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.