Tuesday, May 31, 2016

prayer diary Tuesday 31 May 2016 The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

'Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?' 
Luke 1.42, 43

The Holy Spirit enabled St Elizabeth to know that Jesus was Lord even in the womb. From the very moment of his conception he was fully God and fully man.

Monday, May 30, 2016

prayer diary Monday 30 May 2016

'What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants, and give the vineyard to others.' 
Mark 12. 9

We are those 'others' of whom the Lord speaks. But let us not be presumptuous because we have been chosen, lest we too be cast out.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

one Lord, one Gospel

May my words be in the Name of Almighty God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Our Gospel reading today relates the miracle of the healing of the Centurion's Servant. And as a former military man myself, I find a particular resonance in his words: “But say the word, and let my servant be healed. For I am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, 'Go,' and he goes; and to another, 'Come,' and he comes; and to my slave, 'Do this,' and he does it." These are the words that are Lord marvels at, the words which cause him to say: "I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith." His words are of great importance because of the high praise they earn from Jesus; and the praise our Lord gives them show that they are a model for us to be followed if we are to show such faith for ourselves. 

Being a soldier, he expresses that faith by way of a military analogy. He is himself under authority and has others under his authority. When he gives orders to those beneath him, he expects them to obey; and equally, though he does not say it, when he is given orders by those over him, he must also obey. And he recognises Jesus as also as a man having authority – a man with such great spiritual authority that not only can he heal the sick, he can do so at a distance, curing a man he has never seen at the behest of another man whom he has also never seen. And, of course, it is shown that his great faith in the authority of Jesus is well founded – for his servant is indeed healed of what ails him. We would do well, I think, to consider the implications of this military analogy: the one in authority gives orders; those below obey – Jesus is the one in authority; and we are the ones therefore who must obey; and those who are below must obey all the commands of the one who gives them, not some – for the soldier who does not, is subject to be disciplined, with the severity of the punishment due to him being based on the seriousness of his failure.

There is a hint of this military analogy in our Epistle today. St Paul says to the Galatians: 'I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and turning to a different gospel -- not that there is another gospel, but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. ' Deserting is of course what soldiers do when they abandon their post and it is one of the most serious of all military offences, meriting a severe punishment even under the best of circumstances, and punishable by death during a time of conflict. Sometimes when soldiers desert it is to run away because they are cowards; others because they are traitors who seek to join with the enemy. The deserters St Paul speaks about here are in the latter category, abandoning the Gospel he brought them for a another – which is foolish indeed, for there is no other Gospel. They are deserting the truth for a lie. And he is quite explicit as to the consequences of their actions – they are accursed. And so that no one can be in any doubt, he says this not once, but twice. Those who preach a false gospel which is contrary to the one that he preached is accursed.

Why would anyone risk such a fate and do such a thing? Well consider why St Paul says that he must preach the truth, and only the truth: 'Am I now seeking the favour of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still pleasing men, I should not be a servant of Christ.' If St Paul says he preaches not to please men but God, then it follows that those preaching the false gospels he condemns do so in order to please men. It is not just in the present age that people have found Christ's teachings hard – it was ever thus. And just as today we hear calls that the Church must change what she teaches to be up to date, to be relevant to the current age, so it was from the earliest times. But St Paul makes it very clear – such calls must be seen for what they are: the temptation to follow a false gospel, to turn from the one that was revealed to us by Christ himself. The consequences of doing so are, to repeat again what St Paul himself said, is to be accursed.

Resisting false teachings is no easy battle – fighting against what is popular, against what the 'itching ears' want to hear, as the second letter to St Timothy puts it, is not easy. For people want it both ways, to have their cake and eat it too – they want to lead lives in which they indulge in all the temptations that the world, the flesh, and the devil has to offer … and then they want to be told that not only is what they are doing not sinful, but that it is good, that they are in fact living out the Gospel … even when what they are doing flies in the face of all that is written there. But the love that we as Christians must have for all people prevents us from letting our brothers and sister fall prey to these temptations without at least warning them, again and again, of the dangers they face; that they are going down the path of what St Paul called the accursed. It is a hard calling for us to live out; just as, no doubt, it was hard for Elijah to have to face down all the false prophets as we read in the Old Testament today. But just as he could not let their falsehoods prevail for the sake of the people of his time, so neither can we let false teaching prevail today. We must be like the Centurion – soldiers under the authority of Christ, and lovingly bring the fullness of his truth to all we meet. To the eternal and Almighty God, Creator of all things, and source of our Salvation, be praise and honour and glory, both now and to the end of the ages. Amen. 

