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the musings and rants of an irish anglican priest

Updated: 2018-01-25T17:25:32.072+00:00


Good Friday Alcohol Ban Lifted - A Good Decision


I welcome the decision to rescind the Good Friday licensing laws. As a priest of the Church of IrelandI am convinced that no religion should have its devotional practices enshrined in secular law! I am all for the protection of freedom to practice a particular faith, but not to the extent that sanction is imposed on those of other dispositions. I think in time this judgment will come to be seen as a positive step both for people of religious affiliation and society at large. We are not children and as mature citizens we do not need the State telling us we can't have a drink in a pub on Good Friday.

Many including myself will aim to abstain from alcohol during this Lent, but that is my decision and it is none of my business if others prefer to do otherwise.  Those for whom this observance is important might find it all the more meaningful when it is a matter of choice not law, and calls on them to witness in the face of the prevailing culture. After all Jesus was counter-cultural so why do we Christians want our faith assimilated into the secular order?

In the context of this issue many people have repeatedly raised very valid concerns about the centrality of alcohol in Irish life and its particular association with sport. Others have pointed out that Good Friday is one of the few days in the year when pub owners and staff are guaranteed a day off with their families.
These are valid concerns but we should not use Good Friday as a flag of convenience to deal with them. If we are going to deal with the Nation’s alcoholism lets be honest and open about it and not use religion as a Trojan Horse. To do so belittles both religious faith and our democracy.

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 demandI am not in favour of abortion as a form of contraceptionI 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 childbirthI 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 competenceI 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 t[...]

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 horr[...]

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!

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


Sermon for St. Patrick's Day 2017 - Christ Church CelbridgeWe 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 faithis 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 towardsreligious involvement in public life and it is also clear that it isthe 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 womenwhose sense of vocation and care for their students was palpable andwhich left a deep and lasting impression on me. They supported me inmy 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 RomanCatholic priesthood in this parish and indeed in my previous parisheswho 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 happ[...]

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. [...]

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.

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 backAfter 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 Missionmeans 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 – Go[...]

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 sometim[...]

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?

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Nirbhaya - A response


48 hours have now passed since I watched Nirbhaya at the Pavillion theatre in Dun Laoghaire and still I struggle to process and articulate the immensity of what I witnessed.  Sexual abuse and sexual violence is an all too familiar subject in Ireland today and yet the real and personal stories told by the actors in this play inspired and provoked by the rape and murder of  Jyoti Singh Pandey manage to break new ground.

I have been pondering what is different about their stories and it has only just dawned on me that in Ireland we have tended to focus on the perpetrators of sexual violence and their evil deeds and less on those who they have hurt, damaged and often destroyed. They have been simply described as victims or perhaps survivors but still our fascination has been with the abusers and not the abused.

This play redresses the balance and we get an insight into their experience as subjects not objects. Whether it is sexual and emotional violation, physical scarring or the enforced separation from a precious child we see and hear first hand their pain and their hurt and it is hugely disturbing and uncomfortable. And yet in holding their hands up and telling their story they have reclaimed their role as authors of their own stories and destiny. Their loss is profound and the impact on their lives hard to contemplate but it is their life and their loss and they are using it to ultimately bring about change and transformation. They are reclaiming control of their lives and refusing to succumb to being mere objects of the depraved cruelty of their abusers.

On a personal note I have to acknowledge that the fact that one of the actors, Poorna Jagannathan is a childhood friend and neighbour has made the whole experience particularly poignant - Our lives overlapped during what was a very happy if not charmed childhood in Dublin. The thought that after leaving those happy and innocent times in Dublin  and while still a child she was to experience repeated and regular sexual abuse at the hands of both a family friend and random strangers makes me very sad but I do not pity her.

Rather I admire her and stand in awe of what she and her sisters have accomplished in bringing this extraordinary play to the stage. It is not easy to watch but it is essential to witness and if there are still tickets available in Dublin or wherever it plays next go and see it! But, a warning, be prepared to be forever changed and challenged by it!

