Saturday 22 April 2017

The Fear that grips us all

Fear is a natural emotion. We all experience fear at one time or another in our lives. Fear can be a good thing at times because it  stops us from taking un-necessary risks. From being reckless and un-thoughtful in what you do.

But there are times when fear itself breeds more fear and grips us to the extent of ruling our lives.

Few of us are really immune to it.

The fear of losing our job and not being able to provide for our families. The fear of missing payments on our mortgage and losing our house. The fear of failure and being unable to work again. The fear of our very lives crumbling in front of our eyes.
The fear of a marriage breakdown. Infidelity. Divorce and its many heartaches. The tearing apart of a family. How it affects one's children. Separation. Costs. Access to children. Being no longer a part of their lives. The feeling of failure and betrayal.
The fear of growing old. Being alone. Especially at night. Forgotten with only one's memories for comfort. The fear of being unable to cope any more. The fear of losing control as others decide for you what is best. The fear that everyone you relied upon is now no longer there.
The fear of being ill. With no prospects of getting better. Relying on others and perhaps being a burden on family and friends. The fear of incapacity. The fear of being unable to make any decisions. The fear of being unable to afford treatment. The fear of un-ending pain.
The fear for others. Children. Grand-children. Other relatives or friends. How they are coping. How will they cope. The fear of the future and what it might bring. In an ever changing world, the very fear of opening a newspaper or seeing the news that something or other has happened that will adversely affect you or your loved ones.
Few of us can claim not to have experienced the real darkness of fear as it grips our minds, our imaginations and indeed our realities.

Because all these fears outlined above, and others besides not mentioned here, have actually happened to others and can very well happen to us.

One day we are living our lives happily and the next ... a quick change in circumstances can easily propel us into any of the fearful scenarios described above.

Christ taught us not to be afraid. That our God loves us. He cares for us. He will not let us perish. He is always by our side.

Yet ... these fearful events are real and have happened to others, those who love and obey God, and those who don't; and can so easily happen to us. So we feel, perhaps, that our fears are justified.

Until we consider, for a moment or two, how God feels about our so-called justified fears.

Isn't our fear, justified as it might be, a sign that we don't truly trust Him? A real profession of faith that, when it comes down to it, we don't really trust Him? Somehow, somewhere, in the back of our minds, we harbour that doubt, that worry, that when things will go bad for us, as they will inevitably be for some of us, we don't really trust Him enough to be by our side in our moment of need.

Now how do you think God feels about your lack of trust in Him?

We may not be able to help these fears when they attack our minds, perhaps sub-consciously, but we can fight against them with prayer. Real prayer. Through gritted teeth even. Admitting to God that we are fearful and yet, trying, through every fibre of our being to trust in Him, in His love and in His caring.

Fear will try to grip us all. It is how we handle it that is our salvation. And with His grace and help we will succeed.

Friday 14 April 2017

Time for Reflections

Tuesday 11 April 2017

The Judas Question.

Father Ignatius was chairing the monthly “Any Questions” meeting at the Parish Hall. This is an event he had initiated some time ago whereby parishioners and their guests gather of an evening, and after refreshments of tea, coffee, hot chocolate drinks and cakes, they sit in cinema fashion and ask him any question totally un-prepared. Usually the questions are about the day to day running of the church, or the two Catholic schools nearby; but more often than not there are some questions about Christianity and the Catholic Faith.

Father Ignatius was convinced that the hot drinks and cakes were the main attraction; but he was assured this was not the case.

His curve ball came from a young lady sitting at the front.

“Father,” she said, “I can’t help feeling sorry for Judas. What chance did he really have? He had to betray Jesus; because if he didn’t do so, he’d be going against God’s will. So what choice or free will did Judas have?”

The priest put down his cup of coffee and cleaned his spectacles; a trick he had learnt in order to gain time.

“Would it help if I say I don’t know the answer to this?” he said eventually.

After a short pause the young lady continued, “well Father, I don’t understand the difference between our free will, or Judas’ free will, to do as we wish, and pre-destination to do what God has determined will happen.”

Before the priest could answer a man put up his hand and said: “Oddly enough, I was reading about this the other day. In John Chapter 17 I think it was. When Jesus was praying for His disciples He says to God something like ‘I kept the disciples safe. Not one was lost except the one who was meant to be lost so that the Scriptures may come true.’ This implies that Judas had no choice. He was pre-programmed as it were to betray Jesus.”

A few of the audience murmured at this; perhaps they hadn't read or heard about it.

“Free will and pre-destination are matters which have taxed many a learned brain over the centuries,” replied Father Ignatius gently, “and no doubt they will continue to do so.

“I am not God, and so I do not have a definite answer for you. But I assure you I will ask Him when I get to meet Him.

“In the meantime, let us consider the question a bit more.

“When God created us He had two choices.

“He could have created a species of robots. All pre-programmed to obey Him, to love Him and to do His will without question.

“And how trouble-free that would have been! No sin, no rebellion, no satan.

“But God loved us so much that He gave us a precious gift. He gave us the gift to choose. He allowed us to decide whether to love Him back, or not.