Examin Sunday 29 May 2016

Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
James 1. 2-4

We often think of the sufferings of the world as something to be avoided at all costs, resenting even trivial inconveniences. But consider the words of St James – sometimes these trials can be of great spiritual benefit. They teach us that if we fear nothing – whether persecutions or the misfortunes which may come to any – because we are strong in the faith, then they have, in fact been a blessing rather than a hardship.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

prayer diary Saturday 28 May 2016

'The chief priests and the scribes and the elders ... said to him, "By what authority are you doing these things, or who gave you this authority to do them?' 
Mark 11. 27,28

Jesus' authority should have been evident to these men. As he so often said, if they could not believe his word, then they should have believed his deeds. But then, as now, there are none so deaf as those who will not hear, nor blind as will not see.

Friday, May 27, 2016

prayer diary Friday 27 May 2016

'And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against any one; so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.' 
Mark 11.25

Forgiving those who have wronged us is not easy, especially when they are unrepentant. But it is something Christ commands us to do if we are to be forgiven our own sins.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Obama on the block!

So, it is apparently now an open secret that the Obamas are to rent a mansion in a salubrious Washington suburb when the president leaves office. An interesting fact about the location is that there is an Islamic Centre on the same block. You just know that the conspiracy theorists who have been claiming for years that the soon to be former president has been a closet Muslim all along are going to have a field day with that one! 

prayer diary Thursday 26 May 2016

'A blind beggar … when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" 
Mark 10. 46,47

Often in Scripture the blind can recognise Jesus for who he is; while those who see do not. It is indeed far worse than physical blindness to be spiritually lacking in sight.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

prayer diary Wednesday 25 May 2016

'You know that those who are supposed to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them … but whoever would be great among you must be your servant.' 
Mark 10.42,43

Humility is the greatest of all Christian virtues. And it's opposite, pride, is therefore the greatest of all vices.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

prayer diary Tuesday 24 May 2016

'Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left ... (everything) for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time … with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.' 
Mark 10. 29, 30

The cost of discipleship is great. But the rewards are greater still.

Monday, May 23, 2016

prayer diary Monday 23 May 2016

'Go, sell what you have ..., and come, follow me.' At that saying his countenance fell, and he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions. 
Mark 10. 21,22

We all have need of the things of this life. But woe unto us if we let them become more important to us than following Christ.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Trinity: God's revelation of himself

May my words be in the Name of Almighty God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today we celebrate Trinity Sunday and it is very appropriate that we gather to do so in that church within our Union of Parishes that is named after the most Holy Trinity. It is one of the great mysteries of our faith that God exists in three persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – while yet remaining one God. Many attempts have been essayed towards explaining how such a seemingly impossible thing should be – these attempts usually work by way of analogy – there is, for example, St Patrick's legendary attempt by way of holding up a shamrock which has three leaves but yet remains one plant. But all such attempts break down at some point. I think it best for us to simply remember that the explanation to mysteries may all be very well when it comes to the closing pages of a detective novel, but what we are dealing with here is the infinite and Almighty God – and we are but finite created beings. It is not that a full explanation does not exist, but simply that such a full explanation is beyond our understanding and is knowable only to the one being who is complete and full in and of Himself – that is, the God who exists in Trinity. Some may find that frustrating; but actually, I do not think it too much to ask of most. We most of us, for example, have only the haziest idea of how television works. We know that there is an explanation and that there are indeed some few who know what it is; but for most people it is simply enough to know that you plug the machine in, hook it up to an aerial or a satellite box, and turn it on … not forgetting, of course, to make sure you have your TV license as well!

The most important thing for us to know, I think, is that God does in fact exist in Trinity … and how it is that we know. It is easy to know that God exists … it is something that we know instinctively from looking at the world around us, from that restlessness in our hearts that the God who created us to know him has placed within us, and from reason by way of philosophical inquiry … but that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is not something that we can know by such means. This we can only know by what we call Revelation – which comes from the Greek word for 'unveiling' – it is something that God himself must tell us – and has told us.

This self-revealing of Himself by God to man is recorded for us in Sacred Scripture. Look at our reading from St John's Gospel today, for example, where we see Christ speaking of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit … knowing that elsewhere he has said that he and the Father are one … and in other places that this Spirit he will send is his Spirit. And, of course, St Matthew ends his Gospel with our Lord's command that his disciples baptise all peoples in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Outside the Gospels there are many references to the various persons of the Trinity, while at the same time staunchly upholding the fact that there is only one God. We have one such passage from the Apostle St Paul's letter to the church in Rome today; and of course we have that very famous verse from his second letter to the Corinthians which we commonly refer to as the Grace.

