Big World Small Boat

Private Diary of A Priest. OK, so we're not all angels...Everyone needs a place to get things off their chest! And yes, I do talk to God about it all! Even He has a sense of humour! Want proof? Well, he made me, didn't He? Oh, one last thought-If you don't like what I've written, please keep in mind - it's MY diary. Go write your own!

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Location: England, United Kingdom

I've been serving children in crisis for over twenty five years. My goals are not to raise money, but to find organisations and individuals who can help change lives! What may be outdated equipment for you could change the life of a child in Eastern Europe! To learn more please visit our site at:


Lest We Forget

I am profoundly saddened to have received a letter earlier this year from my Bishop's office advising us that there’s a number of Church of England clerics who are refusing to allow Remembrance Day Services to take place in their churches this year. Their given reason is that they perceive such services to be glorifying war. How absurd!

The first ‘Day of Remembrance’ was observed in 1919. Originally it was called Armistice Day to commemorate the armistice which occurred on November 11, in 1918, signalling the end of the bloodiest war the world has ever seen. This was the first formal occasion to remember those who died.

In 1945, at the end of World War II, the British and Australian governments officially changed the name to Remembrance Day as ‘Armistice Day’ wasn’t considered an appropriate term for honouring all those throughout the world who had sacrificed their lives.

I will not hide the fact that I was deeply disturbed by the letter I received. I just as with countless others, give thanks on this day for all those who sacrificed so much, not only for our freedom and values, but for our children and their children to come.

These young men and women, often not much older than children, who left the comfort and safety of their homes, marched into the very depths of hell for us. There was no sterile tactical force, where euphemistic descriptions of ‘insurgents’ and ‘counter strikes’ were used. No, these soldiers faced their enemies, often having to look another frightened man (child) in the eye and making decisions that no person should ever be forced to make; to kill another human being.

Many left their homes as young innocent children. They exchanged that comfort and safety for mud and ice, rain, and fear. The fear was so intense that you could smell it all about you-that is unless it was replaced with the stench of death. Many of them had their bodies ripped apart. Many tried to save themselves after discovering their intestines hanging outside their bodies, only to collapse in the relentless cold mud and ice a few minutes later.

I buried a man last year who had only one arm. His other arm and both his legs had been blown off by a German grenade. But two friends of his who were at the funeral, told me that despite his legs being missing and his arm dangling beside him, only held on by threads of tissue, he refused to leave his fellow soldiers. He was firing at the enemy until they physically removed the gun from his hand.

You see, in real life when in battle, soldiers don’t fight for their country so much as they fight for each other. The rule is 'perish if you must, but save your mate first.'

These soldiers never had the chance to debate whether war was right or wrong. For all the horror stories we’ve heard over the years, we lose track of the sight that our soldiers saved lives as well as took them. They fed the hungry, tended the sick, clothed the naked and ministered to the poor.

These citizens gather each year to remember those who did not come home; families who had been robbed of everything-fathers, sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, lost innocence, lost youth, and lost dreams. And they gather to give thanks-thanks for all the gifts God has bestowed on them. These men and women know, from the depths of their souls, what hell really is and therefore they appreciate and celebrate the joys of living, as few others know how.

I will forever be in gratitude to all who have served and lost their lives in war. The very fact that I may write this today is a result of the principles for which so many have died.

On the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month, we too shall be honouring the lives of those who so courageously gave so much for our freedom, our children’s freedom, and our country’s freedom.

It is the very least we can do.

They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them

‘for the fallen’ (4th stza) by: Laurence Binyon

posted for Fr Bill

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Thank You Sarah

It was just past midnight as I sat in hospital with my friend Sarah. Her children and grandchildren had gone home for some much needed rest. It was obvious that Sarah was at the end of this life's journey and preparing for her next. The nursing staff had kindly moved her into a private room, affording more privacy and dignity.

I had brought with me a small radio and a book, which I read to Sarah during the night. And I was prepared to offer her Viaticum (a prayer of provision for her journey) as morning broke. It was our private time together.