Nirbhaya - A Play you will never forget!


Friends - A favour to ask - Old friend and neighbour of mine from Ballsbridge days, Poorna Jagannathan is bringing this play to Dublin - This will never get the attention that the #GarthBrooks event/non-event has but it is infinitely more important and worthy of attention - Read the articles linked below, but for a flavour this is what it is all about:Remember the story of: 'Jyoti Singh Pandey, who was returning from the cinema with a male friend, was viciously gang-raped by six men, including the driver of the bus, before they were mugged, stripped and thrown from the moving vehicle, which they then allegedly tried to back over Pandey, who died from her injuries 13 days later. The stop from which she and her friend had boarded the bus was directly opposite Poorna's old house."I felt that I could have been her, on that bus, in so many ways and my mind was unable to process the information printed later in the press."She contacted the South African playwright Yael Farber, whose testimonial play about Apartheid, 'Amajuba', she had greatly admired. "I am a victim of sexual violence," Poorna told her via Facebook, "who has been silent all these years. By keeping quiet, I consider myself a part of what happened on that bus. Come here. Women in India are ready to break their silence and speak. There is no turning back."  (Source - Irish Independent Weekend Magazine 5th July2014 - Interview with Caomhan Keane)The play is on in Pavilion DL (Pavillion Theatre DunLaoghaire) from 21st July - 2nd August and has won awards worldwide for its powerful depiction of this issue and the women who have been and continue to be abused not only in India but worldwide - Please share this via whatever media you can and come along if you can to see this most important work and brave witness:Irish Independent - The Violence of SilencePavillion Theatre - Nirbhaya Praise for Nirbhaya"One of the most powerful and urgent pieces of human rights theatre ever made"★★★★★ The Herald"Powerful and incredibly moving"★★★★★The Independent"One of the most powerful pieces of theatre you’ll ever see"★★★★★ The TelegraphAwards: Fringe First | Herald Angel | Amnesty International Freedom of Expression[...]

Sermon for Sunday 9th February 2014 - Getting Over Ourselves - Living a Compassionate Life


'You are the salt of the earth.......You are the light of the world' (Matthew 5:13ff) Immediately prior to these verses we have heard the Beatitudes, and in those teachings Jesus talks in almost abstract terms about how blessed are those who are poor, bereaved, meek, hungry etc. However in the final verse he turns it around and says 'Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you......' This is no longer abstract and fluffy teaching - this is a teaching meant for his audience to act on and by extension it is meant for us to act on.Today's Gospel is in direct continuity as it reminds the audience, you and me, that we are 'the salt of the earth' and 'the light of the world' and that with that comes a responsibility to be doers as well as hearers. We have been given gifts that are to be used not hidden and neglected. The teaching is clear enough but responding to it and putting it into practice is another matter.The key to that implementation is to be found a couple of chapters further on in Matthew's Gospel: Chapter 7 v 12 in a teaching that has come to be known as the Golden Rule and is incidentally found in similar form in all the mainstream religious traditions in the world.Matthew 7:12 ‘In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.'That principle is often summed up in the word 'Compassion' but we need to understand what compassion is - It is not pity for another person but rather it means 'suffering with' the other and arising out of that shared suffering a desire to alleviate it. Without compassion there is no connection or relationship with the other and no possibility of being the salt and light that we are called to be. If we are looking for a model of pure compassion then we need look no further than the Cross, where God in Christ entered into our humanity and into the depths of our suffering.Karen Armstrong a contemporary theologian and historian of world religions and the founder of the 'Charter for Compassion' (a worldwide interfaith movement which seeks to bring reconciliation and healing at every level of society through compassion) has identified some of the key components to living a compassionate life in the world today. (Karen Armstrong: Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life). At least some of these are perhaps helpful to us as we seek to fulfil our Gospel calling to be salt and light in the world:Our families, in all their diversity, are a place where we potentially learn how to be compassionate people. Part of being in a family is putting the needs of others before ourselves, subordinating our selfish needs to the good of the whole family. Families are founded on and dependant on compassion. They are a vital training ground for living a life of generosity and service in a world which increasingly demands selfishness and efficiency. It is in our families that we learn we do not live for ourselves alone.We do however, without being selfish, need to know ourselves and to love ourselves if we are to love others. We need to be aware of the basic instincts that can sometimes overwhelm our compassionate intentions. Chief among these is fear of the other, and out of that fear we often act hatefully towards those we do not understand or appreciate. Ironically the things we despise in the other are very often the qualities we most dislike in ourselves. We need to learn to forgive ourselves and love ourselves even in our brokenness.  Fear is human - it is natural and it actually unites us with those we fear for they too are fearful people.  If we recognise that it may help us to open our hearts to those we fear and hate and that is th[...]

