Saturday, 30 December 2017

The Road From Damascus.. a story from Syria

Ziad was born and raised in Damascus, finishing his schooling in this historic capital of Syria. Most of his life, Ziad had been a practicing Muslim like everyone else in his devout family.

He would often accompany his father, his three brothers, and some neighbours to the mosque for Friday noon prayers and frequently for prayer on other days. The rest of the five daily prayer times he would observe at home or at work. Not once had he failed to observe the month of fasting since his boyhood.

After graduating from the state University, Ziad moved to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where he worked for several years as a civil engineer. While he was in Saudi Arabia, he continued to participate in all the Muslim religious duties, as well as to make the pilgrimage to Mecca. At times he wondered about the Injil and the Tawrat, but he would brush these thoughts aside for he believed that through his traditional religious training, he knew all he needed to know about the Holy Bible and about Jesus Christ. Yet, according to his testimony, "what I had heard from my Christian friends in Damascus and had seen in their lives, continued unanswered for many years."

In 1979, Ziad, along with his wife and young daughter, Ghada, went to Germany for one year of specialized training as provided by his employer. During the family's stay in Germany, Ghada became very ill and was admitted to a hospital. After receiving medical care for 4 days with no improvement, the doctors seemed resigned to her imminent death.

Feeling overwhelmed by the scene of his daughter's paling face, Ziad left her room with a heavy heart, and returned to the waiting room. There he sat motionless, yet agonizing, for a few moments, until he noticed a table in the middle of the room which contained books and magazines. He saw two recognizable books -- an English version of the Holy Bible and a German version of it. He got up and walked over to the table and picked up one.

As he returned to his seat, he held the book closed while his memory took him back to some sayings of Jesus Christ which he had heard from his former Christian friends in Damascus. Recalling one saying, he eagerly opened the Book that was in his hand and directed by the Holy Spirit, began searching for the passage. When he found it, he began reading it silently:

I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. (John 14:13,14).

Seeing the willingness of the Son as expressed in these verses gave Ziad an abundant hope. He lifted a warm prayer to the Almighty God in the name of Jesus. His only request -- that his "dying" daughter would be healed.

"Immediately I felt a profound tranquillity and assurance," said Ziad. "I left the waiting room filled with unprecedented joy, seeing light surrounding me. As soon as I came into Ghada's room, I rushed to her bed and hugged her gently, saying, "Ghada my sweetheart, God will heal you."

The certainly with which Ziad made this statement even astonished him, but he knew deep in his heart that God had answered his prayer.

The tears which had dropped from his own eyes onto Ghada's cheek as he embraced here, Ziad wiped off. With tears of joy still clinging to his eyes, he turned to his wife and said, "I have asked God in the name of Jesus to heal Ghada. Never before have I prayed so fervently, nor so simply in such a special way. Somehow I am assured that God has answered this prayer."

Indeed, Ghada was healed. Two days later, the doctors released her from the hospital. They could find no reason to detain her.

Since this amazing answer to Ziad's prayer, both Ziad and his wife have experienced the transforming work of God in their lives. They know the truth about Jesus Christ and proclaim their faith in Him. Later, Ghada followed them on this path; she too now believes that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Tuesday, 26 December 2017

St Mary the sinner ... a story from Eygpt

St Mary, also called the sinner, lived 47 years in the desert making penance and suffering privations. Toward the end of her life, St. Zosimus of Palestine came upon her in the desert. When the Abbot asked her who she was and from where she came, this strange woman - burned and darkened by the sun - answered:Father, forgive me, but when I start to tell you my story you will run from me, as from a snake, for your ears will not be able to bear the vileness of my actions and the air will be contaminated by my impurity. "I am called Mary and I was born in Egypt. I went to Alexandria at age 12 and lived there 17 years as a public woman, giving myself to whoever wanted me. But one day, I learned that some inhabitants of this city were going on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to adore the True Cross, and I asked the sailors to let me also go aboard.