But the self-revelation of the Trinity to us is not confined to the New Testament – it is also to be found in the Old. Consider the opening verses of the Bible which we heard read earlier. We have God the Father as Creator, we have God the Holy Spirit moving over the waters of the deep; and we have God's creative Word present also when he says 'Let there be light.' And, as St John tells us in the prologue of his Gospel, that Word that was with God in the beginning was none other than Christ himself, God the Son. And elsewhere in the Old Testament, particularly in that part called the Wisdom literature, there are references both to the Spirit of God and his Holy Wisdom, who was later identified with the Divine Logos or Word. So God's self-revelation of his Triune nature was already seeded throughout Scripture before the ultimate self-revealing of himself that he gave us in Christ, the Word made Flesh. In fact, many scholars believe that the reason that stalwart Jewish monotheists, such as his first disciples were, were so ready to accept God's revelation to them of his Triune nature was because of the groundwork that He had already done in that part of the Bible that existed before he sent his Son into the world.

That God has chosen to reveal to us that he exists as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is important for many reasons. It is a wonderful act of Divine love, his freely helping us to know him better so that we may come to love him better. It also shows the importance he places on his children having a right understanding of his nature – if it were not, why would he go to so much trouble to make sure we knew it? We cannot worship rightly that which we do not rightly know. And the last reason I will mention as to its importance is the way how it, rightly understood, helps guard us against the heresy of religious indifferentism. Indifferentism claims that there is no meaningful difference among religions – the man who bows down before an idol he has carved is essentially the same as the most orthodox Christian. The great danger of such thinking is obvious once one pauses even for a moment to think about it. The first is that it offends against objective truth – God exists in Trinity and wishes to be known and worshipped in that truth; indifferentism denies the importance of what God has himself revealed to us of his nature. Another danger is that it removes from the one who accepts it the imperative given to us by Christ himself to evangelise and share the truth of his Gospel, baptising them, as we were reminded earlier in the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. People had different faiths when Christ issued that commandment; and yet he clearly thought it important that they come to believe that there is but one God who exists in Trinity, and that Christ is the second person of that Trinity. Indifferentism therefore is not an option for a faithful Christian as it offends against the obedience we owe to God.

The final danger that flows from this heresy that I will mention is strongly linked to the second. And that is if we fail to share the faith, we fail to live the faith. Our Christian faith is a seamless garment; we do not get to choose some parts and reject others. It is a particularly easy heresy to fall into in this modern age of ours, given that the ever vigilant guardians of political correctness will thunder with great outrage at how offensive it is to say that Christianity is anyway better than any other religion and how arrogant it is to make such a claim. It is never arrogant, however, to speak the truth of this matter; it is in fact the most fundamental acts of Christian charity, for to fail to speak the truth of this matter is to risk letting others hear what they need for their salvation. And it endangers our own salvation too; for thinking it is all right not to live out this part of our faith, tempts us towards thinking that perhaps there are other parts that we can ignore. And before you know it, you are picking and choosing from the faith as if it were some kind of a menu at the restaurant – living only the parts that we find congenial to our nature, and ignoring those which we find a challenge … and all the while wounding Christ again and again with our open and deliberate disobedience to his teachings …

But it was not for such as this that God sent his Son into the world; and it was not for such as this that he graced us with the knowledge that his divinity exists in Trinity. It was so that we would know him; and knowing him, love him; and loving him, obey him; and through that obedience, and his grace, be with him forever in heaven … where the mystery of the Trinity would be revealed to us fully … and I pray that it is is a mystery that will be revealed to all here at the end of the ages. Amen.

Examin Sunday 22 May 2016: Stephen, The Holy Spirit, & the Spirit of Martyrdom

They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and (others) ...these they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands upon them. … Then some … arose and disputed with Stephen. But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke … and they came upon him and seized him and brought him before the council … they were enraged, and they ground their teeth against him. But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; and he said, "Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God." But they … rushed together upon him ... they cast him out of the city and stoned him.
Act 6. 5 – 7.56

Filled with the Holy Spirit, St Stephen feared nothing, not even death, for the sake of the faith. Have you courage equal to his? And if you do not, is it because you resist the working of the Holy Spirit within you?

Saturday, May 21, 2016

prayer diary Saturday 21 May 2016

“Let the children come to me, do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God.” 
Mark 10. 14

There are those who say that children should not be taught the faith, that to do so is imposing something on them. How wrong they are! For they go against the very words of Christ and try to keep the children from him.