It was close to 2AM when Sarah opened her eyes. I had stopped reading and was watching the shallow rise and fall of her frame as her body instinctively fought, clinging to the last vestige of life. The music that softly played from the small radio was Vaughan Williams' The Lark Ascending.

I asked Sarah if she would mind my saying prayers for her now. She had such a sweet and lovely radiance in her face. I found a tissue in my pocket and wiped a tear that ran from her eye. I stroked her hair and briefly thought of her sisters and children.

Almighty God, look upon Your servant Sarah, as she lies here in weakness. Comfort her with the promise of life everlasting, given in the resurrection of Your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Sarah surrendered her mortal life a few hours later, with dignity and embraced in love.

Thank you Sarah. Thank you for the honour of being my friend.

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Finding The Right Words of Comfort

What does one say to distraught and grieving parents who have just buried their young child?

Truthfully there isn’t much we can say that will help. We can express our sorrow and sympathy. We can offer words of care and concern and of course love. We can tell the parents that we shall pray for them. But for most of us the truth is that we don’t know what to say.

I stood a short distance from the family as mourners came to offer their condolences after the burial. And I watched and listened as people so desperately tried to convey their compassion over the tragic loss this young couple have just experienced.

Some fumbled with words then simply broke into tears. Others offered sentiments that some might consider to be inane or even cruel. ‘You’re both young, you’ll have more children,’ one woman offered. The couple were too lost in their grief to even comprehend what the woman had said.

Perhaps it’s because we don’t know what to say that we sometimes say the wrong things. In our distress with another person’s suffering we often feel that we must offer words that will somehow help move the grieving individuals along.

Personally, I feel there is much more of a spiritual connection and sentiment in the power of a silent embrace. No words are necessary to convey sharing the human emotion of pain and sorrow and loss. Especially when we all accept that there are no answers. And so we weep at what has happened. And so too - God weeps with us.

One elderly gentleman suggested that the child’s death was God’s will. I disagree. The God we worship, our God who watches over us, doesn’t will the death of children, or the pain of their parents. Many, many things that happen in this world are not the will of God. That is part of the price of the freedom we have been given by God.

I watched the couple stand in numb silence as an aunt told them that God wanted their son in Heaven with Him. While I am confident God has welcomed him into His kingdom, I am certain God did not want this child to die right now so that He could have him there.

Others continued to offer the same thought; that they were young and they could have more children. This may be true, but other children will never replace this little life. He was his own person. The empty place his death has left in their hearts will never be filled simply because they have another child. Nor should it be. Every child is unique and precious. I realise that people say such things with a desire to comfort the bereaved. They desperately long to find some way to help. May God Bless them for it.

But know that we are faced with a mystery - the mystery of life, and of death, in which there are no easy answers.

And for the grieving parents who may feel that no one will ever understand their pain?...

God understands. He has a son who died also.

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Words of Comfort For the Dying

What do you say to someone who is dying? What words of comfort for the dying can you offer? And especially, how do we offer prayers for the dying?

A parent of friends of mine is currently in our local hospice. It’s sad to see that his deterioration has come so rapidly and particularly in that he has so clearly been fighting for survival. On Saturday, he was unconscious and it was thought that he would soon pass. But on Sunday morning, he was chatting with his wife and hospice staff. This is not unusual.

It’s a common occurrence to see people in the final hours of their lives, moving between a peaceful calm and an anxious state. There is clearly a struggle in their spirit to live. And it’s a fact that the strength of that spirit is undeniably tied to their struggle to remain on this earthly plain. Even though their physical bodies are failing and damaged beyond our ability to repair, the powerful spirit within that individual – that deep instinct to protect our human shell, fights to accept any kind of quality of life that is offered them.

Death is that moment of passing that comes as the spirit acknowledges that these mortal remains are no longer able to sustain its presence. And it is okay to acknowledge this, to accept it as yet another part of our journey. In fact, this is where the presence of family, friends and carers can often help most, with their words of comfort and prayers. The dying will come to accept the new journey that their spirit needs to take.

