Michæl McFarland Campbell

Always telling the story

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Which victory are we celebrating?

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Thoughts on Palm Sunday 2024

Today, many Christians hold palm branches in their hands. In the ancient world, palm branches were the symbol of victory. For the Israelites in the Old Testament, this tree’s elegance, strength, and simplicity became a symbol of the just man or woman, the one in whom God’s law triumphed. It also symbolised victory for the Romans. Palm trees were not native to Italy. When the Romans started conquering other nations in the Mediterranean, the generals brought palm trees back to Rome as souvenirs of their victories.

The crowds waving palm branches as Jesus entered Jerusalem were declaring his victory.

Today, we echo them, we join them, and we declare and celebrate Christ’s victory. But what victory is it? How did Christ win it?

It is the victory over original sin. Original sin was mankind’s disobedience to God and obedience to the devil. It shattered God’s plan, it let loose the scourge of evil, and it gave the devil a certain power over earthly society.

Jesus, through his passion, death, and resurrection, reversed the disobedience of original sin by obeying his Father’s will in spite of all the devil’s attempts to thwart him.

Judas’s betrayal, the apostles’ abandonment, the false accusations, the condemnation, the humiliation, the scourging, the crowning with thorns, and the torture of the crucifixion, all of these were the devil’s attempts to get Jesus to say “no” to his Father just as Adam and Eve had said “no” back in the Garden of Eden.

But Jesus defeated the devil. He continued to love, to forgive, and to obey through it all. And so he, unlike Adam, unlike every other person in history, can say, “I have not rebelled.”

His obedience establishes a beachhead in this world that is under the devil’s sway: Jesus’s Passion is D-Day for the devil, and liberation for us. This is the victory we celebrate.

Written by Michæl McFarland Campbell

March 24th, 2024 at 8:30 am

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The Phœnix, the altar frontals, and the Protestant nuns

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It is often said that the truth is stranger than fiction. On Tuesday, Rachel Phelan A-ICRI, the lecturer at the first of the “Of the Cloth” lectures at Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, brought together three unlikely strands that told the story of two altar frontals.

For those who don’t know, an altar frontal is a cloth that covers (at least) the top and front of an altar or Communion Table, particularly in Roman Catholic and Anglican traditions. Often made of silk damask of the liturgical colours, they may also have Christian symbols embroidered upon them.

The story begins

Rachel’s story began with her being asked to conserve one such altar frontal in Kilternan Church of Ireland in south County Dublin. The frontal in question is somewhat of an oddity in that it is in quite a rich blue. Blue is not one of the more normal liturgical colours (white or gold, red, green, violet or purple, rose, and black). Not only is the frontal blue, but it has lots of fleurs-de-lys embroidered upon it. When Rachel saw the frontal, it was very threadbare after constant usage.

Information from the parish

She didn’t know who had made the frontal, but a parish member came forward with the information that a Mr Myerscough had commissioned it with his winnings from the 1943 Irish Derby. It was stated that he had also commissioned another frontal for St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin. The latter piece of information surprised Rachel as she had worked on conserving the frontals in the National Cathedral, and she had no recollection of such a piece. However, she did recall something from the back of a cupboard in the diocesan Christ Church Cathedral.

The frontal in Kilternan had a maker’s label on it,

St John’s School of Embroidery,
Sandymount, Dublin

Where was this school of embroidery? Who ran it? Rachel contacted St John’s Church in Sandymount. It became apparent that the St John’s School of Embroidery was run by the Community of St John the Evangelist (CSJE), founded in Sandymount in 1912 by the Reverend Sheridan Fletcher Le Fanu. The first nuns, including Sister Edith Mary Whiteman, came from St Mary’s Wantage. The members of CSJE were referred to as the Protestant nuns.

On arrival in Dublin, the nuns did not know how to sew. But they took lessons from a Dublin seamstress, and having seen the work on the frontal in Kilternan church, Rachel confirmed that their work in 1943 was excellent.

Rachel contacted Christ Church Cathedral and discovered a green frontal for the high altar, which dates from 1943 and has similar flowers, though it is different from that in Kilternan.

Other examples of altar frontals worked on by the St John’s School of Embroidery include that on the high altar in St Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick.

Photo of the high altar in St Mary's Cathedral Limerick with a Celtic design upon it.

More about the CSJE

By the 1960s, the work of the CSJE changed as they moved from their original home to that of the Community of St Mary the Virgin, another Irish Anglican religious order for women, where they took over looking after the nursing home there. St Mary’s home was relocated to St John’s House on Merrion Road in November 2019, when only one member of the CSJE left. Sister Verity Ann Clarendon CSJE said at the time of the final service in St Mary’s Chapel,

I’m the only one left.

