Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Father's Day

I got something of a surprise Father's Day gift this year. I was rooting through a drawer looking for something and I came across a small box. It had a few old tie-clips and things of my dad's in it – stuff my sister couldn't bring herself to throw away when she was clearing out the house but didn't want either. Her solution was to give it it to me! I didn't really want it either but, like her, I couldn't bring myself to dump it.

It sat in a drawer, forgotten until the other day. Looking through it, I noticed again something in the box that had always struck me as rather odd – what looked like a small piece of brass pipe-fitting of some sort. I had always wondered why my dad had it in with what was essentially jewellery. But the light must have been better that day, because it suddenly looked different. I picked it up and looked at it more closely. And realised that it wasn't brass, but discoloured silver. A little tingle ran down my spine. Because as far as I knew my dad had only ever owned one silver ring in his life. And I had seen him make it.

You see, years ago when I was about ten, I remember my dad explaining to me about how you could make a ring out of a shilling, provided it was one of the old ones that had a high silver content. Apparently someone had once shown him how to do it. The conversation must have put a little bee in his bonnet about it, because for weeks after you'd see him examining his change, looking for a really old shilling. Finally he found one. And then he began.

First he hammered it flat until he had a thin, smooth disc. With a metal punch he cut a hole in the middle, so that he had what was essentially a washer made out of silver. And then the work really started. He threaded it over an iron spike. For an hour here and an hour there after work he patiently tapped at it, gently folding it down upon itself. You couldn't rush it, he explained. If you did, it would crack and be ruined. Finally, after weeks, maybe months, he was finished. A shilling had been transformed into a shining band of silver.

I'd always wondered what had happened to it. I couldn't believe that I might actually be holding it in my hands after all these years. I took it to a friend, Dani who has a jewellery shop, Artists by Night, in the Estate Yard in 'Comer. And as far as he could tell it was what you'd expect if it had been made from a coin.

That was all the confirmation I needed. It couldn't be anything other than the ring I had watched my father make. We polished it and trembling with excitement I put it on. A Father's Day gift to me – from my father.

published in the Kilkenny Reporter, 20 June 2018 

prayer diary Wednesday 20 June 2018

Thomas answered him 'My Lord and my God.' 
John 20.28

the phrase 'doubting Thomas' has entered indelibly into common parlance. Yet this is the same man who was the first to clearly and unambiguously recognise and declare the divinity of Christ. We who walk the path he first trod should daily give thanks for his inspired witness to the truth of whom Christ is.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

prayer diary Tuesday 19 June 2018

And Jesus said to them 'why are you afraid, you of little faith?' Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a dead calm.
Matthew 8. 26

Death comes to us all. But for those who put their faith in Christ, there is nothing to fear in this world.

Monday, June 18, 2018

prayer diary Monday 18 June 2018

'Foxes have holes, the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.' 
Matthew 8. 20

The material things of this world matter little. All that matters is following Christ.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

A sermon for Father's Day

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

Today, as I am sure you all know, is Father's Day. It is a kind of an 'invented celebration' … thought up to be a sort of male equivalent of Mother's Day … no doubt in the interest of some notion of equality … and, perhaps, more importantly very likely in the interest of selling more greeting cards and all kinds of consumer goods as presents for dads. As a father myself I know that dads all over the country today are getting gifts of things that they don't really need … the real gift being the joy of seeing the excitement on a child's face as he or she waits for their dad to unwrap the present that they got for them … It wasn't really 'a thing' as I was growing up, so I don't really have any memories of it … but I do, of course, have memories of giving gifts to my father.

One particular present was a small wooden box I had made. To say 'I had made' is not perhaps particularly accurate. I received a great deal of assistance from my father in its construction. When I was around ten I had gotten a carpentry set for Christmas and in teaching me how to use it my dad had helped me mark out a series of small squares on a sheet of sheet of half-inch ply, using a the carpenters square to make sure the angles were right, then cut them out using the saw, and then nail them together with panel pins. The result was a small, open box without a lid … which I then proudly gave my father as a gift for him to put things in in the garage … and he accepted it with great solemnity, put it on a shelf, and used it to store old nails and screws.

Giving gifts to our fathers, whatever the day, is a great joy … but of course it should be noted that the creation of Father's Day as a counter-part to Mother's Day has a certain false equivalence to it. Because Mother's Day, or more properly mothering Sunday, as I am sure you are all aware had nothing to do with our natural mothers, but rather had to do with our Mother the Church … the idea of the Church as our mother is an ancient one … St Cyprian of Carthage said in the third century 'no one can have God has Father who does not have the Church as Mother' … and the origins of Mothering Sunday goes back to the idea of gathering in the local cathedral, the mother church of the diocese, on the fourth Sunday in Lent … or at the very least trying to get back to your home parish on that Sunday if you lived away.

So there is a religious dimension to Mother's Day, at least in how it came about, that does not exist for Father's Day. And that, I think, is a pity; for just as the idealisation of motherhood that occurs on Mother's Day can help us better understand the role of God's Church in his plan for us in Salvation; so too it would be helpful to us all indeed to have day set aside when we thought particularly about what it means for us to have God as our Father.

There are, of course, bad fathers; fathers who are not there, or who are but might as well not be for all the attention they pay to their children, or worse, those who are cruel and it would have been better if they were not there. But let us not think of such as them today – let us consider good fathers and what is so very special about the love of such a man for his children. He is, it should go without saying, both a provider and a protector, and also a teacher of his children both in his words and by the example of his life; but what is most important about the love of a good father is that he loves his children not for what they are, but who they are. The world may care about appearance and achievement, the world may care whether someone is clever, or witty, or rich. But your father loves you simply because you are his child. Whatever your faults – and a good father knows his child has many – still he loves you.

But for even the best father there is much he does not know about his child. God, on the other hand, knows us perfectly. But as we read in the Old Testament, when the prophet Samuel is called to select the one who will replace King Saul, the Lord does not look upon someone's external appearance, but on the heart. He knows everything we do, even those things done in private when we think no one can see; he hears everything we say, even the cruel things we say in private to others with no one else to hear; and he knows our every thought, even those dark ones we have behind the mask we present to the world, our worst and secret thoughts that would shame us deeply if they somehow were to become known to others. He even knows those wrongs we have done to others, things that we and perhaps even they have long forgotten, things that may for some reason float to the top of our memory, things we may regard with some horror and cause to think to ourselves 'could I really have done such a thing?'