Nelson Mandela & John the Baptist - Sermon for Advent 2 - 2013 - 8th December


It would be impossible to preach this weekend and not make some reference to the death of Nelson Mandela. The world has quite literally stopped in its tracks since the sad but inevitable news of his death was announced and indeed we have now seen days of saturation coverage of his life and his legacy. There are some, albeit it a minority, who look at him in a less favourable light and see him as a terrorist rather than a freedom fighter. It is very hard for us to judge that at this distance and indeed the time that has passed since his active involvement in the armed struggle before his imprisonment makes it even more difficult. However it is undeniable that since his release from prison he confounded all those who doubted his character by seeking not revenge but reconciliation. He sought to unite the people of South Africaof all colours and creeds under one flag and do away with the remnants of Apartheid. He was not about settling scores and indeed had to campaign hard within the ANC and elsewhere to stop others going down this road.          A few of his own words after his release demonstrate this commitment to peace and love as the way forward for South Africa:“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”“No one is born hating another person because of the color 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 its opposite.”          There is no doubting that South Africa is a better place for having had Nelson Mandela make his mark on it but it is a work in progress. There is still a huge amount to do. It is still a very dangerous and crime ridden society. I had occasion to drive from Johannesburg airport to the border with Swaziland a few years ago on a trip to Swaziland and the poverty that was visible on the roadside was very disturbing. Mile after mile after mile of corrugated tin shacks almost on top of one another (each about 100 feet sq) stretched out of the eastern suburbs. My companions and I were warned under no circumstances to even consider stopping on that road as hijacking was not uncommon. The contrast with the modern city we had just left was dramatic to say the least.Apartheid may have gone but there is still a significant division between the haves and the have-nots. There is still a large amount of tribal tension and violence and the scourge of AIDS has left its mark disproportionately on the poor and disadvantaged. So Nelson Mandela did not live to see the total fulfilment of his dreams for a new, just and prosperous South Africa. That is in the hands of others who will have to take personal responsibility for making the dream a reality. They cannot rest on his legacy or things will fall back into chaos and conflict and a wonderful opportunity will have been wasted.           There are remarkable parallels between the story of Nelson Mandela and John the Baptist. Where Mandela took the first steps toward the complete freedom of South Africa and all its peoples John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus to bring God's Kingdom closer to Earth. He (John the Baptist) saw many wonderful things in his life and ministry and had the extraordinary privilege of baptising Jesus but like Mandela he did not see the end of the journey, for that work is ongoing and you and I are also charged with working towar[...]