She added that the demise of the Community was a great loss. With its demise the expression of the religious life within the Church of Ireland more or less came to an end. It is not quite at an end with there being members of the First Order and Third Order of the Society of St Francis, as well as the fledgling Community of St Benedict.

And The Phœnix?

Now, I’ve not quite explained everything have I? Where does The Phœnix come in? That was the name of the horse that won the 1943 Irish Derby owned by Mr Myerscough. Without the winnings from that race, the two altar frontals would not have been commissioned by him, and we would not have had the lecture on Tuesday.

Of the Cloth: a series of four lectures

Tuesday’s talk was the first of the “Of the Cloth” series of lectures organised by Christ Church Cathedral Dublin for the Tuesdays during February 2024. The second lecture will be by Dom Colmán Ó Clabaigh of Glenstal Abbey on Medieval ecclesiastical and liturgical vesture. The third lecture will be by the Very Reverend Niall Sloane, Dean of Limerick, entitled “Robing the righteous: From ruffs, rochets, and caps to frockcoats, cassocks, and gaiters”. The fourth lecture is by The Venerable Peter Thompson FBS, Archdeaon of Armagh, entitled “Dressing by degrees: the convergence of ecclesiastical vesture and academic dress”. The four lectures are at 13:10 in the Chapter House of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin on the Tuesdays of February 2024. Find out more.

God fulfils his promises

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Reflections on Readings for the First Sunday of Advent (Year B). Isaiah 64:1–9; | Psalms 80:1–8, 18–2; | First Corinthians 1:3-9; | Mark 13:24–37;

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God knows the limitations of our human nature very well — after all, he created it. We can only focus our attention — really focus it — on one or two things at a time. We cannot keep everything in mind all at once. On the other hand, we cannot focus our attention on the same thing all the time either. Variety is what we need, otherwise we become depressed.

It is these limitations of our human nature that caused God to inspire the Church to divide the year into different liturgical seasons. The mystery of our salvation includes the whole Bible, the whole life of Christ, and the whole history of the Church. But we cannot possibly keep all of those things in mind all the time.

So we focus on different aspects of them at different times of the year (which has the added benefit of giving variety to our spiritual lives):

  • in Lent we focus on the reality of sin and mercy and the need for repentance;
  • during Easter we focus on the power of God and the Resurrection;
  • during Ordinary Time we focus on the everyday life and teachings of Christ and the wisdom they impart for our everyday lives;
  • and now, during Advent, we focus on God’s faithfulness.

St Paul puts it briefly in today’s Epistle Reading: “God is faithful.”

God did not abandon the human race after original sin. He promised to send a Saviour, and he fulfilled his promise on the very first Christmas.

And God has also promised that this Saviour, Jesus Christ, will come again to bring our earthly exile to its completion, just as in Old Testament times, God brought his Chosen People out of their exile in Babylon, as today’s Old Testament Reading reminded us.

God is faithful; he will fulfil his promises – that’s one of the key themes for Advent.

Multiple symbols in the Advent wreath

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Perhaps the most familiar and universal symbol of this beautiful truth is the Advent wreath with its four candles, which Christians have used for over 1000 years.

The wreath’s circular shape gives it no beginning or end — perfectly symbolizing the eternity of God and His love; and the everlasting life Christ wants to give to each of us. Traditional wreaths include evergreen trees reminding us that Christ’s love remains fresh and strong even in the most difficult moments of life. He never abandons us. Many wreaths contain laurel and holly branches. The laurel branch is an ancient symbol of victory, reminding us that on the first Christmas Christ came to bring victory over sin and the Devil. The holly branches are bordered with prickly edges, reminding us of Christ’s Crown of Thorns, and the suffering by which He won His victory over sin and evil.

Christ has promised us all of this, and he wants us to rejoice in these promises, confident that since he is faithful, he can and will fulfil them.

Cleaning out the corners

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In today’s Old Testament Reading, Isaiah says,

Lord, you are our Father.

Isaiah 64:8

By reminding us today that God always fulfils his promises, the Church wants to put that same prayer in our hearts.

God is our Father. He is always looking after us, protecting us, and loving us. Unlike our earthly fathers, God’s fatherly love has no limits, no imperfections, and no blind spots. Advent is meant to be a time when we renew our awareness of the perfect Fatherhood of God in our lives, letting His love for us renew our spirits.

The best way to do that is to spend more time with God in prayer during this Advent season. But that will be impossible unless something else happens first. Prayer is a funny thing. Even though we usually do not see God with our physical eyes or hear Him with our physical ears, when we turn our attention to Him, He is really present, and we know it. As we become aware of His presence, we also, almost automatically, become aware of our own sinfulness because God is truth, and His light shines into all the hidden corners of our hearts. If in those corners, we have been hiding some sins which we have not repented of, or some sinful habit we are harbouring, as soon as we try to pray sincerely, they come into view and distract us.

