Wednesday, January 31, 2018

prayer diary Wednesday 31 Jan 2018

Then Jesus said to them, ‘Prophets are not without honour, except in their home town, and among their own kin, and in their own house.’ 
Mark 6.4

Bringing the word of God to those who know you well can often be difficult. It can seem 'awkward.' And yet, would you for the sake of avoiding embarrassment risk allowing friends, neighbours, and loved ones losing out on eternal life?

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

prayer diary Tuesday 30 Jan 2018

Jesus said to them, ‘Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.’ And they laughed at him. 
 Mark 5. 39,40

The world may often laugh at our faith, especially faith in the face of adversity. But if you hold fast to it, it will bring you safe through any storm.

Monday, January 29, 2018

prayer diary Monday 29 Jan 2018

The man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. But he refused, and said to him, "Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you." 
Mark 5.18,19

The natural and correct response to Jesus for all he has done for us is to follow him and to serve him. But we must serve him as he wishes us to and not as we ourselves prefer. Otherwise we serve our own wills and not his and do not follow him at all, even though we may think and claim that we do.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

‘Be silent, and come out of him!

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

Our Gospel reading today depicts our Lord engaged in an exorcism, the casting out of a demonic spirit from a person who is possessed. Such things to the modern mind might seem like something drawn from the world of cinema and movies such as 'The Exorcist', which was based the novel by William Peter Blatty and who also wrote the screenplay for the film. That film is, of course, considered to be something of a cult classic; and even those who have never seen it, particularly the younger people among us, will undoubtedly have seen scenes from it copied or parodied in other films or in television programmes … even though they may not realise what it is that is being emulated.

But it is to be remembered that demons and their attacks upon humanity are not merely the stuff of fiction. They are real and very much a danger to us. We see, for example, in the first book of the Bible, Genesis, how the Fall of humanity was brought about by the demonic temptation of our first parents by Satan in the form of a serpent. The final book, Revelation, has a great deal of material concerning the reality of the demonic, both in its descriptions of battles between these dark angels and the angels of light in the heavenly realms but also in its accounts of demonic predation upon the people of this earth. St Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, warns us that our battle is not against flesh and blood but 'against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.' And in the Gospels we see our Lord and Saviour on many, many occasions battling and defeating these dark powers. Indeed, before he began his ministry during his 40 days in the desert he was himself tempted by the ruler of these dark forces, the devil himself …

So by the warrant of Scripture we know the demonic to be real. It is also something the Church has known from experience down through the centuries to be a very serious danger indeed. But I do not think it surprising that most people today prefer not to think too much about the demonic. This is not, after all, a very comfortable topic – of course it is not! If it were, it would hardly be the stuff of horror movies! No, in our day to day life we have a preference that things be a little more cosy, a little more comfortable. Therefore, we will spend too much time thinking about Satan and the risks he poses to us; but we will happily think about God … and often a god made more in our own image than the one who has been revealed to us in Sacred Scripture! 

We are more inclined to think of him as a kindly old man, who forgives us our every wrong, who indeed perhaps doesn't even care much about them and instead accepts us for who we are. We are less inclined to think of what we have been taught about him – by no less a person than himself, in the form of the second person of the blessed Trinity, Jesus Christ – that he is a God who loves us, yes, but who hates sin and wishes us to turn away from it, to change and be holy as he is holy – a God who forgives, yes, but only if we repent …

We think of heaven, also … a place of fluffy white clouds … and think not too much of the alternative, hell … and, of course, we think of angels playing upon their harps in heaven … but not of their counter-parts, the demons or what they might be doing to bring us to the place where they now dwell and shall dwell for all eternity …

But picking the bits you like and leaving out the rest is not how Christianity works. It is very much an all or nothing affair. There is a reason for this. Christ is the Truth; and the Church he founded teaches the truth – the whole truth. A partial truth is not the whole truth; a partial truth is effectively a lie … and lies are the realm of the devil who is the father of lies and they help draw us closer to him.

So whether we like it or not we must face the reality of Satan, hell, and demons. And we need not fear them because, as St John tells us, perfect love drives out all fear … and God is love and he is on our side in this battle. This is why he sent his Son into the world to undo the evil that Satan wrought in the Garden; that is why Christ modelled the ministry of exorcism for us in the Gospels and gave his apostles the power to cast out demons – which is why the Church in her wisdom continues to this day to appoint and train exorcists.