They asked for money to pay for the journey, and I answered that I had none, but I offered my body instead. So the voyage was made. In Jerusalem, when I went with the other pilgrims to the church on the holy day of the Exaltation of the Cross, I felt an irresistible force that prevented me from crossing the doorstep. Three or four times I approached the doors of the church, and each time that invisible power prevented me from entering. All the others went in freely without any obstacle. Retreating to a corner of the porch, I began to understand the reason why I was prevented from being admitted to see the life-giving Cross. The word of salvation gently touched the eyes of my heart and revealed to me that it was my impure life that barred the entrance to me. I began to weep and lament, and beat my breast and sigh from the depths of my heart. And so I stood weeping when I saw above me the icon of the Most Holy Mother of God. Turning to her my bodily and spiritual eyes, I begged her to obtain forgiveness for my sins and to order the entrance of the church to be opened to me so that I could adore the True Cross. In exchange, I promised to renounce the world and live in chastity. With this prayer, I acquired some hope and felt some confidence in the mercy of the Mother of God, and went again to enter the church. This time I was able to go in without any difficulty and found myself in the holy place. As I piously adored the Holy Cross, I heard a voice that said, If you cross the Jordan, you will find glorious rest .

With these words, I left the church and set off on my journey. As I was leaving the church a stranger glanced at me and gave me three coins. Taking the money, I bought three loaves and took them with me on my journey. I crossed the River Jordan and came to the desert, where I have lived for 47 years, never seeing a single human face during this whole time, feeding myself from those three loaves of bread that I brought with me. My dresses were reduced to tatters long ago. During the first 17 years I was tormented by temptations. After that, by the grace of God, I completely conquered them. This is my history. Then the old man, prostrating himself on the ground, praised God in the person of His servant. She told him: Now I ask you this. On sunset of the holy day of the Last Supper, bring me the Body of Christ. Wait for me on the banks of the Jordan, so that I can come and partake of the life-giving Gift. For during all the time I have been here, I have not approached the Holy Mysteries. The old man returned to his monastery, and the next year he returned to the banks of the Jordan bringing a consecrated Host. After waiting a while, he saw the holy woman appear and stand on the other side of the river, and he wondered how he could approach her since there was no boat. Then he saw that she made the Sign of the Cross over the waters and she at once stepped onto them and began walking across the surface until she reached him. In awe over the miracle, the religious man wanted to prostrate himself humbly at her feet, but she said: My Father, do not prostrate yourself before me, for you are a priest carrying the Body of Christ. 

After receiving the Holy Eucharist, she asked him the favor to return one more time to the same place where she first met him. The next year Zozimus crossed the river and went to the place where he first met her. He found her lying dead in the sand. He wept with sorrow but did not dare to touch her remains, fearing to offend her since she was wearing nothing. As he was wondering whether to bury her, he read an inscription in the sand by her head: Abbot Zosimus, bury the body of humble Mary on this spot. Return to dust that which is dust and pray the Lord for me, who departed on April 2, on the very night of Our Lord's Passion, after having partaken of the Divine Mysteries. [St. Mary died in the year 522]. Then Zosimus thought, It is time to do as she wished. But I am old and weak, and how am I to dig a grave with nothing but my hands? Then he saw a lion, which drew near and with its front paws it dug a hole deep enough to bury the body. After the body was buried, the lion went off into the depth of the desert like a lamb, while Zosimus returned to the monastery glorifying and blessing Christ.

Saturday, 23 December 2017

Seek the Heart of Man

The ongoing war of words and sabre rattling between North Korea and America made me wonder about how and why conflicts get out of control on such a regular basis. 

‘Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another’, the Psalmist tells us; but not without sparks, then fire, and how we handle it depends on whether the fire purifies or destroys. 

In civilised society we have learned to handle each other, in the office, factory or family. We know not to walk in the minefields of each other’s shortcomings for the most part. But where there are differences that we don’t understand, notice or expect, it can get ugly. 

I was part of a group once that was engaged in what I considered to be a very useful piece of work, I believed all had good motives, character and unity of purpose. The main organiser was not boastful, overly talkative or overbearing and was competent in his task. I had no reason to suspect that he was a megalomaniac with an ego the size of Mount Everest; its slopes and summit masked by a religious fog rendering it hidden. Unlike Everest though, egos are not made of granite but fragile material held loosely together with all the failings, wounds, shame and inadequacies of our fallen state. 

A clash of egos was inevitable, because I also have one; one of the few man-made objects that can be seen from space (apparently); I can also tread rather heavily in sharing an opinion. By the time I realised that anything resembling the slightest criticism or challenge would not be well received it was too late; I had already made a pig’s breakfast of it and quickly realised that it could end in bloodshed. Any counter-reaction would have escalated any conflict even further. 

