Tuesday 28 November 2017

The Abortion debate - Ongoing thoughts and why I support 'Repeal the 8th'


I am a husband, a father and a Pro-Choice clergyman of the Church of Ireland – I say that without qualification or exception. When it comes to the subject of abortion I am unambiguously supportive of a Woman’s right to choose. It wasn’t always this way! This has been a journey for me and it is only in recent years that I would so describe myself. For most of my life I would have considered my position fairly middle of the road. I had a fairly restrictive view on the right to choose and would only have seen it as an option in the case of rape, unviable pregnancy or a threat to the life or health of the mother.

But I have moved and while I have no regrets it is not always an easy place to be. To declare yourself ‘pro-choice’ is in the eyes of some to self-identify as a heartless baby-killer who has no regard for the life of the unborn. This could not be farther from the truth but there are some who stop listening as soon as they hear the phrase ‘pro-choice’ and issue their summary judgement and sadly very often accompany it with a large dose of personal invective.

I imagine that the people I want to talk to have already tuned out but on the off chance let me say a little about what it means for me to declare myself ‘pro-choice’.

I don’t like negative declarations of identity but sometimes it is important to say what you are against as well as what you stand for, so let me start with the negatives:

I am not in favour of abortion on demand

I am not in favour of abortion as a form of contraception

I am not in favour of abortion as a form of genetic selection (This is particularly personal to me as the parent of a young adult with special needs who some might have opted not to carry full term if they had known the likely outcome of the pregnancy)

And now to the positives:

I am in favour of prioritising the life of a mother over and above that of a fetus that has the potential to become a living breathing human being but has not and may not achieve that potential. (I do not therefore believe in the equal right of the fetus and the mother to life). Part of being a human is making difficult choices and this is I believe one of those choices that has to be made. To refuse to make such choices is a denial of the complexity of life.

I believe that if I am to take seriously the priority of the life of the mother I must take into account all the circumstances of her life and to respect the decision she makes as to the continuance or the termination of a pregnancy.

I believe that as a man I am genetically limited in the judgement I can make as to how any woman should respond to an unwanted pregnancy. I can only speculate as to how different this debate might be if we men had to undergo the experience of pregnancy and childbirth

I believe that the doctor patient relationship is paramount and that there are too many amateurs including churchmen like myself interfering in a domain where we do not have competence

I believe that there is a basic dishonesty at the heart of the abortion debate in that we already have abortion in Ireland but we choose to export women on a lonely and dangerous journey so that we can maintain our ‘righteousness’

I believe as a Christian (and I know that here I am probably loosing some of you) that a woman’s role in childbearing and childbirth is a co-creative role and that her yes matters – The Virgin Mary herself said yes to the child that was within her but what if she had said no? If her assent was truly voluntary then she could surely have said no but she chose otherwise – but she still chose!
The choice of a woman to host a pregnancy is not in my opinion a once off event but a continuing process in which her assent is required at every stage – Anything less defines a woman as a mere vessel and that it seems to me is abusive of the integrity of her humanity.

I believe that I have to fundamentally trust women with the integrity of their own bodies and to respect their judgement even when I may be uncomfortable with the outcome. Anything less than this absolute trust is enslaving of their basic humanity and integrity and ultimately undermines mine as a child of a woman who chose to say 'yes'.

That is why despite the fact that I am not ‘pro-abortion’ I am unashamedly ‘pro-choice’ – It is not about me, but the women who have to deal with all the pain, joy and complexity of pregnancy and childbirth – They are the beginning and the end of this issue and their choice must be respected and supported.


Sunday 22 October 2017

Sermon for Sunday 22nd October 2017 - God's Provision Not Direct Provision!

