Sunday, September 30, 2018

trusting that God has a plan for each and every one of us.

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

Our Old Testament reading from the book Esther is a good example of what it means to be responsible for the safety and well-being of others, even if doing so involves great personal risk. It is perhaps necessary for me to give a short summary of the story as, sadly, I fear there may be some here for whom the story is not entirely familiar.

It is a story of courage, and daring, and intrigue; of great risks taken and evil plots overthrown; a tale where the stakes could not be higher – the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. It is set at a time when many of the children of Israel as a result of war no longer live within the boundaries of the Promised Land. They are dispersed among the lands of those who conquered them, first the Babylonians, and then the Medes and Persians who conquered the conquerors. And just as Daniel became a person of importance at the court of King Nebuchadnezzar, so also does the Jew Mordecai become someone who is valued by the king of his time, Ahasuerus; in this case Mordecai uncovered a plot to assassinate the king and so Ahasuerus owes him his life.

The person who is second only to the king in all the empire is Haman, a man full of pride and ambition. He hates Mordecai, because he, alone of all men, will not bow before him. He does not care that this is not intended as a slight towards his honour and dignity and that the reason that Mordecai will not bow is that he is a faithful Jew and will not treat any man as if he were a God. But with a sinful pride that mirrors that of Satan himself, Haman can not bear that even a single man does not treat him as he thinks he deserves.

So, driven by his irrational hatred, he determines to destroy not only Mordecai, but all the Jews dwelling within the borders of the empire. He proceeds with cunning; Mordecai has saved the king's life after all. So Haman goes to the king and deceives him; he tells him that there is a people dwelling within the empire who are dangerous to its safety and security, a people who will not obey its laws. He does not, of course, tell the king that they are the people of Mordecai, the man who had saved his life. He asks for permission to root out and destroy this threat to the peace and stability of the empire; and the king, trusting the man who is second only to him, gives him the authority to proceed as he sees fit.

So a decree goes out, in the name of the king, that on a certain day all the Jews are to be killed – man, woman, and child. Mordecai learns of the plan and determines to do what he can to save his people. There is one slim hope for survival; his niece Esther. For unbeknownst to Haman, or anyone else, she is the queen. And this was a more slender hope than one might think. Firstly because a decree of the king was irrevocable, even by himself; and secondly for anyone to appear before the king unless summoned the penalty was death, even for the queen, unless he chose to forgive the transgression. And it was more likely than not that he would not do so – for this king was a temperamental sort of fellow, and, although no Henry the Eighth, had a record of getting rid of queens who breached royal protocol.

Esther is terrified. But her uncle reminds her of the faithfulness of God – if she does not act, then he will surely find some other way to save his people, and then her failure to act in order to save her own life will surely come back to haunt her; and in any case what if it was by Divine Providence that she is now queen, placed in this role by God so that the Jewish people may be saved?

So despite her fears, Esther decides to risk death to save her people. She prepares herself by three days of prayer and fasting, and asks that her people do the same; and then she puts on her royal robes and, uninvited, enters the presence of the king. It is a tense moment – will she be struck down by a furious king? Or will he smile upon her and invite her in? But her gamble pays off; the king spares her life.

But that, of course, is only the beginning. She must now persuade the king to find a way to do the seemingly impossible – save a people who have been condemned by royal decree in an empire where even the king himself may not revoke his command once given. Does she succeed? Well, you will know from the short fragment we heard read earlier that she does. We do not have time this morning to go into the details – I must ask you to open your Bibles when you return home and read the full story for yourself later!

But her success proves true the prophetic words spoken by Mordecai, that it was Divine Providence that Esther was queen at this time of danger, God putting her in this position so that through her he might save her people. The Fathers point to many important lessons to be learned from the book of Esther; but today I wonder does it not speak to us of trusting in God, trusting that he has a plan for each and every one of us. What is his plan for you? To save countless thousands of lives? Perhaps not; but perhaps it is a task even greater – to save some few souls from spiritual death. We see from today's Epistle our duty to bring back those who wander from the faith – are there those in your life whom you can help in such a way? But remember first that you must begin with yourself – the blind cannot lead the blind. In fact, if you are not living the faith yourself you are more likely to cause others to stumble, as you lead others astray by the poor example of un-Christian living; and what does our Lord say in our Gospel today about those who cause others to stumble? That it were better that a millstone be tied about their necks and they be cast into the depths of the sea.

