Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Unlikely Evangelists

Evangelism by the laity is a recurring topic that always left me feeling a bit clueless as to what a practical application of it might look like. In one sense I was quite impressed by the way protestant churches approached this. They trained their congregations, had programs, strategies, were quite creative and yet what emerged was often cloned evangelists with stock rhetoric, there was something missing.

I discovered what it was when I worked for a chemical company years ago in the tea room on one of the plants I visited. One of the managers, who also had his tea break there, was very antagonistic towards God and the church and like many atheists and God-haters would deliver his anti-God sermons almost every day. It was clear that a conversation would be pointless so I prayed for him instead, sometimes out of pity, and other times out of annoyance. Month after month!

I was not the only player in the piece of theatre that was about to unfold though. The next was ‘the tobacco man’ who used to tour the plant selling pouches of tobacco smuggled in from Europe on the Lorries. His role was that he had a full forearm tattoo of the crucifixion scene. Each time he came in, the atheist winced as his eyes were inexplicably drawn to the cross.

One afternoon God fielded a ringer, the head chef of the canteen. A man with a volcanic temperament, made worse by a punitive financial settlement following a recent divorce which occupied his every waking moment. As the atheist began his daily rant against God I could sense that the chef was in no mood for it and without even delaying to put his teeth back in he declared “You ungrateful bastard; He died for your sins’

Whether or not there was silence in heaven, I don’t know; but there was in the tearoom. The atheist was glued to the spot, head bent over and visibly shaken. The chef put his teeth in and thought about his ex-wife. The tobacco man took a long drag on his roll-up and lowered his tattooed arm into position on his knee and the atheist looked into the image of his savior’s eyes without wincing this time.The gospel had been preached to him in its fullness, his own soul’s condition revealed to him like a violent lightning bolt, the sword of the Spirit had found its mark and his life would never be the same again.

God is always looking, always preparing, assembling teams of evangelists, creating a space to do His work and completing the task, often with people who are not religious at all, untrained, and even totally  unaware. He is the prime mover in evangelism.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Fierce, but without power

I have noticed lately that in movies there is an increasing fascination with the supernatural and of the eternal  battle between good and evil with a multitude of special effects to add to the drama and portray the horror of the evil one. It’s usually depicted as being a close run thing though, as if there is something close to equality between the two sides, but nothing could be further from the truth.

I had a peculiar illustration of this recently following the long awaited opening of our parish’s adoration chapel. I try to visit most days and from that first day, each time I went, I was set upon by a vicious stray dog that came hurtling across the park snarling and barking stopping just short of the range of my umbrella.
This may sound trivial but it was every day, sometimes accompanied by a few other dogs that surrounded me as I approached the chapel. As days turned to weeks I was getting quite weary of this daily ritual, I even prayed for Moriarty (that’s the dog’s name).

During this time I was also reading a book about the life of St Anthony, the Egyptian hermit, and this was very insightful as being attacked by the devil in various guises, from packs of dogs, to serpents and insects was his bus ride to work. However he soon discovered one important fact …they had no power. The devil even had to ask permission from God before he could do anything as in the trials of Job. In reality he was very much afraid of Anthony.

So one morning, approaching the chapel from a different road, I caught Moriarty unawares as he sat in the alley. He immediately recognized me and started barking and snarling but I just walked towards him and he started to run, turning occasionally to growl, but in retreat and I realized that it was all a ruse, that really he was afraid of me.

As the darkness of our world seems to be ever increasing it’s worth noting that compared to God, the devil and his fallen angels are mere creatures, already a defeated enemy. The only way they have any power over us is if we give it to them, yielding to them usually through sin or fear. But as praying Christians, in a state of grace, we have nothing to fear, quite the contrary, we are conquerors and can apply Christ’s victory with every moment or subject of prayer, ushering in the Kingdom of God and dispelling the darkness of evil.