However, since they are rather thin on the ground, we might do well to pray for more. And this is why our Lord, when he taught his disciples to pray, included the verse we translate as 'deliver us from evil.' What we translate as 'evil' is written in Greek as tou pon-er-ou … the Evil One – in other words Satan. Our Father in heaven hears our prayers … and will not be slow to answer this prayer, given to us by our Lord himself, if it is sincerely and reverently made.

And please remember that, even though it may come as a surprise to you, you have all already been exorcised – it is part of the rite of baptism, when Satan's empty promises are rejected, and we turn instead to Christ, and are sealed with the sign of the cross. Remembering those promises, repeating them, and remaining faithful to them will keep you, by God's power, free from Satan's snares.

And finally, as we draw near the season of Lent, the time of prayer and fasting, keep in mind the account in the Gospels of how, after the Transfiguration, the apostles asked our Lord how it was that he was able to cast a demon out of a boy and they were not; and his reply was that some demons could only be driven out by prayer and fasting. These are the very things we are called to do during Lent; and we would be very well advised to engage with them fully … for the spiritual benefits that they bring run deeper than most realise … for they not only strengthen us … but they also protect us.

As I finish, one final thought concerning the movie the Exorcist. The author of the book and screenplay of course intended to entertain. But he was also a devout Catholic who took what he was writing about very seriously … and based what he wrote on actual cases studies of exorcisms which he had researched very carefully indeed. He wrote, I think, as much to educate as to entertain. He wished to warn the world of the dangers that exist – dangers we are warned of also in Scripture - a warning I pray all here will heed: in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

prayer diary Saturday 27 January 2018

He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, ‘Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?’ 
 Mark 4.39,40

We face many dangers and worries in this life. We must not let them overwhelm us. Instead, we must bring them to Christ. If we have faith in him, there is nothing we need fear.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

prayer diary Friday 26 January 2018 (Day of Discipline and Self-denial)

'The kingdom of God, … is like a mustard seed ... the smallest of all the seeds ... yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs.' 
Mark 4. 30-32

Christ knew that the Church he founded would grow from its small beginnings to encompass the whole world. This wondrous growth also takes place in each individual; God will make great the seed of faith in the humble soul that meekly welcomes him in.

prayer diary Thursday 25 January 2018 (The Conversion of St Paul)

Jesus answered: 'Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or rather or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred-fold and will inherit eternal life.' 
Matthew 19. 29

St Paul gave up much to follow the Gospel life; and for all he suffered, he never regretted it. The Christian life does involve sacrifice; but what we are repaid for that sacrifice is beyond price.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

prayer diary Wednesday 24 January 2018

'Others are those sown among the thorns: these are the ones who hear the word, but the cares of the world, and the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things come in and choke the word.' 
Mark 4. 18,19

The things of this world can be temptations that lure us away from salvation. We need many of them (but not all) in order that we may live; but when they become the reason for our life then we run the risk of forfeiting eternal life for the sake of such as does not last.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

prayer diary Tuesday 23 January 2018

Looking at those who sat around him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.’ 
Mark 3.34,35

Christ does not denigrate his mother in any way by these words; for we know from her 'thy will be done,' recorded in Luke, that she is the most obedient of all creatures to God's will. Rather he spoke that we might know the wonders await that those who faithfully follow Him.

Monday, January 22, 2018

prayer diary Monday 22 January 2018

The scribes … said, ‘He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.’And he called them to him ...‘How can Satan cast out Satan?' 
Mark 3.22,23

Jesus' words reminds of the reality of the demonic and his power over that realm. And we are also reminded that there are always among us those who feel threatened or challenged by Christ's Gospel and will attempt to portray it as evil.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

the kingdom of God is near

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

I thank the Monsignor for his kind invitation to address you this evening. The Week of Prayer is an important element in the life of the Church, because it is based directly on a command of our Lord Jesus himself that we all should be one, even as he and the Father were One; and it is a tenet of the Christian faith that Christ founded only One Church, as we remind ourselves each time we pray the Creed and affirm that the Church is One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic.

Sadly, the unity of the Church is a spiritual rather than a material reality. This of course makes working towards ever greater ecumenical relations between the various traditions in the Church of great importance. The importance of working together and drawing ever closer has always been important. But there is an added dimension to this in the modern world because of the many threats faced by religion in this age – threats that face all traditions and expressions of faith; and threats that we can counter much better if we work together.

