Michæl McFarland Campbell

Always telling the story

Archive for August, 2021

God wants friends not robots: He gives us the choice to stay or leave

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Some thoughts on the readings Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B).

God wants friends, not robots

Why do so “many disciples,” as St John puts it, decide to stop following our Lord after His explanation of the Eucharist as the “living bread,” while at the same time the Twelve stay with Him?

This question touches one of the great mysteries of our existence: human freedom.

Somehow, in the depths of the human heart, God leaves us free to accept or to reject the gift of faith. No one can manufacture faith in God, it is a gift that always begins with God, comes from God: “no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father.” But the choice to accept or to reject that gift, to follow Jesus or turn one’s back on Him, remains with each individual. “Do you also want to leave?” Jesus Christ is the Lord of life and history, but He refuses to impose His rule on hearts that want to stop accompanying Him, and return to their former way of life. God gives us the gift of life, but He leaves us free to adminster it as we wish, either in communion with Him, or not.

Try to imagine how Jesus spoke the words,

Do you also want to leave?

St John 6:67

Try to picture His expression as He looked into the faces of His chosen Twelve. He cared deeply about them. He had handpicked them to be His closest companions. He had opened up His heart to them, and now, as other followers said “no thanks,” giving up on Him, He looked to the Twelve with a tinge of sadness, perhaps apprehension. Would they abandon Him too?

How near God draws to us in Jesus Christ! He humbles himself, makes Himself weak, almost powerless in the face of our freedom. He does not want mindless robots or heartless slaves: he wants friends, for ever.

Wisdom from the artists

Our Lady of Walsingham

Through the ages, this basic and fundamental fact of Christianity has come across exceptionally well in art. In every period of Church history, Jesus is most frequently protrayed in one of two ways.

First, as a little baby in the arms of His Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary. This isn’t just an artistic symbol: this really is how God came into the world, as a helpless little baby. But what a strange way to depict the all-powerful Creator of the universe! And yet, from the perspective of our Christian faith, it makes perfect sense. God does not want to intimidate us into following Him. He wants to win over our friendship. So He doesn’t show up amid fire and thunder. No, He smiles at us with the irresistable charm of a child.

In pre-Christian times, pagan temples were designed to give exactly the opposite impression. To get to the central place of worship, you had to make your way through a series of antechambers, each one darker and more foreboding than the one before. By the time you reach the actual altar, where a huge statue looked down at you out of the flickering shadows, you were breathless, tense, fearful, and thoroughly intimidated. Paganism had no concept of the true God, the God who wants friends, not robots.

The second way that Christian artists have most often depicted Christ is on the Cross. There, as He suffers and dies, we see not the weakness of a wimpy divinity (after all, we know He rises from the dead), but the unconquerable mercy of the God who wanted to prove beyond any doubt that His love for us truly is personal, determined, and forgiving. This is a God who really cares about us, and cares about how we respond to His invitations.

As Pope Benedict XVI said in a Christmas homily:

Every man and every woman needs to find a deep meaning for their existence. And for this, books are not enough, not even Sacred Scripture. The Child of Bethlehem reveals and communicates to us the true ‘face’ of the good and faithful God, who loves us and who does not abandon us even in death.

Respecting others as God respects us

A mature faith is, among other things, a conscious faith. Jesus does not want us to remain spiritaul infants for our whole life. Rather, He wants us to follow Him in freedom and in love, fully aware of what we are doing. When He allows trials and tests to come away, it gives us a chance to deepen that awareness, to exercise our freedom and our love. And when we exercise them, we strengthen them. God wants mature followers, not robots, zombies, or fanatics.

If God treats us with so much respect, we ought to treat others in a like manner.

During the Last Supper, Jesus commanded His Apostles to

love one another as I have loved you.

St John 15:12

Imitating Christ’s love involves being ready to sacrifice our own likes and comforts for the sake of others, as Jesus sacrificed His on the Cross for our sake.

But, it also means treating others with this deep sense of respect. When we lose our patience with the people we work with or live with, we end up failing to respect them as God has respected us. After all, when has the Lord lost his patience with us? When we try to manipulate people, tricking them, flattering them, or forcing them into giving us what we want, we end up violating their dignity as human beings. When has God forced us to do the right thing?

