22nd April

Mutual Dependence

When you please the Lord you can make your enemies into friends. Proverbs 16: 7

Gall learned the hard way that he needed other people. When a hostile ruler came to power the monks had to leave the region. But Gall became too ill to travel with Columbanus, who left him behind, believing that his illness was in some way connected with a weakness in his character. After the others had left, Gall managed to get his fishing nets and his few possessions on to a boat and get himself to a priest who nursed him back to health.

It seems that Gall now realised he had made so many mistakes, in the way he related both to brothers and to local people. He had destroyed their objects of worship before he had made friends with them. Now he thought that the best thing he could was to serve God alone in a life of prayer, and prepare for heaven.

Gall asked the priest to recommend a place where he could live as a hermit. The priest replied that the mountains and valleys were too full of wild beasts for this to be viable. ‘If God be for us, who shall be against us?’, Gall replied.

So they came to a place by a river where Gall settled, and the wild beasts became his friends. Other hermits joined him, for had now learned to be humble, to be like like the humus, the earth. Columbanus may have sensed this, and wanted to heal of the divide that had come between them, for before he died he sent Gall his Abbot’s staff as a sign that the past was over and that he believed in Gall’s God-given calling.

Gall was in fact pressed to become Abbot of the monastery at Luxeuil, but he had now no worldly ambitions, and refused. However, the world flocked to his cell. The monastery which took the place of his hermits’ settlement became a centre of life and learning for Europe. The town which grew up around, St. Gallen, is now one of the great industrial cities of Switzerland.

Humble me Lord.
May I be sensitive to other people whatever their background.
May I be led, not by my self-opinionated will, but by you alone.
And may this result in friendships.

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21st April


It is better to trust in the Lord than to depend upon human leaders. Psalm 118: 9

One of the curses of our society is a condition the has been described as ‘the cycle of dependency’. Proud and false independence is wrong, but dependency (as distinct from mutual inter-dependence) and failure to take responsibility is also wrong; it is a subtle form of idolatry. We can so easily put leaders on to pedestals, and expect them to do for us what we can only do for ourselves. Certainly, we can only do these things in the strength God gives, but God is as available to us as he is to them. In fact there should never be a ‘them’.

Celtic Christianity spawned close fellowships and delightful friendships, but it did not spawn dependency. If someone wanted to enter a monastery (and sometimes these became the only safe and decent places around) they had to wait outside for days. They had to show that they could take responsibility for their food, sleep and time, that they could take their own decisions and that they could work hard.

Maedoc and Molaise were bosom friends. But they were open to the possibility that they might be called to travel independent paths. ‘Ah Jesus’, they prayed one day at the foot of two trees, ‘is it your will that we should part, or that we should remain together to the end?’ Then one of the trees fell to the south, and the other to the north. They knew then that it had been revealed to them that they must part. Maedoc went south and built a monastery at Ferns. Molaise went north and built a monastery in Devenish.

During a gathering of a large religious movement, someone begged the leader: ‘Our children are being murdered in the streets. Come and help us.’ The leader was thoughtfully silent. ‘Brother’, he simply said, ‘you are hurting, and I feel for you. Let me give you my address and phone number. I’ll do what I can to help you. But please – do not look to me as a leader. I may be dead tomorrow. God wants to raise up a leader in you.’

Moment by moment you give me choices, O Lord.
Help me to make those choices.

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20th April

Pride Before A Fall

‘Master’, Simon answered, ‘we worked hard all night long and caught no fish. Nevertheless, if you say so, I will let down the nets.’ Simon let them down and caught such a large number of fish that the nets were about to break. Luke 5: 5, 6

Simon Peter knew more about fishing than did Jesus, who had a background in carpentry. He knew where the fish were, and he knew that night was the right time to catch them. So it must have seemed daft when Jesus told him that if he pushed the boat out in the morning he would make a catch. But Simon was learning that Jesus was a channel of a wisdom higher than his own know-how. Each of us has to learn this lesson in our own way. This is how St. Gall learned it:

Gall is the best known of Columbanus’ followers, and accompanied him to Annegray and Luxeuil where they founded some of the first Celtic Christian communities on the continent of Europe. Gall was very bright, but he was also hot-headed, and needed to learn lessons of humility.

One day at Luxeuil Columbanus, who was the Abbot, asked Gall, who was a keen fisherman, to go to a particular river to catch fish. Gall took this as an opportunity to show his independence and his better knowledge of fishing; he went to a different river where he knew there were more fish.

It was true the fish were plentiful, for he could see them swimming all around his net. But for some reason, though he tried all day, not a single one would swim into the net! Rather sheepishly Gall returned to Columbanus. All Columbanus said, in a mild manner, was ‘Why not try doing what I told you?’

Next day Gall swallowed his pride and followed Columbanus’ instruction. Sure enough, the moment he threw his net into the river the fish came in so fast that he could hardly pull them out. Gall got the point that although he was more clever than others, he was also more conceited, and that pride comes before a fall.

Lord take pride and false independence from my spirit.