Wounded pride is, after all, more painful than giving birth to a herd of elephants. Rage warps the mind as to what manner of vengeance is or is not reasonable or acceptable; hence the horror of war. It’s a remarkably short journey from misunderstanding and hurt feelings to murderous intent. 

Perhaps God allows proud men to lock horns together to temper their egos a little or use them against each other; sometimes you’re the titanic having your hull ripped out and sometimes you’re the iceberg.

Monday, 18 December 2017

No one knows the day or the hour...a story from England

A few years ago now, when we lived in Coventry,  a lady had a Mass offered for her sick brother-in-law who was a cancer patient, she was looking after him, a full time job at that stage.

After Mass a few of the parishioners were invited back to the house for tea and biscuits. They talked for a while and she shared her concerns for her brother-in-law.

Whilst She was a devout Catholic; her brother-in-law had no time for God at all. A very intelligent man, the living room was filled with plaques and certificates that hailed his achievements in his academic and professional undertakings and as a civic leader and local hero, but faith was absent and she feared for him as he had already exceeded the life expectancy predicted by the doctors, another credit to his will of iron.

That evening he was not at home, but at the hospital scheduled to receive a blood transfusion. The nature of his illness meant that he had a low blood count and so needed regular transfusions.

After tea, the group decided to pray together for a while, first for the lady who was so exhausted in every way and also for her patient. After praying for forgiveness of sins, they prayed for the current problem with his blood, also that he would be relieved of his pains and be able to sleep again (it had been almost a year since he had a nights sleep, every few minutes he woke up because of the pain), and also for him to open his heart to God and receive the faith.

Meanwhile in the hospital, at the same time, 9pm, the patient was hooked up to a machine which measured his blood count, while the doctors were preparing for the transfusion. The blood count was measuring a low level, then suddenly it went up and was reading what would be considered Normal. The doctors were a bit baffled by this, but continued with the transfusion. (The patient told his sister-in-law about this strange event, on his return, before she told him that he was being prayed for). That same night he slept like a baby too, and was able to do so in the next few months with little or no pain killers.

The same group of parishioners visited him again after his release from the hospital and whilst he became more open and requested prayers, as he always felt better afterwards, he was still unwilling to believe what God had done for him. (perhaps the blood count machine was malfunctioning, perhaps the pain killers were working better all of a sudden, maybe its psychological , if you know you're being prayed for maybe it makes you feel better !etc etc) The more people that witnessed to him the wonders of God, the more hardheaded he seemed to become !

Some months passed and on January the 3rd , he passed away. 

On January the 2nd he was rushed to hospital with a chest problem, which turned out to be Pneumonia. 

But on January 1st, at his own request, he was Baptised and became a Catholic:the peace and joy that filled him at that moment visible to all present. 

The Lord knew the day and the hour and He answers prayers !

Friday, 15 December 2017

Don’t throw tradition under the bus

A few days ago I was at Mass and there were clouds of incense wafting across the pews and up to the heavens. It reminded me of something. Years ago I attended an Alpha Course (the Anglican version) in a small village in Warwickshire. 

Whilst the course was very good indeed, scripture based (and great food) ; the latter part following the prayer for Baptism in the Spirit may have been a bit mishandled. Some of the facilitators were rather antagonistic to the older traditions, or anything that seemed outdated and encouraged the enthusiastic newcomers to the Spiritual life to find a ‘good’ church, meaning a ‘happy clappy’ one with the minimum of props. 

I had to interject to give them a little of my journey and why I did not jump ship to any other more modern or exciting church but rather stayed on as a Catholic after being ‘born again’ because I knew that what we have has been there for a long time, and, ignorant ‘cradle catholic’ though I was, I knew there must be a reason for that. And so, armed with a new view of the world that the Holy Spirit gives us, I began an exploration of the mysteries I had known only superficially.

This has been the greatest  adventure of my life. The intimacy of the life in the Spirit does not replace the traditional: by no means, it enables you to understand what you have with greater depth and so the reverence and awe of the Mass for example, is greatly intensified. Reverence and Intimacy are not opposites or conflicting but synergistic as they were in the apostolic times.

The Baptism in the Holy Spirit is a wonderful gift to believers and the church; but lets not throw our tradition under the bus.

