Friday 27 May 2016

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”. (Mark 9:24).

Saturday 21 May 2016

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.”

Sunday 15 May 2016

The Holy Trinity

One of the great mysteries of our Faith is the Holy Trinity. No matter how much we may scratch our heads, I doubt we’ll be able to understand it. Not that we are meant to, I suppose. This is because over the years we have treated the Holy Trinity as some sort of puzzle which we are meant to resolve, and once we do so, we gain a prize of some kind.

Let’s see if I can shed some light on this mystery.

For years on end in the Old Testament times people believed in one God. Leaders like Abraham, Moses and David believed in one living God; only one Person.

In those days, and thereafter, there were people who believed in many gods of course. The ancient Egyptians, the Romans, the Greeks, all had many gods.

So if God had revealed Himself to the Jews as three Persons in one, and assuming they understood this, (we don’t understand it ourselves now), then the pagans would have thought that the Jews believed in three gods.

Later on, at the times of the New Testament, the apostles, who were Jews, believed from childhood that there was only one Person in God. That’s what they had learnt from the writings of the Old Testament prophets and that’s what they experienced in their lives. They saw God’s hand in everything that happened. He was the God of Abraham, Moses and David. The God written about in history. The God up there in Heaven who gave them the moral law, (Commandments), and who created everything.

Then one day they met a Man named Jesus. For three years they lived with Him.

They saw that He spoke with authority and conviction, and all that He said made sense. They watched how He lived and the way He related to people.

He showed compassion for the sick, the destitute and those forgotten by society. He cared for the hungry and the poor and showed kindness for everybody.

When anyone was rude or insulting to Him, He did not answer back in anger.
He lived His life on a high moral plain but showed sympathy and understanding for those who were stained and scarred by sin.

He taught them about His Father who was God and that He was the Son of God. One day, when He asked them who they thought He was, Peter was quick to answer “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

They saw Him perform many miracles. They saw Him die and then alive again, and knew He had conquered death and the grave. Time and again they saw Him after the Resurrection, spoke with Him and ate with Him.

It was impossible for them to think or talk about God without thinking and talking about Jesus. They had come to know God their Father through His Son.

When Jesus was taken up to Heaven after the Resurrection the disciples were distraught. What are they to do now? Their Leader whom they saw and trusted all these years had gone. They were afraid, so they hid in houses secretly, wondering what to do next.

As promised, Jesus sent His Holy Spirit, the Comforter, upon them nine days later.

Their eyes were opened and they believed, and understood, that He was the Third Person of God.

To the early disciples, the Holy Spirit was real indeed. They had experienced the power of the Holy Spirit. They received Him at Pentecost in tongues of fire and they were able to speak to the crowds that gathered in different languages. Peter explained to the crowd that the disciples had received God's Holy Spirit.

The disciples, and early Christians, now knew for certain that the one and only living God they believed in, whom Abraham, Moses, and the prophets had spoken of, had sent His only Son Jesus to earth. Because they had met Jesus. They also knew that Jesus had sent His Holy Spirit upon them, because they had experienced the Holy Spirit.

To them this was all a reality. Something they had seen, experienced and understood. Not some sort of puzzle of three in one yet each one separate from the three.

Because the disciples had experienced the Holy Spirit, He became such a force in their lives, giving them strength to spread the Good News that Jesus had taught them, enabling them to live as Jesus had lived.

It was they who handed on to us this mystery that in one God there are three Persons.

Today, many people don’t understand the Holy Spirit. Somehow, over the years the message has been diluted. Miss-understood. Or perhaps deliberately confused to obfuscate the message of Christianity.
But the Holy Spirit still can and does descend on people today. And He does transform their lives. If people believe, and if they ask and invite Him earnestly into their soul.

Monday 9 May 2016

Pest Control

We had a terrible situation the other day and I had to call the Pest Control people.

I went to the toilet and there, inside the toilet seat, was the biggest hippopotamus you ever did see.

At first I was afraid ... I was petrified! Kept thinking I could never live ... With a hippo by my side.

I know what you're thinking. This is plagiarism. But it isn't; it's a hippo I tell you. A really big hippo there in our toilet.

But speaking of plagiarism. Personally, I don't like it and I long for a world with no plagiarism at all. You may say I'm a dreamer. But I'm not the only one. I hope someday you'll join us. And the world will have no plagiarism at all.

But let's not detract from the hippo in my toilet. As I said, I was afraid it might bite me where I don't want to be bitten. I stepped back and said "Shoo ... shoo ..." like you would a cat or other creature. But he did not move. His head was sticking out of the toilet bowl and he stayed there looking at me.

I picked up the toilet brush, which in our poor household consists of a hedgehog tied to a stick of wood. I tried to push the hippo back with the brush; but the hedgehog did not like it one bit. He untied himself from the stick and said he'd resign from this **** job.

