Wednesday 29 September 2010

Moving mountains.

Father Ignatius waited for a few seconds after reading the Gospel in church on Sunday.

“Let us remind ourselves of what Mary read in the second reading today,” he said, “To have Faith is to be sure of the things we hope for, to be certain of the things we cannot see.

“There are times in life when events hit us from nowhere and our Faith takes a real knock. Bad health maybe, or loss of a job or something else and we say … why is this happening to me? I’m a good person. I go to church regularly and love God. Why does He do that to me?

“But St Paul, who is said to have written this letter to the Hebrews, is quite clear in what he says … to have Faith is to be sure and certain of what we hope for and what we cannot see.

“And he had good reason to lose Faith … he was not in good health, he’d been arrested, beaten and imprisoned many times for preaching about Jesus, he was shipwrecked and bitten by a snake. He could have said at any time … enough of this … I might as well give up and go back to making tents … which was of course his trade.

“But he didn’t give up. His Faith remained strong. He continued preaching despite all adversities.”

Father Ignatius stopped for a while then continued.

“Jesus said that if we have Faith as small as a mustard seed we can say to a mountain move and it will move … or to a mulberry tree uproot yourself and plant yourself in the sea and it will do it.

“Can you imagine that? We don’t have any mountains near us … but there’s Ben Nevis in Scotland and Mount Snowden in Wales. Can you imagine standing there at the foot of Ben Nevis and saying … hey you Ben … I command you to move over there!

“And to have so much Faith in what you have said that you know for certain it will happen? You wouldn’t be frightened of making a fool of yourself in front of everyone else! You’d shout your command out loud to the mountain knowing full well that it will obey you.”

He paused again for a while and took something out of his pocket.

“I have here a mustard seed …” he said raising his hand, “can you see it?

“Of course not … it’s so small that I can hardly see it myself …

“Suddenly, this tiny mustard seed has never seemed so big … when it comes to asking a mountain to move.”

He stopped again and put the seed back in his pocket.

“But Jesus was not exaggerating when He taught us to have Faith.

“On His way to Capernaum Christ met a Roman Centurion whose servant was very ill. He asked Our Lord to help the servant, and when Jesus made His way towards the house the Centurion said ‘Lord, I do not deserve that you come under my roof. But just say the word and my servant will be healed’

“Can you imagine the Faith of that Centurion? A Roman officer who was no doubt tasked to keep the peace and had probably persecuted Christ’s followers in his time and kept them under control … Yet, this very man had so much Faith in Jesus that he knew that one word from Him and the servant would be healed.

“Can you do that I wonder? Can you have so much Faith in God that you know for certain that He will see you through whatever crisis you are facing? Or does your Faith crumble when adversity strikes?”

He stopped yet again to punctuate his sermon and to gauge the discomfort of the congregation.

“My dear friends …” he continued, “I am no Saint …

“There are times when my Faith falters too … I am as weak as any of you and at times that mustard seed I carry is as large as Ben Nevis itself.

“God knows that … He knows the amount of Faith we have in Him and how it varies in the good and the bad times …

“And yet He loves us all the same.

“A man came to Jesus once and asked Him to heal his son ‘if you possibly can …’

“Note the hesitancy in the man’s request. He was not as certain as the Centurion … he said ‘help us if you possibly can …’

“Jesus replied, ‘If you can? Everything is possible for he who has Faith.’

“To which the man replied, ‘I do have Faith, but not enough. Help me to have more!’

“Jesus took pity on him yet admired his honesty and healed his son.

“We too dear friends … should never be afraid or ashamed when our Faith is weak to say to God in all honesty.

“I believe Lord; help my unbelief”.

Sunday 26 September 2010

Channel of Peace.

It was Friday evening and as usual Sister Martha had called at the Parish House on her way home to the Convent. She sat in the large living room with Father Ignatius enjoying a lovely cup of tea and ginger biscuits whilst watching the news on TV.

Some person or other had been nominated for a Peace Prize because of his work around the world.

“What a great honour,” said Sister Martha, “to be nominated for having tried to establish a little peace in this troubled world.”

“Yes indeed,” replied the priest picking up another ginger biscuit.

