Archive for 2007
Though I’m not up to preaching these days I thought I might enlist the Loyola Hall Team to give their reflections occasionally. Today’s offering is from Edel McClean.
Readings: Isaiah 35:1-6,10; Psalm 145:6-10; James 5:7-10; Matt 11:2-11
Advent is all about faith and hope, and our readings today don’t let us down on that front. The first reading from Isaiah, encourages us to be strong, take courage, trust. James tells us to have patience that we will see all things brought to fulfilment. And after all of those calls to faith, and hope, we see, in the gospel, John the Baptist come to what seems to be a crisis of faith and hope.
John’s early days don’t suggest a man prone to uncertainty. His mighty proclamations, his passionate teaching, the absolute sense of urgency. ‘Get a move on’ he shouts on the banks of the Jordan, ‘the time is nigh’. And finally, along comes Jesus to be baptised. And John, with something of a sigh of exhaustion, must say: ‘Here he is. Time for me to decrease, him to increase’.
But now, instead of being told ‘good and faithful servant’ and the satisfaction of seeing all those who’d mocked him stunned to silence, John’s locked in prison by a man who wants him dead and only hold’s back because he’s nervous of a twitchy crowd. John, who’d preached that ‘the axe is being laid at the root of the tree’, is finding that there seems to be a much more immanent threat of the axe being laid on his own neck.
It seems that John’s hope and faith have been severely eroded. He’s lying in prison and when he hears what Jesus is doing he sends a message – ‘are you really the one’? I wonder if the unwritten text was ‘cause you’re sure not looking like it from where I’m sitting?’.
There’s more that a little doubt in John’s message. It’s not full of faith or hope or certainty. It’s full of doubt and fear and uncertainty. ‘I had been sure’ he says ‘but now I’m not so sure’.
How does Jesus respond to the very public doubt of his much beloved cousin? However much John is struggling to believe in Jesus, struggling to believe in himself and his own mission, struggling to hold onto hope, Jesus responds with a resounding statement of his belief in John, his faith in John, his hope in John. He says ‘I am who I am, and you, John, are who you are, and both of those are richly and deeply good’.
Isaiah in the first reading says ‘say to all faint hearts, courage, do not be afraid’. But sometimes our hearts are prone to becoming faint all the same. In the second reading James says ‘you have to be patient, do not lose heart’. But in the thick of all that seems wrong in the world, or in ourselves, it can be difficult to keep patience. John, in his prison cell, cries out, ‘how long? Is this it? How can I be sure?’ And all of us, at some point, struggle too with how to have faith – how to have faith in our own sense of ourselves, how to have faith in God’s love for us.
If that’s our reality then there’s a great deal of comfort to be had from Jesus’ response to John. However much John is struggling to believe in Jesus, Jesus quite clearly believes in John. Whatever John’s sense of inadequacy in those long nights in prison, Jesus says ‘a greater than John the Baptist has never yet been seen’. And not just John ‘the least in the kingdom in heaven is greater’ Jesus says. He expresses belief not just in John but in all of us.
There’s a beautiful line at the beginning of today’s psalm. ‘It is the Lord who keeps faith forever’. Given how fickle our own faith can be, that’s an immense reassurance. However much we struggle to hold on to faith in our own essential goodness, or however much we struggle to trust in God’s essential goodness, God keeps faith in us. He looks to us, as he looked to John, and with all our inadequacies and uncertainties and fears, he keeps faith in us. He holds on to all that he knows to be good in us, when we struggle to trust it ourselves. God keeps faith in us and says ‘I am who I am, and you are who you are, and both of those are richly and deeply good’.
Advent is all about faith and trust and belief. About our faith and trust and belief, yes. But much more importantly, about God’s faith, God’s trust, God’s belief in us.
December 16th, 2007
Version 2.3.7 of the post plugins should be out soon. I’ve been making a bunch of little changes to provide some asked for features. The delay has been in the next version of Similar Posts which has undergone some major revisions including stemming and global word weighting. It also lets you configure the balance of content, title and tags (new) to get the most relevant posts for your particular blog. That’s meant some major architectural changes which I am trying to test before releasing. Also, since tag-based relevance is now included I’ve scrapped the ability to add keywords to a custom field. I have actually never heard of anyone using the feature but I’m bracing myself for a host of users rising up in revolt!
Any feature requests for upcoming versions?
December 13th, 2007
Version 2.3.5 of the plugins is a rebuild to avoid all the admin page code being loaded when not needed. It also allows posts to be matched according to the current post’s tags.
Version 2.3.6 restores the widgetiness I managed to remove in 2.3.5! Please if you downloaded a version 2.3.5 plugin download the 2.3.6.
November 3rd, 2007
I have long intended to make my post plugins into widgets but have only just got to it. In fact it turned out to be an easy process.
Version 2.3.4 of the plugins also adds the option to exclude or include the current post from the output.
October 25th, 2007
Just posted a rather simple plugin to highlight the comments made by the author of a post among all the other comments.
