Friday, October 31, 2014

prayer diary Friday 31 October 2014 (day of discipline and self-denial)

When Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely … and Jesus asked the lawyers and Pharisees, ‘Is it lawful to cure people on the sabbath, or not?’ But they were silent. 
Luke 14. 1-4

Reflection Blinded by their opposition to Christ, his enemies disregarded even basic mercy for their fellow man. We must never become fanatics like them, attacking everything because it comes from a person we mistrust; for even an enemy may speak the truth.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

prayer diary Thursday 30 October 2014

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, … how often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 
Luke 13. 34

Reflection
Our Lord shows tenderness and love even toward his enemies, and longs for their salvation. Will he not then give great help to those who love him, even if they sometimes stumble and fall?

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

prayer diary Wednesday 29 October 2014

Someone asked him, ‘Lord, will only a few be saved?’ He said to them, ‘Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able.' 
Luke 13. 23,24

Reflection
Our Lord's words suggest there is nothing easy or automatic about salvation. The Christian life must therefore be one of constant struggle toward that goal, always ready to ask God's forgiveness and begin again when in our weakness we fall.

Monday, October 27, 2014

prayer diary Tuesday 28 October 2014 (St Mark & St Jude)

If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world—therefore the world hates you. 
John 15.19

Reflection
St Mark and St Jude proclaimed Christ's message to the world, facing many difficulties and dangers to do so. But they rejoiced to do so, for it is better to love Christ than be loved by the world. 

prayer diary Monday 27 October 2014

But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, ‘There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.’ 
 Luke 13.14

Reflection
The leader of the synagogue, in his zeal for the sabbath, forgot the duties of love and mercy, and our Lord rightly chastises him. However, what would our Lord say to the carelessness with which his day is treated in our time by many?

Sunday, October 26, 2014

love God, love neighbour

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

There is a sinister undertone to our Gospel reading today that would be quite easy to miss. You might ask yourself how can a reading about Jesus answering a question as to what is the greatest commandment be in anyway sinister? The clue comes in the motivation the lawyer had for asking the question.
St Matthew records that he did so in order to test Jesus. The Greek word here carries with it the conotation of 'tempting' - in fact quite often in the King James' Version and other older translations it is translated as tempt. And in the context of the much wider block of Scripture to which our passage today belongs, we can see why it would be described as an effort to tempt our Lord.
Because in that larger series of passages the Pharisees, Saducees, teachers of the law, Herodians, and others have been looking for an opportunity to trip Jesus up, to catch him out in some way. They are hoping that they will trap him in his words in some way - with a desired result that at the very least they will discredit him in front of the crowd and thereby damage or even destroy his ability to teach; and at best, for them, get him to say something that will enable them to bring him up on charges of some sort, either civil or religious, allowing them to imprison him, or even have him executed.
So what trap might they be trying to set with such a seemingly innoncent question? Well St John Chrysostom believes they were hoping he would say something in response that would allow them to charge him with blasphemy. He has been referring to himself as the Son of Man; others refer to him as Son of David, the Messiah, even Lord. He has said he can forgive sins, something they know only God can do. When he taught he spoke with authority, unlike others - they would say 'thus says the Lord;' but Jesus said 'But I say unto you' before giving some new teaching or new interpreation of an old.
All of this was very close to openly claiming divinity. And it seems likely that they were hoping that he would say something here that was so open, so clearly identifing himself with the God he also called his Father, that would be instantly able to arrest him.
They were, of course, disapointed. Jesus saw through and defeated this trap as he had done so many others. But there is, for me, a certain irony in the situation also. He gives them a profound summary of the law - love God, and love your neighbour; and we know from elsewhere in the Gospels that by neighbour is meant all people, whether you like them or not, whether they are your closest friend or your most hated enemy. Love God; love your neighbour. And the one who stands before them is the one who is both God and neighbour.
They, as the teachers and guardians of the law, are the very ones who should have been the first to recognise him as divine. But they do not, largely because it does not suit their earthly agenda to do so. There are none so blind as those who will not see.
But even if they can not bring themselves to acknowlege him as either God incarnate, or at the very least as one sent by God, his Messiah or a prophet, the one thing they should not be able to deny is that he is a man, a fellow human being, in other words their neighbour. They stand there before him, agreeing with his summary of the law, accepting their duty to love their neighbour as themselves, even as they plot evil against the one who presents them with that teaching. Love God, love neighbour he says to the ones who at that moment do neither, who at that moment plot the destruction and death of the Man who is God.

Yet from their sinister intentions, from what they intend for evil, comes good: our Lord's summary of the law, a summary we have from his own lips, given to us with his own authority. Love God, love our neighbour. And this is not the fluffy, sound-bite theology that people sometimes try to make it to be, of the sort when people say 'all that Jesus really said is that we should love each other.' Our Lord said a great deal more than that; if he had not, then the New Testament would be a very much thinner. 
But his summary does say that all his teaching is underpinned by love, that all of his teaching as it relates to the duties we owe to God should be underpinned by love of him; and all of his teaching as it relates to what we owe to our brothers and sisters should also be underpinned by love – a love that seeks that receive justice and mercy in this life, and that are equipped to enter into eternal life in the next. A love that hopes others will see the way that Christ's teaching is made explicit in our lives and hopes they will be lead to also live by that teaching. A love that makes us willing to look at our own lives in the light of that teaching and ask ourselves: am I showing love for both God and neighbour in how I live my life? This is a question that I pray that all here will ask themselves honestly, every day; and not only ask for his mercy and forgiveness when we fail, but pray for his grace and strength to do better the next day. Amen

Examin Sunday 25 October 2014

keep the prospect of death always before you

'A person who lives as if he were to die every day – given that our life is uncertain by definition – will not sin, for good fear extinguishes most of the disorder of our appetites; whereas he who thinks he has a long life ahead of him will easily let himself be dominated by pleasures.'

