Saturday 23 February 2013

I am prejudiced

A few days ago I spent the morning at an old lady’s house waiting for the doctor to make a house-call.

Eventually the door bell rang and standing there was a young man in his late twenties wearing yellow jeans, a tartan style red shirt with no tie, and a sports jacket.

“I’m doctor Grange,” said he.

I let him in without a word and the old lady said: “You’re not Doctor Stuart; he’s my doctor you know!”

“Doctor Stuart is away, I’m new with the medical practice,” replied the young man as I left the room to give them some privacy.

As I waited in the hall I thought about this young man and, I must confess, I took an instant dislike to him. A doctor in jeans, indeed! And so young, what can he possibly know about medicine; he’s probably hardly ever practiced, still in diapers and just out of school.

Then it occurred to me. A light bulb switched on within my head and a message flashed in huge letters.

What a terrible thing prejudice is.
Just because he is young doesn’t make him a bad doctor. He’s probably the best qualified from his University and since he must have recently entered into practice his knowledge must be really up to date. Unlike an older doctor perhaps. (More prejudice.)

And so what if he’s wearing jeans? He’s probably off-duty and was advised by his practice to visit this old lady in the absence of her regular doctor. He obviously doesn’t attend work dressed like that.

You know, it’s human nature to be prejudiced. We all have our likes and dislikes and we react differently to peoples’ appearances, attire, age, accents, and the multitude of other feelings we have towards each other.

We’d do well to be aware of this part of our human nature and learn to keep it under control.

When Jesus walked this earth, He must have met many poor people whose clothes were dirty and torn. Lepers too, as well as prostitutes and evil-doers of all kinds. He didn’t use our prejudices in order to avoid them and judge them.

Instead, He used pity, compassion and love to help them to a better life.

Afew days later I had reason to take the same elderly lady to the doctor's; and I met Doctor Grange again.

Although it was a fairly warm day, Doctor Grange wore a suit and tie.

However, he had not aged much since the previous Wednesday.

I'll keep an eye on him to ensure he remedies the situation.

Thursday 21 February 2013

Welcome to hell

Well, I hope the title of this post has captured your attention for the next minute or so.

Whatever you conceive it to be, hell does exist all right! It may be an ever-burning everlasting fire mixed with the acrid smell of burning flesh and sulphur. Or it may be just a state of consciousness in the total absence of God’s presence and love.

When I was at school, many moons ago, a schoolboy described hell as being upside-down for eternity in a pile of manure. Now, there’s an image you’d probably never thought of. 

And as sure as hell exists we can be certain that the devil exists too.

He is not just a euphemism for evil, wickedness and wrong-doings. He is a living being, with us here and now, every day, and intent on the destruction of souls.

As Christians we cannot possibly believe in God and not believe in the devil. Yet, sadly for us, and fortunately for him, he has been cleverly air-brushed away from our sermons and our churches and our lives.

When is the last time you heard a sermon on Sunday about the dangers of the devil? I haven’t for at least a lifetime!

Yet, the devil belongs to the priest’s sermon as surely as God does.

You wouldn’t expect to drive on a perilous road without any warning signs of sharp bends, steep hills, and blind corners, would you? Yet we seem happy to live our lives oblivious of the very existence of a cunning and dangerous enemy ever eager to lead us to damnation when we least expect it.

There are indeed people who believe in the devil to the point of worshipping him. Whilst I cannot understand why anyone should wish to do so, at least I acknowledge their honesty in so doing; which is more honest than the millions of so-called Christians who attend church every Sunday yet don’t know exactly what to believe.

In December 2007, I understand, the Pope issued a directive to the Church to train and appoint priest exorcists in every Diocese to combat the spread of Satanism.

Well, at least he believes in the devil and is prepared to do something about it.

More pertinent point, do we Christians everywhere, regardless of denomination, actually believe in the existence of the devil as a living being; or do we espouse the milder euphemism of what he represents?

Are there millions of Christians everywhere sleep-walking their way into hell?

Sunday 17 February 2013


Father Ignatius read the Gospel according to Matthew, Chapter 4 Verses 1-11.

He waited a few moments for the congregation to sit down and then he continued:

“The devil appeared at the local supermarket one Saturday morning. He stood there by the main entrance looking menacingly and threatening. All the shoppers panicked. They escaped through every available emergency exits, jumped into their cars and drove off at speed.

