Tuesday, 31 January 2012

St Bride's Day

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St Bride's Cross

One of the great Irish saints, and patron of those powerful Scottish Lords, the Douglas's, Bride was born at Faughart near Dundalk, County Louth, Ireland. Faughart Church was founded by Saint Moninne in her honour and the old well, adjoining the ruined church there still attracts pilgrims.Because of the dubious historicity of the earliest accounts of her life, there is mucho debate as to the authenticity of her biographies. Allegedly her parents were Dubhthach, a pagan chieftain of Leinster, and Brocca, a Christian Pict and slave, baptised by Saint Patrick. Some accounts suggest that her father was from Lusitania, kidnapped by Irish pirates and brought to Ireland to as a slave, rather like Saint Patrick. I like the idea of her humbler origins myself.  A freed slave made mighty by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit.  Fitting for the woman know as "the Mary of the Gaels".

St Bride was famous for her generosity to the poor. According to one tale, as a child, she once gave away her mother's entire store of butter. The butter was then replaced in answer to her prayers.  She was allegedly "accidentally" ordained bishop, by one or other of the bishops Mel (d. 487) or Mac-Caille (d. c.489), probably being in Mág Tulach (Fartullagh, Co. Westmeath). Mel also granted her abbatial powers. She followed Saint Mel into the Kingdom of Teathbha (sections of modern Meath, Westmeath and Longford) in about 468.

Bride's small oratory at Kildare became a centre of religion and learning and eventually a cathedral city. She founded two monastery's, one for men, and the other for women, and appointed Saint Conleth as spiritual pastor of them. It has been frequently (mis) stated that she gave canonical jurisdiction to Saint Conleth as Bishop of Kildare, but, as Archbishop Healy points out, she simply "selected the person to whom the Church gave this jurisdiction", and her biographer tells us distinctly that she chose Saint Conleth "to govern the church along with herself". Thus, for centuries, Kildare was ruled by a double line of abbot-bishops and of abbesses, the Abbess of Kildare being regarded as superior general of the monasteries in Ireland.

Bride also founded a school of art, metal work and illumination, over which Conleth presided. The Kildare scriptorium produced the Book of Kildare, highly praised by Giraldus Cambrensis, but which has been missing since the Reformation. According to Giraldus, nothing that he had ever seen was at all comparable to the book, every page of which was gorgeously illuminated, and he concludes by saying that the interlaced work and the harmony of the colours left the impression that "all this is the work of angelic, and not human skill".

Her friendship with Saint Patrick is attested by the following paragraph from the Book of Armagh:  "Between Patrick and Brigid, the columns of the Irish, there was so great a friendship of charity that they had but one heart and one mind. Through him and through her Christ performed many miracles". At Armagh there was a "Templum Brigidis" - namely the little abbey church known as "Regles Brigid", which contained some relics of the saint, destroyed in 1179.

Bride was interred at the right of the high altar of Kildare Cathedral, and a costly tomb was erected over her "Adorned with gems and precious stones and crowns of gold and silver." Over the years her shrine became an object of veneration for pilgrims, especially on her feast day, February 1. About the year 878, owing to the Scandinavian raids, Brigit's relics were taken to Downpatrick, where they were interred in the tomb of Patrick and Columba. The relics of the three saints were discovered in 1185, and on June 9 of the following year were re interred in Down Cathedral.

St Bride's Cathedral Kildare.

Almighty God,
by whose grace St Bride, kindled with the fire of your love,
became a burning and a shining light in the Church:
inflame us with the same spirit of discipline and love,
that we may ever walk before you as children of light;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

The Conversion of St Paul

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Caravaggio, The Conversion of St Paul,Odescalchi Balbi Collection, Rome

I love the artwork (well it is my favourite, Caravaggio) but have never especially raved about the Conversion of Saul into Paul. It is striking and wonderful that God was able to use and transform the great persecutor into an instrument of mission, but in all honesty, I'm not fond of St Paul.  I know he's terribly significant and important etc, but he's never really been one of my faves..  St John Chrysostom (a saint of whom I am rather more fond) preached this about him:

  "The most important thing of all to him, however, was that he knew himself to be loved by Christ. Enjoying this love, he considered himself happier than anyone else; were he without it, it would be no satisfaction to be the friend of principalities and powers. He preferred to be thus loved and be the least of all, or even to be among the damned, than to be without that love and be among the great and honoured.
  To be separated from that love was, in his eyes, the greatest and most extraordinary of torments; the pain of that loss would alone have been hell, and endless, unbearable torture.
  So too, in being loved by Christ he thought of himself as possessing life, the world, the angels, present and future, the kingdom, the promise and countless blessings. Apart from that love nothing saddened or delighted him; for nothing earthly did he regard as bitter or sweet."