I’ve seen lots of ways of doing the job but they all seem to involve hacking the code of your template or of WordPress files. The new plugin does the job automatically — all you have to do is provide a snippet of CSS to apply to the special comments.
October 20th, 2007
Version 2.3.3 beta of my post plugins adds support for WordPress 2.3’s built-in tagging.
You can find recent posts with a particular tag, similar posts that have any of a bunch of tags, random posts sharing all specified tags, or whatever permutation you like.
The new version also adds the much requested ability to include as well as exclude posts by category.
October 14th, 2007
In updating my post plugins to work with WordPress 2.3 I managed to break various things too. Versions 2.3.2, just posted, fix a bad interaction between tags and categories and correct issues with excluded categories.
I might be able to extend the plugins to do something useful with tags now that I understand them a little better.
October 9th, 2007
Well I hope so…
I did some work on my 5 post plugins, uploaded them to my site (to check they still worked under WP < 2.3), upgraded to WP 2.3, and, fingers crossed, everything seems functional.
I will modify the docs, package the plugins, and post them for download in the next few minutes. Please check them out and give me any feedback.
September 27th, 2007
Sorry to all the people letting me know that the new WordPress breaks Similar Posts and (maybe) my other plugins. I’ve been out of touch due to my CFS problems but I will do my best to post some updates in the next day or two to fix the issues.
September 26th, 2007
First, something from a safe distance: I wrote the homily that follows as part of a class in Celebrational Style (that’s a course in leading worship) while I was at JSTB. The assignment was to create, preside at, and preach for a service of sacramental anointing outside a Eucharistic context. To do that I had to get to grips with the sacrament’s underlying theology and found Jake Empereur’s book Prophetic Anointing: God’s Call to the Sick, the Elderly and the Dying to be really helpful.
The Sacrament of the Sick can’t promise healing–indeed for a long while it was only offered to the dying!–but it must pray for it confidently. How do you handle that? Empereur’s argument (as I recall) is that anointing recognises the prophetic vocation of sickness. I remember the homily divided the congregation (of classmates) right down the middle. Some thought it was powerful; other’s hated it. Luckily the professor fell in the first group…
As I re-read it today I am hearing me preach to myself. Does it ring true to my own experience since? I do find it encouraging right now. It speaks to my experience of God in all this but possibly not to my actual experience of Church or even of community. Or perhaps it points up the unstable edginess of prophecy… the sacrament might assert the central place of the sick in community life but it does so against a constant marginalising pressure. One of my unspoken fears is that if my condition worsens seriously I will have to leave my present community for somewhere able to give more care. Marginal or central? Both.
It is easy to be eloquent about sickness when we are in the best of health but even something as a simple as a minor headache can leave us speechless and confounded. There is a mystery here: the Christian community both attempts to find a meaning in suffering and to pray for it to end.
Jesus healed the sick in body and mind but eventually was reduced to pain and suffering; he raised the dead to life but finally succumbed to death, a most violent death. His enemies scorned him with this very taunt: “You saved others, why don’t you save yourself?”
God’s word of comfort and life is so utterly opposed to all diminishment yet is diminished, so completely proclaims freedom yet is bound.
The nasty truth is that sickness can destroy us, can eat at us, can make each miserable moment an effort. In sickness we know pain, and defeat, and emptiness. Our glorious notions of the ennobling power of suffering fade faced even with a headache.
And our culture adds another layer to the pain of sickness. Because when health and fitness become twin Gods, sickness becomes sin; when productivity becomes paramount, the passivity of pain becomes failure. In the harsh sunshine of this world it seems that sickness can only alienate us from our community, from our friends and family, even from our own selves. It seems that to be sick is to be on the margin, on the edge, on the way out.
But . not . for . us , not in the church, not in the community of Jesus. That is why we gather: to undo the power of illness. To recognise its evil and to pray for life and health and joy. But also, and perhaps above all, to take you who are sick into our midst. To reveal the lie that sick people are peripheral to the pulse of life. Because, no matter the appearance otherwise, you are the heart of this community, our community.
Jesus whispers to you with a call, a challenging vocation: “Come to me, you who are weary and heavy-burdened — and I will give you rest” Jesus has invited you to exchange the “yoke” of alienation for the “yoke” of companionship, and has made a promise: “this yoke is easy, this burden light.”
In this sacrament, it may seem that the Church gathers to try to give you something you lack. But the reality is different. We who appear healthy are here to receive from you. You have something to give to us. A word to speak to us from the margin, from the edge, from our centre, from our heart. You are gift to us, you are a hard poem telling us of life and death, of the mystery at the heart of all life.
That is why we celebrate today: we need you, we need to learn from you, we need to see you tread a path in Jesus’ footsteps, a path that we will each in our own way follow.
This is the mystery: we anoint you as prophets, pilgrims on our common way, that we may all be prophetic to a world that so fears both life and death; and yet we anoint you that you may be healed, that we may as community be made whole.
We have good news for each other, we have the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit, because we hear the Lord’s invitation and the Lord’s promise:
“Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
April 14th, 2007