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 What may be outdated equipment for you could change the life of a child in Eastern Europe!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: www.ProjectNewLife.org

Sunday

When We Need a Little Help

If you’re a parent who works you most likely rely upon someone to help you with your children. It could be a relative, or it could be a paid carer. If you travel for a living you may leave your complete trust with your partner to compensate for your absence. And there can be times such as flight delays, illness, or even death, when you must have faith in people outside your typical circle to help you.

I too am grateful to so many who help me. This past year I’ve had some frustrating challenges with my health and it's that circle of friends who tirelessly do so much to help who often keep me energised. I even receive help in my email communications at times. And to those who work so hard to decipher my scribbled thoughts for my diary from time-to-time, I’m not only eternally grateful, but in awe over how they’re able to make any sense of my chicken-scratchings.

But there are times when you have to leave your trust in God and God alone to help.

Several years ago I boarded a night flight to Johannesburg. I was dreading the trip. I was facing a seven hour journey to Dubai, plus another eight hours on the next sector to Johannesburg. I was tired and really wasn’t looking forward to the flight. Although I had a book with me, I knew my eyes would be staring at the back of my eyelids long before the aircraft pushed back from the gate at Heathrow.

Dreading the journey so, I held back until everyone else had boarded. I was the only one remaining in the boarding lounge and the gate agent was piercing holes in my head with her eyes, as if she were frustrated that she couldn't close out the flight because of me, so I grudgingly presented my boarding pass, apologised, and sauntered down the jetway to the aircraft.

I worked my way through the cabin to my seat row and was delighted to discover the seat next to mine was unoccupied. The rest of the cabin was full. I immediately decided to nick the spare pillow and blanket, once the doors were shut, so I could prop them under my arms as I nestled in for my sleep.

But as I was doing my typical reconnaissance of my surroundings-how many rows to the nearest emergency exit, a quick glance at who was seated in my vicinity and digging out the eye mask from the amenity kit, I noticed a police officer come on board, followed by a girl, who I would guess was in her early twenties. Behind her was another officer.

I watched with curiosity as one of the officers briefly spoke with the senior flight attendant. She pointed to the girl to head down the aisle to find her seat; the officers left and the door was shut. Before the girl had moved past me my attention had already turned to making myself comfortable. But just as I picked up the pillow and blanket, she was standing beside me. She didn’t say anything. Her body language said she was to be seated beside me. I have no idea why I just assumed she’d be going into the cabins behind me. I later learned from the crew that an airline employee had been given the last seat in economy.

I apologised and mumbled that I didn’t think there would be anyone sitting beside me. As I stood up to let her move into the window seat she briefly said ‘ The hostess told me to sit here.’ I again apologised. I allowed her to get her seatbelt on and then handed her the pillow and blanket, again apologising. And at that my mind went back to my planned activity of going to sleep.

‘Are you going to Sydney?’ she asked. I replied that I wasn’t. I don’t recall saying where I was headed. I had answered her question, politely, but I didn’t wish to engage in any conversation. In fact, I closed my eyes at that, hoping to make the polite point that I was going to sleep.

‘Did you see the police come on with me?’ she asked. I had, but I thought it was more polite to say I hadn’t. ‘I was told I had to leave. I exceeded my visa. And if I stayed any longer I was going to get in a lot of trouble.’ I told her that must have been a frightening experience. And I added that I had hoped Her Majesty's Government had been, at the very least, polite about the whole experience.

The girl began talking. And to be honest, I don’t recall her stopping from that point. She had met a boy from England when he came to the Northern Territory in Australia two years earlier. When he returned home she had flown to England to be with him. But apparently the relationship didn’t last a month, especially when she discovered that he already had a girlfriend-something he had accidentally forgotten to share with her.

The girl, like so many who come to Britain and become part of the patina of London’s multiculturalism, didn’t want to return. The outback town she came from offered nothing but an endless open cattle range of dust and loneliness. She had found herself a job as a waitress in one of London’s many anonymous café’s.

She told me that her father was ‘mean’ and that her mother had wanted them to leave him for ‘a long time.’ She was ‘caught’ in London when two Home Office Immigration Officers came to the café to check the paperwork of all the staff. She was very emotional about what might await her once she arrived in Australia. She had the (wrong) impression that she would be arrested for having overstayed her visa in the UK.