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Holy Russia

In 1977, as a schoolboy, I had the opportunity to visit the Soviet Union. I had little appreciation of faith in those days but did attempt to attend Mass on Sunday. Arriving at the one church that was still open we met with the news, from a few grandmothers, that there would be no Mass as the priest was ill. Sixty years after the revolution the youngest priest must have been in his mid-eighties. The lights must have almost gone out on the church in Russia in those days.

And yet perhaps it was from amongst those grandmothers (orthodox and catholic) that the countries future return to faith lay. Both Mikhail Gorbachev and Vladimir Putin were secretly baptized as infants, a spirit lying dormant for many years as they grew up atheists & part of the communist party machine.

Now Putin seems to be the standard bearer for a new Russia that, astonishingly but correctly, pointed out how Godless America and the west had become whereas Russia upholds the traditional family and teaches the Christian faith in state schools, a freedom now curtailed in the USA. The high ground has shifted so perhaps it’s fitting that the Russians are the ones to lead in the fight against ISIS in Syria. 

At the beginning of the air strikes, on TV, I noticed a Russian MIG pilot entering his jet with an icon in his hand, showing an understanding of what alliance he and his comrades needed for this particular fight. 

Whilst Putin may never be the poster boy for tactful foreign policy, in this instance he is the only leader with the backbone to tackle ISIS which is certainly the world’s priority at present. 

Defining a just war in our days is difficult but perhaps defining the adversary leads to the conclusion. I searched for an apt description of ISIS on Wikipedia and these extracts look close:-‘no ability to feel pity, compassion, or remorse’... ‘soon came to view themselves as the supreme race and began a conquest of domination and extermination’. ..’having had every emotion removed except hate’

Actually the definitions above are found under the heading ‘Daleks’; same psychological profile and modus operandi as ISIS though.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

What is Hell like ? (from St Faustina's diary)

Today, I was led by an Angel to the chasms of hell. It is a place of great torture; how awesomely large and extensive it is! The kinds of tortures I saw: the first torture that constitutes hell is the loss of God; the second is perpetual remorse of conscience; the third is that one‟s condition will never change; the fourth is the fire that will penetrate the soul without destroying it – a terrible suffering, since it is purely spiritual fire, lit by God‟s anger; the fifth torture is continual darkness and a terrible suffocating smell, and despite the darkness, the devils and the souls of the damned see each other and all the evil, both of others and their own; the sixth torture is the constant company of Satan; the seventh torture is horrible despair, hatred of God, vile words, curses and blasphemies. These are the tortures suffered by all the damned together, but that is not the end of the sufferings. There are special tortures destined for particular souls. These are the torments of the senses. Each soul undergoes terrible and indescribable sufferings, related to the manner in which it has sinned. There are caverns and pits of torture where one form of agony differs from another. I would have died at the very sight of these tortures if the omnipotence of God had not supported me. Let the sinner know that he will be tortured throughout all eternity, in those senses which he made use of to sin. I am writing this at the command of God, so that no soul may find an excuse by saying there is no hell, or that nobody has ever been there, and so no one can say what it is like.

I, Sister Faustina, by the order of God, have visited the abysses of hell so that I might tell souls about it and testify to its existence. I cannot speak about it now; but I have received a command from God to leave it in writing. The devils were full of hatred for me, but they had to obey me at the command of God. What I have written is but a pale shadow of the things I saw. But I noticed one thing: that most of the souls there are those who disbelieved that there is a hell. When I came to, I could hardly recover from the fright. How terribly souls suffer there! Consequently, I pray even more fervently for the conversion of sinners. I incessantly plead God‟s mercy upon them. O my Jesus, I would rather be in agony until the end of the world, amidst the greatest sufferings, than offend You by the least sin.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Che Francisco

On the flight between Cuba and the USA one of the journalists asked Pope Francis if his politics were leaning to the left. Perhaps his heart for the poor and criticism of the ‘unfettered pursuit of money’ once referred to as the ‘dung of Satan’ may have contributed to this misunderstanding.