So, as I finish this morning, I conclude with a prayer: I pray that you will open your hearts to be faithful to Christ and all his teachings; that in that faithfulness you will strive daily to help others to be faithful also; so that in that fidelity you will learn what it is that God wills for your life; and in so doing, attain at last unto eternal life in heaven. Amen.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

prayer diary Saturday 29 September 2018 (St Michael and all Angels)

War broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon. The dragon and his angels fought back, but they were defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. 
Revelation 12. 7,8

We may well give thanks to St Michael and all the angels this day for the witness of their fidelity to God. We should also tremble at that fate of all who will not do God's will.

Friday, September 28, 2018

prayer diary Friday 28 September 2018 (day of discipline and self-denial)

‘Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.’ 
Luke 10. 16

The cry of the modern world is 'you have your truth and I have mine.' But that is not what Jesus taught. There is only one truth - his truth. And to reject it is to reject God himself.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

prayer diary Thursday 27 September 2018

Jesus said 'See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.' 
Luke 10. 3

The hostility to the Gospel truth has always been immense. But we need not fear; though in fidelity to God we may seem as lambs to the slaughter in the eyes of the world, we know that it was the Lamb of God who conquered the world.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

The Next President

An election for the presidency, the highest office in the land, is in the offing. And there has been a certain amount of media hoopla concerning it in the lead up to that event. There also has been many jokes made about the fact the several of the candidates were what are called 'dragons' on a TV show titled 'The Dragons' Den'. Well, I suppose there would be. One good one, what with the incumbent being called Michael, involved one about St Michael having to slay the dragons. Although no doubt Michael D. might consider it wrong for anyone to refer to him as a saint … not because he doesn't consider himself good, but rather because I'm not at all sure he believes in such things as saints ...

But, of course, the reason we have all these candidates from outside of the political spectrum is really down to Dana. She was the first person to go down the route of looking for nominations from county councils. Prior to that who might run was essentially in the hands of those sitting in Leinster House (although, of course, the President could always decide to run again if he or she chose to). Dana's bold move opened up the possibility of a much wider field of candidates running for the Áras … and certainly in the run-up to this election variety certainly seems to define those who would be president. All kinds of everything is Dana's legacy in more ways than one!

All the same, I think it is a good thing. The office was in danger of being viewed as a place where senior politicians go to retire (which, based on the exemplary record of those who held office prior to her intervention, it most certainly was not). And that those sitting in the Dáil and Seanad could effectively decide there would be no election if they didn't feel like one was good neither for the democratic process or the legitimacy of the office. And so I think it must be said that we owe Dana quite a debt of gratitude.

Every silver lining has its cloud, however; and this alternate method of securing nominations has brought with it a slew of presidential hopefuls whose grasp of the very few powers the president has under the Constitution seems rather limited. Thankfully, our local representatives have proved very adept indeed at weeding out the wheat from the chaff in this regard. After all their hard work of nominating candidates, we'll have no one to blame but ourselves if we end up electing someone we later consider to be unworthy of that office.

So the upcoming race should prove to be an interesting one; perhaps even an exciting one. However, I do hope we are done with all these dragon jokes. There's only so many times you can laugh at what's essentially the same joke. And if a line isn't drawn under this and one of them gets in I suppose the jokes will 'drag on' for years!

this article appears in today's issue of the Kilkenny Reporter

prayer diary Wednesday 26 September 2018

Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’ 
Luke 9. 62

Many say to God 'I will serve you' and then allow the cares of this life to distract them; soon their life is no different to what it was before. Always remember that you were created for and called to God's kingdom. Let nothing prevent you from getting there.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

prayer diary Tuesday 24 September 2018

Jesus said 'Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.’ 
Luke 10. 20

Great was the power Christ granted his Apostles. And yet he told them not to rejoice in the miracles they wrought thereby; for they were as nothing compared to the greatness that comes from faithfully walking the path that leads a soul to heaven.