Sermon 2 for Sunday 22nd October 2017
"My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest" - Our Lesson reading from Exodus Chapter 33 this morning - The Lord is speaking to Moses and reassuring him of his ongoing commitment to his people who are wandering refugees in that in between place where there is no sense of home or security or safety.
          I wasn't actually going to preach on the Old Testament today but something happened to me yesterday that changed all that.  I wasn't expecting it - but it happened and it rendered what I had prepared to say today completely superficial and shallow and I had no choice but to start again.
          I was attending a conference called RUBICON (click here for more info) organised by the Rector of Rathmines and Harolds Cross Rob Jones and Greg Fromholtz who is the coordinator of our diocesan young adults ministry. The venue was The Sugar Club on Leeson Street.  It was a very varied and stimulating programme which featured among other things a panel discussion on the Refugee Crisis and Direct Provision in Ireland - Among the contributors to the panel were representatives of Oxfam, Christian Aid,  Jesuit Refugee services and the Department of Justice.
However, and with no disrespect to the other panellists the most moving and powerful contribution came from Thiru Guru a refugee from Sri Lanka who shared his heartbreaking story with us both in a compelling narrative and also in poetry which quite honestly reduced many of us (myself included) to tears. The most tragic part of his story was that his pain didn't end when he got to our shores but that it had only begun as he got sucked into the inhumane and soul-destroying reality of Direct Provision which robs people of any sense of purpose and their lives of any meaning. He talked of a barbaric regime where supervisors in these centres told the refugees that they were lucky to have shelter and food and met dissent with a transfer to another centre where they knew nobody and had to begin again. He could not work - he could not choose or cook his own food - he had no space that was his own
- he was in a room with a Christian, a Hindu, a Bhuddist and a Muslim and no account was taken of their various religious needs  and he was still dealing with grief and trauma that he had experienced before he arrived in Ireland. He was a professional - a prominent journalist and as the years went by and forbidden to work his skills declined and he could no longer even spell properly. In a poem which he had written himself he talked about himself as a bird that had forgotten how to fly. Direct Provision had robbed him of who he was and what he could contribute to our world.
          And it wasn't just him - he talked of the men he shared a room with year after year and how they were good men who wanted the best for their families but as time went on they changed - they were changed by the hell that they were living in and became bad men - fighting, turning to drugs and crime - their lives destroyed - no going back. 
          In the same panel discussion the representative from the Dept of Justice who seemed to be a genuinely good person trying to do the right thing (against all odds) still introduced herself with the disclaimer that she had no role in making the policy on Direct provision - She knew that we have created a system of cruel and continuing dehumanisation and we all share responsibility as citizens of this state. There is no future in the blame game - It is time to put an end to this barbaric policy.
          Many have said it and after yesterday I am convinced that it is true  that Direct Provision will be seen by generations to come as the Magdalene Laundries of our time, and maybe even worse. It is hard to convey just how horrific Thiru Guru's account was - but out of all the hurt that we as a nation had added to he was able to respond with the most beautiful and yet heartbreaking poetry in which he spoke of his sense of loss and bereavement which was to our shame only added to by his experience in this land of ours.
Later on in the day we listened to an inteview with Ellie Kisyombe, an incredibly passionate and engaging young woman who is an activist and the founder of Our Table, a community-driven, non-profit project aiming to highlight the need to end Direct Provision in Ireland.  Their goal is to facilitate change through conversation over food. Their pop-up cafĂ© in Temple Bar is a first step towards a permanent Our Table restaurant. It provides paid employment, training and links to future employment for people previously in Direct Provision, as well as information for those still living within the system.  Elie is a refugee from Malawi where her family were involved in politics at the highest level and was forced to flee when her father and uncle were assassinated.
She became an activist and by her own admission was full of anger but somehow managed to change this into a force for good despite the additional abuse of living for almost a decade in direct provision. She is determined to build a successful business on this island and I believe that she will succeed but  she also points out that if our current Taoiseach's father was treated as badly as she has been by our nation then it is unlikely that Leo Varadaker would be our Taoiseach - It was not a party political statement but rather an observation as to how we welcome the stranger in our midst. Ireland of the welcomes it seems is a dim and distant memory and that should matter to us as Church who follow one who welcomed all to himself.
These Refugees are the modern day children of Israel - of all faiths and none but from our perspective surely all children of God. We are called to be more than spectators in this - We are called to be present to these people in real and genuine acts of welcome so that they too can experience God's care and protection and make those words of our lord to Moses a present reality:
"My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest"
The current Refugee Crisis is the greatest challenge our church and our country  faces in the present age. Our Lord himself was incarnate in this world as a refugee - If we cannot respond in a meaningful way to the current refugee situation in our world then we may very well forfeit the right to call ourselves Christian - It doesn't get any more serious than that! That is where we are today - how will we respond?




Saturday 29 April 2017

The National Maternity Hospital controversy

The current controversy surrounding the new National Maternity Hospital bewilders me. There is no denying that the current facilities at Holles Street are severely compromised by a site and a building that is not fit for purpose. The argument for co-location is utterly compelling and makes complete sense in terms of a vision for holistic care for women and babies at a critical and vulnerable time in terms of their health and wellbeing. On first appraisal the site at St. Vincents seems to be a great fit and added to that the provision of a site at no cost to the taxpayer is a hard offer to reject but reject it we must!

