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  • Along the Track

  • Bad Dog

    One of the daily newspapers included the story of a lawyer who, when working for Legal Aid, had to defend a seeing eye dog called Toby who used to walk down to the shops each day and take a large tin of dog food from the supermarket and bring it home in his mouth. His elderly owner thought he was getting it from the Salvos. The supermarket owner knew about it but was unconcerned.

    A Sense of Place

    A new road is to be built to by-pass the town near where I spent my childhood. There are several plans on the drawing board but the most likely options mean that the old house where I lived will be demolished - if not, it will be the old school on the opposite side of the road and the other few neighbouring houses.

    How We Speak

    Words matter. How we speak, what we say and how we say it, how we describe things matters. How we address each other, how we speak to each other or about each other matters. Words are powerful – they can be invitations, they can welcome, encourage, amuse, express love and gratitude, hope and enthusiasm. They can inspire and touch people’s hearts and they even invite dialogue.

    Peaceful Co-existence

    For a brief period I lived in the beautiful town of Marysville. The Australian bush looked down on this picturesque little community where old style guest houses gave such pleasure to holiday makers for decades and decades. They were beautiful rambling buildings which spoke of a by-gone era. Some had been meticulously restored and tastefully modernised. The surrounding bush invited slowness and quiet and nothing encouraged haste or speed. The pristine creeks and waterfalls were incredible.

    New Life

    Victor Frankl, was an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist as well as a Holocaust survivor, in fact he survived the degradation and abject misery of three concentration camps. At a later stage in his extraordinarily fruitful life, Frankl wrote ‘One very important aspect of life after such an experience is that everything gets precious, gets piercingly important.

    Living in Exile

    Deep down, each of us has a longing for God. Sometimes it nags at us, other times we take it for granted, other times we just put it aside, some say they don’t feel anything like that at all. But we all have a restlessness, a sense of incompleteness, a desire to do something else, a sense of wanting more, of seeking to better ourselves in some way, and that’s where God finds us.

    How is Your Eyesight?

    We can see a lot by just looking. Or very little at all. I was wandering around in a famous art gallery some years ago and one of the guides was speaking about one of the great art works to a small group of onlookers. I had just taken some time to look at that particular painting so I stayed to listen. It was incredible. She revealed features I had not noticed, details I had overlooked, colours I had missed.

    Finding Treasure in the Field

    A friend of mine spends a lot of his spare time looking for the treasure in the field, any field or creek or patch of bush will do. He joins many others who systematically scan sections of land using metal detectors, in the hope of discovering buried treasure. He hasn’t found much but, ever the optimist, he continues to search for the elusive treasure.

    Bringing Out the Best

    A multi-award winning winemaker told me once that ‘there’s nothing much to it really. I just bring out what the grape has to offer. It’s already there.’ I think he was being a little too ‘humble’ but there is an element of truth to it. One of the joys of working in a school is to watch a good teacher at work, encouraging, affirming, challenging, recognising the latent skills and bringing them to life, bringing out the best in her or his students.

    The Year of the Rooster

    For Chinese people this is the Year of the Rooster. No offence is intended to those people who fall under this zodiac sign but my father used to say that rooster’s crow as the sun rises, hoping that everyone would think they are responsible for it!

    Our Need for Ritual

    Are you ever struck by the increasing number of roadside memorials appearing in recent years – bunches of flowers, a photo, perhaps a cross, a handwritten message or some personal memento?  These expressions of grief are sad reminders of a tragedy, a life lost in unhappy circumstances.

    Roll Back the Stone

    The raising of Lazarus (John 11:38-53) is a complex and poignant story. When Jesus hears that his friend is ill, at the point of death, he delays, he puts off going to see him. He leaves it ‘too late’. When He does arrive, Jesus is deeply moved by the death of his friend and by the grief of Lazarus’ sisters.