“Reminds me of the Prayer of St Francis of Assisi … Make me a channel of your peace,” continued the nun, “it must be wonderful to have spent one’s life furthering the cause of peace. It should bring a smile to God’s face” she concluded chortling silently.

“There isn’t much to make God smile nowadays,” said Father Ignatius, “so someone like this person doing his bit for peace should bring a great smile in Heaven!”

“This makes me wonder …” she said, “does someone have to be a Christian to be a channel of God’s peace? What if someone has no faith at all, a total un-believer? And he works hard for peace … is he God’s channel or not? What do you think Ignatius?”

The priest put his cup of tea down and pondered for a minute or so whilst she switched off the TV.

“I believe our God wishes Peace on this earth,” said Father Ignatius softly, “Christ used to welcome people with the words ‘Peace be with you’,

“But I don’t think that it is a condition for God to use us as a channel of His peace that we should have Faith.

“God can and will use anyone in the right circumstances to do His will on earth and to further His Kingdom. If someone with no Faith at all is in the right place and at the right time then I believe God will use him. That person with no Faith may not even know that he is guided by God, yet he will be a channel of God’s peace all the same.

“Remember Moses was hesitant at first, when approached by God, citing his stammer as an impediment to the task ahead. But God chose him anyway.

“Paul had no Faith whatsoever. He was a declared enemy of God; in fact he fought God by killing the followers of Jesus. If ever there was a man chosen to further God’s Kingdom on earth Paul was such a man. But look where he started from … an un-believer with no Faith.

“No Martha, I don’t think one needs to be a Christian to be a channel of God’s peace.

“To be a channel for God’s use we need to be willing to listen to Him, to obey Him and to trust Him in every respect.”

Friday 24 September 2010

God’s Shepherd.

Father Ignatius was a shepherd although he had never been anywhere near sheep; even though his father had been a farmer.

No … Father Ignatius was a shepherd of human sheep. And that is not meant as a description of his congregation or their collective mental ability.

It was a responsibility which the kindly priest took upon himself from that day the Good Lord tapped him on the shoulder and asked him to take on his vocation. Father Ignatius saw his role in life to guide and lead as many that are put in his care as possible into the Kingdom of Heaven.

And in doing so he had to teach with kindness but with firmness too for it was not up to him to change the Word of God or to re-interpret it in such a way as to make it more palatable to his parishioners.

Father Ignatius knew his sheep by name and he also had the gift, or ability, to associate with each one of them a story or some fact or other about their lives. For example when greeting the parishioners after Mass on Sunday he would say “Hello Guy … how are the children settling in at school …” or “Good morning Mrs Perkins … are you feeling a little better after the operation?” And so on. This made them feel special which of course they were to him … just as a shepherd knows his sheep whether they are young lambs or long in the tooth mutton on legs.

The priest noted one Sunday that a young man looked a little morose and somehow out of sorts and this led him to recall that he hadn’t seen him take Communion for a while. He stopped him on the way out of church and asked him to wait a while to have a word.

When everyone had gone Father Ignatius and Roger went to the Sacristy.

“How are you keeping Roger?” asked the priest, “you don’t look too happy to me … is anything wrong?”

Roger did not need much prompting. Whatever had been eating him had been there for far too long to remain hidden and under control.

“There’s nothing to be happy about …” he replied, “I have lost my job and there’s little prospect of employment … as a result Sue and I have had to postpone our wedding … she hardly earns enough at the bakery … and all our plans to marry in the summer have gone out of kilter as it were …” and then he laughed bitterly and added “I’ve prayed of course Father … but I think God is too busy with someone else to bother about us …”

Father Ignatius said nothing for a moment and then asked, “Would you say a short prayer with me please Roger?”

The young man nodded and the priest started praying as Roger repeated …

“Our Father, who art in Heaven. Hallowed be Thy name. Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done …

“OK … let’s hold it there,” said the priest, “what’s the last thing we said?”

Roger hesitated and then mumbled “Thy will be done …”

“Precisely …” said the priest quietly and gently, “do you know Roger … I’ve often struggled with these four words … and me being a priest too …

“Thy will be done …

“We say these words time and again when we recite the Lord’s Prayer or the Rosary but do we really mean them?