St Athanasius, Adversas Antigonum

Saturday, October 25, 2014

prayer diary Saturday 25 October 2014

'Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.’ 
Luke 13. 4,5

Reflection
The judgement for sin comes not in this life, but the next. But unless we repent, that judgement will surely come.

Friday, October 24, 2014

haiku: October walk

October walk
  ~beechnut burrs
      crackle underfoot

prayer diary Friday 24 October 2014 (day of discipline and self-denial)

'You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?' 
Luke 12. 56

Reflection
Christ condemned those of his day who though wise enough to know what weather was in store, yet refused to recognise the truth of who he was. How will he judge those of us who call him 'Lord, Lord,' yet place our own will above his?

Thursday, October 23, 2014

prayer diary Thursday 23 October 2014 (St James)

And 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

Reflection
All may be in a relationship with Christ as loving and close as with your dearest family members. But it requires that you not only hear his word but obey it also.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

haiku: autumn breeze

autumn breeze
   ~the stirring leaves
        sounding like rain

prayer diary Wednesday 22 October 2014

'If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.’ 
Luke 12. 39, 40

Reflection
So many times in the Gospels our Lord speaks of the suddenness of death and the unknown time at which he will come again. He tells us this not to frighten but to warn us; for he loves us, and wishes none to deny themselves their chance of heaven.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

haiku: sunshine after rain

sunshine after rain
  ~lambent rainbow
      under paler brother

prayer diary Tuesday 21 October 2014

'Be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes.' 
Luke 12. 36,37

Reflection Again Christ reminds us that none of us know when we will be called before the judgement seat. Therefore live every moment as if in the next one might be your last so that you might spend every moment of the life to come with Christ in heaven.

Monday, October 20, 2014

haiku: after the rain

after the rain
  ~cows and crows
      graze together

prayer diary Monday 20 October 2014

'And I will say to my soul, 'Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” 
Luke 12. 19

Reflection
The rich fool did not have the many years he hoped for to enjoy all he had; he had not even a single day. And what did his all his earthly wealth avail him – he who had no treasures laid up in heaven? This is why all of us, who also do not know the day or the hour we will be called before our Maker, must strive to be rich towards God.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Render unto God

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

Today's gospel reading contains the verses of Scripture that have been famously translated as 'Render unto Caesar' - words that have been dear to the hearts of kings, rulers, politicians, and tax-collectors ever since. Of course, they often tend to forget that this phrase does not stand alone; it comes with the command that one must also render unto God the thing's that are God's.

But before discussing the passage itself, it is first important to put it in its context. Our readings at services tend to be quite short, and it is often very easy to forget not only that there are part of a much wider series of events, but indeed even the physical setting in which they are taking place. So it is good to remind ourselves of both when and where we are.

Scripturally, we are in the days between the Triumphant Entry of our Lord into Jerusalem and the Last Supper. This means it is just before the feast of Passover, or the springtime, a season when the weather would have been warm and pleasant, neither too hot nor too cold, a good time for sitting around in the open air, talking and discussing. Which is exactly what is happening in our reading: our Lord has been spending these days in the temple courts, teaching, spending his nights in the nearby town of Bethany, in the home of his friend Lazarus, and his sisters Martha and Mary. Much of the teaching that St Matthew records of this time involves parables such as the workers in the vineyard and the wicked tenants, parables we have heard over the last few Sundays – parables that the religious leaders of the day thought were directed against them, accusations that they were leading the chosen people away from the kingdom of God and that it would soon be opened up to others, to gentiles.

Perhaps that explains the extraordinary scene we encounter today, Pharisees and Herodians working together. It is extraordinary because Pharisees and Herodians hated each other. The Herodians were supporters of the secular authorities, in other words King Herod. He was in place at the will of the Roman government. These means having the Romans in charge quite suited them and they didn't want anything to rock the boat. Naturally, they didn't have too much time for the Pharisees, who were in a sense a Jewish purity movement, strict observers of the laws and customs of their people, and who therefore definitely did like that the land promised to their people by the one true God was under the control of worshippers of false gods like the Romans. They would never have worked together in normal circumstances.

But these are not normal circumstances. The Pharisees think that not only is Jesus undermining their authority in society, but that he is a blasphemer as well, a false prophet who not only claims to speak for God, but that he is also the Son of God. The Herodians were worried by the fact that so many thought he might be the Messiah; the people thought the Messiah would free them from the Romans; and even a false Messiah could stir up a revolution, which might lead to the Romans deciding they needed to keep a closer eye on things themselves, without the need for a local king.

So both groups thought of Jesus as a threat; what we have here is a case of the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Even though they hated each other, Jesus was the greater and more immediate threat and they were willing to work together to eliminate him.

So they come together to conspire against him and come up with a plan to trap him. They begin with flattery: Teacher,' they say. 'We know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality.' No doubt the crowd would have murmured their approval at these words. They believed in Jesus and the conspirator's words would have seemed like a simple statement of fact. But after the honey comes the knife: 'Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?' There is no way, they think, that Jesus can answer this question safely. If he says it is not legal, then he can be accused of stirring up the crowd against Rome and he will be arrested on the spot. If he says it is legal, then what kind of a Messiah is he, to say that it all right for the Jews to pay taxes to their Gentile oppressors? We can almost imagine their self-satisfied smiles as they wait for his answer. His first in reply must surely have wiped the smirks off their faces.