Our Father in heaven knows all these thoughts, words, and deeds – and he loves us anyway. And he will forgive us them all if only we will truly repent, with a firm commitment to amending our lives. There is no greater sorrow for a good father than for a child to turn his back on him; and no greater joy than when that child returns to his bosom. And for our Father in heaven the sorrow that comes from a child who rejects him can be infinitely greater; for some of those children will be lost to him not just for some years, or even a lifetime, but unto all eternity.

After my father died and we were clearing out his garage I found that box still there, sitting on a shelf, still with old nails and screws in it. He had kept it and used it for 40 years or more. And it would be nice to think that every time he took it down it brought a little smile to his face as he remembered it had been a gift from his small son. This Father's Day, it would be good to think of the joy we can bring God our Father through sincere repentance and conversion of heart. As his Son who came into the world to save us from our sins tells us in St Luke's Gospel, there is greater rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who have no need of repentance. I pray that we will all, this day, and every day, give our Father the gift of our repentance … not only because of the joy it brings him, but because it is a gift that gives the giver far more in return … the chance of being with our Father in heaven and sharing in his joy for all eternity. Amen.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

prayer diary Saturday 16 June 2018

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

Fasting, along with many traditional penitential practices, have gone somewhat out of favour. Yet we know from Sacred Scripture that they were recommended by Christ himself. Should not then we, who call ourselves his followers, follow his teaching as much concerning this as we do with all other matters?

Friday, June 15, 2018

Mother Cabrini

For as long as I can remember my late father – may God be good to him - wore a religious medal on a chain around his neck. Every night before he went to bed he took it off, pressed it to his lips, and then laid it on the night-stand. And every morning he took it up, venerated it once more by touching it to his lips and put it back on again. It depicted the face of a woman, so I presumed it was of our Lady. It was only when my father was well advanced in his Alzheimer's that I took a closer look one day. I realised then that it wasn't the Blessed Virgin, as it showed an elderly woman in religious habit. I turned it over. There was an inscription on the back. And it said that the face belonged to St
Frances X Cabrini, the first American saint.

Now, I had never heard of her so I had to look her up online. She was a nun from Italy who had been sent to America to help the many Italian immigrants who were struggling to make a life for themselves in a new country at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries. The website showed that she had a shrine in New York city where her body lies beneath an altar, encased in a glass coffin. Seeing the images of her coffin online came as a bit of a shock as I realised I had been there. One of the abiding memories of my childhood is going for a walk with my father one day when I was four and being taken to a church where a lady lay beneath the altar.

At this point I suppose I should mention that when I was a child we lived in New York. My parents did what many Irish immigrants did back in the 50s and 60s – they went to America when times were tough, married and began a family, and then returned home when things picked up. I checked the address of the shrine. And sure enough it was only a short walk from where we had lived.

I have no idea why my father was so devoted to this saint that he wore a medal of her for over fifty years. By the time it occurred to me to ask he could not answer. But as I remember standing before that glass case, I can see my father's lips moving. I know he is explaining to me why he has brought me here. But I cannot hear the words. The answer to my question of his devotion stands at the edge of memory, tantalisingly close; but I can not reach it.

Perhaps I one day will. Until then I have the comforting thought that it was indeed something he wanted to share with me. And I hope I will some day get the answer. Not in this life, of course; but in the next. 

published in the Kilkenny Reporter, 13 June 2018 

prayer diary Friday 15 June 2018 (day of discipline & self-denial)

'For I have come to call not the righteous, but sinners.' 
Matthew 9. 13

And we know, of course, that Christ came to call all people to himself; for all indeed are sinners. But woe onto those who think they are without sin; for in that way they reject Christ's mercy and his promise of eternal life.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

prayer diary Thursday 14 June 2018

When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic 'take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.' 
Matthew 9. 2

We all remember that Jesus told the man to take up his mat and walk; how many remember that he did so that he might display to the world he had the authority to forgive sins? For that was why he came, to save us from our sins. Do not deceive yourself, and thereby reject Christ, by believing you have no sins to be forgiven of.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

prayer diary Wednesday 13 June 2018

Thomas answered him 'My Lord and my God.' 
John 20.28

The phrase 'doubting Thomas' has entered indelibly into common parlance. Yet this is the same man who was the first to clearly and unambiguously recognise and declare the divinity of Christ. We who walk the path he first trod should daily give thanks for his inspired witness to the truth of whom Christ is.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

prayer diary Tuesday 12 June 2018

And Jesus said to them 'why are you afraid, you of little faith?' Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a dead calm.' 
Matthew 8. 26

Death comes to us all. But for those who put their faith in Christ, there is nothing to fear in this world.

Monday, June 11, 2018

prayer diary Monday 11 June 2018 (St Barnabas)

'This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.' 
John 15. 12,13

Christ died for our sins. We therefore, if we are to be like him, must be willing to lay down our own lives in order to lead others to him and away from their sins.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

all the cool kids are doing it, why can't we?

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

As a child I often used to spend holidays and weekends with my grandparents or aunt and uncle on their farms in Newmarket in North Cork. One summer, when I was about eight or nine, I was staying with my aunt and uncle; it was glorious sunny weather, much like that we have had so much of recently. As I was walking past the door of the farmhouse I heard a fierce rattling coming from it. I knew at once what was happening; the door, an old plank one, covered with many layers of brown emulsion paint, had one of those old-fashioned drop latches … and all during the holiday I had noticed it was sticking … sometimes you could spend a minute or more struggling with it trying to get out of the house … but for some reason when it was sticking it was much easier to open it from outside. I knew my aunt was alone in the house, so I guessed immediately that she was stuck inside trying to get out. 

I rushed over to help; and in a moment I had the door open. I stood there beaming as my aunt emerged red-faced from her exertions and blinking in the sudden glare of the sunlight.
I waited expectantly for the big 'thank you' that I was sure I was about to receive for coming to her aid. It didn't come. Instead my aunt misread the situation completely. Seeing me standing there with a big smile on my face she jumped to the wrong conclusion:

'How dare you hold that door closed while I was trying to get out!' she shouted. And instead of a 'thank you' I got an almighty slap across the face. And off I went, roaring crying, not so much because of the slap, which children were well enough used to in those days, but because of the injustice of it all – I'd been punished for doing something nice.