“How far are we to accept our Lord’s will without question and without protest I wonder?

“Would we just accept the odd discomfort and setback if it is God’s will and somehow, without our knowledge or understanding, it serves His purpose? Maybe our problem and the way we deal with it serves as an example to others and brings someone closer to God. Would we accept His will in those circumstances?

“What if it is more than just a slight discomfort? What if His will leads us to pain or hardship? What then … do we accept it like Job did? Do we go on accepting it all the way onto death and torture like St Peter did and the Christian martyrs over the years?

“At what point do we say to God … Hey I said Thy will be done … but this is taking it too far!”

Roger smiled. The priest continued.

“We ought to be very careful when we make that particular promise in the Lord’s Prayer.”

Father Ignatius stopped for a while, as he often does in conversation to punctuate what he had just said, and to let the point sink in. He then smiled at Roger and said.

“The Lord knows what happens to us every moment of our lives Roger … not a hair should fall from our heads without His knowledge … and of course without His will and agreement …

“So when something happens to us … like losing a job … we should remember that He is still in control and somehow it serves His purpose.

“I am not saying it is easy … far from it. Our first human instinct is to rebel, get angry and complain or whine about our situation … It’s human nature to do so … But let’s try some non-human nature for a change … let’s with the aid of the Holy Spirit try superhuman nature to deal with the situation.

“I’m not criticizing you Roger … for I’ve had these difficulties myself you see …

“When the words ‘Thy will be done’ get to mean ‘as long as it is what I want’ then we’re adding a condition which was not there nor meant by Our Lord when He taught us to pray.”

Father Ignatius stopped for a while and then went on.

“It is sometimes difficult to accept or even understand the Lord’s will …

“We wonder why certain things happen to us … we being good and prayerful and attending Mass regularly and so on … why does He let it happen to us …

“The thing is Roger, the Lord knows what is happening to us and He will not let us be tested or be pushed beyond our capabilities …

“I have known people who have undergone great hardship in their lives Roger and they never lost their Faith. They accepted His will without question and were an example to the rest of us.

“Years ago I knew a young lady in this Parish, about your age and newly married. She became very ill with no prospects of getting better.

“I remember praying with her by her bedside in hospital and she said to me, ‘Cheer up Father … I’ll be seeing Jesus before you.’

“She died about an hour afterwards and yes … she did see Jesus before me Roger. She remained faithful to Him despite all that had happened to her.”

A few moments of silence followed as both men reflected on what had just been said.

“Go in peace Roger …” said Father Ignatius, “Trust Him to know better and to lead you where you are meant to be …”

Wednesday 22 September 2010

Tell it as it is.

Miss Lemon had invited Father Ignatius to sit in at Catechism class for the seven year olds at Junior School. He duly obliged and after the youngsters greeted him warmly and sang a welcoming song for him, Miss Lemon managed to settle them down and start her class.

She was talking about the sanctity of marriage and how important the family unit is in today’s society.

“When a man and a woman love each other very much,” she said, “they decide to get married and they have a wedding. Jesus went to a wedding a long time ago. Father Ignatius will read you the story later. How many of you have been to a wedding?”

A few children raised their hands and they talked all at once relating their experiences.

“Good … OK settle down,” she continued gently, “now when a man and a woman get married in church there is a priest there to bless the marriage … and the man and woman are given rings to wear on this finger here … Did you see that happen … Those of you who have been to a wedding?”

One or two of them said they’d seen this when they attended a relative’s wedding.

“The wedding rings are a symbol of the people’s love for one another,” continued Miss Lemon patiently, “and they normally wear the ring all their lives. It shows to everyone that they are married.

“So … can anyone tell me how you tell a man and a woman are married?”

A young boy raised his hand and said, “They yell at the same kids!”

Tuesday 14 September 2010

God is getting old.

Father Ignatius’s car had broken down just on the day he had to drive to the City miles away. Somehow he was glad this had happened because in all honesty he hated to drive long distances, especially when it involved negotiating busy traffic in the City.