'Why do you tempt me, you hypocrites?' it says in the old translations. His words show to all present that he has seen through both their deceitful attempt at flattery and their trap. Interestingly, St John Chrysostom says that Jesus could have left it there. He has publicly exposed what they are up to; he has no need to answer further. And yet he does. He asks for a coin, the kind of coin used to pay the tax. It is, of course, a Roman coin as it is a Roman tax. He questions them as to whose image is upon it and whose name; Caesar's, they reply. 'So render unto Caesar what is Caesar's,' he tells them. And again, St John tells us that Jesus could have left it there, for with that answer he has defeated their trap. But again he goes further, and he tells them, and us, that we must also render unto God what is God's.

His enemies were amazed at his answer. What was intended by them as a trap to destroy him has resulted instead in profound teaching. We are citizens of heaven who live in this world. We must therefore obey the laws of this world. But in doing so we must not forget what we owe to God. It is not an 'either – or' scenario, for no just law can ever require us to neglect or fail in any way in our duty to God.


As I said at the beginning, the rulers of this world have always held the words 'render unto Caesar' dear to their hearts. And they have many ways of making sure that we do. So also will our Father in heaven help us to hold dear to our hearts the second part of that verse. He provides his Grace to help those who love him to render unto God the things that are his. Most of us spend a great deal of time and effort making sure we obey the laws of this world so that we can avoid the minor and temporary inconveniences that would result if we did not. This day I end with the prayer that will put even greater efforts into obeying the laws of the God who created you, both for love of him, and for the sake of the great and everlasting reward he offers to all who do. Amen

Examin Sunday 18 Oct 2014

on spurning the things of this world

'If you aspire to incorruptibility and immortality, pursue with faith and reverence whatever is life-giving and does not perish; long to depart this life as one made perfect through faith.'
St Theognostos (priest and mystic, date uncertain)
On the Practices of the Virtues
The Philokalia, Volume 2

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Prayer diary Saturday 18 Oct 2014 (St Luke's)

He said to them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest. 
Luke 10.2

Reflection
St Luke laboured well in the service of the Lord. A physician by profession, he turned his learning instead in the writing the Gospel that bears his name and the Acts of the Apostles. We also must seek always to see how our gifts may be turned to the harvest of the Lord.

Friday, October 17, 2014

haiku: during the storm

during the storm
~the waves moving
     away from the beach

shopping local

One tries to do one's bit for the local economy by supporting businesses in the community, one really does. But it isn't always easy. Truly it is not.

Take the simple chore I engaged in this morning. The battery on my mobile phone has been acting up of late ... or perhaps that should be running down of late? A short text message can take the battery life indicator from full to half. I've had the phone for nearly five years and I know most people would say it's time for a change. But I really only do use it for phone-calls and texts, so unlike those who need their phones for a myriad other important tasks, I don't gain a whole lot by going for an expensive upgrade.

So a new battery it is, was my decision. First stop, a phone shop in a nearby town over the weekend. From the smile on the young man's face when he saw my still very functional piece of technology, you would have thought that I had brought a manual typewriter into a computer store. Maybe even stone tablets and a chisel. 'Oh no,' he said. 'Nothing like that here for years. You might try such-and-such a place.' 

Such-and-such is a rather dingy looking shop on the other side of town that I've noticed when passing on several other occasions. It's hoardings suggest that it could get just about any kind of old phone working, even if they personally have to criss-cross the country with lengths of string between you and your contact list. It was past their closing at this point, so they were left until today when they were the first thing on my to-do list. I looked them up on the internet and called them on the land-line (I didn't trust the mobile not to die half way through the call).

'A what?' said the man on the other end of the line. 'Sure, we don't carry anything for that make of phone.' He mentioned the many other, clearly more popular, makes that he did carry batteries for. I thought of mentioning that my make had been reasonably popular when I purchased it, but there seemed little point. So it was back to Google.

I typed in the serial number of the old battery and then after it, determined to at least keep the purchase within the same country, added after it 'Ireland.' Two sites suggested they had it, but clicking on them revealed they were no longer in stock. Ebay also came up on the same search. But clicking on them revealed the venders were not in Ireland. The 'does not ship to Ireland' on one rather gave the game away for them. Another would have been quite happy to ship to Ireland. But then, they wanted €144 for a new battery. Yes, you read that right: €144. Plus postage and packaging. 

€144 for a battery? I'd rather upgrade.

So, a little sadly, I deleted 'Ireland' from my search parameters. At once Amazon came up with the goods. €11 and no postal charges. I logged in and sealed the deal.

I imagine that even as I write this in some establishment far from these green shores some person employed in the sales department of that business is passing the order on to their shipping department, where soon an individual there will slip my wee battery into a padded envelope, slap on the pre-addressed adhesive label with my details, and bung it in a basket for the person whose job it is to run the day's orders down to the post office to take care of later. Still others do the various tasks necessary to keep this company going - admin staff, security, warehouse workers, the chap who does the purchasing ... perhaps they have a cleaner, and even a lad who makes tea for them all and ensures a ready supply of biscuits to help keep the work force refreshed and alert. At the end of the week they all collect their well-earned wages and head out into the local economy to spend and help support other jobs in their area. 

I don't begrudge them the work. I simply would have liked to see it going to a business a little closer to home to support jobs in my own community and those nearby. And, perhaps, I would have liked to see my efforts to try and make that happen come to some fruition. But what to do? 

Maybe I should phone somebody and complain.

UPDATE: a couple of hours after placing the order I got an email to say it was on the way.

