Saturday, February 28, 2015

Molly Sterling - a star is born


Last night's Late, Late Show was all about picking Ireland's entry for this year's Eurovision song-contest. When Molly Sterling started singing it became about something else. I think it became instead the moment a star was born. Listen to her sing and you'll know what I mean. She's only 16 years old; she co-wrote the song; it was written for the album she's working on; and she's still in school! But listening to the depth and maturity of her voice and the words she sings it is near impossible to believe that they are the product of an adolescent. I don't particularly care for the term 'old soul' but if there is such a thing than this young woman is it.

The vagaries of the voting on the song-contest are such that it is impossible to predict how she'll do (although the thought did flash through my mind last night about thirty seconds after she took to the stage that if she was chosen to represent Ireland then a trip to the bookies next morning to lay down a serious wager on her ultimate success might prove to be a wise investment - alas! I'm not a betting man). But no matter. Molly Sterling is amazing and it is hard not to think that a wonderful career awaits her. 

prayer diary Saturday 28 Feb (Day of Discipline and Self-denial)

'You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.' 
Matthew 5. 43, 44

Reflection
How can Christ tell us to love our enemies? How are we to control our feelings and do such a thing? But our Lord does not ask the impossible because love is not an emotion, it is a decision. To love God, love our neighbour, and love our enemies all are equally possible; it is a matter of deciding to do so and then living it out in our lives.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Leonard Nimoy, RIP

Leonard Nimoy died this morning. I know it is silly in a way to feel as if it is some kind of a personal loss when someone we only knew through television and the silver screen passes away, but it is hard not to take it that way. I grew up watching Star Trek. Spock was my favourite character, preferred over even Captain James T Kirk. Kirk may have been the hero, but Spock was the moral heart of that fictional world and the enduring internal conflict he suffered because of the two cultures from which he came made him not only endearing, but impossible not to empathise with.

If you weren't a fan of the show, much of what I said will make little sense. No matter. The man who brought that character to life has has crossed the final frontier to go where so many have gone before; may he find it a place where he will, by God's mercy, live long and prosper. 



prayer diary Friday 27 Feb (Day of Discipline and Self-denial)

‘You have heard it said ... “You shall not murder” … But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgement.' 
Matthew 5. 21,22

Reflection
Christ calls us to be perfect, even as he is perfect. Let this season of discipline and self-denial be an aid to you in answering that call, even as you pray for his help.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Russell Brand condemns porn and porn culture

Not really being a Russell Brand fan, there's no way I would have watched this video in the usual way of things ... and if I came across it accidentally, I would have presumed he was either going to make light of the subject or be a cheerleader for all things porn - or both (I know - judgemental of me - mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa).

But ... when I came across this on an Orthodox Christian site I follow, Byzantine Texas, I thought to myself 'hmm ... now this isn't the kind of site that would post this if this was a paean of praise to porn ... maybe it's OK to watch it ... the start, anyway and see how it goes' ...or words to that effect! (a comment in the BT combox makes much the same point)

So I began ... watched the whole thing ... found myself nodding along with wackily put points ... and thus I share it with you. 

prayer diary Thursday 26 Feb (Day of Discipline and Self-denial)

Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.' 
Matthew 7.7

Reflection
What is it that you truly seek? Is it not to achieve the purpose for which you were made and be with your Father in heaven? Listen then to his Son and make the changes in your life that will bring you to that which you seek.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

our family prayer

May my words be in the Name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: + Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

Later on during the course of this service we will say together the Lord's Prayer. I believe it was St Cyprian, the third century bishop of Carthage and martyr, who first called it the family prayer of the Church. It is easy to see why he thought of it in that way: those who call the same person 'Father' are surely all of the same family; as are those who call themselves brothers and sisters in Christ. 

St Cyprian also said it would be sinful for any who called themselves a Christian to fail to say this prayer. Why? Because it was given to us by our Lord himself when he taught his disciples how to pray. I have occasionally come across those who try to argue that Jesus meant by saying 'when you pray, pray thus' before giving us these words meant not that we should repeat them word for word but rather use them as a model, a pattern. In fact, in the margin of an old Bible I was saw written next to the Lord's prayer words to the effect: 'he meant pray like this, not pray exactly this.' They must have had strong views on the topic indeed to deface a copy of Holy Scripture for the sake of them! 

However, the Church has never taken that view; and it has been the tradition of the Church for almost 20 centuries now to faithfully and reverently pray these precious words that first fell from the lips of the Word made flesh, the second person of the Blessed Trinity, God himself made man. Certainly Anglicanism in general and the Church of Ireland in particular has never chosen to be unfaithful to that tradition by accepting some novel interpretation of our Lord's words when he gave us this prayer in order to reject the regular use of it. 

If any should doubt that, I suggest they take the time to leaf their way through our Prayer Book should they ever have some idle moments; they will discover that every service within in it, whether that for Holy Communion or any of the others, includes the rubric to pray the Lord's prayer. Even the instructions for a service of the word, which contains only a skeleton framework for how one should put together a fairly informal service should the occasion demand it, contains the instruction to include this prayer as part of it. 

As a result it has become the prayer that we all know, so familiar that it is deep in our bones, one that we learn as children and use all through our lives, sometimes to our very last breath. I can not tell you how moving it has been on occasions as I minister to those who are dying, to stand beside the bed of a soul whom the medical staff believe have lapsed deep into a coma, and as I say this prayer to see their lips begin moving silently along to the words I am speaking.


Because it is our 'family prayer' I thought that I would look at it part by part over the course of our mid-week services during Lent and Holy Week, and ponder deeply the meaning. Knowing something so well there is a danger that we no longer think about what it is that we are saying; and I hope that by looking at it in this way to awaken our understanding of what it is that we pray. 