God knows that, in the end, only if our faith matures and deepens, if it becomes truly conscious, will we be able to weather the storms of life, and triumph over the temptations of life.

Today, as Christ comes to us once again in the Eucharist, proving His desire for our friendship and happiness, let us take His hand and promise to follow wherever He leads, knowing with absolute certaintly that He can never lead us astray.


1 Kings 8: 22–30, 41-43; Psalm 84; Ephesians 6: 10-20; St John 6: 56-69.

Written by Michæl McFarland Campbell

August 22nd, 2021 at 11:06 am

The gift of faith through the Eucharist

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Some reflections on the readings for the Eucharist for the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B): 1 Kings 19:4–8; Psalm 34:2-9; Ephesians 4:30–5:2; St John 5:41–51.

The Eucharist nourishes eternal life

Our Lord Jesus Christ packs three momentous lessons into this discoures on the Eucharist in today’s Gospel reading.

Firstly, He points out the mystery of faith, that no one can believe in Him, “unless he is drawn by the Father.” Faith in Jesus Christ supplies us with life’s only dependable fuel and yet, faith in Christ is God’s gift. No one can conjure it up on their own, in a chemistry lab. When we look at the bread, no scientific test can prove that Jesus Christ is truly present there, body and blood, soul and divinity. Yet, we know that He is: we have been given the gift of faith.

Secondly, this fatih in Christ leads to eternal life. Later in the Gospel, Jesus tells us that eternal ife consists in knowing “the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom [God has] sent” (St John 17:3). In Biblical language, “knowing” implies deep interpersonal intimacy, the kind of relationship for which we all yearn. That we can have a relationship with God Himself, who is more lovable, more beautiful than any other person can be, is the Good News of Jesus Christ. God has not kept his distance from us sinner; he wants us to know Him and share His life.

Thirdly, Jesus himself is the “bread” of this eternal ife, its source and sustenance. Without bread, without food, physical life perishes. Without Jesus, without his “flesh for the life of the world” in the Eucharist, our life of intimate communion with God will perish. It is that simple — and it is that crucial.

Eleven times in this passage, Jesus speaks of Himself as the bread of life; He is really hoping that we will get the message.

The gift of faith gives us access to eternal life, and the Eucharist makes that life grow within us.

Living on the Eucharist

We accept and believe this on faith, but it is not a blind faith. God supports our faith in many ways. He knows that the culture of this world is constantly trying to erode our faith. So, in His wisdom and according to His providence, He sends us miracles, sometimes dramatic miracles, to give our tired faith a turbo boost.

The history of the Church is full of Eucharistic miracles. Recorded miracles include hosts that have survived fires, hosts that started to bleed during Mass, hosts that lost their appearance of bread and transformed into flesh…

But some of the most remarkable signs that God has given us regarding the Eucharist has to do with Holy Communion. Through the centuries, there have been many saints, both men and women, who have lived for entire periods of their lives simply on the Eucharist.

Among these are St Catherine of Siena and Blessed Alexandrina da Costa, from Portugal. But one of the most amazing cases was St Nicholas of Flue, who living in Switzerland during the 1400s, lived as a hermit and for 19 years during that time, he ate or drank absolutely nothing except daily Communion. Even when he tried to eat normal food, he simply coud not keep it down.

Our Lord Himself explained to Blessed Alexandrina why He gives this grace to His some of His saints:

You are living by the Eucharist alone, because I want to prove to the world the powre of the Eucharist and the power of my life in souls.

Christ is the fullness of life and meaning that we all hunger for, and the Eucharist is Christ’s real presence. This is what our faith teaches us.

As Pope Benedict XVI put it:

In the sacrament of the altar, the Lord meets us, men and women created in God’s image and likeness, and becomes our companion along the way. In this sacrament, the Lord truly becomes food for us, to satisfy our hunger and freedom. Since only the truth can make us free, Christ becomes for us the food of truth.

Benedict XVI, Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis, #2.

Activating our faith

Faith is connected to the Eucharist because it reveals Christ’s presence to us, but it is also connected in another way. Physical food nourishes our bodies simply by the act of eating. Our digestive processes take over as soon as we swallow our food. We do not have to think about it; our attidtude does not help or hinder it.

