Advent Sunday 2021 – Be alert and be alive.

Advent Sunday 2021 – Be alert and be alive.

Advent is a time of year when we are called upon to have a greater sense of urgency, to attend to our spiritual lives now rather than later. For we are not called to passivity, we are not meant to be idle recipients of the Kingdom; the Kingdom is not some outward imposition.

The start of a new church year offers a second chance to rediscover freshness and renewal, a time to be alert and prepared. We are to be alive to the opportunities that will and are presenting themselves everyday to make our contribution to the building of the Kingdom.

Christ the King – But what sort of Kingdom?

Christ the King – But what sort of Kingdom?

The festival of Christ the King is one of those times in Church life, I believe, when one needs to distinguish between the event itself, and that which it does, or could and should, properly celebrate. It is not a particularly old or traditional feast day. In fact, it is a relatively recent addition to the western liturgical calendar, and it is worth looking into the original story behind the inception of the day, to understand what it might mean for us in our day. What kind of king might Jesus be for us – and what kind of kingdom?

Remembrance Sunday 2021 – We must never forget

Remembrance Sunday 2021 – We must never forget

Today we make an act of commemoration but not celebration; we hold in our prayers those who have died and suffered in two world wars, in countless regional conflicts since, and in peace-keeping duties across the world. We mourn their loss and their suffering; the failure of politics and diplomacy that led to their sacrifice on the altar of human pride, obstinacy and indifference, and we also confess the darkness in our own hearts that all too often gives way to anger and seeks retribution. We pray that humanity may, before it is too late, consign war to the sins of history, and instead walk the ways of conciliation and peace.

3rd Sunday before Advent – Follow me Now

3rd Sunday before Advent – Follow me Now

Jesus approaches some young fishermen, in the middle of their work, at a critical point in their work and calls them to drop what they are doing. Forget everything else, drop everything now, don’t look back, don’t prevaricate, don’t set pre-conditions, but follow me now. One might well ask is that the message of today’s gospel, is this really what I am being asked to do? To forget job, home, family, commitments, all other duties for my faith? Or is there another way to read today’s gospel, just as urgent, just as demanding, but within the context of our own lives and the commitments that we already have to honour?

Revered and Loved – All Saints and All Souls

Revered and Loved – All Saints and All Souls

This Sunday we are combining two important commemorations, ‘All Saints’ and ‘All Souls’. At All Saints we remember certain people and legends that the church through long years of tradition and prayer holds up to all of us as examples of faith and courage – human ideals to inspire us all. At All Soul’s we remember not people who are particularly famous, nor are they generally examples to many, but those who are so inextricably linked with us that they may well have been amongst the most important influences in our lives.

Harvest Festival 2021 – What are we Harvesting?

Harvest Festival 2021 – What are we Harvesting?

Harvest, at least for the older generation can still evoke some of those long-past, nostalgic memories of long summers, fields ripening in the sun, a time of school assemblies singing hymns, playing conkers in the playground, a time when we felt more at peace with nature, and perhaps as a result, more at peace with ourselves. But now, and only recently, we have frightened ourselves. In our thoughtlessness and arrogance we are swiftly destroying our very home. We once thought ourselves to be master of nature, but now we seem to lack the ability to even master ourselves. What can be done, and who is to do it?

Becoming a Disciple – 20th Sunday after Trinity

Becoming a Disciple – 20th Sunday after Trinity

James and John, the Sons of Zebedee, ask Jesus if they might sit at his right and left hand when he comes into his Kingdom. Perhaps they think that Jesus will be crowned King, as rightful heir to David, when they arrive in Jerusalem. But Jesus tells the brothers that they just don’t understand what they are asking. For the challenge he issues; to drink the cup and to be baptised as he is baptised is also a challenge to share in his suffering. That invitation and that challenge is also offered to us, as disciples in our day. The question is: are we prepared to sacrifice for our faith?

19th Sunday after Trinity – What does your money say about you?

19th Sunday after Trinity – What does your money say about you?

A young man runs up and kneels down before Jesus asking him what he must do to be virtuous.
So, Jesus recites to him a number of the great commandments.
“That’s fine” says the young man, “I do all that”.
But with his next question Jesus cuts to the chase, by saying essentially:
‘That’s all well and good’, but how deep does the desire for a righteous life go, how profound is your commitment?
And he puts the young man, and by implication us, to a particularly exposing and shocking test.