It is one of the hard truths of the world that often those who are trying to do good are accused instead of doing wrong … and are sometimes even punished for it, their good deeds treated as crimes. We see this happening to our Lord today. He has been casting out unclean spirits – demons – and the scribes say that he is doing so not by the power of God but by the power of Beelzebul – essentially Satan. He is doing not just good, but great good and he is accused of doing evil – that he wants to trick people into thinking he has been sent by God by pretending to cast out demons while being in league with the devil all along. And we know, of course, that his enemies will not limit themselves to accusations. In last week's Gospel we saw them being their conspiracy to bring about his destruction … and, as history records, when the chance presents itself to do so they do not hesitate and have him condemned to death and nailed to a cross to die.

The irony of accusing Christ of being a minion of Satan is, I hope, evident to all – for it was to save the world from the effects of the evil wrought by the devil when he tempted our first parents to sin and brought about the Fall that our Lord came into the world. But it is, of course, as a result of the Fall that mankind has its sad tendency to prefer its own sinful desires over the will of God. We have a good example of this in our Old Testament reading today. The people have decided that they want a king to rule over them like all the other nations. The prophet Samuel is appalled; there is only one true king who is lord over his chosen people – God himself. And he warns the people against their desires … and warns them, I hope you noted, with words sent to them by God himself. And yet they persist in asking for a king. They desire to be like all other nations – pagan nations who follow false gods, and sacrifice their children to Molech, a demon whose name in Hebrew has the same root as that for king – Melek – is too strong for them to resist.

The temptation to follow the example of other nations in their sinful ways is one that is not limited to ancient days. How often do we hear those arguing we should move away from our traditional values pointing to what goes on in other countries. It is the 'every one else is doing it, why can't we' argument … the type of logic we used as children when we wanted to do something and our mothers told us 'no' … and if your mothers were anything like mine you were probably told as well 'if everyone else jumped off a bridge would you want to do that too?'

The idea about mindlessly following the behaviour of others without considering rationally the merits of what they are doing as being like jumping off a bridge has always struck me as apt. Failing to logically think about any behaviour before engaging in it obviously can lead us into physical danger. And failing to consider the moral implications of any behaviour can lead us into spiritual danger. All the cool kids are smoking risks lung cancer and heart disease. All the cool kids are going to a house party where the parents are away and the drink will be flowing risks not only drunkenness but debauchery.

And, of course, just as the young people who not only refuse to bow to peer pressure but actually dare to name what the cool kids are doing for what it is – childish, stupid, and dangerous – are called names, excluded, and sometimes physically bullied, so too Christians face the wrath of the world when they stand up for what is right. We are called by God to name evil for what it is … and our thanks is often to be called evil ourselves. And that is painful … just as it was painful when my aunt slapped me when I was trying to help her. 

My poor aunt, of course, almost at once realised her mistake and was very upset. And I got a very fulsome apology indeed … along with a large dish of ice-cream and a great many chocolate biscuits! We can not, of course, expect those who abuse and misuse for our faith to apologise – though, of course, we must pray always that they will repent and return to God – but Christians should know that the reward for their fidelity comes not in this life but the next. For we have only one king whose throne is in heaven … and those who remain faithful to him to the last will one day, with his grace, be filled with the joy of bowing before him and singing his praises into all eternity – a joy that I pray will be experienced by all here, in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit … Amen.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

prayer diary Saturday 9 June 2018

'Let your word be “Yes, Yes” or “No, No”; anything more than this comes from the evil one.' 
Matthew 5. 37

There are, of course, times when it is necessary to take an oath. But in general, an honourable man adds nothing by calling on God when he gives his word; and a dishonourable one mocks God by the dishonest invocation of his name.

Friday, June 8, 2018

prayer diary Friday 8 June 2018

‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.” But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.' 
Matthew 5. 27,28

Our Lord makes it clear that we may sin in thought as well as in deed. Guard your thoughts therefore lest you become like the 'whited sepulchres ' Christ condemned – appearing pure on the outside, but inside are foul indeed.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

prayer diary Thursday 7 June 2018

'This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.' 
John 15. 12,13

Christ died for our sins. We therefore, if we are to be like him, must be willing to lay down our own lives in order to lead others to him and away from their sins.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

The day after

I was surprised when I woke to overcast skies on May 26th . There had been a red sky the night before, something that never once in my experience had failed to produce sunshine the following day. And then I remembered the exit polls from the evening before, predicting Ireland had voted two to one to repeal the Eighth. The grey skies seemed more fitting. I was tempted to wonder if it was a sign that heaven was frowning down upon us … but decided that might be a bit fanciful.

I had a month's mind of a relative to go to in Portlaoise that morning. As I drove along from 'Comer, going by way of the Swan and Timahoe, I wondered if the exit polls could be mistaken. I switched on the radio. Counting had begun. And as boxes all over the country were opened they showed it was no mistake. It was going to be a landslide.

The Gospel at Mass was from St Mark. The disciples were trying to stop people from bringing children to our Lord so that he might bless them. And Jesus was displeased and said to them 'Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not; for of such is the Kingdom of God.' And, of course, given the day that was in it hearing those words wrenched at my heart. You really can't make this sort of thing up.

In the car afterwards I switched the radio back on. Some of the count centres had reached the final tally and announced that those constituencies had voted overwhelmingly in favour of repeal. The cheers from the crowds in the background were like a punch in the gut. I know they weren't cheering abortion; they were expressing their delight and conviction that Ireland was now a better place. But if this wasn't the result you wanted or expected, if you didn't believe this heralded a better future, then it was hard not to see it the other way.

The big vote in favour of repeal had the radio commentators claiming it gave a clear mandate to the government to introduce the legislation they had been talking about, abortion on demand up to 12 weeks. I'm not so sure. One elderly woman I was talking to told me she had voted 'yes' so that women could have a termination when they really needed one, but she didn't want it abused for abortions when both the mother and baby were fine.
'That would be sinful,' she said.

So maybe the government will have to tone down the legislation. Things may not be not be as bleak as they first seemed. But then again back home as I sat down to my dinner, suddenly the skies opened and the rain began to pour down.

'Where did that come from?' said my wife. 'That wasn't in the forecast.'