MEXICO: INCREASE IN ATTACKS ON ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIESTS

a Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW)  press release

Attacks on Roman Catholic priests in Mexico have increased by 80% over the past two years, according to a new report released by the Mexican Catholic Multimedia Centre (CCM).

CCM reports that six priests have been killed and three others have been the victims of forced disappearances since President Enrique Pena Nieto came into power two years ago. The CCM Investigative Unit called on the Mexican government 'to provide security in areas with a significant presence of organized crime.'

The report was released shortly after the kidnap and murder of
Father José Ascensión Acuña  in the State of Guerrero in late September. Parishioners in Acelias, in the state of Guerrero, expressed concern when Father Ascensión Acuña disappeared on 21 September and failed to reappear to hold Mass. His body was found in the Balsas River near Santa Cruz de Las Tinajas, in the municipality of San Miguel Totolapan, following an anonymous tip.

According to the Vatican, Mexico is now the country with the most attacks on Roman Catholic religious leaders in the world. Christian Solidarity Worldwide's (CSW's) investigations revealed that the situation is similar for Protestant church leaders.

Reasons for the attacks on religious leaders by criminal groups vary. In some cases the criminal groups view religious leaders as opposing their objectives, either through word or action. Some religious leaders have been attacked because of their public denunciations of corruption and criminal activities, while others are targets because of work that impacts the interests of the criminal groups, for example with alcohol and drug addicts, victims of human trafficking or former members of criminal groups seeking to reintegrate into society.

Criminal organizations also often view churches as attractive targets for extortion or money laundering and religious leaders who refuse to cooperate frequently come under threat. In addition, some criminal groups have developed a religious aspect to their identity and seek to impose this in areas under their control. Sources told CSW that they believe at least one Catholic priest murdered in December 2013 was killed after he refused demands by a criminal group to hold a mass dedicated to Santa Muerte (Saint Death) in the Catholic church.

CSW's Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said, 'The continued increase in the number of attacks on religious leaders in Mexico, making it one of the most dangerous places in the world for church leaders, is shocking and deeply concerning. We urge the Mexican government to implement effective strategies to provide security to civilian populations in areas with a strong influence of criminal groups, and to develop strategies to support civil society actors like churches and religious leaders as they come under threat. CSW also calls for a full investigation into the forced disappearance and subsequent murder of Father 
Father José Ascensión Acuña and the prosecution of those responsible. We urge the international community to engage with the Mexican government on these matters and to recognise the role that many religious leaders play, not only as leaders of their churches, but also as voices for peace, justice and integrity as human rights defenders.'

For further information or to arrange interviews please contact Kiri Kankhwende, Press Officer at Christian Solidarity Worldwide on +44 (0)20 8329 0045 / +44 (0) 78 2332 9663, email kiri@csw.org.uk or visit www.csw.org.uk.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is a Christian organisation working for religious freedom through advocacy and human rights, in the pursuit of justice.

Prayer diary Friday 17 Oct 2014 (day of discipline and self-denial)

‘I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that can do nothing more. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell.' 
 Luke 12.4,5

Reflection
To fear for your life is natural. But take courage from your faith and consider rather what is more important and fear instead for your immortal soul.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

poem: safe sailing

I've posted a few poems lately that I wrote years ago. Generally they are on found scraps of paper, or in old note-books, and half-forgotten if remembered at all. The following is one I wrote in early 1983 - I remember the date because that was the time when my thesis for my BA in Geography was due and I used this poem as the 'forward' to it (don't ask!). The interesting this is that I have a copy of neither the thesis nor the poem - I have simply kept in my head for over thirty years. Why, I can't say. But I have, and here it is, pretty much exactly as I wrote it all those years ago (the only thing missing is the title, which I can't remember, so I had to come up with a new one).

their boatee was
an eggy shell
their mast and sail
a feather

the wind it blew

the waves they grew
and smashed them
all to pieces

folk said 'twas cruel

the sea would choose
to murder 
valiant sailors

Prayer diary Thursday 16 Oct 2014

'Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge; you did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering.’ 
Luke 11. 52

Reflection
The Pharisees great learning should have caused them to recognise Christ; instead they kept others from coming to him. Be sure that you always endeavour to bring others to know Jesus. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

poem: shelf-life

I'm just home from our diocesan clergy conference. It's funny how even three days can cause a feeling of disconnectedness. Even pulling into the drive-way felt strange. Stranger still was knowing that I'd be out at different meetings around the parish within a few hours, and the distance of that moment would be only a memory.

In the house, unpacking, helping with small chores, a box was knocked over. Picking stuff up from the floor, I found a sheet of paper. It had some writing on it, mine, written in fountain pen, using red ink ... well red originally - faded to a kind of brown know. It was a poem, dated 4 Feb '93. I don't remember writing it, but yet I do, if that makes any sense. Anyway, here it is:

Yellow
   is unshelled
   shivering
   into the universe

Surrounded
   by the fragile
   remnants
   of his cocoon

Wet, he trembles
   on his shattered
   womb

And, pecking, begins
   his preparations
   for the table

haiku: autumn dusk

autumn dusk
 ~the sky dark
    with crows

Prayer diary Wednesday 15 Oct 2014

‘But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds, and neglect justice and the love of God; it is these you ought to have practised, without neglecting the others.' 
Luke 11. 42

Reflection
It avails nothing to follow all the rules and regulations of Church teaching without love of God and neighbour in your heart. The Christian must obey God's holy laws joyfully and with love.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Prayer diary Tuesday 14 Oct 2014

‘Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness.'
Luke 11. 39

Reflection
It is quite possible to seem good to the world, while sinning greatly in your heart. Turn your heart from sin; and if your heart is pure, so also will be your deeds.

