Sunday, December 31, 2017

the pondering of Mary

May my words be in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit – Amen.

In our Gospel reading today we here of the visit of the shepherds to the Holy Family in Bethlehem. And an interesting detail is slipped into the account - the reaction of the Blessed Virgin Mary to their reports as to what the angels had told them concerning her new-born Son. And that is that she 'treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.'

These words should resonate with us in relation to other occasion related to us concerning the conception, birth, and childhood of our Lord as told to us by St Luke. The first concerns the annunciation to the Blessed Virgin by the Archangel Gabriel. He greets her, saying 'ave, plena gratia' or 'hail, one full of grace.' And she is troubled by his words and considers them in her mind. Next comes the visit of the shepherds. After that, there is the Presentation of our Lord in the Temple, where Mary and Joseph together marvel at the words spoken by St Simeon when the old man takes the child in his arms and speaks the words we know today as the Nunc Dimittis – where the holy man declares that he may now depart in peace because he has seen the Salvation of the Lord, a light for revelation to the gentiles and the glory of his people Israel.

Finally, there is the Finding in the Temple, when the boy Jesus, having gone up to Jerusalem with his parents for the Passover, remains behind when they begin the journey home with their travelling companions, causing them to return to the city to search for him. The Blessed Virgin, as any mother would, asks him why he has caused them such anxiety. And he gives a reply that, from the lips of any other boy might have seemed somewhat out of order, but coming from the Son of God is instead indicates his understanding of who he is and what he was born into this world for: 'How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be about my Father's business?' And the evangelist tells us that his mother kept all these words in her heart.

There are two points I would like to make about these passages. The first is that they record more than just factual detail – they report the internal reaction of the Blessed Virgin to external events. We know how she thought, how she felt about the incidents that St Luke is giving us his account of. This is strongly suggestive of something that has long been thought – which is that the Blessed Virgin Mary herself was the source of the information we have about the details we have of the early life of our Lord.

This in many ways makes abundant good sense. We know from the New Testament that the mother of our Lord was a close companion of the Apostles. And tradition has always told us that she lived for many years after the Ascension. So why would not his disciples, particularly the evangelists have gone to her, looking for the information they needed to fill in some of the gaps they would have had concerning our Lord's life that they did not know from their own direct experience? Indeed, St Luke tells us at the very beginning of his Gospel that he has undertaken to set forth a narrative of the things that had taken place and that he is basing his account on the testimony of those who were from the beginning eyewitnesses and ministers of the word. And there was none better placed to be an eyewitness to what had taken place from the beginning than the mother of our Lord herself.

This is very important as it assures us that the gospels passages concerning the birth of our Lord are very trustworthy indeed. Sceptics, of course, like to cast aspersions; but it should be noted that as time goes on that careful examination of the documentary and archaeological record again and again has bolstered the gospel account of events. Sceptics may like to throw around phrases such as 'blind faith'; but open-minded scholarship shows that they are the ones placing blind faith in their sceptical ideology.

And the other point concerning these passages I would like to raises is the what they have to tell us about the mother of our Lord. We can get so caught up in thinking of her in her role as mother, especially at this time of year, that we can forget that she was also a great saint, a woman of supreme holiness. That is what we mean when we refer to her in the Christmas collect as a 'pure virgin' – the purity that comes from being perfectly aligned with God's will.

And the lives of greats saints are not simply set before us as some form of a historical record or to be wondered at by lesser mortals such as ourselves but to be emulated. They are given to as an example of holy living which we must strive to copy. And what example is set before in these passages I have mentioned? The Blessed Virgin, encountering the great things that God is doing, is troubled and perplexed. But in the face of these challenging events what does she do? Does she simply shrug her shoulders and say that these are things too great for me to try and comprehend and do her best to ignore and forget about them? She does not. She treasures them in her heart. She considers them in her mind and ponders them in her heart. And, we may be sure, she tells others of the wondrous things that God has done.

And this is what I pray all here will do. That, following the example of the Mother of God that they would be challenged by the Gospel, that they would treasure it in their hearts and ponder it daily; and that they would proclaim the good news it contains to all the world. Amen.


Saturday, December 30, 2017

prayer diary Saturday 30 Dec 2017

'I am the voice of one crying aloud in the wilderness “make straight the way of the Lord.”' 
John 1. 23

The words of the prophet concerning John the Baptist apply to all who follow Christ. We all dwell in the wilderness of this world; and we are all called to proclaim him so that others may find the path to him.

Friday, December 29, 2017

prayer diary Friday 29 Dec 2017

The Word became flesh and lived among us. 
John 1. 14

This is the central mystery of our faith. From it all else flows. God himself became man for our sake. He loved us that much. How do you respond to that love?

