Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Hell ?

Father Ignatius visited the local Catholic School to address the 15 years-old children at Catechism Class.

One of them asked: “Father, is it true that hell is full of fire and devils poking you with big forks and all that …”

“And all that …” repeated Father Ignatius with a smile.

“Hell has been described as a burning place many times in the Bible,” continued Father Ignatius. “Jesus tells us the story of a rich man who did not care for poor Lazarus starving at his gate. When both of them died, Lazarus went to Heaven whereas the rich man went to hell.

“Jesus says in this story that the rich man was in torment in the fire, so much so that he begged for a drop of water to cool his tongue.”

“So it is a fiery hot place; is it Father?” asked one of the children.

Father Ignatius cleaned his glasses of imaginary smudges. A habit he had acquired when he wanted to buy more thinking time.

A few seconds later he said: “The Bible often refers to hell as a fiery place where the flames never stop burning.

“When I was a young priest, and that’s many years ago as you can imagine, the message we gave from the pulpit on Sunday was that hell is indeed a fiery place, where torment is eternal and the worms that eat you never die. Fire and brimstone was the message of the day back then.

“A place where there will be crying and gnashing of teeth as it says in the Bible. Although I’ve often wondered what would happen to people with no teeth … perhaps they’ll be provided with dentures to gnash!”

The children laughed in unison.

“These days, however, the message has changed,” continued Father Ignatius pensively, “we no longer seem to talk much about hell in our sermons.”

“Why?” asked a child.

“Good question. I suppose because people have become hardened and they no longer believe, or no longer wish to believe.

“If I were to say in my sermon on Sunday that hell is a burning place full of demons with long spears, as one of you described it, the congregation would scoff in disbelief. They would just not want to buy such an imagery of hell.

“It seems to me that today’s generation wishes to believe in a nice place called Heaven, whatever they perceive it to be. And everyone seems to think that they are destined there.

“If you were to ask people in the street about Heaven most of those who believe in such a place hope they’ll go there. That’s because people consider themselves to be good and worthy of Heaven regardless of the way they live their lives.

“They’d rather not think about hell or what it’s like. Some may mention fire and damnation, but do they really believe it?

“And the only one laughing secretly at this state of affairs is the devil. For he exists all right although he’d rather we think he didn’t exist.”

The children were attentive to his every word. The priest continued in his gentle soothing voice:

“Someone once described hell as a place or a state of being totally without God.

“When I look around me these days I see many people in that state right now. They live without God in their lives. Totally unaware of Him; some even rejecting publicly His very existence. Others revel in the fact that they don’t believe in God, and consider themselves somewhat superior to the rest of us who believe in a supreme Creator of the Universe and all that is in it.

“So is hell just a state of being totally devoid of God’s love?

“Personally, I’d like to describe hell as a place not only totally devoid of God and His love, but also with a big difference.

“It is a place where you know for certain that God exists. You are made aware of His existence, His omnipotence, and His love for mankind. A place where you realize how wrong you were in choosing not to believe in Him, to reject Him and to mock Him in your lifetime.

"A place where you know of His eternal love for us and you see this love being shared amongst His followers in Heaven. Yet you are totally excluded from His presence and His love.

“It is denied to you because of the choices you have made when you were free to choose.

“Can you imagine that? Knowing for certain that God exists yet being excluded from Him.

“Isn’t that worse than any eternal fire?” asked the priest.

“Wow …” muttered one of the children.

Father Ignatius smiled reassuringly. “So, what is it to be,” he asked, “a fiery place or a place devoid of God?”

A child raised his hand and said: “I think it’s a place where I would rather not be!”

“That’s very wise,” remarked the priest, as the bell rang to indicate the end of Catechism lesson.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

I'm more famous than ...

Have you noticed how these days if you’re “famous” or a “celebrity” your opinion on any subject is suddenly sought after, even though you might not be an expert in that subject, or any subject at all for that matter.

The other day they had a young entertainer on TV. A few months ago a total unknown. But because of success at some TV show or other this “personality” was being interviewed about a topical political issue of the day. The answers given were non-committal, almost nonsensical, and obviously prepared before-hand by some advisor or other.