Thursday, 14 December 2017

The Wall ... a story from China

A story from the persecuted church in China about a lay missionary 's visit there:

On the second night of his visit, he was awoken in the middle of the night by the noise of people moving around the house. A little scared, he got up out of bed and went to his door. Opening his door he grabbed one of the men living in the house and said to him "what is going on ?" The Chinese man replied "we're going to the wall". He inquired further " What is the wall ?" The Chinese man replied "Come with us and we will show you"

He got dressed and ventured out into the night with this group of people, walking for miles. On the way they were joined by 2 other groups until they numbered about 120 people. They came to a forest and he noticed that some of the male members were climbing up the trees. (it turns out that they were look-outs).

They got to a clearing in the forest and there was a small half-built wall from an old derelict building. As they came closer, everyone fell down on their knees before the wall.

Moments later, one man got up and walked towards the wall and reaching forwards removed one brick, behind the brick was reserved the Blessed Sacrament. They adored the Blessed Sacrament for one hour in silent prayer. Then the brick was replaced, the men came down from the trees and they went home.

Two or three times a week they would go to the wall in the middle of the night, risking imprisonment or even their lives, to spend an hour with Jesus, their greatest friend.

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Repentance is the Precursor of Healing

The Miracle at the Tomb of Sister Faustina

Before the age of 15, Maureen Digan enjoyed a normal healthy life. Then she was struck down with a very serious, slowly progressive but terminal disease called Lymphedima. This is a disease that does not respond to medication and does not go into remission. Within the next ten years Maureen had fifty operations and had lengthy confinements in Hospital of up to a year at a time.

Friends and relations suggested she should pray and put her trust in God. But Maureen could not understand why God had allowed her to get this disease in the first place, and had lost her faith completely. 

Eventually her deteriorating condition necessitated the amputation of one leg. One evening while Maureen was in hospital her husband Bob went to a film called Divine Mercy, No Escape, and there he became convinced of the healing powers of intercession by Sr. Faustina. Bob persuaded Maureen and the Doctors that she should go to the tomb of Sr. Faustina in Poland. 

They arrived in Poland on March 23rd 1981 and Maureen went to confession for the first time since she was a young girl. At the tomb (now the Shrine of Blessed Faustina) Maureen remembers saying in her own inimitable style "O.k. Faustina I came a long way, now do something". 

Innerly she heard Sister Faustina say: "If you ask for my help, I will give it to you." Suddenly she thought she was having a nervous breakdown. All the pain seemed to drain out of her body and her swollen leg which was due to be amputated shortly, went back to its normal size. 

When she returned to the U.S.A. she was examined by five independent doctors who came to the conclusion that she was completely healed. They had no medical explanation for the sudden healing of this incurable disease. The accumulated evidence of this miracle was examined in consultation by five doctors appointed by the Sacred congregation for the causes of saints, having passed this test it was examined by a team of theologians, and finally by a team of cardinals and bishops. The cure was accepted by all as a miracle caused by Sr. Faustina's intercession to the Divine Mercy.

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Urgency of praying for souls in Purgatory

( a padre Pio story)

“One evening, while I was alone in choir to pray, I heard the rustle of a suit and I saw a young monk that stirred next to the High altar. It seemed that the young monk was dusting the candelabra and straightening the flower vases.

I thought he was Padre Leone rearranging the altar, and, since it was supper time, I went to him and I told him: “Padre Leone, go to dine, this is not the time to dust and to straighten the altar”.

But a voice, that was not Father Leone’s answered me”: “I am not Padre Leone”, “and who are you? “, I asked him. “I am a brother of yours that made the noviciate here. I was ordered to clean the altar during the year of the noviciate. Unfortunately many times I didn’t reverence Jesus while passing in front of the altar, thus causing the Holy Sacrament that was preserved in the tabernacle to be disrespected. For this serious carelessness, I am still in Purgatory. Now, God, with his endless goodness, sent me here so that you may quicken the time I will enjoy Paradise. Take care of me.”

I believed to be generous to that suffering soul, so I exclaimed: “you will be in Paradise tomorrow morning, when I will celebrate Holy Mass”.

That soul cried: “Cruel!” Then he wept and disappeared.

That complaint produced in me a wound to the heart that I have felt and I will feel my whole life. In fact I would have been able to immediately send that soul to Heaven but I condemned him to remain another night in the flames of Purgatory.”

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Prepare for Miracles

A few days ago, in a small town in the Cordillera mountain range, we sat at a table having dinner opposite a man with a vision. I was surprised by it and at the same time knew that it would be magnificent. 