Therefore, if we want to spend more time in prayer this Advent, filling our hearts with the Father’s goodness and wisdom, the first thing we need to do is to clean those dark corners of our lives by confessing our sins to God.

Today, as we begin this sacred season, let us promise that we will let Him clean up our dark corners, so that we can enjoy His presence as we prepare for the great commemoration of Christmas Day.

Written by Michæl McFarland Campbell

December 3rd, 2023 at 8:30 am

Confidence in God leads to interior peace

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Reflection on readings for the 31st Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year A), Sunday 5 November 2023. Malachi 1:14–2:2, 8-10; | Psalms 131:1, 2, 3; | First Thessalonians 2:7-9, 13; | Matthew 23:1-12.

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God Himself is the source of all grace, all light, and all hope. If we look anywhere else for stability in our lives, sooner or later, we will be deeply disappointed. This is the point Malachi makes in the First Reading.

He is trying to get selfish, corrupt priests to get back to basics. He wants them to stop fighting among themselves, creating their own little cliques of self-absorbed followers. He reminds us:

“Have we not the one father? Has not the one God created us?”

In today’s Gospel, Jesus tries to tell us the same thing. He explains to His followers that the scribes and Pharisees have lost touch with the source and purpose of their service to the people of God. They have become conceited and self-centred, thinking their wisdom comes from themselves. But God is the source of all wisdom, goodness, and grace. He is the Father of us all, the rabbis and priests are simply His messengers, not His managers.

Even St Paul expresses his joy because the Thessalonians recognised the message he brought them as being from God, not from him. It is easy for us to forget this most important truth. It is easy for us to start to expect fulfilment, happiness, and meaning to come from our achievements, our relationships, our reputations, or any number of other transient things. But true, lasting meaning and happiness can only come from God.

As we accept and absorb that truth, we will begin to experience spiritual stability in our lives, an interior peace that nothing can disturb, just like the peace described in today’s Psalm: “In you Lord,” the Psalmist writes as he describes his soul as being like a little child in his mother’s arms, “In you, Lord, I have found my peace.”

Wisdom from an old farmer

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This interior peace, which comes only from knowing that we are loved and treasured by God that our lives have true meaning through our friendship with him, gives us inner strength and stability. A minister from a Midwest farming community tells a story of an encounter he had after Sunday worship one time.

The subject of his sermon had been the Gospel passage where Jesus invites us all to “come to be, you who labour and are heavy-burdened, and I will give you rest; take my yoke upon you… for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28–30). After the service, while speaking to the congregation at the door, a man came up and told him, about his boyhood days.

My grandfather used to plough with a team of oxen. He used a yoke, but it never balanced. So, he built it heavier on one side and then hitched the stronger ox there. The other side was lighter and he put a weak ox there because he could pull as much.

That is what God wants to do with us. That’s why He sent His son to be one of us and accompany us through life. We are not meant to plough the field of life all by ourselves. When we try to, we make little progress, we get frustrated, and maybe we even give up entirely when the crop of happiness and fulfilment we are hoping for never materialises. We were made to live in communion with God, to be dependent on Him. To find the interior peace and stability we long for so much, we have to accept Christ’s yoke, letting Him take the heavy part and carrying our part right by His side.

That is exactly what the Pharisees and scribes forgot. That is exactly what Jesus wants to make sure we never forget.

Checking up on our spiritual foundation

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This is the kind of interior peace and stability that God wants to give us. He wants us to have a sure anchor in our storms, and he wants us to be able to help others weather their storms too. We can ask ourselves, how deep does my spiritual foundation go? Can I really repeat the words of the Psalm with all my heart: “In you, Lord, I have found my peace.”? If not, some self-reflection may be in order.

If we do not build our lives on the foundation of God’s love for us, of His passionate interest in us, then we must be building on some other foundation. What is that foundation?

Perhaps it is the false foundation of our own achievements. We may think that interior peace and satisfaction will come once we reach a particular career milestone, get into a particular university, or make a certain amount of money.

Maybe it is the false foundation of pleasure. We are vulnerable to addictions of all kinds, to over-indulgence leading to unbalanced lives.

Or is it the false foundation of popularity? If we find ourselves disobeying our conscience and renouncing our friendship with Christ out of fear of what others will say or think about us, we will never experience the peace that only the Lord can give.

As we continue through this week, let’s ask the Holy Spirit to give us two things: first, the interior enlightenment to identify where our spiritual foundations really are; and second, the interior strength to start laying a new foundation, a true one, built on God’s wisdom, love, and grace, if we need to. And, if we don’t need a brand new one, the Holy Spirit will gladly help us make repairs on the one we have.

