Monday

Remembrance Day

There is a passage in the New Testament that reads 'Greater love has no man than this; that a man lay down his life for his friend.'

Whilst I can appreciate what the writer is saying, I have to say that I find it difficult to agree with. I think that there is a greater love than dying for a friend and that is dying for a stranger.

And it is precisely that which so many members of our armed services have done over the years and whose deaths we will remember this Remembrance Day.

Having served so many people, whose lives are either in the military or are touched by the military, I have often been struck by the number of similarities that seem to me, to exist between the lives and attitudes of the early disciples and soldiers today.

Consider both the soldier and the early disciples; each has or had a mission that was greater than their own lives. Both had a leader, whom they trusted and followed. And for the disciples, just as for some soldiers, that leader was killed whilst pursuing their common aim.

The impact of that event, on both disciple and soldier, is very similar, as it can affect the subsequent course of their entire life. In the same way both have a commitment that must put their families after their vocation: - 'he who follows me must leave his mother and his father and brother and sister' and again, 'No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.'

Finally, both are under discipline. In fact the word disciple comes from the same root as discipline: - one who follows.



Ultimately all discipline is self-discipline; all soldiers go about their business from an inner strength... as do all disciples.Lord Redeemer, give us the courage to do what we must to make our homes and society a better place for all, despite the fears and desires to live only for ourselves. Amen
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Postat căci Tata Bill 




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Saturday

The Road To Redemption

I received an interesting email from the states earlier this week. It was in response to my diary notes regarding the young girl I took to hospital to see the dead heroin addict. The writer was, for lack of any better way to describe it, admonishing me; not for the methodology I chose to use, but his perception of my failure to ‘seize the moment to bring that girl to Jesus!
This type of comment is not unlike some I’ve received in the past in response to my writings. But I was surprised at how quick the writer was to judge what the moment required for this girl’s 'salvation' (his words) and to a lesser extent, judge me.

For the girl in question, admittedly my goal was to show her a grim reality. But it was not the time or the place to have begun a methodical act of proselytising. It was, however, an opportunity for her to see the realities of where her life was heading.

First and foremost the child needed to acknowledge that she could go no lower. And hopefully, she was to see that there was light ahead for her. There was no doubt that the experience left her stunned and frightened.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, a common feature of parish life in the United States was the parish mission, a week-long retreat in which gifted visiting preachers would come in and try to scare people into repentance and confession.

Subsequent studies have discovered that the scare tactics were quite successful in the short term, but before too many months had passed things were back to normal for most of the participants.

Real conversion - tangible change that keeps on going, isn't all that easy. That’s why St Paul doesn't try to scare his converts to death; instead, he tries to encourage them. In essence, he says that whoever we are and wherever we come from, we’re all in the same boat, struggling against the current to build lives that are right and true. And best of all, we’re not struggling alone, because ‘Christ is everything in all of you.’

When your road gets rougher than usual or when you know you’ve made some bad choices, remember that God’s whole family is struggling along the same road with you and that God’s own son is right there in the midst of it all.

And what I saw and felt and believe this girl needed, more than anything in her life at that moment, was someone to acknowledge her humanity, without judgement, and to be there with her when she began her first steps in asking questions as to how could she change her life.
And if you're determined to judge this as a failure of a ministry, I fear you may have overlooked an essence of ministry that is essential to spiritual growth:
That is the ministry of presence.


Heavenly Father, we are quick to judge and discount others. Help us to have compassion and tenderness for all Your children. Teach us to be good comforters as well as guides, that all may live in Your light, through Christ our Lord. Amen





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Sunday

We Are Never Alone

There are moments when we're very happy to be on our own. What wouldn't we give just to have a few minutes for ourselves! Yet in situations when we don't know if we can cope, or we're frightened, we want someone there with us.

I had just arrived in Moldova. The flights I had taken were long and exhausting and my long drive up to Heathrow Airport had begun at 2 in the morning. I had hoped to sleep for a few hours before I met with people. However, the gentleman who greeted me at the airport appeared extremely anxious as I exited the customs hall.

There was someone in hospital who needed a priest and would I come? Of course, there was no question. I went not knowing what to expect or if I would be adequate for the situation. My language skills were minimal at best, and I felt wholly inadequate, knowing that any words I could offer would most likely be misunderstood.
When we arrived at the crumbling building of a hospital, I was taken to the bedside of a person who was unconscious and dying. There was no family or friend present. I was the only one there. My host explained to me that the dying man was his neighbour and they had been friends for many years. He had spent the day at hospital with his friend and had only left him in order to come get me at the airport.

We had never met. I knew nothing about the person at whose bedside I stood and whose shallow breathing I measured. Yet, in a way that I couldn't express, I knew we weren't strangers in this moment, when life was ending we all stood within the same circle of faith.

As I began the beautiful, simple and gentle liturgy of anointing and the prayers for the dying, I also knew we weren't alone. The whole community was present; the community in which we always stood, whose prayers and loving presence always surrounded us. Here, in the silence of the night, we not only entered the mystery of death but the power of God’s guidance.

I knew that even if I had not been able to come to Moldova that day, this man would not have been alone. Whatever our circumstances, this is true.