Friday, May 20, 2016

prayer diary Friday 20 May 2016

'Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.' 
Mark 10.11,12

This is a hard teaching for us to hear in this or in any age. But hard or not, it reminds that the choices we make in this life have eternal consequences.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

prayer diary Thursday 19 May 2016

'Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung round his neck and he were thrown into the sea.' 
Mark 9.42

How often we hear our Saviour speak of sin! It from his own words that we know that it is real and that there are consequences for it.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

prayer diary Wednesday 18 May 2016

But Jesus said, "Do not forbid him; for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon after to speak evil of me.” 
Mark 9.39

Behaving in a good and moral way can effect us in a spiritual way. Follow then the way that Christ teaches; and pray that holiness and faith will follow after it.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

prayer diary Tuesday 17 May 2016

He was teaching his disciples, saying to them, "The Son of man will be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him." 
Mark 9. 31
When Christ sent the Holy Spirit his disciples feared nothing, not even death. That should not surprise us, for the one who sent it was himself willing to die for us.

Monday, May 16, 2016

haiku: morning mist

morning mist
 ~the mighty oak
      only a shadow

prayer diary Monday 16 May 2016

Jesus said "All things are possible to him who believes." Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, "I believe; help my unbelief!" 
Mark 9. 23,24

Faith is a gift from God, a gift that requires his grace to be perfected in us. Therefore we must prayer unceasingly for that grace so we may work tirelessly to perfect it.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Pentecost and the Spirit of Martyrdom

May my words be in the Name of Almighty God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today marks the feast of Pentecost, one of the three great festival days of the Church, the day when we celebrate the birth of the Church. And it is wonderful indeed to read of the events of that first Pentecost, as recounted for us by St Luke in the Acts of the Apostles: there the disciples are, in that upper room in Jerusalem – hiding, for fear of the Jews, as St John tells us; the Holy Spirit comes upon them like a roaring wind and fire; and those who were moments before fearful pour out onto the streets to face the crowds who have been attracted by the noise and commotion. And the rest, as they say, is history – for the world was never the same again and never can be – for which we thank God and praise his Holy Name.

Now let us pause for a moment and consider something: the disciples had been right to be afraid – afraid for their very lives. Because there were people out there in the world that existed outside that upper room that wished them harm. And the coming of the Holy Spirit upon them that day did not change that. All the danger that had been outside waiting for them remained; what had changed was that they were no longer afraid of those dangers. The fear of suffering for their faith in Christ had left them; and instead they were willing to die if that was what it took to bring the faith to others.

And we know that many of them did; all of the apostles save St John the Evangelist were to die a martyr’s death – and he was not spared because he failed to face the dangers they faced – far from it. In fact, over the course of his long life he took as many risks as any of them, maybe more, but God had other plans for him … and hence we have not only his Gospel, but also his letters, and finally his Revelation written late in his life during a long and lonely exile … which was almost a martyrdom in itself.

So it might be said that the day of Pentecost is the day that the Spirit of Martyrdom entered the Church; the Spirit not of seeking out death for its own sake but of not being afraid to die for the faith if that was necessary; of risking death to bring that faith to the poor souls dwelling in places where it had not been heard; of refusing to deny the faith in the face of persecution and thereby inspire others to accept the faith in response to witnessing the courage it took to suffer and die for the faith.

Ah, you may be thinking – if only such a Spirit was in the Church today we would not have such difficulties, with attendances in decline and the lives of so many who profess to be Christians standing in sharp contrast to the faith those early martyrs died for, to the beliefs that they passed down from generation to generation. So let me tell you a story that shows that that Spirit indeed still lives with our Church. a story. It is one that should be familiar to most of you, as it received some news attention when it happened around 18 months ago – even though not so much as a story like this warranted – yet since with the passing of time the details will have faded in the minds of many, I thought I would run through them again.

In 2014 a number of men from a variety of different villages in Egypt went to work in Libya. They were fairly ordinary men – sons, husbands, fathers – who simply wanted to earn the money to provide a better standard of living for those they loved. In late 2014 and early 2015 twenty of them were taken captive by the forces of Islamic State. Why did they take prisoner these poor, working class men who were ethnically Arabs? It was because they were Christians, members of the Coptic Church.

Their captors set up a video camera and killed the men one by one and later placed the video online. They did so to send a message to the Christian west – that what they did to those men they hoped to do elsewhere until all Christians were gone, converted or dead. Before they killed each man, they gave him a chance to renounce his Christian faith. Each refused and died. When the 20 were gone, there was one more man left, a man from Chad, Mathew Ayairga. who by dint of being in the wrong place had been taken prisoner with the others. Matthew wasn't a Christian; but when his turn came and he was asked if he rejected Jesus, having witnessed the great faith of those who had already died, his reply was 'their God is my God.' He did this even though he knew they would kill him for it. And so he died, a martyr who had been brought to faith by the death of other who were willing to die for their faith.