Written by Michæl McFarland Campbell

November 5th, 2023 at 11:59 am

Love for God and neighour cannot be separated

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Reflection on the Sunday readings for the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A), Sunday 29 October 2023. Exodus 22:20-26; | Psalms 18:2-3, 3-4, 47, 51; | First Thessalonians 1:5-10; | St Matthew 22:34-40.

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The ‘law and the prophets’ that Jesus refers to in today’s Gospel (the Old Testament) were considered by the Jews to contain the absolutely unique self-revelation of the one, true God to His only Chosen People. Possessing this revelation made ancient Israel more privileged than all other nations and peoples. Therefore, when the Pharisee (like all Pharisees, he was an expert in the ‘law and the prophets’) asks Jesus to identify the greatest among the 613 commandments of the Old Testament, he is really challenging Jesus to give an interpretation of the entire history and reality of the Israelite nation. We can imagine Jesus fixing His eyes on those of the questioner, wondering how sincere the question really was.

St Matthew does not tell us how the Pharisee reacted. However, we can imagine his surprise, if not downright shock. Although Jesus had been asked to name one commandment, he listed two. Shrewd Pharisees would have noticed this. In listing two commandments, Jesus pointed out that you cannot separate loving God from loving one’s neighbour. Yet, that is exactly what many Pharisees did daily.

God is our Creator and our Saviour. His Love is both universal and personal. He loves every single human so much that He gave Jesus’ life on the Cross to pay the price for each person’s sin, to open the gates of heaven to every single person who is willing to follow Him. Therefore, if we truly love God with all our heart, it would be a contradiction no treat our neighbours — those very people God loves and for whom Jesus suffered to save — with sincere and self-sacrificing respect. The old saying applies above all to God: A friend of yours is a friend of mine.

Rescuing the abandoned in ancient Rome

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In ancient Rome, Christians used to use Catacombs for their burial places. These Catacombs consist of miles of underground tunnels and chambers painstakingly carved out of the unique tufa soil on the city’s outskirts. Tufa is a mixture of normal topsoil and elements from volcanic ash and lava. As long as it is not exposed to the air, it shows no special characteristics except that it is remarkably soft and easy to dig. When you excavate into it, exposing it to the air, it gradually becomes almost as hard as rock. It was the perfect environment to create a vast network of underground cemeteries, chapels, and hiding places.

We can still visit these Catacombs today. When we do, we notice that in addition to the normal graves, there are thousands of little horizontal niches dug into the walls of the passageways. Two or three feet long, less than a foot high, two or three feet deep, these niches are much too small to serve as a burial place for a fully-grown body. Recently, archaeologists discovered what these niches were used for.

In ancient Rome, when Christianity was still a minority, outlawed religion, it was common practice for pagan women to abandon by exposure unwanted or crippled babies. There were special clearings outside the city used for just this purpose. As Christianity spread, Christian women started going out to these clearings to rescue the unwanted babies, convinced they were loved by God and created in His image. Some of the babes would die from exposure before or soon after being rescued. When that happened, the Christians would bury these babies in the little niches in the Catacombs.

In this way, at great cost and inconvenience to themselves, they actively lived out Christ’s commandment to love.

A secret weapon for Christ-like love

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In today’s world, aren’t we all very busy? Sometimes, we even feel much too busy to take the time to reach out to our neighbours in need. It is very possible, however, that at the end of our life, we will see things quite differently. But in the midst of our busy-ness, we can make an effort to love God by loving our neighbour, precisely in the way we interact with the people around us. A true follower of Jesus should always remember that people matter more than things. We should never be too busy for a kind word or a sincere smile.

Those of us who really are super-busy can also use a secret weapon that allows us to do more in less time, to fulfil both of Jesus’s two great commandments in one action. It doesn’t add anything at all to our to-do-list or calendar. It is so simple we might be tempted to shrug it off when I tell you — that would be a big mistake. What is this secret weapon? Praying for others.

When we pray for others we are exercising both loves at the same time: we show our love for God, by talking to Him and expressing confidence in His goodness and power; and we show our love for our neighbour by caring about them.

Each one of us should have a list of people for whom we pray regularly — family members, coworkers, orphans, politicians, Christians suffering persecution… We should keep our list somewhere we will have a chance to use it. Perhaps near the windscreen of our car, or the counter where we fold our laundry, perhaps near the sink where we wash the dishes… it is said that the Pope keeps his on his kneeler, where he does his morning and evening prayers.

Praying regularly and sincerely for others is the secret weapon for loving God and loving our neighbour. Let’s promise to use that weapon well this week.