If you’re a family member, speak of the happy times you’ve shared together, the celebrations you’ve had, the joys you’ve experienced together and never forget to share how much you love them. Acknowledge that this is just an interval in time and that you will all be together again soon.

If you’ve had a spirited relationship with the person who’s dying, acknowledge that you’ve had your ‘ups and downs,’ but reaffirm the power of that love and ask them to forgive any transgression there may have been. Please, do not use this time to be accusatory or stating what your wishes may have been. This time is long past and by your presence and giving of yourself; you are providing the greatest blessing you could ever imagine – for both of you.

One of the greatest gifts you can provide, whether you’re a family member, friend, or professional carer is the gift of touch. Even when words can no longer be spoken, the gift of touch is a potent form of spiritual communication. I often rub the hands or feet of someone who is in transition. There are times when I stroke their hair. These gentle acts are no different than the loving embrace we receive as we come into this world.

And of course, there’s the power of prayer. Never underestimate the strength of that communication. As you offer your supplications, not only does God hear, but the living spiritual being you’re praying for hears as well. Acknowledging that it’s okay to let go, that there is life beyond is a form of blessing. And indeed, you too will be blessed.
Heavenly Father
You have given us so much. Thank You for the gift of life, for all the treasures we received, through the wealth of those who’ve loved us and those whom we’ve loved.
This body You have given is frail and damaged. And now we ask You to grant us peace, as we begin our next journey, to a new life, free of pain and suffering. Ease the sorrow of those we leave behind, knowing that we will always live on in their heart.
Take my hand and lead me now, until that time when we shall meet again, on that day where there is no sunset and no dawn. Amen


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It's Life Jim But Not As We Know It

During a recent visit to one of our areas many homes for the elderly I was outraged to hear a carer yelling at one of the residents. The carer didn’t know I was there. I had just entered the door of the home, as I usually do, and I heard his vitriolic diatribe coming from within the house.

As I looked around the corner I saw a frail woman clinging to her Zimmer frame, (walker), trying to move down the hallway. The carer was standing at the door to the toilet with an angered look on his face. I needn’t repeat what the man said, but he was berating her because she urgently needed to use the toilet.

The man’s demeanour changed instantly when he saw me, as I crossly demanded to know what the problem was. His excuse was that she couldn’t hear so he had to shout. I was angry and I know it showed on my face. I asked him if he required any assistance. The carer said ‘no thanks’ as he stood waiting for the woman to finally reach him.

As she went into the toilet, I immediately turned to look for the home's manager. There was no one to be found. There were four residents in the sitting room. Two were sleeping (or so I hoped), in their chairs, one was rather absently staring at a blaring television and the fourth resident was gazing off into nowhere.

I eventually learned there was only one person in the home to care for everyone. The manager had gone out to ‘buy groceries.’

Set aside the fact that this was altogether illegal, these people, who were incapable of caring for themselves, were at the mercy of this one foul mouthed and heartless individual. He certainly did not demonstrate compassion for the woman’s plight, nor did he demonstrate patience.

I tried to look at the situation objectively, trying to feel badly for the carer over the fact he was left alone to care for all these people, but I quickly snapped out of that mindset when I reminded myself that the other residents I saw would not have been an inconvenience to anyone. And the language he used towards the frail woman was unacceptable in any setting!

The experience left me with extremely uncomfortable images as well as guilt. There is a powerful verse in the Bible that says ‘Don't cast me away when I am old; when my strength fails, don't forsake me.’ Psalm 71:9
Homes such as these are a product of our Western society. And sadly, it’s the ‘other end’ of the spectrum of problems we have with today’s youth. In the middle, (well, actually throughout), it is a clear barometer for the erosion of family values, as well as the family unit.

For young parents it’s easier to leave all of the education for our children to the schools, and when the children become adults, it’s more ‘convenient’ to leave the care for our parents to institutions.

Every month there’s someone heralding new discoveries that will extend our lives even further.

When will there be a discovery on how to extend living?