Centred on the love of God. That is ultimately what we who are Christians all ought to aspire to be.

Almighty God,
who caused the light of the gospel
to shine throughout the world
through the preaching of your servant Saint Paul:
grant that we who celebrate his wonderful conversion
may follow him in bearing witness to your truth;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Monday, 23 January 2012

St Francis de Sales.

Coat of arms of St Francis de Sales

St Francis de Sales is a great saint.  Some quotations give a flavour of his gentle spirituality.

There are no galley-slaves in the royal vessel of divine love—every man works his oar voluntarily!

You learn to speak by speaking, to study by studying, to run by running, to work by working ; and just so you learn to love God and man by loving. All those who think to learn in any other way deceive themselves.

Have patience with every one, but especially with yourself. (How very 12 step!)
Quoted by Bishop Jean-Pierre Camus in The Spirit of Saint Francis de Sales.

I like this from his "Introduction to the Devout Life":

"I say that devotion must be practised in different ways by the nobleman and by the working man, by the servant and by the prince, by the widow, by the unmarried girl and by the married woman. But even this distinction is not sufficient; for the practice of devotion must be adapted to the strength, to the occupation and to the duties of each one in particular.

  Moreover, just as every sort of gem, cast in honey, becomes brighter and more sparkling, each according to its colour, so each person becomes more acceptable and fitting in his own vocation when he sets his vocation in the context of devotion. Through devotion your family cares become more peaceful, mutual love between husband and wife becomes more sincere, the service we owe to the prince becomes more faithful, and our work, no matter what it is, becomes more pleasant and agreeable."

Grant, Lord, that in the service of our fellow-men
we may always reflect your own gentleness and love,
and so imitate Saint Francis de Sales,
whom you made all things to all men for the saving of souls.
through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God for ever and ever.  Amen.

St Francis de Sales, pray for us.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Gawd help America!

Newt Gingrich set his sights Sunday on Florida after a stunning win in South Carolina's presidential primary

The US Republican Presidential candidate selection process is rather fun (!) - at any rate to an ex-political-hack such as myself.   http://uk.news.yahoo.com/u-republicans-romney-gingrich-vie-south-carolina-win-000020425.html To lift a quote from the article: "Some Florida voters were delighted by Gingrich's rise.  "We are for Gingrich all the way," said Ada Rodriguez, 75, a real estate broker. "Obama is a socialist. He is the same as Castro," referring to Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, the enemy of many in Florida's Cuban exile community."

If dear Ada (doubtless, an awfy nice wee auld wifie and all that) really thinks that the current occupant of yon place on Pennsylvania Ave. which the Royal Marines burnt in 1812 is a Commie, then she's a) never read Marx b) or Dorothy Day of the Catholic Worker movement c) has no idea what Fidel Castro has actually done (both good and bad) and d) would doubtless see David Cameron as some sort of mad pinko.  In short, many of the most quotable in both politics (and indeed religion) are basically theoretically illiterate in the particular field on which they pronounce.  Trouble is, they can vote for and create an outcome that messes up the lives of billions who can't really act against their dafter ideas.  That said, you really can't ban the incurably biased or stupid from having a vote.  That would be undemocratic. And a bad thing.

let's just hope the US electors (historically capable of picking great presidents like FDR or Teddy Roosevelt and utter disgraces like Warren Harding) can go for someone sensible from whatever party they as a majority favour.  Bampots with nukes are a seriously bad idea.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Freedom? It's a dangerous thing.

The press reports about the successful prosecution of a number of leaflet distributors in Derby for passing out anti-gay leaflets which alluded to the possible desirability of  the death penalty for LGBT people (see http://uk.news.yahoo.com/muslims-guilty-over-gay-leaflets-152353818.html ) make me both pleased (that the law has acted to defend LGBT people from hatred) and thoughtful.  The fact that all of the individuals concerned are Muslims is almost entirely irrelevant at one level - plough any set of sacred Scriptures (Christian, Jewish Islamic, Buddhist or Hindu) and you will find anti-Gay or potentially anti-gay material. Of course there is not the slightest doubt in my mind that they and their supporters will see themas martyrs like St Vincent here.