Written by Michæl McFarland Campbell

October 29th, 2023 at 8:59 am

God is good, patient, and merciful…

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Reflection on the readings for the 27th Sunday in Ordinary time (Year A): Isaiah 5:1–7; Psalm 80:8–19; Philippians 4:6–9; Matthew 21:33–43

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Today, God reminds us that all good things in life have come from Him. Many people get angry at God and ask why He allows bad things to happen. Fewer people are humble and honest enough to ask themselves a much more important question:

Why do good things happen, why is there any good in the world at all, where did it come from?

We ought to think more about the answer to those questions.

The readings today paint the picture of a vineyard or a garden. Gardens are environments carefully created by gardeners in order to enable plants to be healthy and reach maturity, bearing abundant fruit.

God sees our souls as gardens of virtue. Just as God supplied the vineyard with air, sunlight, water, soil, the wall to protect it, and the tower to guard it, so He supplies each one of us with life, talents, opportunities, family, sacraments, knowledge, conscience, and the guidance of the Church. There is no good thing we an think of that does not owe its origin and existence to God.

One of the best things God gives us is His mercy, His patience.

Today’s readings how how many chances God gives His tenants to do the right thing, to fulfil their duties, to do what they were put there to do. When they do not do what is right, God sends three different messengers, including His own son. In justice, however, He did not need to send any. He could have evicted the selfish stewards right away. But God is patient with our sin and selfishness. He keeps giving us more and more chances, many more than we deserve. He never gives up on us, even though we occasionally give up on ourselves.

The boundless mercy of God is the best evidence of His immense goodness.

The anthropomorphic mistake

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One common characteristic of many natural religions that humans have developed throughout history is anthropomorphism. This is a fancy word for saying that without the help of God’s revelation, people tend to think that God (or the gods, if we’re talking about paganism or polytheism) is just like us, only bigger and stronger.

We are all familiar with stories from ancient Greece in which the false gods got into arguments, tried to trick each other, and committed adultery — it was as if they were just like humans, only immortal.

Christianity put an end to anthropomorphism — we now know that although humans are made in the image of God, God is not made in the image of man.

God is unlimited in his knowledge, goodness, wisdom, and power — He’s not just bigger and stronger than us; He is on a different level altogether.

And yet, our fallen human nature still has a tendency to think in terms of anthropomorphism. One such mistake we often make is thinking that God loses his patience with us, just as we lose patience with others (or ourselves).

We think that since we run out of mercy, giving mercy takes a huge effort for us; well then, it must be that way for God too. Not at all. God’s mercy is unlike a giant eye-dropper in heaven, reluctantly and jealously dispensing forgiveness and love in little bits, drip by drip. That is often how we do it. But God’s mercy is more like a waterfall, a rushing mountain spring, an ever-flowing fountain. The only thing that will make us die of thirst is our self-centred refusal to drink from this fountain — just like the stewards in today’s parable.

God’s mercy and goodness is always ready to come into our lives, always. We just have to open the door.

The path to surpassing peace

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The more deeply we know this truth and are convinced of it, the more joyful we can be. Joy is the emotion that comes from having or possessing a good thing. Most of the joys of this world are fragile and passing, because the good things of this world are fragile and passing. But God’s goodness, His selfless interest in and unconditional love for us, is never-changing, stable, constant, and eternal. The more we are aware of it and lay claim to it, the more joy we will experience and the more constantly we will experience it, coming gradually to discover what St Paul describes in today’s second reading as

the peace of God that surpasses all understanding.

Philippians 4:7

How can we deepen our knowledge and conviction of God’s limitless goodness?

St Paul says we must become people of prayer: offering to God all our worries; thanking Him for all our gifts; and contemplating all the good and noble things that God has done and with which He has surrounded us.

The society around us, our own selfishness, and the devil try to clog up our minds with complaints and problems, so that we lose sight of the bigger picture.

Only by consciously lifting up our hearts and minds to God, every day, throughout the day, do we gradually come to root our lives in the deep, rich soil of God’s goodness.

How is our prayer life? Does it consist merely of saying prayers? Does it include heart-to-heart conversations with Christ? Does it include time to reflect on God and His plans through reading the Bible and other spiritual books?

Today, as we renew our faith in God’s boundless goodness and mercy, let us also renew our commitment to being Christians worthy of our name — Christians who love Christ enough to spend some time with Him in personal prayer, every single day.

Written by Michæl McFarland Campbell

October 8th, 2023 at 11:24 am

Sunday in hospital: feeling low but also feeling good

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It’s been a relatively quiet day in the hospital today. With no visitors, it has meant that I have had to find other things to do. This morning I attended a church service online via Zoom. They were talking about Christian meditation. It was great to hear them mention the Jesus Prayer,

Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

Now, I know a slightly different version:

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.