    Being Remembered

    There is a sign in a hospital foyer I visited recently which read:
    Those who die in God's love go only as far as God . . . and God is very near.
    What does it mean to die in God’s love? To answer that, it’s worth taking some time occasionally to read the obituaries which appear in the daily newspapers.

    Birthdays

    For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. Psalm 139: 13

    So it’s your birthday.  Another year has passed. Another year older and a new one begins.

    Sadness

    Winners are grinners and losers can make their own arrangements…or so the saying goes. Winning is considered to be very important in our culture, as is success in work-life, achieving some sort of importance or status.  We tell our children they can be anything they want but sadly (pardon the pun) that isn’t true. Emotions like sadness don’t have much place in our culture today because there is so much focus on beauty and success, light and happiness.

    Love is in the Air

    The motto of the secondary school I went to was translated (in those days) as ‘seek the things that are above.’ I didn’t understand what that meant. It was never explained, only perhaps that we should be working at getting to heaven. It always seemed to me to be concerned with ambition, doing better, being a bit above others. Recently, I saw that motto translated as ‘set your minds on the higher gifts’ which comes from the prelude to St Paul’s great hymn to love written to the Christian community in Corinth

     

    Fleeting Glimpses

    Some time ago, Clive James wrote a very poignant article during a lull in his struggle with leukaemia. It contained the following extract:

    So I look out into the garden with anticipation as well as apprehension. My Japanese maple tree is now in its first flames. Last year I saw the transformation as a sign of the end. Now I prefer to see it as a portent of spring. 

     

    Justice or Mercy?

    Pope John XXIII wrote in the biography of his spiritual journey that mercy is the most beautiful attribute of God. Pope Benedict XVI wrote in his first encyclical (God is Love) that mercy is in reality the core of the Gospel message; it is the name of God Himself and now, Pope Francis calls us to a Jubilee Year of Mercy.

     

    Reflecting on the Journey

    Perhaps the words of Pope John Paul II best summarise the Camino experience:

    Duc in altum! (Put out into the deep) These words ring out for us today, and they invite us to remember the past with gratitude, to live the present with enthusiasm and to look forward to the future with confidence….

     

    Buon Camino

    On the way to Spain, I read an article about Stan Grant.  He vividly remembers the day he and the other aboriginal students of his age were called to the principal’s office and told that there was no place for them at that school. They were now at a legal age when they could leave school so, ‘go now’ they were told. Not surprisingly, that has stayed with him for the rest of his life – ‘there is no place for you here’.

     

    The Pilgrim

    ‘If you are not hurting, you have not done the Camino.’ That’s how our guide and companion finished our twelve-day, 240 kilometre Camino. And all of us were hurting somewhere.  It is not an easy walk!

     

    The Voices Within

    Pixar’s film called Inside Out tells the story of a young girl Riley who is uprooted from her life when her father starts a new job in San Francisco. At this difficult time, Riley is guided by her emotions - Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust and Sadness. It is a clever take on the importance of our emotions and the role they play in our everyday lives, inspiring us, warning us, advising caution, helping us to rejoice in the good things of life.

    The Perfect Prayer

    One of the fondest memories I have of my father is of him kneeling in prayer by his bed first thing in the morning and last thing at night. I never thought of him as an especially holy man but his faith obviously meant a lot to him, even though in many ways life had dealt him a pretty tough hand. But, as he often said, he was always grateful ‘for many blessings’.

     

    The Illusion of Faith

    Faith is irrational and therefore delusional.  Atheism, on the other hand, is rational, clear sighted and based on solid evidence.  Or so the argument goes.

     

    Hanrahan

    As I write this, we have been enjoying a beautiful day – no wind, a clear sky and, unexpectedly for this time of the year, around twenty degrees. So I went for a walk, as did many others. It was so interesting to greet others with ‘What a beautiful day’ and the most common response was ‘Yes, but it is not going to last!’ or ‘But it’s going to rain tomorrow!’ ‘Winter is on the way!’