The Gospel reading we heard just moments ago – the same Gospel that will be read in all the Churches across this land on this Saturday evening and tomorrow on Sunday – suggests, I think, a matter on which we might do well to work together on. In it our Lord tells us that 'the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Repent and believe the good news.' By this he means that heaven, in the person of Jesus, God and man, has come near to us. This ought remind us of several things. The first is that there is both heaven and earth, the material and the immaterial. The second is that there is more than just this life. And the third is that our behaviour in this life has consequences in the next.

We affirm this indirectly every time we pray or involve ourselves in some act of worship: why would we say words such 'our Father who art in heaven' if we did not more than believe but know in the core of our beings that we did indeed have a Father who dwells in heaven; why would we take part in the Mass or other Divine Services if we did know in our inner-most hearts that there was a God who is worthy of our praise and adoration? And we affirm this directly each time we say the Nicene Creed in which we state that we believe in God the Father who created all things, visible and invisible.

The idea that the true reality of existence consists of things seen and unseen would have been an uncontroversial one in most times and places. The vast majority of people in all the cultures of the world from the beginning of time down to the present age have regarded this as the most obvious of truths, something that they know not only by the use of their rational minds but also because it is something that their heart speaks to them. But our age is unusual in that it possesses a small but vocal minority who insist that what is not visible is effectively some kind of mass delusion. We might regard them as the spiritually blind. And of our charity we must pray for them; for God calls us to love all people. But charity does not demand that just because they reject the spiritual realities, their often made demand that all others must lives as if the immaterial does not exist is one we must accede to.

How unreasonable what they ask is may be demonstrated by the following analogy. It is as if a person who was born blind refused to accept the idea that others could see; or, having been born seeing and lost their sight, decided that their memories of being able to see were a dream or mistake and the true reality was the darkness they now inhabited. Those who could see would, naturally, feel sorry for such as these and do all that they could do to help them. But they would regard it as ludicrous if they were to insist that all people should live as if sight were an illusion, never speaking of the things they could see, and wear blindfolds in public, and only remove them occasionally, and then in private and briefly, in order to indulge themselves in their fantasies of sight.

But ludicrous though it is, it is exactly this that the spiritually blind ask us to do when they argue that things unseen should be treated as being unreal when it comes to how we live in this world; that, for example, when it comes to educating our children we should agree to a secular model over a denominational one; or when it comes to matters of public debate, we should leave our faith at the door and discuss things solely in secular terms and particularly that we should vote only as if secular arguments were the only ones with any merits.

But we can not do that. Just as those who can see cannot reasonably be expected to live as if they were blind, neither can those who are aware of the spiritual realities be expected to lives as if they were not.

This is not to try and force religion upon others. It is simply that, just as it would make for a dangerous world indeed if the vast majority who could see tried to live as if they were blind, so too it would make for a dangerous world if those who understand the true reality of things seen and unseen were to allow themselves to be bullied and browbeaten into operating solely on the plain of things that are seen.

Indeed, so much of much of what is wrong with the world today has been caused by our reluctance to stand up for what we know to be true. We meekly yield ground when we are accused of trying to force our beliefs on others; and seem not to notice that in doing so they are demanding that we live our lives according to what they believe instead.

We owe it to God, ourselves, and also to those who do not believe not to allow this. The only sensible way to live in this world is in accordance with what we know reality to be; and not according to how some falsely regard it to be. This is something that Christians can work on together. This is something that Christians must work on together. And it is my prayer, during this week of prayer for Christian unity, that this is something that Christians will work on together, not just this week but always. Amen.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

prayer diary Saturday 20 January 2018

Then he went home; and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. 
Mark 3.19,20

We often think of the sacrifices that Christ made at the end of his life; but how often do we think of those he made during his ministry? He endured much hardship from travelling in all weathers and being away from his home, as well as hunger and thirst. And all for the sake of proclaiming the Gospel. We also must be ready to give of ourselves for the sake of sharing his message.

Friday, January 19, 2018

prayer diary Friday 19 January 2018 (Day of Discipline and Self-denial)

And he appointed twelve, whom he also named apostles, to be with him, and to be sent out to proclaim the message, and to have authority to cast out demons. 
Mark 3. 14

The authority Jesus gave the apostles they passed on to their successors, as we see by the appointment of Matthias to replace Judas in Acts. This is why we can believe, as it says in the Creeds, that the Church is 'Apostolic;' and trust in the truth she proclaims on behalf of the one who established her, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

prayer diary Thursday 18 January 2018

Hearing all that he was doing, they came to him in great numbers from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, beyond the Jordan, and the region around Tyre and Sidon. 
Mark 3.8