At the end of the service, in the general chitchat, I mentioned that it is possible to use this prayer when walking, think of particular people and their intentions, or pray for the neighbourhood where you find yourself. I first heard this idea from Fr Richard Peers, now Dean of Llandaff.

Today, while feeling pretty miserable for myself, I took myself off for a little walk (only within the confines of the hospital). But I found myself praying the Jesus Prayer as I walked and later as I sat in the Healing Garden. I think it helped me. I hope it helped others too.

The Healing Garden in Midlands Regional Hospital at Tullamore.

Perhaps you will try it yourself. Tell me if you do.

Originally posted at https://hivblogger.com/2023/09/10/sunday-in-hospital-feeling-low-but-also-feeling-good/

Written by Michæl McFarland Campbell

September 10th, 2023 at 7:30 pm

Christ is interested in our hearts every day of our life

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A reflection on the readings for the Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C), Isaiah 66:18–21; Psalm 117: 1, 2; Hebrews 12:5–7, 11–13; and St Luke 13:22–30

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Many Jews at the time of Jesus thought that salvation was based on external factors, like race and ritual. Many Jews, in fact, believed that only Jews could actually live in communion with God. The non-Jewish peoples, so they thought, were destined to be second-class citizens in the Kingdom of God. Others believed that you not only needed to be of the Jewish race to win God’s favour, but you also had to follow even the most minute details of the Law of Moses, as well as the many ritual practices that had grown up around that Law.

Jesus takes the opportunity of the question about whether or not many people will be saved, to correct those wrong ideas. He explains that in God’s Kingdom there will be people from all four corners of the earth—just as Isaiah had prophesied, and as we read in the First Reading. So race had nothing to do with it. He also explains that many who `ate and drank’ with the Lord—in other words, many who followed all the many external rituals that governed Jewish eating and drinking at the time—will be excluded from God’s Kingdom. So exterior rituals aren’t the ticket either.

But if race and ritual are not the keys to salvation, what is?

It’s the heart.

Salvation does not depend primarily on external appearances, but on friendship with Christ, and that is rooted in our hearts. The people in His parable who were excluded from the heavenly banquet complained that the Lord had actually taught in their streets. But the Lord answers them, `I do not know where you are from.’ In other words, they are strangers to Him. Maybe they did let Him into their streets, but they never let Him into their hearts.

Heart to heart

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St Margaret Mary Alacoque was a French nun who lived in the 1600s. She was privileged by God with a series of visions in which Jesus appeared to her and revealed His Sacred Heart. He explained to her that his love for sinners was so great that whenever they ignored it or didn’t accept it, he felt as much pain as if someone were driving a thorn into his physical heart.

The Sacred Heart devotion that we see around us, and have heard about, traces its beginnings to those apparitions.

During one of them, St Mary asked our Lord a curious question. She asked Him to tell her who among his followers in the world at that moment was giving His heart the greatest joy. His answer was even more curious than the question. He did not mention any of the famous preachers, or bishops, or even the pope. He did not mention any of the great intellectuals, or aristocrats, or missionaries. He did not even mention someone who was later canonised. No, He told her that the person giving His heart the most joy was a little-known novice instructor in a small convent in the European countryside—someone who was instructing novices how to become good followers of Christ.

What matters to Christ is not drama and fireworks and great achievements; what matters to Christ is the humility and love that are in our hearts.

St Teresa of Calcutta once said, `If you try, you will find it impossible to do one great thing. You can only do many small things with great love.’

Following Christ is a matter of the heart: His heart reaching out to ours and hoping for a warm welcome.

Judging right

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Understanding that Christ looks first of all at our hearts can help us follow one of the most difficult commands that Jesus gave us.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus commanded His disciples: `Do not judge, and you will not be judged.’

It is not for us to pass judgment on our neighbours, because we cannot see into their hearts.

Only God can see the human heart through and through. Only God knows all of the experiences that have gone into the formation of someone’s personality. Only God knows all the hidden motives, the real reasons, and the mixed intentions behind human behaviour. Psychologists and sociologists have been trying to catalogue those things for the last hundred years, and they have only drawn one firm conclusion: the human heart is an unfathomable mystery.

Every one of us wants to be a faithful follower of Jesus Christ. He wants the same thing—that is why he created us. To follow Christ faithfully means to walk in his footsteps. And even to the very end of His life, Jesus refused to pass judgment on sinners. He warned, he instructed, he encouraged, and he exhorted, but even when His hypocritical, self-centred, arrogant enemies nailed Him to a Cross—even then, He prayed. `Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.’ How much more should we, who cannot see those depths, do the same!