     

    Year of Mercy II

    So how is the Jubilee of Mercy going for you? In your home, your parish, your school, your organisation, your workplace? Are people feeling more welcomed, loved, forgiven and encouraged? How are we reaching out to all those who, in Pope Francis’ words, need a sign of tenderness?

     

    Whoever has ears, let them hear

    Jesus spoke to a variety of people who could not or did not want to hear. It was not only the Scribes and Pharisees who came with their own agendas, wanting to trap him, to discount or disprove what he was saying, to quibble over words. They were ready with the answer before He had time to speak. Even some of those who had followed Jesus found what he was saying just too hard to hear and they walked away (Jn 6:66).

     

    Tolerance

    When I was young sectarianism was pretty rife. It started at an early age. As Catholic kids we were often subjected to this little ditty – "Catholic dogs sitting on logs, eating maggots out of frogs." Mind you, we had ditties of our own about the proddies too.

     

    Being Enriched

    The Roman philosopher, Seneca is reported to have said that if you want to enrich someone, don’t multiply their belongings but subtract from their desires. 

     

    Year of Mercy I

    The Year of Mercy is an extraordinary gift, and an extraordinary challenge. In summoning the Church to a Year of Mercy, Pope Francis is calling on each of us to become a living sign of compassionate love.

    Happy in the New Year

    When you think about it, so much of our life is repetitive.  We get up at the same time, follow a very similar routine each morning, we go to work at the same time and do pretty much the same thing there most days.  Weekends might include some different activities but then again….? When do we give ourselves the chance to explore, to dream, to be creative, to try new activities, to try new ways of thinking?  And why is that important anyway? 

     

    A Christmas Blessing 2015

    The birth of Christ which we celebrate at this time is meant for everyone.  It is meant to be news of great joy for everyone. So when people look at our family celebrations, the family traditions we have established, the patterns of behaviour we have created at this time, will they see people of joy and celebration, people who want all people to know about this great event? Will they see us as prayerful, looking for ways this Christmas to help others?

    Commercialisation

    Some travellers who go overseas get very annoyed at people selling products in the street.  Sometimes these visitors can be rude or aggressive. Admittedly, these ‘traders’ or spruikers can be a bit of a nuisance and some can be very, very persistent, but in general they are only trying to earn a living in countries where employment or other such opportunities are pretty scarce. It’s a case of this or nothing.  They live in a consumer society, just as we do.

     

    Waiting

    Waiting can be a real drag. In a world of instant communication, fast food, and easy travel (the Monash excluded!), most of us don’t have to wait for much. Most things are usually ‘on tap’. But sometimes we have to - we wait for test results; we wait for our loved ones to come home; we wait for the birth of a child, some wait for the change of seasons they don’t like much…we just have to wait.

     

    When Someone Dies

    Death is never easy. We often surround death by so many platitudes that it is hard to confront or even to come to terms with our loss. With every good intention, those who offer sympathy couch it in well-meaning but false comfort (he/she has gone to a better place, God wanted them early, The Lord never gives us more than we can handle (That is not how I feel right now). I know how you feel. (No we don’t - we never really know how someone else feels). Everything will be okay. (A nice sentiment but that can make it feel as if you are dismissing someone's grief). At least he or she is out of pain. (Well I am not!).

     

    Who Are We? and Why Are We?

    When we have children, whether as a parent, or a teacher or a carer, much of our time and energy is spent showing our children that they are loved, helping them to discover what they are good at, where their talents lie. Much of our time and energy goes into passing on beliefs and attitudes and values, providing positive and life-giving experiences. We want them to know that each of them is unique, each is gifted and talented in their own way.

    Celebrating Our Differences

    Some years ago I heard the story of a mother preparing her children for the visit of a friend who had only one leg. She told them not to stare at him or to ask any questions.  Just act normally! That, of course, heightened their curiosity and, inevitably, one of them asked “Why have you only got one leg?”  He told them that a friend of his needed it, so he gave it to him. And they were perfectly happy with that and went off to play.