Earlier that day after Mass the Priest asked people to share any testimonies or insights on the goodness of God and my wife gave witness to a period in our lives where through prayer for healing, both the laying on of hands and prayers over the phone from overseas, I had been healed by God following a rather unpleasant brain haemorrhage I had 9 years ago. I left the hospital without any operation, without medication or any permanent ill effects.

Whenever we go away we always bring blessed oil (a sacramental) and prayer cards from our prayer group for whatever local community we encounter; but this trip was different. The apostolic zeal and intense hunger for God of the town’s folk took our breath away. We were invited to speak at different prayer and church groups, taken out into the hills, to the many dwellings on the rice terraces where the sick were waiting for prayers. 

And together with the priest and praying community so many were prayed over: a patient with multiple sclerosis, a stroke patient and finally a lady with gall stones and heart complications who was in such agony when the group arrived. By the next morning the lady we last visited was sat on the porch enjoying the sunshine and praising God, feeling better. Serious illness is a lonely place for patients and their care givers alike, and hearing testimonies of healing and receiving prayers for it injects a ray of hope into the gloom.

As we finished dinner with the Principal of the local High school, he shared his dream of Catholic groups from their community visiting the sick in their homes and hospitals, not only for company or sympathy, but to bring the healing power of God to them. His own experiences with the long illnesses of his wife and children have shown him that it was only the non-Catholic Christian sects who sent people to pray for healing. Surely, as Catholics we must do likewise. Now they will begin.

It was a beautiful thing to see such love in a community for their sick and elderly neighbours as well as this intense desire to serve them and put their faith in the living God. The parishioners have purity of heart and purity of intention; that is a rare sight. Somehow I know God will honour that and we will hear of great miracles in that town. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. (James 5:14)

Monday, 13 November 2017

War against Self-Interest

Padre Pio commented once that “only a general knows how and when to use one of his soldiers” There is as wide a variety of men and strategies as there are battles to fight. 

I suspect the Celtic part of my ancestry led me to embrace the idea that you can get a lot further in battle with an axe and a kind word than you can with just a kind word but I am also inspired by the diplomacy and patience of an Englishman, William Wilberforce who stood valiantly against slavery for most of his life, completing the task of its abolition across the whole British Empire just three days before he died. 

The key to success for this great man of God was that he not only had a clear vision of what was right and wrong in the sight of God but also he knew why his opponents (almost everyone at the time) could not see it. As he put it in one of his speeches “ self interest can draw a film across the eyes, so thick, that total blindness could do no more; and how it is our duty therefore to trust not to the reasonings of interested men, or to their way of colouring a transaction...”

He knew and made allowance for the weaknesses of man. Self-interest can justify absolutely anything in the mind of the one who wants it badly enough. Anyone can produce a litany of reasons for pursuing whatever he desires; he justifies what he wants so he can have it regardless of whether or not it is right. 

Wilberforce knew it and patiently made the blind to see, lifting the film off gradually through prayer, words and deeds until the nation understood, through a gift of grace, the horror of slavery and the ugliness of their own selfish hearts.

The same is true in the smaller details of life and this is where it becomes personal. What are the motives behind our daily decisions, choices, and speech? Do we give reasons for our actions to justify them or are they pure enough that there is no need to qualify them?

Every human heart is the battlefield and it’s only the amazing grace of God that can win the day as it enlightens individual hearts, heals the blindness of self-interest.

Whatever kind of Christian soldiers we are, whether savages or diplomats, we must hold our place in the line and with the weapon of prayer we will overcome.

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

‘Ancient Paths’

When my grandfather was born, the steam train and walking were the means of transport as they had been for a long time. He lived to see supersonic flight and a man on the moon. Our last century seems to have produced such advancements in technology that it’s almost as if someone had nipped back to Eden for another bite of that apple.

Some are indeed amazing, from the heights of the Cordillera mountain range, with a laptop, a mobile broadband and harnessing the satellites that are encircling the earth, I can zoom in to the roof of a shed in old Trafford to see if my cat (Max) is sleeping in his favourite spot after a hearty lunch. His is. No amount of technology can change his nature, but alas ours has been.