Perhaps they are tears from heaven, I thought. But I said nothing. I didn't want to seem too fanciful.

published in the Kilkenny Reporter, 6 June 2018 

prayer diary Wednesday 6 June 2018

‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfil.' 
Matthew 5.17

Part of Christ's fulfilment of the law was that things such as the ceremonial law, for example things relating to sacrifice in the temple, are now redundant. But as our Lord makes clear again and again in the Gospels the moral law, as is encapsulated in the Ten Commandments, remained in effect for all the ages.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

prayer diary Tuesday 5 June 2018

'Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.' 
John 12.25

This life and the things of it will pass. Do not get so caught up in what is temporary that by doing so you miss out on what is eternal.

Monday, June 4, 2018

prayer diary Monday 4 June 2018

'Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.' 
Matthew 5.10

This verse from the Beatitudes may seem like a reminder from a by-gone age. Yet more Christians were martyred in the 20th century than in all those that went before; and today thousands more die for the faith each year. Giving faithful witness unto death is as real today as it ever was. Is it something that you would be willing to do?

Sunday, June 3, 2018

to save life or to kill?

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

A few nights ago there was great excitement in the Rectory – a bat had made its way into one of the bedrooms and was circling the room endlessly trying to find a way out. We opened the windows as fully as possible, thinking that its echo location would then allow it to find the exit. But no, for some reason it still couldn’t get out. So my son Jeremiah went and got a shrimping net and managed to gently scoop it out of the air and then take it to the window where, to the delight of us all, it flew off into the night.

We spent around 10 or 15 minutes trying to get the little creature safely out of the house. Some might say – why bother? It’s only a bat. And true, it was only a small wild animal and it would have been easier and quicker to take a tennis racket, smash it out of the air, and throw its broken body out the window for the cats to feed upon. Some might regard that as the most sensible option. Others, I think, would be horrified at the idea. Some because bats are a protected species and it is illegal to kill them or do them harm. Others because even the smallest creatures are precious; their lives come from God and to take the life of one needlessly, for the sake of convenience, is wrong.

The latter, I would suggest, is the correct view. As our Lord told us, even a sparrow does not fall to the ground unheeded by God. And of course how much more sacred is the life of a human being. As we hear in our Psalm: ‘You yourself created my inmost parts; •  you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I thank you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.’ This is why we hear Jesus say in our Gospel: ‘Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?’ His question is, of course, rhetorical. Human life is sacred; and when it comes to protecting it things like custom, or convenience, or even cost must be set aside. This is why he then stretches out his hand and heals the man. The Sabbath is important; indeed it is sacred for we are commanded from God that it be a day of rest and worship. But that sacredness can not be used as an excuse not to help others; and so when something touching on the sacredness of human life arises, such as helping the sick or saving a life, then even the Sabbath rest must set aside temporarily.

Yes, our lives are precious. Yet even that must be in seen in the proper context. For we have not been given our lives so that we spend our time upon the earth in ease and comfort. The wise fool thought that way – eat, drink, and be merry, he said. And how great was his downfall, for that very night his soul was required of him … and rich though he was upon this earth he had neglected to lay up any treasure in heaven. And our Lord, in the telling of that parable, leaves us in no doubt that the result was the loss of his eternal reward in heaven.

Yes, God gave us our lives and they are precious – but, as it says in the advertisements, terms and conditions apply. And we, if we are not to be like the rich fool, must always remember that we are to keep God’s commandments in this life if we are to be with him in the next. And how foolish we would be to think that God is not watching or God does not care. The story we have of the prophet Eli from the Old Testament today is a good illustration of this. Old Eli was a good man, indeed a holy man, for the most part. But his sons did great evil. They blasphemed God with their lives and with their lips. And Eli knew all that they did; and he did not act to stop them. I am sure all here can feel for his difficulty. It is hard to challenge those close to us in their in their sins. But Eli had a duty to so; as their father, as a prophet in the land, and simply as another human being. And God held him to account for his inaction.

The fate of Eli should serve to remind us of the dangers of a similar inaction on our own parts. Sometimes we see evil in the world; and we say and do nothing. We think that it is none of our business, it is their right to do as they please. And they do indeed have free will – they may choose to sin if they wish. But we have a duty to name what they do as sin and not make ourselves accomplices in their sins by letting them think we approve by our silence. Worse, sometimes we let our emotions take control of us and we fall prey to the sad stories people tell. They tearfully tell us how hard it would be for them to obey God’s law in this matter or the other … and tell us how they are sure that they can, in good conscience, act as they do for they know that God is forgiving … and so our hearts are moved and we say, in a parody of what our Lord said to the woman taken in adultery, go and sin some more.
Compassion is good; it is a noble virtue. But when in the name of compassion we put our arms around someone and say that God does not see, or if he does he does not care that his laws are broken, then it is a false compassion. Christ nowhere tells us in scripture that sin is not sin provided we are faced with a difficult situation and so neither must we. For God, we must remember, held both Eli and his sons to account. Both the sinners and the one who did nothing to stop them continuing in their sins were judged by God and found wanting.

It is good and pleasing to God to show kindness to the smallest and most vulnerable members of his creation. And given the sacredness of every human life, each one created by God, it is even more pleasing to him to help those in need, particularly when it comes to healing the sick and acting to protect all those whose lives may be in danger. But trying to do our very best to ensure that all we meet love God and show that love by obeying his commandments – that above all is what is pleasing to God. For it in that way that souls will be saved; something that we know is the dearest thing to the heart of God … for it is for that reason that he made us … and for that reason that he sent his Son into the world … so that all might be saved. And, of course, in helping others in this way we also help work out our own salvation in fear and trembling so that one day we may, with God’s grace, be welcomed into his eternal kingdom … something that I pray will be granted to all here: in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Friday, June 1, 2018

prayer diary Friday 1 June 2018

Jesus said, ‘David himself, by the Holy Spirit, declared, “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet.” ' 
Mark 12. 36

Thus Christ himself attests that the Holy Scriptures are divinely inspired. And if our Lord and Saviour tells us that they are the word of God, we must believe it to be so.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

prayer diary Thursday 31 May 2018 The Visitation

‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?' 
Luke 1. 42,43

Within days of conceiving the Christ-child, our Lady is being hailed as the mother of our Lord by St Elizabeth. He was fully God and fully man from the moment of his incarnation.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Crime and Punishment

Standing in the kitchen as some of the early details of Ana Kriegel's brutal murder began to emerge, my reaction was one of anger.

'Hanging's too good for whoever did this!' I seethed to my wife. It'll give you an idea at how furious I was to know that I've opposed the death penalty pretty much all my life. But in the heat of the moment the story of her terrible death, and her body being left to be further desecrated by whatever wildlife might happen upon her in that abandoned farmhouse, was just too much for me. I make no apologies. Such things should anger us.