    Decluttering

    In the town where I live, the rather scruffy railway precinct has been developed into a car park. Old sleepers, rubble and rails have been removed, an old building has been relocated.  What was once a pretty unsightly area has been rejuvenated. As an added bonus, the restoration has revealed an unobstructed view of the wonderful, historic railway station building.

    Going Viral

    Isn’t it amazing how many times we see the expression ‘going viral’. It is supposed to be a feature of modern social media. When something goes viral, it spreads to a very large number of people in just a short period of time. But such fame can be fickle – we can probably only recall less than a handful of them after a short period. Going viral is not a sure foundation for fame or success.

    My Story

    Jewish philosopher Elie Wiesel wrote that God made us because God loves stories. It is a reminder that each of us has a story. It is unique, it is special.  It is ours alone.   If we look back with the eyes of faith, our story can reveal how we first came to experience the presence of God in our lives and how God’s Spirit has been at work in our journey, in the experiences, people and events which have shaped our faith. That is, for each of us, a very personal story of discovery. In a sense, God is a story being told in our lives.

     

    In My Weakness Is My Strength

    Gift shops seem to be filled with ‘inspiring words’ posters of late – love, joy, peace, every journey starts with one step and so on. One caught my attention recently - enjoy the little things in life because someday you will realise they were the big things. 

     

    The Extraordinary in the Ordinary

    It is often the simplest things that mean the most, that stay in our mind, the ordinary events that we tend to take for granted.  There is such a scene in John’s Gospel (John 21:1-14) when Jesus meets seven of his disciples after the Resurrection by the shore of Lake Tiberius. After Jesus’ death, these disciples had sought consolation in what they knew – they went back home to fish.

     

    A Reminder

     The novel Tale of Two Cities begins with these lines:

    It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us… 

     

    Happiness

    In a very real sense, we are created by the choices we make every day. Big or small, momentous or seemingly trivial, they all make their mark on who we are and what we might become. The vast majority of those decisions are about choosing things or deciding to do something that will make us happy, which we sometimes mistakenly equate to status, control and pleasure.

     

    Embracing Mystery

    The Hunter Valley offers some extraordinarily beautiful vistas. In the early morning the fog rests in valleys and over low lying hills. Recently I watched the sun rise out of the mist – there was a stillness in the air and, all of a sudden, six hot-air balloons emerged from the fog and silently floated across the valley.

    Appreciating and Growing from Difference

    We live in strange times. While more and more people are claiming atheism or agnosticism, there is a rise in fundamentalist activity everywhere with horrifying consequences at times. We tend to attach the term ‘fundamentalist’ to people of certain religious beliefs but there is also a rise in fundamentalist behaviour among those who profess atheism or those who espouse ‘no religious belief’.

     

    What Might Have Been

    Do you remember the song, made famous by Frank Sinatra, I did it My Way?

    Regrets, I’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention. I did what I had to do and saw it through without exemption.

    The Oil Press

    The olives trees in The Garden of Gethsemane are very, very old and gnarled. They are some of the oldest trees known to science. Carbon dating showed that three of the eight trees came from the years 1092, 1166 and 1198.

     

    Come and See

    Every Easter our daily press contains a variety of articles about Jesus.   Many of them contain the disclaimer: “I don’t believe myself” or “I am not a Christian”, “I admire people with faith but I just don’t believe”, “Church doesn’t happen in our family but we had to go to a wedding”. One acknowledged that he might annoy people who have a religious regard for Jesus but, as far as he was concerned, he was just a man, a good one nonetheless!

    Running on Empty

    Have you ever been in the situation where you are running out of petrol, stuck in traffic on a freeway perhaps; running late for an important appointment; or driving on a country road with no towns or petrol stations in sight? Running on empty: How far can you really go? That can make us pretty tense, impatient, prone to making mistakes, taking short cuts.