After all, remember why it was that Jesus gave these words to his disciples. It was because the begged him to teach them how to pray, just as John the Baptist had taught his followers. And so I pray that over the course of the next few weeks that our Lord will awaken our hearts and teach us again how to pray the words he gave us so that they truly become a prayer and not merely words that we speak when we gather together as a family. Amen

note: this is part one of a series of reflections for Lent and Holy Week

The real reason why you shouldn't do yoga ...

Some of you may have heard about the priest in Northern Ireland, Fr Roland Colhoun, warning people not to go to yoga during the course of his sermon last Sunday. You haven't? That's funny; apparently it's making headlines around the world. People are getting themselves in total twists over his remarks. Certified yoga experts are being kept busy untangling the unfortunate victims. Personally I'm shocked - you mean to say people were listening while he was preaching? I want to know his secret! 

Anyway, this shocking video documentary reveals the real reason you shouldn't do yoga ...




(warning: bleeped out profanity at the end)

prayer diary Wednesday 25 Feb (Day of Discipline and Self-denial)

'For just as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so the Son of Man will be to this generation.' 
Luke 11. 30

Reflection
The people of Ninevah repented and were saved. How much more should we, to whom God sent his only Son, turn from all that is evil within us and in the world around us, hoping to be saved.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

SYRIA: AT LEAST 90 ABDUCTED FROM CHRISTIAN VILLAGES

a Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) press release

The Islamist jihadi group Daesh (Islamic State) has kidnapped at least 90 people from mainly Assyrian Christian villages in north east Syria.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), the kidnappings took place on 24 February, following dawn raids on Assyrian villages in areas held by Kurdish forces in al-Hasakah Province. The villages, mainly populated by the ancient Christian Minority, are near the Assyrian town of Tel Hmar. The nearby city of Hasakah is divided between Kurdish and Daesh forces.

On 22 February, fighters from the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) claimed that they had driven Daesh out of 22 villages, including several Assyrian ones situated between Hasakah City and Syria's border with Turkey. YPG forces also seized 19 villages during an offensive in Raqqa Province, which is next to Hassakeh. Daesh fighters countered by advancing into the Assyrian villages in an effort to regain control.

As well as abducting local Christians, the jihadi militants are also reported to have executed two people in the village of Ghibsh near Tal Tamer for 'dealing with Kurds.'

While there are currently no details on those who have been kidnapped, Christians living in these areas had previously received an ultimatum to convert, pay a religious levy (Jizya), or face death, causing many to flee their ancestral lands.

Last week, Daesh fighters released a video reportedly showing the mass beheadings of 21 mostly Egyptian Christians on a beach outside the Libyan capital, Tripoli, which sparked an international outcry and led to airstrikes by Egyptian forces on weapons caches and training camps in the coastal cities of Derna and Sirte.

CSW's Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said: 

'This kidnapping is the latest appalling assault on these ancient Assyrian villages. Daesh was already inflicting terror and suffering in the region through systematic use of religious taxation, destroying Churches and capturing and killing anyone who does not share their beliefs.

'Syria is the cradle of world Christianity, which far from being a Western or alien religion, was birthed and is rooted in the Middle East. It is both tragic and an irony that members of this ancient, indigenous community continue to suffer at the hands of a mercenary army. 

'Our prayers are with the family and friends of those who have been abducted and we would point the international community to this latest act of aggression as evidence of the need to provide protection for Syria's Christians against an onslaught that seeks to erase the country's diverse heritage.'

For further information or to arrange interviews please contact Kiri Kankhwende, Press Officer at Christian Solidarity Worldwide on +44 (0)20 8329 0045 / +44 (0) 78 2332 9663, email kiri@csw.org.uk or visit www.csw.org.uk.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is a Christian organisation working for religious freedom through advocacy and human rights, in the pursuit of justice.

in space no one can hear you bark ...

My children keep telling me that Bill Gates has spent around 70 billion dollars on a space ticket to be the first man to Mars. I have no idea where they got this story from. Where would one even buy such a ticket? I can't help imagining some guy with an oily smile taking the money, promising to call once the mission was ready to go ... and poor old Bill (very poor once he'd paid for the ticket) waiting by the phone for the call. And waiting. And waiting ...

Alas. The closest I could find by googling it was a suggestion that he privately fund a mission to Mars; but apparently even that would 'only' cost him about $6 billion. So, apparently not a true story. Pity.

Still, my boys and I had fun in the kitchen earlier today when they got home from school, laughing at the idea of Mr Gates spending €70 billion for his ticket and then finding out the person in the seat next to him had paid less ... a lot less (just like I have so many times on Ryanair flights!).'That would be so funny' said one.
'No,' said another, 'Funny would be his finding out the only other passenger on the flight was a dog.' 
(Smart boy that one - clearly knows his space exploration history.)
'Yes,' I said. 'And the tag on the dog's collar would be marked  Laika II.'


when life gives you lemmings ...

There was a great cartoon in the Irish Times this weekend. Lemmings were heading off a cliff, each adorned with the flag of a European Union member state. All but one. The one wearing the Greek flag was running away from the cliff which was marked with a sign reading 'Austerity.' One of those falling off the cliff looked back and saw what the Greek lemming was doing. 'There's always one idiot,' it sniffed. 

Delightful! I, like many others I'm sure, have great admiration for the stand Greece's new government is taking. I truly hope it all works out for this brave nation and that they will not soon be forced to grovel before the EU paymasters, begging bowl in hand, seeking lemming-aid.

(And if you didn't see that one coming, you must not have read the title of this post!)

You can see the cartoon here.

prayer diary Tuesday 24 Feb (Day of Discipline and Self-denial)

'Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.' 
Matthew 6.10

Reflection
Christ taught these words to all who follow them, words that we pray every day. As you pray them, consider the many ways in which you willfully ignore or flout God's holy laws. Pray daily this Lent for his forgiveness and help to do better.