  File:Vicente de Zaragoza anonymous painting XVI century.jpeg 

But there is always the slight worry in my mind that any such legal action against faith based demonstrations in what might be called the political sphere (and LGBT rights are a matter of politics) could later be used for a more general repression of the voice of the Faiths when they are critical of current political trends or developments.   legitimate faith inspired dissent has a honourable place and a decent one in our political life.  For year CND was led by outspoken and faith inspired clergy  like Canon John Collins (below)


and Monsignor Bruce Kent.  So, whilst I'm glad the leaflet distributors were made to feel the full weight of a wise law, let us never forget that there should always be freedom for those who religious convictions compel them to dissent from the prevailing viewpoint as long as it doesn't advocate violence.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Christian Unity Week

wcc logo
Christian Unity has long been a passion of mine (despite my intense detestation of the typical Presbyterian monologue services I all too often have had to endure in its furtherance!)  My personal theology is that of that brilliant and appropriate collect from 1929 Scottish Prayer Book for the unity of all Christian people: 

O GOD, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, our only Saviour, the Prince of Peace: Give us grace seriously to lay to heart the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions. Take away all hatred and prejudice, and whatsoever else may hinder us from godly union and concord: that, as there is but one Body, and one Spirit, and one hope of our calling, one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of us all, so we may henceforth be all of one heart, and of one soul, united in one holy bond of truth and peace, of faith and charity, and may with one mind and one mouth glorify thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The material for this year's unity services is from Poland and their prayers of repentance and for unity and Transformation are excellent.

Prayer of repentance 

L: Almighty God, in spite of the Unity we receive in Christ, we persist in our disunity. Have mercy on us!
C: Have mercy on us!

L: We harden our hearts when we hear the Gospel. Have mercy on us!
C: Have mercy on us!

L: We fail to serve You in our brothers and sisters. Have mercy on us!
C: Have mercy on us!

L: The disobedience of Adam and Eve brought suffering and death to us, and creation was wounded and torn apart. Have mercy on us!
C: Have mercy on us!

L: May God Almighty have mercy on us, forgive our sins, and lead us to eternal life.
C: Amen.

Prayers for Unity and Transformation 

L: United in Christ who gives us the victory, let us pray to God:
For the Church, the Body of Christ, that we might truly live the unity we receive through the Holy Spirit. God our strength:
C: Change us by your grace.
L: For the leaders of our churches that they may be faithful to the unity to which all Christians are called. God our strength:
C: Change us by your grace.
L: For the nations of the world, that they may live in peace with one another and promote justice for all. God our strength:
C: Change us by your grace.
L: For all people, that we may be good stewards of the earth. God our strength:
C: Change us by your grace.
L: For the people of our society, that we may be transformed to live as caring neighbours to each other. God our strength:
C: Change us by your grace.
L: For the sick and suffering, that they may be transformed by your healing presence. God our strength:
C: Change us by your grace.
L: For all families and households, that their struggles and joys may find their fulfilment in your love. God our strength:
C: Change us by your grace.
L: For the dying, that they may be comforted by your presence. God our strength:
C: Change us by your grace.
L: Lord, stand in our midst and grant us unity and peace.
C: Amen.

Prayer is the foundation of true Christian unity, not doctrinal committees.  Only it can break down centuries of mistrust, prejudice and misunderstanding.   if we all pray and keep on praying, something will happen!

Thursday, 12 January 2012


I'm somewhat bruised today, as one of our service user walloped me yesterday and my thumb is rather black and blue.  Nothing fatal and the GP sent me off to the Minor Injuries Unit at the Western General where they peeked and poked and did an X Ray and assured me that nothing's broken and it's just a cast of not straining it, elevate and ice pack it and use paracetamol!  The good thing was I was was in and out inside 30 mins and just walked in and was seen.  The NHS can be very good indeed when you need it.

Yes I know it's St Aelred and St Bendict Biscop today but I don't feel especially like musing on any saints today. Anyway, Kimberly Bohan does it better (see http://wonderfulexchange.wordpress.com/2012/01/12/aelred/ ).  So I'll just share this:

"Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of - throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”
― C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Makes sense to me!