We are not, however, supposed to make our decisions based on emotions, but on calm and rational thought. My anger over this murder doesn't change my reasons for opposing the death penalty. My thinking on this issue has been pretty fixed since boyhood.

Firstly, I'm horrified at the idea of an innocent person being executed. And that, unfortunately, happens. That it may be rare is of no comfort. The second is that there is no consistency when it comes to who is executed and who is not. It is well established that, even when their crimes are largely the same, the rich person is more likely to go to jail while the poor person ends up on death row. Wealth, not guilt, determines who lives and who dies.

There are those to whom such things don't matter. The death penalty is simply wrong and that is all there is to it. That's not my position. To me the problem isn't that it's immoral as such, but rather that it's not morally applied. And I'm not sure it can be. Because of that I think that it is better that it not be used at all.

However, society has not only the right to protect its citizens but a duty to do so. That means the legal sanctions used as alternatives to the death penalty must be severe. The wrong-doer must be punished both because the evil done is deserving of punishment but especially so that others will see their fate and hopefully be deterred from committing similar crimes themselves.

I am not convinced that our sentences for killers are sufficient. Many get out after only a few years, to the distress of the victims' families and the terror of ordinary people. Surely twenty years, minimum, does not seem unreasonable? And longer if the courts see fit depending on the circumstances. Those who kill again after release should go back inside forever. And the man who rapes and murders a woman must go to prison for the rest of his days. No second chances. We all need to know, women especially, that he'll never be able to hurt another woman again.

Our government has been letting women down a lot lately. They need to change the laws to help keep them safe. And if they don't then their failure should anger us all.

published in the Kilkenny Reporter, 30 May 2018

prayer diary Wednesday 30 June 2018

'God said to Moses “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”? He is God not of the dead, but of the living.’ 
Mark. 12. 26.27

We were all created for eternal life. Therefore, do not neglect in this life to prepare for the next.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

prayer diary Tuesday 29 June 2018

Jesus said to them, ‘Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’
Mark 17.17

The coin bore the image of Caeasar, therefore it was his. We are created in God's image, therefore the image we bear is his and we belong to him.

Monday, May 28, 2018

prayer diary Monday 28 June 2018

'The second is this, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” 
Mark 12. 31

Christ taught that it was those who heard and obeyed his word who loved him. Therefore if love our neighbours we must encourage them to love God in this way, the way he asks to be loved.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

trusting what God tells us

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

How do we know whether to believe what others tell them about themselves is true or not? Well, generally, it depends on if we feel we can trust the source. For example, there were two men I knew while I was in the army who told me stories of their experiences in special forces operations. The first, lets call him Murphy, claimed to have been involved in covert anti-terrorist operations in Germany not long after the Berlin Wall had fallen. The second, who'll I'll refer to as Reilly, said he was a special forces sniper who was regularly sent on missions to South America to help deal with drug cartels during the time of America's so-called War on Drugs.

Now, being the sort of person who is involved in those sort of operations is quite a high status thing in the military. So there are plenty of people who will, quite frankly, lie about such things in order to 'big' themselves up a bit. So the question quite reasonably arises as to whether either of these men were to be trusted about the stories they were telling. Murphy's, as it happens, I found doubtful. He and I were both training at the same time in a place called Redstone Arsenal to be ammunition specialists. Soldiers, as you are probably aware, wear a kind of 'CV' on their chests when in dress uniform, made of different coloured ribbons marking medals won and various other achievements. Murphy wore only the most basic ribbons. His explanation was that he had been kicked out of his unit, his file sealed because his missions had been so secret, and he was denied being allowed to wear the military decorations he was entitled to. I am afraid I found it all a little implausible. The army was unlikely to take someone they had invested so much in training into highly specialised warrior and send him off to be a glorified box stacker; and a man with such skills not only was unlikely to be happy with such an extreme demotion, but was also well qualified to go elsewhere and be highly paid as a private contractor exercising his deadly skills.

Reilly, on the other hand, was my next door neighbour when I was stationed at Fort Bragg. I saw him often in uniform with his impressive display of decorations. As part of his uniform he wore a green beret, proof that he was a member of the army's elite special forces. I met other members of his unit, also green berets. And when he was going through sniper school, we sat together in his apartment, drinking a few beers while I watched him working on his 'gillie suit' – a special kind of camouflage outfit, worn by snipers to help them blend into the landscape around them and essentially be invisible as they stalked their prey. So I had no reason to doubt Reilly's story; and every reason to believe him.
I mention all this because today is Trinity Sunday. And the Trinity is a hard concept to understand – that there should be only one God but three persons in one God. I could probably spend the whole day here going through the many different ways to explain it from the Church Fathers and Great Scholars and Doctors of the Church and only scratch the surface of all that is written. 

But if I were to attempt to do so – and you were all kind enough to stay while I tried – the result would be a very sore throat for me, aching heads for you, and most likely no one much the wiser, myself included, on the topic. The truth is that we are finite human beings and very limited in our understanding despite the fact that often we fail to realise it. Some people, to paraphrase the apostle St Paul, become puffed up with the little knowledge they have; and, while they may know a great many facts, far more than the average person – or even more than most others – that does not make them wise. True wisdom lies in accepting how little we know and understand, and are capable of knowing and understanding. True wisdom teaches that we must be humble in the face of our overwhelming inability to penetrate the mysteries and that there is much that we must simply take on trust.

God's triune nature is one such thing. And we must take it on trust because of the source of our knowledge about his nature – which is God himself. God himself chose to reveal to us that he is both One and Three; one God, but three persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And that, I think, is the most important thing we need to understand about the Trinity – we know it because God has told us this about himself, both in Scripture and directly, from his own lips, in the Second Person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ. I could, of course, remind you that it is an integral elements of the Creeds to acknowledge God exists in Trinity – and not just one of the Creeds, but all three of them: the Apostles, the Nicene, and the Creed of St Athanasius which is commonly read on this day. And that the Creeds are a summary statement of the Christian Faith – which, to put it another way, means that what the Creeds tell us are to be accepted as all Christians as being true if they are indeed to be a Christian.

But better, I think, to remember, that this is information that we have from God himself; and God is to be trusted. He has no reason to lie to us; and we have no reason to believe that he is a liar … and, indeed, we should tremble at the thought of calling him a liar by doubting what it is that he has told us about himself.