18th Sunday after Trinity – How to deal with divorce?

18th Sunday after Trinity – How to deal with divorce?

Today’s gospel reading is fraught with difficulty and complexity. Ethical, theological, and pastoral considerations are bound up with the way we should read and interpret scripture, and how we should understand the teachings of Jesus, the internal motivations that drove him, the context of the time in which he spoke, and how those principles can and should be applied to us today, either in full or in part. So how should we deal with divorce?

17th Sunday after Trinity – Are you salty?

17th Sunday after Trinity – Are you salty?

Times change, empires rise and fall, entire cultures are born only to die again, new technologies emerge and are replaced, history flows like an everlasting river; and human nature remains substantially the same. From the time of Moses to the time of Jesus and his disciples an epoch of time had elapsed, another 2000 years lie between us and the disciples and …as the French saying goes: Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. The more things change – the more they remain the same. Just how much have we progressed, how much have we learned, have we truly listened to the voice of Jesus?

16th Sunday after Trinity – What brings you joy?

16th Sunday after Trinity – What brings you joy?

In our Gospel reading today Jesus speaks of welcoming the child, and not just the child in years, but the young at heart. For elsewhere in the Gospel he also says that we should come to him as if we too were children. In our more modern and supposedly advanced times, we have gained a certain security perhaps, technology has taken away from of the drudgery and danger, medical advances have extended our lives, our surroundings are comfortable, predictable, tamed. There is a well-known saying “Take what you want, says God, as long as you accept there is a price and you must pay for it”.

If that is so, what have we paid, and just what have we bought with it?

15th Sunday after Trinity – Did Jesus have to die?

15th Sunday after Trinity – Did Jesus have to die?

Sometimes there are sentences and phrases in the Bible that are so familiar, that we pass over them rather too rapidly, supposing we know what they mean. And on one level that’s understandable. The text would be unreadable if we stopped at every and, if or but trying to uncover a multiplicity of interpretations – we would never get to the end. But having read a passage it is often well to go back over the ground, to see whether we might dig beneath the surface. And in today’s Gospel we have just such a challenge.

RTE 1 TV service 5th Sept 2021 – Give me Justice.

RTE 1 TV service 5th Sept 2021 – Give me Justice.

We bring to our reading of the Bible the preconceptions, the perceptions, perhaps even the prejudices of our own time. And sometimes we forget, or don’t like to be reminded, that the people in the stories of scripture, including Jesus, were also deeply influenced by the values and understandings of their own age. Jesus was a man, born into a time, a culture, a context very different from our own. A man capable of being occasionally mistaken, of sharing the cultural preconceptions, sometimes even the misunderstandings of his time. When we hear his voice calling to us today, we need to remember both the man who was, as well as the figure of reverence and devotion he has become.

13th Sunday after Trinity – Resist your inner Pharisee

13th Sunday after Trinity – Resist your inner Pharisee

Is there a tendency, within the church, to revert to the Pharisee, to retreat into rules and constraints and the sanctuary of the few? As each generation passes religions can tend – perhaps they can’t resist – to add some extra rules of their own. What may have started as a kernel of truth, some central and pure experience of God, builds and builds, adding layer upon layer of man-made disciplines and regulations, until something beautiful and unconditional, becomes smothered and obscured with decrees and laws and conditions. Do we recognise this in ourselves? And if so, what can we do about it?

12th Sunday after Trinity – do we know ourselves – at all?

12th Sunday after Trinity – do we know ourselves – at all?

According to a study published a while ago in the journal, ‘Science’, we don’t seem to know ourselves very well. It turns out that common stereotypes that we hold about other countries and our own do not actually reflect the real personalities of people in these countries. And if we portray even to each other an inaccurate and dishonest image of our culture, are we any more honest in the way that we represent ourselves? Do we even know ourselves?

11th Sunday after Trinity – Whatever!

11th Sunday after Trinity – Whatever!

We continue the readings from John’s gospel, that draw a comparison between the material bread that sustains only for a while, and Jesus, the living spiritual bread, who points the way to transformation and new life. And today we ponder not only the reactions of the people of his time, but also of our own. Is the gospel of hope met with enthusiasm and passion, or indifference and scepticism and the retort – whatever?
The choice, as always, is ours to make.