Monday, October 13, 2014

haiku: dawn rain

dawn rain
~ six limousin*
      under the oak

*limousin: a common breed of cattle in Ireland

Prayer diary Monday 13 Oct 2014

‘This generation is an evil generation; it asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.' 
Luke 11.30

Reflection 
The death and resurrection of Christ stands at the heart of our faith. This alone should be enough to bring you to repent and seek God's mercy.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

God cares about our choices

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

I came across a very interesting article during the week. A historian, going through the Vatican archives, found a document, purporting to be written around the year AD 31 by a fairly obscure Roman officer and amateur historian by the name of Marcus Velleius Paterculus. In it, he describes a journey he took in the Near East, during which he mentions a visit to a town in what is now the West Bank of Jerusalem. While he is there, a leader of some kind arrives, called Jesus of Nazareth, with many disciples and followers in tow. The people of the town flock to him. He visits the house of a woman called Elizabeth, who has just given birth to a still-born baby. He says a prayer in Aramaic that Velleius can't understand. And to his amazement, the child is restored to life and begins to cry and squirm.

Whether the document ultimately proves to be authentic or not, it does serve as a reminder that the Gospels, and indeed all the books of the Bible, do not tell us every possible detail and each and every story that happened during the times they describe. The writers picked and chose each story for a reason. Consider our reading today from Exodus. The Hebrews spent over 40 years in the desert between the time they left Egypt and arrived in the promised land. Certainly a great deal more than we have in Sacred Scripture must have happened to so vast a throng of people over such a long period of time. So clearly what we do get is carefully chosen vignettes, chosen for their particular importance and power to teach us valuable lessons.

Today's Old Testament reading has always tended to provoke in me the reaction of 'what were they thinking?' There they are, God's chosen people. They have been rescued from slavery by God's sending the 10 plagues upon the Egyptians; they escaped from the pursuing enemy when by God's power the Red Sea was parted and the army of their enemies destroyed; they have been provided with manna from heaven to eat; and water from barren rocks to drink. They have seen many other examples of God's power and love for them. And yet, when Moses is gone for a short period of time, to converse with the God whose power and might they should have no doubt about, they fall back into heathen ways. They demand that an idol be set up, a calf made of gold; they offer sacrifice to this thing they have made with their own hands and worship it; and they revel in its presence – and by 'revel' commentators suggest we think the worst excesses of the Roman Empire (generally, it should be noted, as imagined by the fevered imaginations of Hollywood film-makers!).

Reading it, we know they are surely going to get it in the neck in the most severe way, and in due course they do. And at some level they must have themselves known an almighty clout was coming for breaking several of the newly minted 10 commandments. So again we find ourselves asking 'what were they thinking?'

And the answer is, I think, that temptation is a powerful force. So powerful that people will wilfully delude themselves into thinking that God doesn't see, and if he does, he doesn't care. Temptation whispers in our ear that we can get up to whatever shenanigans we want to, that we can do what we like; and when we worry it soothes us that that it is our right to behave as we wish, free from all criticism or consequences.

But of course, God does care. If he did not, we would not have passages like the one today from Exodus that shows that he very much cares when his laws are broken. Similarly, St Paul would not have written what we hear in our epistle today, urging us to stand firm in the Lord, to behave in ways that are true, honourable, just, pure, pleasing to God, and worthy of praise; and that we should keep doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in him, that is, living a life that is in accord with the Gospel of Christ. If God did not care, we would not hear words like those from our psalm today: 'Blessed are those who observe what is right and always do what is just.' If God did not care, Jesus would not have told the parable we hear in our Gospel today, where the first invited guests lose out on their chance of the kingdom … and the one who comes, but is careless and disrespectful is cast out … not every one, as you well know, who calls him 'Lord Lord' will enter into the kingdom.

And he cares because, as St Paul reminds us many times, this life is but a training ground for the next. It is not all there is. We are citizens of the kingdom of heaven who happen to be living in the kingdoms of this world. And yet how many of us live as if we did not accept that reality? We did do not put a fraction of the effort we expend on our careers, education, personal appearance, social life, or leisure activities, as we do on our own spiritual growth, on our daily striving after holiness. It is as if we say with our heads: this life is brief, and eternity is long, so preparing for heaven is the most important thing of all; but say with our hearts: eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we may die and there is nothing after the grave, and if there is, he doesn't care what we do in this life.

That is not to betray the Christian life as some kind of a joyless struggle, a grim rejection of all that is fun in this life in order to assure ourselves of eternal bliss in the next. As St Paul tells us in first Timothy, the discipline of our faith gives us the promise of life both here and in the hereafter. Think of it like this: the person who lives a healthy lifestyle, eating sensibly, taking some exercise, not drinking too much, getting to bed on time, enjoys his way of life just as much as the person who keeps to a far less healthy regime; taunts that the way he lives is 'boring' are met with bewilderment; for not only does he enjoy the way he lives, he has the added bonus of knowing it is good for him. So it is with the Christian life; not only is it full of joy for its own sake, it carries the added benefit of knowing that it is preparation for eternal life as well.

Returning to the recently found document we began with, it would be nice to think that Velleius' parchment is genuine. As I said, he's fairly obscure: even I, who has a degree in that area, and even tutored university undergraduates in Roman history, don't recall ever coming across his name, even in a footnote, though I suppose it must have been there. If this is real, it will make him the most well known of all the historians of his time, in the sense of being a household name. It would be nice in particular because it is most likely the last thing he ever wrote. Velleius died the year it was written, AD 31. We are not sure why, but scholars speculate that he may have been executed in the aftermath of the plot by Sejanus to seize power from the emperor Claudius, whom Velleius' is known to have written favourably about. And it would be nice too to have a little more information about Jesus.