For me this is not about clerical abuse reparation or the perceived potential for the Sisters of Charity to gain financially from ownership of the proposed new hospital. Despite all the widely acknowledged abuse that took place in ecclesiastical communities and institutions (including my own Church of Ireland) I do believe that this country owes a huge debt to the religious who provided hospital care and health provision at a time when the State was not equipped to do so. It is all too easy to focus on the horror stories and ignore the vast majority of cases where the religious provided exceptional and exemplary care.

However times change and that is especially the case in terms of maternity care and services. I have no difficulty with the notion of a Catholic maternity hospital which provides services in accordance with Catholic moral teaching or indeed a hospital under Protestant governance which does likewise but when it comes to the 'National Maternity Hospital' then it is surely reasonable to expect that such a hospital would not be subject to the specific and by their very nature exclusive requirements of any one religious or sectional interest group.
We have had numerous assurances that regardless of ownership and membership of the board of the new hospital, the Sisters of Charity will not stand in the way of practices that are in direct contravention of Catholic moral teaching such as IVF and sterilisation. As to the future prospect of legalised abortion there is no explicit assurance but it is surely totally fanciful to expect a Catholic hospital to allow such procedures to take place on its campus. As others have already noted it would be a world's first were it to happen!

The reason we and all those involved must reject this proposal is about integrity, and integrity matters! The State cannot with integrity hand over  a new 'National Maternity Hospital' to a body that cannot possibly with any integrity sign off on the provision of services that are in direct contradiction with its own absolute ethical rules (not guidelines but rules) but are simultaneously legal in the State.

Similarly the Catholic Church should not be expected to compromise on its core teachings, even with the noble intention of providing a much needed co-located facility for women and babies. With the best will in the world it is a bad fit and the likelihood is that it will only become more difficult with the almost inevitable increased legalisation of abortion which a 'National Maternity Hospital' will and should provide regardless of religious opinion. If the Catholic Church is to maintain its absolute opposition to abortion then it can surely have no association (no matter how tenuous) with a facility which provides such services.

We need a new National Maternity Hospital but this current proposal is beyond rescuing or rehabilitation - Time to move on!

Friday 17 March 2017

St Patrick's Day Sermon - Thoughts on Anger and Injustice in the wake of Tuam

Sermon for St. Patrick's Day 2017 - Christ Church Celbridge

We are a strange and mixed up people! A land from which so many great Christian missionaries set forth to spread the Good News - a land whose patron Saint Patrick we celebrate today, and who is the most popular Saint on the planet and who is the reason for all the festivities around St. Patrick's Day which have made it increasingly a worldwide event.

We are also a people in whose history and heritage the Christian faith
is interwoven to the point that it is inseparable and indistinguishable from that history and heritage. It is part of who we are, the fabric of our being,  and even those who do not share that faith today have been shaped and formed by its influence through the ages.

And yet despite all of that (and especially here in the Republic) we are becoming a people who despise that faith and the Church which proclaimed it. It has come to a head in recent weeks with the horror of the Tuam revelations but it has only been a catalyst for a process that was already well underway.

Speaking on the announcement of the Commission of Investigation on the Tuam Mother and Baby Home last week one of our own local TDs in Kildare, Catherine Murphy of the Social Democrats launched a wide ranging and scathing attack on the role of the Church in Irish society and said among other things that "we have got to take the Church from our schools, from our hospitals and medical care and from our politics.....
......These are relics of a bygone era and if Tuam has shown us anything it is this – the State must take responsibility for its citizens and the Church has no legitimacy in the healthcare or education of those citizens.”

I think this was an appalling attack, laden with lazy generalisations on a whole swathe of people including priests, nuns, religious orders and members of the majority church and indeed by implication all the churches on this island who with rare exception are working faithfully and with integrity in a multitude of areas providing compassionate and generous service to society. In many if not most cases they are subsidising, supporting and filling the gaps in provision by State services which are stretched to breaking-point and beyond!

There is no doubt that there is an increasing hostility towards
religious involvement in public life and it is also clear that it is
the Roman Catholic Church that is bearing the brunt of this but as Brothers and Sisters in Christ this is about us as well. As sisters and brothers in Christ their pain is our pain.

I can only speak from my own experience but as one who attended a variety of schools of every denomination my happiest experience was in the co-ed Roman Catholic convent in Mayo (yes such things exist) where I had the privilege of being educated by a beautiful body of religious women
whose sense of vocation and care for their students was palpable and
which left a deep and lasting impression on me. They supported me in
my vocation and when I was ordained they filled a pew in Christ Church Cathedral. 
I think too of another community of  nuns in North Tipperary who governed the special needs school my son attended and who when he was at death's door thousands of miles from home kept vigil in prayer and kept a candle lit on their altar until the word came that he was going to make it against all odds.
They were and are good people who do not deserve to be written off and they and their whole life's work described as 'relics of a bygone era'.