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Busy Day

It sure was!  After my usual shift, it was a bus to Haymarket to meet up with a workmate and thence by diesel choo-choo to Central Park to watch my lot (the Blue Brazil) play his lot (the Hibees) in the 4th round of the Scottish Cup.  We lost 3-2 - which wasn't bad really against a (currently) Premier League side.  Well, we we're obviously outclassed - which really ought to worry them at Easter Road!  Then back to Embra for a  house Blessing, Eucharist and rather enjoyable dinner of Pork done as it is (allegedly) in Valencia.  It involves marmalade and chili so is obviously not breakfast fare!

And since it's been busy a wee prayer to Notre Dame de Bon Secours (Prompt Succour as they call her in the Anglophone bits of Louisiana) seems appropriate!

O Mary, Our Lady of Prompt Succour, bright Star of the Sea shining upon life's stormy ocean, we implore your speedy help.  Shining Star of our tempest-tossed souls, lovingly guide us among temptation's heaving billows and treacherous shoals, and lead us safely into eternity's peaceful harbour. O sweetest of mothers, we seek your PROMPT SUCCOUR now and at the hour of our death.  Amen. 

Friday, 6 January 2012


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 Shrine of the Three Magi, Cologne Cathedral, Germany

The Feast of the Epiphany was 1st observed by the Eastern Churches.  Well, Wisdom comes from the East (as is clear from the fact that 3 out of 4 ancient Scottish universities are on the East Coast!). It was originally  a general celebration of the Incarnation of Christ. It included a commemoration of his birth; the visit of the Wise Men, all of Jesus' childhood events (none recorded in the Canonical Scriptures it has to be said - but hey, Tradition!), his Baptism and his 1st miracle at the wedding at Cana in Galilee. The Baptism, it has to be said, was the main event commemoration wise.

The date of the feast was fixed very early on. The Biblical Wise Men, representing the non-Jewish peoples of the world, paid homage to the infant Jesus, unlike Herod, who sought to kill him.  Saint John Chrysostom said of the interaction between the Magi and Herod's courtiers: "The star had been hidden from them so that, on finding themselves without their guide, they would have no alternative but to consult the Jews. In this way the birth of Jesus would be made known to all."

 St. Epiphanius of Salamis wrote that the Epiphany is hemera genethlion toutestin epiphanion (Christ's "Birthday; that is, His Epiphany"). He also asserts that the Miracle at Cana occurred on the same calendar day. (Aye, right!)

In a sermon delivered on Christmas Day 380, St. Gregory of Nazianzus referred to today as ta theophania ("the Theophany", an alternative name for Epiphany), calling it a commemoration of he hagia tou Christou gennesis ("the holy nativity of Christ") and he told his listeners that they would soon be celebrating the baptism of Christ.  Then, on 6/7 January, he preached, declaring that the celebration of the birth of Christ and the visitation of the Magi had already taken place, and that they would now commemorate his Baptism.(Confused?  Well, we may be missing the odd sermon here and there I suppose)

Today in Eastern Orthodoxy, the emphasis is on the shining forth and revelation of Jesus Christ as the Messiah and Second Person of the Trinity at the time of his baptism. It is also celebrated because, according to tradition, the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River by St. John the Baptist marked one of only two occasions when all three Persons of the Trinity manifested themselves simultaneously to humanity: God the Father by speaking through the clouds, God the Son being baptised in the river, and God the Holy Spirit in the shape of a dove descending from heaven (the other occasion was the Transfiguration). Thus today is considered to be a feast of the Trinity.

I like that.  It's not just about Jesus - it's about the relationship of God with God, with us and with the whole of Creation.  and it's about listen to strange messengers and welcoming strangers who may teach us of the reality of God, even if they come from a different culture.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Into the future!


Happy New Year!  And our first real action of the year was ... to post the darn invites to the wedding!  Yes, I know the thing isn't till June but getting replies back, giving folks time to arrange annual leave etc meant that the Boss ruled that we do it now! Still, addressing cards whilst parked in front of a roasty hot coal fire isn't really a hardship!  And it's done!

'Twas a quiet New Year - my having a tummy bug that meant I had a cup a soup as my entire daily food ration made this unavoidable, but a day snoozing whilst drining ginger beer with the occassional dose of immodium sort me fairly quickly and I enjoyed a 2 day lurk in the borders to recover.  So now it's back to normal. Let's see what the year brings!