During his public ministry people flocked to Jesus. We too must seek him out: through prayer; the reading of Sacred Scripture; in our worship; and in the Sacraments.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

prayer diary Wednesday 17 January 2018

Then he said to them, ‘Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save life or to kill?' 
Mark 3.4

Jesus reminds us that compassion is not suspended on the basis of it being the Lord's day. Such legalisms are not part of Christ's way. But we must remember that doing good is also to be found in keeping the Lord's day holy by worshipping him.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

prayer diary Tuesday 16 January 2018

Then he said to them, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.' 
Mark 2. 27

The Lord's day was given to us as a time to rest and give glory to God. Our basic human needs are not to be neglected on that day; but neither should they be used as an excuse to neglect fulfilling our duties to the one who made us.

Monday, January 15, 2018

prayer diary Monday 15 January 2018

Jesus said: 'The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day.' 
Mark 2.20

This is Jesus' first reference his passion. So close to Christmas, it reminds us of why the Word was made flesh … and that the wood of the Cross is foreshadowed by that of the manger.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Nathanael: one in whom there is no guile

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

Our Gospel reading today introduces us to the character of Nathanael. His name occurs only in the Gospel according to St John, and then only twice; here, and again in the final chapter, so what is there to be said concerning this early disciple of our Lord? Quite a lot as it happens. To begin with, it is a long-standing tradition of the Church that he be identified as someone who is far better known to us in the Gospels – the Apostle St Bartholomew.

Now there are some that consider this mere wishful thinking, a desire to give someone like Nathanael who plays such an important part in the early recognition of our Lord for who he really is a more prominent position in the Gospel narratives. However, there are in fact some good reasons for thinking that the tradition may in fact be correct.

The first is that the lists of the Apostles that we have in Scripture, such as the Gospel according to St Luke, the name Bartholomew is paired with that of Philip. Now it was common in these lists to pair together apostles who were associated with each other in some way – for example the brothers Peter and Andrew, and James and John. We can see from our passage from St John's gospel today that Philip held Nathanael in high regard – so much so that as soon as he suspected he had found the one who might be the promised messiah he went straight-away and found him. There much surely have been some close association between them; making it natural that if Nathanael was indeed to be numbered among the disciples then his name would be joined with that of Philip.

But what of the difficulty of the fact that this would mean that he is called by one name by John and another by the other evangelists? This is not so great a problem as it might appear if we take into account that Bartholomew is what is called a patronymic – a kind of a surname that identifies who one's father is. Bartholomew means 'son of Tolomeus', and it is quite certain he  would have had a proper first name. And it would, of course, have been well known to the evangelist St John as he was one of the Apostles himself. Also, the fact that when he appears in the last chapter of St John with the small group who see our Lord by the Sea of Galilee, all others of those present whose names we are given are apostles, making it likely that Nathanael also is to be considered as being among their number.

So much for who he might have been. But what can we say of his character? Our first thought might be to think that he was a man to come to hasty conclusions, someone who judges a book by its cover. He does, after all, when told where this person who might be the messiah is from, immediately respond by asking 'Can anything good come out of Nazareth?' But there is more to his response than might be gleaned at first reading. Nowhere in Scripture was there any indication that the messiah was to come that place. Indeed, we know ourselves that it was prophesied he would come from Bethlehem. Now we know that in fact that this was the place of our Lord's birth. But Nathanael had no indication of that. So it was not unreasonable that he might be suspicious of the idea of a messiah whose origins were elsewhere.

Indeed, his doubts may be said to do him credit, as they show he knows his scriptures well. And perhaps very well indeed. For we must also consider the implications of where it was that our Lord said that he was before Philip called him – under the fig tree. There is more significance to that location than may be immediately evident; for in rabbinic tradition a fig tree was considered to be a fitting place for a teacher to sit with his students and discuss the scriptures. This makes it likely that Nathanael was himself a rabbi, a man well versed in the scriptures – in other words, a man of great holiness, intelligence, and learning.

We also have a direct indication of what kind of a man he is from the lips of our Lord himself, who says he is 'a true Israelite, in whom is no guile.' High praise indeed; but Nathanael does not seem overly impressed when he first hears it. He naturally wonders what puts this man who has never laid eyes on him in a position to say such deeply penetrating things about his character. But he is very impressed indeed at what our Lord has to say next in answer 'I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.' He knows that this man was not there when his friend came and asked him to come and see the one who might be the messiah; and he understands at once that this knowledge could only be available to him by supernatural means. And he knows immediately the implications of this – that this man must be the Son of God and the King of Israel. In other words, he is indeed the promised Messiah.