Monday, February 23, 2015

prayer diary Monday 23 Feb (Day of Discipline and Self-denial)

'And (those at his left hand) will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’ 
 Matthew 25. 46

Reflection: 
Christ warned of the judgement to come. Make this season of Lent your spiritual training ground so that, with God's grace, you may be counted amongst the righteous at the last.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Forgiveness Sunday

Today is Forgiveness Sunday in the Orthodox tradition. After Vespers they have the Rite of Forgiveness, during which

... the priest stands beside the analogion, or before the ambon, and the faithful come up one by one and venerate the icon, after which each makes a prostration before the priest, saying, "Forgive me, a sinner." The priest also makes a prostration before each, saying, "God forgives. Forgive me." The person responds, "God forgives," and receives a blessing from the priest. Meanwhile the choir sings quietly the irmoi of the Paschal Canon, or else the Paschal Stichera. After receiving the priest's blessing, the faithful also ask forgiveness of each other.

In that spirit, I ask God's forgiveness for my many faults and failings; and I also beg pardon of those I have sinned against and ask God to help me forgive those who have sinned against me. Father, forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. 

Why do we usurp God's right to judge? ... It is for God alone to judge, to justify, or condemn. He knows the state of each one of us and our capacities, our deviations, and our gifts, our constitution, and our preparedness ... according to the knowledge that he alone has ... And how do you know what tears he has shed about it before God? You may well know about the sin, but you do not know about the repentance.'
St Dorotheos of Gaza, 'Discourse on Refusal to judge our neighbour,' part of the readings an reflections for Forgiveness Sunday  from The Bible & the Holy Fathers for Orthodox

"In this time of fasting and prayer, brethren, let us with all our hearts forgive anything real or imaginary we have against anyone. May we all devote ourselves to love, and let us consider one another as an incentive to love and good works, speaking in defense of one another, having good thoughts and dispositions within us before God and men. In this way our fasting will be laudable and blameless, and our requests to God while we fast will be readily received."
-St. Gregory Palamas, excerpt from Homily Seven: "On Fasting"

first came Satan: a reflection on the temptation of our Lord

May my words be in the Name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: + Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

Our Gospel reading today is St Mark's account of the temptation of our Lord in the wilderness. The reason why our lectionary chooses that passage for today is fairly obvious: today is the first Sunday of Lent and this penitential season is modelled on our Lord's 40 days in the desert. Therefore, I think it a good idea to look at a few of the details of this.

The first relates to whether our Lord ate anything at all during that time or if he abstained completely from food. We have three accounts of this period in our Lord's life and, not surprisingly, there are subtle difference. St Mark's, the one we heard earlier, which most scholars think was the first written of the Gospels, makes no mention of eating or drinking. However we may take it as being fairly obvious that when a carpenter goes to live in the desert among the wild beasts for a lengthy period of time his food supply is going to be severely restricted. Fasting then, while not directly mentioned, is strongly implied.
St Matthew's gospel, the one scholars believe was written next, does use the word fasting; and the word fasting as you all know covers a wide variety of ground: it can mean refraining for a particular kind of food for a certain period of time, significantly reducing the amount of food one eats, or it may mean eating no food altogether. St Matthew does not specify which he means. It is in the last of the three to be written, St Luke, that we are told that our Lord ate nothing at all for those 40 days.

The three evangelists are not, I would suggest, in any way contradicting each other here; instead they are rather each being more and specific about the details of the story. And we can therefore be sure that our Lord ate nothing at all during his time in the wilderness.

Let us now consider the length of time he spent in during his time of prayer and fasting. I'm sure you have heard it suggested that the word 40 in the Bible as it relates to time can be used to mean a good, long time rather than an exact number of days or years; that it is to be taken as an expression, along the lines of our 'a month of Sundays' or 'once in a blue moon', and not an exact period of time. So for example when the bible says it rained 40 days and forty nights when Noah was in the Ark, we may take it to mean it rained for a very long time without necessarily meaning 40 days exactly. Against that must be taken the fact that each of the three evangelists are very specific about it being forty days – even Mark who deals with the entire occasion in just two verses. So we must accept, I think, that the evangelists are being quite literal here when they speak of it being 40 days. Now common custom of the time would have allowed for part of a day to be described as a day – so, for example, if our Lord began his time in the evening of the first day and ended it in the early morning of the last, that would only be 38 full 24-hour days, but nonetheless it would be correct to call it 40 days. So while it might be possible to shave off a few hours from the beginning and the end, we are still left with a literal 40 days.

The question then arises: is it possible for a man to survive forty days fasting completely? And the answer is yes; a person will only last a few days without water, especially in the desert places of Israel; but there are many examples of people surviving for many weeks with no food. It is clear from the fact that the evangelists record that Jesus was hungry at the end, with no mention of thirst, that he abstained from food only. Naturally, a person would be in poor shape after such a fast – forty days without any food in the burning hear of the desert by day and its freezing cold at night would bring even the strongest of us close to death - but Jesus was no ordinary person and he did not undertake this fast for any ordinary reason. He was driven into the wilderness by the Spirit; so we may imagine that Holy Spirit helped sustain him throughout his remarkable feat of endurance; and, of course, at the end the angels of God came and ministered to him, no doubt greatly speeding his recovery.

But before the angels came, first came Satan. And when he came Jesus would have been at his absolute weakest; possibly as weak as it is possible for a man to be and still be alive. And he was hungry; so hungry that some translations have it that he was famished. Christ truly suffered during his time in the wilderness. And what does a starving man want more than food? And so Satan tempted him with food. Go on, use your powers to turn stones into bread; that's not what they are for, but what does that matter? You're hungry, you're starving – who could blame you? What if you die? How can you do what you were sent to do then? And as well as that, if you do it, you'll show me you really are the Son of God – that would really put me in place, wouldn't it? If God has sent his Son into the world to save men I might as well give up and go home! So really, wouldn’t it be a good thing for you to turn those stones into bread and eat!