I could equally say the same of my current colleagues in the Roman
Catholic priesthood in this parish and indeed in my previous parishes
who are among some of the most dedicated and generous Christian people I know. They work tirelessly for and on behalf of the whole community and if they were to withdraw overnight as our local representative seems to be suggesting it would leave a void that no government could fill.

None of this is to deny the terrible things that happened in Tuam and
other places, some of them under Protestant management lest we get too comfortable. There is though a real danger that we blame the Church and the churches for all ills (and yes the churches including our own have really difficult questions to answer) but let us not fail to acknowledge that the Church of times past did not exist in a vacuum but was part of a wider society which also contained a certain amount of systemic cruelty which we would not tolerate today but is part of our heritage. When we pin it all on the institution of the Church we are perhaps subconsciously depersonalising it, letting ourselves off the hook and creating a distance between us and those terrible events.

        There is a lot of hurt, pain and anger being expressed at the moment but there is also a need for healing and that is our vocation as Church. It is not easy but we need to hang in there even when we are despised - That was after all the example of our Lord and that was the message of the Gospel that St Patrick brought to these shores - he too persevered against all kinds of obstacles and like us was part of a Church that is not perfect but yet I believe still has a positive contribution to make in the lives of all the people on this Island. 
May we be a Church that lives up to the example of St Patrick and may we together serve our Lord in ways that bring healing and hope to Creation.

Amen.

Note: I think it is important for me to acknowledge that in mentioning Catherine Murphy TD in this sermon to also acknowledge that she was not the only one to lash out at the churches in such an indiscriminate manner but her words were particularly strong and to my mind unjust. 
Perhaps they were spoken in anger and I can certainly identify with that - When the clerical sex abuse scandals began to break some years ago I responded very publicly in anger and said some very intemperate and unfair things about my fellow priests and religious in the Roman Catholic Church - so much so that I felt compelled to make a formal retraction in the local paper because I had caused real hurt to really good people - There is a real danger when we respond to such devastating events (and none more so than when children are involved) that we undermine the very people who may be a part of the healing process - All of us in all the churches are deeply aware that there are some who committed vile acts under the veil of trust but what hope is there if those terrible sins of the past condemn for evermore those who seek to minister God's love to the world today? 
Gone are the days (and thankfully so) when the Church and the State were so closely intertwined that this country was almost a theocracy but perhaps a Church, more humble and with less authority can actually be an effective agent of healing and transformation for at least some of those who are hurting in our world today.

Thursday 19 January 2017

Thoughts on the Eve of the Trump Presidency



Eight years ago I had the extraordinary experience of attending the 1st Inauguration of President Barack Obama - It was a hope-filled historic occasion and it is no exaggeration to say that being there on that day was both inspiring and uplifting.

Eight years later and looking back on the Obama presidency I have to confess that I am disappointed that it did not live up to all my hopes and dreams but then with the advantage of hindsight it was perhaps inevitable that it could never live up to expectations which were bordering on messianic. The odds were heavily stacked against a president who sought to overcome the divisiveness of partisan and adversarial politics and to undercut the very divisions on which the American and many other political systems thrive.

And yes I am also disappointed that he failed to close Guantanamo Bay, tackle gun control, and extract the USA from the drone warfare which so many including myself find deeply disturbing.

And yet I could not but be continually impressed by the gracious and dignified humanity of a president and First Family who visibly bore heavily the weight of his office.

And indeed there were many aspects of his presidency that deserve positive acclaim and mention. His empathy towards the victims and families impacted by gun violence, his sincere attempts to bring affordable healthcare to those on the margins of society, his willingness to be converted to the cause of marriage equality, and his nuanced understanding of the importance of inter-religious dialogue and understanding and international and inter-Nicene relations were all groundbreaking and had a hugely positive impact on the USA and arguably the western world.

So what comes next? Sadly it would appear that despite the experience of the presidency of Barack Obama the USA has voted for a 'hopeless' future based on a bankrupt vision of our world which sees enemies everywhere and seeks to build walls and barriers to protect the selfish interests of the privileged minority.