Monday, September 24, 2018

prayer diary Monday 24 September 2018

An argument arose among them as to which one of them was the greatest. But Jesus, aware of their inner thoughts, took a little child and put it by his side. 
Luke 9.46, 47

God sees our secret thoughts and knows how we sin in our hearts. Heed the Gospel message and ask for the grace to be pure in thought, as well as in word and deed.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

the great reward of true humility

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

Our Epistle and Gospel today both speak of the importance of humility. Our Lord takes his disciples to task for arguing among themselves which of them was greatest; and St James rebukes those he writes to for their selfish ambition. But such pride is not the Christian way; ours is to be a life of humble service. This is exemplified in the life of Christ – God became man, the son of poor parents, lived the life of an itinerant preacher, and then, in obedience to the father, endured a humiliating death. And if a life of humility is preferred by God the Son over that of worldly glory, then so it must be for us.

But how to achieve such humility? It is not easy in a world that tells us endlessly how fabulous we are, and deserving of only the best that money can buy. And knowing that we are told this not because the ad-men believe it to be true but because they wish to manipulate us and persuade us to spend our hard-earned money on products that are often shoddy and seldom needed does not make it any easier to resist their flattering words.

This, in fact, is not a problem of the modern age. From the beginning of the Church Christians sought ways to resist the temptations of the world, temptations that made it difficult to lead a Christ-like life. The Desert Fathers, in fact, went to great lengths to cultivate the humility Christ had called them to – humility that they hoped would not only help them save their souls, but aid them in saving the souls of others also who would learn from their hard-won experience.

It may help you a little to hear the story of one such Desert Father. St John Kolobos was born around the year of our Lord 339 and was by all accounts a cranky and quarrelsome youth. This may have been due to the fact that he was very small in stature and people can often be cruel to those who are a little different – and he was so small that he is also known as John the Short or even John the Dwarf. At any rate he seems to have realised that being ill-tempered in his dealings with others was not a help to his spiritual development – you will recall, no doubt, our Lord's teaching that to be angry with your brother was a breach of the commandment 'thou shalt not kill' and a sin you would be held accountable for on the day of judgement … and the words of St James that to have a foul tongue was a wicked thing indeed – and he took himself off into the desert region of Scetes in Eygpt and placed himself under the spiritual authority of St Pambo, another of the Desert Fathers.

St Pambo must have been a man of remarkable discernment. He knew that one of the best ways to develop humility in a person whose soul was in his care was to teach them unquestioning obedience. And so he set St John what will to most of you at first hearing I am sure seem a very peculiar task. He set a dry rod in the ground – a stick, a piece of wood really – and gave his pupil the task of watering it twice daily. Pointless, but not very arduous you may imagine … until you recall they were in the desert. In fact the nearest water was 12 miles away. And so St John had to travel to the well twice a day and back – around 48 miles in total – to water this dry stick. A great deal of walking, you will agree, for someone whose legs were not long to begin with; almost two full marathons each day in the dry and dusty desert.

How long would you remain obedient to such a seemingly unreasonable instruction? A week? A couple of days? Would you refuse to do it even once? St John endured for many days, for many weeks, for many months – in fact he was obedient to his master's command for three long years, each day making that double journey there and back to the well to fetch water to pour into the ground beneath a dry and dead old stick. But at the end of those three years something strange and wonderful occurred. The dead stick began to develop green shoots and in time it grew into a tree which bore fruit. And St Pambo picked some of this fruit and offered it to the some of the other monks of his community saying 'take, eat of the fruit of obedience.'

Now perhaps there are not many here who would think St John Kolobos' obedience a good thing, even if at the end it was rewarded with a near miraculous event – an event, may I point out, that should echo in our minds as a mirror image of the disobedience of our first parents in the garden. But the point is not that the tree blossomed, or that it bore fruit. The point of the story is the persistent obedience of St John.

Does three years of obedience in carrying out a hard task seem a very long time? If it does, consider your life – it has already been much longer than three years for most here; and most, I suspect, hope to be spared for at least three more – most for much more – and for many that is quite a reasonable expectation. But however long each of us has left, at the end of that time there waits something even more miraculous than a dry branch restored to life – there is eternal life in heaven.