In that same mountain range, I had the privilege to meet people who, in their hearts, have not moved too far from Eden.A tribal people living a simple agricultural lifestyle, very much in harmony with their ancestral land and the seasons.Organically grown food, using other plants as fertiliser and for pest control, water from a crystal clear river and mountain springs above.Vegetarians, except when a deer or a wild boar wanders by.

But the most astonishing thing, was the beauty of their hearts. A natural hospitality that welcomes strangers as family, without question. At first I found it slightly unnerving, having lived mostly in rather inhospitable places by comparison. It was an all embracing loving community, seasoned by Christianity (only a few centuries ago). Minimal crime if any, a small school and some of the most beautiful mountains and valleys that our Creator ever trod.A dead-zone for cell phones, no internet, no TV, and an improvised hydro electric system for lighting. Just what was useful.It is holy ground.

.There is something in the pace and noise we have created in the modern world that deadens the soul, crushes the spirit, we become machine-like, on a production line from birth to death, sometimes without entering into the purpose of our existence at all. We have disconnected the workings of our lives (and government of our world) from God and from each other almost entirely and so our problems multiply. The natural rhythm of life and the planet were disrupted.  How we need to go back and discover the ancient paths, the simplicity of life, see what we have lost... just how much we have given away

One retiree I read about remarked that whilst he had ‘climbed the ladder of achievement all the way to the top’ he had come to realise that the ladder was leaning against the wrong wall!

I am fortunate that circumstance has given me the opportunity to simplify my lifestyle over the years and the more I do, the more I gain. When I give something up or get rid of something I don’t really need, mostly what I feel is relief.

Permanent Revolution

I heard a sermon once, the gist of which was that whilst the church’s mission is to evangelise the world; the world also seeks to evangelise the church. Whilst there are many examples of where this has taken place, a particularly prominent one I noticed is in the area of Catholic education.

Here in the Philippines there are many religious orders and many of them are involved in education, it’s their particular gift. Arriving centuries ago they set to work starting schools. Their founding fathers focus was generally the poor children, seeking to give them their faith and values and also a way out of poverty through a good education.

If we look at these same schools and colleges now it is a very different picture. Most are for the elite, the richest of the rich and their middle class poorer cousins. Whilst there will certainly be a proportion of scholarships, most are paying top dollar because the schools are the best. 

The poor alas will remain barefoot and living under the stars for some time yet. At some point someone was seduced by the dollar or the peso; maybe for the best of reasons, they could expand, have better facilities, all they had to do was play by the world’s rules and become what it wanted them to become. Such is the weakness of man. 

Another allied area is where they were nobbled, not by weakness this time but by their strength. Catholic schools have a reputation for being academically brilliant. I think this is true from primary schools to universities. All well and good, nothing wrong with that, until it becomes the primary driving force.

I have noticed that there is a tendency to hire teachers who are well qualified and competent in their chosen field whether it’s ABC or nuclear physics but not necessarily measuring up quite so well (or at all) as men and women of God. If the teachers are atheists or living lifestyles which are incompatible with Christianity can they really pass on the faith and values of the Catholic Church? Can they give what they do not have? The focus on academic excellence at the expense of its other purpose of making saints of the young is the most insidious worldly evangelisation.

They may become the most prestigious institutions and most sought after but fail to fulfil their stated purpose. By not being mindful of this struggle for mastery we risk being in the service of the enemy camp.

Leon Trotsky believed that for socialism to thrive and not become decadent, it needed to be in a constant state of flux or “permanent revolution” as he called it; (we might call it vigilance) he knew that any deviation from the ideal would be its downfall. As Catholics, as we know our enemy is far more powerful than tainted human nature alone, we should be all the more mindful and alert to his tactics. 

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Ancient Weaponry

I live in the Philippines, one of the few citadels of Christendom that has not as yet ‘flung wide its gates’ to every evil; for example abortion is still illegal here.

Perhaps the reason it remains relatively strong is the realisation that on earth we are living in enemy occupied territory, there is a great confidence and reliance on prayer not only for help and defence but also for offence as I re-discovered last week.

I was in the shopping mall, a bit distracted and irritated, (I hate shopping) and at noon, over the loudspeaker a bell rang, and everyone in the place stopped dead in their tracks, like someone pressed pause on the remote. And we began to pray the Angelus together.

A few minutes and suddenly the atmosphere had changed, people were noticeably calmer, whatever was bugging me had gone too. Had we all just refocused our hearts heavenward or had the demons fled?  Both I believe.