It is not so with the spiritual food of the Eucharist. If we receive the Eucharist out of routine, in a distracted frame of mind, we will not receive all the graces that God wants to give us. But if, on the other hand, we receive the Eucharist with the right dispositions, God’s grace will have more room to act, strengthening our souls and making our spirits grow.

Faith, a lively profound, and solid faith, is part of this right disposition. As we pray before the Eucharist, or as we come foreward to receive Holy Communion, we should activate our faith, consciously stir it up. We should focus our attention as completely as possible on Jesus Christ, the living bread who has come down from heaven to be our spiritual food. Immediately after receiving Holy Communion, we should enter into a conversation with Him in our hearts. This is why the Church invites us to have some time of silence after Communion, so that we can activate our faith and spiritualy digest the living bread.

If this is hard, there is no need to be afraid. Remember, it is the Father who draws us to His Son; it is God who gives us the gift of faith. So, if we need a boost of faith, al we have to do is ask for it, saying, humbly and confidently,

Lord, increase my faith, so that your grace can bear more fruit in my life.

Written by Michæl McFarland Campbell

August 8th, 2021 at 7:56 pm

Self care on dialysis: a journey to control

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By days, weeks, months, and years, kidney dialysis patients learn to live with their thrice-weekly life-saving dialysis treatment. The alternative of not having treatment at all is much worse. Most of us still want to live; so, in order that we might continue to do so, we travel from our home to our dialysis unit three times each week and sit in our chair or bed for anything from 3½ to 4½ hours at a time, so that the dialysis machine can do its work and clean our blood as a replacement for our failed kidneys.

As kidney patients, we have little control in our treatment. We are usually told where we will go for dialysis, what time to be there, and what time we will finish. We are reminded about what we can—and usually what we cannot—eat, and how much we are allowed to drink each day. For me, that is one litre of fluid in the day as I am basically anuric. One litre of fluid is quite quick to mount up if you don’t take a note of what you have drunk, as you drink it.

Historically, I have never been one for knowing my weight on a weekly, let alone daily, basis. That has changed with the renal failure. On arrival to the dialysis unit, the first thing we all do is to go and get ourselve weighed. This allows the nurses to calculate how much fluid we need to remove to return us to our “dry weight”. When this is done, the amount in millilitres is entered into the machine, and off we go.

For most dialyis patients, they come in and everything is done by the nursing staff in the dialysis unit they attend. For most people, this seems to be what they want to happen. There is little patient control on what happens. But there is an alternative. It is possible to take some responsibility for your own dialysis; to take part in some of the procedures that are needed to ensure that dialysis functions well.


When I was a patient in the Midland Regional Hospital at Tullamore, I was fortune to be offered this option. I was educated in how to prepare the dialysis machine, how to set up the trolley in advance of dialysis, how to cannulate myself (put the needles in), and how to take them out at the end. These are big steps that I am sure must seem very scary to patient swho are not used to doing them, and who are used to letting the nurses do all of this.

Doing these parts of the process gave me some control over my dialysis. For me, it is important to take ownership of the treatment. It is not something done to me; it is something in which I take an active part.

For a while, once I was on the twilight shift at Tullamore, I did revert to letting the nurses do most of the process, as it meant that I was in and out in as short a time as possible. But then, in the spring of this year, I changed dialysis uni to the B Braun Wellstone Midlands Renal Care Centre in Port Laoise. I visited one week to see what it was like, and then the next week, my care was switched there. One of the main reasons that I moved was that there is a self-care room built into the unit. I am not using it yet, because it is currently in use as the isolation room for COVID-19, but the plan is that when COVID-19 is over, I will be able to do so.