This is Christ's gift to us; in the mystery of His Communion the wound of our loneliness is healed.



Holy Lord, show us that we have nothing to fear, for with You we are never alone. Help us to see that our community of faith is global and transcends all borders, forever surrounding us and upholding us. Pray for us now and at the hour of our death. We pray in the name of Your Son, Christ Jesus. Amen



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Saturday

Pentecost And Martyrs

A large number of people are saying that there were more martyrs during the twentieth century than all the previous nineteen centuries combined. We may not care to hear this, but I think it is a reality that we may face — perhaps if not in an actual martyrdom but more in a dismissal of ourselves as being of any importance to our society.

Or are we speaking about something that has already happened?

Governments on both sides of the Atlantic, in their drive for finding political correctness, are removing God from the very strengths that founded our nations. Schools are being forced or instructed to avoid God’s existence in our lives. And more and more, when I celebrate at funerals, I’m acutely aware that mourners know nothing of the new life we’ve been promised.

When we look at the things that are happening in our societies and the way in which our Christian faith is being dismissed as somehow irrelevant, what other conclusion can be drawn?

But just as Jesus’ disciples did not sit in a corner doing nothing, neither can we allow ourselves to be pushed aside by those in our society today who would say that we should keep our faith only in our churches or in our homes.

On Pentecost (originally called the Feast of Weeks or Shavuot), the disciples took their faith to the streets. They relied on the Holy Spirit to give them the words needed to turn many people’s hearts back to God. Since we’re coming so close now to the feast of Pentecost for this year, maybe it is time for us to pray for the same kind of thing to open up again for us.

Let the heavens open. Let the new fire fall. Let the people of God awaken. Let them- let us - not worry about what may come, but be more concerned about making Christ’s presence real in our world today.

May the fire of the Holy Spirit rekindle in us a renewed commitment, and may we not be afraid to be His voice today.

And for all tomorrows.
.Lord in Heaven, You have shown us the way of perfect goodness, and the majesty of the human spirit made whole and beautiful. Endow each one of us with the determination to give the world reasons to rejoice. We pray in Christ’s name. Amen

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Monday

Spots Or Wrinkles

Spots Spots Spots! My teenage daughter sees things I cannot see. She’s certain that the moment one spot goes away there’s another lurking somewhere deep from within, ready to leap out. But I tell her truthfully; I can’t see any on her beautiful complexion.

‘Oh Daddy!’ she’ll sigh. And on it goes; typical of a self-conscious teenager.
It’s no different for adults. There’s a bevy of things for us to worry about. For example, watch the news for ten minutes. Or closer to home, take a look in the mirror: It's either pimples or wrinkles! You finally get rid of the one and then it’s time for the other to start showing up and unfortunately wrinkles don't go away, they just invite all their friends!
Trials and tribulations, irritations, and aggravations: That's life, but only one side of it. Because hidden inside every trouble and every aggravation is an opportunity just waiting to be noticed and taken hold of.
They’re an invitation from God to let go of what doesn't matter or doesn't work, and to search for what does matter and what can bring us joy and freedom. It’s His invitation to focus on straightening out what's behind the face, what's inside the head and deep within your heart.
Sometimes there are pains or frustrations that must be lived with; we can't make them go away. What's the opportunity there? Perhaps it's an invitation to relax in the Lord; to give ourselves over to Him at long last. Perhaps it's an invitation to let go of our obsessive perfectionism or our excessive need to control and focus on what really matters.
Each of us has our own special collection of stresses and hurts, and we know them well. But have we looked behind them? Have we searched in faith for the invitation God has wrapped inside them?
If we haven't, we're wasting a lot of time on pain and disappointment. That isn't what God wants for us. He is offering us joy and freedom for the taking, here and now. Look a little deeper and you'll find it, wrapped discretely inside your troubles.
If you look, you'll find it. I promise you it's there!.

Loving Father, it’s so easy to become laboured with life’s wrinkles. Teach us to accept what we cannot change. Grant us the wisdom to see beyond ourselves, that we may reach out to others and bring Your world closer. Amen

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Sunday

When We Fall Asleep At The Wheel

Several months ago, after a funeral I celebrated, the deceased’s wife commented to me that her husband had ‘fallen asleep at the wheel.’

She didn’t mean in the literal sense, she was trying to convey how he had spent the past five or ten years doing nothing really — just existing. And after forty years of marriage, she confided that their relationship was more as distant room-mates than husband and wife.

It happens all the time, and it regularly damages or destroys businesses, political candidates, marriages, and just about anything else you can think of. For many it can be identified as the onset of depression.

It can happen to any of us. The routine cycles of life — earning a living, raising a family, keeping an office running — can keep us so fully occupied that we lose sight of the bigger picture. We usually remember the daily ‘whats’ of our lives, but we can easily forget the ‘whys,’ the reasons behind our big life choices.

And when we forget those larger purposes, a time of wandering will surely follow. Life will pass us by and God’s big dreams for us will not come true.

The life and breath that God gives us so generously every day is a treasure that must not be squandered away. So, lest we fall asleep at the wheel, we need to ask ourselves two key questions early and often.