St. Zacchaeus? - Sermon for 4th Sun before Advent/All Saints


Today, the 4th Sunday before Advent is the closest Sunday to All Saints Day this year and All Saints Day is too important a feast to let pass without comment. The appointed Gospel for the day is not that appointed for All Saints Day but it does speak of one who can properly be called a Saint: Zacchaeus. (Luke 19:1-10)You could be forgiven for wondering whether I am being a little generous to Zacchaeus – After all, up to his meeting with Jesus he has led, by his own admission, a corrupt life feeding his own greed at the expense of his fellow Jews and was an agent of the hated Roman Empire. Hardly a candidate for sainthood surely!That would be the conventional wisdom and yet the Saints are a varied and diverse body and not all of them led totally virtuous lives.To quote another unconventional and contemporary theologian:“The saints are friends of God,” he said. But they “are not superheroes, nor were they born perfect. They are like us, each one of us.” “What makes them stand out, he said, is once they encountered Jesus, they always followed him.”Those words were spoken on All Saints Day this year by Pope Francis who has shown himself as one not afraid to challenge the commonly held perceptions of what it is to be a follower of Jesus Christ.When we apply these words to Zacchaeus we find that they apply perfectly….certainly no superhero – he was a man of very short stature who had to climb a tree in order to see Jesus. He was not born perfect or certainly his early life was far from perfect unless one was to make a virtue of extortion and corruption. He was like us! We might not want to admit that but if we are honest with ourselves we have more in common with Zacchaeus than many of the traditional saints that we would prefer to be compared to.  We are all of us flawed and imperfect and hopefully like Zacchaeus we have come or will come to an understanding and acceptance of that. He was a friend of God – Well by the end of today’s Gospel I think we can certainly say that about Zacchaeus – Jesus has shared table fellowship with him (a hugely significant gesture in that time and place) and following Zacchaeus’ repentance/conversion Jesus declares that ‘he too is a son of Abraham’. That is more than affirmation - it is acceptance and through it Jesus is welcoming Zacchaeus into the fellowship of God.  So yes I think we can say that Zacchaeus was a Saint and indeed he was venerated as such from earliest times. Indeed it seems according to some early writings that he may in fact have become the first Bishop of Caesarea.But there is more and it is the last line of the appointed Gospel reading that is particularly significant for furthering our  understanding of why we might consider Zacchaeus as a Saint:“For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost”Another contemporary theologian, also speaking on this recent All Saints Day said this:‘The Church has throughout its history struggled with ‘failure and weakness’…‘The answer is found in Christ who loves a broken church and brings new healing to our weakness, and makes us holy.’This holiness was ‘seen in radical identity with those whom Jesus loves. Those whom he loves are the ones the world puts to one side. . . It is the poor of the earth. . . It is the persecuted. It is the hated and those held in contempt.’Those words were spoken by the Archbishop of Canterbury as he addressed the current 10th Assembly of the World Council of Churches in South Korea.Archbishop Justin, very much on the same page as Pope Francis, is pointing to how our brokenness and [...]

The Church needs to get lost! (Sermon for Sunday 15th September 2013)


‘’Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the 99 in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?”   (Luke 15:4)The following is a Church of Ireland press release issued by Dublin Diocese last week:In November, the Church of Ireland will be undertaking a ‘census’ of the worshiping Church of Ireland population for the first time in many years.On three Sundays in November (3 November, 17 November and 24 November) clergy and parish officials will be attempting to ascertain the age profile and gender profile of those attending services in Church of Ireland Churches throughout Ireland. Worshippers on those Sundays will receive a card on which they will be asked to indicate their gender and age. The card will be completely anonymous.The objective of the census is to provide information on the worshiping Church of Ireland population and to enable parishes, dioceses and the Church at an island–wide level to make decisions for the future based on an up to date analysis of the Church of Ireland’s population.It is anticipated that the 2013 census will be repeated every three years in order to enable the Church to examine trends in worship attendance and ministry throughout Ireland.There is no doubt that the results of this survey will be interesting and informative and may well be useful for strategic planning into the future but in the light of today’s Gospel perhaps it should come with a health warning which might be worded as follows: ‘This survey will present an incomplete picture of the ministry of the Church and should be treated with caution’Why say that? Well let’s hear that verse from today’s Gospel again:‘’Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the 99 in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?”Jesus couldn’t have made this any clearer – Parables can sometimes be a little obscure but not this one! Our concern should not be primarily for the people who are at the centre of the community of faith, not for the gathered but for the lost and the marginalized. If we are in any doubt as to the meaning Jesus intended us to take from this parable then we only have to look at the one that immediately follows it, the Parable of the Lost Coin which hammers home the very same point – Its not about what we have but rather what we have lost! This was obviously a teaching Jesus wanted us to understand clearly and so he tells us twice. The proposed church attendance survey may have some limited use but it is essentially an exercise in counting sheep and we all know what happens when you count sheep – yes you go to sleep! There is a very real danger that that will be the fate of the Church of Ireland as well if it just counts bums on pews as an accurate and complete picture of the ministry of the Church.So what about the ‘Lost’? Before we launch out on any crusade to save souls left right and centre we need perhaps to remind ourselves that we may be among the ‘Lost’. One of the greatest weaknesses of Christian mission through the ages has been the assumption that we have the Truth and we are going to show everyone how to find it! The history of Christian Mission is often simultaneously a history of religious imperialism and cultural vandalism as diverse communities all over the planet had their lives destroyed by an arrogant army of zealots who imposed a very particular and often-inappropriate model of Church on a people who were living quite happy lives until the Church cam[...]