Thursday, December 28, 2017

prayer diary Thursday 28 Dec 2017 - The Holy Innocents

When Herod saw that he had been tricked … he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under. 
Matthew 2. 16

Evil not only refuses to hear the good news of Jesus Christ; it does all within its power to prevent others from hearing it also. Do not let the joy you have be taken from you by its empty promises, mockery, or violence.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

prayer diary Wednesday 27 Dec 2017 - St John the Evangelist

(The disciple whom Jesus loved) was the one who had reclined next to Jesus at the supper … this is the disciple who is testifying to these things and has written them, and we know that his testimony is true. 
John 21. 20-24

The writers of the Gospels give witness to what they saw and knew. Understanding and accepting this is vital; for on this truth depends the salvation of all mankind

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

prayer diary Tuesday 26 Dec 2017 (St Stephen's Day)

Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. 
Acts 7. 58

It may seem strange that our Church calendar goes from celebrating the birth of Christ one day to the death of the first martyr the next. But it reminds us the child in the manger was born for the wood of the cross – and that we are all called to take up our own cross and give witness to Christ.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Christmas 2017 - the Christmas gift

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit – Amen.

And so we have arrived at another Christmas morning! No doubt many of the children here were up early, exited to see what Santa had to bring them … and I hope all were good through the year and received a nice present or two … and not lumps of coal as a reward for bad behaviour … and no doubt later many here, having consumed a delicious Christmas feast will sit around a nice fire, with a hot cup of tea in their hand, or maybe even something stronger and exchange gifts with their families …

And a child pointed out something interesting to me the other day about gift giving. People don't really expect children to give gifts in return at Christmas. Oh, they might give a few small presents to immediate family … a little something for mum and dad, and their brothers and sisters … but if an auntie drops by with a bale of pressies for all the family, mom and dad will surely have something nice ready to give her, but auntie won't really expect the childer to have something for her. All grown ups really expect in return for the large selection box full of tasty treats or the new game to load into the x-box or whatever it is that they have brought is seeing the excitement on the faces as they tear open the wrapping paper, the smiles and the happy voices as what is within is revealed, and the enjoyment as the present is taken out and eaten, played with, or perhaps even put on.

Oh, and of course, a big thank you. The saying thank you for what has been received, the heart-felt expression of gratitude is very important. There's nothing quite like seeing a happy face looking up at you saying 'thank you – oh, thank you' and knowing that they really mean it to warm your heart and make you feel that the trouble you took was not only worth it, but as nothing in the face of the joy that present has brought.

But why do we give gifts at Christmas? It is something I have often wondered about. There are various theories. One of the most popular is that the idea for doing so comes from Scripture, from the account St Matthew gives us of an event that took place not long after the birth of our Lord. In his gospel, the evangelist tells us of the wise men who came from the East, believing that a new King has been born to the Jews, a great king who will rule over all the earth in fulfilment of ancient prophecies that were widely known through all of the Ancient World, a prophecy they believed had finally come true because they had seen his star in the East, and they wanted to be the first to pay him homage.
They went first to Jerusalem, to the court of King Herod – for where else would one expect to find the new born king of the Jews to be except in the palace of the king? 

But as we all know he wasn't there. In fact their visit and the reason for it troubled the people of Jerusalem greatly – and no one more than the wicked king Herod who thought this new king might be a threat to his own power. But the chief priests and the scribes told these wise men that the expected king, whom the Jews referred to as the Messiah or the Christ, because he was the anointed one of God, was to be born in Bethlehem.

And so they went to Bethlehem. And the star they had seen in the East went before them and guided them to the place. And, as I said before, it was some little time after the Birth of our Lord, for the Holy Family were no longer in the stable where he had been born, but they were now in a house. And the wise men went into this house the star rested over and the paid homage to the Christ-child, the one they knew to be the new born king.

And, as we know, they did more than worship him. They gave him gifts – gifts worthy of a king: gold, frankincense, and myrrh, because gold, of course has always been highly prized in all times and in all places and aromatic spices like frankincense and myrrh were probably worth more than their weight in gold in the Ancient World. And so the thinking goes that because the wise men gave gifts to the Christ-child that first Christmas, the custom arose of all Christians giving gifts to each other at this time … especially to children!

But, of course, it might be for another reason. For a far greater gift was given at that time that gold and precious spices; and that gift was not given to the Christ-child – that gift was the Christ-child and he was given to the whole world, a gift to all the people alive then and to all the people who would be born afterwards, generation after generation until the end of time itself – literally the gift that goes on giving! And this gift was a gift beyond all price – it was God himself entering into the world so that all men and women could be saved and have eternal life – a gift so precious that if it were lost all the world and all it contains would not be enough to compensate any man or woman for so great a loss.

