Wednesday, December 13, 2017

prayer diary Wednesday 13 Dec 2017 (day of discipline and self-denial)

'Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.' 
Matthew 11.28

The struggles of this life are endless. And in the end what are their purpose? You can take none of its rewards past the grave. Turn instead to Christ. In him you will find true meaning and true purpose.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

prayer diary Tuesday 12 Dec 2017 (day of discipline and self-denial)

'If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray?' 
Matthew 18. 12

Reassess your life this Advent. Consider whether you have become self-satisfied and complacent. The lost sheep the Lord is seeking may not be your neighbour – it may be you.

Monday, December 11, 2017

prayer diary Monday 11 Dec 2017 (day of discipline and self-denial)

Just then some men came, carrying a paralysed man on a bed … when Jesus saw their faith, he said, ‘Friend, your sins are forgiven you.’ 
Luke 5. 18-20

The first concern of Jesus was not for the man's illness, but for his soul. Something for us to ponder in an age when so many seem to think that the top priority of religion is making the world a better place.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

preparing the way like John the Baptist

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

Our Gospel reading today, as is traditional for the second Sunday in Advent, concerns John the Baptist. It is not surprising that we should think of this saint during this season. Part of what we do during Advent, after all, is look back to the time of Lord's first coming, to his nativity; and in the gospel according to St Luke the story of the birth of St John the Baptist is intimately intertwined with the story of the birth of our Lord.

However, St John is also an appropriate figure to consider at this time because of the other major purpose of Advent, which is to look to the time when our Saviour will come again in great power and majesty, a time when all the nations will be gathered before him, and he will judge the living and the dead, welcoming some into eternal life, and condemning others to eternal darkness.

And another title for the Baptist is the Forerunner; because he was sent to prepare the way for our Lord at his first coming. Naturally we must think in this time, between the first and second comings, to whom does it fall to prepare the way for when he shall come again? And the natural answer to that, I think, is that task falls to the Church that our Lord and Saviour founded. In other words, the task of preparing the world – by which we must understand ourselves, all others within the Church, especially those who are fallen away, and all those who are currently outside it whom it is our solemn duty to try and evangelise, bring to understand the truth of the Christian faith, and the necessity that they believe upon the name of Jesus and be baptised if they are to be saved – that task of preparation falls very much to us.

And it is therefore of great benefit to us who must do this work in relation to the second coming to the look to the example of the one who did the work in relation to the first. So it becomes of particular importance for us to look to the life of the Baptist in this season to see what lessons we can learn from him that will guide us in the work that has been entrusted to us.

So what do we see in the life of St John the Forerunner that will help us? First, let us consider what we learn of the manner of his life that we have set before us in our Gospel reading today from St Mark. Where did St John live? In the desert places. We are not told where he took shelter from the cold of the desert nights or its blazing heat by day, but we can imagine that it was no more than some little cave or some rough booth he had constructed for himself from branches and rocks and earth. What did he wear? A robe of camel hair girt about him with a leather belt. The most basic and simplest of apparel, just enough to cover his body and preserve modesty and decency. And what did he eat? Scripture informs us locusts and wild honey. Much has been written as to what these words signify; but for today it enough to consider that they mean that he lived off the land, eating whatever was to hand. 

Taken together these three elements of the way he lived tell us something very important about St John. He cared not at all for the material comforts of this life. What was needed to keep body and soul together he accepted gratefully from God; but he concerned himself with no more than that. This serves to remind us that neither must we be overly concerned with the good things of this life; like St John our focus must be on doing the work of God. Material things can get in the way and often do; and if we see that happening in our lives we must ruthlessly cut away anything that gets between us and the task we are called to.

Next let us consider what it was that he told those who came to him what role it was the he played in God’s plan for the salvation of humanity. He made it clear that he was not the Messiah, as some suspected. He made it clear that someone far greater was coming; someone that he was not worthy so much as to untie the sandals upon his feet. Now think what such words mean. In the culture of the ancient world it was the duty of the most lowly slave in the house to quietly and without saying a word to go to a guest when they arrived, kneel before them, undo their sandals and remove them, and wash their feet. But when it came to the one he prepared the way for, St John saw himself as more lowly than even the lowliest of slaves. His relationship to God, then, was characterised by the greatest of humility. So too must we be humble before our God.