First, what is God asking of me at this time in my life? How should I be spending His gift? Second, how well am I doing at building my part of God’s kingdom? Are my deeds measuring up to God's hopes for me?

Spend some quiet time with God right now; open your heart for some honest answers. And don’t be afraid. The Spirit can grow and lift you, even when you’re dealing with bad news.

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And you certainly won't be falling asleep at the wheel!
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Gracious Father, we know how easy it is to fall into a rut. Grant us the vision to see all the beauty You place before us each and every day, the awareness of those who love us, and the sense to understand how easy it is to lose what we love most. Guide us to find ways to discover our lives and celebrate all that is good within it. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen
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He Is Risen

We've now reached the pinnacle of our Christian calendar! Easter has arrived in all its splendour and fanfare. The Resurrection, Christ's bursting from the tomb; it is the core of our affirmation of faith, the heart of our Christian message of good news.

But does the celebration of life over death have a wider resonance? Does it point towards a common facet of the human spirit - the refusal to let death have the last word?

The funeral liturgy that we follow – that affirmation of life after death, is inexorably intertwined with the celebration of birth. It’s actually an Easter liturgy and rather than a liturgy of despair it is an affirmation of Christ’s promise to be with us ‘always, to the end of time.’ But why is it that we do not look at death with the same sense of celebration as we do a birth? Our natural life rhythms seem to be denied.

In Moldova, more and more children arrive in our homes, these are the lucky ones - those who either escaped the clutches of their traffickers, or were simply left abandoned or discarded as 'unsaleable.' Yet not even a ripple is made in the news from where they originated. These children were the detritus of society, and their life or death means little or nothing to anyone. And each day governments diligently work to obfuscate the truth of countless innocent women, children, babies, and elderly dying in Syria's civil war. Again, like a replay of Iraq, their numbers are being hidden in buffering euphemisms such as ‘collateral damage.’

And in hospitals, nursing facilities, and our private homes, people who have had long journeys, are breathing shallow breaths, still holding on to the essence of life, for just a few more minutes, before they begin their new journey.

Throughout our human story, death remains the enemy. It is never welcomed; it is always looked upon as a curse or an affront to life.

As Christians we draw upon our faith in life beyond the grave from the events of Easter. That life beyond, that renewal, powerfully draws us away from the grave and invites us to live our lives knowing that it will never end in destruction. Instead our lives have a resonance and meaning that our mortal death cannot touch.

The human spirit shares two powerful spiritual emotions. First it is the awareness of what is passing away. The other is the awareness of a new life that lies on the other side of pain and struggling.

And perhaps we’ve become a little wiser, recognising that resurrection, whether in this world or the next, is never a simple return to the lost innocence of Eden.The ingredients of the new life are a culmination of the painful and costly struggles in which we engage every day.

This is why, according to our Christian teachings, when Jesus rose from the dead there were still wounds in His hands and side. They’re reminders of what He gave for us, for our salvation, for our sins, so that we may live again.

Wherever you may be on our great and fragile planet, may you always walk with Christ within you.

Praise Christ Jesus!







Christ Jesus, help us never to forget that Your risen presence is forever with us.
That You are with us in every time of sorrow to comfort and to console;
That You are with us in every time of temptation to strengthen and to inspire;
That You are with us in every time of loneliness to cheer and to befriend;
That You are with us even in death to guide us through the shadows to new birth
Strengthen our faith that we may always know there is nothing in time or in eternity which can separate us from You,
We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ, the risen Lord. Amen







Írásos Bill atya gyűjteményéből. Imádkozunk az egészsége. LR

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Saturday

He That Follows Me Walks Not In Darkness

Today is Holy Saturday: Sabbatum Sanctum. Jesus is dead and buried and lies in the tomb.

At the time of Jesus’ death there were many who waited by the cross expecting Him to be rescued. In fact, there were many who refused to believe He had actually died.

But the story of Easter is not theatrics. Without a real death there would be no real resurrection. It would just be another fantasy story. And the pain and suffering would never be believable.

The time we spend in church this evening serves as an important time for us to reflect upon the reality of Christ’s death. And it’s a time when we might reflect upon our own mortality.

Tonight, the Paschal candle that burns represents Christ, the light of the world: ‘I am the light of the world. He that follows me walks not in darkness.’ The beeswax, of which the candle is made, represents the sinless Christ, who was formed in the womb of His Mother. The wick signifies His humanity, the flame, His Divine Nature, both soul and body. There are five grains of incense inserted into the candle in the form of a cross. They recall the aromatic spices with which His Sacred Body was prepared for the tomb, and of the five wounds in His hands, feet, and side.

The vigil, which will begin in darkness, representing sin and death, is enlightened by the fire and the candle representing ‘Lumen Christi,’ the Light of Christ. The Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, the community of believers, is led from spiritual darkness to the light of His truth. Christ's baptism, which our own baptism imitates, is represented during the liturgy, by the blessing of the water of baptism, by immersing the candle representing His Body into the font. We recall the Apostle's Creed, ‘He descended unto the dead.’