Sermon for Sunday 1st September - With a word or two from Seamus Heaney


Today’s readings present the core values of serving God by serving others and putting others before ourselves. They talk of focusing not on ourselves but on the needs of others, taking the lowest place at a wedding banquet so that we may be called up higher but certainly fall no further.  They talk of giving without expecting anything back – reaching out to those who seemingly have nothing to offer in this life….and even offering hospitality to strangers for we may be entertaining Angels!They are in fact, both the epistle and the Gospel reminiscent of the themes that we find in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount where all the values of this world are reversed and we hear such extraordinary things such as ‘Blessed are the Poor’…’Blessed are the meek’ …. ‘Blessed are the persecuted’Ask anyone today who falls into those categories whether they feel blessed and it could well be that we would feel the wrath of their anger and who could blame them! Looked at through the eyes of our value systems poverty, humility, victimhood are not seen as anything to celebrate and in fact are an embarrassment in a society that still accords so much value to those who manage to accumulate great wealth, power and things. Mind you it may be that things are changing when the death of a poet in our land completely takes over the news and conversation on this Island. Poets and prophets are not that unalike and they often help us to see the ordinary and everyday with fresh eyes – to re-examine all the prejudices and assumptions we have inherited.That essentially is what the epistle and Gospel are asking of us – to look at our world, our lives, ourselves and even God with new eyes or even perhaps to open eyes that were previously closed, the eyes of faith.And the difference is dramatic when we do that – anyone who has ever seen newborn kittens will know that they are born blind and only open their eyes at 8 days – Overnight their behaviour changes as they are no longer fumbling aimlessly and nervously but now purposefully seeking out new and exciting adventures.         God wants to open our eyes too – and if already open to clean the sleep out of them so that we may see more clearly. Jesus himself is the instrument of that and his whole earthly life bears witness to the values proclaimed in today’s readings: poverty, humility, reaching out to the stranger, and even subjecting himself to the death of a criminal on a rubbish heap outside the city walls.And we wonder how he was resurrected – well when you go that low the only way is up – when you humble yourself to the worst that humanity can throw at you there is no longer anything to fear. It is only when we refuse to let go of ourselves completely that we are vulnerable to the hurts of others but when we let go of everything and fall into God then we are beyond the reach of their torment.There is a basic wisdom in Jesus words – ‘when you are invited go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, “Friend, move up higher”….and ‘be honoured in the presence of all who sit at the table with you” – So often out of our own sense of self importance we want to sit at the higher seats but in those seats is not just privilege but also responsibility which we are not ready for….. Our God knows our limits and our abilities and he will use them to the full if we let him but we need to leave that initiative with God. It is almost as if we are called to forget ou[...]