Humility, as so many of the great saints tell us, is the mother of all virtues; from it all others flow; without it we can have no other. This makes it the beginning of holiness; and without personal holiness we can not carry out our task of preparing the way for our Lord and the day when he shall come again.

Finally, let us look at what St John taught. He called people to repent, to confess their sins and be baptised. And while it is not spoken of by St Mark in this passage, we know from the other gospels that people of high standing came to him – Roman soldiers, tax-collectors, the religious leaders of his day – and they heard the same truth from him that the poorest and meanest in society did. All are equal in the eyes of God; and sin remains sin whether it is committed by a peasant or a prince. And even if that sin is sanctioned by all in society it does not transform it into good in the eyes of God.

We know that later that St John’s refusal to speak other than God’s truth was to cost him his life. But he could do nothing else. For he knew full well, as our Lord was to teach, that it matters not if a man gain the whole world if it comes at the price of his soul, if it costs him eternal life. The example of St John sets before us a way of living, a way of humility, a way of fidelity to God that if followed by us will lead to a rich harvest of souls at the last day … a harvest among which all those who follow that way will be included … and it is my prayer that all here will walk in the way that this great saint sets before us and so be found worthy on the day to be numbered among that harvest and welcomed into the eternal kingdom: in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

prayer diary Saturday 9 Dec 2017

The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few. 
Matthew 9.37

To truly say 'Yes, Lord' to Jesus means serving him and working for the salvation of souls. In what ways do you answer his call on your life?

Friday, December 8, 2017

prayer diary Friday 8 Dec 2017

The blind men came to him; and Jesus said to them 'Do you believe that I am able to do this?' They said to him 'Yes, Lord.' 
Matthew 9. 28

Jesus offers us many things. Do we say yes to his promises?

Thursday, December 7, 2017

prayer diary Thursday 7 Dec 2017

No one can serve two masters. 
Matthew 7.24

Where does your true loyalty lie? Are the values praised by the world your guide or those given us by Christ? And have you the courage to proclaim it?

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

prayer diary Wednesday 6 Dec 2017

They put them at Jesus feet and he cured them, so that the crowd was amazed when they saw … And they praised the God of Israel. 
Matthew 15. 30,31

The crowds reaction was to praise God when they witnessed all that Jesus could do. Do we do likewise? And do we do it it for all the world to see?

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

prayer diary Tuesday 5 Dec 2017

Jesus said: 'Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets & kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it.' 
Luke 10.23,24

How aware are we of the privilege we have of knowing Jesus? It is a blessing beyond compare from God himself. Are we correspondingly grateful?

Monday, December 4, 2017

prayer diary Monday 4 Dec 2017

'Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof.' 
Matthew 8.8

How many of us approach God and all his gifts to us with a sense of entitlement; rather than humbly, with a true sense of our own unworthiness?

Sunday, December 3, 2017

why it is better not to know the day nor the hour

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

I once saw the writer Anthony Burgess being interviewed on television. Burgess is most famous for his novel 'A Clockwork Orange', a work which explores deeply the issue of the nature of free-will, and which was later made into a movie which, while controversial, has long been considered something of a classic. He also co-wrote the screenplay for Franco Zeffirelli's highly praised mini-series 'Jesus of Nazareth'. Burgess was regaling his interviewer with the tale of how he first became very serious about writing. He had, it seemed, been diagnosed with a serious illness as a young man and been given six months to live. 'That must have been awful,' said the interviewer. 'Not at all,' chortled Burgess. 'Most people don't know if they'll be alive in the morning or even five minutes from now. But suddenly I knew I was going to live for six months – I had been told so by some very knowledgeable medical men. So I knew that if a started a project as long-term as writing a book I'd live long enough to see it to completion. And so I got started writing straight away!'