Of course, we’re all entitled to our views on political and other issues; but are these celebrities' opinions any more relevant than yours or mine? They're interviewed because they are famous and we are not.

It seems these days we are regaled on TV, the news media and magazines with the views of singers, actors, sportsmen and all sort of famous personalities on a variety of subjects totally unrelated to their field of so-called expertise. We are told how they live, who they are currently dating, marrying, divorcing or just going out with. What they wear, whether they are on a diet and how well or not they’re doing. And so on and so forth.

Good entertainment – perhaps. Certainly it sells papers and magazines, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Is there?

But of more importance is that these people, because of who they are, have become opinion formers. Their views count. What they say and their advice is followed by many. They are emulated by their admirers. In short: they are role models.

This set me thinking. Was Jesus a celebrity?

He preached. His views and opinions were certainly novel as well as controversial for the time. He turned water into wine. He walked on water. He healed the sick. He even raised the dead back to life again.

He certainly had a following – as many as five thousand people at one time. He was listened to not just because of what He said and did, but because of who He was – or claimed He was.

His utterings, just like those of today’s celebrities, were aimed at changing lifestyles and life-long habits. But His message was different.

He didn’t advise people on the latest fashions, or how to improve their homes, or prepare a sumptuous meal. He didn’t talk about diets or all the superficial issues discussed by celebrities today.

He talked about God’s love for us, and how we should love Him back and love each other – even our enemies. He taught us to forgive – time and again. He asked us to turn the other cheek. He told us He was the Son of God. He came to forgive sins. He promised us eternal life.

A powerful and controversial message indeed. One which not only could change lifestyles at that time – but also eternally even after death.

His message was relevant then. It is still relevant today. Sadly, too many are tuned in to the wrong celebrities.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Colour ... black and white ... or grey (Part 2).

In my previous Blog I mentioned that modern life is getting quite confusing.

Here’s another example of what I mean.

I’ve been given as a gift a new cell phone which is also a camera. What’s the use of that I ask you? Why can’t a phone be a phone and a camera be a camera.

Whenever it rings, I press a button and I take a photo of my ear. I’ve had the phone for about a week and I have 25 pictures of my ear. Then I look at it closely, realize what I’ve done wrong and press another button … and I take a close-up picture of my face as I press the wrong button again.

I’ve yet to receive or make a phone call on this thing.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Colour ... black and white ... or just grey?

Children say the funniest things. The TV was on and they showed a piece of old film in monochrome. A youngster said: “Oh look, the TV’s gone wrong … it has no colour anymore.”

Someone explained that in those days TVs were in black and white only. And before that, when you went to the cinema the film you saw was also in black and white. And before that even, films in the cinema had not sound at all. They were silent and someone sat at the front of the stage and played background music on a piano.

“Oh …” said the youngster, having just discovered something new.

I added jokingly, “Yes … in those days life was all black and white. We saw each other in black and white. We heard each other in mono sound and not in stereo as now. And our vision was in two dimensions not in 3-D as it is called now … “

The youngster looked puzzled, but he was soon put right.

This set me thinking. In those far off days life really was in black and white, so to speak. People knew where they were. Life was indeed different. I say “different”, not necessarily better.

If you wanted bread you went to the baker. You bought meat from the butcher and fruits and vegetables from the greengrocer. You went to the tailor to have your clothes made to measure, or bought them ready made from a special shop.

Nowadays everything seems jumbled up somehow. You go to the supermarket and you can buy anything from food, clothes and toys to paint, computers and financial services. Some even dispense medicines and run funeral services.

Life in general seems to have the edges all blurred up and distinctions are fading fast. Even in the way we conduct ourselves.

People no longer seem to know right from wrong. They no longer accept personal responsibility and are ready to blame someone else. They’re too quick to seek compensation first rather than accept that things just do go wrong. Our moral compass seems to be all over the place. People you expect to be honourable and setting the good example for the rest of society no longer do so. We seem unable to distinguish between good and bad, Saint and sinner, Heaven and hell.

Our communications are not longer crystal clear and sharp either. We now have all sorts of conflicting messages in the news, from the internet, cell-phones, text messages, tweets and what have you. It seems we live in an age of miss-information.

In short, life is no longer in black and white. It’s all murky grey more like.

