Thursday, March 23, 2017

haiku: carrot and coal

carrot and coal
together on ground
-the snowman departs





prayer diary Thursday 23 March 2017 ( Day of Discipline and Self-denial)

'Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.' 
Luke 11.23

Reflection 
Our Lord does not appreciate those who sit on the fence. Make your choice and choose wisely; for to refuse to choose is to reject him.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

haiku: green arc through white



green arc through white
leading to where snow
becomes man




prayer diary Wednesday 22 March 2017 ( Day of Discipline and Self-denial)

'whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.' 
Matthew 5.19

Reflection 
It is not only by our words that we teach others, but by the example of our lives. Take care then that you thus teach others to obey God's laws if you hope to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

prayer diary Tuesday 21 March 2017 ( Day of Discipline and Self-denial)

Then Peter came and said to him, ‘Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.' 
Matthew 18. 21,22

Reflection
We hope for forgiveness from God. But as Christ tells us here and elsewhere in Scripture those who would be forgiven must themselves forgive all others.

Monday, March 20, 2017

prayer diary Monday 20 March 2017 ( Day of Discipline and Self-denial)

‘Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s home town.' 
Luke 4. 24

Reflection 
The blindness of the people of Jesus time in rejecting him because he seemed to be one who came from among them seems foolish to us today. Yet how many of us behave in exactly the same way, rejecting him even as we call him Lord?

Sunday, March 19, 2017

the woman at the well

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

The woman Jesus meets at the well of Sychar, whom we read of in today's gospel, certainly seems to have been an interesting character. First, she certainly does not appear to have been a shy woman, as is apparent from the back and forth banter she engages in with our Lord. And this conversation reveals her to have been not only sharp of tongue but sharp of mind also, for after her initial somewhat barbed remarks she engages with Christ in a quite serious theological discussion.

The next important thing we may say of her is that she most certainly has not lived what might be considered a conventional life to date, for she has been married no less than five times and is now living with another man to whom she is not married. And we can also glean from Scripture that she has paid a price for her lifestyle. We can know this because she comes to the well at noon – the hottest time of the day. This was not the time for drawing water. That was done either in the cool of the morning or later in the afternoon when the burning sun was no longer at its height. And it was a social time, where the woman who gathered caught up on the gossip of the day. That this woman comes at noon, a time when she can expect no one to be there, means that she is someone who is not popular with the other women of the locality. No doubt they fear that when the time comes for her to move on from her current partner, her gaze may fix upon one of their husbands as a possible replacement.

Something of this latter aspect of her character may have been apparent from her appearance, for Jesus' followers are surprised that he is talking to her. Why? Because she is a woman? But Jesus, we know, was in the habit of talking to women – he had many female followers, and indeed his group relied on some of them for financial support. Because she is a Samaritan? But Jesus did not go in for the Jewish custom of shunning those from this part of the world – he even has one as the leading figure in one of his parables; and we know that he cured a leper who was also a Samaritan. Yet still they wonder that he talks with her. I suspect that it is because there is something about her that signals to them that she is not a respectable woman according to the lights of their culture. Perhaps she is dressed a little too flamboyantly. Perhaps she has too much showy jewellery on. Perhaps her make-up is a little too extreme. Or perhaps it is some combination of all three. But there is definitely something about her that tells them that this is not the kind of woman that the man they are sure must be the Messiah should be talking to.

Their reaction is illustrative of an age-old problem. How do you indicate to someone that there are aspects of the way that they are living their life that you do not approve of because they objectively violate God's law without falling into the trap of yourself violating God's law by judging them, something that is the prerogative of God alone? It is a balance that followers of Christ have struggled with throughout all the history of the Church. Often we have focussed solely on moralising the sinner while neglecting completely reaching out to them. Our attempts at correcting sin have themselves been sinful – sometimes, it would seem, more sinful than the sin they strive to correct, for they have taken people struggling with their failings and driven them out of the Church, the very place Christ created to be a hospital for the healing of those afflicted by sin.

We would have done better to follow the example of our Lord, as set out for us in this passage of Scripture. First, I do not think their meeting was accidental. St John tells us that Jesus is tired and waits by the well while the others go on into the town to buy food. And no doubt he was tired after their long journey from Judea. But was the one who fasted 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness, the one who would later carry the great weight of the Cross from Jerusalem to Golgotha after a brutal scouring that would have killed most other men, is he really more tired than his disciples and unable to go on? Or is he engineering this meeting with the woman, so that he may reach out to her – and model for us how we also should reach out? For reach out of her he does – he, remember, is the one who initiates the conversation with her, much to her surprise, and persists, despite her somewhat barbed reaction to it. But his openness to this woman who has been marginalised by the society she lives in does not extend to an openness to the things that are wrong about her life. As we so often see him do elsewhere in the Gospels with those who have been excluded because of their behaviour, he points out her wrongdoings. He calls out her less than exemplary behaviour with regard to marital relations; and he even points out the manner in which she, along with all other Samaritans, have got things wrong in relation to the right practice of religion. And her reaction is illuminating. Does this sharp-tongued woman respond with angry words? Does she turn on her heel and walk away? No – his openness to her and his honesty about her situation convince her of the truth of what he says. We can learn much from her reaction – a person of goodwill will never be offended by the truth, even if it can be uncomfortable for them to hear it.