It is a gift that God gives to us. And he asks nothing in return. Indeed, what gift could we give to the one who created the universe and all that is in it? No, like a loving Father he expects nothing in return for his gift; nothing but our excitement at receiving it, our happy voices raised in praise of so great a gift, our joyful faces looking up to him in heaven as we embrace the wonder that has been given to us. That and, of course, our thanks; the thanks that tells him that it was worth it to send his Son into world for us; a thanks we have gathered here today to give him; and a thanks that I pray all here will give him always. Amen.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Sermon for the first Eucharist of Christmas 2017: the joy of the angels

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

Tonight is the night that we, along with the angels, rejoice in the birth of the Christ-child. Indeed, the scene that St Luke describes of the angels breaking forth from heaven to join with the one sent to the shepherds and sing praises to God at the great event is surely one of the most beautiful in Scripture – that of the night sky filled with a multitude of the heavenly host.

Their presence reminds us that the events of this night extend beyond the human realm and that they are part of great cosmic battle against the forces of evil. A battle, we must remember, in which the angels have played a part from the very beginning. Before the beginning of time, God first created the angels, being who were, like him, pure spirit. But war broke out in heaven when God revealed to them his plan to create man – matter and spirit combined. Some found this idea offensive and led by Satan they rose up in rebellion against their creator.

They could not win, of course; and the heavenly host, led by the Archangel Michael, defeated them and they were driven from heaven and cast down into hell where they remain now as demons. But their great loss has given them an implacable hatred not only against God but against what they view as the cause of their fall – man.

And so in the garden where our first parents dwelt Satan approached Eve, our first mother, in the form of a serpent and tempted her to commit the same evil that he himself was guilty of – disobedience against the creator. And alas for all mankind she gave in to that temptation; and having yielded brought that same temptation to her husband as well. And so sin entered into the human realm and the damage it has caused continues down to that very day.

We can well imagine the sorrow that day caused among the angels in heaven. No doubt the metaphorical hearts of these wholly good and pure spirits were broken to see this terrible evil being brought into the world that God had not only created but called good; and particularly that the evil of what we now call original sin had been visited upon mankind, the beings that God, when he created them, had declared very good.

And their sorrows have surely been added to again and again down through the millennia. God, as we know, appoints a guardian angel to each of us at our birth; our very own spiritual being to watch over us – every man, woman, boy, and girl – all the days of our lives. How it must wound such utterly pure spirits, devoted as they are to doing the will of God, at having to witness all the sin and evil there is in the world; to see, despite their best efforts to protect and guide, to see the human soul they have been set by the Almighty to watch over fall again and again into disobedience against the one who created them, who created us.

And, of course, being good and pure they are full of love. Love first and foremost for God; but also full of love for all that he has made, the world and all it contains, most especially for all of us. And naturally, just as we are greatly troubled when those whom we love take great risks – risks whose consequences may well lead to death and destruction – so too are the angels troubled when they see the terrible risks undertaken by men and women – risks that may one day end with them being denied joining with them in the joys of heaven, the place that men and women were created to be, just like the angels.

But even as the sorrow was great, their joy must have been greater the night the Christ-child was born. They would, of course, have rejoiced to see the will of the Father being carried out. For that is simply the nature of those who are love God and obedient to his will are. But they would have rejoiced also because of the great love they have for us. Our disobedience had up until that point closed the gate of heaven to humanity. Because God is infinitely good that makes every sin, every action that is not in accordance with his will, infinitely offensive to him. And there was no way we could make amends for our wrong doing, no way to redeem ourselves for all we had done wrong; no way of achieving salvation, no way of gaining entrance to heaven.

No way until Christ came into the world to pay the price for our sins himself. And his saving work began with his incarnation, when the Holy Spirit over-shadowed the Blessed Virgin Mary and the one who was both God and man was conceived within her; and that saving work was continued with his birth, in the humblest of circumstances … in a stable, with no witness but her husband Joseph, and with no crib but the very manager that the ox and the ass would feed from, with the hay they would feed upon for his bedding.

How could they not burst forth out of heaven to sing their joy on such an occasion? Angels are the messengers of God; and God's word made flesh had come into the world to offer salvation to all those living and who would ever live! A joyful night for the angels; and a cause of joy to man ever since … which is why we join with them to sing God's praises this night … and will, I pray, cause you to give thanks to God not just now but always. Amen.