The courage and faith of these 21 men shows well, I think, that the Spirit of the Martyrs is as strong in the Church today as it was on the day of the first Pentacost. There are still those willing to die for Christ; and all around the world new martyrs are being created everyday. They are mostly in what we in the West sometimes condescendingly call the 'third world.' Yet that is where the Church grows fastest, adding thousands of new brothers and sisters in Christ everyday; while we in the West agonise over our declining attendances and falling numbers.

So we do not need to long for the Spirit of Martyrdom to return to the Church and help make it strong again; we simply need to realise that it there and accept it into our own lives and live the faith as others in the Church elsewhere do – as if it were something worth dying for, as if it were the most important thing in our own lives, and as if it were the most precious gift we could give to another … and so as I end, I pray that you and I will each of us be filled with that Spirit … not one of longing for death, but one of being willing to die for the faith … willing to do anything to live the faith and to share the faith … so that, by God's grace, we and those whose lives we touch will be granted, like the martyrs, to be in God's presence for ever. Amen. 

Examin Sunday 15 May 2016: Pentecost (Whit Sunday)

'Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But fornication and impurity of any kind, or greed, must not even be mentioned among you, as is proper among saints. Entirely out of place is obscene, silly, and vulgar talk; but instead, let there be thanksgiving. Be sure of this, that no fornicator or impure person, or one who is greedy (that is, an idolater), has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be associated with them. For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light.' 
Ephesians 5.1-8

Saturday, May 14, 2016

prayer diary Saturday 14 May 2016 ( St Matthias' Day)

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

And of what kind was the love of Christ? It was a love that was willing to suffer and die for others, a love that did not fear to speak the truth no matter what.

Friday, May 13, 2016

prayer diary Friday 13 May 2016

Jesus said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’ 
John 21. 16

Those who love Christ will show that love by how they care for others. Most especially they will show it by trying to bring them nearer to Christ.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

prayer diary Thursday 12 May 2016

'The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me.' 
John 17.22, 23

To be in Christ is, in a mysterious way, to be closer to God. Strive then to be more like him and grow ever in holiness that you may daily be nearer to your Creator.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

prayer diary Wednesday 11 May 2016

'I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.' 
John 17. 14

Why care if the world hates you because you will not hide that you love Christ? The world is not your home; your true home is in heaven.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

prayer diary Tuesday 10 May 2016

'And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.' 
John 17.3

Christ taught that those who would enter eternal life must know him. How important then it is to share the faith with others – the greatest act of love we can do for anyone!

Monday, May 9, 2016

prayer diary Monday 9 May 2016

'I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!’ 
John 16.33

Christ warned we would face persecution. Why then do so many fear to suffer the least discomfort for the sake of the faith?

Sunday, May 8, 2016

God's law or man's?

May my words be in the Name of Almighty God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Our Old Testament reading today begins with the words: 'and all the people said to Samuel, "Pray for your servants to the LORD your God, that we may not die; for we have added to all our sins this evil, to ask for ourselves a king.' Why did the people sin by asking for a king? It was because they were supposed to have no king but the Lord; and yet they wanted a king to rule over them, like the other nations round about them. And a king, as we see all too often in Sacred Scripture, can lead his people astray.

There is nothing wrong, of course, with having a desire for good government. Roads must be built, the streets must be kept clean, some kind of police force is needed to ensure that order is maintained, armed forces are needed to protect against external threats. But the civil law must not be allowed to interfere with the moral law, for that is not the business of the state; and where it does happen the danger arises that man's subject idea of what is right and wrong will come into conflict with God's objective truth. And when that happens, where the duty of the Christian lies is clear; for as St Peter tells us in Acts 5 it is better to obey God rather than men. He proved his belief in those words by his own fidelity to Christ unto death, as did so many martyrs of the early Church … and those who have continued to be faithful unto death down through the ages, even into our own time; for it is good for us to remember that we still live in the age of martyrs and that people die every day rather than deny their faith in Christ … a faith that we in the West are often slow to risk even the slightest discomfort for.

Perhaps we need reminding of the importance of the faith. Look at what Christ prays in our Gospel reading today: 'I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us.' Christians are called to unity, not just with one another but with God himself – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Divine plan for the salvation of mankind is aimed at drawing us into Communion with the Trinity. And if we are to achieve this intimate union with the Divine, then we must be Holy. As St Peter tells us in chapter one of his first letter 'It is written -You shall be holy, for I am holy ' and in Chapter 11 of Leviticus God says 'I am the LORD your God; consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy.'