Burgess was, of course, being doubly facetious. He was an old man when he was telling this story, and mocking the doctors who had been so mistaken in their fatal diagnosis. And he knew full well that even had they been correct, their prediction of how long he might have left to live in no way guaranteed he had that much time left. He could still have been hit by a bus, suffer a heart attack, experience a sudden stroke, be beaten to death by muggers, fall down the stairs, drown in the bath, or any other of the myriad ways in which it is that we human beings may come to shake off this mortal coil. Burgess was born and raised a Catholic; and although he lapsed from his faith later in life, commentators on his works all agree that they are permeated with a Christian world-view. And he would have known as well as any man that we truly do not know the day nor the hour.

Our Lord speaks of this in our Gospel today (see below). It is not for us to know the day not the hour when he will return at the end of the ages. And, of course, just as we do not know when time and history and this world will end, neither do we know when our time in this life will come to an end.

Now some might think this is harsh of God. Would we not be better prepared for our last moments, better able to amend our ways and repent of our sins and so when we come to the end of our days be assured of leaving this life and entering into our heavenly reward if we knew the exact moment in advance; instead of risking being caught off guard and so end in that place where, as Jesus has told us, was prepared from the beginning for the devil and all his angels?

If you do happen to feel this way, then you are perhaps in for a surprise; for you will find that the Fathers of the Church, those great scholars and saints from the early centuries of the Christian Era, uniformly disagree with you. This is not surprising. For as I have already noted, these are saints – men of great sanctity. And men such as these understand that God's wisdom is greater than ours. He is all knowing; we are not. And if he has ordained that this is the way it must be, then we must humbly accept that it is so; and more, we must acknowledge that because of God's infinite wisdom then it must be, in fact, in our best interest that this is how it is and no other way.

But how exactly is it better not to know? How we any idea as to why it is? Well, this is a question that these same Church Fathers thought deeply about. They put it essentially like this. Suppose we all knew the day and the hour of our death. Some would still choose to lead good and holy lives. But more surely would think to themselves 'I have many years before I will die; and there are many temptations in the world about me. Why should I not indulge myself in these sinful passions to my heart's content; and then, when death begins to draw near, break off from them, repent, and lead a life of holiness for the time that remains to me?'

And it does not, I think, take the wisdom of a great saint to see the foolishness of that path. Such sinful indulgences are addictive indeed; the more we engage in them, the more we wish to, and the harder it is to stop. And the more steeped we become in them, the more difficult it is to recognise that we even do wrong by engaging in them. Few indeed are the individuals who would be strong enough to break away from their sins even as they drew close to the brink of eternity; and of those who did perhaps only a small number would have the strength to repent. Having spent all their years in wickedness and vice serving Satan, how likely is it that at the end they would find within themselves the holiness to serve God and him alone in their final moments? Not very likely at all, I would suggest; and so the Fathers of the Church thought as well.

And so instead God gave us the gift of uncertainty. We may not know the day not the hour, not because he wishes to toy with us in some way, but because he loves us. Not knowing spurs us on to live as if our Saviour and Judge might return at any moment; not knowing when we will may draw our last breath teaches us to live as if the next moment might be the one when we do indeed take that final breath.

And the sober truth is that one day we will be right. And when that day comes, if we have lived our lives as our Lord wishes us to – a life of holiness, a life of watchfulness and prayer – then we will be ready for his return or our deaths. And we will welcome that moment, even as we are welcomed by God to dwell with him, his angels, and all the saints in heaven; a welcome that I pray will be granted to all here - in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

Matthew 25: 31-46

24 "But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26 And then they will see the Son of man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. 28 From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away before all these things take place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 32 But of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. 35 Watch therefore--for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cock-crow, or in the morning -- 36 lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Watch." 

Saturday, December 2, 2017

prayer diary Saturday 2 Dec 2017

'He is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.’ 
Luke 19. 38

Our Lord was quite clear that death means passing from this life to the next. Live this life with that hope always before you; and let Christ's promise of eternal life guide all your actions.

Friday, December 1, 2017

prayer diary Friday 1 Dec 2017 (day of discipline and self-denial)

Then he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling things there. 
Luke 19. 45

Our Lord was moved to anger to see his Father's house treated shamefully. Never neglect to treat holy places with the reverence they deserve.