Sermon for the fourth Sunday in Advent - the Blessed Virgin Mary

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

Today is the fourth Sunday of Advent. But given that it is also Christmas Eve I am sure most will appreciate if I try to keep things brief today. So my few words will be more of a reflection than a homily.

This Sunday in Advent, the final one, traditionally has the Blessed Virgin Mary as its focus; hence our Gospel reading from Luke describing the scene generally referred to as the Annunciation. It is natural to think of the Mother of our Lord at this time; for she is a very important part of the story of his first coming. And where better to do so than in this church which bears her name ? A church built on a site that has has borne her name as a place of Christian worship for most certainly the best part of a thousand years … and most probably for a great deal longer.

The importance of the role the Blessed Virgin played in that first coming can not be over-stressed. I am sure all here have heard it said on many occasions how important her freely given 'Fiat', as it is in the Latin, or 'thy will be done' in older translations, is. Mary is, as it is made clear in Scripture, to be seen as a second Eve; and just as the first Eve by her own free-will action sinned and brought about the Fall that has caused so much anguish to humanity ever since, so too the second Eve of necessity had to be able to consent of her own free-will to play her role in God's plan for the redemption and salvation of all mankind.

And as I was preparing these few words, it occurred to me to wonder if whether or not free-will and our Lady's role as the second Eve did not also play a part in one of the areas of theological reflection that has surrounded the Blessed Virgin down through the ages. I am speaking here of the teaching concerning the Immaculate Conception, a very early tradition of the Church that puts forward the idea that she was from the very first moment of her existence protected from the stain of original sin. 

This teaching is a doctrine of the Catholic Church. It is not commonly held in the Orthodoxy, based on their different understanding of the effect of original sin from that of the Western Church. Neither is it a doctrine of Anglicanism, in the sense of being a teaching one is bound to hold, such as the doctrine of the Trinity or the doctrine that Jesus is both fully God and fully man. However, it a teaching one may piously hold to if one is convinced of the truth of it. I am, for my own part, I am sure no one will be surprised to learn, persuaded by the logic of the idea that when God chose to be born of a woman, he would chose to do so only in circumstances where the human being who was to be his mother would be free of the stain of all sin, whether original or actual.

Now that argument is essentially Christological in nature in that it concerns the theology of the person of the second person of the blessed Trinity. But a thought did occur to me on this topic that relates rather more directly to the Blessed Virgin and her role as the second Eve. And it concerns the status of the first Eve when she made her free-will decision to disobey God. My thought is a rather simple one – and that is that Eve, when she rejected obedience to God's will having been tempted to do so by Satan in the form of a serpent, did so free not only of the stain of any actual sin, never, of course having sinned in any way prior to this occasion; but also free of the stain of original sin as well. This is only logical, as original sin did not exist before her act of disobedience. 

Is it not reasonable that the second Eve should be in the same state as the first, free of all sin, when placed in the position of making the free-will decision that would save mankind from the consequences of the free-will decision of the first? Indeed, given the rather difficult circumstances that saying 'yes' to the will of God on this occasion would place the Blessed Virgin in, the idea that she would be given special graces from God in order to allow her to be better able to chose to obey his will is compelling, to my mind at least; and this argument is bolstered by the words spoken to the Blessed Virgin by the Archangel Gabriel on this occasion – often referred to as the Angelic Salutation – Ave, gratia plena, as it is rendered in the Vulgate; or Hail, you who are full of Grace in English.

However, I said I would be brief and therefore have perhaps already spoken for too long and so I will leave it there. But as I finish, one final thought: is it really so inconceivable that the God who so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that we might be saved would also give extra graces to the young woman he intended to be the second Eve that she might be at least well equipped to obey him as the first? But whether you think it so or not, we will all agree that on this day, of all days, the day before Christmas, that it is right to give thanks to God for the 'yes' spoken by the Blessed Virgin on the occasion of the Annunciation and all that he did for us in the sending of his Son into the world when she freely consented to his will on that day. Amen.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Prayer Diary Saturday 23 Dec 2018 (day of discipline and self-denial)

Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ 
Luke 1. 38

Mary said 'yes' to God despite all the risks she ran in the society she lived in. Why do we then so often say' no' to him when the risks are so small and the rewards for saying 'yes' so great?

Friday, December 22, 2017

Prayer Diary Friday 22 Dec 2018 (day of discipline and self-denial)

When Zechariah saw the angel, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard.' 
Luke 1. 12,13

Zechariah was a righteous man yet he trembled before God's messenger. How much harder must it be for those who reject all that is holy to stand in the presence of God himself when the time comes?