This week, when we say the Lord’s Prayer, we will promise to forgive our neighbours just as we want God to forgive us. When we do that, let us really mean it.

Written by Michæl McFarland Campbell

August 21st, 2022 at 8:30 am

Posted in Sunday Relections

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Let’s be warriors of the truth

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Some thoughts on the readings for the Eucharist on the Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time in Year C. The readings are: Ecclesiastes 1:2; 2:21-23; Psalm 90:3-6, 12-13, 14, 1; Colossians 3:1-5, 9-11; and St Luke 12:13-21.

Faith in Christ has consequences

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I regularly hear from friends who are not Christian that they think Christianity is nothing but an empty list of dos and don’ts. They seem to believe these lists come from an irrational thirst for power and domination and that the standards we seek to uphold limit personal freedom. Christians know this to be untrue. 

St Paul explains the real reason behind the moral teaching of Christianity in the Second Reading at the Eucharist today. Because Christians have come to know and believe in Christ, they strive to live according to a demanding moral standard. Having experienced His love, power, goodness, and grace, we want to emulate Him. 

By knowing Him, we know what the universe looks like. Without Him, without Christ, human life is meaningless. It is like chasing after the wind, “vanity of vanities”, as we read in the First Reading today. Without Christ, everything we do here on earth would end when we die. There would be no lasting value. It would be like the mark your toe leaves in the water when you dip it in the sea at the beach. 

Jesus came to earth. He suffered and died for our sins. He rose from the dead. And He ascended back into heaven to give us a chance at a lasting value. Our lives are now plugged into eternity through faith in Christ, “hidden with God”, as St Paul puts it. 

Everything we do is linked to salvation history. Before Christ, we were shipwrecked on a desert island with no escape, dying. Life was vanity. But Christ came to rescue us. As long as we cling to the wood of His Cross, we can rest assured that He will bring us home to his glorious, everlasting Kingdom. That is why we should strive to avoid anything that would separate us from Christ. We should avoid anything that could break our friendship with Him by violating His command to love God and love our neighbour. I hope that the Anglican bishops meeting at the Lambeth Conference remember these two commandments of the Lord. Love God. Love your neighbour. 

Our faith in Christ has consequences for our life. If we let it, it gives us a friendship that will last into eternity. 

Oil and water, darkness and light, the Penitential Rite

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Soldiers who jump out of aeroplanes wear a parachute because if they do not, the laws of physics will cause them some damage. They do not argue with it. They adjust their behaviour to deal with it. 

Our lives should be similar. If we want to stay spiritually healthy, we must adjust our behaviour according to the moral law God built into the universe. We have to follow the commandments and the example of Christ. Selfishness and sin go against that moral law. They separate us from a healthy relationship with Christ. Oil and water do not mix, no matter how hard we try. Darkness and light do not mix, no matter how hard we try. Friendship with Christ—and the happiness that comes with it—cannot grow if sin is poisoning the soil of our souls. We have to repent. We have to use a parachute. 

That is one reason why every Eucharist begins with a penitential rite. After the greeting, we call to mind our sins, ask God for His forgiveness, and implore His mercy. This is our parachute. This is when we turn away from everything in our lives that damages our friendship with Christ. 

Only then can our minds be open to hear God’s word in the readings and the homily and to receive His strength in Holy Communion. 

Our faith in Christ has consequences for our life. 

Being warriors of the Truth

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When St Paul makes his list of sins that put our friendship with Christ in danger, he focuses on one in particular: self-centeredness. He is saying that we need to pay special attention to it. He writes: “Stop lying to one another, since you have taken off the old self with all its practices.” We are reminded that lying, deceiving, and manipulating the truth are sins. They unravel God’s plan for human society and endanger our friendship with Christ. 

God, the author of all truth, has given us the capacity to know and communicate the truth to build healthy relationships. When we abuse this gift, obscuring the truth for our own selfish reasons, we make ourselves enemies of God and friends of the Devil, whom Jesus called “the father of lies”. 

And at times, every one of us does it. We have learned our communication skills partly from a media culture. A culture full of expert spin doctors who do not hesitate to put a questionable spin on what they say or don’t say to further their agenda. Advertisers do it, reporters do it, screenwriters do it, and sometimes, we do it. We spin the reports we make at work or school, the explanations we give to our spouses, and the permissions we seek from our parents or superiors. 

So much spin is going around that many people have become permanently dizzy. They have concluded that truth doesn’t even exist. 

Jesus does not want us to go through life being dizzy. He wants us to see clearly so we can love deeply and truly. 

Today, let us renew our friendship with Christ. With the strength he gives us in Holy Communion, let us confidently embrace the consequences of that friendship once again. Let us not be mercenaries of spin but warriors of the Truth. 