Indeed, far from being offended, the woman rushes back to the town, in such a hurry that she leaves her water jar behind, to tell other about the Messiah and bring them also to know Jesus. Over the course of her brief conversation with Jesus something remarkable has happened: she has gone from being a social pariah, to being a follower of Christ, to being an evangelist who brings others to know and believe in Jesus.

We have no name for the woman our Lord met by the well. But we do have names for others that we know – others that we exclude because we are unhappy about the way that they live, or whom, even if we do not exclude them from our lives we do not truly invite them in because we would find it too uncomfortable to share the gospel truths with them for fear it would cast an uncomfortable light on their own lives and the way that they live it. During the time that remains of Lent it might be a good idea to consider who it is in your life might fit that description. And then consider how you might follow the example of Christ by trying to reach out to them and helping them transform their lives utterly by drawing them back into the Kingdom of God. Amen.


Saturday, March 18, 2017

prayer diary Saturday 18 March (Day of Discipline and Self-denial)

'Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life.' 
Luke 15. 31, 32

Reflection
Being lost in sin brings death. But repenting of that sin and returning to God restores one to life.

Friday, March 17, 2017

prayer diary Friday 17 March (St Patrick's Day)

Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work.' 
John 4.34

Reflection 
Nourished by his faith in God, St Patrick returned to the land of his enslavement to bring the freedom that comes from the Gospel. God also sends you to share that Good News. Do you labour at the task you were given?

Thursday, March 16, 2017

prayer diary Thursday 16 March (Day of Discipline and Self-denial)

He called out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.” 
Luke 16. 24

Reflection 
The rich man cared only for his own pleasure in this life. He did not heed the warnings of Scripture and was blind to the suffering of others. Too late he learned his folly. Take warning from his fate.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

prayer diary Wednesday 15 March (Day of Discipline and Self-denial)

'Whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant.' 
Matthew 20.26

Reflection
Christians are called to a life of loving, humble service of others. And you can perform no greater service for another than bringing him closer to God.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

prayer diary Tuesday 14 March (Day of Discipline and Self-denial)

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

Reflection 
Let all you do be for the greater glory of God. For if you do it for the praise of men, even if it is God's work, you have had your reward here on earth rather than laying up treasure in heaven.

Monday, March 13, 2017

prayer diary Monday 13 March (Day of Discipline and Self-denial)

'Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.' 
Luke 6. 37

Reflection
Judgement belongs to God alone. But do not mistake refusing to judge with approving, and thereby calling good, that which is against God's law.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

prayer diary Saturday 11 Mar 2017 (Day of Discipline and Self-denial)

'But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.' 
Matthew 5.44

Reflection 
As Christ was nailed to the cross, he prayed for those who hated him enough to make him suffer so. Therefore we, who are called to be like him in every way, must also pray for those who love us not.

Friday, March 10, 2017

prayer diary Friday 10 Mar 2017 (Day of Discipline and Self-denial)

But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgement; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, “You fool”, you will be liable to the hell of fire. 
Matthew 5.22

Reflection
Refrain from the violence you do to others from anger in a look, a word, or a thought. The satisfaction it gives is fleeting; and the damage is does to you is eternal.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

prayer diary Thursday 9 Mar 2017 (Day of Discipline and Self-denial)

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

Reflection 
How is it that we may ask anything of God other than through prayer? And what better thing to ask for than the strength to turn from our sins that we may attain unto eternal life? If you faithfully ask such of God, he will not deny it to you.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

prayer diary Wednesday 8 Mar 2017 (Day of Discipline and Self-denial)

‘This generation is an evil generation; it asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah. For just as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so the Son of Man will be to this generation.' 
Luke 11. 29-30

Reflection

The people of Ninevah repented in sackcloth and ashes, fasting, when God spoke to them through Jonah. We have our warning through the Son himself. Can our response be less than the people of Ninevah?