But Jesus says no. He says that man does not live by bread alone. He lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. It would be better to suffer, better to endure your mockery, better to die than to disobey God's law. It is a moment of triumph, of good over evil, of God over the devil, of Jesus over sin; and by his triumph, Christ shows us that it is possible for us to battle and defeat all our temptations also. Have we not the Holy Spirit to help us also? Are we not strengthened by the sacraments: washed clean by the waters of baptism, given the chance to begin over each time we truly repent and confess our sins and receive God's absolution; and strengthened by the body and blood of Christ in the Holy Eucharist?

It is also an important teaching moment. Christ, by his example, shows us how essential it is for us to practice discipline and self-denial, particularly the discipline of fasting. By it we train our bodies to resist temptation: we say no for a short time to things that we are allowed and are good for us in order to learn that it is possible to say no; and then, when tempted by things that are against God's law, things that are bad for us because they are sinful and damage our relationship with God and put our immortal soul at risk, we are able to say no. We can look at all the excuses we make to ourselves, or that the world makes for us, and say: this is against God's law and I am able to say no; and even if I am too weak by myself, God will give me strength, and in his strength I can say no.


Christ endured all that he did in the wilderness so that he might teach us this important lesson. We should be humbled, yet again, by all that he was willing to do for us. And full of joy that God loves us so much that he would endure all this for us. I pray today that you are and always will be. Amen

Saturday, February 21, 2015

prayer diary Saturday 21 Feb 2015 (Day of Discipline and Self-denial)

Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance.’ 
Luke 5. 31, 32

Reflection
Christ, we know, came to call us all; therefore, we all must be sinners. Do not try to deny this - even if you can fool yourself, you can not fool God. Instead confess your sins and ask God's mercy - then deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Christ.

Friday, February 20, 2015

prayer diary Friday 20 Feb 2015 (Day of Discipline and Self-denial)

And Jesus said to them, ‘The wedding-guests cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. 
Matthew 9.15

Reflection
All the great spiritual teachers of all religions have recognised that restricting how much or what you eat can be of great spiritual benefit. We who call ourselves Christians should be the most zealous in this discipline, for it was mandated for us by Christ himself.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

prayer diary Thursday 19 Feb 2015 (Day of Discipline and Self-denial)

They went to him and woke him up, shouting, ‘Master, Master, we are perishing!’ And he woke up and rebuked the wind and the raging waves; they ceased, and there was a calm. 
Luke 9.24

Reflection
We are surrounded by many spiritual dangers in this world, evils that threaten our very soul. Turn to Christ; not only has he the power to save you, but it was the very reason he was sent into the world.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

one man's response to the martyrdom of 21 Christians in Libya


The SAT7 Network provides Christian broadcasting in the Middle-East via satellite. Something remarkable happened on their live call in show We Will Sing yesterday while they were discussing the 21 Coptic Christians recently martyred at the hands of ISIS in Libya. An Egyptian man called in. He wasn't any random caller; two of the martyrs were his brothers. What he had to say is a powerful testament of faith. Please pray for his family at this time, and the family of all those who were martyred in this attack, and the families of all those who have been martyred in similar attacks. And, like him, please pray for the conversion of heart of all those who perpetrate such violence.

Many thanks to Byzantine, Texas where I first saw this video.

Ash Wednesday

May my words be in the Name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: + Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

The season of Lent in many ways shows how the Church calendar and the secular calendar diverges. Often the patterns of the world mirror those of the Church year so that one might be hard pressed to notice that the two operate separate calendars. Many will celebrate Christmas, giving and receiving gifts without in any way celebrating the birth of Christ; the season of Advent is a time for office parties, minced pies, mulled wine, shopping, and getting together with friends and family, without it in any way a looking back to the time when the Second person of the Holy Trinity came into the world or of preparing themselves for when he will come again to judge the living and the dead. 

Easter Sunday itself is a time for chocolate eggs and not a time for glorying in our Saviour's walking free from the tomb and rejoicing in the fact that his resurrection from the dead makes certain our own hope that we too also will be part of the resurrection of all those who have died at the end of the ages. For them Sunday is a day of rest, if they chose to make it so, without in any way being the Lord's Day. Even some Saint's and other festivals are included in the secular calendar in some way: St Patrick's day is a national party day, often extending beyond one day; the Eve of the feast of St John is bonfire night; and, of course, Shrove Tuesday in pancake Tuesday, the day when many will eat pancakes, in accordance with the tradition that all rich foods were to be used up before Lent began, even though they have no intention of observing Lent in any way and may only be aware in the vaguest way that Lent is about to begin or what it entails.

But Lent is different from all the rest. There is no way for secular society to mirror it or subsume it into its calender in some way. Lent is a season that demonstrates that Christians truly are in the world but not of it, if they take their faith seriously that is. Lent is the time when we look back to our Lord's 40 days in the desert, his time of intense prayer and fasting, and try to imitate ourselves in our own poor way as we journey with him to Jerusalem, to the place where he was to suffer and die that we might be saved from our sins.

Our Gospel reading today spoke of the three traditional disciplines of Lent: prayer, alms-giving, and fasting. You will note that as our Lord spoke of them he did not speak of them as being something optional for his disciples: when you pray, when you fast, when you give alms he said – when not if. They are mandated by our Lord as part of every Christian life. And not, incidentally during Lent only, but all through the year. It should go without saying that prayer, helping others, and leading a life of self-denial is a fundamental part of Christian living. Lent is simply a time when we practice then with extra vigour, to help prepare ourselves for Easter, to willing journey with our Lord to Jerusalem over the course of the next 40 days, even as he willing journeyed there for us all those years ago.