I noticed the same thing on another day, this time at 6pm in the grounds of a Catholic University in Manila. Again as the bells rang out over the loudspeaker, everyone stopped, even the cars stopped and the security men at the gates bowed their heads and those few thousand souls, (together with those in every Catholic school in the entire country), as one, knowingly or unknowingly, went into battle together. 
What a great victory it must have been to eliminate this ancient weapon from everyday life in Europe, the sophistication or complexity of society makes the supernatural seem remote, irrelevant or unnecessary in the age of reason, but look at the continent now.

The funny thing is that it would be quite easy to reinstate this practice in all the Catholic schools and offices in the country; the benefits would be greatly felt.

A samurai warrior (Miyamoto Musashi) was onto something when he said “This is a truth: when you sacrifice your life, you must make fullest use of your weaponry. It is false not to do so, and to die with a weapon yet undrawn”.  

Friday, 27 October 2017

‘What if we listened ?’

I wondered the other day, how the world would look if the Second World War did not happen. No Nazi’s, no holocaust nor concentration camps, no mourning widows and orphans, no dead soldiers; Eastern Europe without  a half-century of living in the dark shadows of the Soviet Union.

In this 100th anniversary year of the apparitions of Fatima, it’s worth pausing to consider the magnitude of the opportunity humanity has missed. Unlike in the Garden of Eden where Eve was deceived and our first parents had less understanding of the consequences of failure, our Lady gave really quite clear instructions to our more recent ancestors and even prophesied the stern, far-reaching result of not responding to her requests:- “But if people do not cease offending God ... another and more terrible war will begin. If my requests are heard, Russia will be converted and there will be peace. If not, she will spread her errors throughout the world, fomenting wars and persecution of the Church.” It could have all been prevented through repentance, change of heart, fervent prayer and sacrifice. Instead we chose death.

The wars and their consequences that we see playing out in our own day are an extension of the spiritual battle; that’s where the real action is and we are invited to participate in that through our prayer to advance against the forces of darkness that are behind the veil and the woes of this world.

Our collective and consistent prayers, we have been told, can prevent and stop wars, suspend the forces of nature, bind and disarm Satan and the fallen angels and save souls. And so we don’t get confused, our Lady even supplies the weapon we require: the Rosary. Young or old, illiterate or educated, ‘one size fits all’.

We have, within our grasp, such an amazing opportunity to change the world, or, we can wait ... for the next war, the next terrorist group, the next deadly disease, famine or weapon of mass destruction and bear the pain of our complacency and disobedience, like our ancestors did.

The conclusion of Fatima’s message is reassuring though “In the end my Immaculate heart will Triumph”.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

‘Love Conquers Hate in Marawi’

Perhaps in an effort to re-establish credibility, as their strongholds in the middle east crumble, ISIS-inspired groups sprung up in the Southern Philippines. The ‘Maute group’ backed by foreign fighters from Indonesia and Malaysia started an insurrection in the Islamic city of Marawi in Mindanao. Hundreds of people killed, hundreds of thousands internally displaced and as the siege enters its last days, as the Philippine army clears out the few remaining terrorists, the city is now in ruins.

Mindanao has been a tinder box for a long time with deep mistrust between Muslim & Christian communities and frequent clashes between armed rebels & government forces. But in the midst of the immense suffering caused by the Marawi Crisis, a new hope has been ignited.

In the wake of the siege, with internally displaced Muslim families on the move to find shelter with relatives and in improvised camps in the north of the island, help came not only from government but in large measure from the Church. Caritas Philippines (using their nationwide network and the previous experience gained through the many natural disasters that the country has faced over the years) were early responders. The way they did so is of particular note.

As well as the nation’s Catholics coming together to give generously to their suffering brothers & sisters, they did so with great sensitivity to the religious and cultural background of the Maranao tribe. They employed what they called a Survivor Led Response whereby the religious and tribal leaders designed the relief plan with Caritas. Young Muslim volunteers led with the distribution of relief goods by taking it to the displaced families in their temporary homes instead of making people stand in endless queue’s at the back of trucks which we often see in such disaster scenes. Also care was taken in what kind of aid they provided for the Muslim evacuees eg:- prayer mats, halal foods etc as well as other items and services that were supplied to the children to help them cope-up like toys and group activities.