As Christians we are called to holiness of life; it is why we were created. I recently asked a young man what was the purpose of life. His reply was to have a good life and be happy. I told him that he was wrong. While it is, of course, nice to have the good things that life can offer, and there is nothing wrong with being happy, these are not why we exist. The purpose of our existence, rather, is by God's grace to lead a good life, in accordance with His holy laws, so that we may at the last end in heaven. A short life filled with suffering is a far happier one if when it is over the person is admitted into the divine presence than many years filled with every comfort and luxury imaginable if it prevents that one from entering into eternal happiness.

Of course, poverty does not make one holy; and wealth does not make one a sinner. And we know that there are kings who have numbered among the saints; just as we can imagine that there are those who have lived in the most abject poverty who have also been great sinners. I say 'imagine' for it is not for us to judge who it is that does not go to heaven; that is what our Lord meant when he told us not to judge. That is the prerogative of God alone – and we know that he is loving and full of mercy. When we look at the life of another person, we see incompletely what is going on; only God in heaven can know the complete picture as to why a person behaved the way they did in this life … and he alone knows whether a person is fully accountable for their actions or not.

Even so, it still falls to us to do our best to help others lead holy lives. Just as we must ourselves always strive to lead holy lives as well. For as we read today in Revelation, where St John, speaking of the New Jerusalem which is heaven, tells us that 'Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and fornicators and murderers and idolaters, and every one who loves and practices falsehood.' The one who loves God and shows that love by obedience to his will will end in heaven; and those who do not make it very likely that they will not. Our love for others should therefore lead us to do our vest best to help them to lead holy lives. For this reason I pray that all hear will increase in holiness daily; and I ask that you pray the same for me. Amen. 

Examin Sunday 8 May 2016

Breathe in me, O Holy Spirit, that my thoughts may all be holy. 
Act in me, O Holy Spirit, that my work, too, may be holy. 
Draw my heart, O Holy Spirit, that I love but what is holy. Strengthen me, O Holy Spirit, to defend all that is holy. 
Guard me, then, O Holy Spirit, that I always may be holy. 
St. Augustine's Prayer to the Holy Spirit

Saturday, May 7, 2016

prayer diary Saturday 7 May 2016

'The hour is coming when I shall no longer speak to you in figures but tell you plainly of the Father. In that day you will ask in my name.' 
John 16.25, 26

If we are to petition the Father in the name of the Son we must ask for that which is in accordance with his Word and his Will. Often this will mean asking for the grace to carry our cross well rather than praying that it be taken away.

Friday, May 6, 2016

so atheism is a religion?

This is a real hoot. An atheist and member of the group Freedom From Religion Foundation is suing the chaplaincy office of the US Congress for not - get this - inviting him along to be a guest chaplain and pronounce some kind of non-religious blessing or other from the floor of the House. The chaplain is sticking to his guns (and laughing away merrily too no doubt) and refusing to back down. But the interesting thing is this: if atheists now think they should be treated as guest chaplains ... does this now mean that, some at least, accept that their's is for all practical purposes a religion? Or at least some equivalent form of belief system? And since the suit is being taken by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, does this mean that what they really mean is freedom from every religion accept their own God-free religion? Inquiring minds, as they say, want to know!
(you can read more about this story here)

prayer diary Friday 6 May 2016

'In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask anything of the Father, he will give it to you in my name.' 
John 16.23

Reading these words, some may wonder that it seems there are times when their prayers are not answered. This is because what we ask for when we pray must be for the advancement of our salvation. 

Thursday, May 5, 2016

why 'the Ascension' rather than the 'Lifting up'?

May my words be in the Name of Almighty God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

It has become our custom to gather here on this high-up place in Rosmore to celebrate the Ascension of our Lord into heaven. We choose this mountainous location, of course, because it was on a similar elevated place that Jesus selected as the place to make his farewell to his disciples – his final post-resurection appearance.

Now, you might ask why we call it the Ascension? When a person ascends they do so under their own power, as it were; and Luke in both his Gospel and Acts uses words that are suggestive of Christ returning to heaven by the power of some one other than himself; in Acts the word used is generally translated as 'lifted up' and in Luke's gospel it is 'carried up.' So why do we say that he ascended, not only when speaking of this day but every time when we recite the Nicene Creed or Apostle's Creed?

Well, first let us clarify that to do so in no way contradicts Sacred Scripture. We may say this on at least two firm grounds. The first is itself scriptural, for in John's gospel Jesus speaks many times in his final discourse of his return to the Father in heaven – you will, no doubt remember that one such passage was included among the readings on the Sunday before last. And when he does so, he does so in such a way that makes it clear that he goes of his own volition. In John 16.4, for example, he says 'I am going to him who sent me' - 'going' not 'taken.' And at John 3.13 he himself uses the word ascended. It should also be noted that St Paul at Ephesians four-eight, referencing Psalm 68, speaks of Christ as ascending – and the letter to the Ephesians was written, as you know, prior to the Gospels. 