But if it is not genuine, it doesn't really matter. While we might like to know more about the life of Jesus – or indeed lives of the Hebrews, the life of St Paul, and those of the other Apostles – we know enough; we have we what we know from Sacred Scripture. We have enough to know that God loves us, cares for us, cares that we obey his Holy Laws, and fills us with his Grace so that we may do so, in order that we may at the last be with him in the place we were created to be – with him in heaven. Amen

Examin: Saturday 11 October 2014

on the need for vigilance in pursing the virtuous life

'So then, my beloved son, follow the advice I gave you at the beginning of this letter, and do not let yourself be dragged down unwittingly by vice and laziness, so that you forget the gifts you have received through God's love. Bring before your eyes the blessings, whether physical or spiritual, conferred on you from the beginning of your life to the present, and call them repeatedly to mind in accordance with the words 'forget not all his benefits.' Then your heart will be readily moved to the fear and love of God, so that you repay him, as far as you can, by your strict life, virtuous conduct, devout conscience, wise speech, true faith, and humility – in short, by dedicating your whole self to God.' 

St Mark the Ascetic (early 5th Century) 
letter to Nicholas the Solitary
from the Philokalia, vol 1

Saturday, October 11, 2014

St Paul in Phillipi

The sun blazed down into the courtyard on the small group working with canvas and rope. The heat was stifling. One, the youngest, groaned. One of the others, also young, but a little older, laughed.
'Too hot for you, Luke?' he asked. Luke grunted.
'It's too hot for anyone, Silas!' he complained.
'Get some water, then.'
There was a large stone jar standing in the shade of one wall. Luke went over and filled the cup balanced on its brim. The water was cool and welcome, as was the shade. Luke took his time, drinking the water slowly. The other man, older than the others looked up.
'Come along,' he said sharply. 'These people are paying us. Standing there idle is cheating them.' Luke put the cup back and went unwillingly back into the sun and his work. As he knelt back down and picked up some canvas and an awl he muttered something under his breath.
'What was that?' said the older man.
'I said, I don't know why we're here anyway, Paul,' said the boy. 'I thought we had come here to tell people about Jesus. But we seem to be spending all our time making tents and awnings!'
Paul shrugged.
'If we don't work, we don't eat,' he said simply.
'But spreading the Good News is work. And doesn't the ox deserve its share of the grain it threshes?' he added, quoting the old Hebrew proverb.
Paul smiled.
'Right you are. But until there is fruit from our labour, there is no share for us. When there are enough new brothers and sisters to the faith here, then those who teach them the Lord's Way won't need to do other work.'
'Yes, but we'll move on to another city when that happens,' said Luke, with a hint of impatience in his voice.
'That's true,' said Paul gently. 'It's our task to go to a city, begin the work, and then when enough has been done for the faith to grow, to go elsewhere to do the same for others. It is what the Lord calls us to do. If we did not, then those others would not hear the Lord's word. Would you want that?'
'No, Paul,' said Luke, ashamed. 'But I do wish we could stay somewhere long enough to relax and not spend all our days in the hot sun!'
Paul smiled at him.
'And that you could perhaps spend more time at your medical studies?' he suggested gently. 'I know how you feel; I sometimes wish I was back in my cool, quiet room in Jerusalem, studying scripture peacefully with the other rabbis, than living like a vagabond travelling round the Empire, never knowing where I'll be from one week to the next. But I'd rather that I was hot and tired than someone else miss out on the chance of salvation. Anyway, it's time for a break.'
They wrapped up their tools carefully and put them in their bags. The tools were their livelihood; without them, they couldn't work. And without work, they couldn't preach. They left the courtyard and entered into the bustle of the narrow streets of Phillipi, heading towards the synagogue for the afternoon prayers before eating. The cobbles were hard under their feet, but Luke didn't mind. The high houses created shade below, which Luke welcomed after the heat of the open courtyard.
Suddenly, someone started shouting.
These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.’ Luke looked to where the voice was coming from. It was a young girl, a slave if her rough tunic was anything to judge by. She was pointing her finger at Paul, Silas, and Luke. She shouted out her words again, still pointing. And then again. Luke found it unnerving.
'How does she know about us?' he said to Silas, uneasily. 'Has someone told her about us?'
'I don't think so,' said Silas. 'How could they? We haven't been here long. Hardly anyone knows us.'
'She has a demon,' said Paul grimly.
'What?' said Silas and Luke together, startled.
'Aye, the poor girl is possessed.'
'Yes,' said a passing man, who looked amused at the reaction the strangers were giving the girl. 'The slave is well known in this part of the city. She has a spirit of divination in her; and her masters make a pretty penny from her fortune telling!'
'Come away,' said Paul. He walked on down the street, with companions following. But the girl followed too, still shouting again and again: These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.’
'Why does she do that?' said Luke to Paul. 'She's telling everyone about us? That's good for what we're doing here, isn't it? If she has a demon, why would it help us?'
'It isn't helping us,' said Paul, a hard edge in his voice, as he walked on through the crowd not looking back at the girl. 'Demons try to gain power over you by naming you. It's naming us as God's servants in the hope of controlling us. And following us around shouting like she's doing isn't going to help us in the least. We'll become known as the ones the slave girls chases around, pointing and yelling. We'll be a laughing stock.'
'So why not cast the demon out?' said Silas. 'Jesus could. He gave his apostles the authority to do so also. And didn't they give us that same authority when they laid hands on us and sent us out to tell the world the good news?'
'Indeed,' said Paul. 'But it was no accident that that man told us she was a slave earning money for her owners because of this demon. Cast it out and they won't be pleased with us; and that might interfere with our work here.'
'But the girl,' said Luke. 'Isn't it wrong to leave the demon in her? Demons are evil!'
'Yes,' said Paul, stroking his thin beard thoughtfully. 'But everything we do must be to advance our mission. Jesus didn't run around healing everyone and chasing down demons. When he healed, and he healed a lot of people, it was with a purpose. And that purpose was so that people could understand who he was: God's Son. Right now, I don't know that casting out that girl's demon would help us in our work. But I could be wrong. It is something for us to pray about. And, as it happens, here we are at the synagogue. So let us pray!'
The girl followed Paul and the others for many days. When they were at work, in the relative privacy of the courtyard, she left them alone. But every time they emerged, whether to go to the synagogue for prayers, or to eat, or simply to walk to their lodgings in the evening, there she was, shouting her message which the three men found increasingly tiresome. And as Paul had predicted, it was causing them to become something of a joke in the city: people would point and jeer as the three walked by followed by the shouting girl.
'You'd think her owners would make her stop,' moaned Silas, on the third day. 'After all, where's the profit for them in letting the girl torment us?'
Paul snorted.
'They know that the demon is in control. And if this is what it wants then they have to let it do as it pleases. They'd earn nothing from it if they to make it do something else.'
'But what are we going to do? We're bringing the faith to no one this way!' said Luke. 'And the girl is giving me a headache.'
