When you pray, say …

Prayer is a tricky business. Or at least so it would seem from conversations that I’ve had with other Christians, with people on the fringe of Church life and non-Christians who challenge me about it. And, if I’m honest, it can be a bit of tricky business for me too. And lots of teaching on prayer appears designed to make us feel guilty about it.

CANDLEAnd because so many of us find it tricky, we also find that it becomes a source of guilt and anxiety for us. We don’t feel that we pray for long enough or often enough; or we don’t pray well enough; we don’t know what to pray about; our prayer is too formulaic and stale, lacking variety and inspiration; we get too easily distracted; and everybody else seems to do it better than me. You probably have your own anxieties that you could add to the list. Continue reading “When you pray, say …”

The True Meaning of Christmas

The words the true meaning of Christmas crop up quite a lot at this time of year. Often they’re heard when someone is bemoaning the rampant commercialism and consumerism that accompanies the run up to Christmas_House_LightsChristmas. And then again you hear them when someone is complaining that the Christmas promotions in the shops in the high street and the advertisements on television appear to start earlier and earlier each year. You hear them when someone takes exception to the over-the-top Christmas decorations which some people put up outside their homes.

On the other hand, in an almost opposite case, you will hear them spoken when we hear of a local council or business “cancelling” the Christmas party or refusing to display Christmas decorations or preferring instead a “non-religious” alternative because the celebration of such an overtly Christian festival might offend people of another faith, or none. Continue reading “The True Meaning of Christmas”

Merciful Like the Father

Pope Francis has declared 2016 (December 8th – November 20th 2016) to be a Holy Year of Mercy, with the slogan, Merciful like the Father. Holy Years come around about every twenty five years and they represent a period of remission from the penal consequences of sin, granted under certain conditions. As part of this year of mercy the Pope has indicated in a pastoral letter that priests may absolve those who have had abortions, the condition being that they have a profound sorrow for their actions. Up until now it has not been possible for abortion to be forgiven (except in exceptional circumstances) as it is considered a grave or mortal sin. Continue reading “Merciful Like the Father”

The Cloud

This week the church celebrates Ascension Day. Traditionally, this is one of the most important festivals in the church’s year. It stands in importance, I suppose, just behind Easter and Christmas. Ranking festivals in this way is, though, a little ridiculous; Ascension Day is what it is and has its own place in the round of Christian observation. Having said this, the observation of Ascension Day has declined over the last few years, perhaps because it is a midweek festival and we like to suppose that our lives are so busy now that squeezing it into our schedules is a low priority. But, I think too that it is the most difficult of all the events of Jesus’s life for us to relate to.

The celebration is all about Jesus taking his leave of the disciples at the end of the forty days following his resurrection. During those days he has by turn astounded, comforted, admonished and encouraged his followers in a range of, often brief, appearances. There are two accounts by Luke, one in his gospel and the other in the Acts of the Apostles. And here lies the problem for modern readers – the accounts of the Ascension. Continue reading “The Cloud”