Friday 25 June 2010

Does ingenious man need God?

Father Ignatius approached the pulpit and waited until the congregation had settled down before speaking.

“I was reading the other day about Isambard Kingdom Brunel. As you may know, he was a leading British civil engineer who lived in the 1800s. He was famous for building many bridges, tunnels, dockyards and of course the Great Western Railway … our first major railway. He also built steamships including the first propeller-driven ocean going iron ship.

“When I read about famous people like Brunel I never cease to be amazed about the ingenuity of man.

“And of course … the ingenuity of women too.

“Mrs Davenport, our housekeeper, can create an outstanding meal which would make even Brunel envious … I tell you.”

Mrs Davenport, sitting upfront, smiled coyly.

“The point I am trying to make here,” continued Father Ignatius, “is that mankind is very inventive in every sphere of life … engineering, construction, medicine, the arts such as music and the theatre and almost everything we set our mind to.

“And with our ingenuity comes satisfaction for what we have done, a little bit of well deserved pride perhaps, and encouragement to others to pick up what we have done and take it even further and progress it for the benefit of mankind in general …

“Certainly nothing wrong with that …

“Until the devil steps in …”

Father Ignatius paused for a while.

“And when the devil steps in, man thinks he is too clever by half. After all if we can build bridges, and tunnels and ships and planes, if we can gaze at the stars and planets and learn all sort of things from them, if we can heal all sorts of illnesses and study every aspect of life and genetics to the point of Creation itself. We become self-important to the point where we no longer need God.

“Or at least that’s what we think …

“How often do you read in the papers about famous scientists who proclaim in all certainty that God doesn’t exist? After all, these learned men have made many an important discovery and no doubt the world owes them much. So they are listened to and their pronouncements, on matters they know nothing about, are taken as gospel, if you’ll pardon the pun, and revered by one and all.

“As I said, the devil steps in and fills man’s mind with false self-importance. It reminds you of the serpent who said to Adam and Eve that if they eat the fruit of the forbidden tree they would be like God. And they fell for his trick, as many do right now in their mistaken beliefs and self-importance.”

The priest stopped once again to allow the congregation to think about his warnings.

“I often visit the local hospital,” he continued, “and I got to know a famous doctor there. He is not a Catholic, but he goes to church all the same … he watches a different TV channel shall we say …”

The congregation laughed.

“We got talking the other day about religion,” continued Father Ignatius, “and I asked him how he reconciled his vast scientific and medical knowledge to his Faith as a Christian.

“He replied that his job was no different than a car mechanic’s.

“He had learnt over the years how different parts of the body work and function and how to fix them when they sometimes go wrong. Just like a mechanic follows the manufacturer’s instructions when he fixes or maintains a car, so does this doctor do the same.

“But then he added, ‘however, unlike a car mechanic, I do not have the full blue-print designs and instructions to work from … the manufacturer in my case, God the Creator, has decided to leave some things secret from us so that we never know about life and how it was created … just as well I suppose … or else we’d make a mess of that too!’

“So you see … no matter how clever we may become, no matter how ingenious and resourceful … there will always be matters that the Good Lord, in His wisdom, will keep secret from us.

“Pretentious and conceited we may well be; but not half as clever and almighty as He.”

Wednesday 16 June 2010

Stark Reality.

John and Fiona were very distraught parents. They stayed behind in church after Mass and asked to see Father Ignatius.

He suggested they wait until everyone had gone, and eventually he came back in the church from the car park, having seen the last of the parishioners leave.

The couple were sitting up front next to the statue of Our Lord. Father Ignatius joined them and said jovially, “how are you both? And where is Lea today?”

“It’s about Lea that we want to talk about Father,” said Fiona.

“She doesn’t want to come to church any more …” added John, “she’s met some new friends and they’re leading her astray … she says church is boring … and she wants to do her own thing …”

“And you feel there’s nothing you can do about it …” continued the priest.

“That’s right Father, the more we argue with her the more she becomes stubborn …”

“That’s understandable …” said Father Ignatius gently, “parenting is not that easy despite what many people might think … and despite what the experts would tell you to do …

“In reality, there’s nothing you can do about it … your daughter is old enough to do what she wants.