“All except for one shopper. A small, short man, standing there by his shopping trolley holding a long shopping list in his hand.

“The devil advanced towards the small man and said angrily: ‘Do you know who I am?’

“ ‘Yes … I do’ replied the shopper.

“ ‘Aren’t you afraid of me like all the others?’ asked the devil.

“ ‘No … I’ve been married to your sister for 25 years!’ ”

Father Ignatius waited until the laughter died down, and then went on:

“The devil of course is no laughing matter. He exists alright, although his greatest trick is to convince us otherwise.

“If you were to ask people in the street what do they know about the devil, they would probably tell you about satanic worship, or satan possessing people, as they may have seen in the cinema. Some may mention a man with horns, a tail and pitchfork. But few would tell you of his existence and presence here and now.

“We Christians cannot possibly believe in God and not believe in the devil.

“Satan is amongst us every day of our lives and his task is simple; to lead us astray from the Lord.

“He doesn’t appear menacingly as he did in the supermarket in our opening story.

“No … he is more subtle than that. He is present in our most innocent and slightest temptation; when we least expect him.

“He is that extra bar of chocolate we indulge in, that extra bottle of beer or glass of wine, that cigarette or whatever other weakness we may have.

“He is that tiredness and sleepiness on Sunday morning which tells you it does not matter if you miss Mass this week.

“He is those extra minutes you take for lunch instead of being back at work on time; or the leaving early to go home.

“He is the odd flirtatious smile, which in time may lead you further on.

“And that’s how it starts my friends. A few minor indiscretions here and there which by themselves may mean nothing to you; but they’re the first stepping stones for the evil one.

“His subtleness and ingenuity are worthy of high praise indeed; for he tempts you when you least expect it.

“And the more devout you are the harder he works to get you off track. He will put doubts and worries in your mind where none existed before.

“Right now for instance, I suspect he is most annoyed to see so many of you here in church instead of somewhere else. Especially as the sun is shining and I’m sure you have so many more important things to do … or so he’ll tell you!

“I will not go on and give satan more publicity than he deserves. But let me say that if he had the audacity to tempt our Lord, as we have read in the Gospel, he will not shy away from tempting us.

“Like Jesus did, we must tell the devil: ‘Go away satan’. And pray again and again that the Lord may come to our aid and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

Friday 15 February 2013

Interview with my brain

Me: Well … that’s interesting … I’m talking to my brain.

Brain: I would prefer it if you did not call me “my brain”.

Me: What would you like me to call you?

Brain: I am your consciousness.

Me: Hein?

Brain: Your consciousness … you’ve heard the saying to be conscious is to be aware that you exist. Is a dog or cat aware that he exists? Does he know he is a dog? Or does he act through instincts? You are aware you exist … you’re conscious. If you prefer you can call me the soul! That’s what most people choose to call their inner self.

Me: Wow … this is getting complicated.

Soul: It isn’t. Let’s look at it another way. Imagine we have a car. It goes forwards, backwards, left and right, slow or fast. It doesn’t do this by itself. The driver inside it makes it move or stop.

The car is your body, and the driver inside it is me … your soul. The brain is merely the engine of the car. It’s an organ which receives and sends information to the other organs or components such as the heart, liver, kidneys, ears and eyes and so on. Just like the engine of the car receives information from the steering wheel, the driving pedal and the brakes and sends it to the wheels.

The soul is the driver, the body is the car, and the brain and other organs are just components.

Me: Wow once again … I never thought of it that way.

Soul: I was put in the car … your body … the moment you were created. When you were born. I accumulate knowledge over the years based on the surroundings and environment I am in, the love and care I receive from other souls, my up-bringing, my education and lots of other factors. And with all this information I am free to steer the body anyway I like … with me in it of course.

Me: Free to steer the body … I never thought of it that way.

Soul: Yes … the soul is the main driver and is responsible for all actions taken throughout the journey. Whether to go left or right, to do good or bad and so on. I am influenced by many factors as I’ve explained but the final decision and responsibility for the journey is mine.

Me: You mean up-bringing, education and all these things!

Soul: That’s not all … I am also influenced by a Higher Being … my Creator … mostly known as God. He advises me just as a driver would have a passenger next to him showing him the way. The driver is free to accept the advice or go his own way … perhaps influenced by … shall we say … other not so good advice!