     

    Decisions, Decisions

    There is a marvellous film on Youtube in which some children are asked to sit at a table in a room on their own for five minutes and not touch the marshmallow that is in front of them. If they don’t touch it, they get another one. Some of them go through agony, desperately trying to ignore it, a few last the distance but most just give in and eat it! The aim of the exercise is to try to work out why some resisted the temptation and others didn’t.

     

    Lent and Almsgiving

    One of the benefits of modern media is that information is so readily available.  We can find out just about anything! We can stay in touch easily, communication is so much more efficient.  The world comes to our doorstep, even right into our lounge rooms. That can have many advantages but it can have its downsides too. Sometimes we can suffer from information overload and charity fatigue.

    Where Your Heart is

    The UN has set aside 2015 to be the “International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies”. Perhaps that theme might give us the opportunity to shed a bit of light on where we are in our life journey, what is important to us, what priorities we might like to re-assess as we begin another year.

     

    A Christmas Blessing

    So much of our Christmas imagery comes from the northern hemisphere, Christmas in a cold climate – the snow, the tinsel, the reindeer, minus temperatures, sparkling snow covered trees, quiet stillness, real Christmas trees, mulled wine, eggnog, snowmen, fire places and the list goes on!

    Xmas or Christmas

    Are you looking forward to Christmas? How will you celebrate Christmas this year?

    I read an article recently written by an atheist, one who believes that Christmas has become part of our general culture – it is just as secular as it is religious. He believes that religion has proved itself divisive and destructive time and again. And yet, he loves Christmas and refuses to enter a shop which substitutes ‘X’ for ‘Christ’ in ‘Xmas’.  

     

    A Matter of Time

    Augustine when he was asked to give a definition of “time.” “When no one is asking me, I know exactly what time is,” he said, “but as soon as someone asks me what time is, I don’t know how to respond.”

     

    Those Who Have Gone Before

    November is the month when we remember ‘those who have gone before’, ‘those who have died in the peace of Christ,’ those ‘whose faith is known to You alone’. During November we remember with love and gratitude the lives of those who have died and, in that recalling, they go on living in us. We are still connected – they with us and we with them.

     

    At First Glance

    Like it or not, at first instance you are being judged by how you look, how you dress, and how you carry yourself—and, later if you’re lucky, how you do your job.

     

    When Tough Times Come

    There are times when we are called on to ‘do it tough’. None of us is immune from suffering, disappointments, sickness, anxiety or depression.  None of these are pleasant, we do not seek out or wish them on others, even though sometimes other people cause us pain. Everybody knows what it is to suffer.  We are not alone.

     

    The Face of a Pickled Pepper

    When Nelson Mandela died last year, all forms of media flooded us with memories of his life and its impact.  And rightly so.  He was a remarkable man.  I was struck by one quote…well, more than one but this particular gem almost leapt off the page:

    No-one is born hating another person, because of the colour of his skin or his background, or his religion. 
    People must learn to hate and if they can learn to hate they can be taught to love for love comes more naturally to the human heart than it’s opposite.  Nelson Mandela.

     

     

    Thy Kingdom Come

    In a recent episode of Compass about the building of an asylum seeker detention centre near a small rural community, many of the locals were bitterly opposed to having ‘these people’ anywhere near them. ‘Give them a match and tell them to set fire to themselves’ was one of the milder comments. It was deeply depressing and shocking.

    The Kingdom of God is Within You

    The Kingdom is not something to come, something about structures or rules or regulations or systems of belief. It begins, like the tiny mustard seed, in the heart of every person. That was an important part of Jesus’ message.

     

    The Kingdom of God is Here

    Jesus began his ministry after forty days and nights in the desert. He crossed the Jordan and walked back to the town of Capernaum in his beloved Galilee. He was about 32 years old. Capernaum was largely a fishing town but it was regularly visited by local landless peasants working as day labourers for the large landholders in the surrounding vineyards and farms.