Groups from different dioceses/islands near to Mindanao prepared their own aid convoys and brought them over and helped with distribution too and the youngsters of both Muslim and Christian communities worked together. (see attached pics from Archdiocese of Capiz)

The Maranao people are a proud and self-sufficient tribe and unused to receiving help, much less from the Christian community, so it was a great witness really. Love is felt. And relations between the two groups, particularly with the youth, has been greatly enhanced as a consequence of this kind of response which acknowledges the evil of ISIS inspired groups without tarring the whole community with the same brush.

The same people are now working on rebuilding the community, as well as the city itself, and hopefully what rises from the ashes will be more unified with greater mutual understanding as the Muslim community has experienced firsthand the love of the Christian community for them and perhaps a glimpse of their Saviour.

ISIS brought the people death & destruction, the Catholic community brought them breakfast, friendship and a new hope.

NB :- the Residents of the Islamic City of Marawi are primarily the Maranao Tribe

Saturday, 2 September 2017


Last year I had the once in a lifetime opportunity to swim with whale sharks, in what was once a small fishing village now catapulted into the spotlight with the sudden arrival of these enormous beasts. Two tons and twenty feet long with a gaping mouth the size of an open car boot, that could easily have accommodated Jonah, and yet it glides through the waters with the grace and charm of a ballerina. Mesmerising. A few days later I swam with sardines; equally captivating. The shoal moves as one; close-packed as if already aware of their destiny. The shoal twists and turns with the movement of the sea or in response to the arrival of predators, its appearance is reminiscent of the DNA double helix. It was a glimpse at the wonder of God’s creation and its harmony, a real privilege. 

Back on land, things were less orderly. Gold fever gripped the town as visitors flooded in. The prices were elevated and quality of services plummeted. The fisherman after building new homes and getting new vehicles already, were loaded with wads of cash that would pique a senator’s interest. After the morning’s work taking the visitors out in their boats, the afternoons were spent in drinking sessions, high stakes gambling and any other pursuit money can buy. 

Systems were quickly put in place to harvest cash from visitors who were herded into queues to pay the fees for boats, snorkels etc. Foreigners were charged double price (except residents), and on discovering that I was a resident and therefore was to pay the normal fee, the cashier slammed the register impatiently with a look that told me that this incredible blessing this town had received with the arrival of the Whale Sharks must surely come to an end as mysteriously as it began. Not because of Karma, nor divine wrath at what they were becoming, no, it must come to an end out of love for them. 

Many times. the blessings God gives His children, become His worst enemy if they are not received with humility and gratitude and so some misfortune must come to correct their behaviour again. 

There was an odd feeling to the place that I couldn’t quite put my finger on for ages until I remembered a story about Auschwitz. So much evil was committed in that concentration camp that even to this day the birds who live in the area don’t sing. They must be feeling it. And then it clicked, this was the only town I ever saw in the Philippines where Filipinos don’t smile! Greed robs people of Joy.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Crossing the Rubicon

Julius Caesar paused before he crossed the Rubicon, a step that would eventually change the world. He knew there would be a high price to pay for his action; that he would have to conquer or die. He had the advantage of a few thousand loyal soldiers at his back of course and ultimately rid Rome of his rivals. 

At one time or another on our journey through life we will all have such a step to make, especially as Christians in a hostile world where we will often have to stand outnumbered or entirely alone for what we believe in or hold dear.

Sad to say it may not only be in the clearly defined and obvious conflicts with an increasingly godless society; but also within our own Christian organisations. Those who still believe that whilst we can work our side of the street while the devil works his are underestimating his malice and influence. Slithering under the doors of committees, councils and board meetings; he has a man in room, (and perhaps a few ladies). 

Their role is simple and subtle and they play a long game to gradually erode and dismantle and thus render impotent whatever generations of the faithful before them had put in place. This is done through, de-Christianisation of policy, centralised control, modernity and impenetrable bureaucratic structures.

A recent example I saw close-up showed this precise pattern and, sadly, not for the first time in the organisation’s history, a marvellous piece of work is being corrupted due to a lack of vigilance. A division of the organisation that existed to serve the poor in Christian charity ‘transformed’ over time, systematically and methodically into a business which will feed off the poor and will pad a few retirement plans. 

It is not easy to stand against tyranny, nor great odds, to challenge what you can’t quite put your finger on due to its ‘cloak & dagger’ cleverness and deceit, but we must defend our own Christian organisations from any enemies within, with prayer, courage and collective determination.