The humility to be obedient – to those in spiritual authority over us, trusting that they have been called by God to this task, and most particularly obedient to God himself when he speaks to us by in Sacred Scripture, through Holy Tradition, and the Church his Son our Saviour established – such obedience is necessary for our salvation. I pray that all here will not only seek that humility, but learn to live it out in obedience; and not as some chore, grudgingly done, but joyfully, knowing that it is part of the way that God helps his children find their way to him in heaven. In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit; Amen.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

prayer diary Saturday 22 September 2018

Jesus said: 'Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into human hands.’ 
Luke 9.44

How often did Christ before his passion forewarn his disciples what he would endure in obedience to the will of the Father. So also we should learn to deny ourselves the empty pleasures of the world for the sake of the greater prize that awaits all those who are obedient to God's will.

Friday, September 21, 2018

prayer diary Friday 21 September 2018 ( St Matthew, day of discipline and self-denial)

As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he got up and followed him. 
Matthew 9.9

Christ calls us all no matter how deep in sin we are, for all are sinners and all have fallen short. But by answering that call we may become what we were created to be, saints in heaven.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

prayer diary Thursday 20 September 2018

‘John I beheaded; but who is this about whom I hear such things?’ 
Luke 9. 9

Herod murdered John for speaking out against his transgressions of the moral law. The law did not change as a result of the king's evil actions. Such wicked deeds bring the perpetrator only self-condemnation - even as they bring the glorious crown of martyrdom to the one who has been faithful unto death.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Bleak fifty-six

I had a birthday last week. Fifty-six. Not a huge age by any means, but one that has always filled with a peculiar sense of foreboding.

Let me explain. That is the precise age my father was when I graduated from UCC at the end of 1983. I have a photograph taken that day. My mother and father are in it with me. They both look so proud and happy. Well, why wouldn't they? A university degree is a big deal; and frankly it was a much bigger deal thirty-five years ago than it is today.

My father looks well and strong in the picture. You'd never think he was a man in the final days of his working life. But he was. My dad worked in the Ford's plant on the Marina in Cork. A few weeks after the photo was taken, in January of 1984, it was announced without warning that it was to close. Eight-hundred men lost their jobs when it shut; eight-hundred families lost their wage packets. Times were tough in Ireland at that time and a lot of men never worked again. My dad was one of them. Jobs were scarce and with so many to chose from, employers preferred to opt for younger men.

My parents were luckier than most. Ford's gave their people good redundancy packages. They had no mortgage and their children were reared. My mother was a nurse and, although she hadn't worked since her children were small, she had kept up her qualifications and was able to get night work here and there. They had more than enough money to live on and to spare.

But there's more to life than having enough cash to pay the bills. My dad had left school at fourteen and worked every day of his life for forty-two years. And then one morning – nothing. No reason to get out of bed. The four walls to look at all day, trying to figure out a way to fill the hours until it was time for bed. And there's only so many times you can cut the grass, put up new shelves, and paint the ceilings. Pretty soon you realise you are just engaged in a more useful version of twiddling your thumbs.

Did it break my father's heart? No – he was stronger than that. But he would have rathered to be working, doing something useful and not make-work tasks he invented for himself to fill the hours.

Of course, having finally reached fifty-six myself, I suppose it is important to note an important difference between my father's situation and my own. He worked for a business; and all businesses ultimately fail. I on the other hand work, so to speak, for the Church … something that has been in existence for nearly two thousand years. And the usual thinking is that the Church will last until the end of times. And when that day comes we'll all have more to worry about, I think, then our jobs … whatever age we happen to be!

this article appears in today's issue of the Kilkenny Reporter

prayer diary Wednesday 19 September 2018

Jesus called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God. 
Luke 9. 1,2

Christ gave great authority to his apostles. This authority continues in the Church he established. This is why we proclaim in the Creed that his Church is 'One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic.'

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

prayer diary Tuesday 18 September 2018

But he said to them, ‘My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.’ 
Luke 8. 21

Jesus does not denigrate his mother with those words; rather he elevates us. He tells that by obedience we may achieve holiness, and being holy be found worthy to be numbered among the saints.

Monday, September 17, 2018

prayer diary Monday 17 September 2018

'The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.’ 
Luke 9.22

Do not scorn suffering. Did not Christ suffer? Did not many great saints find the way to faith and holiness of life by painful paths? And did not Lord our say that those would follow him must, like him, take up their cross?