He phoned his local garage for help and just as luck would have it, or was it a God-incidence, one of the managers was due to travel to the City that very day and he was happy to take Father Ignatius to his Conference and drive him back the same evening.

Oh what a God send Gerald was as he and the priest set off on the long journey. For once Father Ignatius could relax and not worry about the driving.

A few minutes into the journey Gerald started the conversation.

“I was thinking Father,” he said, “do you reckon that God has mellowed with age?”

“What do you mean?” enquired the priest.

“Well …” continued Gerald, “in the Old Testament we see Him full of wrath and anger sending floods everywhere and pestilence on the Egyptians and all sorts of bad things to those who did not tow the line. He behaved like a right monster at times, thumping people on the head if they did not obey Him.

“And now we’re told He’s a loving, caring, forgiving Father who has our best interests at heart. Why do you think He changed strategy? Did His first plans not work?”

Father Ignatius laughed.

“I’m amused that you think I know all about God’s plans,” he said, “the Almighty does not confide in me you know …”

“Maybe not Father! But you must admit it is a total change of tactics from anger and wrath … and you must admit the Bible says in the Old Testament things like vengeance is mine … and I am a jealous God … and all that. And now it’s all gentleness and sweet love … at least that’s what you priests lead us to believe.

“Why doesn’t God thump people on the head and into line these days? The world is going to ruin and His sweet love will get us nowhere …”

The priest laughed again at Gerald’s direct and forthright way of putting things.

“OK … let’s analyze what you’ve been saying …” said Father Ignatius, “on the face of it … it does appear that there’s a great contrast between the description of God in the Old Testament and the description in the New Testament.

“Now what I’m saying here is purely my opinion, you understand. I don’t have a hotline to God and I’m not privy to His strategies and plans …”

Gerald smiled and nodded.

“We tend to see God from our human perspective,” continued the priest, “we see Him with human understanding and we attribute to Him human qualities, plans, strategies, emotions and so on.

“But God is God. And man is man. We cannot possibly understand Him from our viewpoint, nor should we attempt to do so.

“Now it could well be … and this is me guessing here you understand Gerald … it could well be that the people at the time of the Old Testament were accustomed to being led … being guided … and told what to do.

“Can you imagine for instance one man … Moses … guiding a multitude of people out of Egypt, promising them a better life elsewhere, and going round in circles in the desert for forty years?

"This wouldn't happen today.

“In modern times people would have set up committees to discuss the project, appointed several managers to chair sub-committees and devised multiple budgetary plans and operational strategies … all before their poor overworked wives had time to pack the luggage and prepare the kids to leave Cairo.

“Yet in the Old Testament one man said let’s go … and they all went.

“True … they argued and rebelled along the way … and Moses dealt with it in a forthright manner as you advocate …”

Gerald laughed.

“So it could well be that God treated people in the Old Testament days the way they expected to be lead and the way they understood,” said Father Ignatius, “With firmness where necessary … yet at all times with fairness and compassion.

“This is only my opinion … as I said.

“And it could be that in His own time, according to His will, God decided to send Jesus to us in human form to teach us … to show us God’s infinite love, and to forgive and redeem us through His death and Resurrection.

“Jesus in human form had to be kind, and gentle and compassionate to portray God’s infinite love. And He taught us in the Lord’s Prayer about a loving Father caring for His children and always ready to provide for them.

"It would have been pointless to have a ruthless commanding Jesus forcing people to obey Him. This does not depict God's love for us, which is so infinite, that He gave up His own Son to die for us.

“Hence the contrast between the Old and New Testaments …”

At this point a huge truck overtook their car and moved back into lane so close that Gerald had to swerve sharply in order to avoid a collision.

“Stupid idiot …” shouted Gerald, and then muttered something else unrepeatable under his breath.

After a moment or two as the two men calmed down a little Gerald continued, “There are times Father, when I wish God would deal with people the old fashioned Old Testament way!”

Father Ignatius said nothing but prayed silently that God may forgive Gerald for his immediate reaction under pressure.

Monday 6 September 2010

Old Henry.

Old Henry was seventy-five years old yet his mind was as keen and sharp as it’s ever been; even though his body slowed him down a little with the usual aches and pains that surprise old folks every morning when they occur in ever new and unexpected places.

