Saturday 19 July 2014


Father Ignatius had been asked to take Sister Josephine’s Catechism class again as she was away on business. This time he attended to the top class at school – the 16 and 17 years old.

They were discussing sin and the nature of sin; and especially how often God was willing to forgive our sins.

They had mentioned Christ’s famous saying about forgiving 70 times 7 and understood that this did not mean literally that number of times. But, in discussion, they seemed confused about the various degrees of gravity between one sin and another.

“Does God forgive greediness like having an extra piece of cake, or chocolate, as much as He forgives cheating on one’s husband or wife?” asked a student sitting up front.

Father Ignatius cleaned his glasses of imaginary smudges just to gain some thinking time. 

“It’s true to suggest that there are various degrees of seriousness between one sin and another,” he said quietly, “and the Church has tried, over the years, to help with this distinction by denoting venial and mortal sins.

“Traditionally, this has meant that breaking one of the Commandments is a mortal sin.
But there’s more to it than that in my opinion!

“You’re all astute enough to know the difference between having extra cake, or in my case extra ginger marmalade, and cheating on one’s spouse, or stealing, or murder.

“There is an obvious difference in seriousness between these sins and God views them differently as such. But He is wise too, and He considers the circumstances behind the sin; not just their degree of seriousness.”

He stopped for a second or two to gain their attention.

“We know that the Church, for instance, considers not going to Mass on Sunday as a mortal sin. It is after all one of the Commandments” the priest continued.

“Now, in my view, I believe that God looks for the real intent of that sin before deciding on its degree of gravity.

“Was missing Sunday Mass the result of an act of laziness brought about by tiredness, by having a good Saturday night with plenty to eat and drink?”

They all laughed.

“Or was it a deliberate attempt to defy and disobey God?” he continued as the laughter died down.

“If it’s the former, then God will consider it a sin of weakness. Not too different from the sin of weakness of Christ’s disciples when they could not stay awake as Jesus prayed in the garden before His arrest.

“God knows all about our weak nature. He did create us after all! He knows full well I have a weakness for ginger marmalade, and some of you have a weakness for chocolate or whatever.

“And He forgives that sin for what it is. Provided of course we repent and try our best not to repeat it. Albeit our weakness may cause us to sin yet again.

“He is of course disappointed at our behavior. Very much as a loving parent would be disappointed at the behavior of his children. Yet He forgives it again and again.

“So missing Mass on Sunday because of the occasional laziness, I believe, would be viewed with disappointment for what it is … a sin of weakness.”

“So is it not a mortal sin then?” asked one pupil.

“Yeh … what if someone dies with venial sins, but has missed Mass due to laziness. Does he go to hell?” asked another.

Father Ignatius waited a second or two before going on.

“As I said, the Church does designate missing Sunday Mass as a mortal sin. I believe God looks at the intent, the very reason, behind the sin before deciding on its seriousness.

“So in the example you mention I believe that God would not exclude a person from Heaven purely because he missed Mass as a result of a drinking hangover.

“If on the other hand someone misses Mass because He doesn’t believe in God, or in direct defiance of God, then that is more serious.

“Let me explain what I mean to be in defiance of God. This means being in full knowledge of God yet having the impertinence, the impudence, the audacity to stand up against Him.

“This means making oneself as big and as important as the Lord God Himself.

“We read in the Bible about the original sin committed by Adam and Eve when they ate the forbidden fruit. What do we learn from this?”

“Don’t eat in the nude!” replied one of the school’s comedians as the class broke into total laughter.

Father Ignatius tapped the ruler gently on the desk to regain control of the class. As they settled down he continued.

“Adam and Eve wanted to be like God. That’s what the devil told them would happen if they ate the fruit. Theirs was a sin of defiance, not weakness. They didn’t want to know what the fruit tasted like. They wanted to be like Him.

“Over the years since then, many have tried to defy God. To stand up to Him instead of loving and obeying Him. The Pharisees did not believe that Jesus was the Son of God. Now that in itself is bad enough. They made the choice, given freely by God, to believe in Him or not.

“But they went further. They attributed Christ’s powers to the devil, knowing full well this is not so. And they encouraged others to stand up against Him.