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19th April

Go With The Flow

When working with the Jews I live like a Jew in order to win them … when working with Gentiles, I live like a Gentile in order to win Gentiles …Among the weak in faith I become weak like one of them, in order to win them. 1 Corinthians 9: 20, 21, 22 …

Someone asks ‘Surely a Christian should stand against current trends in order to uphold the values of the Gospel rather than to go with the flow?’ Wherever contemporary values conflict with those of Jesus, that is certainly true. But have we examined how much in our church ethos is a matter, not of values, but of cultural taste? St. Paul was the first person to confront evil boldly, yet it was also he who gave a mission model of becoming one with different groups and cultures (in all things except sin) in order to win them to a relationship with Christ.

Celtic Christians, too, were clear about sin, but unlike Christians in other parts, they sat loose to churchy culture if it was alien to their people. They had their meetings at the places where the people normally met; they built their places of worship on the places where people had previously worshipped as non-Christians; they carried on customs such as circling farms and homes, but now they did this in the name of the One True God. In the years following Patrick in Ireland the shape of church organisation reflected that of the clan. Instead of organisation being imposed from outside, it was like a wheel, in which the clan welcomed a Christian community as its hub.

Celtic Christians resisted the idea that Christians should cut off the long, flowing hair which Celts felt was their glory, and for which Celtic Christians could give glory to God. Evangelists such as Aidan and Chad resisted pressure to use the form of transport that top people used but which would have distanced them from ordinary people. They used their feet, not a horse, to make visits. Aidan resisted pressure to impose all the Christian laws on unchurched people before they had come to know and love Jesus and the milk of his teaching. When groups of Christians gathered at natural meeting places, they would often play folk music, and would join in with other folk singers whether they were Christian or not.

Creator of diverse cultures
Brother to all peoples,
Flowing Spirit
help me to go with the flow
of all that is good and human around me.

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18th April

Wisdom Is For Passing On

Be ready at all times to answer anyone who asks you to explain the hope you have in you, but do it with gentleness and respect. 1 Peter 3: 15

You have a deep desire to appear wise, but you have no confidence in yourself: you do not regard yourself as wise. So in the company of others you remain silent; even when the conversation turns to spiritual matters, where words of wisdom are most necessary, you remain silent. You hope that people will interpret your silence as a sign of the depth of your wisdom – so deep that mere words cannot communicate it. Some people try to deceive others with dishonest words; you are trying to deceive others with dishonest silence.

If you possess wisdom on particular matters, it is your duty under God to express this wisdom to others, so they can benefit from it. If you do not possess wisdom on matters of importance, it is your duty under God to ask questions of those who do possess wisdom so you can learn from it. In either case you must speak.

This does not mean that words must flow ceaselessly from your mouth like a river. Use words sparingly, so that they express exactly what you mean. But without words you will remain ignorant and stupid.
Pelagius To a young friend.

In Sophia, the highest wisdom-principle, all the greatness and majesty of the unknown that is in God and all that is rich and maternal in his creation are united inseparably, as paternal and maternal principles, the uncreated Father and created Mother-Wisdom.
Thomas Merton

Lord help me
never to pretend
to know more than I do know,
always to be ready to speak out of my experience,
up to my experience
but not to speak beyond it.

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17th April

What’s Good About A Rule Of Life?

I chose some of your people to be prophets, and some to be Nazirites … but you made the Nazirites drink wine, and ordered the prophets not to speak my message. Amos 2: 11, 12

Certain Christians, not just monks and nuns, follow what they call a Rule or a Way of Life. This sets out the values and goals they choose to make their priority, and a check-list, suited to their circumstances, of practices which help them to live these. Some Christians argue that they want to be rid of rules and regulations, and, since no two situations are alike, all they need is the Holy Spirit to guide them. Here is some advice to consider:

In a single day we make so many decisions we cannot possibly weigh up the good and evil consequences of each decision. We are liable to make foolish and wrong decisions. For this reason we need a rule, a simple set of moral principles that we can apply to each decision we make. This will not be foolproof, but with a good rule, our decision will far more often be right than wrong.

Another reason for a rule is this: Jesus tells us to pray always; yet sometimes we love to devote much time to prayer whereas at other times we are dry or feel far too busy to pray. A rule prevents us from making excuses; it spurs us to pray at a particular time even when our heart is cold towards God.

The teaching of Jesus must be the primary general guide for any disciple, but Jesus himself did not give rules. The source of a rule is inside your own heart. What we call conscience is a kind of rule which God has written in your heart. If you wish to formulate a rule you must listen to your conscience and write down on paper what God has written on the heart.

Eternal God
our beginning and our end
accompany us through the rest of our journey.
Open our eyes to praise you for your creation,
and to see the work you set before us.
Based on St. Finbarr’s Cathedral Midday Prayer, Cork

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16th April

Old And Young

You elders … should not try and dominate those who have been put in your care, but you should be examples for them to follow…. In the same way you younger people should give yourselves to the older ones. And all of you must put on the apron of humility, to serve one another. 2 Peter 5: 3, 5

Old people often envy the vigour and good health of the young, their greater capacity to enjoy physical pleasures, and the length of years they have ahead of them. The truth is young people should envy the old.