Some will protest that no - this is all about 'change' but in reality it is nothing more than looking after No. 1 and that is no vision for any society. It is traditional that the President elect would end his speech by requesting that God would bless the United States of America - On this occasion we should perhaps pray that God will help the United States of America! :(

Thoughts on the retirement of Martin McGuinness

I am conscious that many within my own Protestant tradition (especially in Northern Ireland) will find it hard to empathise with Martin McGuinness in his illness and forced retirement, not least those who have lost family and friends at the hands of the IRA. Not having had that experience I do not think it is right that I or others who have been spared such suffering would demand or expect otherwise from those whose lives have been forever damaged and even destroyed by terrorist violence.
In that respect while initially annoyed and disappointed by the dispassionate response of Arlene Foster to Martin McGuinness' illness I subsequently learnt of the horror she had experienced as an eight year old girl when her father was shot and seriously injured by the IRA and how she herself cheated death in a bus bombing when she was sixteen. She demonstrably did not rise above what happened to her but being brutally honest I am dubious that I would have been able to overcome such trauma at a formative age. Knowing my temperament indeed it is entirely possible I would have gone further and involved myself in a violent and illegal retaliation. There for the Grace of God went I!
But that was not my experience (and I am grateful for that) and while my mother grew up in Norther Ireland and my wife is from there the 'Troubles' were not a part of my formation and so I look at the retirement of Martin McGuinness with different eyes.
Yes I see in Martin McGuinness one who is a self confessed terrorist and one who may well have been responsible (either directly or indirectly) for the murder of those who through an accident of birth found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time.
But that is not the end of it - I also see one who was able to move from the path of violence to the way of peace and in so doing was able to acknowledge the journey on which he had travelled. It is that which sets him apart from Gerry Adams whose disingenuous disavowal of his violent past undermines his credibility and his ultimate potential to help others make the transition from violence to peace.
Martin McGuinness came a long way on his political and life journey and in doing so did rise above his formative experience and brought a lot of people with him. As I have said already that is more than I believe I would have been able to do and so he has earned my respect and also my empathy. I do not condone everything that he did, especially in his younger years, but as a priest of the Church I cannot but commend one who turned from the path of violence to the way of peace. Martin McGuinness should not be defined by his worst days unless we are all prepared to be so judged. I wish him well and pray for his healing.



Sunday 12 June 2016

A response to Orlando - No more excuses!

Like so many people around the world I am physically sickened by the news of the massacre in Orlando. It seems to me there are two principal factors that contributed towards this horrible event.
The first is the ongoing ease of access to guns in the United States which makes such massacres a regular headline on our news cycle.
The second, and the one in which I feel somewhat complicit is the ongoing failure of Christian churches including my own Church of Ireland to be totally unambiguous in its welcome of people of all sexuality to participate fully in the life, witness and leadership of our church.
Yes it was a Muslim extremist that carried out this appalling crime but it could just as easily have been a Christian. The scale of this atrocity is perhaps unprecedented but there are no shortage of gay people who have been murdered by so called Christians in the name of God. And if we consider the tens if not hundreds of thousands of people who have committed suicide because of the rejection of their sexuality by their churches then we are talking about a genocide and one which is certainly not confined to foreign shores.
This is a problem for all of us who call ourselves religious - The Orlando massacre may have been an act of terrorism but there is little doubt that the choice of target was in no small part due to the ongoing and historic negative and pejorative portrayal of those who are gay by people of religious faith
For too long and at incalculable cost we religious have hidden behind misguided legislation that protects our right to discriminate against people on grounds of their sexuality.
We have also attempted to fool ourselves by insisting that we 'love the sinner and hate the sin' while ignoring the fact that what we perceive to be sin and thus licensed to hate is something that those who we talk about but not to, see as integral to their identity and their humanity. Our dishonest semantics if anything add to the impact of this hate.
Some within my own Christian tradition will argue that this is a matter of principle and indeed of Gospel principle which they must stand for. To stand up for ones principles is indeed a worthy thing and even more so to be prepared to die for ones principles  but when others die because of our principles we need to reconsider those principles!
I as a Christian priest who longs for the day when my church is fully inclusive find it hard to contemplate that God would wish us to defend our personal religious principles at the expense of the life of another child of God.  For me the Gospel message is life-giving and liberative and anything that gives people an excuse to hate and hurt another human being is not of God.
Being a Christian does not absolve us from difficult choices - We in the Christian churches have a choice to make and it is one between life and death. We can no longer afford the luxury of principles that allow us to perpetuate the culture of them and us and as long as we do we will be complicit in the hatred and fear that leads however indirectly to events like the massacre in Orlando. It is time to stand up and be counted not only for our principles but for the lives of those that are taken in our name.