Today is a day where we are suspended between two worlds: that of darkness, sin and death, and that of the Resurrection and the restoration of the Light of the World.

During the liturgy we recall God's sparing of the Hebrews, whose doors were marked with the blood of the lamb; we are sprinkled with the blessed water by which we were cleansed from original sin through Christ's sacrifice, and we repeat our baptismal vows, renouncing Satan and all his works.

We rejoice at Christ's bodily resurrection from the darkness of the tomb; and we pray for our passage from death into eternal life, from sin into grace, from the weariness and infirmity of old age to the freshness and vigour of youth, from the anguish of the Cross to peace and unity with God, and from this sinful world unto our Father in Heaven.

Our Easter candle is a reminder of the Risen Redeemer 'who shining in light left the tomb.' It is lighted each day during Mass throughout the Paschal season until Ascension Thursday.

Today is a day for us to reflect. It is a time to rest and prepare for His resurrection. As we offer our own private prayers and supplications, let us hold in our hearts all who have left us this year, especially through the cruelty of mankind. And we pray for those whose lives are in the balance, as they move from this world to the next.

If we have died with Him, tomorrow, as He promised us, we shall indeed see the new light of Christ.
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I am the resurrection and the life. He who believeth in me shall live, even though he dies; and whosoever lives and believeth in me shall have ever lasting life. John 11:25-26
Why Do We Celebrate Easter On Two Different Dates?


A Trafficked Child's Journey

Írásos Bill atya gyűjteményéből. Imádkozunk az egészsége. LR


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Friday

Tre Ore, The Three Hours

LinkTre Ore, the ‘Three Hours’ is the name of the solemn service we attend now, this Good Friday, from noon until 3pm. During this time we meditate on the Seven Last Words of Christ, the seven utterances Jesus delivered from the cross, which are selected from the Four Gospels:

1. ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’
2. ‘Truly I say unto you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’
3. ‘Woman, behold your son! ... Behold, your Mother.’
4. ‘My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?’
5. ‘I thirst.’
6. ‘It is finished.’ (Tetelestai or
τετέλεσται)
7. ‘Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit.’

 
Cursed, beaten and forced to carry His own cross, Christ’s crucifixion on ‘Good Friday’, is the blackest day in Christian history.

There are many opinions about the origins of the term Good Friday. Some scholars argue that the word ‘Good’ is an abbreviation of ‘God.’ And early Christians commemorated the sad event by calling it ‘God's Friday.’ Others claim that ‘good’ signifies the bounty of blessings we’ve received through salvation itself that Christ won for humankind in His sacrifice.

Good Friday leads us to focus on the death of the innocent. Perhaps as we pray today we will reflect on the crucifixion and will be aware, perhaps uncomfortably, of a resonance between the unjust death of Jesus and the many unjust deaths in our world.

We're all still profoundly shocked over the appalling loss of innocent lives in Belgium this week. Sadness exists just as it always has - the innocent are killed now just as then, either because they present a threat, or they are simply used as pawns or instruments of mankind's perversions. Innocent death provokes outrage, and with it a longing for justice and sometimes revenge.

The horrific events of the bombing of Brussels' Zaventem International Airport and
Maelbeek Metro Station repulse us on every conceivable level. The events are tragic enough without the grotesque marketing of horror by the news media.

We’ve become so accustomed to media interviewers sticking microphones into the faces of those whose loved ones have been unjustly killed and asking "what do you feel?" This always seems so perverse and tasteless - we know what the injured must feel, and it seems cheap to expose their feelings of outrage and hostility just for our entertainment. And yet perhaps we want the interviewer to ask, because we’ve come to believe that only by expressing hatred the living can do justice to the innocent dead. We crave for the bereaved to be angry and implacable.

We even use religion to sanctify these feelings. In medieval times Good Friday was a day when Christian mobs assaulted the Jews because the Gospels said their ancestors were to blame for the death of Jesus. But if that is what Good Friday is about then The Christian Church is no better than the mobs.

The point of this day is not that Christians become incited about the Crucifixion and vow to destroy Christ’s enemies. It’s a day for repentance and worship.

What does that say to the innocent deaths in Belgium, Syria, Moldova, Ukraine, America, and all the other personal horrifying murders we know about and mourn for? Is it only the bereaved who must speak for the dead? What would happen if the dead came back and spoke for themselves? And what does it say about those who had killed them, about us? Would they come back in spirit? Would they return seeking revenge, or would they bring us a message of forgiveness and reconciliation from God?

It’s an important question because on Good Friday Christianity calls us to see death - all death - through the cross and resurrection of Jesus. The dead are gathered into Christ in their dying and the Christian hope is that they are given back to us in His resurrection.

When Jesus returned from death He came both bearing the marks of the cross, and bringing the forgiveness of sins. He offered the same peace to those wh
o loved Him and to those who had betrayed Him. Could we allow the innocent dead to bring us peace this Easter?