As we go through life we will meet many people who will try to convince of things about themselves and the world that is clearly nonsense. And even those who appear very plausible indeed may prove themselves to be untrustworthy. But God is always to be trusted in what he tells us about himself – because he created us, he loves us, and he wants us to have a right understanding about him for the sake of our salvation. In the case of the Trinity, if we do not know that he exists in three persons, then how can we accept that he came into the world as the second person of that Trinity to die for our sins? And how can we believe that the Holy Spirit is with us unto the end of the ages, sanctifying us, and leading us into all truth? Upon such right belief, such right understanding rests our hope of salvation. And even if we indeed find much it to be a mystery, it is a mystery we must hold in our hearts in faith … trusting that it will one day help us to stand before God Father, Son, and Holy Spirit … and be with him for all eternity in heaven. Amen.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

prayer diary Saturday 26 May 2018

So they answered Jesus, ‘We do not know.’ And Jesus said to them, ‘Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.’ 
Mark 11. 33

The source of Jesus's authority was before their eyes, even as was that of John's. Sometimes people just want not to believe, no matter what the evidence. Pray for them, that their blindness will be lifted.

Friday, May 25, 2018

prayer diary Friday 25 May 2018

He was teaching and saying, ‘Is it not written,“My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations”? But you have made it a den of robbers.’ 
Mark 11. 17

God's house is a holy place. Are you careful to behave with due reverence at all times when you are within?

Thursday, May 24, 2018

prayer diary Thursday 24 May 2018

'And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.' 
Luke 16. 9

What is translated here as 'dishonest wealth' might be better put as 'worldly riches.' Christ is telling his disciples to use the goods they are blessed with in this life as but another means of entering into eternal life.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

prayer diary Wednesday 23 May 2018

'Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.' 
Mark. 10.43,44

It is one of the seeming paradoxes of the Christian life that greatness is attained through humility, and lordship by humble service. But in truth, there is no paradox at all, for the things of the world are a passing splendour; and the things that bring greatness in this life matter not at all in the next.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

prayer diary Tuesday 22 May 2018

'There is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the gospel, who will not receive a 100-fold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.' 
Mark 10.29, 30

The sacrifices one makes in this life are abundantly made up for by one's joining into the fellowship of the family of Church. What is more, things that will soon fade away are given up for the sake of what is eternal.

Monday, May 21, 2018

prayer diary Monday 21 May 2018

Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, ‘You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.' 
Mark 10.21

It was out of love, for the sake of his immortal soul, that Jesus told the rich young man to let go of the things of this world. How does this warning apply to your life? Do the treasures of this life – including the praise of others - mean more to you than those of heaven?

Sunday, May 20, 2018

three ways to walk in the way of the Holy Spirit

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

Those of a certain age will remember Green Shield Stamps. They were sheets of little green stamps given out with petrol, shopping, and various other purchases. The stamps were glued into the pages of little booklets. And the books could be used at special stores to redeem various things. Pots and pans and sets of cutlery and dining ware were very popular. One book would get you something small, perhaps a little toy or a spatula; and many, many books would get you something expensive, perhaps one of those Sunbeam electric multi-cookers that were all the rage in the early 70s.

My mother was mad into collecting these stamps; and for several years in a row it was in this manner that my Christmas presents were sourced. One that I remember in particular was a little carpenter's set I got when I was around nine. These were in the days when the idea of health and safety was pretty much unheard of, so the tools it contained were real: small, but very usable. There was no plastic in them; every thing was metal and wood. And so it had a real little hammer, that could bang real nails into wood; a real screwdriver; a real awl that could actually bore holes into timber; a real carpenter's square and pencil; and a real saw, with sharp metal teeth that made short work of half-inch ply and lengths of two-by-one.

I appreciate the safety concerns that no longer allow small children to be given such things … but I have to say I learned a lot from having that little set … sawing and hammering and using a screwdriver and making sure that your angles are right before you cut are real life skills and helped me learn the basics of woodworking before I was big enough to move onto the full-sized tools in my father's garage.

But, of course, I would have learned nothing from that gift if I had not taken the tools out of the box and used them. And the world is full of such things – wonderful gifts that have very practical purposes, but achieve nothing because the person who receives them never opens the box, or sticks them on shelf or in a drawer or cupboard and never does anything with them, or uses them a couple of times and then gives up because its a bit of work to learn how to use them correctly, or because some new distraction comes along and they are forgotten.

The Holy Spirit, the person of the Trinity who features so prominently in our readings on this Day of Pentecost, is a gift that can be treated that way by some. He is, of course, a gift we are all given – 'Receive the gift of the Holy Spirit' the bishop said to us all when he laid his hands upon us as we were confirmed. And having the Holy Spirit in our lives is important … if this were not the case, Christ would not have promised his disciples he would send him … and when that promise was fulfilled, we can see the dramatic difference his coming made to those early followers of our Lord … they went from being people hiding in an upper room, afraid of what would happen to them if they so much as showed their faces, much less preaching the Word of God boldly … and became fearless proclaimers of his Truth, not afraid to face any one or anything for the sake of preaching the Gospel, not even afraid of torture and death.

And so having been given this gift we must not let it sit idle; but we must work to develop it within us. This can be done in many ways; but today let me suggest just three to you. The first is by frequent reading of a particular book of the Bible, the Acts of the Apostle. This book, perhaps more than any other, details for us what happens when the Holy Spirit falls upon a Christian soul and is fully embraced. It is to be read carefully, as all of Sacred Scripture is, for encouragement and inspiration. See how the Holy Spirit transformed them; realise how it can transform you; and open your hearts to him so that he may.

The next is by listening to what St Paul tells us in his letter to the Galatians as to how to walk in the Spirit. First he warns us against the works of the flesh, which are contrary to the Spirit; these are 'fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these'. These are to be avoided for, as St Paul tells us, those who do such things will 'not inherit the kingdom of heaven'. Instead we must lead our lives according to the word of God and the guidance of his Spirit; we must, as St Paul teaches, do as those who truly belong to Christ do and crucify 'the flesh with its passions and desires'; then will our lives be filled with the fruits of his Spirit which are 'love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control'.