“When He invited us to return His love for us, He did so with no coercion whatsoever from His part. Love given freely by Him, and returned freely by us; but only if we want to.

“Hence our free will to choose.

“We are free to decide what we do with our lives. To love and obey Him, or to go our own way.

“Yet having said so, there are instances in the Bible where God does lead, or encourage, certain people in some direction. Look at the way he nudged Paul on the way to Damascus for instance.”

The audience laughed.

“You may well laugh,” continued Father Ignatius, “but God may have seen some good qualities in Paul which could come useful in furthering God’s Word on earth. And how right He was!

“After all, why should the devil have all the good talent?”

The audience laughed again.

“So …,” went on the priest after they had settled down, “whilst on the face of it there is some evidence, in our eyes, that God does lead us in some direction it is somewhat presumptuous on our part to try to analyze when this is pre-destination and when it is free will.

“But this so-called evidence is in our eyes only. Because we try to understand God in human terms. Something we should not do, in my opinion, because we are humans and He is not.

“By analyzing Him in human terms we bring Him down to our level. And this is wrong.

“God does not want us to understand Him and analyze His motives. He wants us to love Him and to dare to obey Him, in blind Faith, in the sure knowledge that He knows what He is doing.

“Can we do that? Dare to obey Him without question?

“And not want to serve God in an advisory capacity. But as obedient children, trusting His every word and action.”

The priest stopped for a second and sipped his coffee.

“Let Him be God and let us be humans. And let us always be willing to listen to Him when He leads us in a certain direction” continued Father Ignatius.

“I really cannot tell you whether Judas was pre-programmed, as you put it, or not. Did Judas really have a free choice? Could he have decided not to follow his evil instincts and not betray Jesus? In the Gospel of John he tells us that Jesus gave a piece of bread to Judas, to point at the one who was to betray Him, and at that instant 'Satan entered into him'; signifying perhaps that it was the devil who betrayed Jesus, and Judas was only an instrument in all this. I really do not have an answer to this, but I trust God to know the answer to that question and to have dealt with it with compassion, fairness and love.

“Finally, I wish to say this.

“I did not fall out of bed one morning and decide to become a priest. At the time, I felt led by God to follow the path to priesthood. It was a gradual process, it took time and it took a lot of thinking and praying … and eventually, I knew that He was calling me.

“God may well be calling some of you these days. Not necessarily into the priesthood, but to listen to Him and His will for you.

“I pray that you’d be listening when He calls you to do whatever He asks of you in this life.”

Monday 10 April 2017

You will always have the poor with you.

John 12:1-11
"Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume."

We all know this story, which is also told in Mark 14 3-7.

This event happened in the house of Martha, Mary and Lazarus. The man whom Jesus had raised from the dead, and as a result many people believed in Jesus and became His followers.

When Mary washed Jesus' feet with the expensive perfume, we are told in this Gospel that Judas Iscariot, (the one who betrayed Jesus), said, "Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?"

Jesus replied, predicting His death, "Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me."

Jesus was of course right in saying we will always have the poor with us. Two thousand years later and we still have poverty and starvation in the world whilst others seem to enjoy great luxuries.

It seems that whatever we do, or try to do, we cannot resolve this problem of poverty. I read somewhere that there is indeed enough food in this world to feed the whole population; but the food is in the wrong place. Plenty in one place and not enough in another; and it would take great efforts and cost to move the plenty we have in one place to the places who need it.

The problem of poverty seems too big and complicated for my limited brain-power to tackle and ... I am told ... whatever little I give to organised charities is diminished even further by administration costs, management salaries, advertising, transportation and so on, that by the time it reaches those who need it it becomes very little indeed.

So ... what am I to do with my limited donations to the poor? What did Jesus mean by them being always with us?

Let us look at what Jesus said in a wider context.

Could He perhaps be talking about something more than just material poverty?

Is He maybe reminding us that there will always be someone worse off than us? Someone who is poor in material things, someone poor in spirit, poor in health, poor in education or even poor in Faith.

This may be miss-interpreting Him perhaps but still worth considering.

We all have a responsibility towards those in poverty in one way or another. No matter how their poverty manifests itself.

We should always readily recognize our blessings and share them with those less well off than us.

If we are fortunate to be financially rich, we should give to those who have not.

If we are in good health, we should help those who are sick. Visit them at home or in hospital, and give a hand when needed.

If we are clever or intelligent we should be more tolerant towards those not as bright as us and help educate them where we can.

And if our Faith is strong, we should help and pray for those who falter and fail in their walk with the Lord.

So I suppose Jesus could be referring to poverty in the wider sense, as well as physical poverty of course, and such poverty, whatever it may be, will continue with us as a permanent reminder of our responsibilities towards others as well as towards God Himself.

And if any of us are not able for one reason or another to visit the sick, or teach the under-priviledged, or to serve at soup kitchens for the poor, there's something else very valuable they could do.

They could pray, pray and pray some more. Pray for the poor, the sick, the vulnerable, the under-priviledged. Pray for your relatives and friends. Mention them individually in your prayers and say something personal about the person in question.

Prayer is the greatest gift we can give and receive from one another.

