Tuesday, 24 October 2017

What does It Take To Make a Saint?

'You're a saint'. He must be a saint! How often you hear the word!. Maybe it is one you've used yourself?  But do we really give much thought?  How would you precisely  define a 'saint'?

Ok like you I've probably not given the word a great deal of thought until now! Most of us use it quite loosely to refer to a  very good person. But with over 10,000 named saints in history maybe it is something worth considering?

Let's start by considering the true definition and origin of the word. A saint- historically known as a 'hallow' (hallowed ground) is a person who is recognized  as having an exceptional degree of holiness or  likeness or closeness to God.  In Anglican, Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Lutheran or Oriental Orthodox doctrine all the faithful who've entered Heaven are considered saints, although some are worthy of special named status; eg Saint Frances, Saint John etc

Many religions also use similar concepts to honour a few exceptional people.
John A Coleman, of the 'Society of Jesus', Berkeley College, California, stated that these people have the following in common:
Firstly they present us with exemplary models of living;
Secondly they are extraordinary  teachers;
Thirdly they are wonder workers or sources of benevolent power;
Fourthly they are intercessors;
Fifthly they often reject material comforts;
Sixthly they posses a  special and revolutionary relationship to the holy.
Wow! Are we talking about real living human beings here???? A pretty rare find any way yet the Catholic Church- for one- regularly makes new ones. So what do they look for?
They look for people who live a devoted Catholic life and spend their time serving God and helping people in need. Eventually, their good deeds are recognised after their death, and the Pope canonises them. They must have  led a saintly life. This includes being selfless and benevolent and an exemplary role model and teacher. It also involves loving and serving God. They must have performed at least two miracles. These are seen by the Church as affirmations that you can in fact intervene on the part of humans, and verifiable miracles are required for canonisation. They will wait at least five years before beginning an analysis to make sure that their life on earth was pure, virtuous, kind, prudent and devout,

It is far from being a quick decision made by the pope in a quasi New Year's Honour review of his flock!.
The whole process  of becoming a Catholic saint is lengthy, often taking decades or centuries to complete. Firstly, a local bishop investigates the candidate's life and writings for evidence of heroic virtue. The information uncovered by the bishop is sent to the Vatican. Then a panel of theologians and the cardinals of the Congregation for Cause of Saints evaluate
the candidate's life. If the panel approves, the Pope proclaims that the
candidate is venerable, which means that the person is a role model of Catholic virtues. The next stage toward sainthood is beatification, which allows a person to be honoured by a particular group or region. In order to beatify a candidate, it must be shown that the person is responsible for a posthumous miracle. Martyrs - those who died for their religious cause - can be beatified without evidence of a miracle. In order for the candidate to be considered a saint, there must be proof of a second posthumous miracle. If there is, the person is canonized.

Saint or sinner?  With this stringent criteria and decision- making process and   almost all of us are all certainly closer to the latter! Yet many of us have been lucky enough to have had our lives touched by saints. As the anthropologist Lawrence Babb stated: 'They exert a powerful attractive influence ..... (touching) the inner lives of others in transforming ways as well'

As 2017 draws rapidly to a close and we await the new year.

Maybe you are thinking about some special people who- whilst not being  saints as such- have  transformed your year for the better in some unique way?
Maybe you will meet a real saint in 2018?
Either way I hope that you'll share here with me and others! A year on, it's over to you!

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

To Boldly Go Where No Man Has Gone Before?

Time, Time, Time, what has become of me?' So the song goes. Ok  much light has streamed in through the old windows since I've posted my last entry. And now it's summer. Many of us are choosing the items that will make up our 20 kg baggage allowance; including our summer reading. So what will it be this year? A few summer romances? An intriguing thriller perhaps? Or something a bit heavier, something that deals with one of life's big questions? The existence of an afterlife perhaps? Eh????