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The Death of A Child

I woke up very early this morning, reflecting on the parents I will be with today, who are saying goodbye to their three-year-old son. All those hopes and dreams the parents had for this child are now shattered. And it’s difficult for me to shake the pitiful sight of the young couple clinging to one another, with a mixed look of desperation and despair, the night I stood with them at hospital.
We have all experienced similar images in our lives and sadly we have also experienced real pain in ourselves. But we have tied our despair with faith and hope. Hope is the eternal driving force that remains even when our faith is tested beyond our capabilities. Hope always springs eternal. Yet faith is our seed of comfort and renewal.
In his book 'Beyond the Mirror,' Father Henry Nouwen reflects on death and life in the light of a serious accident one winter's morning. He speaks eloquently of the things that were important in his search for God, but concludes that 'it has been the interruptions to everyday life that have most revealed the divine mystery of which I am a part.'
Deep within each of us is the desire for security. To meet this, we construct around ourselves patterns of living that safeguard us from too much physical, emotional and spiritual discomfort. Interruptions threaten our ordered existence. For some, a break from those comfort patterns can push them deep into an abyss. Their world can collapse and sometimes it becomes impossible for them to climb above the precipice.
As Christians, there is a deep well of spirituality that speaks of God as our security. To lose our security and control over things often becomes the place where faith and hope have to be exercised.
It's often in that uncomfortable place, the place where we are not in control, that we find the interruptions that take something away, and yet, somehow, offer us something new in return.



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Exercise Your Freedom!

Finally, the day that most of Britain has been both waiting for - and dreading -The elections! Our candidate’s voices are wearing thin as they traverse the great span of our country, hoping to engage those who remain undecided and especially to ignite a spark in those who may think their vote will not make a difference. 

Whatever the outcome, it is clear that Britain's are keen to express how their government is being run. Just as with countries throughout the Commonwealth, this process is a core to our celebration of freedom. And whether it’s The United Kingdom, Canada, or Australia, we share in some core truths: 

We live in countries where priests, caretakers, and Librarians can get up early to open their buildings for use as voting centres. 

We live in countries where there are warehouses to store ballot boxes from one election to the next because they will be needed so often. 

We live in countries where local government officials will sit behind desks for long and boring shifts so that people like me can turn up at a time that suits us and cast our votes. 
We live in countries where anyone who wants to is safe to vote without fear of intimidation. We'll be able to trust that our vote counts; that there will be no 'hanging chads' which could possibly make our vote not count. 

We live in countries where lots of essential people will work very late overnight to get the results counted as fast and as accurately as possible. 

We live in countries where we can be sure the result declared in our constituencies will be completely accurate. 

We live in countries where broadcasters will put a huge effort in keeping us informed throughout the night and aware of exactly what is happening and what are the implications. 

We live in countries where most of us will have sympathy for the majority of politicians because they have such an anxious wait until the final result is known early tomorrow. 
We live in countries where none of the possible outcomes will remove our freedom of thought. 

We live in countries where we can look outward and see the injustice, the absence of freedom, the oppression, and the struggle others are enduring to have what we have. 
We live in countries where we can gather together and pray to God for those who have less than we have, and discuss our faith, and share our views, and help. 

Whatever corner of the world you're in, perhaps today is as good as any to give thanks to all who have gone before us to help build these freedoms we have.

And here at home, today's the day to get off our bums and make our opinion count!


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Grass Is Always Greener On The Other Side

I have a friend who is an auditor for an international company. She travels extensively, criss-crossing between languages and cultures and at times it seems she spends more time on aircraft than she does on the ground. It’s a gruelling job and the constant travelling, plus the intricacies of her profession, demand that she keep her senses fine tuned at all times.

But her friends suggest that she has a swank life; jetting off to foreign lands, staying in posh hotels - it all seems so glamorous. And as a result, sometimes it becomes difficult for her to engage with her friends back home.

I understand completely. With many of my own friends who work for the airlines, I can sit with them whilst they talk about a great lunch they had in Cape Town on Monday, and a wonderful little bistro they found on Copacabaña Beach in Rio the following week. To outsiders it might appear they are boasting. But the reality is that it's the nature of their work.