'And I really hate the way people are staring at us all the time,' said Silas. 'People are following us just so they can laugh at us.'
It was true. A small crowd had started to follow them every time they appeared with the girl, so they could joke and sneer at they way the girl made the men so uncomfortable.
Suddenly, Paul stopped.
'Enough of this,' he said. 'Letting this continue hinders what God sent us here to do. And he can not want that. And it breaks my heart to see what this demon does to this poor child. God can not want us to allow it to continue. I'm sure this will mean trouble for us. But perhaps God's purpose will also be served.'
He turned to the girl. She stopped in her tracks. Suddenly, for the first time in days while she was close to them she was silent. There was a strange look on her face. To Luke's amazement, it almost seemed as if she had two faces, one over the other. The face of the girl looked at them pleadingly, as if begging them to help her; but the other face looked at them with hatred and fear, a twisted mask that seemed to hang over the girl's true face like mist or smoke. Luke shuddered.
'Do you see that?' he whispered to Silas. His friend only nodded. Paul raised his hand high in the air with his palm toward the girl and spoke.
I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.’
The girl shrieked and fell to the ground. She rolled back and forth for a few moments and then stopped.
'It's gone,' she said, sitting up. 'I'm free. I'm free!'
A gasp of amazement went through the crowd. They couldn't understand what they were seeing. But at least one understood all to well.
'Oh, no, you're not free,' cried a rough voice. A tall, bearded man emerged from the crowd. 'You're a slave; my slave, mine and my partners. And these fools have cost us money, because if the spirit of divination is gone out of you, then so is the way that you earn us gold!'
Someone in the crowd chuckled. The man turned on him angrily.
'Find it funny do you? Well, you wouldn't be laughing if it was your income that had dried up, would you? Why should these foreigners be allowed to come here and interfere with the business of honest Macedonians? And if they can do it to me, what's to stop them from doing it to you next? If they keep this up, pretty soon we'll all be out of work.'
There was a murmur of agreement from the crowd. A moment later someone shouted:
'Seize them!' and another
'Take them to the magistrates!'
The mob surged forward. Luke was pushed back, away from the others. His head banged against the wall and he slid down, seeing stars. Before he knew it he crowd was gone, and his two friends with them. All that remained was the slave girl, standing over him.
'Let me help you up,' she said, holding out a hand. He took it and got up, still trying to shake the pain and the fuzziness out of his head.
'My friends!' he gasped.
'They've taken them to the market place,' she said, pointing down the street.
'I must go there,' said Luke, starting to walk in the direction she indicated. But as soon as he tried to walk, he stumbled and had to grab at the wall to stay standing.
'You're in no state to go anywhere,' said the girl. 'You need to lie down and rest. Sleep until you feel better'
'Sleeping isn't good if you've hit your head,' said Luke. The girl smiled at him.
'What are you, a doctor?'
'No, but I've studied medicine a little. I hope to do some more, some day when …'
'When you've had some rest, stopped chasing demons, and aren't so busy running around the world saving souls,' she said with a laugh.
She helped them back to their lodgings, and settled him on his mat, leaving a cool pitcher of water beside him.
'Don't worry about your friends,' she said. 'I'll go see what happened them. Try not to sleep!' And she was gone.
She didn't come back. Luke didn't blame her. She was a slave, after all. Her owners must have found her and sent her off to do whatever new work she would be doing for them now that the demon was gone. And in spite of himself, Luke did sleep. When he woke it was daylight and quite late, almost noon. Paul and Silas were there, smiling at him.
'We were worried,' said Paul. That's an ugly bruise on your forehead.'
'Not too worried,' said Silas. 'We knew you could look after yourself. After all, you're almost a doctor!'
'Not quite,' said Luke, sitting up.
'Anyway,' said Paul, starting to move around the room, gathering things. 'As you're awake, we need to get going.'
'Back to work?' said Luke, with a groan. Paul shook his head.
'Time to move on. We've had quite a night. After the mob grabbed us, they took us to the judges. They had us beaten – we'll need you to look at these cuts and bruises later, my not quite a doctor, friend - and then cast us into prison. But as we were lying there in chains, the Lord sent an earthquake and burst the doors open! The jailer thought we had escaped and was going to kill himself …'
'Why?' interrupted Luke.
'Oh, he'd be in serious trouble if his prisoners escaped. Quite a few of the others were murderers and bandits who'd been sentenced to be crucified. If they escape, he's liable to take their place. He thought a quick death by the sword was better than days hanging on the cross in the hot sun dying slowly. But the Lord inspired me to know what he was thinking and I called out to him to stop. That and all that he'd already heard about us was enough to make him realise that he should listen to us. Before you know it, not only he, but his whole household, children, servants, and slaves were asking to be baptised!'
'But if you didn't escape, then how did you get out?' asked Luke. Paul shrugged.
'They were going to let us go anyway. It's not like there are laws against casting out demons! But our work here is done. After our night in prison, there are enough new followers of Christ to keep things going here. And anyway, I think the girl's owners are the kind of men who'll hold a grudge; they'd keep interfering and stirring people up against us. For now, our being here would damage the spreading of the message. Time for us to move on to the next city and let others continue the work here.'
'Just like I said,' sighed Luke.
'Just like you said,' laughed Silas.
After they had gone through the city gates, Luke looked back. There, framed in the light of the gate, stood someone waving. Luke squinted, but he couldn't make out who it was. Paul, seeing what he was doing, looked back also.
'It's that girl,' he said. Realising who it was, Luke waved back.
'I'm sorry I didn't a chance to say goodbye,' he said. 'She helped me after you two were dragged off.'
'I'm sure she understands,' said Paul gently. Luke shrugged.
'And I'm sorry I didn't get a chance to talk to her about Jesus. I would have liked for her to know about him.' Paul stopped.
'I think she already does know. She spent days following us around, hearing what the demon had to say about us. And she knows I cast the demon out, in the power of Christ's name. She knows Jesus in a way that few can ever know him. She'll have a hunger for him now, a hunger to know more. And as the jailer and his families and the others we left behind begin to do their part of the work, she'll hear about them and go to them and be baptised also. And then she'll tell others about what Jesus did for her and be a powerful witness for bringing other souls to Christ.'
'Do you really think so?' said Luke, joyfully.
'Oh, yes,' said Paul confidently. 'How could others not come to Christ having heard her story. In fact, we must be sure to tell others about it ourselves.'
'Yes,' said Luke thoughtfully. He began to rummage around in his bag. Silas looked at him curiously.
'What are you doing?'
'Looking for a scrap of papyrus and a bit of charcoal I have.'
'Why?'
'To make notes. If we're going to tell others stories like this, we need to take careful notes, so we don't get any of the details wrong.'
Paul smiled.
'A good idea, my young doctor,' he said. 'Remind me to tell you some of my other adventures. You can take notes about those too.'
Luke groaned.
'What?' grinned Silas.
'I think I've just taken on something that's going to be more work than making tents and awnings – writing down everything that happens.'