Saturday, September 15, 2018

prayer diary Saturday 15 September 2018

As he said this, Jesus called out, ‘Let anyone with ears to hear listen!’ 
Luke 8.8

Jesus' words are for all and God has made us all with the ability to hear what he says. But some will not, for there are none so deaf as those who will not hear. Pray for them that they will listen while they still have time.

Friday, September 14, 2018

prayer diary Friday 14 September 2018 (day of discipline and self-denial)

The twelve were with him, as well as some women … and many others, who provided for them out of their resources. 
Luke 8. 1-3

It was a joy and a privilege for these disciples to support Christ and his apostles. Be ye joyful also in what you give to Christ's Church, for the Lord loves a cheerful giver.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

prayer diary Thursday 13 September 2018

Those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, ‘Who is this who even forgives sins?’ 
 Luke 7.49

God alone can forgive sins; therefore a claim to forgive sins is a claim to be God. Remember that when you hear people try to say Jesus was a great teacher who never said he was God.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Ireland of the welcomes?

So – Donald Trump is coming to Ireland. And from the furore in some circles you'd think he wasn't visiting but invading.

Now, I get it that Trump is not the most well-liked US president in living memory. Some of this, arguably, is down to the fact that the mainstream media hates him with a passion. That's understandable. He did, after all, bring their dreams crashing down, not to mention providing a rude wake-up call to the fact that they are not the ones actually ruling the world, by defeating 'their' candidate.

That said, he would try the patience of a saint. Even leaving individual policy decisions aside, the man can be extremely irritating. For my own part, for example, I hate his way of conducting diplomacy via Twitter. If nothing else, his propensity for hitting buttons, apparently without thinking things through in advance, is deeply troubling. It especially does not bode well if we were ever on the threshold of a nuclear war. And his denigration of John McCain's war record during his election campaign (may he rest in peace), a man who suffered greatly for his country did not sit well with me. I am an old soldier myself and it makes my blood boil when someone who not only never wore the uniform but was probably at his tailors when he should have been at boot camp takes petty pot-shots at a true hero.

So I'd be just as happy if he never came. But he is coming. Because he was invited. We invited him – not just once, but twice. Enda Kenny invited him; and then Leo Varadkar went and did it again. They did so on our behalf. And invited guests must be treated with courtesy. But listening to some on radio and television – a few of them government ministers, no less – it sounds like they are hoping to bring out the same kinds of crowds who went to see the pope for the sake of roaring abuse at the man.

No doubt those trying to get a mob going are thinking what does it matter? It's only Trump – sure all the world hates him. But here's the problem. It's one thing if someone barges into your house uninvited and you are rude to him. It's another thing entirely if you ask him round and then start giving him a rash of abuse. And that's what is shaping up to be the case with the Trump visit.

And really it doesn't matter if you think he deserves it. Trump already knows what those who don't like him think. Nothing new will be said by hoards of protesters. But it will be said in a new context – the context of an invited guest being roundly abused by his hosts. Context says a lot. And that particular context, while it says nothing at all about Trump, will say a lot about the people of Ireland. Things about us that I would think are best left unsaid. 

this article appears in today's issue of the Kilkenny Reporter

prayer diary Wednesday 12 September 2018

'For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, “He has a demon”; the Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners!” 
Luke 7. 33,34

They condemned Christ and they condemned John, for there are always those who will seek to justify their own evil by reviling virtue. Be joyful then if they also hate you.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

prayer diary Tuesday 11 September 2018

When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’ 
Luke 7. 13

The compassion Christ for the widow of Nain is the compassion he has for us all. He suffered and died for us so that we may have hope of eternal life.