One book that I've finished recently deals with just that subject.  The main character of Montefiore's novel  'The Italian Matchmaker', Luca, continually seems the spirit of an Italian woman's dead son, Francesco. And this is central of the story's plot. In this way the author uses her own personal experience to cause us to reflect on our own life's journey. She states that she has seen spirits on and off her whole life and has no doubt that the afterlife exists. I wonder what your thoughts are? In this post I will review some of the key arguments for and against the existence of the afterlife and share my own belief. I hope that, in turn, you will share your own views with me in the feedback.
So let's start with the arguments against. And what better place to start than with a website titled 'Common Sense Atheism' in which Sam Harris argues that belief in an afterlife in which our dead brain can recognise our predecessors speaking our own language is simply absurd. Let's call this argument one. You are the sum total of your thoughts, experiences and memories. Yet the brain dies when the heart stops pumping blood into it. The light goes out. We are no more.
The second argument seems to be  the well known fact that certain drugs such as Lithium
alter people's behaviour and personality. We are material- or chemical- beings.
The third argument would seem to be that the physical brain, therefore, is the mind. There are hundreds of cases where accidental damage to the brain has altered a person's perceptions, memories, emotions and personality- the whole self.
Finally how is it possible, therefore, to survive as a person when our brain's electricity current has been has shutdown?
Life is precious indeed. You only get one life as they say. Let's not waste it. As George Clooney stated that he wouldn't allow 'this life the only thing I know to exist to be wasted'. Anurag Kumar, Director of Science at Bangalore University, India, goes further and states 'I wish there was an afterlife, because the most frightening aspect of our lives is its impossibility'.
But is its existence really such an impossibility? Let's consider the case for its existence. Doctors have found brain activity 10 minutes AFTER 'death'. As many as a fifth of people who survived cardiac arrests reported having an other-wordly experience while 'clinically' dead. Scientists at the University of Southampton have spent 4 years  examining the cases of 2000 people who suffered cardiac arrests in 15 hospitals in the Uk, US and Austria and they found that nearly 40% of the people described some kind of 'awareness' during the time they were clinically dead before their hearts were restarted. One man even recalled leaving his body entirely and watching his resuscitation from the corner of the room. Despite being 'dead' for 3 minutes the 57 year old social worker from Southampton recounted the activities of nursing staff in detail and described the sound of the machines.
'We know that the brain can't function when the heart has stopped beating', said Dr Sam Parnia, a former research fellow at Southampton University, now the State University of New York, who led the study. 'but in this case conscious awareness appears to have continued for up to 3 minutes into the period when the heart wasn't beating, even though the brain typically shuts down within 20-30 seconds after the heart has stopped'.

These findings have been corroborated in a number of parallel investigations. One French anaesthetist of 25 years experience, Jean Jacques Charbonier, M.D. gathered hundreds of accounts of patients who had returned from clinical death. There were a number of striking similarities across these accounts, that came from patients from a wide number of social backgrounds. He found indisputable proof that these experiences were not hallucinations. With every experience that was recounted to him he found himself more and more convinced of the existence of life after death. So much so that he wrote a book 'Seven Reasons To Believe In The afterlife'. In this book he begins with the 60 million people worldwide who have reported having an afterlife experience. He states that by releasing our fear of death, we can properly prepare for 'the final journey'. He stated that those who have returned from death have shown us that it is merely a transition and its lessons enable us to live more fully, peacefully and happily in the present.

So there we have it: the case for and against the existence of the afterlife. The evidence for seems not only to be more plentiful but also much more intriguing. I leave you to choose your own summer reading.One thing's for sure. For our final journey there are no return tickets. Its space without the space rocket. There will be no coming back.

Death, like space, the final frontier. Like space travellers, our spirits, have a strange new world to explore. Hopefully we can now boldly go where no man has gone before.
For many the jury's still out. For me, the case was decided a long time ago. During the darkest period in my own life- a nightmare of 7 months duration- a number of remarkable coincidences occurred; the odds of even one of these naturally occurring would have been millions to one. If we can't explain all the events which take place in our own lives how can we possibly explain away the existence of a life hereafter? With this in mind I go boldly towards the place that no man has gone before.

                                   Do you? Please share your thoughts and experiences.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Should We Give Up Chocolate For Lent?

It's mid-March already.
                                              The sun is waking us up earlier each day.

Outside we see the almond and peach trees in vibrant pink and white blossom.
Inside our shops we see brightly coloured Easter eggs appearing.
Some of wrestle with the annual question: Should we have given up chocolate for Lent?

For chocolate lovers such as myself this is indeed a big sacrifice. But the real question should surely be: Will that sacrifice make us a better person by Easter? If the answer is no or only maybe, then it might be time to ask another question: What really is the real purpose of Lent?

Lent- or Lenten- takes its name from the old English word for 'Lengthen'. It refers to the early spring when the days lengthen as the hours of daylight increase. In our Catholic past the year was marked by religious festivals; of which Christmas- Christ's birth- and Easter Christ's death and resurrection- are the most important. The devout prepared carefully for each by praying, fasting and giving alms to the poor.At Lent they donned sackcloth and ashes in attempt to humble themselves before God.

What is the significance of the Forty Day period of Lent? This is to replicate the forty days Christ spent in the desert alone fasting and praying, before being tempted by Satan.
Finally Satan asks Christ to prove he is the son of God by displaying his  divine power. As we have it in Luke Chapter 4 verse 9:
'Then the Devil took him to Jerusalem and set him on the highest point of the Temple, and said to him:  'If you are God's Son, throw yourself down from here, for the scripture says 'God will order his angels to take good care of you.........But Jesus answered; 'The scripture says 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test..... Then Jesus returned to Galilee and the power of the Holy Spirit was with him.  The news of him spread throughout all that territory.He taught in the synagogues and was praised by everyone.'

