. We must refresh our hearts and minds and souls and consciences and spirits with God's word in Scripture, we must strengthen ourselves by partaking frequently and worthily of the Sacraments he blesses us with through his Church, and we must spend much time with him in prayer, listening to him as a child listens to a wise and loving Father, asking his pardon for where we go wrong, and his grace and strength to do better in the future. For it is only with his help that you can renounce the deceit and corruption of evil; and I pray that all here will dedicate the rest of their lives, with God's help, to the battle to do so; even as I ask that you pray the same for me. . Amen

prayer diary Friday 19 Feb 2016

'For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.' 
Matthew 5. 20

No one is every holy enough; for we are called to be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect. Therefore the Christian must strive to be ever holier 'til the end of his days.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

prayer diary Thursday 18 Feb 2016

Jesus said ‘Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.' 
Matthew 7.7

The season of Lent calls us to make ever greater efforts in our life of prayer. But this should be no hardship; for great rewards are to be found in prayer, as our Lord told us.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

prayer diary Wednesday 17 Feb 2016

'This generation is an evil generation; it asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.' 
Luke 11.30

Jonah's three days in the fish is a type of Christ's three days in the grave. And we must remember that in order for the people of Nineveh to be saved, they first had to repent.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

prayer diary Tuesday 16 Feb 2016

‘When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words' 
Matthew 6. 7

In your private prayer pray little with your lips but much with your heart. Your Father, who sees what is in secret, will know what it is that you pray.

Monday, February 15, 2016

prayer diary Monday 15 Feb 2016

'All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.' 
Matthew 25. 32

It is good to keep always before us the truth of our own mortality; and that after death comes judgement. That thought may keep us from sin and thus save our souls.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

he departed from him until an opportune time

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

We have now entered into the holy and penitential season of Lent, a time where we reflect deeply on our Lord's journey to Jerusalem and his passion and death on the cross; a time of prayer, fasting, and alms-giving where we prayerfully discipline the body so that we may master the passions that lead us into spiritual danger, causing us to sin, and thereby risking our heavenly reward. The season is modeled on our Lord's 40 days of prayer and fasting in the wilderness; and so it is natural today that our Gospel reading consists of one of the accounts we have of that time given to us in Sacred Scripture.

Our account today is from St Luke; and what a marvelously detailed and rich description of those 40 days it is, particularly of the temptations faced by our Lord. Indeed, I have often thought that one could profitably construct an entire series of Lenten reflections, one for each day of the season, based on these verses and still be far from having exhausted the potential of what is to be drawn from them. 

Perhaps that is because of the unique source of these events. All other details of the life of Christ that we have in the Gospels come from various human witnesses. The Blessed Virgin Mary and St Joseph provided the information that gave us the infancy narratives; the apostles and other disciples were witnesses to this teaching, miracles, passion, death, resurrection, and ascension. But for his time in the wilderness there were no witnesses to share what they saw for Christ went there alone. This means that the only possible source for this information is Jesus himself; and that he thought it important enough to share with his followers. 

More, he must have thought it essential, for the Gospels record no other moments of his life for which he and he alone only could be the source. There are nearly thirty years between his birth and his baptism about which we know nothing – only the account of his finding in the Temple, for whom his blessed Mother is surely the source – and this alone of all possible memories is the one he chooses to share with us.

Perhaps he does so because he knew this episode in his life would teach us many things. It tells us that if our Lord, the perfect man, felt it necessary to spend much time in prayer and fasting, then how much more do we, who are so weak and frail? It teaches us that it is not sinful to be tempted, knowing that our Lord was both tempted and without sin; it is only by giving into those temptations that we transgress God's holy laws. 

It speaks to us of the evil of the devil and the wicked desire he has to lead all men astray, away from God and to instead to eternal damnation. It shows quite graphically the misuses that holy scripture can be put to and how even God's word can be abused to lead men astray; and Christ, by his re-assertion of his authority over the interpretation of scripture shows the importance of orthodox interpretation.

These are but a few of the things we learn from this passage. There are many more we could speak of were there time. But let us consider just one more, one that is of particular relevance, I think, during this season of Lent. It concerns the final detail at the end of St Luke's account, and one that he alone of all the gospel writers records. And it is this: When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.  Our Lord's temptations did not end in the wilderness; or, at least, the devil's intention to try and tempt him further did not end there. 

Satan, this tells us, is relentless; and he will lose no opportunity to try and lead someone into sin, even when that someone is the Son of God. Christ, the second person of the blessed Trinity, could not of course give way to sin. But we are mere human beings; how can we resist such a relentless onslaught of temptations, not just from Satan, but also the world and the flesh?