I asked her how she was going to get back to her town, which was about 200km north of Alice Springs. She said she didn’t know, especially as the least expensive ticket she could find only took her to Sydney. She didn’t know anyone in Sydney, but was more concerned over what might await her because she had stayed beyond the date HM Customs had stamped in her passport.

During the meal (yes, I ended up eating) and throughout the flight I reinforced the fact that nothing would happen to her for overstaying her visa. She seemed to physically calm over this and then her concerns turned to what she was going to do in Sydney. She told me that she really didn’t want to go back to where her dad was and she wistfully mentioned that perhaps her mum could come to her.

I remembered how many youth hostels there were in the areas of Kings Cross and Wooloomooloo and told her how easy it would be to get there and suggested that she stay in one for a few nights and she could check the boards for part-time jobs. This seemed to have sparked a more positive attitude from her. Her demeanour slowly changed from the frightened and nervous passenger, to one who was now clinging to a mustard seed of ideas.

As the morning sun was cresting over the Arabian Sea we prepared for landing in Dubai. Seven hours had passed and I don’t think the girl had once stopped talking. I looked at the headset, with its wires still wrapped into a neat little bow, poking out of my seatback pocket and imagined how nice it would be to get on the next flight and go to sleep!

As the plane taxied to the gate, the girl, (I never knew her name, nor she mine), said something to me that I shall never forget. ‘Thank you for talking to me all this time. I had actually said a prayer to God that it would have been nice to have a priest, or someone like that, sit next to me to talk to, but I’m glad it was you instead.’

'Perhaps I was meant to be here too,' I replied.
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I rise before dawn and cry for help; I have put my hope in Your word. Psalm 119:147
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Tuesday

Celebrating Easter Twice

I received an email from my friend Natalia in Moldova asking me why did the Easter dates she and I celebrate differ.

Throughout the Commonwealth and the Americas, this year the Anglo/Catholic Easter is celebrated on 27th of March. However, across Eastern Europe, Russia and the Middle East the Orthodox Easter is celebrated on the 1st of May. 


It’s an excellent question. I was first going to write Natalia and jokingly blame Pope Gregory for just wanting to keep us on our toes. But the more I’ve thought about it, the more I feel she deserves an accurate answer and perhaps there might be some here who are interested.

So for all my friends here in Eastern Europe, I hope this helps. And to our friends around the world, I hope this makes sense. (and my usual apologies for being so loquacious!)

On the 27th of March we celebrate the most important date in our Christian calendar. Hopefully, churches will be overflowing. People jokingly say that the CofE (Church of England) also refers to Christmas and Easter – the only days you’ll get a Church of England member into a church. Sadly, that can hold more fact than fiction, sometimes.

But for those who aren’t attending church, and for many who go to church out of a sense of ‘well, we’ve always done it before, so we’ll keep on doing it, although we haven’t a clue what it’s all about,’ they will most likely be celebrating the original pagan festival of ‘Eastre.’ Eastre, ‘ the goddess of springtime and birth,’ or the literal term ‘offspring.’

 
In early times, missionaries who spread the Gospel, were compelled to blend Christian theology with the then currently practised pagan celebrations. This way, it prevented communities, who would have interpreted the message of Christianity to be detrimental to the growth of crops, from revolting. They would have also seen the promulgation of Christianity as a threat to the villages and health of the residents.

Eventually, the locals came to believe that by adding Christianity to their practices, it ‘might’ help their prosperity. However, at the same time, they held close to their original pagan rituals. Over time, the name Eastre morphed into Easter as more and more became converted.

The ‘church,’ which increasingly gained power over societies, continued to allow the use of pagan rituals so as to avoid anarchy among the people.

During the first centuries of Christianity, there was great disagreement over the true date of Easter. The first attempt at resolution was made at the First Ecumenical Council meeting, in Nicaea in AD325, which produced an acceptable calculation measured by the position of the moon.

It was agreed that Easter would be celebrated on the first Sunday following the first full moon, after the spring equinox. This was decided as it maintained a close link between scriptural records and the yearly celebration of Eastre/Easter.