Sermon for Sunday 25th August 2013 - Rescuing the Sabbath


Humanity lets God down on a daily basis but perhaps the greatest disservice we do God is that we underestimate God!For all our talk about God’s power and might, wisdom, strength, knowledge and so on we continually fail to understand perhaps the most important characteristic of God in his relationship with humanity and that is MERCY. Our relationship with God is defined by God’s initiative of mercy.There is nothing we should be afraid to ask God for – God has infinite patience, sympathy and mercy when it comes to hearing us – it is not limited as we seem to think.And yet we behave as if it was – The Gospel for today is a perfect illustration when Jesus is called to account for healing on the Sabbath, the day of rest, when no work should take place. The leaders of the synagogue clearly believe that God’s merciful interaction with humanity is limited to six days a week and for that they are mocked and rightly rebuked by Jesus who skillfully points out that they untie their ox or donkey and give it water on the Sabbath and yet are not prepared to see this woman loosened from the chains of her illness. Jesus demonstrates spectacularly that they have completely missed the point not only of the Law but of the Sabbath.The law is there to protect the Sabbath for the sake of the people who need the rest of the Sabbath to refresh their bodies and restore their souls but it is not there to perpetuate the enslavement of those who suffer. As we hear in St. Mark’s Gospel, the Sabbath is for humanity, not humanity for the Sabbath.The law of the Sabbath is about how a merciful God provides the necessary rest and refreshment for his people.Unless you are an Orthodox Jew, the Sabbath means very little to us today in Ireland. Growing up we all remember how Sunday was a day that was completely focused on Church. Many people went twice a day and to Sunday school as well and no non-essential work was even contemplated. It was a family time and a day to take a step back from the busyness of the week. It was often enforced quite strictly and no doubt some people resented that and felt trapped by it but for others it was a blessed relief.Today things are very different in our 24/7 world where shops are open every day and of course with the internet and mobile communications work is never further away than the next call, text or email.When anybody in a position of leadership in our Churches says anything about this non-stop activity of modern lives they are usually mocked or ridiculed and told to mind their own business.  Perhaps they are perceived to be trying to control people – a people who have broken away from the chains of the old institutional church and found a new freedom which by definition must be the opposite of that which they have left behind.But, and I hesitate to use this cliché but I think no other fits, have we thrown out the baby with the bathwater? In dumping the Sabbath have we lost something fundamental and valuable, not only to people of faith but to all humanity?Is all this constant and at times frenetic activity good for us? It is good news for gastric surgeons who deal with a greater number of stress related ulsers than ever before. It is good news for relationship counsellors and solicitors who deal with the increasing numbers of relationship breakdowns due to exhaustion and working schedules that mean couples and their children become strangers to each other. It is good news too to some in the self-help industry that seek to help us squeeze every last [...]

Be safe on eBay!


I sold an unwanted upgrade iphone 5 yesterday on eBay but got suspicious when buyer who had a Texas PayPal account wanted it posted to Vietnam! I refused to do so after consulting with eBay who said I should only deliver to the US address. On mailing buyer via both his eBay email and his PayPal email (different addresses) he responded via eBay and opted for the Texas address. Sorted I thought! Then a very urgent email from another person  who claimed to be the owner of the PayPal account and that their account had been hacked. Thankfully I had not posted the phone and on contact with PayPal the fraud was confirmed. The paypal account had been hacked and the US address associated with it changed. I finally managed to reverse the payment this morning which was complicated by the fact I had already transferred it electronically to my regular bank account and that transaction also had to be reversed. I have just had an email from the fraud victim who has been notified that he will be refunded in next couple of days so all is well though it did cause me a lot of grief and time on the phone. I have to say that PayPal were as always excellent to deal with - I was the victim of a fraud myself on eBay a few years ago (this time purchasing an iphone) and they got my funds back and banned the seller. The experience confirms my personal policy of always using PayPal when using Ebay - It doesn't guarantee you won't be the victim of fraud but ultimately it will be sorted. [...]