Although old people have less physical and mental energy, they have greater spiritual reserves. Although they can enjoy fewer physical pleasures, they have greater capacity for spiritual enjoyment. Thus the old are better prepared for death, and for life beyond death. So the fewer years that are ahead of them should be a reason to celebrate, not to indulge self-pity.

Although a young person like yourself may assume that you have many years ahead of you, you cannot be sure. The soul is attached to the body by a fragile thread which can snap at any moment. So although you are younger than I am, you may die before me. Do not, therefore, merely envy old age: imitate its virtues. Direct your physical energies into spiritual matters, let these become your major source of pleasure. In this way you will be ready for death whenever it comes.
Pelagius. To a young friend.

O God, to whom to love and to be are one
Hear my faith-cry for those who are more yours than mine.
Give each of them what is best for each.
I cannot tell what it is.
But you know.
I only ask that you love them and keep them
With the loving and keeping
You showed to Mary’s son and yours.
Collected by Alistair MacLean in Hebridean Altars

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15th April

Avoid Presumption

Pride comes before a fall. Proverbs 16: 18

A brother began to pester Abba Theodore with all sorts of questions and opinions about aspects of God’s work, none of which he had seriously engaged in himself. The old Abba said to him: ‘You have not yet found the ship you are to sail in, or put your baggage in it, so how is that you seem to be already in the city you plan to sail to? When you have first worked hard in the thing you talk about, then you can speak from the experience of the thing itself.’
Desert Sayings.

Three brother came to an Abba in Scete. The first proudly told him ‘I have committed the Old and New Testament to memory’. ‘You have filled the air with words’ the Abba told him. The second informed him: ‘I have transcribed the Old and New Testaments with my own hands’. ‘And you have filled your windows with manuscripts’ was the reply. The third, who felt he had devoted so much time to prayer and study that he had no time to spare for household jobs announced that ‘The grass grows on my hearthstone’. The Abba said: ‘And you have driven hospitality from you’.
Desert Sayings

An Englishman is a self-made man and worships his maker.
English saying

Fools rush in where angels fear to tread
British proverb

Speak up to but not beyond your experience.
Frank Buchman

Almighty, I’m steeped in the ‘I know best’ mentality.
I invite your Holy Spirit to convict me of presumption,
To expose every lingering bit of it in any corner of my life
And to winkle it all out.
Give to me the wisdom of humility

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14th April

Critical Spirits

My servant will not crush a bruised reed or quench a smouldering flame. Matthew 12: 20

In a world of right and wrong, in which we are free spirits, it would be foolish to ask Christians never to criticise. But think of the occasions when Jesus criticised; they were very few, always timely, and he never crushed a bruised reed. He always affirmed the people who lacked it. Criticism should only be made on rare occasions, as a last resort, in a kindly spirit, after prayer and thought, to the person concerned, and only if it is both true and necessary.

The easiest sin to commit is to criticise a brother, calling him a fool. We are usually cautious about accusing a brother of a major sin; we feel we must have sufficient evidence before making such an accusation. But to accuse a brother of doing something stupid hardly seems to matter. So we lightly toss off such critical remarks.

Yet such criticism can wound deeply. It can stay with a person for years after the person who uttered it has forgotten about it. This is because so many people lack a sense of self-worth, and fear failure. So a critical remark can destroy their confidence completely, discouraging them so much that they may never again attempt the task that was criticised.

So we must be far more vigilant against committing this easy sin than against the more obvious and serious sins.
Pelagius. To an elderly friend.

let our memory provide no shelter
for grievance against another.
let our heart provide no
for hatred of another
let our tongue be no accomplice
in the judgement of a brother.
Northumbrian Office

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13th April

Blind Spots

Why do you point out the speck in the other person’s eye and pay no attention to the log in your own eye? … First, take the log out of your own eye, and then you will be able to see clearly to take the speck out of the other person’s eye. Matthew 7: 3, 5

Even the best and holiest of people have stubborn areas in their lives. Perhaps a person eats or drinks to excess and refuses to restrain their appetite; perhaps a person has a quick and harsh temper and refuses to restrain their anger; perhaps a person needs to be the leader in every situation, and cannot take advice or criticism, nor defer to the better judgement of others.

Compared with the other areas in which a person is good and holy, these stubborn areas may seem quite trivial. Yet if they remain unchecked they can corrode a person’s soul and blot their record.
Pelagius To a mature Christian

O Saviour of the human race
O true physician of every disease
O heart-pitier and assister of all misery
O fount of true purity and true knowledge

O star-like sun
O guiding light
O home of the planets
O fiery-maned and marvellous one

O holy scholar of holy strength
O overflowing, loving, silent one
O generous and thunderous giver of gifts
O rock-like warrior of a hundred hosts
Attributed to St. Ciaran (adapted)

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