I pushed the hippo with the stick, now minus the hedgehog. He did not budge one inch. He was too big to go down the toilet. He just picked up the stick in my hand and threw it back at me.

I flushed the toilet, but because the hippo was blocking the toilet pipe the water overflowed all over the floor.

I phoned the Pest Control people. They arrived within the hour. The man searched in his book about various pests and vermins but could not find anything about hippos.

I asked him how could a hippo just appear in our toilet from nowhere. He said that he was probably holidaying over here and took the wrong turning by mistake. That, or he probably fell off the back of a lorry delivering hippos to a nearby zoo far away from here.

Either way, we now had a hippo in our toilet and we could not get rid of him.

The Pest Control man asked me if I had any golf clubs.

"You're not going to beat him on the head with a golf club?" I asked.

"No ..." he replied, "but it is well known that hippos like to play golf. I was going to entice him out of your toilet and to the nearby golf course far away from here."

As you can tell. I am having difficulties ending this story which still leaves me with a hippo in my toilet.

Any suggestions or comments would be greatly appreciated. Thanx.

Friday 6 May 2016

When hope is totally lost.

People often face despair. Some more than others, and for longer periods than others. Periods when darkness haunts our lives for days on end.

Sometimes, people suffering with incurable disease and constant pain decide they can take it no more and choose to end their lives. Others, in what they perceive to be totally unsolvable situations in total despair decide to commit suicide.

We are told that to end one's life, whatever the circumstances, is wrong. We should understand however that no one chooses to end their lives in a cool and calculated state of mind. It is fair to say that such actions are, to some extent at least, motivated by loss of hope, and the inability to see things getting better.

That’s what I wish to address today. Loss of hope. One of the most tragic and damaging experience that can befall any of us.

Whatever our circumstances may be, if we lose hope, if we cannot see the prospect of our current condition changing for the better, we are in danger of shutting down completely and accepting the inevitable outcome.

We live in difficult times. Financial crises are affecting many people. Millions are losing their jobs, their homes and their livelihood.

Those aged fifty or more would find it very difficult to find a comparable job again, if indeed they can find any job at all.

More tragically, thousands of youngsters are leaving colleges and universities with good qualifications, and little prospects of employment. They feel cheated. They did what they were advised to do. They stayed in education, they worked hard, they probably amassed large debts and loans to help sustain them whilst they studied – and now there are no jobs to go to.

There are of course other circumstances which can lead us to lose hope, besides illness, or lack of work or prospects. Broken relationships with no possibility of reconciliation, addictions, failures etc … all can lead us to the temptation to just give up.

Where’s all this leading to? – I hear you ask.

I’d like you for a moment to consider some facts.

Whatever happens in life one thing is for certain: God is still in control.

He is not hiding away behind the settee crying: “Woe woe … look at what is happening out there!”

He is in total control of the situation which He has allowed to happen, and which, in most circumstances, we have created for ourselves.

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews knew what he was saying when he wrote: To have Faith is to be sure of the things we hope for … (Hebrews 11).

And the important thing, whatever our circumstances, is to hold on to that Faith and to believe, in all certainty, that God is in control.

And to thank Him and praise Him for being in control. To re-affirm and acknowledge our belief that He is in control.

By doing so, somehow, we open a channel for God to turn our situation to the good. I’ve seen this happen several times.

Think of the alternative. By turning our back on God, by ignoring Him, blaming Him even for our situation – He will hardly feel inclined to help us. Will He? Of course, He’ll remain in control, waiting for us, with Fatherly patience, love and understanding, for the moment we return to Him like the prodigal son and be welcomed in His arms.

But what do you do if someone else has lost hope – even though you may not have yourself?

Preaching will not help. It may drive them further away.

Love, sympathy, compassion, whatever practical help you can offer may well help a little.

But most important is prayer. Silent prayer even. Without them knowing about it.

Let your Faith and your hope work for them. Even though they may have little or no Faith at all, your Faith is enough.

The best listened to and answered prayers are those we pray for other people. They show God our generosity of spirit, our love, our compassion, and most of all, our Faith in Him.

Don’t suggest solutions to God; like “Please help Him find a job”, but earnestly and in all Faith hand the situation over to Him. He knows what to do, in His time and in His own way.

Just say: “Thy will be done” and mean it.

And watch His miracles at work.

Wednesday 4 May 2016

Forgive me Father ... For I have sinned.

It was another Saturday morning and Father Ignatius made his way into the confessional and sat there praying silently.

It was one of those old fashioned wooden confessionals consisting of a large cubicle into which he sat and at either side of him there was a little window covered by a thick curtain. On the other side of the window his parishioners would kneel to confess their sins; alternating one on the left and one on the right.

He was half-way through reciting the Hail Mary when he heard two people kneeling at either side of him. He leant to his right and said quietly “In the name of the Father, and of the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.”