Christ, our Lord, our world is in darkness. Without You all our hopes and dreams, and all that we are, and all that we are yet to be, becomes nothing. Come into us Lord Christ, our Saviour, so that we may be filled with Your Holy light. Amen






Írásos Bill atya gyűjteményéből. Imádkozunk az egészsége. LR

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Wednesday

And To Dust You Shall Return

I popped in for a visit to a local travel agent's this morning. In the midst of my chatting with one of the staff; a lovely girl with a warm nurturing personality, she suddenly rose from her seat and reached over to me and rubbed her fingers on my forehead.


'Sorry,' she said, 'you had a little something on your forehead.' It happened so fast I hadn't time to react. She had wiped away the ash from my forehead. I explained that it was Ash Wednesday and a time when we wear a sign of penitence or remorse for our sins and an acknowledgement of God's forgiveness. I helped her overcome her embarrassment by laughing with her about it. And I was pleased that I had a chance to explain this tradition in our church calendar.


Throughout the Old Testament there are references to people showing acts of penance before God, by dressing in sackcloth and either sitting or covering themselves in ash. The prophet Jeremiah calls for repentance of our sins this way: 'O daughter of my people, gird on sackcloth and roll in the ashes.' (Jeremiah 6:26)


Ash Wednesday signifies our journey as we move from our lives as sinners to the baptismal font, where lies our salvation. Lent reminds us to acknowledge our sins and find our salvation through Christ. It also reminds us of our mortality: 'Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.'


As we follow the forty days of Lent, it is a time for us to reflect, to fast, and to focus on restoring our relationship with God. It's a time for us to use in clearing and renewing our spiritual home.


The young girl told me she 'did not go to church and is not religious.' As I have shared in these devotionals before; you do not need to be religious in order to be spiritual. Even in a secular environment, the season of Lent can be a time where we strive to make amends with family and friends, to offer apologies, and especially to acknowledge our own frailties, omissions, and wrongs.


The Gospel for Ash Wednesday offers us excellent advice on how we are to act during Lent by praying, fasting and giving alms. All of these are spiritual acts. Also, Jesus teaches us that these spiritual activities are to be done without seeking recognition from others. In other words, perhaps we're being encouraged to commit random acts of kindness.


Finally, we do not wear the ashes to suggest that we are holy, but to acknowledge that we are a community of sinners in need of God's forgiveness and in the renewal of our lives. Sadly, irony can be found, sometimes, in how many people attend services on the morning of Ash Wednesday. Let us pray that their presence is to acknowledge their sins and not to promote their piety.
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Loving God, our modern world bombards us daily with responsibilities and enticements, which often lead us to forget Your unconditional love. During this time of reflection and penitence, help us to remember that we are all sinners. Lead us to renew our lives with You and to find our eternal salvation through Your Son. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You, and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.

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Tuesday

Shrove Tuesday, Why a Pancake?

OK, I’m rummaging through the fridge: eggs- yep, butter – absolutely! Now the cabinets: Flour –plenty, and yes…there it is – I’ve been saving it – a large bottle of pure Canadian maple syrup! Shrove Tuesday here we go!

It reminds me of children with their modern Advent calendars; chocolates, candies and other assorted surprises hiding behind each door. But sadly, there appears no mention of what the Advent calendar is about or its symbolism; just as with Shrove Tuesday; it is no longer Shrove Tuesday – it’s now Pancake Day!

Originally it was the day that people would confess their sins and receive absolution. Shriving - that act of forgiveness, where the individual is released from their suffering, pain and guilt, was in preparation for the season of Lent. During this time people would empty their larders, freeing their homes from foods such as: meats, eggs, fatty foods, fish and milk items. This prepared the home for the period of Lent – that time for reflection, renewal, and forgiveness. It's the last day before the period of penitence known as Lent, which commences on the 13th - Ash Wednesday.

Today so many people are becoming more health-conscious. Many of us are recognising the importance of cleansing our bodies through detoxification, fasting, and exercise. 
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Shrove Tuesday is quite similar. It’s a celebration, as well as an act of penitence, in preparation of cleansing the soul. And Mardi Gras, the French translation for ‘Fat Tuesday’ is the celebration of that act.

How wonderful! We have cleaned out our fridges, and now we cleanse our souls. Indeed, it is a time to celebrate.


Compassionate and Loving God: Mercifully hear our prayers and spare all who confess their sins unto You. By Your merciful pardon may all be absolved; Through Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, one God, now and forever. Amen






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Friday

Loneliness Comes In Many Flavours

Over the past few weeks I have been visiting someone who is incarcerated in one of Her Majesty's Prisons. It reminded me that it has been several months since I last wrote to my friend Larry.


Larry is a murderer. Fifty years ago he and two other boys burned down an american army recruitment centre in protest against the Vietnam War. In the early seventies the american population were enraged over the war and numerous exceptionally emotive events such as: the Kent State massacre of students and the discovery of the My Lai Massacre which included the rape and slaughter of innocent women, children and babies by american army personnel. There were many uprisings across the US by people incensed over these events. At one point the nation was close to anarchy.