The second ground is theological. Luke and Acts do indeed say he was lifted up and carried up – but by whose power was he lifted or carried? By divine power – which is, as Christ is God incarnate, therefore by his own power. Those there on the day understood this – which is why St Luke in his gospel records that after his ascension his disciples worshipped him. And being good Jews they would only worship God. Therefore to refer to it as ascending is not only correct, but the most theologically accurate way of referring to it.

This might seem to be playing with language, but it is not. Those members of the early Church who were involved in the composition of the Creeds – the Apostles themselves, the Apostolic Fathers, and the Church Fathers who came after, wanted to provide us with a very clear theological understanding of who Christ was. He was man but he was also fully God; and to stress that part of his nature they wanted there to be no doubt that he returned to heaven by way of his own divine will and power. Remember that even as there was those who tried to deny that he was fully man there were also those who tried to deny he was fully God – and the Creeds were carefully formulated so as to put that question beyond all doubt.

This should also serve to remind us of the great debt we owe to the early Church. They not only passed the teachings of Christ down to us – often suffering death or other torments willingly as the price of their fidelity – but took great pains that what we received was the orthodox faith … they understood the importance of passing on to us not only the knowledge that our Saviour returned to heaven, but that he did so as God would do, ascending, lifting himself up through the exercise of his divine power, rather than merely being lifted up as a man might have been. They knew the how important a correct understanding of the Ascension was to a right understanding of who Christ was … and therefore how important it was for the salvation of souls.

We can be sure that a great many souls today are in heaven who would not have otherwise attained that bliss were it not for their divinely inspired care and attention. And so today as we celebrate Ascension Thursday in this beautiful mountain location, giving thanks for this further way in which our Saviour revealed his glory to us and the world, we may also rightly give thanks for all those who from the beginning took care that the orthodox faith should be passed down for generations to come. We may only pray that we also will continue in their work of passing the faith on to others as it has been passed down to us. Amen. 

prayer diary Thursday 5 May 2016: The Ascension

Then he led them out as far as Bethany … while he blessed them, he parted from them, and was carried up into heaven. And they worshipped him. 
Luke 24. 50-52

Christ's blessing of his disciples as he ascended is significant. It reminds us that he loved his disciples always; and that his love would continue to be shown to them when he sent them – and us – his Holy Spirit.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

prayer diary Wednesday 4 May 2016

'When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak.' 
John 16. 13

Even as the Holy Spirit guides the Church today, he does so without contradicting the truths already revealed
. For these too have been revealed by God - and God can never contradict himself. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Ireland: amnesty international and abortion

Life Institute, one of Ireland's pro-life groups has a very interesting article here called Amnesty’s claims demolished by Irish Times responses. It outlines how Amnesty has been weighing in on the debate on abortion in this country and stating repeatedly that abortion is, in fact, a right under international human rights law. I and others have refused to let them get away with such an outrageously false claim ... as Life Institute's article makes clear!

In fact, the story has moved on slightly from where the article leaves off. Breda O'Brien wrote a further article, in which she points out that some of Amnesty's own lawyers have accepted no such right exists. The lawyers in question responded, conceding that there was no explicit right, but trying to shift the ground to the claim that there was 'an interpreted right' based o on accepted jurisprudence. Their incorrect claims have been challenged by barrister William Binchy, who points out that 'the International Law Association, our own Supreme Court, and an overwhelming consensus of human rights scholars agree that the observations of human rights bodies are not legally binding under international law'; and I pointed out that a non-existent interpreted right could not supersede the actual right that exists in these treaties - the right to life. 

That's the 'state of play' at the moment. It shows, I think, the importance of challenging these falsehoods wherever and whenever they arise. If they are left unchallenged, it is all too easy for such lies to be seen as the truth in many people's minds. 

prayer diary Tuesday 3 May 2016

'I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.' 
John 16.7

Reflection Christ said he would sent the Holy Spirit to guide his Church into all truth. That promise was carried out on the day of Pentecost. And we have been blessed by the Truth his Church shares with the world ever since.