Friday 1 April 2016

Easter Sermon 2016


I don't need to tell you that the hour changed last night - The fact you are here means that either you changed your clocks or alternatively you were so eager to come to church today that you came an hour early to make sure you got a seat!
I used to get confused as to which way the clocks went until I heard the little memory jogging phrase – spring forward and fall back (Fall as in the American word for the Autumn).

It seems to me that that is not only a useful reminder as to which way the clocks go but also a pointer towards the meaning of Easter – It is a time when we can spring forward in our faith because of the wonderful event that we celebrate at this time. After the pain and suffering of Holy week, now in the light of the Resurrection we have a new hope and a new sense of purpose which allows us to go out with a spring in our step, or at least it should do.....

Very often however we find it hard to do this – perhaps the drudgery of the past has taken its toll and sapped our energy and taken away our self-confidence. Perhaps rather than springing forward we feel like falling back (I know I did when the alarm went off this morning for the dawn ecumenical service in Castletown)! Falling back or retreating is something that we do when the future is too difficult to face.

There are a lot of people who find the future a difficult place - I am sure like me you are still thinking of the McGrotty family involved in the Buncrana drowning tragedy and that little baby and her mother (Louise Daniels) who has to come to terms with a future without her children, her husband, her sister and her mother - She would be forgiven for feeling like falling back and retreating.
Or indeed the families of those murdered last week in the Brussels bombings and those who will carry lifelong and life altering injuries - they too must feel like falling back and retreating.

During a visit to New York a few years ago I came upon an unusual sign mounted on the wall of a Church. It read ‘Fallout Shelter’ and was a legacy of the Cold war days when certain buildings were identified throughout the United States as appropriate places to seek safety in case of nuclear war. On one level it was quite consistent with the role of church buildings through the ages where they have been used as sanctuaries for those fleeing persecution and danger of various kinds. However it did strike me that even in times of no overt persecution or danger we Christians are far too comfortable sheltering inside our church buildings. What was once meant to be a base from which to go out into the world has become a very comfortable home in which we all have our favourite seats, a place in which to fall back

After Easter we will find the disciples also sheltering in their ‘fallout shelter’ as they come to terms with the traumatic events of Holy Week and Easter. However it is only a temporary shelter as when Pentecost comes they go out into the world, filled with the Spirit and respond to the call to make disciples of all nations.
I wonder sometimes are we in the institutional churches, like spiritual couch potatoes, stuck in our fallout shelters in that space between Easter and Pentecost?
It is alright to fall back for a time to replenish our energy and to take stock but the message of Easter is that we should now be preparing to Spring Forward again – We are a Church with a Mission, and Mission means Motion! The Apostolic commission talks about GOING OUT, not falling back but reaching out into our world and sharing God's love and compassion and healing with everyone we meet.


There will be times of retreat, times to fall back and recharge the batteries but we need a balance. If all we do is fall back then our clocks will soon be so far behind that we will find ourselves totally out of step with Gods purpose for our lives.
God knows that we struggle – God knows that sometimes we do need to fall back for a while but God in Christ has come to tell us that we have a sure ground for hope – for moving forward – for sharing the Good News – Let us this Easter overcome all that is holding us back and enter the future prepared for us with a spring in our step.......

I could end the sermon there - perhaps you thought I was about to but that would be too easy and tidy and life isn't like that. Things get in the way and sometimes even though we know what the right thing to do is we find ourselves unable to act - unable to spring forward - It is as if we are in chains!

And sometimes the Church doesn't help - sometimes the Church is part of the problem! There is a mistaken impression which we in the Church do not do enough to dispel that to come close to God and to be a follower of Jesus we have to jump through lots of hoops and live lives that are righteous and pure.
John Hill Aughey,  a clergyman who fought against slavery and was imprisoned for his beliefs twice during the American Civil war knew better when he wrote these words:
'The church is not a select circle of the immaculate, but a home where the outcast may come in. It is not a palace with gate attendants and challenging sentinels along the entrance-ways holding off at arm's-length the stranger, but rather a hospital where the broken-hearted may be healed, and where all the weary and troubled may find rest and take counsel together."
In the Resurrection Jesus broke the chains of death and offered us a new Hope and a new future. He is inviting us all to partake in this new reality but to do so we must bring not just us all, but all of us to the Table, not just the good bits, the attractive bits but the bad and the broken and the hurt for it is here in his fellowship that we can find that healing and hope for the future.
And there is good news - we don't have to do it by ourselves - Jesus has gone ahead and shines his resurrection light back into the darkness that sometimes overwhelms us - That light comes to us in many forms and invites us to share in the Resurrection - For Louise Daniels it came in the form of a young man who saved her infant child from certain death and gave her something to hold onto - a cause for hope and the possibility of new life and for those caught up in the Brussels atrocity it came in the form of total strangers who helped the wounded to safety without considering the possibility of further explosions or attack.
The power and meaning of the Resurrection comes from its ability to transform our darkness into light. It comes from the historical reality of the Crucifixion in which God in Jesus entered into the darkest place of all: Death - and in his Resurrection transformed the reality of death and made for us to a life beyond, a new dawn, a new Hope, a new life with God, a reason to Spring Forward!
Amen.







