Wednesday 27 March 2024


The Last Supper, Simon Ushakov, 1685

Reflection given at Compline in Killodiernan, Wednesday in Holy Week, 27 March 2024

Betrayal is the theme of the Gospel reading we’ve just heard (John 13:21-32).

‘Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me’, says Jesus to his disciples. Few things hurt as much as to be betrayed by someone who is close to you, someone you love.

Jesus loved and trusted Judas. Jesus had chosen Judas to be one of his inner-circle of twelve closest disciples. Jesus had appointed him to be treasurer of the little group – he held the common purse. And Jesus and Judas are about to share food together in a very special Eucharistic way – what we now call the Last Supper.

Yet Jesus knows quite well Judas is going to betray him. He looks Judas in the eye and says to him, ‘Do quickly what you are going to do’. And Judas goes out, out into the night. When they meet again a few hours later, Judas has brought a detachment of soldiers and police to arrest Jesus in a garden just outside the city.

How it must have broken Jesus’s heart to be betrayed by the friend he loved!

But that is not the only betrayal Jesus suffers that night.

We know that his disciples cannot wait and watch for even 1 hour, as Jesus wrestles with his feelings in prayer. We know that the disciples run away when the soldiers come to arrest Jesus. And we know that Simon Peter, who is brave enough to follow Jesus and his captors back to the High Priest’s house, denies three times he even knew Jesus, before the cock crowed.

Lord, who is it?’ says the disciple Jesus loved, at the prompting of Simon Peter. Who will betray you? ‘It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish’, replies Jesus.

The truth surely is that Jesus gave each and every one of his disciples a piece of bread at his Last Supper. They will all betray him, each in their own way.

Would I have behaved any better than the disciples? I don’t think so. I would have sworn blind I did not know Jesus to avoid arrest myself. I’m not as brave as Peter - I would not even have followed to the High Priest’s house – I would have run away like the other disciples. I too would have fallen asleep as my friend and teacher wrestled in prayer. As I did, as I sat while somebody I loved lay dying.

How often has each one of us betrayed Jesus, just as the disciples did!

We may not have sold our Lord and Master for 30 pieces of silver, like Judas. But how often have we failed to respond when Jesus asks something of us? How often have we run away, like cowards, from doing what we know is right? How often have we denied our faith when others challenge us?

Yet Jesus knows our human frailty and loves us all despite it, just as he loved his disciples - just as he loved Judas. He will forgive the pain our betrayals cause him if we turn to him in penitence and faith.

I shall finish by asking you to pray with me the prayer of Richard, Bishop of Chichester in the 13th century:

Thanks be to Thee, Lord Jesus Christ
for all the benefits Thou hast given me,
for all the pains and insults
Thou hast borne for me.
O most merciful Redeemer,
Friend, and Brother,
may I know Thee more clearly,
love Thee more dearly,
and follow Thee more nearly,
day by day. Amen.

Sunday 17 March 2024

Remembering St Patrick


Address given at Borrisokane Church on Sunday 17th March 2024, the Feast of St Patrick

Today we remember St Patrick, our patron saint, whose feast day this is.

In the secular world, this is a day for us to celebrate all that is right and true and beautiful in our communities and in the homeland we share, whatever else may divide us. Many of us I’m sure, wear a shamrock with pride, take part in or attend St Patrick’s Day parades, and raise a glass to toast our nation. It’s allowed, you know, even if you’ve pledged to abstain during Lent - the Prayer Book marks only weekdays in Lent as days of discipline and self-denial. Some no doubt will over-indulge and get up to all sorts of ‘shamroguery’, but we shouldn’t be afraid to join in decent, patriotic celebration.

But as Christians, I suggest we should go further. We should seek to find the real St Patrick behind all the picturesque and fanciful legends that have grown up about him over the last 1500 years. And we should reflect on what St Patrick’s life and mission has to say to us in Ireland today.

Much of what I was told about St Patrick as a child is not true – it is much later legend.

Patrick did not teach about the Trinity using the trefoil leaf of a shamrock, charming though the story is. It first appears in writing in 1726, though it may be somewhat older.

Patrick did not banish all the snakes from Ireland. That story is first mentioned by Gerald of Wales in the 13th Century, although he didn’t believe it himself. The truth is that Ireland was separated from Britain by rising sea levels after the last ice age, which prevented snakes from reaching Ireland from Britain.

Patrick was not the first to convert the pagan Irish to Christianity. The narrow seas between Britain and Ireland, particularly between what is now northern Ireland and southwest Scotland, were a trading highway in Roman times. Archeology shows that many Irish settled on the west coasts of Britain, and no doubt British Christians settled here. Irish chroniclers tell us that Pope Celestine consecrated a Gaul named Palladius to be the first bishop for Irish Christians in 431AD, a little before St Patrick. And there are traditions that there are other Irish saints who preceded Patrick, including St Kieran of Seir Keiran, Co Offaly, St Declan of Ardmore, Co Waterford and St Ailbe of Emly, Co Tipperary.

Most of what we know about the real St Patrick comes from his own writings.

The main source is his Confessio, or Confession, in which Patrick gives a short account of his life and mission.