Cuba was an interesting backdrop for such an enquiry. Pope Francis’s fellow Argentinian, Che Guevara, who famously helped free Cuba from dictatorship and installed the current communist government, was also a man whose principal motivation was compassion for those who were being horribly oppressed and exploited. It is true that both hate the sins that the rich and powerful commit against the poor.

But then their paths separate. The communist ideology requires hatred of the sinner too in order to defeat him, and so turns in on itself and of necessity becomes worse than its adversary. (James 1:20’ because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires’) The Pope’s way of course is more hopeful of the change of heart of those who currently do evil and happy to leave the battle and timing in God’s hands whilst proclaiming the truth in love and candor.

Pope Francis seeks a revolution too, a change of heart, individually and collectively, a turning outward, first to God and then, as a product of that, to each other and especially those in need.

It’s interesting that the Cuban leader, Raul Castro, when he met the Pope prior to his visit to Cuba, said "I read all the speeches of the Pope, and if he continues this way, I will go back to praying and go back to the church, and I'm not joking," Love conquers all!

Saturday, 3 October 2015

The Helpless

There was an extraordinary photograph taken in 90’s of a vulture that landed near a Sudanese child on the verge of starvation, waiting for her to die so it could devour her.  When it was published it became a symbol of famine in Africa, moving many to outrage, others to pity and charity.

When I look at it though, I see something else. The child, weak and helpless, is quite unaware of the danger lurking behind it, it has other concerns. And most of the people on earth are very much like this helpless starving child, not through famine or lack of any means of preserving their physical life but because they are starved of the means to strengthen themselves against their very real and dangerous enemy

As our societies become increasingly godless, the people are easy prey for the enemy of their souls. They don’t know they have an enemy, they don’t know how to strengthen themselves to combat his wiles. They simply fall into every trap he lays. And yet we have been given everything we need to put the enemy to flight;- a prayer life, the sacramental life of the church, a community of believers and so on.

The photographer, Kevin Carter, won a Pulitzer prize but was always haunted by the event because whilst he had shooed away the vulture afterwards, he failed to intervene to save the child.

As Christians how can we intervene to rescue from death those around us, who whilst they may appear happy, successful and productive are devoid of the true life in God, spiritually emaciated and living in the shadow of a merciless creature, lying in wait to take possession of them at death. We too may be haunted by what we fail to do to prevent that. Perhaps prayer and bold witness to what we believe would be a start.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Planned Parenthood .. sale of baby organs and tissue

In the early days after abortion was legalized in the UK (for special cases), some entrepreneurs started to look at ways to cash in on this fledgling industry. They used the baby fat to make soap.

At the time this was a bit shocking; the only previously recorded incident, highlighted during the Nuremberg trials, was at the Danzig institute where the corpses from Nazi concentration camps had been processed and made into soap; a small scale operation in its day. Nowadays of course many beauty products contain fetal material in some form or another.

A recent covert investigation into the American abortion giant, Planned Parenthood, revealed even more shocking news: harvesting of fetal organs and tissue for sale to research companies. The abortionists explained (whilst being secretly filmed) how they can modify the abortion procedure to keep intact the more valuable or saleable body parts, like liver, heart, lungs etc., to make up the orders from the company. 

Of course that’s not the end of the tale. What these biotech companies use this tissue and parts for, is much more disturbing! I have a limited understanding of the science, but essentially, they use the tissue in the development of new flavorings for foodstuffs and soft drinks in addition to its use in the production of vaccines and medicines. In other words, aborted babies have entered the human food chain. 

Who could have imagined that in less than 50 years we would have arrived at something like this? Indeed it is not the only piece of 60’s legislation or decriminalization that has set us on a path to a new age of deprivation…

Monday, 24 August 2015

The Icing on the Cake

A recent court ruling in America ordered a Christian baker who refused to bake a wedding cake for a lesbian couple to pay $135,000 in compensation to the couple for ‘emotional distress’. Photographers and florists have also been penalized for refusing their services to homosexual weddings. 