    The Reign of God - Are You the One?

     John the Baptiser was a man for all seasons – a man with a message, even for today. He was an important figure in our understanding of Jesus’ role and in the nature of the Reign of God.

     

    Faith and Silence of God

    The Irish poet Antony Raftery said that, after all his ramblings, whenever he went back to Mayo where he came from, he would sit down among his own people and he would ‘become young again’.

     

    The Gift of Touch

    There are so many gifts we take for granted – like being able to see, hear, speak.  Imagine our life without even one of them. It is hard to appreciate, for example, how much we depend on touch.  Touch is not just about the physical. Psychologists tell us that touch is our primary language of compassion. Our faith life can benefit from a healthy dose of touch too!

     

    Impatience and Rage

    When I was young, if anyone in our family showed signs of impatience or bad temper, our father used to empty a box of matches on the table and we had to replace them in the box, one by one. If we ‘cheated’ and put a few in at once, he tipped them out and we had to start again!  It was a very effective strategy.

     

    The Kitchen Table

    Many, if not most of the fondest memories of my childhood centre around the kitchen table.  It was the centre of family life where stories were told, the events of the day were discussed, where plans were made and dreams were shared, a place of laughter, sadness and tears.  And beneath all that, values and beliefs were taken on board – family history and traditions became part of our psyche.  Around that table we prayed the nightly rosary.

     

    Here Comes Everyone

    James Joyce is often reported to have defined Catholicism as ‘here comes everyone”.  He probably didn’t – it is a line in “Finnegan’s Wake” but it is not clear whether Joyce meant it for the Church.  That’s a pity as it is a good definition of the attitude of mind Catholicism should embody.

     

    When Good News Comes

    Good news can make an enormous difference to our lives. Sometimes we can be weighed down by the pressures of life, the tiredness that accompanies endless activity, the sadness that comes when we feel that we are so busy that there seems no end in sight. When we do find time to relax, often we are besieged by bad news stories on the news or even in TV dramas that seem to thrive on crimes, disasters, rumours and gossip about others.

     

    St Patrick

    In a very ordinary paddock (or field) on my relatives’ farm in West Cork lies a spring or well where St Patrick is reputed to have met St Finbarr. For such an extraordinary place St Finbarr’s Well, as it is known, was quite difficult to find.  There is nothing much to distinguish it from its surroundings.  Ireland seems to be dotted with other such sacred sites, part of the landscape and part of the psyche of the people. 

     

    Hope

     “I know the plans I have in my mind for you … it is Yahweh who speaks … plans for peace, not disaster, reserving a future full of hope for you.
    Jeremiah 29:11-13

    I wonder how we react to Jeremiah’s message today. Do we see a future full of hope?  

    I Don't Know

    Too often we are afraid to say “I don’t know”.

    In this age where many think that ‘you can be anything you want to be’ (not the same as realising your potential) or ‘you can have anything you want,’ in a time where we think everything can or must be explained, in this age where faith itself is being questioned, saying “I don’t know” can be a very courageous statement. 

     

    An Invitation to Life

    Not many of us will have the chance to see our world from space.  Not many of us may want to! Perhaps the nearest I want to come to that experience is to watch the short documentary film on YouTube called ‘The Overview Effect’ which describes the profound ‘shift in awareness’ that happens to astronauts after they see the earth from space. All those who have had such an extraordinary experience are uniformly overwhelmed by the fragility of the planet.

    The Cult of Celebrity

    It would seem that we live in a time besotted by celebrity.  While the cult of celebrity is not something completely new, it is probably the first time that a whole industry has been built around it. Our magazines, newspapers, TV shows feature even the most intimate details of the lives of our so-called celebrities - photos, rumours, facts or fiction, we devour them all!