Typical dialysis day

So, I now have more control over my own dialysis. A typical dialysis day for me sees the following happen on arrival to the unit:

  1. On arrival, my temperature is taken, and I take a note of it;
  2. I weigh myself, and record that in my notebook;
  3. I calculate how much fluid we’re going to take off by subtracting my dry weight from the weight recorded, and adding the Washback. Then I record that in my notebook too:
  4. I then check that I have all that I need to cannulate and to come off dialysis:
    • An on/off pack;
    • 3 syringes of saline;
    • 2 buttonhole needles;
    • 1 single-use tourniquet;
    • 1 pair of tweezers;
    • 2 plasters;
    • tape for holding the needles in place;
    • disinfection fluid; and
    • any medication needed.
  5. Once I have confirmed that I hae all I need, I wash my hands, and start to prepare the trolley.
    • I open the on/off pack, and lay the “on” pack on the trolley setting the “off” pack to one side for later;
    • I open the “on” pack, and place the sheets of gauze in the top left-hand corner of the sheet, and place the sheet for under my arm on the pillow on my chair;
    • I open the buttonhole needle packs, and allow the needle to drop onto the sheet, then do the same with the saline syringes; and then I put the saline into the needles, and lay the tips of the needles on the gauze;
    • Then I put the tweezers on the gauze, and pour some disinfectant liquid over them, and onto the gauze;
  6. I go back and wash my hands again, and wash the fistula, drying both with paper towels, and then get into my chair.


Cannulation follows with taking off the scabs from the fistula access points, then putting the needles into my arm, and securing them in place with the tape. When that is done, it is time to connect the dialysis machine to my arm via the needles.

I ensure that both needles are clamped, before then clamping the arterial line, taking it off the machine and connecting it to my needle, followed by the same for the venous line. Then it is time to ensure that the machine is set with the right amount of fluid to come off, in the right time. Then, when I am sure that all is set , I start the machine.

Medication and records

An example of the records table in my notebook for dialysis.

As a self-care patient, I have the responsibilty to put in the medication that is needed while I am receiving the treatment. Therefore, I have the anti-coagulation medication ready to put in when alerted to do so by the machine, just after starting the treatment. Later on in the session, there may be Aranesp, Venofer, or Zemplar as required. After putting any medication in, I always record that I have done so, and when, in my notebook. I also enter an hourly record of vital stats including: time; blood pressure; heart rate; blood flow rate; arterial pressure; venous pressure; UF rate; UF volume; and whether the machine is in HDF or HD mode. At the end of dialysis, the nurses photocopy the relevant page and put that in my notes. Historically, all of these vital stats would have been recorded by the machine, but since the cyber attack on the HSE, the dialysis machines have not been connected to the internet, so nothing is recorded that way. My notebook is my way of recording it all.

Responsibility and control

It is a simple thing, but taking some repsonsibility for my own dialysis has given me some control back on how the kidney failure is looked after. Before I started do this, I was quite an angry patient. I was very frustrated with some of the nursing staff. But now, I am much calmer, and I look forward to coming into my dialysis sessions as I have things to do.

It is not just in the dialysis unit that I have some control: I also get myself into the unit by using public transport. The sheer exhilaration of walking up from the station to the unit has really helped my mood. Of course, I know that not every dialysis patient is fortunate to be able to travel in this way, but maybe they could have a think about it.

Taking responsibility for my own care has turned the dialysis session from something that used to be a chore into something I enjoy.

Self-care or shared care?

I understand that total self-care is not for everyone. But shared care can be. I urge all dialysis patients that are fit and able to do some of the preparation to do that. Maybe it is simply weighing themselves when they arrive; maybe it is preparing the trolley before cannulation; maybe it is setting the amount of fluid to take off on the machine; maybe it is starting the blood pressure pump. Whatever part of the process that individual dialysis patients can take responsibility for, will give them some control over the whole process. I know from my experience that that can only do good. If you are a dialysis patient, why not talk to you dialysis nurse about having a go at some of this yourself?

Written by Michæl McFarland Campbell

August 3rd, 2021 at 2:22 pm

Learn like Scrooge and St Thomas Becket

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Some thoughts based on the Readings for the Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B): Exodus 16:2–4, 12–15; Psalm 78:3–4, 23–25, 54; Ephesians 4:17, 20–24; St John 6:24–35.

Christians work for a life, not just for a living.

Last Sunday we read that Jesus peformed the multiplication of the loaves, and heard that all the people who witnessed the amazing miracled wanted to make Jesus king.

Making Jesus king was the same thing as asking Him to lead them in a revolution against the Roman Empire. The Israelites at that period did not have their own kingdom. They were an occupied territory, ruled by a Roman delegate, who gave them only very limited powers of self-determination. The massive crowd of would-be revolutionaries was so convinced that Jesus was the perfect revolutionary leader that they followed Him across the Sea of Galilee, after He snuck away in the middle of the night. They finally caught up with Him, gathered around Him, and acclaimed hime once more. He is surrounded by this huge, adoring crowd of people willing to follow Him if only He will agree to be their king, to bring them political freedom and prosperity.