Written by Michæl McFarland Campbell

July 31st, 2022 at 9:15 am

Posted in Sunday Relections

Celebrating the most important day of our lives

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Reflection on the Readings for the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time: Genesis 18:20–32; Psalm 138: 1-3, 6–8; Colossians 2:12–14; and St Luke 11:1–13.

The primacy of grace and the power of Baptism

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The two most important days of our lives are days that most of us do not remember. The second most important day is the day that we were born. Of that day, we remember nothing. We may have heard stories about it from our parents or grandparents, but each of us remembers nothing. The first most important day is the day that we were baptized. Most of us have no recollection of that day either.

Yes, I did get those days round the right way. Our baptism is more important than our birth. The natural life that we received at birth was destined to peter out in a few years, because our human nature was mortally wounded by original sin. Like a fan after you unplug it from the socket, it was just spinning by momemtum. It was unplugged from the source of life, God.

When we were baptised, we were plugged back in. We were filled with supernatural life. God adopted us forever as members of his family. This is why baptism is praised so highly by St Paul in the Second Reading. By baptism, he writes to the Colossians, we were buried with Christ who died for our sins, and we were raised with Him who rose to give us eternal life (cf Colossians 2:12). Baptism is the beginning of our eternal life.

The most amazing thing about it is that we didn’t do anything at all. The most important event in our lives is not something that we did. It is not a personal achievement. Rather, it is something that God did for us: it was God touching our souls with the grace of Christ.

As St Paul writes, we were dead. We were sinners. We were completely helpless, unable to plug ourselves back into friendship with God. God, however, came to our rescue. Wholly on his own initiative, working through the love of our parents or our friends, and through the ministry of the Church, He brought us back to life in Christ.

The fountains of Rome

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The greatness of an individual Christian does not come from his or her own natural talents and achievements. No, it comes from the much higher life of friendship with God that Christ won for us and that God freely gives us at baptism — the life of grace.

When I visited Rome, I saw many architectural wonders, but one of the most memorable was the fountains of the city. In the seventeenth century, the Church commissioned Gianlorenzo Bernini and his disciples to design a series of monumental fountains to decorate the most important plazas of the city. These fountains, like the Four Rivers in Piazza Navona, the Triton fountain in Piazza Barberini, and, of course, the Trevi fountain, turn the ordinary and abundant elements of water and stone into something of supreme artistic beauty. The fountains do not sit immobile and static in their piazzas. No, they erupt in dynamism and spectacle.

The Trevi fountain is huge, but it remains hidden until you are immediately in front of it. It completely took me by surprise. It overwhelms you when you turn the corner of a narrow street.

The Four Rivers fountain amazes by the sudden appearance of a large granite obelisk that seems to hover weightlessly above the basin of churning water.

These fountains were not designed for tourists. They were designed to enhance the experience of Christian pilgrims who came to Rome to renew their faith. Their amazing transformation of simple stone and water into magnificent and awe-inspiring masterpieces encourages Christians to trust in the power of the grace of God. That is the grace that transforms our fallen, limited human nature into something divine, making us into children of God, and citizens of heaven.

Each of us, as Christians, is meant to be for the world what Bernini’s fountains are for the city of Rome.

Celebrating our baptismal day

The Parish Church of St Patrick, Kilconriola (Ballymena) where I was baptized. Photo: Michæl McFarland Campbell

I am sure that most of us celebrate our birthdays. I know that I do. I know that it is good that we do. Life is a precious gift. A gift that none can give to themselves. It is right to thank God for that gift. It is right to celebrate and appreciate it. It is right to remember that we owe our lives to others — God first, and our parents second.

But just as we celebrate our birthdays, do we celebrate the anniversaries of our baptisms?

I know that I do, but I suspect that many do not. Surely we should all celebrate this as the most important day of our lives? Perhaps we should have baptism parties just as we have birthday parties? The eternal life we received from God on that day is worth much more than the natural life that we received from our parents. It was just as much a gift as our natural life.

Certainly, we did nothing to earn such a great favour from God. Surely that is all the more reason to thank Him for it, to celebrate the day we received it?

In the world of self-help, we can fall into the heresy of activism, thinking that we can make ourselves perfect by our own power. We can’t. We all need the grace of God. He is always willing to supply it. We, unfortunately, are not always willing to take it in. Perhaps, if we start celebrating our baptisms with more energy, the supply lines will be widened.

Today, as Christ comes to us in Holy Communion to strengthen that supernatural life that we received in baptism, I’ll thank Him for all His gifts, more especially that of grace, the gift which alone gives real hope to life.

Written by Michæl McFarland Campbell

July 24th, 2022 at 5:37 pm

Posted in Sunday Relections