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.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

prayer diary Saturday 5 May 2018

‘If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you.' 
John 15. 18

Faithfulness to Christ may bring you the mockery or hatred of others. It may even bring you death. What does that matter as long as you are faithful to Christ?

Friday, May 4, 2018

prayer diary Friday 4 May 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

The faithfulness unto death of Christian martyrs have brought many to faith. Just as Christ laid down his life for us that we might have eternal life, so we must be ready to follow the example of our Lord and die for the sake of eternal life for others.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

prayer diary Thursday 3 May 2018

'If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.' 
John 15.10

To abide in God's love means living as Christ did, a life of love and obedience to the Father. Nothing we do can cause God not to love us; but we can, by our actions, reject him, and thereby reject the eternal life he offers to all who love him.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

prayer diary Wednesday 2 May 2018

'Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.' 
John 15.6

To reject Christ is to reject all he offers. Do not be seduced by the false promises of the world; cling instead to Christ, the one who has the words of eternal life.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

prayer diary Tuesday 1 May 2018 (St Philip & St James, Apostles)

Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.' 
John 14.6

Christ is the gateway to salvation. And it is a gate that none may pass through who are willfully disobedient of his commands and remain unrepentant of how they have offended against God's law.