"Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful."
Are we sheep or goats?
‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
Many years ago as a young child, said to his mother, “I know how to end all war.” “How”, she asked. “Stop sinning” was the answer. The mother knew that what the child said was true.
Today this truth is abundantly clear. All the evils of conflict, exploitation, poverty, and environmental depredation are a direct result of our greed and our indifference to all things that don’t confront us directly. It isn’t easy, though, to accept personal responsibility. It is much easier to see the responsibility lying with big business, Government, rogue leaders, the rich and everybody else.
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” (Matthew 25, 31-46)
Throughout history, it has been the inaction of those who could have acted, the indifference of those who should have known better and the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most, that has made it possible for evil to triumph. (Haile Selassie)
Jesus came to change the world. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus asked who was a neighbour to the man attacked and left to die and the answer was the man who did something. The sin of those who passed by was to do nothing – a sin of omission rather than commission, yet, in a sense, action rather than inaction. Another message in the parable of the Good Samaritan is the answer to the question a priest asked many years ago at the end of his homily: “Who is my neighbour?” The answer was “Everyone”.
And so the Gospels, as applied in today’s world, charge us with seeing everyone as our neighbour – people we don’t like, people we have never met, people near and people at the other end of the world. And the Gospels charge us to recognise that not doing anything about the exploitation, poverty, abuse or the wretchedness of our neighbour is an act. It is an act of omission.
This month let us pray that:
• We can come to understand what Jesus taught in the Gospel of Mathew and acknowledge the evil of doing nothing. That the Lord will show us any sin of omission.
• We can come to understand that everything is inter-connected and that, somehow, we share some responsibility for everything that is wrong in the world.
• Please also pray for Samara Levy (see December’s prayer theme). She is experiencing some health issues. Please pray that she maintains her health and is able to continue her good work in Syria and will one day be able to visit and share her story first hand.
A Christian living in Ukraine writes:
By the waters of Babylon,
there we sat down and wept,Z
when we remembered Zion.
This psalm was written when God's people were taken into Babylonian exile. They were remembering the lives they used to have and wept in the foreign land. According to the UNHCR, 7.8 million refugees from Ukraine have been recorded across Europe. Also, about 2.8 million Ukrainians have been forcefully deported or pressured to move to Russia. In total, it makes up 25% of Ukraine's population. Add to this number almost 5 million internally displaced people and those who left their homes for safer regions but never registered for government support (like our family). Each of us left something dear behind, but as we weep, we also hold on to the hope of the bright, peaceful future that will definitely come.
Russia hoped to win this war in 3 days. 10 days at the most. We're well into the 10th month. This war turns into a test of endurance both for the civilians and the armies. Russia has many resources. We have a lot of support. They are motivated to kill. We want to live. This is such an obvious fight between evil and good that one couldn't make up a more contrasting story. We know that good will win in the end, but we can't help but ask God how much longer we must endure. So when it gets tough, I remind myself that the people living in the active combat zone and our defenders face much greater challenges, so now is not the time to complain.
Bakhmut is one of the cities with non-stop fighting. It is a true symbol of resilience and invincibility. share their brief insight as they see Bakhmut being turned into another Mariupol. An eyewitness shared: "A building was hit in front of our eyes. People ran outside. It's just the two of them and their dog living in the building's basement. The man runs back into the burning building to bring out gas bags to avoid an explosion. The woman says this is the sixth time the building has been hit in a week. We try to call the emergency services but explain to the woman, "You know, likely, they will not come. The whole city is being shelled now, so it's dangerous."
In a minute, a fire truck comes into the yard. The woman cries, "My beloved! Thank you!" More and more people - the military, the police - go into the yard to extinguish the fire. And all of it happens while the city is under heavy shelling. Bakhmut has an invincible will, yet it hurts to see someone's life go up in flames while there's nothing you can do to help.”
Please, pray for our people…
Samara Levy answered God’s call. What is God asking of US?
In his preface to Samara Levy’s book, Rebuilding the Ruins, the vicar of St Peter’s, Brighton, relates how a young woman came to speak to him after morning service, about Syrian refugees and how the church must do something to help. It was obvious that helping refugees was something she was absolutely going to do, whether her church joined in or not. God had asked Samara to “start collecting” aid for the Middle East. All she was asking of the vicar was for him to encourage church members to bring along their unwanted warm winter clothing on Sunday, to send out to a refugee camp.
What happened in the years following is remarkable – from collecting a few bin liners full of clothes in her back bedroom to launching an appeal for a multi-million pound hospital in Syria. This is her story.
Around Christmas 2013, Samara saw reports of Syrian refugee children in snow covered camps, wearing flip flops and summer clothes. These were the clothes they had been wearing when they fled from their homes in summer and they had nothing else.