He didn’t leave his small cottage very often and spent his time pottering about in the garden or sitting indoors by his radio. He was glad of company every now and then, especially since he lived alone, and he particularly looked forwards to Father Ignatius’ visits every week. The priest would pray a while with him and give him Holy Communion, and then they would spend sometime discussing world affairs and putting things to right.

This week however old Henry was unusually quiet. Father Ignatius wondered if perhaps he was unwell and would not say in case the doctor took him to hospital for a check-up.

“You’re rather quiet today,” said the priest hesitantly, “has nothing happened in the world this week Henry?”

“No … it’s not that …” replied the old man, “it’s Thumper … I found him dead this morning …”

“Oh dear … I’m sorry to hear it …” replied Father Ignatius “It’s so sad when a pet dies … I love my dog Canis and I’d be heart-broken when his turn comes … but … but …” hesitated the priest, “I’ve been visiting you for a while … I never knew you had a dog …”

“Thumper is not a dog …” said old Henry, “he’s a goldfish … or rather he was … I found him floating on the surface of his tank this morning … as dead as a dodo …”

“Oh …” mumbled the puzzled priest.

“I called him Thumper because he thumped his tail on the side of the tank when I fed him … alas … Thumper will thump no more …”

Father Ignatius said nothing imagining for a moment a goldfish thumping its tail against the glass tank wall.

“I plan to bury him in the garden,” said Henry, “just by the rose bush. He’s in that cardboard box there … Will you say a few words with me whilst I bury him?”

It was rather unusual but the kind priest acquiesced. Henry opened the box and showed Father Ignatius a three inches goldfish lying peacefully on its side on a bed of cotton wool.

The two men went out in the garden and Henry placed the open box on a table with the lid beside it.

“I’ll go fetch a spade to dig a hole …” he said as he shuffled slowly towards a shed a few yards away.

Just as Henry was out of sight it happened. It happened so quickly that Father Ignatius had no time to react. He just stood there, frozen on his feet, watching the whole event unfold before his very eyes and unable to do anything to prevent it.

A cat came out of the bushes … jumped on the garden table … picked up the dead fish in its mouth … and hurried away in a flash.

Father Ignatius put the lid back on the box and held it solemnly in his hands. He prayed that the old man would not ask to see his beloved Thumper one last time before committing him to the ground.

Henry returned and started digging a hole by the rose bush. He then took the box from the priest’s hands and laid it in the hole and started covering it with earth he’d just dug up.

Father Ignatius stood silently throughout the whole ceremony, thanking the Good Lord that Henry did not open the empty box one last time.

Henry stood by the tiny grave, head bent slightly down, and finally said “I’ll miss you Thumper … you’ve been a good companion to me all these years … I’ll miss your waggling tail every morning … rest in peace my friend … wherever you are …”

Father Ignatius said “Amen” as the cat came out of the bushes licking its lips in delight.

The two men made their way back into the house.

“Will you get another goldfish Henry?” asked Father Ignatius cautiously as they sat down drinking a cup of tea.

“Nah …” said old Henry, “too much trouble … changing the tank water every few days … I can’t be bothered with a goldfish anymore … I might get a budgie though!”

Father Ignatius smiled as he readied himself to leave.

“You’re a kind old priest … in your funny sort of way …” said Henry as he walked him to the front door.

“How so?” asked Father Ignatius.

Henry smiled as his eyes brightened and he said “I saw that darned neighbor’s cat eat Thumper … and you said nothing … you let me bury an empty box so as not to upset me … that’s very Christian of you if I may say so …”

Father Ignatius said nothing his lips half-smiling in nervous appreciation.

“One day I’ll bury that darned cat too … mark my words …” continued old Henry.

Saturday 4 September 2010

Cry from the heart - Father Francis.

At last I have managed to obtain an old tape of the song Cry from the Heart recorded by Father Francis Maple. Here it is:

Mommy keep me safe, mommy keep me warm

Handle me with care, mommy help me to form.

I am ten weeks old, and I know the time will come
when you will give birth to me.