10th Sunday after Trinity – Being Christ

10th Sunday after Trinity – Being Christ

Throughout his ministry starting at the feast at the wedding in Cana, later in the breaking and sharing of the loaves and fishes with the multitude, culminating in the Passover meal before his sacrifice on the Cross, Jesus is clearly compelled to share with others the most basic, the most essential and nurturing things of life. But in the act of sharing, he always seeks to teach that in the humblest and simplest of things, can be found some of the most profound and life-changing spiritual realities.

9th Sunday after Trinity – What are your highest priorities?

9th Sunday after Trinity – What are your highest priorities?

In today’s gospel Jesus appears to be pleased that the people have come to look for him, but is seemingly disappointed about the reason why. They were grateful for the bread he implies, grateful for the food, but they didn’t understand it value, its true meaning. Even if they have some sense of the bread having been miraculous, they are still looking at it in a rather literal, physical, superficial way. But Jesus is trying to point them, and us, to a different understanding, and a different set of priorities.

8th Sunday after Trinity – How can they be fed?

8th Sunday after Trinity – How can they be fed?

Last week the appointed readings for the day had chopped out the middle section of chapter, in order to make us concentrate on the action and the emotions that wrapped around the story. This week the content has been restored to us, but not from the gospel of Mark – instead we have the same miracles expressed and interpreted by John. In the wilderness, Moses asked the question of God “How am I to feed all these people?” and in Exodus the answer came in the form of Manna – the divine gift of sustaining spiritual food. Now, in the midst of the crowd gathered around him Jesus asks the same question.

7th Sunday after Trinity – Wanting the ends, but not willing the means?

7th Sunday after Trinity – Wanting the ends, but not willing the means?

There is something odd about today’s gospel reading. Something is missing. In fact, 18 whole verses are missing from the very core of this passage. 18 verses that cover the momentous events of the feeding of the five thousand and Jesus walking on the water towards his disciples in the boat, rowing against a heavy wind. For this Sunday, the church lectionary compilers have taken all of this out. Begging the question, what have they left in and why?

6th Sunday after Trinity – The wrong ladder and the wrong wall

6th Sunday after Trinity – The wrong ladder and the wrong wall

All too often we can get completely caught up in the daily struggles of getting and keeping and using, of seeking to invent and define ourselves and imposing ourselves on the world and people around us; we can be so locked into meeting the most basic needs and wants that we can forget to ever address the actual purpose of our lives. The sad reality of modern life, as Thomas Merton the monk and mystic once observed, is that we may spend our whole life climbing the ladder of success, only to find that when we get to the top that our ladder is leaning against the wrong wall. So where should we place the ladder, and to what should we seek to climb?

5th Sunday after Trinity – Seeing is not always believing

5th Sunday after Trinity – Seeing is not always believing

Perception is all, we are told nowadays and we seem all too often to believe it. But reality, ultimate reality is quite different. Something that truly is, remains the same whether it is perceived and believed or not. Sometimes we need to admit to the limit of our power and our imaginations – sometimes we need to be shocked into acknowledging what is actually staring us in the face.

4th Sunday after Trinity – Doubts and the leap of faith

4th Sunday after Trinity – Doubts and the leap of faith

Somehow we can soak up the impression that doubts are a sign of a weak faith, of lack of seriousness, lacking in commitment, perhaps even sinful, faithless and morally wrong. But the problem with this approach is that it sees faith as static, rather than as a journey, as a possession already acquired, rather than a pilgrimage with lessons to be learned, old and stale habits to be discarded and new insights to be absorbed.

Third Sunday after Trinity – Peel an onion, find the layers.

Third Sunday after Trinity – Peel an onion, find the layers.

To the Hebrew people the sea was often a symbol of the primeval forces of chaos, the habitation of monsters, fearful, uncontrollable, untamed. The sea could all too easily be seen as akin to the place of evil, disorder and terrible power, ideas deeply rooted in myth and legend dating back to earlier Canaanite times, before Moses, beyond all memory – ancient fears. The great waters served as a metaphor for evil forces active in the world and especially for the tribulations of just people. So what is Mark trying to teach us in this story of the storm at sea, why are experienced fishermen seemingly so frightened, why is Jesus so unfazed?