Much of the Western world now considers itself to be in a ‘Post-Christian’ era of development and this has big implications for all Christians and their countries. To understand where we are heading, and what can be done, we must consider how we arrived at this juncture.

Sodomy has been considered a criminal act for millennia; the first recorded laws concerning it were 1075BC. In England the 1533 Buggery act was introduced with the death penalty for acts of sodomy against other men, animals or children. The last two, at the time of writing, remain illegal. The law was altered in the 1800’s but still considered a serious offence up until 1967 when it was decriminalized.

At first I was a bit puzzled as to why homosexuals wanted to get married as there is no tendancy toward monogomy and relationships tend to be rather short-lived.

There are other factors at play though, same-sex adoption particularly and a new era of education in schools. This is perhaps the most insidious development. In some public schools children as young as 4 year old are being taught that same sex marriage is normal. Some of the books on offer to facilitate this include fairly explicit texts describing how a boy wants to change his gender; others describe families with two dads or two mums, others about boys who want to wear dresses. All innocently disguised in the language of children. The consequences of indoctrinating children in this way will be horrendous for future society. They will be lost in a web of deceit. 

One ray of hope is the witness of those who do not consider their ‘rights’ as important as the ‘wrongs’. In a blog posting I read a most encouraging story from a celibate homosexual man who understood his dignity as a child of God, first and foremost and, although not without difficulty, was living in communion with church teachings. His desire to walk the path of holiness was truly inspiring. He understood that all are made for heaven, called to be saints. 

We must continue to speak the truth in love to all who will listen. Changing the law does not alter the consequences.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

“The Vision to stop Islamic fundamentalism”

Divine intervention is much more common than we realize I suspect, often anonymously dispensed, but where the dangers are extreme our participation is also required. Amongst many famous examples is the battle of Lepanto where, as the praying witnesses put it, ‘the sails of the Holy League were filled with Divine breath referring to the sudden change in wind direction  that won the day and sent the fleet of the Ottoman Empire swiftly to the bottom of the sea. St Pope Pius V, far away in Rome, was granted a vision of the battle in the sky and saw the victory, through the intercession of Our Lady, which he had instructed the people to pray for.

A few months ago, a Nigerian Bishop, praying in his adoration chapel, received a vision too. In the vision, the prelate said, Jesus didn’t say anything at first, but extended a sword toward him, and he in turn reached out for it. “As soon as I received the sword, it turned into a rosary,” the bishop said, adding that Jesus then told him three times: “Boko Haram is gone.”

He has since passed on this instruction to the faithful and as the engine of intercessory prayer gathers momentum we are already hearing news of progress in that Boko Haram territory is falling to the Nigerian military and many of the women and girls abducted have since been set free. An encouraging beginning.

In our day there is much to suggest that evil men have the upper hand, the atrocities of ISIS are particularly disturbing and their methodology in killing Christians; beheadings and crucifixions, certainly indicates the source of their inspiration. There may be a tendency to hopelessness in the face of this kind of onslaught, particularly as the secular nations of the coalition seem hesitant and reluctant to engage decisively with ISIS which serves to prolong their reign of terror.

But, as Christians, we have the weapons to deal with them effectively. Some might suggest that if our prayers were to cast out the evil from the hearts of ISIS fighters, the demons would be so dark and so numerous as to block out the light from the sun, to which I hope we can respond (like Dienekes)’ then we will pray in the shade’

Monday, 3 August 2015

Duty to Die

In America, physician assisted suicide is legal in a few states and under various stages of review in other states. It was anticipated that it would be only occasionally used but this is no longer the case.

Even the most basic health insurance plans include a minimum level of care for terminally ill patients, that being to provide ‘a pain management protocol’ for however many months, weeks or days until the patient’s natural death.