    A Story of Contrasts

    Waiting for Christmas is almost over!  For children it can be such a long wait – having to ‘be good’ for such a long time can be quite an ordeal for some. For others, Christmas can’t come and go fast enough – the extra stresses it brings, the extra expense, the stress of what to buy and how to afford it.

    The Surprise

    Are you ever surprised how old you are?  I am. Do you remember when anyone over thirty seemed really old!  And now I am!  I will soon be seventy! I can’t believe it – I don’t think we ever see ourselves past thirty or so. But there is a gift in ageing, it brings its own blessings, its own joys, its own perspectives on life, despite the onset of what we might call, our human frailty in its many forms.

    The Wake

    Getting older means going to more funerals.  I have heard this expression at a number of funerals of late: Let us not be sad that he or she has gone, let us be glad that they were here.  Funerals are about both – they help ritualise or help us cope with our sadness that this person has now died. They also give us hope. Rejoicing in the life of the person who has died, in who they were and what they meant to us is important in our grief.

     

    We Are Guardians of the Future

    Do you ever look at little children and wonder what sort of world they will see, what changes they will experience, what sort of life they will have? If we look back over our own lives, change has been constant and ever increasing. That’s not  new – every generation has experienced the complexity of change.

    A Timely Warning

    Of Gods and Men is an extraordinary film.  It’s very slow moving pace assists the deep, and at times, challenging reflection which this film invites. It tells the story of an actual Cistercian community of eight French monks living in Algeria.  The film shows the simplicity and humanity of their lives, and their close integration into the local community.

    Jesus Today: Who Do You Say I Am?

    People are more interested in Jesus than ever. Not just the 2.1 billion or so people who call themselves Christian - today, people who aren't even believers say that Jesus doesn't belong only to Christians. He is part of the human heritage. Others say that he inaugurated a new era. He gave a blueprint for reform for people of all faiths. If the world paid attention to Him, others say, it would be transformed.

    Jesus: A Mixed Response to an Unexpected Message

    For many, Jesus did not live up to expectations. The Jewish religion at the time of Jesus was desperately in need of reform.  There was a strong belief that the God of vengeance had been punishing the people for their sin through the oppressive Roman occupation. But the God of vengeance would come to rescue them.

    Jesus: His Ministry Begins

    Jesus leaves Nazareth and heads down the mountain to the beautiful countryside around the Lake of Galilee. He does not go to Jerusalem, but to the fishing village of Capernaum (about 1,000 inhabitants) on the lakeshore. 

     

    Jesus the Formative Years

    After Pope Benedict resigned and during the lead up to the election of the new Pope, pundits from all religious persuasions, and none, had all sorts of advice to offer, all sorts of priorities for the Church today and its new leader. But the most urgent task we have in Christianity today is not about organisation, it is going back to or refocusing on Jesus Christ.

    The Journey Within

    Planning a trip, be it short or long, domestic or overseas, can be very exciting. Now that we can do so much of it ourselves via the internet or with the many brochures so readily available, we can have great fun in such planning. Sometimes it can be almost as enjoyable as the trip itself, examining the brochures, finding the best deals, dreaming of the places we can and perhaps have long desired to visit, re-connecting with friends or relatives.

    Writing Back to Life

    I read recently about the screenwriter of the film Romulus my Father who went to the Castlemaine cemetery where the people he was writing about were buried. He stood at the graves of those who, in his words, he was ‘trying to write back into life’.  These were, he said ‘people of dignity and grace and so I need to find a way to honour that’.

     

    A Sadder Colour

    In his poem “Death is smaller than I thought” Adrian Mitchell wrote,

    My mother and father died some years ago.
    I loved them very much.
    When they died my love for them
    Did not vanish or fade away.
    It stayed just about the same,
    Only a sadder colour.
    And I can feel their love for me
    Same as it ever was.