And laughing, they walked on towards their next city.

prayer diary Saturday 11 October 2014 (St Philip the Deacon)

The Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. 
Luke 10.1

Reflection
Tradition teaches that St Philip was one of those sent out by the Lord. So also are we sent and every human heart we meet is a place He intends to go. Consider carefully then how every act and word of yours serves to prepare them to meet the Living Lord.

Friday, October 10, 2014

haiku: freezing fog

freezing fog
  -sun burns through
      another kind of dawn

NEPAL: PRIME MINISTER'S COMMITS TO RELIGIOUS FREEDOM IN NEW CONSTITUTION

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) 

CSW welcomes the Prime Minister of Nepal Sushil Koirala's stated commitment to guarantee religious freedom in the forthcoming constitution, a pledge included in his message to Muslims and people of other faiths on the occasion of the Muslim festival of Bakra Eid on 6 October.


In a recent briefing on freedom of religion or belief in Nepal, CSW expressed concern about a proposed anti-conversion clause for the new constitution that 'fails to allow choosing and changing one's faith to be seen as a positive individual choice or as a matter of individual rights.' There have also calls by prominent political leaders in the last few months for a constitutional ban on all conversions from one religion to another.

Nepal was formerly the only officially Hindu Kingdom in the world. But after a ten-year long conflict from 1996 to 2006, Nepal officially became a secular republic in 2008. However, in the intervening six years it has failed to create the new Constitution required by the Comprehensive Peace Agreement which ended the military conflict. Nepal's Constituent Assembly is currently in the process of framing the new Constitution required to institutionalize this new secular republic.

CSW's Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said, 'While we welcome the Prime Minister's statement as the clearest commitment so far to guarantee freedom of religion or belief in the new Constitution currently under consideration by the second Constituent Assembly, it is vital that this clear verbal pledge is reflected in the precise wording of the clauses dealing with religious affairs. CSW urges the Prime Minister, Ministers and CA members to ensure that calls to ban conversions are resisted, and that the new constitution guarantees freedom of religion or belief, as outlined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, signed and ratified by Nepal, which guarantees every person 'the freedom to adopt a religion or belief of his choice.''

For further information or to arrange interviews please contact Kiri Kankhwende, Press Officer at Christian Solidarity Worldwide on +44 (0)20 8329 0045 / +44 (0) 78 2332 9663, email kiri@csw.org.uk or visit www.csw.org.uk.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is a Christian organisation working for religious freedom through advocacy and human rights, in the pursuit of justice.