First, we have God's grace and the strength he offers us through the sacraments of his Church, given to us by Christ's passion, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. But we also have the example of Christ's life; not only his perfect obedience to the will of the Father, but also in the time of prayer and fasting we hear of in today's gospel. This brings us back to what I spoke of at the beginning: how the physical disciplining of our bodies, the denying ourselves things that are permitted, strengthens the will and helps us control the passion so that we may resist the temptation to do those things that are against God's law, avoid dwelling in our minds on things that are not wholesome, and have the strength to do those things which are challenging but nonetheless we are called to do.

I pray that all here will have a holy Lent by following the pattern our Lord set for us of prayer and fasting and with God's grace you will grow stronger day by day in the faith that Christ died to give us; and I ask that you pray the same for me. Amen

Examin: Sunday 14 Jan 2016

The seventh degree of humility is that he consider himself lower and of less account than anyone else, and this not only in verbal protestation but also with the most heartfelt inner conviction, humbling himself and saying with the Prophet, "But I am a worm and no man, the scorn of men and the outcast of the people" (Ps. 22:7). "After being exalted, I have been humbled and covered with confusion" (Ps 87:16). And again, "It is good for me that You have humbled me, that I may learn Your commandments" (Ps.119:71). 
From Chapter 7 of the rule of St Benedict: On Humility

How much evil is done to souls by the prideful desire to have the admiration of others or having a foolishly high opinion of one's own merits! Seek rather true humility, for in it lies salvation. And consider well that those who will not humble themselves in this life face being humbled in the next.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

prayer diary Saturday 13 Jan 2016

Jesus saw a tax-collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he got up, left everything, and followed him. 
Luke 5. 27,28

Levi left everything to follow Jesus. So too must we, in our hearts at least. And if ever you suspect that your material possessions mean more to you than Christ cast them aside lest they drag you down to hell.

Friday, February 12, 2016

prayer diary Friday 12 Jan 2016

'Jesus said: 'The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.' 
Matthew 9.15

Again Jesus makes clear his expectation that his disciples will fast. And the expectations of the master are his commands to his followers. Therefore we must fast.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

prayer diary Thursday 11 Jan 2016

Jesus said to them all, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.' 
Luke 9. 23

To follow Christ is to accept the cross. If there is no cross in your life it is not because you have not been offered one, but because you have refused to take yours up.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Do you reject the devil and all proud rebellion against God?

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

As I said on Sunday, Lent had its origins as a time of preparation for those about to be baptised; which is why Easter Sunday itself has always been seen as a day when it is especially appropriate for all Christians to renew their baptismal vows. I will therefore be looking at those vows during the course of our mid-week Lenten services. And if any should wish to remain behind after the service for a brief discussion of any issues raised they are more than welcome to do so; these discussion will form our Lenten study group this year.

So let us look today, Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, at the first of the baptismal promises we first made for ourselves at our baptism, or were made on our behalf by our sponsors and were re-affirmed by us personally on the day of our Confirmation. Do you reject the devil and all proud rebellion against God? I reject them.

What does it mean to reject the devil? Well first it would be helpful to look at who he is. Satan was created by God as an angel. As such he is pure spirit and possesses an intellect far superior to mortals. Angels, like humans, were granted by their creator free-will; and Satan looking at the great gifts he had been granted with God was filled with pride and thought himself at least equal if not superior to the one who had created him. This pride led him and others to rebel against God; a rebellion that was, of course, doomed to failure. Cast out of the bliss of heaven Satan and his followers have an revocable hatred against God; and therefore against us his creatures.

And his hatred for humanity can not be stressed sufficiently. Being a spiritual being, pure intellect and will essentially, once his mind has been made up it can never be changed. Therefore he can never repent of his pride and seek forgiveness for his sin. But we mortals are both body and spirit; and any decision we make to love God the Father as he created us to do or reject him is not fixed until we die and leave our mortal body behind. Satan not only hates that such a choice lies within our power, and that at any time, no matter how steeped we are in sin, we may yet repent and turn again to God; but he also seeks to wound our Father in heaven by seeking our damnation. For he knows that God mourns deeply every one of his children that is lost to him; even as he rejoices greatly when those in danger of being lost return, as Christ himself told us.

Satan therefore seeks to ensnare us in his proud rebellion by tempting us to abuse the free will given to us by God and sin. He has been engaged in this hateful battle against humanity from the very beginning, tempting Adam and Eve into the first sin in the Garden of Eden that led to our fall. We risk falling into his snares in many ways. One is by allowing ourself to be seduced by the idea that he is not real, that he is some kind of myth. This is, of course, a prideful rejection of the direct testimony of Sacred Scripture that he is real, rejecting not only the inspired Word of God on this matter, but the recorded words of the Word made flesh himself, our Lord Jesus Christ, who speaks in the Gospels many times of the devil. Refusing to accept an enemy exists makes any resistance of him, much less the defeat of his evil plans, difficult to achieve indeed.