But those people who do this work, living out of suitcases, surfing across time zones, and listening to their children grow by phone, rather than seeing them grow, have surrendered more than most can imagine. For airline crew, the destination they’ve reached has required them to (literally), walk halfway around the world. They’ve had to face aggressive passengers, smelly passengers, rude passengers, demanding passengers, and occasionally just downright strange passengers.

And what do they get in exchange for collecting all those dirty meal trays? On board, they get abuse because of the weather, because the passenger got stroppy with the gate agent and didn’t get a free upgrade, or because they had a row with their spouse before leaving for the airport and they needed someone to use as their punching bag!

They get to pop on a bus after all the passengers have disembarked, they get to check into a hotel far away from the city - sometimes into rooms that smell worse than the passenger they’ve been so anxious to escape for the past eight thousand miles. They get to wrangle with their body clocks to force themselves to sleep. And most of the time they wake up not remembering where they are because every single hotel room begins to look the same.

I can attest to this. Many years ago there was a time when I spent one hundred and eighty seven nights, in a single year, in Marriott hotels. (plus another 75 in an assortment of, Ritz, Four Seasons, Intercontinentals and Westins!) One morning I woke up not having a clue where I was.

The only things of which I was reasonably certain was that there would be an exasperating ‘how was your stay’ questionnaire on the bed, the bathroom would be on the right, the towels would be some 1970’s retro rendition of earth-tone beige, the ergonomically curved soap would have had a matching colour and the bathroom would reek with the lingering scent of miniature bars of Neutrogena soap. The other thing of which I was certain was that there would be a beige phone and that I could dial '55' and hear the aspartame voice of a management trainee who was trying to exercise a nurturing concern for whatever it was I was rambling on about.

I remember the morning I groped for the phone through the dark and pressed 55. ‘Where am I?’ I quietly asked. I still recall the conversation as if it were yesterday. ‘You’re calling from room 1819,’ the chirpy little voice confirmed. I would have rolled my eyes but they were still stuck with sand. ‘No, WHERE am I?’ I repeated, hoping I wasn’t going to have to go through facial exercises that early in the morning.

‘You’re in the Marriott, sir.’ You could hear how she emphasised the word ‘sir,’ as if she were looking around the hotel herself for confirmation.

‘No…,’ I moaned, ‘What Marriott!’ The girl now seemed to understand. ‘You’re in the Marriott City Centre, sir.’ And I could hear her tone of satisfaction as if she had just successfully completed the next level of Marriott’s management training course in dealing with hung-over guests.

I do give thanks to God for making me inherently friendly. I still had to muster up my best ‘phone smile’ to ask ‘please, can you tell me what city I’m in?’ There was a pause before the girl responded. I know she didn’t go outside to check for herself and I hope she didn’t have to ask anyone. I think she was just surprised by the question. She quietly whispered ‘you’re in Melbourne, sir.’

I can’t recall whether I put the phone down first or sprang up in bed first. I wasn’t going to demean myself further. She really would have thought I was some torpid, hung-over drunk. (not a good thing when you’re in a Mormon owned hotel!) I swung my feet over to the floor and forced myself to take account of my surroundings. I had fallen asleep, atop the bed spread, in my clothes, and with the telly on. Glaring at me through the darkness was the same old repetitious twaddle of CNN International.

It finally dawned on me that I was in Australia. The problem is that I had been in Orlando just two days before and when the girl said ‘Melbourne,’ ...well, you can imagine. The common term is ‘jet lag.’ But for me it was the catalyst I needed to not stay in a Marriott again for many years. (no offence meant, Marriott.)

Living in this fashion may be fine if you’re single and determined to remain so for the rest of your life. But if you’re married, or in a committed relationship then it can become taxing, not to mention detrimental to both of you.

People who live out of suitcases often fantasize about a life where they can stand still and not have to keep their guard up continually. Those who live the more ‘conventional’ (if there is such a term nowadays), lifestyle, fantasize about the opportunity to travel.