The Abortion Debate – Reluctantly leaving the Middle Ground!


When the current abortion debate blew up in the wake of the Savita Halappanavar tragedy and the ABC case I wrote to the Irish Times Letters page (Published Nov 22nd 2012) arguing for the ‘Middle Ground’ to makes its voice heard so that we could progress beyond the extreme polarity of the ‘Pro-Life’ & ‘Pro-Choice’ campaigns. I am not going to repeat all the points I made on that occasion but in essence I suggested that this is a complex issue which is ill-served by either ‘side’ demonizing the other. Sadly and despite the attempts of people far more qualified and influential than I the middle ground has not really been heard and we are if anything becoming daily more polarized on this issue. The debate around suicidality in particular has driven into a cul de sac and only addresses a tiny fraction of the issues around abortion.On a personal level I too (to my surprise and a certain amount of discomfort) have become more polarized and I wonder am I alone in this. Leading into the current debate my position would have been that abortion should only be available in cases of rape, unviable pregnancy and a threat to the health and/or life of the mother. My inclusion of the threat to health as well as life would it seems to me be justified in the light of the ambiguity over the transition from threat to health to threat to life in the Savita  Halappanavar case. I would not have been and am still not in favour of abortion on demand. I certainly do not want abortion to become an alternative form of contraception.  Equally I would hate to see abortion used as a means of genetic selection where pregnancies of Downs Syndrome or other Special Needs were routinely terminated. I say this as the parent of a child with Special Needs who has brought untold joy to my life and that of my wife.My views on abortion are not merely speculative in that in my ministry I have encountered the issues outlined above where I feel abortion should be available. Incidentally in my experience abortion has not always been and indeed was rarely the desired choice of the mother but it is my belief that that choice should be there.So what has changed? Where do I stand in the wake of the debate to date? Well in the absence of a middle ground I am forced to make a hard choice and I do so fully conscious of the potential for many of the things that I do not want to see happen become a reality.In my original letter to the Irish Times I regretted the at times casual regard for the life of the foetus by many in the ‘Pro-Choice’ camp and I went on to say that to minimize the reality of abortion as the termination of a life is to ‘undermine our own humanity’. However I find even more disturbing the approach of many in the ‘Pro-Life’ camp and I still stand over what I wrote in that earlier letter: ‘When it comes to the ‘Pro-life’ group the principal fault is ironically the failure to take seriously the life of the mother. Their pro-life stance is somewhat selective. The mother is portrayed as a vessel whose sole purpose is to support the life within her with no account for her own humanity, welfare and integrity. Her motivations in choosing abortion, no matter how traumatic or medically necessary, are ignored and her actions are described in terms of murder regardless of the circumstances. This is cruel and for want of a better word tantamount to misogyny.’There are times in ones life when a choice has to be made. Choice is [...]