This was his signal for the person at the other side of the curtain to start his confession.

At first he had two or three young children confessing their usual “I have been naughty … I disobeyed my parents … I forgot to say my evening prayers …” type of sins.

These were then followed by a few adults with more mature sins to confess. Nothing too serious though like murder or robbing a bank; but the usual sins he had heard times before perfectly symbolizing the frailty of human nature and the tendency to fail again and again at the same stumbling block.

It got to the point that, over the years, he got to recognize his parishioners by their voices and he could foretell their litany of sins before they even started speaking.

“Ah … it’s Mrs Salter once again …” he would think, “and here comes that same old sin once more … it’s like going to the doctor for a repeat prescription for the same old ailments!”

He would yet again, gently and with love and sympathy, dispense his words of wisdom before absolving her and mete out a penance.

And Mrs Salter would be followed by Mrs James … and Mr Collins … and so on and so forth … all religiously kneeling beside him confessing, more out of habit rather than determination, the same old sins week in and week out.

He’d fantasized that one day he’d stop one of his parishioners before they started and he’d say, “Now let me guess … you’ve done this and that once again this week … and you’ve also done this …”

Of course, Father Ignatius would never sully the sanctity of the Confession by doing such a thing, but the thought had crossed his mind many a time. Besides, if he did such a thing they’d probably think he was a mind-reader … and that would be worse for his reputation!

One Sunday morning he resolved to address the problem head on; but he had to do it with kindness and diplomacy.

He approached the lectern and said:

“I love ginger marmalade!”

Well … that certainly focused his parishioners’ attention.

“I have ginger marmalade on toast for breakfast every morning,” he continued, “sometimes Mrs Davenport, our kind and very helpful housekeeper, only serves me two slices of toast for breakfast …

“So I wait when she's not looking and sneak into the kitchen for two more slices!”

Mrs Davenport frowned in the front pew as the congregation laughed.

“Mrs Davenport says that I am putting on weight …” said Father Ignatius, “and it’s true that when I stand on the weighing machine it confirms what she says …

“So I have resolved to do something about it …

“From now on, I promise to stop weighing myself!”

The congregation laughed again. The priest waited until they’d settled down before going on.

“You see … ginger marmalade is my weakness. You may call it my sin.

“No matter how much I try … I always weaken and have some more. Sometimes I serve a little bit more marmalade than I need on my plate; and then, having finished the toast, all four slices, I enjoy the extra marmalade by itself …

“But this is not my only sin of course. I confess many others to Father Donald and Monsignor Thomas when he visits here …

“Now I don’t know about you … but I find that I frequently seem to confess the same sins I committed before …

“Just like ginger marmalade … the wily old devil seems to know my weakness and he tricks me yet again into the same sins.

“Do you remember I wonder when the Pharisees brought to Jesus a woman caught committing adultery?

“Now that was a whopper of a sin! Not just an extra spoon of ginger marmalade … was it?”

The congregation laughed.

“And according to Jewish law she had to be stoned to death for that sin,” continued Father Ignatius gently.

“Now we’re told in the Gospel of John that Jesus wrote in the sand with His finger.

“We’re not told what He wrote … I guess He wrote ‘Dear God … will they never learn?’

“But that’s not important … what is important is that after He said let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone … and when they all left one by one … Jesus turned to the woman and asked ‘Is there no one left to condemn you?’

“She said ‘No one …’

“And Jesus replied ‘I do not condemn you either. Go, but do not sin again.’ ”

Father Ignatius paused for a few moments.

“Go, but do not sin again,” he repeated.

“Now Jesus did not mean do not sin any sin whatsoever ever again for the rest of your life …

“He knew that that would be impossible. The woman was human, and it is natural that she would sin again.

“Jesus knows our human nature and He knows that we are liable to sin again and again …

“What Jesus said to the woman is, do not commit that particular sin again … it is serious enough to get you into a lot of trouble with the Pharisees as well as with God Himself.

“And that’s what Jesus is saying to us today …

“He knows we are weak … He knows that we will sin … which is why we have the Holy Sacrament of Confession.

“By saying ‘do not sin again’ Jesus is warning us to beware of those particular sins which are serious enough to lead us into damnation, and into an eternity of exclusion from our Father in Heaven.

“As we prepare for our weekly confession we need to consider carefully the seriousness of our sins. Which ones are ginger marmalade sins; and which ones are grave enough to exclude us from God’s ever lasting love.

“In our propensity to sin, God is loving and caring enough to forgive us again and again.

“But with our confession there should also be remorse and guilt for what we have done. Confession should not be just a laborious recitation of the same old sins; and a futile exercise which serves no one and certainly does not fool God Himself.

“Without true remorse, and a genuine resolve not to repeat our sins; then confession means nothing. And it would be better not to come to confession at all. At least that is honest in the eyes of God."