“As they grow up, children want their independence … Lea may get in with bad company, as you say … she may go totally off the rails … get into real trouble … and there’s very little a parent can do.

“I don’t mean to sound harsh … and I sympathize with you and what you must feel … but in reality we can only live our lives and not the lives of others.

“We may try to control other peoples’ behavior, through persuasion, pleading or downright force … but success depends on a number of factors and to a large extent the other person should be willing to alter their behavior to what you wish it to be …

“This isn’t helping much is it?” asked the priest quietly as he prepared them to understand the situation.

“Do you mean we do nothing?” asked Fiona holding back her tears.

“I didn’t say that …” continued Father Ignatius.

“I wonder how Mary and Joseph felt when they lost Jesus when He was twelve … they looked everywhere and were concerned about their young teenager …

“But in reality … they had no need to worry did they? Perhaps they should have trusted God a little more … maybe they did, and I’m judging them too harshly …”

“What exactly are you saying Father?” asked John.

“Do you trust God?” was the direct reply from the gentle priest.

“Eh … yes, of course …” mumbled John.

“OK … let’s consider the facts … you say she met some new friends …”

“Yes … she’s left school now and she is at college … she’s made new friends there … they’re OK I suppose … but they’re not Christian and she feels she’s becoming independent by not going to church.”

“And does God know about this?” asked Father Ignatius.

The couple were stumped and said nothing. The priest continued.

“I suggest you let her be. If she doesn’t want to go to church, don’t make an issue of it!”

“But … it’s mortal sin!” exclaimed Fiona.

“It’s her mortal sin … not yours,” said the priest, “besides, let’s assume you can force her to get to church every Sunday, and she does attend against her wishes, and sits there fuming and cursing under her breath … would that make you feel better? Would it be a bigger sin do you think, than not attending church at all?”

“So you’re advocating we do nothing? I’m surprised at you Father” said John getting a little angry.

Father Ignatius smiled.

“That’s the second time I’ve been asked whether I’m suggesting you do nothing … and I repeat, I did not say that.

“I suggest first of all that you trust God, and I mean really trust Him that He has a hold on this situation and He is in full control. Can you do that?”

They nodded silently.

“Good … then I suggest you don’t force her to come to church on Sunday … or even mention it. Just come by yourselves as you always do …

“If you do so already, continue with your family prayers. Before meals … evening prayers or whatever prayers you say together as a family …

“She may or may not join you … leave it to her to decide.

“Lead by example … if you really trust in God you will hand over your daughter to His care. If you stumble and wobble and if your Faith falters you will set her a bad example; and you’ll give her proof that your own Faith is only skin deep.

“She is free to decide what she wants in her life. It’s a gift given to all of us by God. Not to be restricted or controlled by any one else; this is what you’d be doing, albeit with good intentions, if you force her to go to church.

“Pray for her, like you’ve never prayed before. Ask God to protect her, to guide her and to bless her.

“Praying is not doing nothing; it is the most positive action we can take.

“She may well return to God in due course, or she may never do so … it’s a risk we all have to take with our loved ones. But it is their choice to make … no matter how hard or how painful it is for us to watch and to accept.

“We can only live our lives, not that of others. Let us be a living example to others rather than pay lip service to it.

“I’ll visit your home perhaps a little more often than I usually do … and let us pray that God will one day soon welcome her back as He does any prodigal child.”

Tuesday 8 June 2010

Stars and celery.

It was a beautiful warm summer evening. The youngsters from the Youth Club had gathered in the gardens behind St Vincent Church and enjoyed a lovely prayer service led by Father Ignatius and Father Donald, followed by a barbecue and singing by the fire.

As night drew in they had left one by one as their parents came to collect them and take them home. Even the Youth Club Leaders had gone. Only the two priests and Mrs Davenport, their housekeeper, remained in the gardens. She got up from her chair and started collecting the plates and cutlery to take them in the house.

“Oh … do sit down Theresa …” said Father Ignatius, “you’ve been working all evening. Just sit down and relax.”