The Minister and Mick


Alan Shatter TD and Minister for Justice is a solicitor with a proven track record, particularly in the area of family law. It is ironic then that such an able legal mind should have perhaps committed such a basic legal faux-pas that would threaten the future of his political career. It remains to be seen whether any offence will be deemed to have been committed but even to place himself in a situation where the question can be asked shows a lack of judgment on the part of the Minister. Surely a man of Shatter’s experience and standing would realize that the use of privileged information in a political context is exceedingly dangerous. I sympathize with his frustration in sharing a platform with Mick Wallace who to my mind belongs anywhere but in public office, but that was the will of the people in our democracy, which all politicians, Shatter included, are sworn to uphold.  The Minister should know better than to let himself be risen by such buffoonery.And yet Shatter’s response has been anything but conciliatory. His familiar arrogance has been to the fore as he has tried to bluster his way out of an exceedingly tight corner. I am quite certain that the Minister knows that he has at best pushed the boundaries of his office to a new limit and at worst may have committed an offence under data protection legislation. So why does he not simply apologize to Mick Wallace and the Irish people for overstepping the boundaries of his office? Surely one such as he who has devoted his professional life to the law, its formation and enforcement would not wish (no matter how arrogant he is) to stand over actions which if condoned would undermine the basis of our democracy. Surely even he would eat a little humble pie for the sake of the Law. I use capital letters for Law here intentionally because I do believe he would see it as one of the pillars of our society.So why not hold his hands up and ask for forgiveness? I think this is the nub of the matter. He knows that there will be no forgiveness. To admit to having, however inadvertently, broken the law is career suicide. That will be the end of Alan Shatter TD and Minister for Justice and it will be not only his loss but ours too for he has made a considerable contribution to Irish politics and law in his lifetime. It will indeed be a sad end if this does prove to be his nemesis.However as long as Shatter persists in defending the indefensible he will simultaneously diminish the democratic capital of this State. However provoked we cannot allow those with such weighty responsibility to abuse their privileged status for political point scoring. This is a dangerous precedent and one which must be stopped in its tracks! As it stands the best solution for the ongoing integrity of our democracy would be that the Minister would relinquish office.I wish it were other, but in an unforgiving society there is no alternative. I wish we lived in a society where people could admit to mistakes and failures and be allowed the opportunity to learn from them. I would much prefer to have Alan Shatter continue in office, having eaten the necessary humble pie, and through the whole experience grow in stature and integrity. But that will never be unless things change radically and we abandon the culture of spin and systems failure where nobody is ever responsible for anything or anyone. In the meantime in this imperfect world I hope the Minister does the righ[...]

Sermon for Sunday 5th May 2013


“Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them…..the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.”Jesus words to Judas are words addressed to all his disciples and indeed to us today. We are called not only to Love as we heard in last weeks Gospel but to the implications of that Love. Here it is spelt out for us in greater detail: “Those who love me will keep my word”….. It seems clear enough and yet through the centuries the Church has often misunderstood what that means.The word keep is a word open to misinterpretation – does keep his Word and God’s Word, for that is what Jesus says it is – does that mean observe it in everything that we do – follow its instruction and do as Jesus told us or does it mean to guard it, to keep it safe, to keep it to ourselves and not let anyone who isn’t in the Church have access to it?Most of us would probably say its about following God’s commands and wishes for us as we engage with the world but very often in practice it has meant the opposite. We are inclined to keep God and God’s Word to ourselves and not always intentionally. We do it sometimes by putting up accidental barriers to communication with the world we are called to serve. One of the greatest and worst barriers we construct is the one of language – we speak a language in church and in church circles that is quite different than the language we use in the rest of our lives. We throw around words like ‘Kingdom’ ‘Salvation’ ‘Redemption’ ‘Sin’ & ‘Judgement’ without either really understanding what we mean and certainly not explaining it to those outside the inner circle. It is a kind of jargon or shop-talk that is every bit as effective in keeping the stranger away as erecting a barbed wire fence around the perimeter of our buildings. We don’t do it intentionally but we do it unthinkingly and it is something that clergy and congregations are equally guilty of.There is often a demand to make the Gospel relevant – we don’t need to do that – The Gospel is already relevant – God has made it so but we as the vessels in which that Gospel is communicated must make it intelligible to the world in which we find ourselves.That is no easy task either because the Church is increasingly alien to its own environment. We live in a digital culture which for better or worse is driven by a demand for instant and universal communication and transparency – It is no longer the privileged few who control the flow of information in society – we are all broadcasters, or can be if we want to through the medium of social networks. We may be uncomfortable with them, we may actively dislike them but if we do not engage with them we may as well close the doors. What is happening today is every bit as revolutionary as the Printing Press and it was the Churches early adoption of printing that ensured the spread and growth of the Gospel. Keeping Gods Word today may actually mean entering into this new world of communication, collaboration and sharing. Like all new developments there is good and bad but it is the primary place where those who we seek to share the Word of God are ‘hanging out’ for want of a better word. For those of us not at all comfortable with this digital world there are alternatives – other ways in which we can break[...]