This understanding changes his life. He at once becomes a follower of Jesus. And we know that he stays with him through all his ministry; because, as I have already mentioned, he was among those who met with him after his Resurrection on the shores of Galilee. And, presuming that he was indeed one of the Apostles, then he was faithful to the one he knew to be the Son of God unto death, suffering like all of the Apostles, save St John, a martyr's death.

There are implications, of course, for all of us in the life of St Nathanael, just as there are in the lives of all the great saints. But as I finish, let us just consider this. Here we have a man of intelligence and learning and holiness, a man whom Christ himself tells us in whom there is no guile. Such a man will not only not deceive others, he will not deceive himself. Once he knows the truth he will stick to it, whatever the cost, all his days. Such is the man Nathanael was on this earth and continues to be in heaven; and such a person we all must try to be and I pray all here will indeed try to be such as he and at the last join with St Nathanael and angels and saints in heaven. Amen.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

prayer diary Saturday 13 Jan 2018

And as he passed on, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax office, and he said to him, "Follow me." And he rose and followed him. 
 Mark 2. 14

Sometimes even those the world considers the most reprobate need only a kind word to encourage them to repent and rejoice in the good news. Reach out to all you meet; and do not ever consider that anyone is beyond reach of the Gospel, for it is not for us to judge such things.

Friday, January 12, 2018

prayer diary Friday 12 Jan 2018 (Day of Discipline and Self-denial)

'That you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins' – he said to the paralytic-- 'I say to you, rise, take up your mat and go home.' 
Mark 2.10,11

Christ gave priority to the forgiveness of sins over the healing of the body. What priority to you give to seeking that forgiveness in your life?

Thursday, January 11, 2018

prayer diary Thursday 11 Jan 2018

Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, "I will it; be clean." 
Mark 1.41

Christ had pity on the sick. How much more pity had God on the suffering of humanity to send his Son into the world. A great healing indeed, one that leads to salvation, is offered to all who will accept it.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

prayer diary Wednesday 10 Jan 2018

They found him and said to him, "Every one is searching for you." And he said to them, "Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also; for that is why I came out." 
Mark 1. 37,38

Christ came to share the good news with all. Consider his example; and then consider how it is you may follow it and share the gospel with others.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

The mystery of the Magi

Yesterday was the feast of the Epiphany. Most, doubtless, know this is when we celebrate the visit of wise men from the East to the Christ-child bearing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. No Christmas crib would be complete without its representation of these three kings; and every school nativity play includes them, the children wearing tin-foil crowns carrying cardboard treasure-chests bringing smiles to the faces of the proud parents and grandparents.

Concerning the Epiphany, there was a survey done in America recently. It asked people if they thought various incidents in the Gospels were true. One of the questions was about the visit of the Magi. And quite a lot of people thought it never happened.

In a way, I'm not surprised. The idea of three kings from various far away countries making a long, dangerous, and expensive journey following a star as they bumped along on their camels does sound a little implausible. But then again, that's the Christmas card version of the story. The account in the Bible is actually quite different.

All it says is that wise men came from the East. They went to the court of King Herod in Jerusalem and said they had seen in the East the star of the one who had been born king of the Jews and they had come to pay him homage. And as it happens in ancient Israel the word East generally meant a specific place – Arabia. It is a bit like when we in Ireland say we're going to the North. We don't mean North in general; we mean a very specific part of Ireland we refer to as the North.

Now, Arabia is quite close to Israel. And in Arabia at that time was the small kingdom of the Nabateans. Archaeology shows that they had a class of wise men who were interested in stargazing. And, as it happens, King Herod was the son of a Nabatean princess and had spent a lot of time in the court of that kingdom. And Arabia, we should note was famous for its goldmines and the production of aromatic spices such as frankincense and myrrh – exactly the gifts the magi brought for the Christ-child.

Looked at this way the visit of the Magi is one of a kind of diplomatic visit between two nearby kingdoms – a very natural occurrence. There is much more I could say about why there is good reason to believe the visit of the Magi really happened, but space does not permit. If you'd like to learn more, there's an excellent recent book on the subject called 'Mystery of the Magi: The Quest to Identify the Three Wise Men' by Dwight Longenecker.

But, of course, arguing about whether it is true can obscure the reason why we celebrate the Epiphany. And this is that it tells us that the Christ-child came into the world for all people everywhere. And that is a wondrous truth which is truly cause for celebration.