I will end by saying this. Lent is a penitential season but it is not a gloomy one. How could it be? Did he not tell us not to be dismal when we are fasting? Did he not tell us that by obeying him we are laying up treasures in heaven? Yes we think of our Lord's passion and death at this time; but we also look beyond it to his resurrection. Therefore we should not look on the disciplines of the season as some kind of a burden, but a privilege; for Christ calls us now to walk with him, to strive even harder to imitate him. What a joy it should be to all who call themselves Christians to deny themselves, take up their cross and follow him. And so I call on you all to be joyful during these next several weeks, even as I urge you enter fully into the spirit of this season, making it a time of joyful spiritual renewal that will, with God's grace, help you achieve your true purpose in this life and pass at the last from this life to eternal life in heaven. Amen

China: Hong Kong Catholics ask is Bishop Shi alive or dead?

a Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) press release

Hong Kong Catholics, including Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, have demanded official confirmation of the reported death of imprisoned Chinese Bishop Cosmas Shi Enxiang.

The demand was made at a protest organised by the Justice and Peace Commission of the Hong Kong diocese, which gathered outside the Chinese government's liaison office on 14 February.

Various media reports stated that Bishop Shi, who had been detained at an unknown location since 2001, died at the end of January at the age of 94. His family members said they had been informed of the death by Hebei provincial officials. However, there are conflicting reports from officials about Bishop Shi's whereabouts and whether or not he is dead. The Justice and Peace Commission of Hong Kong is demanding official confirmation of whether Bishop Shi is alive or dead, and if he is dead, the circumstances surrounding his passing.

Bishop Cosmas Shi Enxiang was ordained in 1947, and was first sent to prison after he refused to submit to government oversight of his activities. He spent over 20 years doing hard labour, first in a labour camp in Heilongjiang province, then in a coal mine in Shanxi Province. In total he spent over 40 years in detention. Most recently he was taken from his niece's home in Beijing on Good Friday, 2001, and transferred to a secret location; his family have not seen him since.

Relatives of imprisoned and forcibly disappeared Catholic clergy and overseas organisations have consistently requested information about the whereabouts and health of detainees.

Another long term detainee in China is Bishop James Su Zhimin, who was detained on 8 October 1997 in Hebei. Prior to this occasion, he had been arrested at least five times and spent nearly 27 years in prison. While in hiding, Bishop Su wrote to the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress asking the government to end religious persecution. More recently, the US-based non-profit Cardinal Kung Foundation reported that on 7 August 2013, a Catholic priest from Xiwanzi diocese was arrested in Hebei province by more than ten Public Security officers. The current whereabouts of both Bishop Su and Father Song are still unknown.

Mervyn Thomas, Chief Executive of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, said, 'CSW joins Hong Kong Catholics in calling on the Chinese authorities to confirm the whereabouts and current status of Bishop Cosmas Shi Enxiang. Bishop Shi has spent decades of his life in prison for peacefully opposing the government's handling of religious affairs in China. The local authorities have made it impossible for his relatives to gain information about this situation, and have not allowed his family to visit him since he was detained in 2001. The current uncertainty surrounding his possible death is extremely distressing for his family. We call on the Chinese authorities to confirm immediately whether Bishop Shi is alive or dead. At the same time, we urge the government to release Bishop Su Zhimin and Father Song Wanjun, and to ensure that the peaceful religious activities of Catholic clergy and lay people are fully protected in line with international standards.'

For further information or to arrange interviews please contact Kiri Kankhwende, Press Officer at Christian Solidarity Worldwide on +44 (0)20 8329 0045 / +44 (0) 78 2332 9663, email kiri@csw.org.uk or visit www.csw.org.uk.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is a Christian organisation working for religious freedom through advocacy and human rights, in the pursuit of justice
.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

prayer diary Ash Wednesday 2015

'Whenever you give alms … whenever you pray ... whenever you fast … (do so so that you) may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.' 
Matthew 6, 5-6, 16-18

Reflection
Fasting, prayer, and alms-giving are part of our traditional Lenten disciplines because they are something that Christ expected his followers to do. How can anyone doubt the spiritual rewards that come with them, when it was our Lord himself who promised them?

prayer diary Tuesday 17 Feb 2015

And he cautioned them, saying, ‘Watch out—beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod.’ 
Mark 8 15

Reflection
Our Lord here was speaking metaphorically of those who put their wisdom above that of God and risk corrupting others by it. We in our own time must beware the secular wisdom of the age, a wisdom that not only is not afraid to set itself above God's law, but will even proudly denounce Christ's teaching as evil.

Monday, February 16, 2015

vaccines

The measles outbreak in California has people there worried, understandably enough. But isn't it is amazing the reaction a few people getting sick after a trip to Disneyland receives?

The facts of that incident, according to the US Centre for Disease Control report dated February 13th, are that 125 people got measles, of whom 28 were intentionally unvaccinated, and 17 needed hospital treatment. Thankfully, nobody died.

Contrast this with the global figures. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) measles fact sheet, which was updated this month, 145 700 people died from the disease in 2013. That equates to 16 every hour every day (down from one a minute in 2000). Most of these were children under the age of five, the majority of whose lives could have been saved if they had been given an inexpensive vaccine that the WHO calls 'one of the best buys in public health.'

It would be great if California gets its vaccination problem under control as a result of this incident. It would be even better if a first-world health scare was translated into life-saving global action. UNICEF Ireland has an Immunisation Appeal page on its website. If anyone would like to help save children's lives, that would be a good place to start.

prayer diary Monday 16 Feb 2015

Jesus sighed deeply in his spirit and said, ‘Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to this generation.’ 
Mark 8.12

Reflection The hardhearted of Jesus' day already had seen enough to know who he was; there was no point in his giving them even more signs. So it is for those who refuse to believe in our own time; they are surrounded by all they need to know Christ. If that is not enough for them, then nothing more will convince them.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

the transfiguration: one shining day

May my words be in the Name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: + Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today is the Transfiguration of our Lord, that mysterious and miraculous event when our Lord travels up a mountain with Peter James and John, the inner circle of the 12 apostles, and there before their eyes he is transfigured or changed and he shines with a dazzling white light, Moses and Elijah appear and speak with him, and then he is covered by a cloud out of which a voice declares: this is my Son, the beloved, listen to him.