“But there’s all this washing up to do Father …” she replied, “it won’t get done by itself …”

“Don’t worry about the washing up …” said Father Donald picking up his guitar and playing a tune, “Ignatius and I will do all the washing up later … I promise. Now sit down and let’s enjoy a few moments by the fire as it dies down …”

After a few moments of silence, listening to Father Donald playing his guitar, she could keep quiet no longer.

“What are you looking at up in the sky?” she asked Father Ignatius.

“All those stars … shining brightly in a clear dark sky. There must be hundreds and thousands of them. And they’re so far away …” said Father Ignatius pensively.

She looked up and said nothing for a moment or two.

“How are they held up there in the sky?” she asked.

Father Donald stopped playing the guitar.

“They are not held … they are just there …” he mumbled in his broad Glaswegian accent.

“But why don’t they fall?” she continued, “something must be holding them in the sky …”

“There’s no thing as a sky as such …” Father Donald began to explain, “there are stars, and planets and solar systems which make up the universe and …”

“Of course there’s a sky,” she interrupted, “it’s up there and I can see it. It is black at night and it changes color in the morning to blue and sometimes it is red in the evenings …”

“Dear Lord …” mumbled the priest as he picked up his guitar once again.

“What do you think Father Ignatius?” she asked, “isn’t God wonderful to have made all these stars … and in seven days too! He must have been working real fast.”

“I suppose so …” replied Father Ignatius gently.

“And then He made us humans and He put us on this earth …” she interrupted yet again.

“That’s right … He created the universe and all that is in it … including us,” continued Father Ignatius.

She gazed at the stars silently for a few moments. You could almost see the cogs turning in her head as she thought her next question.

“Do you think He created other living beings on those stars Father?” she asked.

Father Donald stopped playing the guitar and waited in anticipation for his fellow priest to reply.

“That’s a difficult question to answer …” said Father Ignatius eventually.

“Why should we be His only creations?” she enquired again.

“We really don’t know if this is the case,” said Father Donald, “there’s nothing in Scripture to suggest that God created other beings apart from us …”

“What do they look like? I wonder …” she interrupted again, “do they look like us? Or are they green with antennas on their heads like you see in the films …

“It says in the Bible that God made us in His image … so He must look human. Or does He look green with antennas so the people up there can recognize Him?

“And did He send them Jesus like He did to us … only He looked green too?”

“I think you’re running ahead of yourself Theresa …” said Father Ignatius gently, “we really have no way of knowing whether God created other living beings on other planets or other solar systems. Nor indeed what they look like.

“But in reality … that is not important.

“What is important is to focus on Him here and now. To accept Him as our God and Creator; and to love Him just as He loves us.

“There are enough mysteries in our Faith which we are asked to believe without us inventing new ones such as green creatures living in outer space …”

“One day as I was in the kitchen,” she said, “Father Donald waved a few sticks of celery through the open window and shouted the ‘Triffids have landed … the Triffids have landed …’ he has a wicked sense of humor, Father, don’t you think?”

“Sometimes humor helps to lighten the mood …” replied Father Ignatius defending his fellow priest.

“He also told me that there are no animals or pets in Heaven … what do you think Father Ignatius? Are there animals in Heaven?”

“I hope not …” replied Father Ignatius, “I would hate to come face to face with the Sunday roast reprimanding me for what I had done to it!”

“Aye indeed …” said Father Donald, “humor does help to lighten the mood … I hope it helps lighten the washing up which we’ve promised to do. Let’s get started!”

Monday 7 June 2010

Enough of all this Blogging.

Someone asked me the other day: Why do you Blog?

I didn't have a good answer.

"Is it vanity?" I thought. "Do I really have anything important to say? And does anyone really care what I say?"

So I asked my old school friend William Shakespeare what started him writing and why did he bother. This is what he wrote:

To Blog or not to Blog
That is the question.
Whether it is nobler in the mind
To keep one’s thoughts to oneself
Than reveal them to all
On screens large and small.
And by doing such
Suffer the slings and arrows
Of outrageous readers
Who’d rather Block you
Than read your feeble Tweeters.
Or to bravely face your qualms
And courageously Blog on
Regardless of your audience
Be it great or be it small;
Just Blog on into eternity
And have yourself a ball!