However, there continued to be disagreement over the exact dates that Easter fell upon due to the fact that the four Gospels did not provide the actual date of the Resurrection. They only allude to the fact that it occurs in relationship to Passover, and on the first day of the week (Sunday). However, there still remains confusion.

At present Western churches calculate the date of Easter using the Gregorian calendar, which was introduced in 1582, It remains today as the worldwide standard calendar.

Interestingly, most Orthodox churches, including the Russian church, maintain the older Julian calendar to calculate Easter’s date. Unfortunately, the Julian calendar does not sustain alignment in measuring solar years, such as keeping months in alignment with the seasons.

There has always been agreement that the celebration of the Resurrection should not be a sign of division among Christians. Unfortunately, that consensus was broken when Pope Gregory XIII reformed the calendar in 1582, thus again changing the dates for Easter. Most Orthodox churches refused to alter the method for calculating Easter.

In 1998 the World Council of Churches and the Middle East Council of Churches, representing the majority of the world’s churches, agreed to set a common date for Easter. They agreed to use the current formula, but would also adhere to the most accurate astronomical scientific knowledge available. It was felt that this would help overcome any division that existed, whereby both traditions insisted upon retaining their old methods for calculating the date.

This is despite the fact that the formula actually isn’t entirely faithful to the original formula laid down by the early church. The formula, or algorithm, used today is known as the Nicaea formula. Unfortunately, a definitive decision regarding which calendar would be followed still has not been agreed.

So, during the next two decades there are actual dates when both calendars do fall on a common date. They include: 2014 and 2017.

Despite this decision, there have been occasions when the world churches have had to resist intense pressure from governments, which were presumably pressured by highly paid lobbyists, and businesses, to hold Easter on the same date every year. (Sorry Hallmark, Nestlé, and Hershey).

The churches have been resolute in their determination to remain faithful to the Nicaea formula. The Resurrection is a divine event that keeps check with reality, rather than the convenience of world governments and its’ powerful businesses.

With all the discord that exists between churches, we pray that in the coming years there will be an agreement whereby we can all celebrate together.

In America, Britain, Australia and a few other countries, the ‘Easter egg’ and ‘Easter bunny’ stand as the commercial understanding of Easter. The bunny also originated with the pagan festival of Ēastre, and again, through the goddess
Ēostre, Anglo-Saxons worshipped the goddess through her earth-bound symbol the rabbit.

It was German settlers who brought the symbol of the rabbit to the Americas. In fact, it wasn’t embraced by the Americans until shortly after the Civil War. It may come as a surprise to some, that even the Resurrection itself wasn’t celebrated in America until the mid to late 1800’s.

The ‘Easter egg’ dates back to the earliest of time when it was a symbol of rebirth in most cultures. It was introduced to the Americans just after the Civil War.

In Eastern Europe the egg holds similar symbols of rebirth, but the spiritual attachment runs much deeper. To Orthodox Christians, the Paschal egg became the sealed tomb wherein the body of the Lord had been placed after His crucifixion.

Traditions state that the custom of the egg had its start with Mary Magdalene, who is often depicted in icons holding a red egg. She may have been aware that the Romans would know the meaning of the egg as something that brings forth life from a sealed chamber.

After Jesus was crucified and ascended to Heaven, Mary was in Rome. When she met with the Roman Emperor Tiberius, she gave him a red coloured egg and announced, 'Christos anesti!' (Christ is Risen!) She then went on to preach to Tiberius about Jesus. It was an intelligent choice on her part because it was something the Romans would have understood.

In the early days of Christendom, red was the only colour used in colouring the eggs, as it signified the sacred blood of Jesus which had been shed on Calvary.

During Orthodox Paschal services the priest will bless the eggs. They are then distributed. The worshippers greet one another with the words ‘Christ is risen!’ At the same time they hit their egg against the other person’s as they respond ‘He is Risen Indeed!’ This supplication symbolises a mutual prayer for the breaking of one’s bonds of sins and misery. It also stands for entering the new life we receive from Christ’s resurrection.

Eventually, none of the eggs will remain unbroken. The breaking of the egg emphasises that our Lord had conquered death and is risen, granting new life to all. The egg is then consumed as a symbolic breaking of the Lenten fast.