“Some theologians call this the un-forgivable sin against the Holy Spirit. And many have debated it over the years and wondered whether it can be committed today, considering that Jesus is not visible amongst us as He was then.

“Personally, I don’t think this is important. What is important however is our relationship, individually, with God.

“Do we believe in Him? And if we do, do we honor, love and obey Him or do we stand against Him.

“Remember, even the devil believes in God. So believing alone is not enough. What is the action, the intent, behind our belief? That’s what God looks for and judges.

“These days, sadly, there are many amongst us in our society who do not believe in God. That is of course their prerogative, and whether we call it a mortal sin or not, we know that only God will judge those individuals when the time comes.

“But what is worse, is when those individuals encourage others to follow in their ways by what they say, and what they write or do, which serves as an example to others. They are no different to those people at the time of Christ who tried to lead others astray.

“Not to believe in God is one thing … but to lead others to do the same is far far worse in the eyes of God.”

The priest stopped again to ensure the message hit home.

“As I said many times before” he continued, “no one goes to hell by mistake.

“God judges each and every sin according to its seriousness and its intent. He sees deep into our hearts and knows whether it is a sin of human weakness or a sin of defiance against His Divinity and omnipotence.

“And of course, He forgives. He forgives as many times as is necessary if our repentance is genuine. Our remorse is genuine. And our determination not to sin again is genuine.

“To go to hell requires a soul to be in complete breakdown of communication with God. Not just the occasional missing of Sunday Mass.

“I view life a bit like that tree out there,” he said looking out of the window, “you see how it is leaning to one side? When the time comes for that tree to die and fall the chances are it will fall in the direction it is leaning. Not the opposite direction.

“We too, if we spend our lives in communion with God, doing what He asks of us, the chances are when our time comes we would fall into His loving waiting arms!”

Thursday 17 July 2014

Understanding Paul's letter to the Corinthians

I entered the house after delivering another load of tents to the local Outdoor Pursuits Shop.

Paul was sitting at the table writing on another pile of parchment papers.

“Hello” I said, “would you like a hot drink?”

“What have you to offer?” he asked without looking up.

“Hot boiled fish water sweetened with honey …” I replied casually.

“The same old brew …” he mumbled in disgust, “when will someone discover coffee, or tea or hot chocolate drink?”

“There’s also hot milk and honey from the Promised Land!” I said encouragingly; but he did not answer.

I asked him what he was writing.

“It’s a letter to the people of Corinth …” he said, “I have to finish it today and send it before postage costs go up yet again …

“They’ve asked me for advice on how to live … just basic advice. I mean … can’t these people think for themselves. Here, have a read” he continued, as he passed me some bits of parchment which smelled like old goat skins.

I read … “Chapter 7 - Verse 1”

For some reason Paul always wrote his letters by numbering every chapter and every verse. I don’t know why he did that. Must be some affectation of some kind I suppose. He wrote:

“A man does well not to marry.”

“Hein?” I thought, “what’s he on about?” I kept on reading what seemed to be rather personal advice to these Corinthian people; albeit good advice I must say, and then again, at Verse 7 he wrote:

“Actually, I would prefer if all of you were single as I am …You single people and widows, it is better if you continue to live alone; just as I do …”

I stopped and looked at him writing there. I wondered why he’d never got married. Perhaps having met my mother-in-law he got frightened out of matrimony altogether.

But his advice made no sense. How can he possibly say a man should not marry, and in fact he’d prefer all of them to remain single and live alone?

I asked him “How would people multiply if they followed your advice?”

“What’s Mathematics to do with it?” he replied without looking up, “they can learn their multiplication tables like every one else!”

“No …” I said hesitantly, “I mean … you know … doing it … having babies …”

“Oh … I gave them a let out clause in Verse 9” Paul continued nonchalantly, “I told them if they can’t control themselves they’d better get married anyway.

“I really can’t understand those people … why can’t they distract themselves by playing card games, or Monopoly or similar board games. The shops are full of them!”

I kept on reading and I must admit I got a bit embarrassed at the personal advice which followed. He meant well, I suppose, and maybe those Corinthians were a little slow on the up-take and needed very detailed advice on how to live as early Christians.

