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26th Dec, 2014

Lá an Dreoilín (Wren Day)

wren2Today being "Wren Day" I thought I'd refer to this Irish tradition that had nearly died away until revived in recent years. The tradition consisted of boys (and girls nowadays) "hunting" for a wren (an dreoilín), putting it on a holly branch on a pole, dressing in motley clothing, going around making "music", and asking for coins to bury the bird - "A penny or tuppence would do it no harm".

The verse ran: "The wran, the wran, the king of all birds on St. Stephen's Day was caught in the furze."

The custom is probably druidic in origin (draoí éan = druidic bird) but a modern version says that the little wren was the selected victim because of a belief that this bird betrayed a group of Irish soldiers by perching and tapping on their drums as they approached part of Cromwell's army (1649-1653). Alerted to their presence, Cromwell's men massacred them all. For this, the bird is to be punished ever after. Thankfully, nowadays an immitation is used in place of a real bird.

I came across the following short description of the tradition written in Irish by a young primary school girl in 1932.


25th Dec, 2014

Christmas is not always a season of joy, peace, and love.

According to Christians, a loving God with a plan for salvation entered the world through the birth of a child, that we were created by a God who desires relationships with us and with one another, that a relationship with Jesus guarantees our salvation from the eternal consequences of sin and death. Surely that should be a great source of joy, peace and love for all at Christmas?

loneliness2But although the world now contains over seven billion people it’s actually quite easy to become—or at least to feel—isolated. Many of us live in a fast-paced, highly mobile world. It’s not uncommon nowadays to be geographically separated from family and friends. Sure, you may be around people at work every day, but those relationships often lack intimacy—a close, deep, and meaningful connectedness. Sometimes, however, people may be close geographically but emotionally distant because of unresolved conflict. No matter the cause, loneliness can be a powerful and destructive feeling.

Loneliness during a time when togetherness is emphasized can easily lead to depression. Feeling isolated from others can bear down on us and, unfortunately, pave the path for feelings of despair and sadness.

loneliness4On the other hand, the pressure to be together physically during the holidays can have the same effect. You know this is happening when you feel that sense of dread about being together. This dread often gives way to guilt and depression over our own lack of excitement about being with certain friends or family members.

Holidays such as Christmas can also trigger feelings of grief associated with relationship loss, such as death or diminished capacity due to illness. Traditions just don’t feel the same. We may feel guilty, like we are dishonouring the missing family member or friend by celebrating Christmas without them. For others it’s the post-holiday adjustment that triggers loneliness, depression, and anxiety.
Sometimes, I think, we are inclined to forget all this and concentrate on the more obvious physical needs of people such as homelessness or poverty.

24th Dec, 2014


If you are a visitor to Ireland during the Christmas period, driving and full of good 'spirit', make sure you know your way. You could be confused.



The following is a letter written recently by a confrere of mine in West Africa.

"The country (Sierra Leone) seems to be at a stand still, all schools and colleges/universities have been closed since last July. I am not certain if they will re-open in January. The economy is shrinking by the day and movement is difficult across the country.

ebola 5 copyAs part of my leadership role, I normally would apply for a "PASS" in order to allow me free access to our Brothers and Communities in the quarantined areas, just to give them some aspect of moral support, but ministry of any kind has really been crippled.
Myself, being from The Gambia and working here, I have been cut off from family during this Ebola crisis. I have lost two members of my family and currently an old aunt suffers from a stroke. I couldn't go home as my government has blocked all flights from Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea Conakry. I cross my fingers knowing Jesus supports me as I continue to live and feel for the people here during this crisis.

The situation is worrying, and sadly we will not be celebrating Christmas as it used be celebrated. It is going to be quiet reflection indoors as soldiers will be deployed on the streets to enforce a directive from above. Pity the poor families who have to bear the brunt of it particularly when they cannot put food on the table. We remain hopeful and trust that this cloud will pass and we will be a dignified people once again without stigmatization.

Actually, some further measures have been put in place following the President's address to the nation on Tuesday. We can now go for the Christmas Eve Mass but unfortunately all must be concluded by 5.00 p.m. I suppose the same will apply to New Year's Day. Businesses, markets, trading, bars, night clubs, restaurants etc must all be shut down at 6:00 p.m each day. We hope and pray all of this will yield dividends.

Once again, profound thanks for your good work, thoughts and prayers. Peace and blessings to all this Christmas time".

- Alberto

(Alberto Gomez)

23rd Dec, 2014


At the wish of the family three judges in Ireland will sit tomorrow to determine the fate of a young pregnant woman who has been deemed clinically dead but remains on life support to keep her baby alive.

babyThere is much finger-pointing by 'free choicers' at Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution which protects the right to life of the unborn. This imposes a constitutional duty upon doctors to try and save the baby in this case. It is a good thing that our law forces doctors to try and save the lives of unborn children. That is as it should be. Indeed, they should not need to be forced because the first duty of a doctor is to ‘do no harm’. To judge from much pro-choice commentary on the matter to date, only the mother is being considered, or the wishes of her family. The life of the baby does not weigh in the balance at all. That is wrong.