Monday, September 10, 2018

prayer diary Monday 10 September 2018

'For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.' 
John 3.16

What love God has for us, that he would become man and die on the Cross of us. Yet it was by that death that we are saved; that is the triumph of the Cross

Saturday, September 8, 2018

prayer diary Saturday 8 September 2018 (The birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary)

'For the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.' 
Luke 1. 49, 50

Even as she carried the Christ-child within her, our Lady spoke of the need to be 'God-fearing'; that we must be in awe at the holiness of God and obey his laws. For we cannot claim to have faith if we will not live as if we were faithful

Friday, September 7, 2018

prayer diary Friday 7 September 2018 (day of discipline and self-denial)

Jesus also told them a parable: ‘Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit?' 
Luke 6. 39

Our mission in life is to become a saint. This is no easy task. That is why God helps us with his Grace and established his Church to assist us. He also sends those who will teach us the faith; therefore, take care that those you choose as teachers are not blind guides who can not help you on your journey to heaven.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

prayer diary Thursday 6 September 2018

But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.' 
Luke 6.27

Christ commands that we must love those who do not love us. Love then is not some emotion which we cannot help. It is an act of will. We decide who it is we love.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

This is Ireland, after all!

The truth of the phrase 'it's a small world' has been brought home to me with particular force a few times over the years. There was, for example, the time I was in a swimming pool in Illinois and got chatting to a man … and it turned out his brother had married a Cork-woman! We ended up having a long conversation about his favourite pub when he went over to visit, the Briar Rose on the Douglas Road, not too far from my parents' house. Or the time I was living on a tiny island in the Atlantic, one of the Azores, a place with not a huge population … but one of the other inhabitants was a young man from Kerry whose home-town was only a few miles from Newmarket in North Cork, where my parents were from and I had lived for a while as a child.

But if the world is small, then Ireland is even smaller. I am really starting to think that it doesn't matter where you go in this country – you are sure to bump into someone that you know. A few incidents this summer made that very clear to me.

The first was on Lough Derg in Donegal. A pretty remote place, all will agree. And yet who did I run into on my three days there? Only Fr Tom Lalor who used to be the parish priest over in Old Leighlin, just on the edge of my own parish.
'I'm amazed to see you here,' he said. Not as surprised as I am to see you, I thought but didn't say.

Not long after, I was 'doing' Croagh Patrick with one of my sons. We had just struggled to the top and were feeling mighty proud of ourselves when a young man came up to us and said 'well done' … and then reminded me that we had met before, at a talk I had given to a small group he belonged to in Dublin. And, indeed, I remembered that he and I had had a good long chat over the coffee after the talk.

The icing on the cake of all this was Mount Leinster a few days ago. My youngest son had done a 'bucket list' before the holidays of the things he'd like to do over the summer. The last remaining item was climb a mountain. So off we went on a quiet Monday afternoon. So quiet we saw less than a dozen others our whole time there. Half-way up, we met a man coming down. As we drew near, he gave me a big smile.
'Good afternoon, Patrick,' he called out. 'Fancy meeting you here! There's a grand view from the top today.' It was a priest I know based in Carlow town, enjoying some fresh air on his day off.

So, small world … and even smaller country. Something to keep in mind, I suppose, if you're ever tempted to get up some 'nonsense' while away from home!

this article appears in today's issue of the Kilkenny Reporter

prayer diary Wednesday 5 September 2018

‘Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man.' 
Luke 6. 22

Christ promises you will be blessed for what you suffer in his name. Why then do you fear to risk suffering for the faith?

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

prayer diary Tuesday 4 September 2018

'No good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; for each tree is known by its own fruit.' 
Luke 6.43, 44

Consider how many there are today who claim that what the Church teaches is evil. They say it so loudly and so often sometimes even the faithful may begin to wonder. At such times think of what Jesus said: if the tree is good, so then must its fruit be. The Church, founded by Christ, must be good; and so, therefore, what she teaches must also be good.

Monday, September 3, 2018

prayer diary Monday 3 September 2018

The scribes and the Pharisees watched him … so that they might find an accusation against him. Even though he knew what they were thinking, he said to the man who had the withered hand, ‘Come and stand here.’ 
Luke 6.7,8

There have always been those lying in wait so that they might condemn the virtuous words and deeds of others. Christ by his example teaches us that we must not let such people stand between us and doing God's will.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

being clean - inside and out

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

I always think today's Gospel reading, where Jesus does not seem too fussed about washing one's hands, must bring a smile to the face of children. I know that as a father, when we sit down to a meal as a family, I am constantly having to remind my boys about the need to wash their hands before eating. Perhaps girls are different. And I imagine children gleefully telling their parents that they were paying attention that morning when the Gospel was read and that Jesus didn't think hand hygiene was all that important – in fact, he seems to frown on it – so that it is OK for them to tuck into their Sunday lunch with their own little paws as dirty as they like – it is the Christian thing to do!