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

prayer diary Tuesday 7 Mar 2017 (Day of Discipline and Self-denial)

'For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.' 
Matthew 6. 14-15

Reflection
Forgiving those who have wronged us is not easy. Yet we hope that God will forgive us of our wrong-doings and Christ tells us for that to be possible we must also forgive. This Lent consider past hurts you have suffered and pray for the strength to forgive those who caused them.

Monday, March 6, 2017

prayer diary Monday 6 Mar 2017 (Day of Discipline and Self-denial)

'When the Son of Man comes in his glory … he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats ... And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’ 
Matthew 25. 31,-32, 46

Reflection
The season of Lent is a time of cleansing, a time to grow spiritually, and rid ourselves of that which separates us from God ... so that on that last day we may be found worthy to be counted among the righteous.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Lent Begins

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

Lent is a time when we engage in self-discipline, training ourselves in how to resist temptation. We deny ourselves things that are good and permitted us so that we might be better able to resist those things that are against God's law when we are tempted by them. It is a season modelled on our Lord's forty days – which is, of course, why we mark the first Sunday of this time with one of the Gospel accounts of Jesus' time of prayer and fasting in the desert. And if we study that account carefully, there is much we can learn, I think, about temptation and how we may resist it. Today I shall focus on just three things we may learn from this passage.

The first is that because we know that Jesus is the perfect man, like us in all things except for sin, that it is not sinful to be tempted. And it is very important indeed for us to know this. From time to time people come to me to discuss the fact that they have suffered from temptations; and some can be very distressed indeed that they have been tempted. They worry that the mere fact of being tempted is in itself sinful. And this is simply not the case; if it were, then Christ himself sinned. But since we know that to be impossible, then we can know that when we ourselves are tempted we do not sin. It is vital for this to know this; for if we think we have already sinned by being tempted, it is all the harder to resist committing the actual sin we are being tempted towards. Indeed, far from being distressed by temptations we ought, in a sense, welcome them; for we are told by St Thomas a Kempis, author of the 'Imitation of Christ', the most widely read book of Christian devotional literature in the world after the bible, that 'temptations are very profitable to man, troublesome and grievous though they may be, for in them, a man is humbled, purified and instructed. All the Saints passed through many tribulations and temptations and were purified by them.'

However, saying that it is not sinful to be tempted is not the same as saying it all right to dwell on our temptations. That is another lesson we learn this passage. Notice how our Lord each time that the Devil tries to tempt him he at once rejects the temptation. That is what we must do also – push it away at once if we can; and continue to fight it off if it does not at once retreat. This is spiritual warfare at its most basic; for if the enemy discovers a weakness in some areas he will try to work away at it if we allow him to. Remember the words of the letter of St James in this regard: resist the Devil and he will take flight. Therefore call on God when tempted; invoke Christ's name in your heart. Evil can not stand to be in the presence of good; and evil can not withstand the power of God. So trust in God when tempted and he will protect you. And as well as refusing to dwell on temptations when they assail you, learn from these battles how you may avoid future temptations. What are the circumstances that open you up to temptations? Are there particular social occasions that you know will make you particularly vulnerable to temptation? Then avoid them. Are there individuals whom you know will try to lead you astray? Do not keep their company. Are there television programmes, books, kinds of music that put you at risk? Thrust them from you. To paraphrase our Lord: it is better to enter the kingdom ignorant of the goings on during the course of the latest reality tv show than to know every detail of it and be cast into the flames.

And finally, we may take special note of the manner in which Christ resists the ancient enemy of all mankind – by calling upon God's Word as it has been revealed to man in Sacred Scripture. Satan, of course, tries to twist it to his own ends; but Christ uses it the way God intends and so the devil is defeated. We therefore must be well versed in Scripture. This means we must not only study it in depth, reading every passage carefully again and again throughout our lives, but we must be guided in our understanding by the manner in which it has been understood by the saints and doctors of the Church down through the ages. Satan's way is to pick a verse here and a verse there, rip it from its context, and spin it until it says the opposite of what God intends; but the Christian way is to focus on the way Scripture has always been understood so that we are not led astray by falsehoods parading themselves as fresh insights. As St Paul said, if anyone attempts to preach another Gospel than the one that he taught, let them be accursed.


As I draw to an end, one final thought. Our Lord, having having vanquished Satan during his time in the wilderness was then surrounded by and ministered to by angels. We should not think of Lent as a gloomy or grim time. The athlete as he trains is not miserable, but rather takes joy in the way his body grows stronger as a result of every challenge he sets it. So too we should rejoice in our spiritual growth in this season. Especially knowing that this strength will be rewarded not only with the company of angels come the end our our days, but to be in the presence of God himself: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.  