For those of you who hop on an aircraft in the morning, arrive in a foreign city at night, drag yourselves out of bed the next morning to go sit in an office with people whom you don’t know, or worse, detest, then that afternoon head back to the airport to fly home, just to repeat the exercise several days later; I admire you! But hope you have a plethora of psychiatric insurance coverage!

For those of you who drag yourselves out of bed in the morning, get the kiddies ready for school, then head off to work, then come home to receive your children, wash clothes, clean the house, prepare dinner, then drop off to sleep from exhaustion; I admire you too!

Without either of you, our world would be a lesser place.

Go get em tiger!

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Mothers Day? Is it Just for Women?

I’ve always tended to look upon our school headteachers as wise captains of ships, full of young impressionable minds. A headteacher’s wisdom and guidance serves to nurture and inspire those dedicated teachers who give so much of their lives to help develop our nation’s children towards adulthood.

So I was shocked to read that Helen Starkey, the headteacher of Johnstown Primary School in Wales, made the decision to ban Mothers Day. Well, in fairness, as I understand it, she has banned the children from preparing Mother’s Day cards, and any associated events. Her reason was not out of cruelty, but I suspect, more so as a result of falling prey to the advancement of America’s commercial marketing grasp on the rest of the world. According to Mrs Starkey, her reason was out of ‘sensitivity,’ as five percent of her students were separated from their natural birth mother.

Here in Britain Mother’s Day is actually known as Mothering Sunday, and is celebrated on the fourth Sunday of Lent. However, it has no association with the American holiday in May known as Mother’s Day, or as some cynics call it, (me being the leader of that cynicism!) ‘Hallmark Day.’

The original translation from Latin is a derivative of ‘Refreshment’ or ‘Laetare Sunday,’ during Lent: the first words of the opening prayer of the Mass are Laetare Jerusalem (Rejoice Jerusalem), and honour is given to the Mother Church. The extension to actual mothers was gradual, and evolved at time when children, mainly daughters, who had gone to work as domestic servants, were given a day off to visit their family.

Now it is a day when children give presents, flowers, and cards to their mothers. But it can also be recognised, in its truest form, as a time to recognise those who practice the act of mothering. The dictionary defines ‘mothering’ as ‘to care for or protect.’ It is not gender specific. Unfortunately, as the distance between continents become shorter, the commercial aspects of this date overpower its broader and possibly purer origins.

‘Mothering’ comes from carers, nurses, male parents, or anyone who serves or cares for others, those who provide loving, nurturing care as if they were the mother to the individual. These people are so often forgotten or ignored and I find it heartbreaking that due recognition is seldom given. The individual who has cared for an invalid or elderly person, who needed mothering in its truest sense, may be forgotten this Sunday and at all other times.

Most Sundays in the year churchgoers in England worship at their nearest parish or ‘daughter church.’ Centuries ago, it was considered important for people to return to their home or ‘mother’ church once a year. So each year in the middle of Lent, everyone would visit the main church or Cathedral of the area.

Over time the return to the ‘mother’ church became an occasion for family reunions when children who were working away returned home. (It’s difficult to comprehend that less than a hundred years ago children who were as young as nine or ten would leave their village home to work in cities like London.)

And most historians believe that it was the return to the ‘Mother’ church which led to the tradition of children, particularly those working as domestic servants, or as apprentices, being given the day off to visit their families. As they travelled along country lanes, children would collect wild flowers or violets to take to church or give to their mother as a small gift.

The American holiday, which has sadly become so commercialised, began in 1912 when an International Mother’s Day association was formed, as a result of the efforts of a Methodist spinster, who recognised the importance of strengthening family ties. The United States Congress passed a joint resolution marking the second Sunday in May as ‘their’ official ‘Mother’s Day.’ It was then proclaimed as a national holiday.

The American date failed to catch on in countries where the US didn’t have strong influence or control, because within the resolution was the mandate that the American flag be displayed on all homes and government buildings in reverence to the mothers of America. It just smelled a bit too nationalist for other countries.