There are many variations on the use of the egg throughout religions. Even in Iran, the egg is used during Nowrooz, which is the Persian New Year. It too celebrates new life.

I consider myself very fortunate, in that I have the honour of celebrating Christ’s resurrection twice; in England, and with my friends in Moldova, Romania and Hungary. Regardless of where I am in person, I will certainly be in spirit!

He has Risen Indeed!




How blessed is this day, when earth and Heaven are joined and humankind is reconciled to God! May the light of Jesus shine continually to drive away all darkness. May Christ, the Morning Star who knows no setting, find His light ever- burning in our hearts—He who gives His light to all creation, and who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen. BCP '79







Írásos Bill atya gyűjteményéből. Imádkozunk az egészsége. LR



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Shrove Tuesday

OK, I’m rummaging through the fridge: milk - yep, butter – absolutely! Now the cabinets: Flour –plenty, oil, and yes…there it is – I’ve been saving it – a large bottle of imported Log Cabin Maple syrup! I'm all prepared - Shrove Tuesday here we go! This year it is celebrated on February 17. But I must confess - I did sneak in a few pancakes this past weekend as well!

Shrove Tuesday sometimes reminds me of children with their modern Advent calendars; chocolates, candies and other assorted surprises hiding behind each door. But sadly, there appears no mention of what the calendar is about or its symbolism; just as with Shrove Tuesday; it is no longer Shrove Tuesday – it’s now Pancake Day!

Originally, Shrove Tuesday was the day that people would confess their sins and receive absolution. Shriving - that act of forgiveness, where the individual is released from their suffering, pain and guilt, was in preparation for the season of Lent. During this time people would empty their larders, freeing their homes from foods such as: meats, eggs, fatty foods, fish and milk items. This prepared the home for the period of Lent – that time for reflection, renewal, and forgiveness.

Today so many people are becoming more health-conscious. They are recognising the importance of cleansing their bodies through detoxification, fasting, and exercise.

Shrove Tuesday is quite similar. It’s a celebration as well as an act of penitence, in preparation of cleansing the soul. And Mardi Gras, the French translation for ‘Fat Tuesday’ is the celebration of that act.

How wonderful! We have cleaned out our fridges and we have cleansed our souls. Indeed, it is a time to celebrate.

Flipping Marvellous!
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Thursday

A Bedside Prayer for Death of a Child

I was honoured to have attended a child’s passing last night. Kayleigh was nine years old. She would have turned ten in November. Leukaemia had ravaged her body and she was extremely weak from both the illness and the aggressive treatments she had endured over the past few months.

Several hours earlier, the doctors had worked determinedly to resuscitate her when her heart failed. I didn’t need to ask in this case, I instinctively knew that Kayleigh’s mother still had not moved to acceptance that her daughter’s body was failing and thus had refused to sign the ‘DNR’ order, allowing Kayleigh’s spirit to pass on without further interference with her body. But you could see in the eyes of the kind doctor and nurses that they knew what the inevitable outcome would be.

In the early afternoon Kayleigh was talking with her seven-year-old sister Justine and mother. I sat in a chair far in the corner of the room. I could still just barely hear them speak, but couldn’t always clearly hear what was being said. Justine had been devotedly swabbing Kayleigh’s lips with a small sponge on a stick to provide moisture to her lips.

It was just before 5 when Kayleigh’s mother said she needed to take Justine home where her grandmother was preparing dinner. She would return within the half-hour. I promised I would remain with Kayleigh while she was gone.

As I walked with the mother and child to the doors of the ward, Justine looked up at me and said ‘ Kayleigh said she is going to send each of us a card.’ She said it with that beautiful conviction that only children can show, as if they were speaking of Father Christmas arriving the following morning. ‘That’s wonderful Justine,’ I said. ‘I’ll look forward to hearing from her.’


I said goodbye at the hallway and watched the pitiful figure of the mother move down the hallway, with Justine half-skipping, half-running beside her. I could hear Justine cheerfully chatting away about something as I turned back into the hospital ward.
When I returned to Kayleigh’s room, she was still. Her eyes were open and in any other setting, saving the pale grey appearance of her skin, you might have thought she was just gazing at the ceiling. It had only been a matter of minutes from when we had walked out the door to my return and Kayleigh's body had taken its last breath.