As she looked at the pile of beautiful warm clothes and shoes she had been saving for her sister’s baby, she felt desperate to give them to those poor mothers and children who had absolutely nothing. She wondered how it would be possible to get them there
The idea of a lorry filled with clothes and shoes wouldn't go away but the problems were enormous. “There were so many challenges to overcome, but I have seen many prayers answered, sometimes in the most miraculous ways. Halfway through my first collection it looked like an impossible mission, yet through prayer, in the end, I had more than enough to fill a lorry, raised more money than I needed, and sent the lorry off. That one lorry has turned into more than 100 lorries and containers in four years distributed to more than half a million people in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. To date there have been hundreds of people from many different communities involved in this project, and more than 350 churches across the UK that have organised collections. I have been so encouraged to see such a great number of people from different backgrounds, different faiths and no faith coming together to do something to show some love and care for these brothers and sisters of ours who are suffering so much.”
There is more. The charity she formed has sent 11 ambulances and a range of specialist medical equipment and provided four small field hospitals in Syria. They have also opened an outreach centre in Syria to encourage and work with orphans and widows left in the wake of the Syrian war, feeding and offering educational support and activities. They are in the process of opening a permanent specialist medical centre in a poor area, which will ultimately provide a range of specialist medical services, which should be operational very soon. There are also farming projects to grow and process essential food crops.
Samara is an inspiration, someone who against all the odds can do what most of us cannot. She is an ordinary woman, a wife and mother of two boys, committed to serving the poorest and the victims of war in Syria and the Middle East, demonstrating God’s unconditional love.
Let us support Sarah and her work with our prayers that:
· We will obey the call of God to serve Him and his Kingdom, to love the poor, to care for the sick, and to reach out to those in need
· We will avoid letting self-indulgence come before serving others
· We will choose God’s way and avoid giving in to the entitled, consumer-driven, materialistic society we are surrounded by, encouraging us to want more, deserve more, treat ourselves and feel that “we are worth it”.
You can find out more about Samara’s work here:
If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not carry his cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple. Luke (14:25-33)
This month’s prayer theme is taken from a recent homily by our newly ordained Deacon in the Catholic Diocese of Salford, and based in the Parish of Our Lady of the Valley.
In Luke’s gospel, Jesus shows us the direction of travel that is needed if we are going to be a disciple of His. Through the lens of St Luke, Jesus guides, leads, nudges and cajoles us as to just what we must do if we want to call ourselves a follower. However, in this passage, there is no cajoling. It feels like we need our crash helmets as Jesus gives us a stark view of discipleship. The language is strong and the words are uncomfortable.
Often when we listen to Jesus, his words are uplifting, enriching and full of hope, whereas here we seem only to be challenged. Challenged to access our comfort zones, our possessions, our so-called securities, even our own family is in the spotlight, as indeed is anything that draws us away from Him and His love. He makes a direct call for us to look at what we prioritise and what that means for our life as a follower of Christ.
There is a story told of Leonardo Di Vinci who, on finishing one of his great works, the painting of the Last Supper, calls a friend round. ‘Give me your honest opinion ’he pleads. ‘It is wonderful”, the friend enthuses, ‘look how that cup stands out in the centre of the table, it looks as if it were real, I can’t take my eyes off it’. Instantly Di Vinci steps forward to the canvas and with a few bold strokes blots out the cup. ‘If it attracted you in that way ’he said to his friend, ‘then it cannot remain. Nothing in the picture should distract your attention from Jesus our Lord. He is the focus of the painting.’
Jesus is asking us to focus on him, to walk with him, to follow the way of the cross, to forsake the false prophets of the world. Jesus is not advocating hostility but pleading with us to search for something infinitely more valuable than anything that wealth, power and prestige can buy
Discipleship it seems is not something we can pick up and then put down. We get the impression that those following Jesus were on the cusp of whether to make a commitment. Jesus urges them that, like the builder and the king, they know the cost of the undertaking they will need to complete the journey.
Those who followed a Rabbi learned in a very different way. There were no classes, no lectures, no power point presentations for the followers would simply follow. They would eat, sleep, drink and pray together in order to tap into the very essence of the teacher, so that they could imitate him, learning not data but wisdom. This is how the Rabbi would train his disciple. The disciple and Rabbi were dedicated to a life together. Where one goes, the other follows.
So being a follower of Christ is not just about obeying orders. It means being in Christ, thinking like Him, acting like Him, loving like Him, it means letting him take possession of our life and transform it.
The good news is that He doesn’t say that He will abandon you and you will have to manage on your own
Discipleship then, and now, is a process. Jesus constantly surprised and challenged the way of looking at God and at others. Change does not come instantly or easily, as we see in the life of the apostles, yet Jesus kept loving, kept correcting, and giving them time to grow. Indeed, it is often our weaknesses and difficulties that drive us to Him.
Take inspiration from the words of Pope Francis: “Let the risen Jesus enter your life—welcome him as a friend, with trust: he is life! If up till now you have kept him at a distance, step forward. He will receive you with open arms. If you have been indifferent, take a risk; you won’t be disappointed. If following him seems difficult, don’t be afraid. Trust him, be confident that he is close to you, he is with you, and he will give you the peace you are looking for and the strength to live as he would have you do.”
A prayer for Jesus’ disciples:
Lord, your Gospel call is uncompromising and I am uneasy, Draw me close to You!
I want to follow but am afraid of letting go of so much, Never let me go!
Help me to lay it all down, receive and support me!
All for You my saviour, fill me so that my whole being speaks of You,
My whole life teaches about You until my reflection is You!