Me: Wow once more … for the third time.

Soul: And as the journey goes on … over the years the car gets worn out and tired, perhaps damaged along the way, until the time comes when it can go on no more. That’s when it’s time for me to get out and go to meet my Creator.

Me: Why?

Soul: To tell Him how I got on with my journey. And depending on that He will hopefully give me a prize!

Wednesday 13 February 2013

London Nights

Why is it that people jump to the wrong conclusion when they see me dressed in my usual attire?

Some time ago I went to London to stay with friends and I was told that one of them goes out at night with members of his church to go to London parks and feed the poor and the down-and-outs.

Would I like to join them?

On the day in question a van from his church called at his house and he and I and two others drove into London just before 10 o’clock at night.

We parked the van by the roadside and it broke my heart to see literally dozens of people sitting on the wet grass waiting our arrival.
“Word soon gets around” I was told “they tell each other that we’re here by around 10 and every time we come there’s more of them!”

“There’s another van parked a hundred yards away” I said.

“Yes … it’s another church. We’re glad they come too because we couldn’t cope on our own!”

I was given a big box full or pre-wrapped sandwiches which the ladies in church had prepared and I walked by the park edge handing them out as the vagrants got up and went to the van for a hot drink.

By the time I had emptied my box of sandwiches I had reached the other van from the other church.

“Hello … you are new here” said a middle-aged lady from near her van “I haven’t seen you before!”

“Yes … this is my first time here …” I smiled back.

“Would you like a sandwich?” she asked “and a cup of soup? We have chicken and tomatoes, which do you prefer?”

“Oh no …” I smiled, “I don’t need anything to eat … thanks!”

“Do sit down …” she interrupted, “the chicken soup is hot and tasty … I made it myself!”

Before I could answer she was joined by another lady who said “He’s probably shy, Mary! It’s very difficult for some of them to accept our help.”

I was about to explain when Mary interrupted again “You look very cold my dear … this jacket you’re wearing has seen better days … we have a spare coat in the van … about your size I should say … let me get it …”

“No … no … you don’t understand” I protested with a smile hiding the insult at my authentic 12 years old tweed jacket, “I am not one of the poor people. I came here to help with my friend from another church!”

“Now you’ve embarrassed him …” said the other lady to Mary, “either that, or the poor man is hallucinating … it happens when they’ve been drinking … does he smell of drink?”

I’ll have you know dear readers that I do not smell of drink but always of the best after-shave lotion I can buy for a few pennies down the market. This farce had got on too far and it was time I put these two lovely well-meaning ladies straight.

“Look ladies …” I said calmly yet authoritatively, “believe it or not, I am not here to ask for food or drink or clothing. I came with my friend from another church to help feed these poor people. I came in the van parked … parked … over … there!!!

“Where has the van gone? Where’s my friend and the other two people from his church? Did you see them leave?”

“Never mind …” said Mary in her sweet voice, “sit down here and try this soup and sandwich … I’ll go get you the coat!”

As she left I told the other woman, “I don’t know what’s going on. My friend is from St Bartholomew church. Do you know it?

“He’s gone and left me stranded here … can you help me please and give me a lift in your van to his house? It’s near the church.”

“Oh no …” she replied, “we’re not allowed to take passengers in our van. It’s only for us to come here and serve food …”

She walked away hurriedly and stopped Mary who was coming towards us with a coat. They both moved towards the van at speed. A man came out of the van towards me and said “Here friend … I have something for you …” and handed me two sandwiches.

He then jumped in the van and they drove off.

I gave the two sandwiches to two men sitting nearby and hurried as quickly as my legs would carry me towards the main road where I stopped a taxi and went home.

“Why did you drive off and leave me?” I asked.

“We thought you’d gone into town to see the London sites” was the jovial unperturbed reply.

“But … but … I was wearing my cowboy hat with a large feather in it … clearly visible from afar … what do you want me to do? Put on a flashing light on top so you can see it from miles away?????”
This story is dedicated to someone I know who does a lot of good work feeding the poor at night in London.

Monday 11 February 2013

Faith? What Faith?

You know how it's like. When all is well in life and you feel at peace and confident. It's easy then to wave your hands in the air, sing "Halleluiah" or such like Praise Song, and tell everyone how good and great is Our Lord.

But what happens when things aren't so good? When they are bad? In fact when they're very bad? Very bad indeed?