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Prayer Diary Thursday 21 Dec 2018 (day of discipline and self-denial)

All this took place to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: ‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son.' 
Matthew 1. 22-23

God chose as his Mother not a Queen, or a person of wealth and power, but a woman of great holiness, a woman obedient to God's will. We also must strive to be holy if we would welcome the Christ-child into our hearts at this time.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Prayer Diary Wednesday 20 Dec 2018 (day of discipline and self-denial)

So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah,fourteen generations. 
Matthew 1.17

Do your eyes glaze over when you hear the genealogies of Jesus in the Gospels read? You're probably not alone! But these accounts are important, for they stress the continuity of the Old Testament with the New and how the promises made by God to his Chosen People were fulfilled in Christ.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Prayer Diary Tuesday 19 Dec 2018 (day of discipline and self-denial)

“Son, go and work in the vineyard today.” He answered, “I will not”; but later he changed his mind and went ... the second ... answered, “I go, sir”; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?’ 
Matthew 21.28-31

Any wilfulness from the early part of your life matters not at all in the face of later obedience to God's will. It is never too late to change your ways.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Prayer Diary Monday 18 Dec 2018 (day of discipline and self-denial)

When he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, ‘By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?’ 
Matthew 21.23

There are always those who want to challenge the authority of Christ and his teachings. Don't worry about what they think; consider instead what it is that you believe – and why.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

the Baptist's silent preaching

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

Our Gospel reading over the last two Sundays have focussed on St John the Baptist. This is as it should be. The Baptist, also known as the Precursor in the Latin or Western Church, and the Forerunner in the Eastern, prepared the way for our Lord; and as we look back to the time when he first came, and look forward to when he will come again, it is only right that we keep in our minds this great saint, of whom Christ himself said that among those born of women none greater had arisen.

John, we know, was a great preacher; people flocked to hear him from all the region and beyond. But preaching, we must remember, is not always done with words. It is also done by our actions, by the way we lead our lives. My late mother, may she rest in peace, was very fond of the saying that you are all doubtless familiar with: actions speak louder than words. And St Francis of Assisi is famously credited with saying: preach the Gospel at all times; when necessary use words.

And St John, we know from his actions, preached God's truth very well by his actions. His austere manner of living – making his home in the desert, wearing the humblest of clothing, eating a spare diet of what came to hand – this, of course, preached powerfully of the way that those who love God must not be overly-concerned with the material comforts of this life. But his wordless preaching spoke even more powerfully when he was faced with adversity. There are always people in the world who do not appreciate the truth. It places them in the uncomfortable position of having to either amend their lives and live according to it or be exposed to all the world as being numbered among those who wilfully and knowingly break God's law.

And so those who are powerful enough seek a third option. They call upon those who God has sent to speak his truth to speak lies and declare that to be the truth instead. This is the situation that St John faced. The ruler of that region, King Herod, was in an illicit sexual relationship; he was in a marriage that was forbidden. No one dared to speak out about the wrong being publicly done by the most powerful man in the land save St John. And for speaking the truth he was imprisoned; and later unjustly executed.

The martyrdom of John has spoken powerfully to Christians down through the ages. His example has told generation after generation of those within the Church how it is they must behave when the powerful of this world – whether that be individuals in authority, powerful groups in society, or when the masses have their passions inflamed and clamour for falsehoods rather than truth – try to water down the Gospel message or declare it a lie.

Should it surprise us that St John was able to preach so eloquently without words? I think not. If we think back to his conception, we realise that he began his life in this world as a sign – his mother Elizabeth was thought to be beyond the age of child-bearing and barren; but in answer to the prayers of his parents they were indeed blessed; and the news of this miraculous conceptions was as a sign to the Blessed Virgin Mary that she might trust the words of the Archangel Gabriel that she would indeed bear a Son and remain a virgin.

And as I draw to a close let us recall one other occasion when the Baptist preached God's truth without ever speaking a single word: on that occasion we generally refer to as the Visitation, when the Blessed Virgin Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth. When the two women meet - the older six months with child, the younger only days – a remarkable thing happens. As Mary greets her cousin, at once child within Elizabeth's womb leaps for joy and, filled with the Holy Spirit, she knows and declares that she is in the presence of the mother of her Lord.

This silent testimony from St John in the womb tells us several things. The first, and most obvious, is that Jesus is Lord and Mary is his Mother. But let us not forget something that is also of great importance that we learn from his testimony. Mary, as I said earlier, has at this point only been pregnant for a few days. We know this because St Luke tells us that immediately after the angel of the Lord had made his declaration to her and she had conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit that she arose and went with haste to visit her cousin. And that the as yet unborn St John leaped with joy within his mother's womb when the virgin who was with child came into his presence speaks very clearly of one important fact: from the very moment of his conception Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God had come among us. Even in that tiny state, at the very beginning of life, he was Lord, fully God and fully man.

