28 February, 2015

Winter Ember Days 2015 - iii

Third and last Winter Ember Day

Today please pray for vocations to the consecrated religious life and for religious orders. If you would like to know more about life as a consecrated man or woman you might want to explore the Anglican Religious Communities page.

A prayer for vocations to the religious life -
Eternal Father,
you desire all creation to attain fullness of life.
Stir up the grace of religious vocations
in the hearts of many men and women.
Grant to them the willingness and generosity to respond,
to give their lives, their time and their talents
to the service of Jesus Christ, and to your holy Church.

May more men and women go forth
as priests, deacons, brothers and sisters
to bring the faith to others so that soon they, too,
may know you better and love you more and
in serving you, may find fullness of life. Amen.

27 February, 2015

Line Drawings - Stations of the Cross

The 14 traditional Stations of the Cross for your Lenten devotions. Images readily available on the internet.

The Stations of the Cross


Winter Ember Days 2015 - ii

Second Winter Ember Day

Please pray for vocations to the diaconate and that more and more dioceses may be guided by the Holy Spirit to rediscover this distinctive ministry.

A prayer for vocations to the Diaconate - 

Eternal Father,
in your beloved Son Jesus Christ
you give us the perfect model of servanthood,
and from age to age you invite those you choose
       to follow in his footsteps.
Grant, we humbly pray, that more people may respond generously
to your call to service within your Church,
so that through their distinctive ministry of care and attention,
your holy people may be supported and nurtured
into the full stature of Christ.
May the shining examples of selfless love and the prayers
of the blessed deacons Stephen, Laurence, and Francis of Assisi
be pleasing to you and obtain for us more vocations.
We ask this, in the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

26 February, 2015

Homily on Mark 7:14-23 - Imitating the Heart of Jesus

Mark 7:14-23
‘It is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come’ (7:21)
Jesus always has a very unapologetic way for putting his teachings across. Sometimes he does so by way of planned discourses, some other times as a reaction against people’s misunderstanding of true religion. Today we have the latter of these ways as Jesus argues with the Pharisees concerning the observance of Jewish purity customs. These customs tried to ensure the people’s cleanliness for worship from a merely physical point of view; they prescribed what foods to avoid, what individuals not to touch, and how to ceremonially wash everyday things. As the disciples stand accused of not respecting these rules Jesus launches himself in a vitriolic criticism. Here we see that Jesus aims at reinterpreting the spirit of such purity laws according to their proper, original aims. As we catch the tail end of his words, we see also that Jesus identifies the human heart as the true source of ritual uncleanliness, rather than any material thing that cannot touch the soul and stain it.

In ancient Jewish culture the heart is the centre of the person (both body and soul), the place where thoughts, desires, and passions are formed. Jesus takes this concept to its logical conclusion: it is from the heart, from this innermost centre, that any selfish or self-serving desires must come leading the person into socially destructive behaviours. Crucially Jesus affirms that both desires and actions are the true cause of defilement - not as physical dirt but as stains on the soul. We can readily observe what Jesus means when, after having consciously wronged somebody or God, we feel guilty and maybe also dirty, even though our bodies may be spotlessly clean. Yet, Jesus goes a step further still. In the comprehensive list of sinful behaviours he provides we are taught that spiritual uncleanliness is not a just personal matter; rather it is something that involves those around us as well. How? ‘Theft, murder, deceit’ to name a few, all affect and necessarily harm others leaving a stain on us – perhaps not bodily, but certainly on our souls. Indeed, for Jesus sin may originate in the privacy of one’s heart, but its consequences are far reaching; sin might be thought as a private thing, but it is social in nature.

So, in short, toady Jesus tells us, “It’s not the world; it’s you who has a problem”.
But what are we to do? Jesus does not give a solution. Indeed, he seems like a brilliant surgeon who withholds the treatment after having diagnosed a patient with a critical illness. Then again, if we look at Jesus the solution to our problem is right there in front of us, staring us in the face, as it were. The remedy to the evil intentions of which Jesus speaks is Jesus himself. If the self-serving desires we harbour in our hearts are what truly make us unclean, then we ought to both pray for a clean heart and imitate the heart of Christ, who in the Gospel of Matthew says, ‘Learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart’ (11:29).
On one hand, with regards to prayer, for centuries the Church has prayed at the beginning of Mass saying, ‘Almighty God, unto whom all hearts be open, all desires known, and from whom no secretes are hid: cleanse the thoughts of our hearts…’ and perhaps it is time for us to rediscover this ancient prayer. On the other hand, we ought to strive to imitate the heart of Christ as closely as we can, making it the new centre of our being until all evil intentions are firmly put aside, until we can say with St Paul, ‘It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me’ (Galatians 2:20). Both prayer and imitation Christ’s Heart mean allowing the Heart of our Redeemer to gradually replace our own hearts; allowing that Heart to exchange our self-serving desires for his ever-burning, selfless love.