Do we still jump up and down praising God? We should ... but do we do it? Always?

Or does a tiny little bit of doubt creep into our mind, and it slowly  grows as big as the devil's smile?

Our human nature dictates that at times we do doubt and worry. It's how we're made. It's how He created us. And He knows too well that it's our human failings that come to the fore when the pressure is on.

We may pray and pray, and then pray some more. But then ... nothing. No response from God or from Anyone else out there. It's like talking to a phone that has been cut off.

We ask others to pray for us and our situation. They promise to do so. But still nothing. No One seems to be listening on the other end of the phone.

Our doubts grow and the devil smiles some more.

We ask whether He is really there. Does He exist? Is it all an imagination? Are we alone to our fate and our destiny as the world goes round and the years pile on to our shoulders?

When we're at our wit's end with doubts, fears and worries. When we feel that we're losing our Faith and the very beliefs we've held to over periods of time that's when in effect our Faith is being strenghtened.

The very fact that we're still praying, or we're asking someone else to pray for us because we're too tired and disheartened, is itself proof that we believe in something or Someone.

We wouldn't pray if there was no One there to listen. The very fact that prayers are still being said proves that deep within our souls there's still a very tiny flame still burning ... still hoping ... still daring to believe. Despite all our troubles there's still a teeny weeny little bit of belief. It may be smaller than half a mustard seed. But it's still there.    

All our pains, our worries and our troubles serve to strenghten our Faith, however small it is right now.

As the man said to Jesus: "I believe, Lord; help my unbelief". (Mark 9:24).

The man believed in something or Someone, however vague and confused his belief was, but that was enough for Jesus to take pity on him and to respond.

We've all got different amounts of Faith and Beliefs ... assuming they can be measured as such. Some of us can undergo great difficulties and pains and their Faith remains steadfast and an example to many. Others crumble and tumble at the first hurdle and break down to almost nothing.

God knows that. He knows us all and He knows our capabilities and our propensity to be tested.

He will not allows us to be tested beyond our capabilities. He is not in the business of losing souls ... least of all His own followers. He'd leave ninety-nine safely praying and go out looking for the one wandering away in a daze.

When we ask God to give us Faith ... to "help our unbelief"; He doesn't give us a magic pill to increase our Faith, or wave a magic wand to make it happen.

He allows a situation to develop to give us an opportunity to trust Him more and so increase our Faith in Him.

Wow ... that's complicated.

He allows a situation to happen which makes us trust Him more ... to increase our unbelief ... to increase our Faith.

I once asked someone how come he had such great Faith. He replied that in life he'd been through so many bad situations where he knew that God was there every time helping him.

That made me feel smaller than half a mustard seed.

Tuesday 5 February 2013

Jesus Mary and Joseph

Not much is known about Jesus’ childhood. The Bible records the story of His birth in Bethlehem and the early days of His life but not much more.

We are left to wonder what He was like as a baby. Crawling on the ground and then taking His first hesitant steps. I wonder what His first words were when He spoke.

One thing for sure though. He was much loved by His earthly parents, who devoted themselves to His up-bringing, until He was ready to start His work on earth as His Father willed.

Like most parents, they must have wished many good things for Him as He grew up, even though they knew who He really was and what His mission in this world was to be.

Mary, however, carried an additional burden in her heart. She knew from those early days what was to happen. Simeon in the temple had told her: “… sorrow, like a sharp sword, will break your own heart”. Luke 2:35. Joseph was there to witness it all.

Can you imagine what they went through as parents? Knowing of the torture and Crucifixion which Christ would suffer.

And Mary, endured that pain even more as she followed her Son on the way to Calvary.

Yet … despite all that. Despite knowing well ahead what was to happen, despite witnessing the Crucifixion for herself, one thing must have sustained Mary and encouraged her throughout her ordeal: the sure knowledge that Jesus was/is the Son of God and that He will rise again from the dead.

That thought alone should help us when we too go through difficult times. No matter how difficult our situation we should hold on to the fact that our Lord, the one we profess to love and follow, is the Son of God. By His death and Resurrection He has conquered evil once and for all.

And no matter what our situation may be, we can assuredly turn to Mary, and seek her help in bearing the difficulties we go through.