We know what that day was like for those who were with Jesus that day; but I sometimes wonder what it would have been like for an outside observer? But then, who would have been there to see it at such a remote location? And then it occurs to me, as the scribes and the Pharisees and other religious leaders hated Jesus so much they were always looking for ways to catch him out and find evidence to use against him. We know for example they brought false witnesses against him at his trial in Jerusalem. So it is likely that they had spies inserted amongst his followers, people who hung about on the fringes of things, watching, and looking for things to report back to their masters.

So imagine you are one such person. You've been following this Jesus for months now. It is no easy assignment: there's a lot of travelling and rough living involved; your masters don't pay very well and they are not all that pleased with you because they want something they can use against Jesus and so far you haven't come up with anything. In fact, they're a little fed up with your reports detailing miracles and healings and his teachings. More than once they've asked you if you're getting too close, starting to believe in him yourself. You deny it of course; but then, you do find it very difficult to explain away to yourself all that he does.

You're very good at what you do and no one suspects that you're a spy; except sometimes you see Jesus looking at you, with a little smile on his face. And you wonder does he suspect – more does he know? But how could he? You've done nothing to give yourself away. And then you remember how he often seems to know what people are thinking and you shiver a little and think he probably does know.

One morning you wake up early. It's been another rough night, sleeping outside wrapped up in your cloak. People are lying around everywhere, still asleep. You always make it your business to try to get close to Jesus at night, so that you can listen in to what he says to those closest to him. You glance over to where he had laid down to sleep with his disciples and then you freeze. He's gone, along with some of his closest disciples! You jump up, looking around frantically and you spot them off in the distance. Quickly you follow them.

After your initial panic, you're quite pleased at this opportunity. You're have little doubt that your masters have other spies amongst his followers, each hoping to be the one to get something major on Jesus and get a really large pay-off. This could be your big chance, because whatever it is that Jesus and his three friends have gone off to do secretly together, you're the only witness.

You're quite good at trailing someone without being seen; well, you wouldn't much use as a spy if you weren't, so you're confident your targets don't know you're there. But soon you start to wonder what they're up to; they're walking and walking – where could they be going? Are they heading for a secret meeting? With who? They don't seem to be heading to one of the nearby towns and villages; if anything, they're heading away from where the people are. 

They come to a foot of a mountain – not a big one, none of them are in Israel, but big enough, and they start up. And after an hour of puffing and panting along behind them, ducking behind boulders, pushing your way through bushes, crawling along on your belly across more open spaces, your realise that they are headed all the way to the top. It takes hours more, and by the time they get there your are filthy and exhausted and wondering if any amount of money could be worth this. But at last they're there and you sneak your way close, finding a good spot behind a rock near some bushes where you can see and hear what they're doing.

Jesus' companions fling themselves down onto the ground. You don't blame them. They must be just as tired as you are. But Jesus just stands there. Is he waiting for someone? But who; you're on the top of the mountain in the middle of nowhere. You see that Jesus is staring off into the distance. You're starting to think you've wasted your time. He's probably just come here to pray – he goes off to lonely places all the time to do that, although you've never known him to go such a distance before.

And then you notice it is starting to get brighter. Has the sun come out from behind a cloud? But there are no clouds in the sky. Where is the light coming from? And you see it is coming from Jesus. He is glowing brightly – his clothes, his face, his hands, his feet. You don't know what's happening. It hurts your eyes and you want to look away but you can't bring yourself to do it. And then you see two men. You have no idea where they've come from. They are old men with white beards holding thick staffs. How could they have climbed the mountain? Yet there they are.

 Jesus seems to be talking with them, but you can't hear what they are saying. His disciples are talking too, but they seem to be babbling. You hear fear in their voices. Clearly they have no more idea what is going on than you do. And then a cloud covers Jesus. How is that possible – the sky was clear only a moment ago. Out of the cloud you hear a voice, a voice that booms like thunder – it makes the ground beneath you vibrate and the teeth rattle in your head. It says: this is my Son, the beloved, listen to him.

Suddenly the cloud is gone. The two men are gone also. And Jesus looks just as he did as he had done before it all begun. For a long while no one moves. You can hear sheep bleating in the distance and the screeching cry of a hawk as it wheels above you in the sky. And then without a word Jesus begins to walk away, heading back to the path he had used to ascend the mountain. You slide further behind your rock. His companions scramble to their feet and stumble after him. As they walk past where you are hidden, you hear Jesus telling them that mustn't speak about what they have seen, that they have to wait until after the Son of Man has risen from the dead. As he is speaking, you see him look right at where you are. You know he can't see you – the bush hides you completely from his view. But still he stares right at you. He gives a little smile and a nod and you curl up even tighter, making yourself as small as possible. But he says nothing and they continue down the mountain.

You stay where you are. There is no need to hurry. You know where they are going; back to where they came from that morning. You sit there, thinking. What was it you just witnessed. What was that voice. Was it God? And if it was, was he truly calling Jesus his Son? And what of the way he had glowed. You had never seen anything like it, never heard of such a thing. No, wait, that wasn't true. There was an account of someone shining like that in Scripture – Moses after he had met with God and received the ten commandments. That had happened up a mountain as well and afterwards Moses had had to veil his face because he shone so brightly. But Moses had shone with the reflected light of God. Jesus had glowed brightly all on his own.

Sitting there, you know you should start moving. It is getting late; there's only a few hours of daylight left and it is starting too cool. You shiver on the mountain top but you do not move. Not yet. You're still thinking about what you've seen and heard. And not just the things of that day, but of all the other days you've been watching and listening, and the things that you've heard others says, things that you hadn't seen for yourself. Some said he'd walked on water; others that he had made a storm cease with a word; others that he had fed thousands with a few scraps of bread; more that he had brought the dead back to life. You hadn't given much credit to them before, despite what you had seen for yourself, because who could believe such things? But now, you find it harder to doubt what you have been told.