Another is in the deliberate rejection of God, so common an evil these days. Some do by refusing to believe, preferring instead to live life as they please; and others, while believing, prefer to live as if they did not, falling prey to the all too prevalent notion that even though God calls us to obedience to his will, he will not punish those who transgress against his laws. This, alas, is also a prideful rejection of the clear witness of scripture where we are warned again and again of the fate of those who can not bring themselves to love God.

And a third form of rebellion is the path taken by those who think they can achieve salvation by means of their own strength, and thereby reject Christ and all he did to save us from the power of sin. This is the heresy of Pelagius and it is a grievous sin, the prideful rejection of the power of the Cross and our Lord's own sacrifice of himself there for our sakes. Jesus told us that he was the Way, the Truth and the Life and that no one comes to the Father except through him What great pride it takes to rebel against the words of God himself there as by the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity and believe any can attain heaven by his own power. The pride it takes to hold such a belief place the soul of such a person in great danger. And such a belief, like all the examples of rebellion I mentioned, serve to make Satan smile.

There are other ways of joining with Satan in his proud rebellion against God. I do not have space here to list them all; and it would be in any case a type of pride if I thought myself capable of constructing an exhaustive list! But it, I hope, enough for such a short reflection as this; and sufficient to strengthen us in our daily goal of rejecting the devil and all proud rebellion against God. And it is a daily battle – it is not something we simply promise once and then forget about forever. But thinking of the promise daily and praying to God for help to live it out will indeed help us live that promise out faithfully all our days. Something that I indeed pray for all here and all our brothers and sisters in Christ. Amen

prayer diary Ash Wednesday 2016

Jesus said; 'when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret.' 
Matthew 6. 17.18

Our Lord said 'when you fast' not 'if you fast.' Clearly then Jesus expected fasting to be practised by those who followed him. Why then do so many fail to follow this teaching?

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

prayer diary Tuesday 9 Jan 2016

Jesus said to them, 'as it is written,“This people honours me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”' 
Mark 7.6

Many claim to be people of faith while little of the Way Christ taught is seen in their lives. If the Gospel is truly in your heart, living it is as natural as breathing.

Monday, February 8, 2016

prayer diary Monday 8 Jan 2016

When they got out of the boat people at once ... rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. 
Mark 6. 54,55

It is the natural response of those who are unwell to turn to God. So too must we turn to God when in need; asking his healing or the strength to carry our cross.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

how the Transfiguration helps prepare us for Lent

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

Our Gospel reading today concerning the Transfiguration of our Lord is, I think, a particularly appropriate one for the final Sunday before Lent begins. One reason this is so is because this passage essentially marks the middle of the Gospel narrative. Before the transfiguration we have signs and miracles – Jesus essentially establishing who he is and from where his authority comes - and teaching . And after, while miracles and teaching continues, the context has changed; for our Lord has set his face toward Jerusalem and begun his journey there – a journey that will end with his passion. And Lent is for his Church very much a journey of remembrance, a spiritual journey where we walk with our Lord during that season to the place where he will be arrested, put on trial, tortured, crucified, and die.

There is also the fact that the story of the Transfiguration resonates very strongly with the accounts of our Lord's baptism. Again we have the voice from heaven declaring him to be the beloved Son; again we have the Holy Spirit, in the first represented by the hovering dove, here by the overshadowing cloud. And it is good to think of baptism at this time; for I am sure you all remember the original purpose of Lent. It was the time of final and special preparation for the catechumens of the early Church, those who were being taught the faith, to get them ready for the wonderful day when they would be baptised – a sacrament that was in those times administered only on Easter Sunday as a general rule. And so they would spend the forty days before in a time of prayer and fasting and other spiritual disciplines and exercises to prepare themselves for that great day.

It was quite natural, I believe, that others of their Christian family who were already baptised would wish to show solidarity with them in their joyful but austere preparations by supporting them by keeping this time of self-discipline with them. As time passed the Church recognised the value of this Lenten season for its own sake; and when the day came when adult baptism was rare and infant baptism the norm the keeping of Lent as a special season of preparation for Easter was commonly practised throughout the Christian world.