So there you have it. I'm blogging and having a ball!

Tuesday 1 June 2010

Loving and caring.

It was a special Sunday and Father Ignatius had been invited to celebrate Mass at the Hospital Chapel. The tiny church was full to capacity with nurses and doctors and other medical staff commemorating the 50th Anniversary of opening the hospital.

The priest approached the lectern and said:

“I am very pleased to see so many of you gathered here today to celebrate 50 years of service which you, and this hospital, have given to the community.

“I would like, if I may, to read you three passages from the Bible. The first is from Luke Chapter 4 Verse 40.

“After sunset all who had friends who were sick with various diseases brought them to Jesus; He placed His hands on everyone of them and healed them all.

“This reading is from Matthew Chapter 8 Verses 2 and 3.

“Then a man suffering from a dreaded skin-disease came to Him, knelt down before Him, and said, ‘Sir, if you want to, you can make me clean’”. Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him. “I do want to,” He answered. “Be clean!” At once the man was healed of his disease.

“And finally I like to read from Mark Chapter 7 Verses 32 to 35.

“Some people brought Him a man who was deaf and could hardly speak, and they begged Jesus to place His hands on him. So Jesus took him off alone, away from the crowd, put His fingers in the man’s ears, spat, and touched the man’s tongue. Then Jesus looked up to Heaven, gave a deep groan, and said to the man, ‘Ephphatha’, which means, ‘Open up’. At once the man was able to hear, and his speech impediment was removed, and he began to talk without any trouble.”

Father Ignatius paused for a few seconds and looked at the congregation.

“You will remember” he said, “that the woman who followed Jesus on the way to Jairus’ house only had to touch His cloak and she was healed.

“A few verses further on, we read that when news came that Jairus’ daughter was dead; Jesus walked all the way to the house and there He performed His miracle and raised the little girl.

“Have you noticed, I wonder, something common in all these stories we have read? They are written by different people; Luke, Matthew and Mark, yet they all record something in common. What is it?”

Father Ignatius paused yet again to allow the congregation to think.

“In all passages we read that Jesus touched people to heal them,” he continued.

“Jesus placed His hands on the sick. He touched them, and they were healed.

“Now we know that Jesus was, and He is, all powerful. He could have clicked His fingers, or even thought about it, and the sick person would have been healed, if He wanted to.

“But He didn’t do that. He stopped and touched them instead. And they were healed.

“He really didn’t have to walk all the way to Jairus’ house. He could have said ‘Talitha, kaum. Little girl, I tell you to get up!’ from the very place He was standing and she would have been raised from the dead.

“But He did not do that. He walked all the way there and raised her up in the presence of her parents.

“And what we learn in all these stories is that Jesus really cared about people. He sympathized with them. He shared their pain and their worries and their fears and had compassion for them.

“He stopped and took time to speak to them. To touch them and to be with them on a one-to-one basis.

“He didn’t just raise His hands and a multitude of them were healed at once. He treated them as individuals and loved each one of them as individuals. They were important to Him and He made them feel worthy of His care and attention

“And that’s what I would like to remind you dear friends.”

Father Ignatius stopped for a few moments yet again.

“Most of you gathered here are practicing in the medical profession. And I do know that you tend to get very busy … I’ve been here visiting many times and seen you work very hard dealing with several emergencies at once.

“And being busy … it is possible that sometimes you may deal with those in your care as just another patient, another case in the long list of cases that come your way.

“Please remember that the person lying there in the hospital bed, or waiting for medical tests, is a human being with fears, worries and natural foreboding of what is to come.

“If you can, spare a minute or two treating that person as an individual … just like Jesus did all those years ago … and still does today.

“And this thought applies to the rest of us as well … those not in the medical professions. Counsellors, lawyers, teachers … and priests too.

“Oh yes … I’ve known many priests too busy rushing from one Ecumenical Meeting to another to spend time with their parishioners … I suppose I’m guilty of this sin too … may the Lord forgive me.

“Whatever our profession … medical or otherwise … let us remember to treat those that God has placed in our way with love, care and compassion; just as Jesus taught us.

“No matter how busy we might be; let us never switch off our kindness dispenser!”