Saturday 14 November 2015

After Paris? - Sermon for Sunday 15th November 2015

Sermon for Sunday 15th November 2015 - After Paris?

' When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs. ' - Mark 13, 7-8
          It would be very easy to take today's Gospel reading which is known as the Little Apocalypse and apply it to the horrible and tragic events of Friday night in Paris
I have already heard it said in some circles that this event and others like it are signs of the end times. Some others say the passage refers infact to the now historic destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and others that it refers to Jesus 2nd Coming in glory but at the end of the day we don't know and to indulge in such speculation unduly is a distraction from the very real and pressing responsibilities we have as Christians in the wake of  such senseless and brutal events.
For almost 2000 years scholars and people of faith have debated this passage and frequently predicted its immanent fulfilment but we are still here! So what is our response to the massacre on the streets of Paris? And respond we must because even if as the passage suggests there is a certain inevitability in war and violence we are not mere spectators but followers of a God who has acted and continues to act in human history and very often that action is exercised through us, his people, the Body of Christ. We have work to do!
          Let me backtrack a little - I had another sermon in mind for today (the World Day of remembrance for Road traffic victims) and it was precipitated by the chaos of last Wednesday morning when Dublin was paralysed by a traffic jam on the M50 which was caused by the collision of a car and 2 trucks.  At the centre of this disruption was a woman badly injured in the crash and who has subsequently tragically died.
          But like many my first reaction was not to dwell on the plight of this woman but rather to feel frustration and anxiety about how this incident was going to effect my plans for the day. I got caught up in the gridlock as I brought our son Aaron to his college in Maynooth and found myself getting unduly stressed about being late back to Celbridge to celebrate the midweek Holy Communion. I was late but the sky didn't fall in and nobody minded. During the service it struck me how wrapped up I was in my own needs and agendas and that the really important thing at the centre of this was the life of fellow human being then hanging in the balance and so when we came to the intercessions I added a prayer for her and I hope regained a sense of perspective.  As any driver will I am sure agree it really is a case of 'it could just as easily have been me' when we consider all the 'near misses' we have on the roads in a lifetime of driving. It has certainly reinforced my belief in Angels (especially of the Guardian variety).
          But back to the traffic and that morning when things did not go according to plan. It strikes me that it as good an illustration as any of the interconnected and interdependent nature of all our lives. It only took an accident involving only three commuters among tens of thousands to bring our city to a standstill! Strangely enough this shared experience of inconvenience on Wednesday morning actually brought us all closer together in a world where there is so much choice in terms of networks and relationships that we can very easily live lives that rarely intersect with those around us. It was what is sometimes called a 'watercooler moment'... something that everyone talks about - even to total strangers!
As Christians though we do believe in the centrality of relationship in our lives and one of our foundational metaphors is the Church as the Body of Christ, emphasising that same mutuality and interdependence where each member needs the other to function properly and that if one member is hurt then we all feel the pain. Life should therefore be one long 'watercooler moment'.
          But increasingly that does not reflect how we behave as Church! When the behaviour of another brother or sister in Christ disrupts our lives and our agendas our first instinct is to cut ourselves off from them without even asking the question whether they too are hurting and if they are outside the Church it is even worse! We are so wrapped up in our own rightness and righteousness that we automatically assume that we are better off without those with whom we disagree, no matter what their situation. 
This mirrors the way we relate to each other in wider society. In a world dominated by social media we are increasingly inclined to build relationships only with those who are of a like mind and often at the expense of meaningful engagement with those around us, especially if they don't agree with us. It seems that it is a basic human instinct to narrow the circle of those who we are prepared to relate to and by implication those who matter to us, all at the expense of our common humanity.
          Like the events of last Wednesday morning the horror of Friday night created another of those 'watercooler moments' - it is the only thing we are talking about and yet again in a cruel irony it is a sad and in this case horrific event that unites us as human beings.  We are all horrified by the slaughter of ordinary citizens out on a Friday night enjoying themselves until their lives were ended in such a callous and random fashion! And it is right that we should be horrified but let us pause for a moment and ask this question: Are we equally horrified by what happened in the 'Paris of the East', Beirut on Thursday night when 50 people were killed in an ISIS suicide bombing? Are we even aware of it? I hold my hands up and say 'NO!' - For whatever reason it doesn't have the same impact! Why is that? Well like most of you I suspect I have been to Paris, I learnt French at school - I even have a cousin living very close to the events of Friday night and I am a European. But is that really an excuse? At the end of the day all those who died were human beings created in the image and likeness of God and all their deaths were blasphemy.
          We have a huge responsibility as people of religious faith to ensure that we are not unwittingly contributing to the alienation and marginalisation of those who are driven to such appalling acts of violence. There are many people today who are blaming religion for what happened on Friday night and there is a very real danger that we will prove them right if we allow ourselves to be sucked into a them and us mentality. This is not a religious war between Christians and Muslims or Muslims and Jews but rather a distortion of religion which suggests that for any religious identity to thrive it must destroy all alternatives. Most of those who died in Beirut were Muslims and indeed some of those who died in Paris were Muslim.
This is not the age of the Crusades with the Christian armies marching against Islam and if we buy into that narrative we will only be perpetuating the culture of death and mutual destruction. In a nuclear age this is something we need to consider very carefully - we are living in very dangerous times and the Christian Church worldwide can be an agent for peace or catastrophic conflict!
          But it is not easy - Violence comes naturally to us - I was delighted at the news that the British Islamic terrorist Jihadi John was likely blown to bits by a drone strike earlier this week - his actions in the decapitation of numerous hostages over recent months were unspeakably evil and yet one must ask what was it that made him hate so much? And also how many more terrorists were created by the deaths of those who died alongside him this week? Violence is not the answer and I am disappointed in myself for celebrating yet another act of violence however justified it may be argued to be.
          As Martin Luther King Jr put it so well: ' The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. ...
.... Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.'
          As Christians we should never be comfortable with hatred - If we are to be a force for good in the  world we must overcome our base instinct for vengeance and retribution - Someone has to stop the madness and as those who follow the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ we cannot shirk our responsibility.  We need to widen our circle of care and compassion - We need to stand up and say that those who die on the streets of Beirut and Baghdad matter every bit as much as those who die in Paris or New York whatever their faith or ethnicity.
          Our silence in the face of the suffering of our fellow human beings on whatever corner of this planet only contributes to the culture of suspicion and hatred which has brought us to where we are today. It is extraordinarily ironic that the so called global village created by communications technology has actually further alienated us from our fellow human beings who we wilfully choose not to relate to.
Why? Because we have been conditioned to believe that choice is everything, that it is our right but the reality is that with choice comes responsibility! Our choices have consequences and if we choose to make non-persons of those who are different from us then we should not be surprised when these same people treat us with less than the humanity we believe we deserve. I am not for one moment condoning the horrific acts of Friday night but I am saying that we can and must and can do something to reverse this spiral of death and destruction. We must affirm our common humanity and recognise in all our fellow human beings the creative impulse of a God who loved us all into being and wishes only the best for all that he has created.