During Larry's anarchical act someone died in the fire. Larry didn't start the fire. But because he knew what the others had planned and he readily went with them, he was equally culpable. And in the blink of an eye, an innocent person lay dead. A senseless tragedy all around.
I met Larry when I volunteered to participate in an American university ministry outreach programme one summer. Our goal was to visit prisons and institutions, and to share religious services. Larry admitted that he first came to our service out of boredom. But later he came because he felt the need. When I announced that I was returning home he asked me if I would write him. I promised that I would, not realising that my, at that time probably half-sincere promise, would end up lasting decades.
Today nothing has changed in his physical life. He is just an ageing convict: no longer wild, no longer as convinced as he was when he was young that he doesn't need anyone or anything. The prisons are full of them: old men who did terrible things in their youth but are now just old men, who have problems with their feet like other old men have, whose backs and knees hurt, who tire easily. Couldn't rob a bank or assault someone if they tried, but also couldn't do much else. Frozen in one place by choices they made long ago, frozen in their own lives.
Larry comes to mind often. I'm sure every minister has noticed that visiting someone in a nursing home feels much the same as visiting someone in a prison. It's also not unlike visiting a seafarer on a ship.
This is odd, you think at first, noticing that you're saying the same things to a convicted murderer that you said yesterday to a sweet ancient lady with a broken hip: looking at family photographs, chatting about the food, about how they pass the time, about the past, carefully about the future. But no, it's not odd. Neither of them can leave. Each has lost the life they knew. Each is learning the hard way, what it means to live one day at a time.
And then you remember that there really is no easy way to learn that.
Lord God, under the shadow of Your wings, let us hope. Your love supports us when there is no one – no one to share a word, or an embrace, or a smile. Bless all who suffer from such loneliness. Enrich their lives with a friend or a stranger who will spend a moment caring. In those moments Your love shines through, the world is reborn, and Christ is known. Amen
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Saturday

Advent, Moving From Darkness to Light

November 30th marks the beginning of the season of Advent, in our preparation for the coming of the Lord Jesus. The word 'Adventus,' in Latin, means a coming. Our faith is all about Christ and therefore we begin with His birth, His entrance into the world.

In many ways Advent is a time for renewal or a new beginning. We begin a new liturgical year, and begin once again, our never-ending quest to find our Lord Jesus Christ within our hearts.

Advent is also a time of watchfulness and waiting. We watch and wait for Him to come, that we might pass from our life of darkness into the life of light. The symbol of light is reflective of this Advent and Christmas season. This concept of light, being strongly associated with this time of the year, is not a Christian invention.

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The choice to celebrate Christ’s birth on December 25th was made as early as the year 273. This was the date for the pagan (Roman) celebration of "natalis solis invicti," the birth of the unconquered sun. The celebration of Christmas on the same date "Christianised" the ancient Roman feast of light.

During the darkest days of the year, where the days are short and cold, we long for the warmth of Spring, where life renews and once again becomes vibrant.

Advent is also a time for self-examination and asking for forgiveness, as we prepare for Christ’s Second Coming, even as we prepare for Christmas. This is why the colour of the season is purple (or sometimes blue), which is used for marking Lent, the season of self-examination preceding Easter.

The third week in Advent is set aside as more celebratory than the others. Rose is the colour of this week rather than purple, to mark the week, which is why a rose candle is used in Advent wreaths.

Advent, then, is a time of beginning, a time of watching, a time of light. It is a time for the decorations to begin. The lights of our Christmas trees, cribs, and other decorations sign The Coming, the birth of Christ, the Light of the Father, the Light of the World. He comes to light our path, the path to peace and justice, love and happiness.

The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Romans tells us "the night is advanced, the days are at hand. Let us throw off the works of darkness and put on the armour of light."

Yes, He is coming indeed!
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Friday

World Trade Center and Lessons of September 11

Just as with countless others, I too find the anniversary of September 11th to be a challenging day. My own life and my family’s were profoundly affected on September 11. And whilst I certainly don’t dwell on it, hardly a week or two passes when my memory is presented with numerous mental snap-shots of that day.

Some might suggest that the fact I learned about what was happening at the World Trade Centre and Pentagon even before the pilots of our American Airlines flight is unfortunate. Actually, I feel it was a gift in a way, for it allowed me to move very quickly into acceptance, and assist the flight crew and several passengers through the most concerning, yet understandable decisions being made by the captain and later in Canada, the distraught and frightened people in my hotel.

Throughout the days that followed, when it was impossible to reach my family in England, it brought for me a sharp focus the realisation of what we should always hold dearest and most precious.

What was forefront in my mind were the snippets of news articles, where stunned and traumatised people were relating the last seconds of phone calls they had with people trapped inside the World Trade Centre, following the first and second impacts.

Above and below the impact points, as the spectre of death was imminent, many people telephoned their spouses, parents, children, friends and family members not to say goodbye, but ‘I love you.’ And humanity could never dispute there are countless unsung heroes who perished, who set aside their own fears to help calm others. During those brief seconds, all those lives focused on what really matters; Love.

Positions, job titles, possessions- they were now insignificant. In fleeting seconds, the true essence of living, of life, of all our existence, was stripped to its rawest form. The women and men; the clerks, directors, flight attendants, managers, cleaners, cooks, waiters, pilots, waitresses, firemen, medics, any one of them, whether at the World Trade Centre, Pentagon, or aboard the four doomed aircraft, any one of them would have traded everything they had for life. Everything!