With the legislation change, allowing assisted suicide, the insurance companies can now state (and have done so successfully) that their requirement now is simply to provide for this new minimum level of care, i.e. - the cost of the lethal injection. ($100 instead of thousands of dollars.)

This leaves the patient with the ‘choice’ to pay for their own pain killing medicine, if they have the means, or if they cannot pay the options are dying in agonizing pain or agreeing to assisted suicide by lethal injection.

Some have opted for assisted suicide to spare their children the cost burden of their medication in these circumstances, being made to feel that they are obliged to die.

Whether these clever loopholes were not foreseen by lawmakers or whether the legislation was deliberately and conveniently vague is not known, but this version of euthanasia is getting a hearing now in most first world countries and could easily slip into the mainstream medical system if not opposed vigorously. 

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

“See those Christians, how they love one another”

During a Lenten visit to the Blessed Sacrament at a local adoration chapel, I came across a couple of street children (maybe 7 and 10 years old) who also came in for a visit. I was taken aback by their reverence as they entered, knelt at the feet of Jesus, and bowed down, foreheads to the floor; just two pairs of blackened feet sticking up as they prayed silently for a while. They knew their faith; perhaps being on the streets was a recent thing. A few days later another street dweller came in, a man this time, and he too, whilst more vocal and with many tears, made his pleas to the Lord. I added my own prayer to theirs.

Once upon a time; in the early church, even its persecutors acknowledged something about the quality of its members as they used to say “see those Christians, how they love one another”. Nowadays it’s different. There is a rich church and a poor church, rich Christians and poor ones and an ever increasing gap between them. Years ago a pagan work colleague, after delivering a litany of examples, declared in essence “see those Christians, they live the same way as us pagans” There was more than a shred of truth in his observation.

Perhaps the early church had more cohesion as a community and a shared common purpose and belief which out-weighed worldly considerations and enticements. I can’t imagine them gathered round in prayer petitioning God for the latest model of chariot, designer toga’s, new palaces to live in or the prestigious i-trumpet and yet modern day equivalents seems to be the focus of attention of many church goers while the needs of their brethren go unmet, sometimes in an extreme way.

Its seems paradoxical when we consider that the world is really getting smaller; we know of a crisis within minutes via media and can respond with equal rapidity through a net of Catholic charities with a few button pushes on  a smartphone if we like.  But we often process the ocean of faces of refugees, asylum seekers, homeless, widows and orphans as a collective never ending entity rather than brothers and sisters with their individual stories of real pain and suffering, who need us as we need them.

The early church was rich in compassion and with a  clear sense of identity and purpose whist the modern Christian community seems rather wrapped up in itself and in the world and by comparison, seems rather impoverished in compassion, and unsure of its allegiance.

Monday, 13 April 2015

Year of Mercy Blog

New story every day for the coming year, from St Faustina's diary....follow the unfolding revelation of divine mercy ..

Friday, 20 March 2015

God Knows (a poem by Minnie Louise Haskins)

And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: “Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied:

“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”
So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night. And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.

So heart be still:
What need our little life
Our human life to know,
If God hath comprehension?
In all the dizzy strife
Of things both high and low,
God hideth His intention.
God knows. His will
Is best. The stretch of years
Which wind ahead, so dim
To our imperfect vision,
Are clear to God. Our fears
Are premature; In Him,
All time hath full provision.
Then rest: until
God moves to lift the veil
From our impatient eyes,
When, as the sweeter features
Of Life’s stern face we hail,
Fair beyond all surmise
God’s thought around His creatures
Our mind shall fill

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

St. Stanislaus of Cracozv and the Resuscitated Peter Miles.

This contentment in the midst of the most intense suffering cannot be explained otherwise than by the Divine consolations which the Holy Ghost infuses into the souls in Purgatory. This Divine Spirit, by means of faith, hope,and charity, puts them in the disposition of a sick person who has to submit to very painful treatment, but the effect of which is to restore him to perfect health. This sick person suffers, but he loves his salutary suffering. The Holy Ghost, the Comforter, gives a similar contentment to the holy souls.