2nd Sunday after Trinity – Tinkering at the edges?

2nd Sunday after Trinity – Tinkering at the edges?

The Parable of the Mustard Seed is one of the shorter parables of Jesus. And yet from that seed grows a bush that can reach over nine feet tall; all that complexity and diversity from just the tiniest of beginnings. This is the analogy that Jesus draws between the smallest of our actions that, done with love, can have enormous ramifications. That the smallest of things, the smallest building bricks may construct the Kingdom of God. But to what extent are we making a difference?

1st Sunday after Trinity – Is it wrong to be right too soon?

1st Sunday after Trinity – Is it wrong to be right too soon?

A former Prime Minister of New Zealand and former Secretary-General of the World Trade Organization, Mike Moore, once wrote in his autobiography, “It is wrong to be right too soon.” He was referring to a human tendency to be resistant to new ideas, especially ideas that might lead to change. Whilst it does help everyday coping, it can also seriously get in the way of long-term learning and growth. Opinions can just sit there, day after day, year after year, never overwritten, never challenged, never updated.

Trinity Sunday – What does that mean?

Trinity Sunday – What does that mean?

Trinity Sunday, is a time to reflect upon the nature, the character, and the challenge of the Trinity. Something unique to the Christian faith, often misunderstood, even by Christians, as we seek to grasp that which is beyond reach, to comprehend that which is above all a mystery – using words and images to try to understand, but knowing that if we take them too literally, they will obscure all understanding.

Pentecost – Are we on fire?

Pentecost – Are we on fire?

Luke’s main point in Acts is not the special effects or even the drama of the gift of tongues, but spiritual transformation. Far from being someone who they could only experience as a memory, Jesus, the spirit of Jesus, came alive to them, in that moment, vividly, overwhelmingly. For the heart of Pentecost for us is not some rather strange past events, it is not just an odd story about something that once happened long ago. What is significant, of prime importance for us, is that Pentecost takes place within our own hearts – that change that comes upon us.

7th Sunday of Easter – A different kind of Jesus

7th Sunday of Easter – A different kind of Jesus

Today, In John’s Gospel, we encounter a Jesus rather different from the Jesus depicted in the Gospels of Mark, Matthew or Luke. Here is John writing around AD 100, almost seventy years after Jesus died, informed by who Jesus had been, but now also deeply influenced by what he had become for the members of the church at the end of the first century. What are we to make of this Jesus, and the Jesus of the previous Gospels, and the Jesus we might encounter today. To pick up on Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, does the act of observation change that which is being observed?

6th Sunday of Easter – Love as the end and the means

6th Sunday of Easter – Love as the end and the means

Today we reflect upon the nature of love, that the narrative, the essential story of the Bible is that of humanity wrestling with our darker side, which sometimes prevails, for a while, but that we are always called back to a pilgrimage towards forgiveness, compassion and love. The gift of God is love and the commandment of God is love – they are one and the same.

5th Sunday of Easter – Think out, not in

5th Sunday of Easter – Think out, not in

Today we reflect upon the tension between the care and attention that we rightly need to expend on ourselves and our church community, the internal spiritual work that is required, the tending and pruning of the vine as it were – contrasted with the work that we should do beyond the boundaries of the church, outside the vineyard, where there is suffering and enormous need. To what extent should the church look within, but also look around us – at the cares and sufferings of the world. And also to reflect both on what we have to teach the world, and what the world has to teach us.

4th Sunday of Easter – The Good Shepherd

4th Sunday of Easter – The Good Shepherd

Today we reflect upon what is means to be a shepherd, in the sense of caring for and defending those entrusted to one’s care. Not that we are seen as mindless sheep, but as fellow travellers and pilgrims along a path that is long and difficult, strewn with obstacles; a journey that will change us, if we are prepared to be changed.

3rd Sunday after Easter – A trick with old bones?

3rd Sunday after Easter – A trick with old bones?

Today we reflect upon resurrection, its meaning and significance in the time of Jesus and in our own time. We look at the different between old thoughts and new thinking, and we consider what new life might look like today, for the way we live and our sense of self.