Patrick tells us, ‘My father was Calpornius. He was a deacon; his father was Potitus, a priest, who lived at Bannavem Taburniae.’ We do not know exactly where Bannavem Taburniae was, but it may have been in Cumbria in England, or Strathclyde in southwest Scotland, or in Wales. So Patrick came from a Christian family of Romano-British clergy. His native language would have been primitive Welsh, and no doubt he was educated in Latin.

He tells us he was taken prisoner by an Irish raiding party, along with thousands of others, and taken as a slave to Ireland, where he was put to work as a shepherd. Here his love and awe of God grew, until after 6 years captivity a voice in a dream urged him to run away and escape back to Britain, which he did.

After his return to Britain, Patrick heard a call to ordination. There is a tradition that he studied in Europe, in particular Auxerre in modern France, where he was ordained by St Germanus.

In another dream, Patrick heard the voices of the Irish among whom he had lived calling to him, ‘We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us.’ Acting on this vision he returned to Ireland as a missionary.

He was aware of the work of other Christian missionaries in the south and east – Patrick was not alone. But his focus seems to have been in the north and west, where the Christian faith had not yet penetrated.

Patrick gives little detail of his work, but tells us that he baptised thousands of people, ordained priests to lead the new Christian communities, converted wealthy women, some of whom became nuns, and converted the sons of kings. No doubt those he encountered were attracted by his distinctive spirituality, expressed in St Patrick’s Breastplate, the famous hymn attributed to him. We shall pray a verse of it, an invocation of Christ’ presence with us and around us, at the end of the service.

His mission was not always easy, for he tells us he met opposition. He was, beaten, robbed, put in chains and held captive. But Patrick is undaunted. He rejoices in the results of his mission, declaring that ‘the sons and daughters of the leaders of the Irish are seen to be monks and virgins of Christ.’

Finally, Patrick was a modest man. He finishes his Confessio with these words, addressed to us, to you and me: ‘I pray for those who believe in and have reverence for God. Some of them may happen to inspect or come upon this writing which Patrick, a sinner without learning, wrote in Ireland. May none of them ever say that whatever little I did or made known to please God was done through ignorance. Instead, you can judge and believe in all truth that it was a gift of God. This is my confession before I die.’

What can we as Christians today take from the life and mission of the real St Patrick?

1st, St Patrick was passionately dedicated to sharing his Christian faith with the pagan Irish. He saw it as a blessing, a gift from God. He echoes the words of Tobit in today’s 1st reading (Tobit 13:1b-7): ‘Bless the Lord of righteousness, and exalt the King of the ages. In the land of my exile I acknowledge him, and show his power and majesty to a nation of sinners.’ We should be like him, eager to share our faith in the public square in our own times, when so many find it difficult to do so.

2nd, St Patrick knew all about economic and social oppression from an early age. He challenged these evils and faced persecution for it. To quote from St Paul’s words in today’s epistle (2 Corinthians 4:1-12), he was ‘afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed’. When we in our times see oppression, or suffer it ourselves, we should confront it as St Patrick did, and persevere against those who seek to perpetuate it.

Lastly, in today’s reading from John’s Gospel (John: 4:31-38), Jesus tells his disciples, ‘Look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together … I sent you to reap that for which you did not labour. Others have laboured, and you have entered into their labour.’ St Patrick reaped a harvest sown by others, as he was not the only, nor the first Christian missionary to come to Ireland. In later times the Irish Church found unity around his bishopric of Armagh. In the same way, Christians of different traditions in Ireland today should surely rejoice in the truly important things that we have in common, rather than cling to the little things that separate us. Only then can we ‘gather in the fruit for eternal life’ that Jesus desires us to reap.

I shall finish in prayer.

Hear us, most merciful God,
for that part of the Church
which through your servant Patrick you planted in our land;
that it may hold fast the faith entrusted to the saints
and in the end bear much fruit to eternal life:
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen


Tuesday 12 March 2024

Wait for the Lord - Psalm 27

Reflection at Morning Worship with the Community of Brendan the Navigator, 12th March 2024

In the book of Psalms we find expressions of almost every human emotion we could possibly experience, from joy and exaltation, through disappointment, to despair and depression. In this psalm, Psalm 27, we encounter the emotions of someone who has been disappointed in life, but who resolves to put it behind him or her, and trust in the goodness of God.  

The first 6 verses of Psalm 27 are a triumphant song of confidence in the Lord our God. ‘The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?’.

But the next 6 verses express the pain of disappointment. ‘Do not hide your face from me.

Do not turn your servant away in anger, you who have been my help. Do not cast me off, do not forsake me, O God of my salvation!’. They are the cry of someone disappointed and despairing.

I am quite sure that every one of us has experienced numbing disappointments at some time or another. I certainly have. I can remember my feelings of inadequacy when a project I led was cancelled, and I and my team were suspended for a while on administrative leave. And I can recall my feelings of anger and bitterness when my first marriage broke down, when I feared I was losing not just my wife, but my children and my home. In my disappointment that life was not going to plan as I wished, I was in danger of drowning in despair. Thank God, I sought treatment for depression, and after a while it dissipated.

Looking back on these experiences now, this psalm tracks my emotional path dealing with disappointment, and recovering from despair. My life resumed its course. My career moved forward on new and satisfying lines. Eventually I found love, happiness, and a home with the love of my life. And to my joy my children share in that too.

The psalmist speaks for me when he declares in the final 2 verses, ‘I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage.’, because that has been my lived experience.

May this also be the experience of any of us who suffer disappointment and despair.