I felt the tears welling up in my eyes, but I also felt myself smiling. She was at peace. But there was something much more powerful in the moments that had passed. Kayleigh had fought hard to remain there for her mother and sister – to impart that powerful message to Justine – that she’s only going on a journey, not that she simply wouldn’t exist anymore.

And for both her mother and sister, Kayleigh’s passing occurred at a moment when little Justine would not have been subjected to a repeat of her mother’s frantic and poignant fight to try to protect her daughter from a disease that had ravaged the child’s body.

One of the nurses named Betty, came into the room and saw me standing at the end of the bed. It only took seconds for her to realise that Kayleigh had passed. I was deeply touched because without any words she put her arms around me and hugged me. Betty removed the IV line whilst I closed Kayleigh’s eyes and together we straightened the bed and turned down the lights. I didn’t really think about it, but I took a floppy eared sock rabbit that Justine had brought her sister from the nightstand and tucked it in beside Kayleigh.

I asked Betty if she would like to stay with me as I offered prayers for Kayleigh. She held up her finger to indicate ‘just a moment,’ and she left the room. Seconds later she returned with another nurse and one of the ward assistants. We gathered around Kayleigh’s bed and prayed:
Christ Jesus, most merciful Saviour,
Hear our prayers as we gather in Your name
We commend this child into Your arms of mercy.
Kayleigh has been a blessing to all who knew her.

She brought laughter, warmth, and comfort to many
And in the moments when her mother and others showed despair
Kayleigh provided a noble message of hope and promise,
in her unfailing conviction that her life here may be limited
but is by no means final.

Grant comfort and strength to those who gather here now,
dedicating their lives to the care of others,
who often must face life as it moves to shadows.
Embrace them with Your eternal love
through everything they do.

Thank you for the love we would never have known,
but for Kayleigh’s brief days with us.

May the angels surround Kayleigh
and the saints welcome her with joy.

Lord God, we commend this child to Your everlasting care.

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen

One of the staff very sweetly offered to remain with Kayleigh as I walked to the entrance of the hospital to await the return of her mother.
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Now Lord, You let Your servant go in peace. Your word has been fulfilled. Support us O Lord all the day long of this troublous life. Until the shadows lengthen and the evening comes. The busy world is hushed, The fever of life is over and our work is done. Then Lord, in Your mercy, grant us a safe lodging, A Holy rest, and peace at last. Through Christ our Lord. Amen
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Wednesday

Preparing For Christmas

We’re now reaching the last weekend before Christmas. And as with every single year in the past, the newspapers will be sure to find someone - usually a clergyman, to voice the complaint that the whole season has become nothing more than an orgy of spending and consumption, and to declare that they intend to 'drop out' and give the money they save to people who need it.

With equal certainty, this will then be matched by another voice, condemning such a killjoy attitude and insisting that we should join in the full festivities, grateful that even such a secular world as ours still gives so much to a major Christmas festival.

This little ritual is a regular occurrence because both voices strike a chord. Sometimes it really does seem as though Christmas Day, when it comes, is more of a whimper than a bang, and all the preparation and expenditure ends in a 'celebration' that for a lot of people doesn't amount to much more than a day in front of the telly, watching special editions of programmes they would have watched anyway.

At the same time, it's deeply built into human beings that from time to time they should push the boat out, and organise occasions when the economical gives way to the extravagant. To refuse ever to do this is not to remain sensible in the face of general foolishness, but to cast ourselves in the part of Scrooge.

It might seem that the answer lies in striking a balance, but the matter goes deeper than this. To know how and where to strike that balance, we need to experience a genuine sense of celebration; we need to know what the point of all the activity is, and what gives it meaning.



Otherwise, Christmas really is just going through expensive, if not time honoured motions, a case of perfectly pointless 'shop till you drop.'

Perhaps this Christmas season, amidst the financial woes of the world, we will think a bit less of the commercial and begin to focus more on our greatest and most meaningful gifts - family, friends, and the greatest gift of all - the one that arrived in a grotty barn on a star filled night.







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Saturday

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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Thursday

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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Wednesday

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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Tuesday

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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Sunday

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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Friday

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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Wednesday

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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Thursday

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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