When death was falling upon Jesus, He looked down from the cross and saw His mother and his dear friend, the disciple John.

‘Woman, here is your son,’ He said. And to John, ‘Here is your mother.’ (John 19:26-27). Seven years ago, these are the same words echoed by those who phoned their loved ones: ‘I love you, take care of each other: be a family.’ They are also the words of all faiths: love, compassion, and forgiveness. People hunger for this message. We want to know what is important in life, what it takes to make a difference. Is my faith enough? What about the things I have done wrong, will I find forgiveness?

The message of Christianity speaks of the worth of every individual, of forgiveness, and of the sweetness of life that overcomes death. Jesus is constantly transforming us, moving us to the centre of our being, where His image is most beautiful and precious. It is from this spiritual centre, that God is sending us to the outer limits of our capacity to love.


The World Trade Centre stood as a beacon to people all over the world. It reflected both the rising and setting of the sun and countless memories of happier times. Whether it was falling in love at Windows on the World, or a child’s holiday trip to one of the world’s tallest buildings, or the countless transactions that travelled from around the world into the fibres of the Twin Towers, the image was indelibly etched into our minds and hearts.

In the aftermath of its collapse, our emotions reflected anxiety, fear and sadness. But we were also able to celebrate through the countless heroic efforts that continue to reveal the absolute goodness of God inherent in every individual.


One of the most essential roles of our Christian lives is to find within the fractured existence of humanity, the image of God waiting to be released. It is to find within the often complex and difficult emotions of division, anger, and animosity the seeds of reconciliation.

My greatest prayer during all uncertain times is that we seek to maintain a spirit of reconciliation, a posture of openness and a respect towards one another. Whether it is America, Britain, or any country on this planet, where the freedom of democracy reigns, we must be nations where people who hold different opinions can express their thoughts and feelings without fear of ridicule, or rejection.

None of us possesses absolute truth. However, all of us need to listen and speak across our often passionately held beliefs. This is not a call to agreement, but to respectful listening. In the past, we have not done this very well.

In a world beset by religious and ethnic strife, the Christian must take the risk of following Christ into the heart of saint and sinner alike, of friend and stranger, of the beloved and the enemy.

In his first letter, John reminds us, ‘Whoever says, I am in the light; while hating a brother or sister is still in the darkness. Whoever loves a brother or sister lives in the light.’ (John 2:9-10) Together, we must live into this teaching, or together we shall shrink into the dark shadows of further racial, religious and ethnic divisions.

Today, we pray for the souls lost in this tragedy. We pray for those who bear the responsibility of governmental power, that they use that power wisely.

We pray for the children whose lives continue without a parent, for those who are still mentally locked in the events of that day, unable to climb from the abyss.

We pray for all who have suffered because of aggression. We pray for all those whose lives have been affected by conflict and aggression. And we pray Lord, that You guide each of us to actively invest our lives to always seek to find peace.

Loving and life giving Lord, we pray for all those who lost their lives on the morning of September 11. We pray that Your love touches the families and all who suffered as a result of this tragic event. We pray too, Lord, for those who sought to use evil to impose their own misguided values. We pray that all who seek to commit crimes of violence and aggression are intervened by Your love and tenderness towards all Your children, that they may use their lives for goodness instead. Amen
Be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving one another, Just as God in Christ also forgave you. St. Paul to the Christians at Ephesus





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Tuesday

Defying Extremism

Once again, today our nation will come to a standstill. Cars and buses will stop. Heathrow and Gatwick Airport will turn off its jet engines. Thousands will either gather in churches and synagogues, or stop on the streets, and stand in tribute to those who lost their loved ones ten years ago in the July 7 bombings.


It is a small yet powerful way to show that our grief is shared, and at some level, everyone is hurting. It also serves as an act of defiance, a powerful message that we reject the ways of terror and the values of extremists who wish to use this insidious method as a tool of communication. Yet still, the families bereaved by the bombers will bear those wounds for a lifetime.

Indeed the very term ‘extremist’ has become one of the most damaging insults you can now hurl at a person, as new measures are sought to keep out or send home those described as ‘extremists from abroad.’

Leaders of Britain's Muslim and Christian communities have insisted that these atrocities lack any religious justification. It's a verdict extremists reject... which is why anybody who's not one will understandably want to keep a safe distance. No one with a basic humanity, still less a living relationship with a God who is loving and merciful, will want to risk guilt by association.

And yet I have a nagging feeling that when extremism is left to the extremists, we've all lost. Not, of course, the evil perversion which foments hatred and sets off bombs as part of some divine mission... rather the kind of passionate single- mindedness for what God requires, which is at the heart of all true faith.

I've never forgotten what a minister in America once told me about a girl who'd been attending his church since she was a very young child. In her early teens, her mother stopped her from attending and refused to change her position. The woman had no complaints about the church or the services, but she said, ‘I don't want her taking all that religion stuff too seriously.’

The woman wasn't alone, by any means, in regards to being serious about religion as somewhat suspect: a mild, Sunday School inoculation, maybe, but nothing that would get in the way of her daughter doing what she wanted with her life. Not a million miles, this thought, from the polite, moderate, ever-so-sensible approach to faith which never propels the believer out of a personal comfort zone and certainly never implies a challenge to anyone else.