The implications for this in the context of recent events in our society are, I think, obvious; and I will say no more than that. So as I end I will merely give thanks for all that John taught us, both in words and without them. And even as we think of how he helped prepare the way for the first coming of our Lord and Saviour, let us also think of how his example may help prepare us for the day when he will come in power and majesty to judge the living and the dead; a day on which I pray that all may be found worthy to enter into the glory where St John, and all the saints and angels dwell: in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

prayer diary Saturday 16 Dec 2017 (day of discipline and self-denial)

'But I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but they did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man is about to suffer at their hands.’ 
Matthew 17.12

The shadow of the Cross lies over the child in the manager. Therefore remember to keep Advent as a penitential season; for it was for your sins that the Christ-child was to suffer and die.

Friday, December 15, 2017

prayer diary Friday 15 Dec 2017 (day of discipline and self-denial)

'For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, “He has a demon”; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners!” 
Matthew 11.18,19

Those who wish to find fault with you will do so whatever course you take. Ignore them and focus instead on following the path Christ sets before you.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

prayer diary Thursday 14 Dec 2017 (day of discipline and self-denial)

'Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.' 
Matthew 11.11

Who one is in this life is as nothing compared to gaining heaven in the next. Strive to grow in holiness so that you may at the last be numbered among the saints.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

prayer diary Wednesday 13 Dec 2017 (day of discipline and self-denial)

'Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.' 
Matthew 11.28

The struggles of this life are endless. And in the end what are their purpose? You can take none of its rewards past the grave. Turn instead to Christ. In him you will find true meaning and true purpose.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

prayer diary Tuesday 12 Dec 2017 (day of discipline and self-denial)

'If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray?' 
Matthew 18. 12

Reassess your life this Advent. Consider whether you have become self-satisfied and complacent. The lost sheep the Lord is seeking may not be your neighbour – it may be you.

Monday, December 11, 2017

prayer diary Monday 11 Dec 2017 (day of discipline and self-denial)

Just then some men came, carrying a paralysed man on a bed … when Jesus saw their faith, he said, ‘Friend, your sins are forgiven you.’ 
Luke 5. 18-20

The first concern of Jesus was not for the man's illness, but for his soul. Something for us to ponder in an age when so many seem to think that the top priority of religion is making the world a better place.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

preparing the way like John the Baptist

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

Our Gospel reading today, as is traditional for the second Sunday in Advent, concerns John the Baptist. It is not surprising that we should think of this saint during this season. Part of what we do during Advent, after all, is look back to the time of Lord's first coming, to his nativity; and in the gospel according to St Luke the story of the birth of St John the Baptist is intimately intertwined with the story of the birth of our Lord.

However, St John is also an appropriate figure to consider at this time because of the other major purpose of Advent, which is to look to the time when our Saviour will come again in great power and majesty, a time when all the nations will be gathered before him, and he will judge the living and the dead, welcoming some into eternal life, and condemning others to eternal darkness.

And another title for the Baptist is the Forerunner; because he was sent to prepare the way for our Lord at his first coming. Naturally we must think in this time, between the first and second comings, to whom does it fall to prepare the way for when he shall come again? And the natural answer to that, I think, is that task falls to the Church that our Lord and Saviour founded. In other words, the task of preparing the world – by which we must understand ourselves, all others within the Church, especially those who are fallen away, and all those who are currently outside it whom it is our solemn duty to try and evangelise, bring to understand the truth of the Christian faith, and the necessity that they believe upon the name of Jesus and be baptised if they are to be saved – that task of preparation falls very much to us.

And it is therefore of great benefit to us who must do this work in relation to the second coming to the look to the example of the one who did the work in relation to the first. So it becomes of particular importance for us to look to the life of the Baptist in this season to see what lessons we can learn from him that will guide us in the work that has been entrusted to us.

So what do we see in the life of St John the Forerunner that will help us? First, let us consider what we learn of the manner of his life that we have set before us in our Gospel reading today from St Mark. Where did St John live? In the desert places. We are not told where he took shelter from the cold of the desert nights or its blazing heat by day, but we can imagine that it was no more than some little cave or some rough booth he had constructed for himself from branches and rocks and earth. What did he wear? A robe of camel hair girt about him with a leather belt. The most basic and simplest of apparel, just enough to cover his body and preserve modesty and decency. And what did he eat? Scripture informs us locusts and wild honey. Much has been written as to what these words signify; but for today it enough to consider that they mean that he lived off the land, eating whatever was to hand. 