     

    The Value of Silence

    George Bernard Shaw is reputed to have said that the single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place. He may well be correct.   If we wish to communicate effectively, the first step is realising that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and in how we understand what has been communicated to us.

     

    What Day Is It?

    I hadn’t read AA Milne children’s stories about Winnie the Pooh, the “bear with a small brain” for many years until recently when I was stuck in a waiting room with not much else to read. The front cover featured a cartoon with the caption:

    “What day is it?""It's today," squeaked Piglet."My favourite day," said Pooh.

     

    Why Pray?

    Some forty or so years ago, those unforgettable British comedians, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore produced a wonderful series on what might be called ‘theology’.  Sadly, the tape of the original recording was destroyed and all copies seem to have been lost.  In discussing prayer, they said that they often prayed in words such as these: “Dear God, if you make me better by half past three on Tuesday, I will believe in you”.

    Everything will be Alright in the End

    I recently went to see the film The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (for the elderly and the beautiful). It is a wonderful film, featuring characters who were towards the end of their lives and, out of necessity, they move to the Marigold Hotel which is far from luxurious and far from even being finished.  The movie itself was a celebration of life, love, opportunity, optimism, change and how our lives are not over until we die.

    The Wrong Message

    The Roman executioners often crucified people on elevated spots near major roads, to serve as a warning of the fate of anyone who challenged authority. Dissenters or revolutionaries were not tolerated. The upright poles, for example, were left standing, not just for efficiency but as enduring reminders of what happened to those who bucked the system.  Golgotha, the Place of the Skull, where Jesus was crucified, was one such place.

     

    Returning Home

    In his prayer For Solitude, the late John O’Donohue prayed:

        May you learn to see yourself

        With the same delight.

        Pride and expectation

        With which God sees you in every moment.

     

    Call to Prayer

    In Portbello, the church bells ring three times a day – at seven in the morning, at noon and then again at six. Not everyone welcomes this daily interruption but  there is something comforting as well as challenging to hear those chimes ringing out the Angelus again. In a sense, they are the  Catholic call to prayer.

     

    The Road to Find Out

    Cat Stevens is experiencing something of a revival of late, even a musical about his life. His old hits are being played quite regularly including: "On The Road To Find Out" which he wrote after recovering from tuberculosis. Cat Stevens had fame and fortune thrust upon him at an early age, but neither happiness nor peace of mind accompanied it.

    The Second Hand Coat

    There’s no other way of putting it – Scotland is freezing in November, right through to the bone. The only way to survive is to put on more layers of clothing so I bought a second-hand coat.  It was certainly warmer. The added bonus was that the pockets revealed quite a bit about the previous owner.

    Jesus is the Reason for the Season

    The most precious card we received last Christmas arrived a week late. It had not only travelled from one side of the globe to the other, but it had come from a remote village still struggling to overcome the ravages of a war that ended fifteen years ago. The card came from a group of Muslim women we had met through our daughter who had worked closely with them.

     

    The Gift of Years

    Whether we are young or growing older, each year presents us with opportunities to give thanks for the gift of years.  Anniversaries come and go, milestones achieved and passed, but often we neglect the opportunity they provide to reflect on what has happened in our lives, what we may have achieved, the relationships we treasure and those we perhaps wish to restore, those we have welcomed into our lives this year. Our annual celebration of Christmas provides us with such an opportunity for reflection, for renewal, for giving thanks.

    These Restless Times

    Near the end of the 1990s, a Church document* spoke about ‘this restless end of the millennium”.  That restlessness certainly hasn’t abated.  If anything, it has increased.

    Pride in our Work

    During a recent stay in hospital my room companion had been a very, very sick man.  He entered hospital for a relatively minor operation and, in his words, it all went ‘pear shaped’. But he was now ready to go home, back to his chosen profession.  He owned the best fish and chip shop I have ever been to.  Only twice but very, very memorable. I had never met him before but we talked ‘fish and chips’ and he simply glowed with pride.