Ok then. Back to the question: Should we give up chocolate for Lent? Having considered the purpose and origins of the religious rite, it no longer seems to be the right question to ask. If we believe that there is any point in marking this period at all, then surely it should be by in a spiritual or contemplative manner; one in which we devote time to prayer, self-examination and charitable works as of old? Perhaps by committing ourselves to a gradual spiritual reawakening, reflecting the lengthening of the spring days, then lasting benefits will ensue. Maybe then we can focus more intently on the needs of those around us, perhaps starting some new work or project to help them, setting in motion a cycle  of good, that will continue long after Lent.

This is exactly what the blanket company, Sackcloth and Ashes have done.The founder was moved by his mother's short period on the streets to  instigate a policy whereby for every blanket sold another is donated to a homeless charity. A huge sacrifice in terms of  gross company profit, but a huge net  profit in terms of spiritual gain. And not one that can be gained from giving up the finest chocolate money can buy. Happy Easter!

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Love Me Do

St Valentine's Day approaching fast! It can be a stressful time for some of us! Can you find the appropriate card and gift to convince your loved one that they still mean a lot to you? You know that it only comes once a year. For those of us not in relationships at all it is, of course, an even more stressful time as we wait for someone to ask us if we have had a Valentine's card. 
Have we ever paused to think about who the saint was and why he came to be the patron saint of love? Well here goes.....

St Valentine was  a priest who lived in the time of  the emperor Claudius who was prepared to give his life for his beliefs. 

The emperor had passed a law forbidding marriage as he feared married soldiers might not be prepared to risk their lives if they had no women or children dependent on them. Valentine preformed secret wedding ceremonies as he wanted couples to have the sanctity of a Christian union. He was eventually caught, imprisoned and tortured for preforming these secret marriage ceremonies.

Legend tells us that one of his judges, Asterius, had a blind daughter.Whilst in prison he cured this girl of blindness. Asterius was so amazed that he converted to Christianity. Just before his death , Valentine signed a note to the girl 'From your Valentine.'

So maybe we should focus on the real message of the saint? A man who showed us what the true meaning of love really is.  He demonstrated perfect Christian sacrificial love as we have it described in the famous passage from Corinthians 13:

'Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking.it is not easily angered it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth, it always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.'  

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Best Laid Plans

'Best laid plans' How often have we used this phrase over the years? But do we know its origin?
These words are taken from Robert Burns' poem 'To a Mouse'. Scotland national bard was born on the 25th January 1759 to a poor tenant farmer in Ayr. The eldest of seven children he often had to take on heavy farm work. This left him with a premature stoop and a weakened constitution. Luckily for posterity he focused on the less physically arduous task of writing and left us with  many well known pieces such as such as 'Old Lang Syne' and 'My Love Is Like a Red Red Rose'.

Food for reflection this January as we plan our year ahead perhaps?
How often indeed do 'the best laid schemes of man gang aft aglay'!
On the contrary how often do the more improbable plans of God triumph.
We are reminded of the words of the harvest hymn;
'We plough the fields and scatter the good seed on the land
But it is fed and watered by God's almighty hand.'

Let's pray then, that the plans that we are making this month are the ones that God wants to nourish. Plans that will bring real joy to others. For 'the best laid schemes of mice and men'  only-  as the bard so rightly says-
'gang aft aglay.'

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Travelling Lightly

 Born this day in 1745 in France was Jacques-√Čtienne Montgolfier (6 January 1745 – 2 August 1799) who was one of the famous Montgolfier Brothers  were the inventors of a type of hot air balloon .Man could finally take to the air! 

  In January when the sun sets  as we are travelling home, we are reminded of just how beautiful our skies are, We can look up at the skies and imagine the joy and freedom experienced by these first balloonists floating over the earth in their small basket.

As we set out on another year's journey ourselves we are reminded that we too can best see the world when we are prepared to travel lightly

Right Head, Wrong Face?

So now we're looking forward to the year ahead.
We're facing in the right direction.
But do we have the right face on?
At times we'll experience frustration,anger, discouragement and even depression as we realise that new equipment, skills and knowledge will be needed to achieve our new plans and projects. Rome wasn't built in a day- as they say.
One step at one time.
 As Paul Bowden's  states in Telling It Like It Is (2011)  ...  if we're facing in the right direction, all we have to do is keep on walking. If it takes a year, or sixty years, or five lifetimes, as long as we're heading towards light, that's all that matters. ... 
 So put a cheerful face on to start the journey.  You may need it!