Saturday, March 4, 2017

prayer diary Saturday 4 March 2017 (Day of Discipline and Self-denial)

After this he went out and saw a tax-collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he got up, left everything, and followed him. 
Luke 5.27.28

Reflection 
Levi abandoned wealth, power, and position for a new life with and in Christ. What do you leave behind for the promise of eternal life?

Friday, March 3, 2017

prayer diary Friday 3 March 2017 (Day of Discipline and Self-denial)

And Jesus said to them, ‘The wedding-guests cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.'
Matthew 9. 15

Reflection 
Giving things up for Lent can sometimes seem old fashioned. But Christ envisaged that his disciples would fast, and there is never anything that he calls us to do that is out of fashion, for his message is the same yesterday, today, and always.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

prayer diary Thursday 2 March 2017 (Day of Discipline and Self-denial)

Then he said to them all, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.' 
Luke 9.23

Reflection 
Christ calls his followers to a life of daily self-denial. Consider your life and ask yourself: in what way have you taken up your cross?

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

reflections: my first Lent

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

Today is Ash Wednesday which marks the first day of Lent. I well remember my first Lent – or rather, the first Lent I actually engaged with in the sense of giving stuff up.
I was seven. We were living with my grandparents on their farm near Newmarket in North Cork. Our teacher, Mrs FitzPatrick, was quite religious – well, wasn't everyone back then? - and she encouraged us children to take the season seriously by giving something up.

Now this was back in what now seems like the dark ages. Television was black and white and had only one channel. There was no internet or mobile phones back then, so none of your 'digital fasts' from their beloved devices that are popular with some these days. No, back then giving things up meant giving up some tasty food item you were particularly fond of. Adults tended to go without milk and sugar in their tea – and perhaps the biscuits that normally went with it. Or maybe the drink. And children gave up sweets.

I found this both hard and surprisingly easy. Hard, because, as we all know, sweet things are pretty much addictive, so saying 'no' to them voluntarily is tough. On the other hand, children didn't have much money back then. This made sweets an occasional treat. I think my intake at the time would have been limited to a few penny sweets from the shop near the school a couple of days a week; with the odd chocolate bar thrown in … but something as large as a chocolate bar always had to be shared with friends, which meant you could only reasonably expect to eat at most half of any bar you bought.

So with relatively few sweets in my life my first Lent was tough - but not so bad that I thought it was going to kill me. And, of course, I comforted myself with the thought of all the sweets I would buy when it was all over. By the time I got to the end I had a whole lot of pennies burning a hole in my pocket screaming at me 'Lent is over – you can buy sweets again!' Not long after Easter Day we went to town for the Fair Day and I bought all the sweets I would have eaten over Lent at once. And then I ate them all. And felt dreadfully ill. I didn't actually throw up, which was a blessing as the whole town would have seen.

I would like to think that I have learned a little more about what the meaning of Lent is since I was that little boy. I think of the season as being a gift to us from God through his Church. It is a time that allows us to bring very forcefully to mind the fact that we are indeed sinners in need of redemption, sinners who need to repent. That is the significance of ashes on Ash Wednesday – the use of ashes being in keeping with the Biblical tradition of repenting in sackcloth and ashes; a tradition emphasised by our Lord in chapter 11 of St Matthew's Gospel when he speaks wonderingly at the lack of faith in certain cities that he has performed miracles in, and remarks that if certain foreign cities that the Jews regarded as sinful had seen such wonders they would have been moved to repent in sackcloth and ashes.
Lent is also a time that allows us to discipline ourselves in resisting temptations. We do not give up things just for the sake of doing so, or making some kind of a public display; no, we do it so that in order by giving up things that we are allowed to have or do we may be better able to resist doing things that are not in accordance with God's will. Just as the athlete trains in order to be better able to run the race, even though the training itself is not the race, so our training in resisting allowing ourselves small but permitted pleasures during Lent helps give us the self-mastery that will aid us from falling prey to temptation and doing what we know to be wrong.


But as I finish, one final thought. My first Lent as a child was perhaps not done as well as it might have been. But it was done with a childlike sincerity and simplicity. And our Lord, we know, exhorted us, to be like little children if we were to enter into the kingdom. So my prayer for you today is the hope that you may recapture some of your own childlike wonder and innocence as you engage with the season of Lent this year; and thereby grow stronger in the faith and closer to God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.  

prayer diary Ash Wednesday 2017 – a day of Special observance, discipline, & self-denial

But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 
Matthew 6. 17,18

Reflection 
From the earliest days, Christians have observed Lent as a penitential season. It's 40 days echo Christ's own time in the wilderness. We, who are called to imitate Christ, must use this time to be ever more like him through the prayer, self-denial, and alms-giving that are the hallmarks of this season.