Then at Verse 26 he repeated his opinions again.

“If a man is unmarried he should stay this way. If he is married he should not get rid of his wife!”

“Charming” I thought, “no doubt he’s considered the costs of divorce and alimony when giving this advice.

But then his letter continued:

“Are you unmarried? Then don't look for a wife ... I would rather spare you the everyday troubles that married people will have.”

Well, my mother-in-law certainly has had an influence on him; I thought.

I got out of the house somewhat more confused than those Corinthians will be when they receive this letter.

I was met by my wife and mother-in-law coming home from a shopping trip. Before I had time to welcome them mom-in-law said:

“What are you doing lazing in the sun? Have you no work to do?”

Monday 14 July 2014

My insensitive sensitivity

I think I am generally a sensitive person always caring for other people's feelings as best I can; even though at times my own feelings are really hurt; like the many times Lego bricks are left lying on the carpet and I step on one of them in bare feet. I politely say "By Jove, that was a tad uncomfortable!" and move on, rather than let my real feelings come to the fore.

The point I'm trying to make here is that although I try my best in the "caring" department there are times when circumstances conspire to make me appear insensitive.

Years ago we had a guinea pig called Porcus. Why a Latin name, I don't know. I would have gladly named him Pork, or Bacon, or Ham ... but hey ... the family chose Porcus and that's what it was.

For a few days I was at home alone. The family had gone away and left me in charge of the dog, the cat, the goldfish and Porcus the guinea pig. Not a difficult task really, and plenty of time to watch a series of football games on TV.

All was well in the household until one morning ...

I got up and found Porcus dead in his cage. I shook him up to wake him ... but no, he would not move. I rattled the cage and shouted "Wakey Wakey Porcus" but he did not respond. He was as deaf as a deaf bat! (Best simile I could think of at the time).

I bounced him up and down on the floor but he still would not move. He was well and truly dead.

What an inconsiderate stupid creature! Why could he not die at any other time? Why choose the only time I am alone at home to decide to die? Was it because of the football? Was the TV too loud? Did he not like who won the game last night? Why die now and have everyone blaming me for not taking care of the animals in my care? It was meant to be an easy task after all!

More important ... what do I do with the dead Porcus?

I can't keep him until they come back because he'll begin to smell. Unless I keep him in the freezer! No ... that's stupid ... I'll be blamed for accidentally freezing him to death! Unless I keep him in the freezer and thaw him out in the microwave a few hours before they return! No ... that's stupid too ... I'll be asked when he died. If I tell the truth I'll be asked how come he is still "fresh" and not smelling after a few days of dying. If I lie that he'd just died, I'd have to go to Confession for lying. It's sometimes inconvenient being a Catholic and having to confess.

I've decided ... I have to get rid of Porcus.

How do I do that? Throw him in the trash can? That's not too dignified is it? Bury him in the garden? That's a possibility ...

For some unknown reason I decided to take the easy way out and give him a naval burial by flushing Porcus down the toilet.

Porcus took his revenge by blocking the toilet system. He got stuck in one of the pipes and would not go away.

I called a plumber ... have you tried calling a plumber in an emergency? They are all too busy for the next century and a half. The most amenable could only come in ten years' time. He said he'll be here in the afternoon because he was busy that morning!

Eventually a plumber arrived and sent Porcus on his way to a watery grave. He asked me what I'll do when the family gets home ... and suggested a replacement would ease the grief and get everyone to focus on naming the new pet.

Good idea ... off to the pet shop I went ... and then the next pet shop ... and the next ... there were no more guinea pigs in the whole wide world. We tried the planet next door, the whole galaxy ... no guinea pigs ...

I was offered a selection of hamsters. In sheer desperation I chose a hamster the same colour and size as Porcus.

As soon as they returned home and looked at the cage I heard "That's not a guinea pig ... it is a hamster!"

Why is it they have to educate children to know the difference between a guinea pig and a hamster? I mean ... does it really matter? It's small ... furry ... and fits in a cage!

So I had to admit it was a hamster and it was not Porcus doing an imitation of a hamster. I explained that Porcus had been swapped for a hamster because he was homesick and pining to see his family again.

They bought it ... phew ... my sensitivity had triumphed once again!