But more than anything you think about the voice from the cloud, so loud your teeth still ache and there's a ringing in your ears. It had said that Jesus was his Son. And it said to listen to him. Was it speaking to only the disciples or to you as well? Slowly you get to your feet. You are surprised to find that your legs are shaking. And slowly you begin to walk down the mountain.

As you do so, you begin to pray. And you say:

'God you alone are holy; you alone are Lord. Help me to understand what it is that I have witnessed today. Help me to listen to the one that you call your Son. Help me to do what he teaches me to do. Amen'

Examin Saturday 14 Feb 2015

The purpose of examining your conscience is to see where you have sinned, to accept responsibility for what you have done wrong, to ask God's pardon for the ways in which you have offended against his Holy Laws, truly repenting of them, and pray for his Grace and Strength to do better in the future. None of this is possible if you do not accept the reality of sin and its effects – or if, accepting that, you do not also accept that you are yourself a sinner. But it was sinners that Christ came to save. If you do not believe you sin, and ask God's forgiveness for those sins, how then can you be saved?

Saturday, February 14, 2015

prayer diary Saturday 14 Feb 2015

He called his disciples and said to them, ‘I have compassion for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat.' 
Mark 8. 1,2

Reflection
Our Lord's compassion continues to this day. He does not neglect to feed those who journey with him through this life with the Bread of Life, his own body, which we receive in the Holy Eucharist.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Fr Delaney and the Man outside

It was 8.15. It was the only evening that week that Fr Delaney didn't have a meeting or some other parish business in his diary. He was looking forward to a quiet evening by the fire with his pipe, listening to the new CD he had picked up of Spanish Classical guitar music, with just a drop from the bottle of malt whiskey his brother had given him for Christmas to go along with it all. He had just lifted the bottle to start pouring when his mobile rang. With a groan he put down the bottle and answered it.

' Fr Delaney here.'
'Father. John Coyle. I thought you'd be here by now.'
'Be where?'
'St Nessan's College. The past-pupil's Mass. I wrote to you months ago.'
'Indeed you did. But that's tomorrow night.'
'No Father, it's tonight.'
'I have tomorrow in my diary. I'm sure that's what you put in your letter.'
'I'm afraid you're mistaken.'
'Hold on a minute.'
Fr Delaney walked to his study and pulled open his filing cabinet. He took out the letter he'd had sent him.
'Mr Coyle; I have the letter here in front of me. And the date you gave me is definitely tomorrow.'
'That's unfortunate. Because it is tonight and we're expecting a good crowd; at least, a good number have booked for the dinner after and most generally go to the Mass before. Can you make it?'
Fr Delaney sighed.
'You're very lucky Mr Coyle. Any other night this week – other than tomorrow night of course – my diary is full. But yes, I can make it. I'll be there in half an hour.'
'Good man. I appreciate it.'
He hung up. Fr Delaney grunted.
'Appreciate it? Expect it, more like.'

He shoved his pipe and phone into his pocket, picked up his car keys, gave one last longing look at his armchair by the fire and the CD player sitting ready with his new CD, and walked out the door.

St Nessan's was a small boarding school in a nearby town run by an order of religious brothers. It had a good reputation and many past-pupils had gone on to do quite well for themselves. A great many doctors and lawyers and other professionals attributed their success to the solid education and strong sense of values they had received from the brothers.

Fr Delaney drove up the long avenue to the school and parked under some trees not too far from the main door. Coyle had been right; judging by the number of cars there was going to be a good congregation. Halfway between his car and the door he paused; there was a man sitting on the steps, rough looking with a long beard and wild hair. Peering uncertainly at him, he realised he knew who it was: Muris O'Brien, a man known locally as a drinker and a fighter. He'd spent more than one spell in prison as a result. He walked closer.

'Muris? What are you up to?'
The man started and stared at him.
' Fr Delaney! You gave me a fright.'
His voice sounded horse, as if he might have a cold. As he drew nearer, Fr Delaney realised there were tears running down his face.
'Muris! What's wrong? Has something happened?'
'Ah, 'tis nothing.' He wiped his face. 'I just thought I'd go to the Mass tonight.'
'I didn't know you'd gone to St Nessan's.'
The man smiled.
'Not many do. They certainly don't talk about it; I suppose I'm not one of their success stories. But no, I went. Did the leaving cert, captained the football team, was even a prefect.'
'I had no idea.'
'Why would you? You're not a local man. Anyway, it all went wrong after that and I am what I am today. I had a good start, so I can't blame anyone but myself.'
'But why are you crying?'
'Ah, I just thought I'd go to the Mass tonight. I don't know, maybe look back at a time when my life wasn't such a mess, when it seemed like I had a future – a good future.'
'I still don't understand why you're crying?'
'Well, they're not letting me in. I don't blame them. Who'd want someone like me there? St Nessan's produces the great and the good; who needs a reminder that it sometimes produces drunks and criminals?'

Fr Delaney's face darkened.

'And who was it that said you couldn't go in?'
'Coyle, of course. He's the one in charge. I'm a disgrace to the school name, he told me, and said I should take myself off.'
Fr Delaney stared at the rather pathetic looking figure sitting on the steps. His phone rang. He looked at it. It was Coyle again. He ignored it.

'I take it this is the first time you've tried to come to one of these affairs?'
'That's right Father.'
'So why tonight? Don't take this the wrong way, but I know you're not a great man for going to Mass, so why is it so important to go here, tonight? Were you trying to make some kind of a point?'
Muris shook his head.
'It's not that. It's that … I don't know … my mother died recently, you know …'
'I didn't, Muris. I'm sorry to hear that.'
'Ah, she'd gone off to Dublin years ago. Probably felt I'd made a show of her around here. But she died, you know, and even if we didn't get on, she was still my mother … so I thought, maybe I should go to Mass and say a few prayers …'
'But you could do that in the town any day, Muris. Again, why here, why tonight?'