No matter who it is that nurtures, cares for, supports, defends, helps and loves, they certainly deserve accolades of gratitude, praise and love. Today, above all, please don’t forget to recognise them, no matter where in the world you may be!

And if you simply can’t think of anyone at all….you could always hug a priest. There’s not enough of that either!


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A Child's Funeral

Tomorrow at eleven I shall celebrate the funeral of a three-year-old boy. It will be difficult for me, but a thousand times more difficult, of course, for the young parents, the grandparents and the rest of the family. Here was a young life full of promise, welcomed with love and longing by his family and it all ended almost before it had begun.

The service for the funeral of a child is desperately moving; though for the family, the liturgy of faith and hope will not be easy either to say or to hear. Yet I know that the family will survive; in one sense life will go on and perhaps in time, they will even be strengthened by this dark and awful experience.

All around us, as we share the service together and lay the tiny coffin deep within the earth, the priorities of our world will continue. People will go about their daily work, their shopping, and their gardens. Newspapers will lay on the kitchen table, with headlines about war in Syria, President Obama, or the Royal Family.

For us, at the graveside, all the world will come to a standstill, just for a minute or two-there will be nothing more important than a small box and a few handfuls of soil. It seems like a parable on the subject of perspective.

Our perspectives for those fleeting moments will be unreservedly clear. Nothing else will matter. And then, of course, we shall return to what we call a ‘normal’ life, where perspectives are seldom clear and often hopelessly distorted. Before we know it, perhaps, the great and small issues of our days will take over, and it will be the price of petrol, or the continued rising deaths in Iraq that disturb our peace of mind.

Jesus accused some of the religious teachers of His time of ‘straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel’ - a very vivid way of saying that they’d got their priorities hopelessly out of perspective. Yet who, in our media-saturated world, really knows which are the gnats and which are the camels? What really matters, and what is of minimal and passing importance in the light of eternity?

In our moments of clear perspective, when our priorities are obvious, the values that tend to emerge are love, commitment, kindness, courage and hope. It’s when the tawdry agenda of every day takes over; celebrity, sport, news and gossip (which are often much the same thing), that we cater to the partisan, to cruel and unthinking words, and harsh, judgemental opinions.

It seems a pity that it takes very often a tragedy or crisis to help us see things so clearly.
As I stand by a child’s grave tomorrow morning I hope I won’t be too quick to forget what I learn there.



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Falling In Love At Clapham Junction

Yesterday I celebrated the passing of a life. Of course, I do this often. But there are some funerals that remain with you; they capture part of your heart and refuse to let you go.

Funerals are a constant in my village. We have an enormous senior community. According to those people who stay locked away in windowless rooms, fiddling with numbers and such throughout the day and night, the average age mean where I live is … well … more or less … deceased! So to say I celebrated a funeral today is a bit like saying I brushed my teeth this morning.
Last November I celebrated the life of his wife. Sixty-seven years they had been married! Look at the divorce rate today. It’s an actuarial fact that the average marriage will not survive more than 7.5 years now.

But this couple were in it for the long run. Till death do us part. Back then, people took their words before God seriously. But just as with so many other things today, solemn words are little more than just words. And when I hear people proudly tell me of all those years they lived together, I feel a burst of wholehearted admiration for them.

The day I went to their home to discuss his wife’s funeral, I couldn’t wrestle away the thought of how lonely he was going to be. Elderly British men have it particularly rough when their wives die. Not only are there all the understandable emotional sorrows, but most of them have never once set foot in a kitchen.
He was severely deaf and his hearing aid seemed to be more of a nuisance than helpful. And sadly, he was at that awful beginning of ageing dementia, where everyone but you is becoming concerned about your welfare.

I was so grateful that his daughter was there. She was making all the arrangements for her mother. She kindly shared with me many personal private thoughts about her parents. I wanted to speak with her father as well, but without exaggerating, I literally had to forcefully yell in order for him to hear me. And even then I wasn’t assured that he had fully comprehended what I said.