2nd Sunday of Easter 2021 – RTE Broadcast 11th April 2021

2nd Sunday of Easter 2021 – RTE Broadcast 11th April 2021

Despite the epithet ‘doubting Thomas’, he was in reality prolific and heroic, a towering man of faith. He went on to be the only apostle to preach the faith far beyond the boundaries of the Roman Empire. He reminds us that sometimes it is the struggle with faith, it is in the moments of anguish and questioning when our faith, paradoxically is often at it strongest. We can see our own doubts, great or small, not as objects of shame, to be hidden and suppressed behind the mask, but as spurs to our spiritual growth and rebirth.

Easter Sunday

Easter Sunday

We gather as a Diocese to celebrate the new life and new hope of Easter. Our church buildings must remain closed but we still have each other, we can come together like this, we can pray for each other, talk to each other and hold each other in our thoughts and our hearts, we can continue to be the church together and to hope for better days to come – as surely they will.
After all the message of Easter is renewed life and new hope.

Holy Saturday – Easter Vigil – Darkest before the dawn

Holy Saturday – Easter Vigil – Darkest before the dawn

The Passion is almost over but not yet, Jesus is almost risen, but not yet. The Easter fire is lit outside the church as evening falls, a flame to light the Paschal Candle – a tradition credited to St Patrick. We start this service with the church unlit, illuminated only by the light of the Paschal Candle coming into our midst, slowly revealing its presence among us, symbolising the realisation, only gradually dawning upon the disciples, that Christ is the light of the world.

Good Friday – Standing at the foot of the Cross

Good Friday – Standing at the foot of the Cross

God does not insist on payment of a debt. Whereas we may equate crime with punishment, and our hearts scream out for vengeance, the heart of God offers forgiveness, acceptance and healing. God is surely above the anger, retribution and violence of the world that we have fashioned for ourselves. Rather he attacks the very source of wrong doing, in the corruption of the human heart and begins the healing there.

Tenebrae – Maundy Thursday

Tenebrae – Maundy Thursday

The Office of Tenebrae took place in ancient times during the Great Triduum, the three days of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday which brings Holy Week to an end. At the climax of the Office is the recitation of part of the Lamentations of the Prophet Jeremiah. The recitation is accompanied by the gradual extinguishing of the 15 Tenebrae candles which represents the overwhelming sense of darkness, defeat and desolation felt by the disciples in the aftermath of the crucifixion.

Palm Sunday – Are we just standing by?

Palm Sunday – Are we just standing by?

We celebrate Palm Sunday – a story of triumph, but a triumph that foreshadows terrible suffering to come. As we live through these difficult days, we might take time to reflect on how the Holy Week journey now speaks to us in new and different ways: of joy and sadness, of hope and despair, laughter and tears, life and death, so often intermingled, the one interwoven with the other, inseparable and indivisible. So it is with life, so too with our journey of faith over the next few days.

Passion Sunday – not quite as it sounds.

Passion Sunday – not quite as it sounds.

Today is traditionally known as Passion Sunday, although that it is not as exciting or as racy as it sounds. But it is a time to think very carefully about the kind of God that we say we believe in, and what that says about us, our own priorities and prejudices. Supposedly we worship what we esteem, what we value, what we hold to be the highest, the most holy and the finest – or do we? Passion Sunday is a good time to ask that question.

Mothering Sunday – What can we learn from Mothers?

Mothering Sunday – What can we learn from Mothers?

Today as we keep Mothering Sunday, we are challenged to reflect upon not only the bond between a mother and a child but the extent to which the self-sacrifice, the pain and the devotion that mothers must go through in order to bring a new life into the world, gives them some greater insight into the respect, compassion and reverence with which we should all seek to treat one another. A mother knows what new life costs, they might also teach us something about the value and the sanctity of life.

3rd Sunday of Lent – Does Jesus hate business?

3rd Sunday of Lent – Does Jesus hate business?

We hear the story of Jesus overturning trading stalls and tables, berating and ejecting tradesmen from the Jerusalem Temple, supposedly the holiest of places, but clearly also for some a place of business and profit. But the story has greater relevance than just an occasion where Jesus railed against particular people at a particular time. It also causes us to question the extent to which we as Christians should support or be wary of the profit motive, and whether the economic systems we have devised for ourselves are really just and equitable, and what role they might play in advancing or hindering the Kingdom.

