Monthly Archives: February 2010

St. Blaise’s Day

After the mass today we got our throats blessed. I have often wandered if the good that comes of this only comes to our throats because of St. Blaise’s special care for them. I hope not!

The Death of David

In the Old Testament reading today David dies.

David’s reign over Israel lasted forty years, he reigned in Hebron for seven years and in Jerusalem for thirty-three. (Kings 2:1-4 10-12)

This reading strikes me as showing the importance of dying at the right moment. David’s life has been far from perfect, not least his shameful murder by contract of his rival in love. And now after his heir, things in Israel and Judah were going to go pear-shaped, but he chose the right moment.

The Presentation

Today is the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, or Candlemas as it used to be called. I am reading Eamon Duffy’s The Stripping of the Altars. There is a long passage about the extraordinarily large role played but Candlemas in the life of the community. There were, for instance great parades of people carrying candles to illustrate the words of Jesus.

Now master, you can let your servant go in peace. Just as you promised; because my eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared for all nations to see. A light to enlighten the pagans and the glory of your people Israel. (Luke 2:22-40)

To me this is one of the most beautiful parts of the whole Gospel. One can picture it in our mind, the old man, his eyes lighting up, the majestic poetry which he utters. What a contrast to the reading of the day before. Perhaps it is supposed to be.

Pig, Candle, Throat, and David

This week I remembered what the days meant to me by recalling the following words: Pig, Candle, Throat, and David.

Today’s reading is about Jesus’ exorcising of the Gerasene demoniac whose spirit he freed through the device of transporting the demon into a nearby herd of pigs, who promptly hurled themselves off the cliff.

I have always asked myself “what have the pigs done to deserve this?” I suppose that to take this story literally is a mistake. It’s really about the Jewish notion of transforming evil to something unclean. To be honest I have never liked this story.

Mass in Westminster Cathedral

In the sung Saturday morning Mass in Westminster Cathedral, the sun shines through the east window directly into my eye. This means that the altar is blacked out apart from some twinkling lights.

The priest says Christ has abolished death and sin. Suddenly, for a moment I believe. It seems right and obvious.

Beauty and Solemnity

I remember little of the words of the Mass, but that isn’t important because the priest celebrating it says the Eucharistic Prayer with such beauty and solemnity that nothing else matters. He says it in Latin not English, but pronounces every syllable carefully without a trace of affectation or pomposity, but with great sincerity and beauty. Who is he? Is he the visiting Abbot of a monastery? He has that sort of natural stature.

Dawkins and Disaster

Richard Dawkins, writing in The Times, mocked Christian reactions to Haiti. Clearly the earthquake, he says, was caused by two plates of the earth’s crust moving. They are utterly indifferent to mankind’s trials. His prose is always powerful. There is no logical answer for how a loving God could permit this.

But again I found the day’s reading comforting.

What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants. (Mark 4:26-34)

We just have to accept that our understanding is the tiniest of mustard seeds.


Surely the following reading is relevant to the debate on belief.

There is nothing hidden but it must be disclosed, nothing kept secret except it he brought to light. (Mark 4:21-25)

Do we have the courage to put our flickering camp-light belief on public display?

The Road to Emmaus

The Gospel reading at the ecumenical service on Sunday had been my favourite – the disciples talking to Jesus on the road to Emmaus. For me, belief is like them only recognising Christ in the instant of the breaking of bread. Suddenly, just for an instant, then it passes; then one tries again.

Today’s reading about the parable of the Sower points to the major challenge. It is not so much those on the path who never believe or those entangled by the thorns of life’s cares that are the problem. It is those who:

Have no root in them, they do not last; should some trial come or some persecution on account of the word, they fall away at once. (Mark 4: 1-20)

The “trial” is the modern notion of scepticism.

Practice Makes Perfect

I have said this before, but a way forward to the quandary of belief lies in the ancient practice that behaviour and practice were more important than belief. That we should start with religious practice and obedience then belief may follow. After all, few people nowadays are fortunate enough to receive some unflinching belief as a bolt from Heaven.

Part of today’s Gospel reading is instructive:

Anyone who does the will of God, that person is my brother and sister and mother. (Mark 3. 31-35)

Hugeness of Desire and Smallness of Reality

I reflected on this crisis of belief. One of the reasons for thinking people is the increasing realisation of the sheer size and diversity of the Universe. As JBS Haldane once said, “the universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.”

I was reading the latest article in National Geographic magazine on the extraordinary discovery of some 700 planets in other solar systems over the last decade. The article compared finding these tiny distant objects to like looking for a firefly in a fireworks display. Astronomers now reckon that there may be a billion planets like ours out there. The article ended with a quote from the Spanish philosopher Miguel De Unamuno. The mysteries of the religious visionaries of old arose from an “intolerable disparity between the hugeness of their desire and the smallness of reality.”

Now the reality of the Universe is infinitely greater than our own imagination. Where does that leave the incarnation? How can the God that created the Universe of a billion planets like ours be the God that arrived in a manger in Palestine two-thousand years ago? This was the problem of the mismatch of belief that I was referring to at Market Rasen the day before.

An Ecumenical Matter

I was a bit nervous at the thought of giving the address at Market Rasen’s ecumenical service. But I think it went all right. I made the obvious point that the things that divide us are minimal compared to those that unite us. But what interests me is the richness in diversity. The exuberance of a Latin Palestrina Mass, the poetry of Thomas Cranmer, the energy of the evangelical New Life Movements, the work, literally, on the street of the Salvation Army, and I said all this.

However, I feel the problem lies with the young. Churches assume faith too much, but faith for the young is a massive and growing problem. As someone who struggles with belief myself, we have to convince the young that you can’t believe in something only if it can be proved. Faith is a leap into the dark but if you make it, great joy can follow.

The Apostles

I went to mass in the evening. The reading was about the appointment, if that is the right word, of the Apostles. Nowadays we would make such a meal of it. “Open interviews” and “gender balance” spring to mind.

But here, for the twelve most important jobs in world history, people just came and approached Jesus. They either felt that they liked the look of him or just went on the word of John the Baptist, “Behold the Lamb of God”, and, without hesitation, devoted their whole life, and literally their life, to this man.

Simon Peter the fisherman, came to Jesus in this way. He had heard the word’s of John the Baptist and upon his very first meeting with Jesus he was ready to sign up to become a “fisher of men.”

This demonstration of the leap of faith by the Apostles is what we encounter daily in the search for faith. In the same way that we have no way of proving God exists, so the Apostles had no way of proving that Jesus was the Son of God. They simply had to rely on their faith to believe.

The Faith of the Leper

There were some words in the Gospel that stayed with me today.

The leper says: “Sir, if you want to you can cure me.”

It is worth remembering that these words, they can apply to us. For all our troubles great or small, God, you can cure me.

It is the faith of the leper which is striking.