Of this we have a striking example in Peter Miles, raised from the dead by St. Stanislaus of Cracow, who preferred to return to Purgatory rather than to live again upon earth.

The celebrated miracle of this resurrection happened in 1070. It is thus related in the Acta Sanctorum on May 7. St. Stanislaus was Bishop of Cracow when the Duke Boleslas II. governed Poland. He did not neglect to remind this prince of his duties, who scandalously violated them before all his people. Boleslas was irritated by the holy liberty of the Prelate, and to revenge himself he excited against him the heirs of a certain Peter Miles, who had died three years previously, after having sold a piece of ground to the church of Cracow. The heirs accused the saint of having usurped the ground, without having paid the owner. Stanislaus declared that he had paid for the land, but as the witnesses who should have defended him had been either bribed or intimidated, he was denounced as a usurper of the property of another,and condemned to make restitution.

Then, seeing that he had nothing to expect from human justice, he raised his heart to God, and received a sudden inspiration. He asked for a delay of three days, promising to make Peter Miles appear in person, that he might testify to the legal purchase and payment of the lot.

They were granted to him in scorn. The saint fasted, watched, and prayed God to take up the defence of his cause. The third day, after having celebrated Holy Mass, he went out, accompanied by his clergy and many of the faithful, to the place where Peter had been interred. By his orders the grave was opened ; it contained nothing but bones.

He touched them with his crosier, and in the name of Him who is the Resurrection and the Life, he commanded the dead man to arise.

Suddenly the bones became reunited, were covered with flesh, and, in sight of the stupefied people, the dead man was seen to take the Bishop by the hand and walk towards the tribunal. Boleslas, with his court and an immense crowd of people, were awaiting the result with the most lively expectation. "Behold Peter," said the saint to Boleslas; "he comes, prince, to give testimony before you. Interrogate him ; he will answer you."

It is impossible to depict the stupefaction of the Duke, of his councillors, and of the whole concourse of people. Peter affirmed that he had been paid for the ground ; then turning towards his heirs, he reproached them for having accused the pious prelate against all rights of justice; then he exhorted them to do penance for so grievous a sin.

It was thus that iniquity, which believed itself already sure of success, was confounded. Now comes the circumstance which concerns our subject, and to which we wished to refer.

Wishing to complete this great miracle for the glory of God, Stanislaus proposed to the deceased that, if he desired to live a few years longer, he would obtain for him this favour from God. Peter replied that he had no such desire. He was in Purgatory, but he would rather return thither immediately and endure its pains, than expose himself to damnation in this terrestrial life. He entreated the saint only to beg of God to shorten the time of his sufferings, that he might the sooner enter the abode of the blessed. After that, accompanied by the Bishop and a vast multitude, Peter returned to his grave, laid himself down, his body fell to pieces, and his bones resumed the same state in which they had first been found. We have reason to believe that the saint soon obtained the deliverance of his soul.

That which is the most remarkable in this example, and which should most attract our attention, is that a soul from Purgatory, after having experienced the most excruciating torments, prefers that state of suffering to the life of this world ; and the reason which he gives for this preference is, that in this mortal life we are exposed to the danger of being lost and incurring eternal damnation.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

To a Snowflake .... a poem by Francis Thompson

What heart could have thought you? --
Past our devisal
(O filigree petal!)
Fashioned so purely,
Fragilely, surely,
From what Paradisal
Imagineless metal,
Too costly for cost?
Who hammered you, wrought you,
From argentine vapor? --
"God was my shaper.
Passing surmisal,
He hammered, He wrought me,
From curled silver vapor,
To lust of His mind --
Thou could'st not have thought me!
So purely, so palely,
Tinily, surely,
Mightily, frailly,
Insculped and embossed,
With His hammer of wind,
                                                                      And His graver of frost