This resonance with our Lord's baptism also serves to remind us of what happened immediately after his baptism – his 40 days of fasting and temptation in the desert. It is on these 40 days that our own season of Lent is modelled. And this is particularly interesting, given Lent's association with preparation for Baptism. This is because, as you will of course know, that during his time in the desert our Lord faced Satan; and three times Satan tempted the Lord to turn from God to him, trying to use scripture to do so; and three times our Lord responded by not only rejecting Satan, but providing a scriptural reason why one should instead turn to God. So three rejections of Satan and three turning instead to God. And at baptism the candidates are asked a series of six questions; you, of course, know what they are, but let us hear them again, and the responses that candidates or their sponsors on their behalf make:
Do you reject the devil and all proud rebellion against God?
I reject them.
Do you renounce the deceit and corruption of evil? I renounce them.
Do you repent of the sins that separate us from God and neighbour? I repent of them.
Do you turn to Christ as Saviour? I turn to Christ.
Do you submit to Christ as Lord? I submit to Christ.
Do you come to Christ, the Way, the Truth and the Life?
I come to Christ.
And I am sure you will note that these questions are made up of three rejections of Satan; and three turning instead to Christ, the second person of the blessed Trinity.

With so many baptismal associations with the season of Lent, it is little wonder that Easter Sunday has always been seen as a day when it was particularly appropriate for the renewal of baptismal vows. Therefore, as you are reflecting during the time left to you as to how you will keep a holy Lent this year, it might be an idea this year to place yourself in the role of a catechumen of old: look again at the basic tenets of the Christian faith, consider deeply and honestly how you might live them out better, even as you ask God's pardon for your failings and his strength to do better; reflect daily on the baptismal promises that you will make again when the season is over; prepare yourself to make them well by the spiritual disciplines you practise during the season, keeping in mind the importance of engaging in a particular way those of prayer, fasting, and alms-giving. I will try to assist you in those matters by going through, one by one, those promises during our Wednesday services during Lent. In addition, I would suggest it might well be of great benefit for each and everyone here to pray those questions and responses daily, meditating up them briefly about what they mean to you and how you should live out your Christian faith that day. Doing so is a great way to prepare for the glories of Easter morning, when you will make again those vows – and it is my prayer that all here will do so worthily and joyfully. Amen

Examin Sunday 7 February 2016

We must be on our guard, therefore, against evil desires, for death lies close by the gate of pleasure. Hence the Scripture gives this command: "Go not after your concupiscences" (Ecc 18:30). So therefore, since the eyes of the Lord observe the good and the evil (Prov 15:3) and the Lord is always looking down from heaven on the children of earth "to see if there be anyone who understands and seeks God" (Ps. 14:2), and since our deeds are daily, day and night, reported to the Lord by the Angels assigned to us, we must constantly beware, brethren, as the Prophet says in the Psalm, lest at any time God see us falling into evil ways and becoming unprofitable (Ps.14:3).

From Chapter 7 of the rule of St Benedict: On Humility

Saturday, February 6, 2016

prayer diary Saturday 6 February 2016

Jesus said to the apostles ‘Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.’ 
Mark 6. 30

It is good for Christians to separate from the world on occasion. Some so that they may rest prayerfully from their godly labours; and others so that they must understand they must repent and turn again to God.

Friday, February 5, 2016

prayer diary Friday 5 February 2016

Herod said, ‘John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.’ 
Mark 6. 14

Evil though he was, Herod at least understood he had done wrong. In that way, in a fashion, he stands above many today who instead declare their evil good; and insist that others agree.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

prayer diary Thursday 4 February 2016

He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two … so they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. 
Mark 6. 7,12

Christ called all to repentance because all are sinners. Few like to be reminded of this; but they must be, for if they do not understand this then they cannot repent; and if they will not repent, then how can they be saved?

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

prayer diary Wednesday 3 February 2016

Then Jesus said to them, ‘Prophets are not without honour, except in their home town, and among their own kin, and in their own house.’ 
Mark 6. 4

Perhaps we should not wonder that the faith is reviled or neglected by so many: we live in the ruins of Christendom – Christ’s own house. But we must not despair, but rather rebuild.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

prayer diary Tuesday 2 February 2016 (The Presentation of Christ in the Temple)

Simeon said to Mary ‘and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’ 
Luke 2. 35

We sometimes forget the great cost in human terms of faithfulness to God. These words of St Luke remind us of the great price the Mother of God knew she would pay – her Son – and the pain that would cause her. It is obedience such as hers we must try to emulate.

Monday, February 1, 2016

prayer diary Monday 1 February 2016 (St Brigid of Kildare)

'The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.' 
John 10.12

St Brigid was a fierce defender of the faith. False shepherds care not if their flock are fed falsehoods because they care only for their own comforts and not the immortal souls of those in their care. Shepherds like St Brigid are willing to die rather than lose even a single soul to the devil.