Monday, May 2, 2016

prayer diary Monday 2 May 2016: Ss Philip & James, Apostles & Martyrs - transferred

'Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I go to the Father.' 
John 14.12

These words of our Lord remind us of the important work he entrusted to his Apostles; and through them to his Church. Philip and James were faithful unto death to that work - and so too must we be if we believe in him.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

a matter of conscience

May my words be in the Name of Almighty God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

In our Gospel today we hear our Lord say: 'If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me does not keep my words.' The implications of what he is saying here is fairly clear: if you love Christ you will show that love by the obedience you show to his teachings. And if you do not obey his teachings, you do not love him, despite what you may say, or even have convinced yourself of. St Matthew records Jesus speaking on a similar theme in chapter seven of his Gospel: 'Not every one who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.' Faith in Christ is clearly essential; but that faith must be shown by obedience or it is essentially meaningless.

Now, we all know well what it is that Christ is speaking of when he says here we must obey his word – and indeed elsewhere that we must be obedient to the will of the Father. It is what we have set out for us in the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament; and there is also the moral law of the Old Testament, things such as the ceremonial law and dietary law being clearly set aside in the New Testament. And as well as this there is the Church Christ founded, the 'bride of Christ' as Scripture calls her, to which Christ promised he would send his Holy Spirit, as we hear in our Gospel today. It of these we speak when we talk about Scripture and Tradition.

With such clear guidance, given to us by God Himself, you might well wonder how it is that anyone can do wrong. But of course, we all of us do. First, because we are weak and frail creatures, sharers in the fallen nature of our first parents, and obeying Christ's word can often be hard. And because of that we face temptations from the world, the flesh, and the devil which try to persuade us that the short-lived pleasures they offer are of greater value than eternal life. The voice of the world is particularly strong in the current age, telling us that a great many things that are contrary to the word of Christ are good and not evil.

And then there is, of course, the fact that a great many have a very poor idea of what it means to act according to their conscience. They seem to think it means that they can act exactly as they please and as long as they do not feel guilty about it they have done no wrong. But an appeal to conscience is not a licence to do whatever we want. Those who think that do not even understand what the word really means. The origins of the word are from the Latin 'con' meaning 'with' and 'scientia' meaning 'knowledge'. To act according to conscience then means to act according to knowledge; it allows us to make a judgement of the morality of our actions – and the decision as to whether an action is good or bad is not based on some internal, subjective feeling, but according to some objective standard or norm.

A man may, for example, justify an adulterous relationship for all manner of subjective reasons: his wife doesn't understand him; the marriage is 'dead' and he is only staying for the sake of the children so really he is 'free'; the excitement of the illicit relationship makes him happy and there's no harm as long as his wife doesn't know; he feels capable of loving two women and it is love that is really important; it really doesn't mean anything to him, so what does it matter? But by the objective standards of Christian morality it is wrong.

Obviously, things are not always so clear cut. When you pass a beggar on the street, for example, ought you to give him or her money? We have a Christian duty to help those in need. But what if it seems clear the person is an addict and you are sure any money you give will go to feed that addiction? Or you have good reason to doubt that the person is actually in need but is in truth a professional beggar? In the first case your giving might actually serve to hurt the person by allowing them to buy drugs; in the second it could be seen not only to encourage them in an unproductive way of life but also reduce your ability to help those who are genuinely in need. But you might also consider that the first needs money as well for food and a bed at a shelter; and the second, having chosen this way of life, relies on your charity for the necessities of life … or perhaps may have been set out on the street to beg by some other person who will treat them with violence if they return home with less than expected. What is right or wrong there is not so obvious; but in such circumstances as long as you strive to do your best, as opposed to being too mean to share your loose change – or because you'd rather hand over a euro or two than feel mean about passing someone or take the trouble to think things through – then you act in good conscience.

But if we are to act according to conscience – to act with knowledge – the we have an obligation to make ourselves aware of that knowledge and make sure that those under our care have it too. And if it seems like a lot to learn, even so it is not too much for us to bear; for as St Paul tells us in first Corinthians we will not be tested beyond our endurance. What God asks of us, he also gives us the grace and the strength to carry out. But most of all we should not shrink from the task because it is, fundamentally, an act of love: an act of love for God, an act of love for Christ our Saviour, who suffered and died for us, an act of love so that we may show love by ever more perfect obedience to the one who said that if we loved him we would keep his word. Amen. 

Examin Sunday 1 May 2016

The superior should be obeyed as a father with the respect due him so as not to offend God . … the superior, for his part, must not think himself fortunate in his exercise of authority but in his role as one serving you in love. In your eyes he shall hold the first place among you by the dignity of his office, but in fear before God he shall be as the least among you. He must show himself as an example of good works toward all. Let him admonish the unruly, cheer the fainthearted, support the weak, and be patient toward 
all (1 Thes 5:14). 
From the Rule of St Augustine: on Governance & Obedience