Tuesday 5 May 2015

Marriage Equality 2015 - Waking up to the Importance of the issue

I have tried very hard not to get sucked into the current Marriage Referendum debate - I have often spoken out from an inclusive standpoint on human sexuality issues both within the Church and in the public square - I voted with my feet in attending the Consecration of my friend Gene Robinson's (1st openly gay bishop) consecration as Bishop of New Hampshire USA in 2003 which was one of the highlights of my life to date - I am conscious that for many this event is seen in a very different light but for me it was Spirit filled and inspirational despite having to pass through a demonstration by the hate filled Westboro Baptist Church and Airport level security (due to death threats against Bishop Gene) to attend the Consecration service. The consequences for me in supporting my LGBT brothers and sisters have not always been entirely positive - I have experienced vile personal abuse both verbally and through hate mail and have been driven to some intemperate and less than constructive comments and responses to 'the other side'. That is probably why I haven't really engaged publically in the current referendum but tonight a threshold was crossed. I was watching the RTE Prime Time debate and realised that this is not a discussion I am free to opt out of - This is a social justice issue and I cannot as a Christian priest opt out of justice issues - As I listened to the No protagonists trot out one dishonest, irrelevant and cynical argument after another I knew I could no longer sit on the fence or I would be complicit in this dishonesty. The God I believe in isn't black or white, gay or straight, liberal or conservative but a God who is able to embrace a greater diversity than any one human being can contemplate - who am I to define the limits of Love when I am loved unconditionally and who am I to stand by when others seek to define the limits of that Love?

Thursday 19 March 2015