2nd Sunday after Lent – The Way of the Cross

2nd Sunday after Lent – The Way of the Cross

Jesus’s determination to stay true to the road that lay before him, true to his Father’s will, was to lead him to the Way of the Cross. On that journey he calls upon us to bear our own cross, for such is the way of Christian discipleship. But the truth is that we don’t like anything that looks like a cross, problems, troubles, sickness; we spend our entire lives trying to avoid them. In that, we are very much like Peter.

1st Sunday of Lent – The need for healing

1st Sunday of Lent – The need for healing

One of the problems in church life is that we do eventually take on new ideas, but we somehow cannot let go of the old.
Particularly at Lent there is the tendency of church teaching, especially in the liturgy and in hymns to concentrate on human sin and error from only one perspective – the tendency of the season to view the complexity and vulnerability of the human condition through just one simplistic and erroneous lens. For far too long, the western church has tended to see human failings in terms of crime and punishment.

The Transfiguration – The Times they are a-changing

The Transfiguration – The Times they are a-changing

We like to form a pattern of the world, a mental map of how things work, why they happen, an explanation of the way the world works, and why. We tend to seek explanations for new things according to the old ways, we like to fit things into an existing pattern. Generally it can serve us well. But sometimes it can serve us ill. As Jesus says earlier in Mark’s Gospel: “no one puts new wine into old wineskins”. Today, some elements of church life and teaching are now holding us back, limiting our ability to learn and progress. We can, of course, be tempted to hold onto it all; it’s familiar and comfortable, but like the old wine skin it cannot contain, it cannot hold the new, lest it burst apart.

2nd Sunday before Lent – Honouring Creation

2nd Sunday before Lent – Honouring Creation

The gospels of Matthew and Luke start with the genealogy of Jesus’s ancestors and his claim to a worldly royal heritage, or the story of his birth and his family – but for John this is already too late in the sequence of events. For whilst at the start of the Gospel of John we encounter Jesus already as a young man, commencing his ministry with a ritual baptism by John the Baptist; first John is at pains to set Jesus in his cosmic context. Not just as a person born into time, but as a reality which existed before all time.

Presentation of Christ – Candlemas

Presentation of Christ – Candlemas

In the temple an old man waits. Tired, near the end of his days, prepared for his dying, but waiting nevertheless. Utterly convinced that his eyes will not close for the last time, before he sees the promised Messiah, the saviour of his and all people. Outside a family prepares to enter. They are humble and poor, the sacrifice they are about to make is an allowance for those of few means, otherwise they would be expected to bring a lamb and turtledoves. But like the old man, they too are devout. All the rituals have been observed, their poverty does not prevent them from observing the pious demands of their faith. And so an ending and a beginning, as so often in life.

Third Sunday after Epiphany – What am I meant to do?

Third Sunday after Epiphany – What am I meant to do?

Jesus approaches some young men, in the middle of their work, at a critical point in their work and calls them to drop what they are doing, straight way, and to follow him to an uncertain and precarious future. Forget everything else, drop everything now, don’t look back, don’t prevaricate, don’t set pre-conditions, but follow me now. One might well ask is that the message of today’s gospel, is this really what I am being asked to do? To forget job, home, family, commitments, all other duties for my faith?

2nd Sunday after Epiphany – A glimpse behind the curtain

2nd Sunday after Epiphany – A glimpse behind the curtain

In the gospel reading we have this rather odd encounter between Jesus and Nathanael. As miracles go it doesn’t seem a big one. But the words cannot truly capture what is really going on – the personal encounter – the fact that in the moment Nathaniel meets Jesus, he feels something that he has never felt before, but had yearned for. Something that we all, in our own way, long for.

A Search for Truth

(Previously published in the Clare Champion) I wonder if you remember a scene from the 1970’s TV series ‘Brideshead revisited’ where Julia is reflecting on her failed marriage to Rex Mottram; a man of prodigious money-making powers but of utterly stunted spiritual...

Move along please – room at the top

(First published in the Clare Champion) Previously I have written about holiness and how it may be found in surprising places; in the beating heart of a scruffy cross-breed dog who knows the saving power of love, but who admittedly still bears significant malice...

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