Sunday 3 February 2013

Singing Fast

Mrs Parfitt, was always haughty and well to do, with an expression on her face as if she’d got a permanent bad smell under her nose. She was rather thin and very tall, which meant that she always looked down on people – quite literally. She was very proud of her achievements, and well she should. She was educated at the best private schools and was in a successful career when she married an equally successful local businessman.

Yet, despite her outer appearance of cold granite stone she had a heart of gold. She often contributed generously and secretly to any cause the Church was involved in and gave a lot of her time to singing at Mass on Sundays and on special occasions.

Miss Cartwright however was perhaps the exact opposite. She was youngish, short and … shall we say … well developed. She was always jovial and laughed a lot at the slightest thing. And when she laughed, her whole body would shake and wobble like an under-set jelly. She played the organ on Sundays and accompanied Mrs Parfitt’s singing as she led the choir.

Father Ignatius was in the Sacristy tidying up when he heard loud voices emanating from the church.

He went to investigate the cause of the commotion only to walk into a heated argument between the two ladies in question.

Mrs Davenport, the housekeeper, was arranging flowers on the altar with another helper and did not take part in the discussion.

“What is going on here ladies?” asked the priest calmly yet firmly.

“It is quite pointless practicing any singing Father if one does not have the facility of a competent organist!” said Mrs Parfitt in her very posh upper class accent.

“Are you calling me incompetent?” retorted Miss Cartwright bright red in the face like an over-ripe tomato.

“Well … if you can’t keep up with my singing … what would you call that?”

“For your information, the organist plays according to the music sheet, and it is up to the singer to keep up with the music and not the other way round …”

“Ladies … please … let us remember where we are …” pleaded Father Ignatius, “you remind me of the cow, the chicken and the pig …”

“Who are you calling a pig?” asked Miss Cartwright turning even redder in the face and wobbling like a strawberry jelly.

“I am calling no one a pig … nor anything else,” said the priest gently, “let’s sit down ladies and discuss this sensibly …”

At this point Mrs Davenport stopped what she was doing and encouraged her helper to come and sit with her in the front pew next to the two battling women.

Father Ignatius stood by the lectern resting his arm on it and said:

“There was once a cow, a chicken and a pig on a farm discussing the benefits of a good English breakfast.

“The cow extolled the virtues of good fresh cold milk poured over cereals, or used to make hot porridge. And then she regaled about the benefits of pure wholesome butter spread on toast, compared to margarine with all its synthetic additives. All in all, she was well pleased with her contribution to the English breakfast.

“The chicken explained how versatile her contribution could be … poached eggs, scrambled, fried, soft boiled and so on and so forth …

“The pig looked down and said nothing.

“ ‘Have you nothing to say about bacon?’ asked the chicken.

“ ‘All I have to say’ replied the pig, ‘is that you two are involved in the English breakfast; whereas I am fully committed!’ ”

Father Ignatius stopped for a few seconds; then he continued.

“I think we need to ask ourselves how committed we are to God when we visit Him here in church.

“It is nice of course that there are so many people willing to help with flower arranging, cleaning, playing the organ, singing and all the other jobs which exist in a church like this. I certainly couldn’t cope without all your help, and I’m very grateful.

“But is that what coming to church is all about? Being involved in the various jobs and events?

“Or do we come here to be fully committed to God? To thank Him for what He has done for us; and to receive Him in our hearts in the Eucharist.”

He paused again for a few moments and then went on.

“Did the disciples and the early church leaders worry too much about singing and who is to play the organ, I wonder?”

At this point, Mrs Davenport asked innocently “did they have electric organs in those days Father?”

The priest ignored the question and continued gently, “the disciples at the time were totally committed to our Lord Jesus Christ and were determined to spread His message to the point of death. And indeed, many died in pursuit of that commitment.

“Even today … there are many Christians throughout the world who meet secretly in each others’ homes to pray because Christianity is persecuted in their countries. Many are attacked and have died for being Christian. Do you think they worry whether they have enough flowers or the right music sheets?

“So let us come to church to be fully committed to God and not be distracted by other matters such as music, flowers and so on. Nice enough as they are, they are not the reason why we are here.

“Let us in all humility ask God what He wants of us.

“Let us say ‘Here I am Lord, it is I Lord. I have heard you calling me. I will go and do what you ask me … if you lead me!’ ”

Father Ignatius stopped talking and slowly made his way back into the Sacristy.