And if you have time ... pray for me.


God bless.

Thursday 6 April 2017

The Oven You Wear

I mentioned on this Blog some six years ago that a friend of mine is quite an inventor. He had invented a jacket which warms up by means of a small battery to keep you protected from the cold in winter. I tried this jacket for him six years ago with interesting results. I really urge you to read about it HERE.

Anyway, fast forwards to the present day and this same friend has now improved on his invention and has now developed Oven-U-Wear.TM

To put it simply, this is an oven which you wear.

Or, to be more precise, it is a jacket or overcoat which acts like an oven. It has many pockets, both on the inside and outside, and through a battery operated system it heats up each pocket individually to the temperature you desire.

For example, you could be on your way to work with a potato in each armpit cooking gently. By lunchtime, hey presto ... baked potatoes!

Or, on your way home after a hard day's work you could be carrying a chicken on your back roasting gently, whilst the vegetables are in your side pocket and a cake up your sleeve! Once you're home you can sit down to a hot meal in seconds!

In the morning you can eat your porridge from your pocket whilst travelling on the bus or train. And have toast popping out of your collar straight into your mouth. Delicious with some honey or jam which you'll keep in your trousers which act as a refrigerator.

The problem with the trousers is that I have now grown icicles where I really don't want them!

And when they defrost I have a rather embarrassing tell-tale patch at the front of my trousers. Not to mention a cold wet bottom when I sit down.

The combination between cooking a meal in my jacket and making ice cream in my trousers is somewhat disconcerting at the best of time.

In winter I am nice and warm at the top of my body and freezing my un-mentionables underneath. Whereas in summer I am over-heating my head whilst my manhood is rather cool.

All in all, whilst this invention is rather cool, (modern slang meaning good, great, fantastic); in reality it needs a few more refinements.

The other day a short circuit sent an electric shock up my backside and my hat flew off !!!

Sunday 2 April 2017

The Resurrection of Lazarus

 John 11:3-7, 17, 20-27, 33-45

"So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, ‘Lord, he whom you love is ill.’ But when Jesus heard it, he said, ‘This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’ Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was."

Note that Jesus does not go straightaway to heal Lazarus. He waits for two more days. He also says that this illness will not lead to death.

"When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days ... Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.’"

Jesus arrives after Lazarus has been dead for four days. This is very significant. In those days some people believed that the soul does not leave the body until after three days. Jesus wanted to make sure that Lazarus was dead before performing His miracle. He did not want anyone to suggests that Lazarus was just sleeping or in a coma; as may well have happened in previous occasions when He raised someone from the dead. This time He wanted to make sure that the people understood that the power of God can raise people from the dead.

Notice also how Martha reprimands Jesus. "If you had been here, my brother would not have died."

Don't we too, kick back and blame God when something goes wrong in our lives? Note also the faith in that very sentence. She believes that Jesus could have saved Lazarus, had He been here. She reprimands Jesus. That in itself is an expression of faith. There is no point in reprimanding or getting angry with someone who can do nothing about it. But the very fact she reprimands Jesus shows that she knew He could do something about it had He been there.

When we are in great grief, or despair, we sometimes lash out at God. We blame Him for what has happened. This is only natural. It is our human nature speaking.

God knows that and He can take our anger. After all, He took all our anger and hatred when He hung there from the Cross.

Like in Martha's case, God forgives. We should in return hold on to our Faith and believe that everything is possible to God.

"Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ Martha said to him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ She said to him, ‘Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.’"

He re-iterates His message that He has the power to raise Lazarus. And Martha too, confirms that she believes Jesus is the Son of God.

"When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

This is also significant. Mary joins her sister to meet Jesus and she too says, "If you had been here Lazarus would not have died". The crowd murmur that Jesus healed many sick people why did He not come earlier to save Lazarus.

"Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, ‘Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead for four days.’"

Let there be no doubt that Lazarus is dead.

"And Jesus looked upwards and said, ‘Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.’ When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’"

Jesus re-affirms to His Father that this miracle is to make the people believe that He is the Son of God. This whole episode in Christ's life has one main purpose. To make the people believe.

Jesus deliberately arrived late to ensure that Lazarus was dead. Let there be no doubt about that. His sister and the crowd knew that. After four days, in the hot heat, the body would have decomposed and begin to smell.

In previous miracles, many sceptics and cynics would have said that the individual was probably not dead. He may have been in a deep sleep, or in a coma. Not much of a miracle.

This time Jesus waited for four days after death and burial to turn up and raise Lazarus. He wanted there to be no doubt that Lazarus is dead and that he has been raised back to life. No doubt that God's glory, through Him, will be seen by everyone.

Jesus says "unbind him, and let him go." Let that be a message to us when we are unbound from our sins and let go freely forgiven once again.

"Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him."

At last ... some ... of the Jews believed.

From the very beginning Jesus had said, "The final result of this illness will not be the death of Lazarus; this has happened in order to bring glory to God, and it will be the means by which the son of God will receive glory."

Our lesson is to learn that when things go wrong ... very ... very wrong; we need only believe that the end result will be that God is glorified, as is His will.