But he did say something that stuck with me for all this time. He told me of when he and his wife first met and where they would rendezvous-beneath the large clock at Clapham Junction Railway Station. He really wasn’t able to share much more with me. But it was this thought that remained at the forefront of his mind.

There’s an old British maxim that says when you die and go to Heaven, you will have to change at Clapham Junction. And as I left them that day, I couldn’t escape the image of this young couple; she was 17, he was 18, meeting time after time at Clapham Junction, Europe's busiest railway station.

If you’re in your late seventy’s and reading this, you will easily be able to recreate the image. If you’re fifty and below, it would be difficult. You have to remember that during that time, the station would have been shrouded in a miasma of smog and smoke. The endless arrival and departure of trains, not the ‘quiet’ ones we enjoy today, but the powerful steel horses, snorting like an enraged team of black stallions, and belching bellowing black plumes of soot and ash into the air, amid the ever-oppressive drone of the tannoy, calling out such exotic destinations as Crossbush, Liphook and Brighton ("well, Hove actually.")
It all creates such a powerful juxtaposition-young lovers, oblivious to the raging world around them. And raging it indeed was. The great depression would have been in full swing when they first met. And Europe was in turmoil. Our government was grasping at any able-bodied young male, preparing to drag them into the caldron of war.

Each passing of a life leaves a passport to the future in its children and grandchildren. And it is those sweet memories that reside within us and embrace us years later when we begin to prepare for our own next journey. But it’s a powerful force when someone’s passing gently touches another.

Yesterday, when we committed your soul to God’s care, you gave me something that I will draw upon from time to time, whenever I need to momentarily escape from the belching, snorting, steel horses around me.

I’ll think of those two young lovers, back together again, meeting beneath the clock at Clapham Junction.


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A Thought For Advent

This may seem an odd subject to write about at the beginning of Advent, but this year there have been many successes in the arrests of child-traffickers and those who exploit women and children for gain. I see this as a wonderful blessing. But there is still a long way to go.

The trafficking of the young and innocent is an appalling offence. It inevitably affects the most vulnerable and least secure of women and children, making them false promises and offering false hope. These girls from Eastern Europe, often struggling with poverty, come to our country in trust, dependent for their safety on those who brought them over, believing that here they’ll find a loving home, honest work and have legal protection.

Instead, they’re betrayed, exploited and abused by the very people they depend upon. Often lured by women working for the traffickers, the girls are sold the dream of a safe, loving family of other girls in similar circumstances who will care for them and help guide them along the way in their new life. How tragically different the truth is.

Enforced prostitution is an utter violation of women. It is a violation by a whole racketeering industry, which treats them as commodities and robs them of sexual integrity. It is a violation by individuals who want what the women have, without any respect for who they are.

And yet, this is an appropriate Christmas story. For it taps us into the darker side of Christmas. It reminds us this is the kind of world that God came into: a world where the vulnerable are abused and where to be fragile is to be easily exploited. Human violation of the defenceless was as great at that first Christmas as it is now; with homeless refugees on the move, and the slaughter of hundreds of innocent children.

The irony of the Christmas event is that God didn’t come as a great military hero to impose a new regime, or as the world’s policeman to do a clean-up job. He came precisely as one of the world’s most vulnerable: a baby, defenceless, fragile, unable to help himself, utterly dependent on those who were His protectors.

The Christian story challenges the very foundations of all our play-safe policies, our protection against being vulnerable, our fear of powerlessness. For it says instead, that the vulnerable matter, the weak are highly significant, the susceptible are important, the defenceless count. In taking on human vulnerability at its most fragile God gives dignity to each defenceless person, and requires us, in our relationships and our laws, to do the same.

Living without defences, Christ knows the sufferings of people who struggle under evil, whether girls sold into prostitution, or parents of murdered children, and God will act on their behalf. For in the vulnerability of a baby in a manger lies the power of divine love and justice.

The story of Christmas is Emmanuel, God with us.

May your own coming Christmas be filled with warmth and joy!

Father Bill Haymaker+

Publicat în memoria iubitoare de Părintele Bill


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