Lastly, we must make room in our lives for silence; for God is found in the silence as the prophet Elijah discovered and which we read about in First Kings. Therefore we must bring silence into our lives … both to let God and his Holy Spirit in … and to keep the world and its noise and all its temptations out … think of so much that is on the radio and television, what is broadcast over the internet, what comes out of Hollywood and the music industry … and then compare it to what St Paul called the works of the flesh … the things that will deny us the kingdom of heaven … there is much, much too much of the works of the flesh in the noise of the world … and very little that leads to the fruits of the Spirit … and so making time for prayerful silence in our lives is making time for God … and making time for the salvation of our souls …

I still have the little hammer from that carpenter's set … although nearly fifty years have passed since I was given it, it still remains as good as ever and it makes for a very useful tack hammer. As far as gifts go, one could say that it has withstood the test of time. But, however much I may treasure it, it remains just a hammer; but the gift of the Holy Spirit is a far greater gift … for it is a gift that, if properly received, and constantly fostered within in us, will last beyond time … it will last unto and lead us into eternal life … somewhere that I pray that all here will find themselves on that great and terrible day at the end of the ages in the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

prayer diary Saturday 19 May 2018

'But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.' 
John 21.25

How could a short account hold within it all that the Word made flesh did during his life? Yet we have what we have, the inspired words of Sacred Scripture, and are blessed indeed to have them.

Friday, May 18, 2018

prayer diary Friday 18 May 2018

‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ 
John 21.15 

Christ asks his question using the Greek word for all-embracing, divine love; Peter responds with the tepid equivalent of admitting he likes him. How often does the love you show for God resemble that of Peter's on that day? Or is it often even less?

Thursday, May 17, 2018

prayer diary Thursday 17 May 2018

'Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.' 
John 17. 24

See with what great fervour our Lord cries out to the Father that all who follow him may be saved! Why would he not - was it not for just that reason that he suffered and died for us, that we might be saved? Will you wound again the one who died for you by refusing his offer of salvation?

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

prayer diary Wednesday 16 May 2018

'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

This world is not our true home. Why then do we so often act as if we had no other?

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

prayer diary Tuesday 15 May 2018

'Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.' 
John 17.11

Christ prayed his followers should be one in a unity that mirrored that of the Holy Trinity. What efforts do you make to undo the brokenness of his Church?

Monday, May 14, 2018

prayer diary Monday 14 May 2018

'In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!’ 
John 16.33

Our Lord did not promise a life of ease to those who followed him; indeed, he warned them of hardship. We see many brothers and sisters today who endure suffering for the sake of the Gospel; their example should give us courage to face our own much more minor trials.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

our true home

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

The advent of low cost air lines means that most people today in the Western world know what it is to travel abroad. But it is a very different thing to live somewhere than to visit it. As it happens I have, during the course of my adult life, lived in a variety of foreign countries: in England as a student; in Israel as a Kibbutz volunteer; and in Portugal and the United States during the course of my military career. And it is a very interesting experience. On the one hand you want to fit in with the local culture as far as possible. But on the other you don't wish to lose sight of where you came from either. It is an essential part of your identity, of who you are. 

You find yourself doing things to help maintain that connection with home that might otherwise seem a little odd. You get people to send you 'care packages' filled with Irish treats such as Mars bars, packets of Tayto, and Barry's tea; some even go so far as to get friends coming over on a visit to bring them Irish rashers, sausages, and black puddings. If you find a shop that sells such things you become a regular customer. And elements of Irish culture that you would have ignored while living at home suddenly become of great interest. Wild horses, for example, would have been unable to drag me to a Chieftain’s concert as a young man at home in Cork; and yet a few years later, while living in Florida, I found myself driving for two hours so I could see them play live. Why? Because it helped me while I was living abroad keep in touch with my real self, with my Irish identity.

But here is the interesting thing. Even those who have never moved so much as a mile from where they were born ought to understand what it is like to live in a foreign land. For while all of us may live in the world, Christians do not, as our Lord tells us in our Gospel reading today, belong to the world. Christians, as the commonly used phrase derived from John 17 has it, are in the world but not of the world. At our baptisms, when we died to sin and rose again to new life in Christ, something remarkable happened to us. We became citizens of somewhere else, somewhere not of this world; we became, as the Apostle Paul tells us in his letter to the Philippians, citizens of heaven.

This means that the core identity of each of us is as a Christian, a person who lives in this world, as we all must do, but lives that life in the light of eternity. This does not mean we care nothing for the society in which we live – far from it. Indeed, St Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans that we are to be good citizens of wherever it is that we live. But in doing so we can never allow ourselves to forget that we are Christians first, people whose actions in this world must always be guided by the principles of our faith.

This can be a costly exercise. Those who live according to the values of the world do not like opposition. This should not surprise us; Christ himself said of his disciples 'the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world.' And Christians have indeed always faced hatred. The Church Fathers tell us of the ways in which the early Christians stood out from the society in which they lived. They refused,
for example, to take part in the sexual immorality prevalent at the time, and confined themselves to marriage – with marriage being for life, as Christ taught. They abhorred the abortion and exposure of babies that was a common practice of their age – exposure being the taking of a newborn infant, particularly girls or those who were disabled in some way, and leaving them outside somewhere to die, either from the elements, hunger, or, most likely, being killed by wild beasts. We may be proud, I think, that our ancestors in the faith hated this practice so much that they made it their business to rescue every child they could find who had been left to die in this appalling fashion. And, of course, Christians refused to worship the false gods of their age … which included refusing to treat the emperor as a god.

All this brought the hatred of the world upon their heads … and many paid for it with their lives. But they thought it a small price to pay; just as they thought having the love of the world at the cost of eternal life too great a price a pay. Many in the world today continue to pay that price – the age of the martyrs is not something from the past but one that runs unbroken from the time of Christ to today and will most likely continue to the end of the ages. We are fortunate enough to live in a part of the world where what is called 'red martyrdom', dying for the faith, is rare and unlikely. But that does not mean that we will not face challenges. In our society matters connected with traditional Christian values often become what are called 'contentious issues' … and the sneering and unpleasantness faced by those who try, as good citizens in the world, to oppose those changes, or indeed simply try to live their lives quietly according to Christian values, is not taken lightly. It is never easy to put your head above the parapet and say you disagree with what the world has decided to declare good.

This is why it is important for us to always stay connected with our faith. Like the person living abroad, the Christian must never neglect to do those things that help support them to continue in what is their true identity. And so we must through all our time in this world be diligent in those things that are required of those whose true citizenship is in heaven. This means regular prayers – St Paul, you will remember, exhorted us to constant prayer; it means frequent reading of the Scriptures – as St Jerome told us, ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ; study of the Church's teaching and traditions – St Paul in many places, as well as Church Fathers such as St Irenaeus and St Athanasius, remind us of their importance; and, of course, our duty to gather together in public worship of the Almighty – something commended to us by Scripture too often to enumerate here.