In the good old days God’s message was loud and clear. “Thou shalt not” meant just that. His Commandments were a set of rules and regulations; put there for our benefit, as a guide to life. Now they’ve become ten suggestions to debate in the pub over a beer or two, and to alter and dilute to suit our modern sophisticated lifestyles.

Now I’m not saying life was better in those monochrome, monosound, mono everything days. Just different …

I believe God’s message is indeed still loud and clear today. We just don’t care to listen.

See the difference?

Friday, 16 October 2009

Jesus is on Twitter.

As you know a “tweet” is a text-based message of up to 140 characters which your “friends” can receive and respond to. Here are some tweets sent by Jesus:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.

Love your neighbour as yourself.

Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.

Forgive us the wrongs we have done, as we forgive the wrongs that others have done to us.

Do not judge others, so that God will not judge you, for God will judge you in the same way as you judge others.

Do not take revenge on someone who wrongs you. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, let him slap your left cheek too.

Forgive them, Father! They don’t know what they are doing.

Peace be with you.

I will be with you always, to the end of the age.

I say: This is great advice from our Lord, Jesus.

Are you a follower?

Friday, 9 October 2009

Judgmental ?

I had reason to take someone to hospital. The waiting room was empty so we sat there reading some old magazines.

(Why are magazines always old at the doctor’s and dentist? The one I read announced the sinking of a ship called Titanic. But I digress).

A few minutes later a man in his thirties came in. He was dressed in scruffy jeans, T shirt and coat. He had long stringy hair and a beard. He sat there mumbling to himself. He looked a bit like a hobo.

A few moments longer and another man came in. He too looked untidy. As soon as he entered the waiting room the first man asked him: “Have you got a smoke?”

The second man handed him a pouch of tobacco and the first man proceeded to roll himself a cigarette – which thankfully he did not light up.

A little while more and a couple came in – a man and a woman. They too looked … not too well in the sartorial department. They cheerfully greeted the others in loud voices: “You’re looking good … your cheeks are rosy … not pale like the last time”.

Others kept coming in … men and women. All looked similar in that some were un-shaven (the men of course), all looked poor and unfed, and all spoke loudly with each other.

“Good Heavens, everyone’s here today …” “How are you doing me old mucker?” and so on and so forth with plenty of fruity expletive bad language to boot.

In conversation one of them pulled out a book entitled “Alcoholic’s Anonymous” and it didn’t take long from their conversations to establish that they were all here together for a regular check-up. One proudly announced that she hadn’t touched a drop for 18 days whilst the others congratulated her for her efforts.

By then I noticed that the other “normal” patients (whatever that means) who had arrived since, congregated at the other side of the large waiting room. Some stood by the door, some waited outside in the corridor, but none said anything about this motley lot speaking loudly. It was obvious that they were being judgmental by their looks and their haughty silence.

I must admit in shame that when they first arrived in the room, I too felt a little uncomfortable and intimidated by their presence. They were not violent. Just loud, unkempt and in some cases obviously sleeping rough. One complained that last night was particularly freezing and he slept wearing his overcoat whilst tucked into the sleeping bag he was carrying with him.

This set me thinking.

Jesus must have met quite a number of people like them in His time. The poor, destitute, down and outs, the sick and the lame. Lepers even. These people were shunned and ignored by society in general.

But how did Jesus react? Unlike me, He was not uncomfortable and intimidated by them. Whether He met them singly or ten lepers at a time.

He reacted with love, pity and compassion. And in most cases He healed them and returned them to a better life.

Years later, Father Damien De Veuster followed Christ’s example and went to help the lepers of Molokai.

Mother Theresa dedicated her life to the poor of Calcutta.

I’m sure you can name others who also did similar charitable works instead of feeling threatened, intimidated and uncomfortable.

As I was!

Friday, 2 October 2009

I don't care.

“I don’t care … I don’t care what you say … or what you think … I don’t care about you … I’m thick skinned and your views and opinions don’t affect me … I just lead my own life … Do as I please regardless of you or anyone else … Don’t bother me and leave me alone.”

“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

“The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’

“But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

“He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father’s house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’

“Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’

“‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

“He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’” Luke 16:19-31.
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