The gift you gave to me are a pair of bright blue eyes
So some day I will see you smile and love me.

I’ve already got my arms and a little podgy nose,
And at the end of my feet I’ve got five little toes.

I look forward to my life, ice cream and slimy snails,
teddy bears and little fairy tales.

Going for walks in the park
Running home before it’s dark.
And being tucked into bed with a kiss.

Where are we going today?
Am I in a boat or bus?

Why are we lying down?
Being drawn on four wheels?

And we go through the door
and there’s people dressed in green.
Everything seems so strange and so clean.

Mommy if they hurt you just let out a scream
and I know someone will come to help you and me.

Mommy what’s going on I am starting to cry
Come quickly they are forcing me to die.

They are killing me mommy, they are pulling me apart
My arms and my legs and now they’re at my heart.

And I won’t see the sky, or the grass or the trees.
and I won’t see the moon, or feel the breeze.

I love you mommy dear, you know I really do
But I only wish you could have loved me too!

Thursday 2 September 2010

The deal.

There are times that whatever Father Ignatius says or advises is sure to be misinterpreted or misunderstood. Yet, his duty as a priest and guide to his flock is to teach them, as best he can, about God our Creator and His unrelenting love for us.

One day he entered the church from the Sacristy and saw an elderly lady kneeling in the middle aisle right at the back of the church. He said nothing and proceeded to the Altar where he took away the candlesticks back to the Sacristy for Mrs Davenport to clean.

A few moments later he re-entered the church to find the same old lady still on her knees but a few paces further forward towards the Altar. He approached her gently. He hadn’t seen her before in church.

“Welcome to our church” he said in his soothing kind voice, “you’re new here … I haven’t seen you visiting us before …”

“I can’t get up Father …” she said looking up at him from her kneeling position.

“Are you in pain?” he asked, “Do you wish me to help you up?

“Oh no Father … I’m able to get up … but I can’t … I don’t want to upset God.”

“I’m sure God will not be upset if you have a rest for a while …” said Father Ignatius comforting her, “here … sit down for a while … and tell me all about it.”

He held out his hand and the elderly lady got up with some difficulty and sat down on the nearest pew. He sat down beside her and asked, “Why did you think God would be upset?”

“Well Father …” she hesitated, “my son is fifty years old, and he’s just lost his job … he has a wife and three children to look after … he won’t find another job at his age … not in the current situation. So I said to God that I’d pray the whole Rosary on my knees … walking one step at a time … from the back of the church to His altar. Then I’d do the Stations of the Cross on my knees … so that He would help my son get a job.”

Father Ignatius was touched by the love of this elderly mother for her son. He smiled gently and said “It’s good of you to pray for your son … it shows how much you love him and his family …

“But God does not want you to walk all around the church on your knees.”

“I’d do anything Father …” she said, “tell me what to do … and I’ll do it no matter how much it hurts me …”

“God does not want you to be hurt …” replied the priest gently, “God loves us and He listens to our prayers as long as they’re honest and come from the heart …

“He does not want us to beg like dogs … He does not want to humiliate us and make us lose our dignity …"

He stopped for a while and then continued.

“Humiliation and loss of dignity is the work of humans. See how we humiliated Jesus when we stripped Him of His clothes, we spat on Him, beat Him and mocked Him; and eventually killed Him most cruelly by nailing Him to the Cross.

“The Stations of the Cross are a reminder of how we humiliated Him and took His dignity away. And we still do so today when we hurt and hate one another instead of loving each other as He commanded.

“God does not want you to walk around in pain on your knees … He listens to your prayers no matter how or where they are said. Even sitting at home just say to Him in your own words how you care for your son and his family … ask God to help them. I’m sure He’ll listen and … in His own way and time … He will respond.”

“But I promised to do the Stations of the Cross on my knees …” she protested.

“Hey … trust me …I’m a priest …” Father Ignatius said with a smile, “I’ll pray to God for you and your family … Believe me, you don’t need to go down walking on your knees. Just sit here for a while and say a little prayer.”

“I’ll do that Father …” she said as the priest got up to go back to the Sacristy, “although I might stay on my knees for fifteen minutes to show God I’m willing …”