For a long while Muris said nothing.

'I don't know, really. It was just that here was the first place I thought of. I was an altar boy here, as well, you know. Maybe I wanted to come here because this was the only place I ever really felt close to God.'

Fr Delaney took out his pipe and sat down. Muris looked at him in surprise.

'Don't you have to go in Father? Mass is suppose to start soon.'
'I'm grand here.'

They sat there a while. Fr Delaney looked at the stars. A soft breeze stirred the trees in the avenues. In the pot next to him, geraniums were beginning to bloom. He could just smell their sharp aroma over that of the oil from the cars parked nearby. Behind them, the door slammed open.

'Fr Delaney!' It was Coyle. 'What do you think you're doing? Mass starts in five minutes!'
'Oh, we've plenty of time. I just thought I'd sit here a while and talk with Muris.'
'What are you talking about? How can you call five minutes plenty of time?'
'Ah, but according to the letter I got, I still have 24 hours before Mass starts. That's plenty of time to sit here and talk and look at the stars and think about how hard hearted some people can be, not wanting some people back at their old school because they didn't do so well as they were expected to do. Plenty of time to talk with Muris about all sorts of things while you go and explain to your friends why I won't be coming.'

There was a long silence. Fr Delaney could hear Coyle breathing heavily. He didn't look at him, but he imagined his face was probably quite red.

'And if I were to let O'Brien in?'
'I suppose I'd have no reason to sit here any more.'
'Fine. Let's just get on with it.'

Fr Delaney and Muris stood up.

'I thought you might invite him to the dinner after as well.'
'Whatever. But it's fifty euros.'
'I don't have fifty euros,' said Muris.
'That's all right,' said Fr Delaney. 'Mr Coyle is paying. You'll be his guest. Isn't that right, Mr Coyle.'

Coyle said 'yes' with a groan. Fr Delaney thought it was probably very wicked of him to smile. But he couldn't help himself.

(C) Fr Levi 2015

the story I told to the children of the Wandesforde National School today, inspired by the Gospel reading for last Sunday

And as he sat at dinner in Levi’s house, many tax-collectors and sinners were also sitting with Jesus and his disciples—for there were many who followed him. When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax-collectors, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does he eat with tax-collectors and sinners?’ When Jesus heard this, he said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.’
Mark 2. 15 - 17


prayer diary Friday 13 Feb 2015 (Day of Discipline and Self-denial)

Looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, ‘Ephphatha’, that is, ‘Be opened.’ And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 
Mark 7. 34-35

Reflection
With a word Christ, the Word made flesh, could transform a man's life utterly. Are you ready and willing to be transformed? Are you truly open to it? Then open your heart to that Word.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

latest U2 video: "Every Breaking Wave" - A Film by Aoife McArdle


Just out - U2's latest video, a short movie set during the 'troubles' in Northern Ireland with a Romeo & Juliet theme. It had me with a tear in my eye by the end ... but then, as my wife says, I'm a big softie! Warning: violence and strong language.

China: a Year of church Demolitions in Zhejiang Province

a Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) press release

A new interactive timeline released by Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) today collates over 400 reports of incidents related to whole or partial demolitions of churches or church-run buildings in China’s Zhejiang Province in 2014.

Reports of the following incidents are included in the timeline:

• Whole or partial demolition of a Catholic or Protestant church or church-run building;
• Notice of demolition or cross removal;
• Forced removal, demolition, modification or covering of a cross;
• Related injury, and detention, arrest or summons in connection with demolitions in Zhejiang Province.

In 2013, the Zhejiang provincial government in China launched the ‘Three Rectifications and One Demolition’ campaign, with the reported aim of demolishing illegal structures which violate law and regulations relating to land management and urban and rural planning.

In 2014, hundreds of churches and church-run buildings in the province were wholly or partially demolished, or threatened with demolition, apparently in connection with this campaign. In the vast majority of cases it is the church’s cross which has been removed, and where whole buildings have been demolished, the cross has usually been removed first. Many Christians in the province believe the churches are being deliberately targeted for demolition.

Zhejiang Province, which is also known for its entrepreneurial spirit and rapid economic development, is home to the city of Wenzhou, sometimes referred to as ‘China’s Jerusalem’ due it its significant Christian population. Until last year, Wenzhou’s churches were considered to be some of the most wealthy and influential in China.

The recent events in Zhejiang therefore came as a complete surprise both to Chinese Christians and to foreign observers. Some believe the demolitions are a response to the growth and wealth of churches in Zhejiang. Others believe this is part of a centrally-orchestrated, top-down plan to be rolled out across the country, which aims to bring in line those registered churches which have become ‘too independent’, and pressure unregistered churches to register. The government maintains this is all part of a campaign to target illegal structures and has nothing to do with religion.

CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said, “Although the Chinese government claims that the church demolitions have nothing to do with religion, the scope of the demolitions indicated by the timeline tells a different story. The unease felt by Christians in the province and elsewhere in the country is also very real. We renew our call for the Chinese authorities to make consistent efforts to enter into dialogue with religious leaders, with a view to promoting mutual trust and positive relations; to provide clear instructions about the process of applying for permission to build a religious structure; and to establish a complaints mechanism for religious buildings which have been refused permission to build.”

For further information or to arrange interviews please contact Kiri Kankhwende, Press Officer at Christian Solidarity Worldwide on +44 (0)20 8329 0045 / +44 (0) 78 2332 9663, email kiri@csw.org.uk or visitwww.csw.org.uk.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is a Christian organisation working for religious freedom through advocacy and human rights, in the pursuit of justice.