The importance of this cannot be underestimated. It is sad indeed when an emigrant returns home only to realise that his old country is his home no longer; but at least he still has a home in his adopted country to return to. But if we lose sight of our citizenship of heaven, where will there be for us to go at the end of the ages? It is a loss to great to contemplate; and therefore it is a loss that I hope that none here will ever be faced with: this I pray in the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

prayer diary Saturday 12 May 2018

‘I came from the Father and have come into the world; again, I am leaving the world and am going to the Father.’ 
John 16.28

Christ left the world, yet is with us still. For did he not promise that he is with us until the end of the ages?

Friday, May 11, 2018

prayer diary Friday 11 May 2018

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

Christ’s love entailed laying down his life for us. Therefore, no sacrifice we make for our brothers and sisters, especially those that lead them to Christ, can be too great.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

prayer diary Thursday 10 May 2018 The Ascension

‘Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven.’ 
Luke 24. 50,51

Christ blessed his disciples at this Ascension. He further blessed them with the sending of his Holy Spirit soon after. He continues to bless us today and always.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

prayer diary Wednesday 9 May 2018

‘When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.’ 
John 16.13

Christ guides his Church. When the world brings troubles and challenges, do not fear then that she will be led astray.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

prayer diary Tuesday 8 May 2018

‘It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.’ 
John 18.8

Christ promised to send the Church his Holy Spirit. That promise was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost. He has not left us alone in our faith.

Monday, May 7, 2018

prayer diary Monday 7 May 2018

‘Indeed, an hour is coming when those who kill you will think that by doing so they are offering worship to God.’ 
John 16.3

Christ warned us that there is a real possibility of suffering for our faith. Do not grumble then if you suffer some minor inconvenience for yours; rather, thank God for it, and the witness of those who suffer far more.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

false compassion v. real love

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

I remember when the time came around ten years ago when all agreed that it was time for an aunt of mine to move into a nursing home. All but my aunt that is. She and her husband were childless and he had already moved into a home. She was becoming progressively unwell herself and needed the support of an extensive team of carers and regular visits from the district nurse to remain at home. This came to a rather abrupt end when, while she was having a spell of respite care in the same nursing home as her husband, it was decided by the medical authorities that it was no longer in her best interests to live at home. Their rather grim assessment was that if she returned home she would be dead within a few months; whereas if she was to move permanently into the nursing home there was ever chance that she would live for years with a very good quality of life. They therefore decided that that had to end all home support; because for them to otherwise would be effectively for them to be complicit in hastening her death.

I was the one dispatched to the nursing home on behalf of the family to inform her of their decision. A strong-minded and independent lady, she was not well pleased. Many phone-calls were made to various nephews and nieces, ordering them to come collect her and take her home. None did, knowing that she would returning to an empty house; and that there would be no one there to clean, cook, help her wash, do her shopping, or anything else she needed assistance with. She threatened to call a taxi and make her own way home. Which she could indeed have done; she was perfectly compos mentis; and she was certainly not some kind of a prisoner. Fortunately she did not.

It was, as I am sure all can imagine, quite distressing for all involved. It was very hard to say no to a much loved aunt, one who had been like a second mother to many of us during our childhoods, and later like another grandmother to our children. But to help to return home would have been a false compassion. It would not have been loving behaviour because it would have harmed her. Real love desires what is truly best for the other person; and sometimes that requires tough choices.

In our Gospel reading our Lord commands us to love one another. That he makes it a commandment tells us something very important about love. In the modern era many think of it as being something that we have no control over, that we either love someone or we do not. But our Lord's words make it clear that this is not the case. God does not ask us to do impossible things. He does not ask us to fly, to walk through a solid wall as if we were some kind of a ghost, to see when there is no light. But he does command us to love, which means that it is possible. 

Love, real love, is not an emotion, it is a choice, an act of the will. We decide to love people. When it comes to intimate relationships the physical attraction that we call 'falling in love' may play a part initially; but if that relationship is to have any future the commitment required to make it permanent and life-long requires an act of the will. When it comes to loving others, it also requires an act of the will. There is no requirement that we fall in love with them in some way; or that, in fact, we even find them vaguely likeable. What is required of us by our Lord's command is that we treat them lovingly – and this we can do because our actions are under the control of our wills.

So what must we do to behave lovingly towards others? Well, of course, we know that this includes helping them materially. Christ has told us that food or water or clothes given to those in need is as if it were given to himself; and woe betide those who fail to do so! But Christ also tells us the we must love others as he has loved us; and he came into to world so that all might be saved. This means that to love others we must consider not just their material needs but their spiritual also. The love that we show them must help them on the path to eternal life. And so just as we understand that in order to love God we must keep his commandments, so we must help others to understand this also.

This will often place us in what might be termed an awkward position. Because it means that when we see others doing wrong it is not ok for us to smile and nod and say it is their choice and all choices are equally good. It is indeed their choice, for God gives to all free-will; but those things that go against God's law are not good and we are obliged to say so … not because we wish to tell others what to do but because, out of love, we must warn them of the risks they run and the dangers they face in rejecting what God asks of all his children.

This also, I would suggest, means we must not help people to break God's laws. We should not, for example, lend money to a friend knowing that he plans to use it for drunkenness, gluttony, or debauchery; we should not give a married friend the use of our car for the evening to drive to a liaison with someone other than his or her spouse; and we should oppose laws that make it easier for people to do what commands us not to do. They may do these things anyway; but we do not show love for them, the real love that desires what is best for them in the light of eternity, if we help them to do these things in any way.

Because the help that a person asks for is not always the help that they truly need, what is in their real best interests. And because giving it actually harms them, it is a false compassion. Such false compassion would have persuaded the members of my extended family to return my aunt to her home as she asked for; where she would have soon died. The real love that was shown her has meant that she continues to live in the nursing home with her husband, both receiving the care they need. This love has brought her ten years of happy and healthy life; and will, God willing, bring her many years more. But that kind of love shown to those around us will bring them far more, if they are willing to accept it – eternal life in heaven. I pray that you will show then always the love that they need … just as I pray that others will show you that love also … so that all may one abide for ever in heaven in the love of God: Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.