Taken together these three elements of the way he lived tell us something very important about St John. He cared not at all for the material comforts of this life. What was needed to keep body and soul together he accepted gratefully from God; but he concerned himself with no more than that. This serves to remind us that neither must we be overly concerned with the good things of this life; like St John our focus must be on doing the work of God. Material things can get in the way and often do; and if we see that happening in our lives we must ruthlessly cut away anything that gets between us and the task we are called to.

Next let us consider what it was that he told those who came to him what role it was the he played in God’s plan for the salvation of humanity. He made it clear that he was not the Messiah, as some suspected. He made it clear that someone far greater was coming; someone that he was not worthy so much as to untie the sandals upon his feet. Now think what such words mean. In the culture of the ancient world it was the duty of the most lowly slave in the house to quietly and without saying a word to go to a guest when they arrived, kneel before them, undo their sandals and remove them, and wash their feet. But when it came to the one he prepared the way for, St John saw himself as more lowly than even the lowliest of slaves. His relationship to God, then, was characterised by the greatest of humility. So too must we be humble before our God.

Humility, as so many of the great saints tell us, is the mother of all virtues; from it all others flow; without it we can have no other. This makes it the beginning of holiness; and without personal holiness we can not carry out our task of preparing the way for our Lord and the day when he shall come again.

Finally, let us look at what St John taught. He called people to repent, to confess their sins and be baptised. And while it is not spoken of by St Mark in this passage, we know from the other gospels that people of high standing came to him – Roman soldiers, tax-collectors, the religious leaders of his day – and they heard the same truth from him that the poorest and meanest in society did. All are equal in the eyes of God; and sin remains sin whether it is committed by a peasant or a prince. And even if that sin is sanctioned by all in society it does not transform it into good in the eyes of God.

We know that later that St John’s refusal to speak other than God’s truth was to cost him his life. But he could do nothing else. For he knew full well, as our Lord was to teach, that it matters not if a man gain the whole world if it comes at the price of his soul, if it costs him eternal life. The example of St John sets before us a way of living, a way of humility, a way of fidelity to God that if followed by us will lead to a rich harvest of souls at the last day … a harvest among which all those who follow that way will be included … and it is my prayer that all here will walk in the way that this great saint sets before us and so be found worthy on the day to be numbered among that harvest and welcomed into the eternal kingdom: in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

prayer diary Saturday 9 Dec 2017

The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few. 
Matthew 9.37

To truly say 'Yes, Lord' to Jesus means serving him and working for the salvation of souls. In what ways do you answer his call on your life?

Friday, December 8, 2017

prayer diary Friday 8 Dec 2017

The blind men came to him; and Jesus said to them 'Do you believe that I am able to do this?' They said to him 'Yes, Lord.' 
Matthew 9. 28

Jesus offers us many things. Do we say yes to his promises?

Thursday, December 7, 2017

prayer diary Thursday 7 Dec 2017

No one can serve two masters. 
Matthew 7.24

Where does your true loyalty lie? Are the values praised by the world your guide or those given us by Christ? And have you the courage to proclaim it?

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

prayer diary Wednesday 6 Dec 2017

They put them at Jesus feet and he cured them, so that the crowd was amazed when they saw … And they praised the God of Israel. 
Matthew 15. 30,31

The crowds reaction was to praise God when they witnessed all that Jesus could do. Do we do likewise? And do we do it it for all the world to see?

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

prayer diary Tuesday 5 Dec 2017

Jesus said: 'Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets & kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it.' 
Luke 10.23,24

How aware are we of the privilege we have of knowing Jesus? It is a blessing beyond compare from God himself. Are we correspondingly grateful?

Monday, December 4, 2017

prayer diary Monday 4 Dec 2017

'Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof.' 
Matthew 8.8

How many of us approach God and all his gifts to us with a sense of entitlement; rather than humbly, with a true sense of our own unworthiness?

Sunday, December 3, 2017

why it is better not to know the day nor the hour

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

I once saw the writer Anthony Burgess being interviewed on television. Burgess is most famous for his novel 'A Clockwork Orange', a work which explores deeply the issue of the nature of free-will, and which was later made into a movie which, while controversial, has long been considered something of a classic. He also co-wrote the screenplay for Franco Zeffirelli's highly praised mini-series 'Jesus of Nazareth'. Burgess was regaling his interviewer with the tale of how he first became very serious about writing. He had, it seemed, been diagnosed with a serious illness as a young man and been given six months to live. 'That must have been awful,' said the interviewer. 'Not at all,' chortled Burgess. 'Most people don't know if they'll be alive in the morning or even five minutes from now. But suddenly I knew I was going to live for six months – I had been told so by some very knowledgeable medical men. So I knew that if a started a project as long-term as writing a book I'd live long enough to see it to completion. And so I got started writing straight away!'