Alas, for these mucky children – Jesus is not talking about hygiene here at all. In fact the knowledge that cleanliness and good-health are connected is quite a modern thing. As late as the mid-19th century, for example, doctors were quite happy to go from patient to patient without cleaning their hands in between, causing quite a number of deaths as a result, because at that time nobody knew about bacteria. Of course once they knew hygiene in hospitals became quite rigorous; and today even as a visitor you are expected to disinfect your hands before entering one.

No, the washing that is being talked about in our Gospel is ritual washing – notice that the Scribes and Pharisees do not accuse the disciples of eating with dirty hands but with defiled hands; that is hands that are ritually unclean or impure. It would have involved pouring water over one's hands and then rubbing them together – no soap involved and certainly no disinfectant or anti-bacterial liquids like we have today. It was a religious custom of the day designed to try and bring a religious significance to the meal and had nothing at all to do with hygiene.

Jesus responds to their complaints by repeating the words of the prophet Isaiah 'This people honours me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.' What our Lord is talking about is what is the point of following all the customs and rituals and seeming to be 'pure' on the outside when inside your heart is far from pure. To continue with the theme of hygiene: you could well imagine a doctor telling you that there is little point in engaging in a huge amount of personal hygiene – showering carefully, brushing and flossing your teeth after every meal, and thoroughly washing your hands before eating – if everything you put into your mouth is total rubbish – loads of sugary and deep-fat fried food, free from all taint of fruit and vegetables or anything healthy. A diet like that would do you more damage than the occasional set of dirty fingers; you might be clean on the inside, but inside you'd be full of all the rubbish that the fast-food industry can provide and the damage that it does.

And it is like that with religion too. There's not much point in following all the outside trappings of religion – in Jesus' day all the different kinds of ritual washings we read about in the Gospel; in our own time it might be going to Church every Sunday and Holy-day, fasting during Lent, saying our prayers morning and evening, and reading the Bible regularly – if our hearts are full of vile and sinful thoughts. Because the sins we commit begin first in our thoughts – before we steal, we think about wanting the object we steal; before we commit an act of violence, we are first angry with the other person in our hearts; before we say horrible things about another person, whether they are true or not, we think about saying them first; and anything else wrong that we do, we first imagine doing them. And even if after we have thought about these things in our hearts we do not later do them, that does not mean we have not done wrong. For Jesus teaches us elsewhere that it is as wrong to have such sinful thoughts in our hearts as it is to carry them out.

So what Jesus is teaching us here is that his followers are to have absolute purity of heart. Now that is not to say that we are therefore to neglect the practise of our religious duties; that would be like your doctor telling you that you didn't need to wash yourself or brush your teeth as long as you ate healthy food. No, the obligation to practise our faith remains the same. But with purity of heart, that practise becomes different. Will not the heart that no longer seethes with evil thoughts and desires partake more worthily and joyfully in the Body and Blood of of our Blessed Saviour in the Holy Eucharist? Will it not give more fervent and sincere worship to the God who created and sustains us? Will it not be more eager to pray and more alert and focussed as it does so, freed from the distractions and temptations of unholy thoughts? And will it not be filled with desire to hear and read his Holy Word as revealed to us in Sacred Scriptures, more open to the promptings of his Holy Spirit, more aware of how it shows his great love for us, and the purpose for which we were created, to be be with God in heaven for all eternity?

So, I am sorry to disappoint any of our young people here today who thought our Gospel today might serve as an excuse when they appear at the dinner table with hands looking like they had spent an hour pulling up turnips followed by another mucking out cow stalls followed by a third taking apart the engine of a tractor. But I hope they have learned something far more important – the Christian needs to be clean, in the sense of being pure, on the inside as well as the outside. And it something that I pray that everyone else here today has learned as well. Amen.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

prayer diary Saturday 1 September 2018

Then he said to them, ‘The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.’ 
Luke 6.5

Who is Lord of the Sabbath but God himself? This then is a divine claim. And just as in this matter, so is all his teaching underpinned by his divine authority.