In our gospel Jesus firmly identifies the source of true ritual uncleanliness with our selfish intentions, and if we think about it he’s pretty much spot-on. But through prayer and the imitation of his Heart we will be able to overcome this defilement, replacing ‘fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, and folly’ (7:22) with a new, divine set of habits - with ‘love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.’ (Gal 5:22)

25 February, 2015

Homily for the First Sunday of Lent (B) 2015 - Imitating Jesus

Mark 1:9-15
‘The Spirit immediately drove Jesus out into the wilderness.
He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.’ (1:12-13)

The collect for this first week of Lent invites us to discipline ourselves in obedience to your Spirit. In Church environments, the expression “being obedient to or led by the Spirit” can evoke very different mental images. Many could think of hands raised high in praise during loud church services, others may think of the large crowds John Wesley use to pull, others still may think with suspicion about people speaking in tongues or falling in a trance before shifty self-appointed TV evangelists; but I dare say that not many of us would associate “being obedient to or lea by the Spirit” with discipline - with solitude, fasting, silence, and quietness. Yet, this is often the picture that Scripture associates with the Holy Spirit, and this is the picture we find in the gospel today. Here the Holy Spirit is at work in Jesus and leads him to a place separated from other people, into silence, into a wild and untamed landscape where civilization with its continuous noise and worries cannot reach.

In the gospel of Mark Jesus is almost always the person described as doing things, speaking, curing, and walking – he almost always has the active role. Jesus is in charge of the situation, but two exceptions to this are very telling; the first is found here, the second during his Passion. We have to look very attentively to see that verse 12 does not say, “Jesus was driven by the Spirit”; it says, ‘The Spirit immediately drove Jesus out into the wilderness’, meaning that here the Holy Spirit has the active role. Jesus is completely open and receptive to whatever the Spirit is doing in him. So we see that for him being obedient to the Spirit is not about being the centre of attention, pulling great crowds, or doing things differently for difference sake; rather, it is all about reconnecting with what really matters – with both spiritual realities and with himself – through the means of solitude, fasting, silence, and quietness. 
It is only after this period in the wilderness that Jesus reassumes his active role in the story; and more importantly, it is only after the discipline of wilderness experience that Jesus speaks to the world for the first time.

Our challenge for Lent is this, to imitate the Jesus we see in today’s gospel, a Jesus who is completely open to the action of the Holy Spirit and takes retreat into the wilderness so as to focus his attention on his vocation and the Cross. When we imitate Jesus in this way we are enabled to experience a true change of life, a true repentance that allows us to believe more firmly and intensely in the coming of God’s Kingdom. Imitating Jesus also prepares us to announce the Good News to those around us in a more credible way. In short, I ask you to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit

This Lent the Spirit calls us to reacquaint ourselves with our spiritual wilderness; anything short of this will not do. Any half-baked plans for Lent will not produce lasting fruits but just a smug feeling in saying, “Oh, look, I have given up chocolate for Lent!” No. The Holy Spirit calls us, and our spiritual wilderness and wastelands await us. It is time to switch off our TV sets, to find time for silence; it is time to examine our consciences, to be confronted by our inner hopes and fears; it is time to seek quietness, to avoid gossip, to forgive one-another; it is time to open our hearts and see what’s lurking inside, to open our wallets and give to charity; it is time to pick up our dusty Bibles and read the gospels, to learn from Jesus how to relate to one-another. 
Being in the wilderness like Jesus is not easy, sometimes it may be a scary experience, but at the other side of our discipline, of our solitude, fasting, silence, and quietness the great joy of Easter awaits us. And if temptations and doubt should find us, angels will wait on us as they did with Jesus. At the end of the day, God is faithful and he will not ask of us more than we can do.

I want to leave you with some powerful words about this season of Lent by Leo the Great, one the 5th century Church Fathers. In speaking to his congregation about their relationships with one-another he says,
‘This season let faults be forgiven, let bonds [of slavery] be loosed, let offences be wiped clean, let plans of revenge fall through, that through the divine and human grace of Christ, the holy festival of Easter may find us all happy and innocent.

Winter Ember Days 2015 - i

First Winter Ember Day.
Please do pray for vocations to the priesthood, diaconate, and religious life.

A prayer for vocations to the Sacred Priesthood -
Eternal Father,
You renew the Church in every age
by raising up priests outstanding in holiness,
living witnesses of your unchanging Love,
and faithful shepherds for your people.
Fill the hearts of young people

with the spirit of courage and love
that they may answer your call generously. 
Give parents the graceto encourage vocations
by prayer and good example.
Raise up worthy priests for your altars 

and ardent, but gentle servants of the Gospel. 
Give the Church more priests
and keep them faithful in their love and service.
We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ,
your Son and eternal High Priest. Amen.