Burgess was, of course, being doubly facetious. He was an old man when he was telling this story, and mocking the doctors who had been so mistaken in their fatal diagnosis. And he knew full well that even had they been correct, their prediction of how long he might have left to live in no way guaranteed he had that much time left. He could still have been hit by a bus, suffer a heart attack, experience a sudden stroke, be beaten to death by muggers, fall down the stairs, drown in the bath, or any other of the myriad ways in which it is that we human beings may come to shake off this mortal coil. Burgess was born and raised a Catholic; and although he lapsed from his faith later in life, commentators on his works all agree that they are permeated with a Christian world-view. And he would have known as well as any man that we truly do not know the day nor the hour.

Our Lord speaks of this in our Gospel today (see below). It is not for us to know the day not the hour when he will return at the end of the ages. And, of course, just as we do not know when time and history and this world will end, neither do we know when our time in this life will come to an end.

Now some might think this is harsh of God. Would we not be better prepared for our last moments, better able to amend our ways and repent of our sins and so when we come to the end of our days be assured of leaving this life and entering into our heavenly reward if we knew the exact moment in advance; instead of risking being caught off guard and so end in that place where, as Jesus has told us, was prepared from the beginning for the devil and all his angels?

If you do happen to feel this way, then you are perhaps in for a surprise; for you will find that the Fathers of the Church, those great scholars and saints from the early centuries of the Christian Era, uniformly disagree with you. This is not surprising. For as I have already noted, these are saints – men of great sanctity. And men such as these understand that God's wisdom is greater than ours. He is all knowing; we are not. And if he has ordained that this is the way it must be, then we must humbly accept that it is so; and more, we must acknowledge that because of God's infinite wisdom then it must be, in fact, in our best interest that this is how it is and no other way.

But how exactly is it better not to know? How we any idea as to why it is? Well, this is a question that these same Church Fathers thought deeply about. They put it essentially like this. Suppose we all knew the day and the hour of our death. Some would still choose to lead good and holy lives. But more surely would think to themselves 'I have many years before I will die; and there are many temptations in the world about me. Why should I not indulge myself in these sinful passions to my heart's content; and then, when death begins to draw near, break off from them, repent, and lead a life of holiness for the time that remains to me?'

And it does not, I think, take the wisdom of a great saint to see the foolishness of that path. Such sinful indulgences are addictive indeed; the more we engage in them, the more we wish to, and the harder it is to stop. And the more steeped we become in them, the more difficult it is to recognise that we even do wrong by engaging in them. Few indeed are the individuals who would be strong enough to break away from their sins even as they drew close to the brink of eternity; and of those who did perhaps only a small number would have the strength to repent. Having spent all their years in wickedness and vice serving Satan, how likely is it that at the end they would find within themselves the holiness to serve God and him alone in their final moments? Not very likely at all, I would suggest; and so the Fathers of the Church thought as well.

And so instead God gave us the gift of uncertainty. We may not know the day not the hour, not because he wishes to toy with us in some way, but because he loves us. Not knowing spurs us on to live as if our Saviour and Judge might return at any moment; not knowing when we will may draw our last breath teaches us to live as if the next moment might be the one when we do indeed take that final breath.

And the sober truth is that one day we will be right. And when that day comes, if we have lived our lives as our Lord wishes us to – a life of holiness, a life of watchfulness and prayer – then we will be ready for his return or our deaths. And we will welcome that moment, even as we are welcomed by God to dwell with him, his angels, and all the saints in heaven; a welcome that I pray will be granted to all here - in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

Matthew 25: 31-46

24 "But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26 And then they will see the Son of man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. 28 From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away before all these things take place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 32 But of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. 35 Watch therefore--for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cock-crow, or in the morning -- 36 lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Watch." 

Saturday, December 2, 2017

prayer diary Saturday 2 Dec 2017

'He is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.’ 
Luke 19. 38

Our Lord was quite clear that death means passing from this life to the next. Live this life with that hope always before you; and let Christ's promise of eternal life guide all your actions.

Friday, December 1, 2017

prayer diary Friday 1 Dec 2017 (day of discipline and self-denial)

Then he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling things there. 
Luke 19. 45

Our Lord was moved to anger to see his Father's house treated shamefully. Never neglect to treat holy places with the reverence they deserve.