In comparison with such milk-and-water inoffensiveness, some of those who’ve most inspired my own spiritual journey would almost certainly be reckoned as extremist. They've stood up to people abusing power, and dared to go on telling them that their actions were an outrage before God.

They’ve put themselves at risk, as they affirmed the value of the most reviled outcasts in their communities. They’ve coped with incredulity and hostility as they’ve given up careers, comfort, and security, in order to be of use in places of squalor and danger. Extremists - all of them! However, the notion of enlisting violence to their cause would have appalled them. The very thought of hurting someone, whether by hand or word, would have been repugnant and degrading to their ethos.

Jesus talked about being ready to love enemies, to do more than your fair share and to forgive until you lose count. He urged His listeners to live in simple trust, to pursue God's way before every other loyalty.

In stark contrast to the extremism, which expresses itself in hatred, this is a passionate extremism fired by love.

Of this kind, I feel we need a lot more.

Loving God, Receive into Your loving arms the victims of violence and terrorism. Comfort their families and all who grieve for them. Help us in our fear and uncertainty, And bless us with the knowledge that we are always secure in Your love. Strengthen all those who work for peace, And may the peace the world cannot give, continue to reign in our hearts. Amen 


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Thursday

I Am With You Always Till The End of Time

Today is Ascension Day. It marks the fortieth day since His resurrection and commemorates Christ’s Ascension into Heaven. This also marks the end of Rogationtide, which is a time when people pray for blessings to occur. Ascension Day is one of the earliest Christian festivals dating back to the year 68 AD.

Our Paschal candle, which was lit from the new fire of the Easter Vigil, will be extinguished, symbolising Christ’s departure from this earth. But this act far from signifies Christ’s departure from us.

Today’s liturgies celebrate the completion of the work of our salvation, the bond we have made with Christ, and His Ascension into Heaven with our human nature glorified.

Throughout the year we will be reminded of His promise; ‘to be with us, always, till the end of time,' each time the Paschal candle is lit for a Baptism or when placed by a coffin in preparation for burial, reminding us that we are baptised and buried into Christ.

Of Jesus’ last words before leaving His disciples, perhaps the most profound was His instruction "Go out to the whole world, and proclaim the good news to all creation." But He also foretold His departure.

In the Sermon of the Bread of Life, Jesus was aware that his disciples expressed concerns about the fact that they had to eat His flesh and drink His own blood. Jesus said to them: ‘Does this offend you? Then how will you react when you see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before?' (John.6:61-62).

And to Mary Magdalene, Jesus said: "Do not touch me, for I have not ascended to My Father yet, but go to my brethren, and say to them: I am ascending to My Father and to your Father, to My God and to your God" (John.20:17). And further in Ephesians (4:8-10) and First Timothy (3:16), the Ascension of Jesus is spoken of as fact.

Each of us is a steward of His creation. Each of us holds the responsibility and honour to care for our fellow man. This is why St Paul urges us to live our lives now as if we had already died, had risen, and had ascended with Christ.


Isn't this a time for us to reach out to a stranger, or someone who is suffering from loneliness and give of ourselves? Who knows, you may save a life as a result of your effort. 


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Almighty God, whose blessed Son our Saviour Jesus Christ ascended far above all heavens that he might fill all things: Mercifully give us faith to accept that, according to His promise, He abides with His Church on earth, even to the end of the ages. We pray this in the name of Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with us, and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.


In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when He was taken up to Heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom He had chosen. After His suffering He presented Himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While staying with them, He ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. ‘This,’ He said, ‘is what you have heard from me; for John baptised with water, but you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’

So when they had come together, they asked Him, ‘Lord, is this the time when You will restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He replied, ‘It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by His own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ When He had said this, as they were watching, He was lifted up, and a cloud took Him out of their sight. While He was going and they were gazing up toward Heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward Heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into Heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go into Heaven.’
Acts 1:1-11
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Monday

Seeking Rainbows

This past year has presented so many challenges. The older I become the greater the sense of urgency I feel in my mission. ‘If’ is a word I often use as I dream, or sometimes fret, about all the things I’d like to achieve. My ‘Moldova list’ is endless and my prayers for help are constant. Recently as I was driving through the pelting rain, across the lowlands of East Sussex, I somewhat jokingly asked God to give me a brief little sign that I was on the right track.

I’m certain we can manifest a plethora of ‘signs’ in almost every thing we see. But I was profoundly touched by the sight of a rainbow that began to stretch across the chalkened sky. It was just the message I needed at that moment.

In the Bible the rainbow is a great symbol of hope, the gift that God gave to Noah and his companions as a sign of His promise never to abandon them. It's also a sign of God's engagement with brokenness. And shows that even in dividedness there can be the possibility of something new and creative, the colours that make up light have a beauty in their separateness as well as when they merge.

Whenever I see a rainbow it reminds me that there is always a new perspective and a new sense of hope in the changes we face in our lives. It also reminds me that God never promised that our lives would be easy; He simply said that He would be with us.
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