09 February, 2015

Homily for the Feast of St Ia, virgin and martyr, 2015 - Reflecting on martyrdom

Matthew 10:16-22
‘See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves;
so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.’ (10:16)
Today we celebrate the feast of Saint Ia, patron saint of our town, a holy woman who came from far away, bore witness to the light of Christ, and shed her blood on our shores for the sake of the gospel. The legends surrounding her life, provenance, and the manner of death are very vague, but fortunately the most important aspects of her memory are still preserved in the titles that accompany her name – virgin and martyr.
Examined properly virginity and martyrdom may appear very strange and remote to non-believers and contemporary society alike; perhaps they may even seem laughable. In fact, I suspect that your average person may be pretty uncomfortable in talking about them; virginity implies thinking, at least in some measure, about sex, and martyrdom involves talking about death – two subjects with which society struggles to grapple given our increasingly individualistic, self-serving culture. Yet, both virginity and martyrdom, far from being outdated things, are still very relevant concepts for many Christians today as they trace the most demanding blueprints of Christian living. We only have to think about the plight of our brothers and sisters in the Middle East to understand this.

So let us consider Christians martyrdom with the help of our gospel reading, as only very recently the Archbishop of Canterbury said in a sermon, ‘Martyrdom is a concept that needs rescuing’ (Rescuing martyrdom - 29/12/2014). Why is that?
Martyrdom needs reviving in the way we talk about discipleship for two reasons; primarily because of the powerful sign it represents for the Church and for the world, but also because the possibility of becoming a martyr is something open to all Christians. In our gospel reading today Jesus tells us just this; martyrdom is something that every one of his disciples could be confronted by, however unlikely it may seem at present. Jesus says, ‘I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves’ . These words come as part of a great missionary discourse containing both instructions and warnings for the disciples. Unfortunately, we have become so accustomed these words that we fail to grasp the full force of what Jesus is saying.
Let us read this verse slowly, ‘I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves’.

First, Jesus says ‘I am sending you out’. He is sending Christians as his witnesses in the world to bring his light to others – this is our common vocation. The Greek word for “witness” is where we get the word for martyr form in English. So the “martyr” was originally thought of simply as one who witnesses to Christ, but through the centuries the Church eventually came to reserve this title only for those who have witnessed in the ultimate way by forfeiting their lives in order to remain true to the faith.

Secondly, Jesus instructs to live ‘like sheep in the midst of wolves’. The sheep are us, the pious and believing Christians; the wolves are members of the wider society, but the crucial words here are “in the midst”. Jesus sends us like a small number of sheep in the midst of a pack of wolves. As counterintuitive as it may sound, Jesus does not send us to live nearby the wolves, at a safe distance, or to be with one tamed wolf. It is something perhaps difficult to grasp in a nominally Christianised Britain but, in sending us Jesus warns us that we may find ourselves heavily outnumbered and in a deeply hostile territory. Yet, in all our tribulations we are sent to shine the light of faith on and for others through our different way of life – sheep, after all, do not behave like wolves.

Lastly, Jesus commands to ‘be wise as serpents and innocent as doves’. Again, here the crucial words are “wise” and “innocent”, representing two sides of the same coin. Jesus does not instruct us to be poisonous as serpents, nor does he suggest that in order to be wise about worldly things we ought to forfeit our innocence – to “have lived” as they say. Being ‘wise as serpents’ means being alert, not naïve; it means being alert of the possible dangers that surround us – including being aware of those who would do anything to discredit the Church by pointing out our personal failures and sins.
The command to be wise and innocent also forms the difference between Christian martyrdom and the type of death exalted by religious extremists. The wise and innocent disciples will never go out of their way looking for death, and they would never ever harm others in order to witness to Christ. The Christian martyrs are not Japanese kamikazes or suicide bombers. In fact, much the opposite, the martyrs absorb the violence done to them because of hatred for the faith in love so that God may use their Christ-like passion to convert the world.

The Christ-like death of martyrs has a converting effect on others; as one early Church writer said, ‘…the more you kill the more we are. The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.’ (Tertullian, Apologeticum). Therefore, martyrdom is an inherent part of discipleship. As Archbishop Justin said, it means to ‘bear witness to the light of Christ at the moment of greatest darkness; when the sword falls, the gun fires, [and] the flames rise’. 
All this we see in our glorious patron Sain Ia even though we do not know much about her. So let us pray that should this moment of greatest darkness arrive for anyone of us, for me or you, we will have the courage, like her, to shine the light of Christ, in this most self-giving way. 
Let us pray,
O glorious Saint Ia, virgin and martyr, who, being subjected to bitter torments, did not lose your faith nor your constancy in confessing Jesus Christ; obtain for us an active and solid faith, that we may alway be courageous followers of Jesus, and fervent Christians in word and in deed. Amen.