But, Jesus did not come to earth in order to spark a political revolution. No. He had a much bigger agenda, and so do His followers. He tries to explain this to them. He says:

Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life,

St John 6:27

True Christians, in other words, understand that real fulfilment comes from more than just making a living; it comes from making a life.

Many of Our Lord’s most famous sayings taught the same lesson:

Blessed are the poor in spirit

St Matthew 5:4

seek first the Kingdom of God

St Matthew 6:33

What does a man gain if he wins the whole world but loses his soul?

St Matthew 16:26

Our life on earth is preparation for something greater: our citizenship is in heaven, and here on earth, as the Letter to the Hebrews puts it, “We have no lasting city” (Hebrews 13:14).

Scrooge and St Thomas Becket

Scrooge learned this lesson in the nick of time. We all remember Ebenezer Scrooge, the famous protagonist of Charles Dickens’s masterpiece, A Christmas Carol. Scrooge had a very clear goal in life: making money. As the richest man in the city, he achieved that goal. He made a very good living, but he had a miserable life. The human heart is made for greater things than wealth, prosperity, and pleasure. It is made to love God and love one’s neighbour, and that is where true, everlasting happiness comes from. As soon as Scrooge started to put his wealth at the service of Christian love, he remembered how to smile.

Scrooge is a fictional character, but the history of the Church boasts of a few saints who truly made that same discovery.

One of them is St Thomas Becket. He lived in England in the twelfth century. He was best friends with Henry II of England. Both of them were selfish, self-indulgent, and power hungry. They drank together, they debauched together, and they plotted together. Then King Henry got the ida of appointing his friend Thomas Becket to be the Archbishop of Canterbury. Henry thought that haaving his best friend occupy the highest Church posititon in the land would give him a chance to control the Church and squeeze money out of it.

But, when Thomas Becket was ordained, God’s grace touched his heart, and he began to see the folly of living just for earthly goals. He sold his considerable property and gave the money to the poor, he stopped his loose living, and he dedicated himself to serving Christ and the Church with all his energy and talent. The King was not pleased, and ended up having his former best friend murdered during Mass in the Cathedral.

Thomas Becket traded in temporary earthly glory for a martyr’s eternal crown — you can be sure that he has no regrets.

Getting a handle on entertainment

It is certainly no sin to desire and to work for happiness here on earth, as long as we have the right expectations.

Jesus is very clear in telling us that the complete fulfilment and permanent satisfaction that our hearts long for will never be found here on earth.

All the pains and pleasures of this world, all the accomplishments and achievements that look good on a university application, or on a CV — these are passing things.

We were made for greater things, for eternal life with God in heaven.

All people desire to leave a lasting mark. But what endures? Money does not. Even buildings do not, nor books. After a certain time, longer or shorter, all these thing disappear. The only thing that lasts for ever is the human soul, the human person created by God for eternity.

Joseph, Cardinal Ratzinger, shortly before his election as Pope Benedict XVI

It is a healthy thing for us to ask ourselves where we are looking for our true happiness: from the satisfactions of this world, or from our everlasting friendship with Jesus Christ?

One thermometer for this aspect of our spiritual lives is our use of entertainment.

People banking on perfect happiness in this passwing world often give top priority to entertainment. They tend to live from the weekend, to live for the holidays. They tend to spend all their free time indulging in their favourite hobby. They tend to become easily upset if something prevents them from watching the game, or seeing their favourite television programme.

But, people who are truly working for “food that endures” are more balanced in their use of entertainment. They more easily recognise that the purpose of entertainment is to help us to relax, and re-create, restoring our energies so that we can keep on striving to fulfil our life mission. They do not live for the weekends, they use the weekends to help them live life more fully.

As Jesus renews His commitment to us in the Eucharist, let us ask Him to help us to renew our commitment to Him, so that while we continue working for a living this coming week, we do not lose sight of what it is really all about.

Written by Michæl McFarland Campbell

August 1st, 2021 at 4:16 pm