In Italy a mother declared clinically dead in October after suffering a brain hemorrhage has given birth to a baby boy nine weeks after doctors agreed to keep her on a life support machine to save the child.

21st Dec, 2014


winter"Within the grip of winter, it is almost impossible to imagine the spring. The grey perished landscape is shorn of colour. Only bleakness meets the eye; everything seems severe and edged. Winter is the oldest season; it has some quality of the absolute. Yet beneath the surface of winter, the miracle of spring is already in preparation; the cold is relenting; seeds are wakening up. Colours are beginning to imagine how they will return. Then, imperceptibly, somewhere one bud opens and the symphony of renewal is no longer reversible. From the black heart of winter a miraculous, breathing plenitude of colour emerges."
                                           - John O'Donohue, "Benedictus"

18th Dec, 2014


At this time of year it is tradition to give to friends and especially to the poor among us. Many Charities do great work at this time. Through the generosity of those who 'have' they are able to help the needy.

untitledThis year I have a couple of hundred euro to spare which I would like to use to help. Usually I would contribute to these charities. This year, however, I am mindful of the 'middle-class' separated mother with children who, because of the depression and the mortgage to be paid, has little left to share with her children as she usually did. She is too embarrassed to seek help from the traditional charities.

A friend who works for a charity for years has offered to choose such a woman and give my contribution to her. I do not know the family and the family does not know me.

I ask myself if I am being honestly generous in this approach or am I simply being 'self-gratifying'. (Picture from Google)
As I have said before: because of my poor laptop, I have great difficulty posting and cannot read comments. I occasionally use a nearby internet café. Please understand.
Perhaps I should spend my money on buying a new laptop!!

17th Dec, 2014


10845986_898434926856685_7260706944784248961_n"Though we know one another's names and recognize one another's faces, we never know what destiny shapes each life. The script of individual destiny is secret; it is hidden behind and beneath the sequence of happenings that is continually unfolding for us. Each life is a mystery that is never finally available to the mind's light or questions. That we are here is a huge affirmation; somehow life needed us and wanted us to be. To sense and trust this primeval acceptance can open a vast spring of trust within the heart. It opens up our lives to become voyages of discovery, creativity, and compassion. No threshold need be a threat, but rather an invitation and a promise. Whatever comes, the great sacrament of life will remain faithful to us, blessing us always with visible signs of invisible grace. We merely need to trust".
                                                         - John O'Donohue, "Benedictus"

16th Dec, 2014


Every year at this time I ask myself if there's any value in combining the celebration of the Birth of Christ with the popular mythology of Santa, the North Pole, elves, green branches and presents?
What is this "Spirit of Christmas" we hear so much about at this time? Is it merely a warm gooey feeling of happiness and sentimentality in the middle of winter? Is Christmas really Christian at all? Should we Christians be trying to reclaim Christmas for Christ? Have secularists hijacked and exploited for their own commercial ends a sacred Christian holiday?

Of course we know "Christmas" was not actually Christian in the first place! For centuries before Christ's birth in Bethlehem, December 25 was associated with decorating evergreen trees, exchanging gifts and carousing at parties and celebrations. In Jeremiah 10:2, God declared through the prophet: "Do not learn the way of the Gentiles" and went on to state that "the customs of the peoples are futile," that is, they are utterly empty and useless. God wants his people to follow his ways and not to look at pagan practices and seek to copy them. What kind of empty, pagan customs was Jeremiah talking about in chapter10? The specific example in that chapter involved going out into the woods, cutting a tree and bringing it home to set it upright and decorate it. Does this sound amazingly like putting up a Christmas tree?

So, instead of seeking to put Christ back into "Christmas", shouldn't we acknowledge that he should never have been there in the first place! "Christmas" never was Christian! True Christians will give it back to the pagans to whom it has belonged all along! Instead of borrowing from the world around us, we ought to take our religious customs and practices more seriously. Then we will be worshipping our Creator in spirit and truth, just as he teaches us to do (John 4:24).

13th Dec, 2014


1901638_887209574645887_2716807575490654995_nI continue my reflections on John O'Donohue's writings.

"Celebration is an attentive and gracious joy of presence. When you celebrate, you are taking time to recognize, to open your eyes and behold in your life the quiet miracles and gifts that seek no attention; yet each day they nourish, shelter, and animate your life. The art of belonging in, with, and to your self is what gives life and light to your presence; it brings a radiance to your countenance and a poise to your carriage. When your heart is content, your life can always find the path inwards to this deep stillness in you".

-- John O'Donohue (Eternal Echoes)

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