Keeping the Sabbath Holy? – My January Column – Full Text

Over the last couple of months I’ve been examining the Ten Commandments to see if they are really God’s guide to happiness. This month I’ve been looking at the third Commandment – remember to keep holy the Sabbath day. So what’s the Sabbath day and how do we keep it holy?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church gives us more detail.

“Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work; but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work.”

The Jewish Sabbath is a Saturday but the early Church made our day of rest a Sunday to mark the day of Christ’s resurrection. Now I would imagine that having a day when you don’t have to go to work would make most of us happy but why the ban on work and just how practical is that?

In Scotland there are many Christians who believe that no work of any kind should be done on a Sunday, The day should be completely reserved for worshipping God. Even household chores must be completed on the Saturday night and Sunday will see no cooking or cleaning. A day spent in close communion with God should make us happy.

A few years ago some island communities were split over the issue of the ferries sailing on a Sunday. For Catholics and many other denominations Sunday does not mean a complete shutdown of normal life. According to my old ‘penny catechism’ the Church requires that we assist at a public Mass and refrain from servile work on a Sunday. I suppose the difference is about what we mean by holy.

Servile work would be going to work as usual, working for pay. Working in the home, preparing meals, tidying up etc. would not be classed as servile work. Whatever we do for our family, making meals, cleaning the kitchen etc. is part of marriage and because matrimony is a sacrament we actually receive grace for doing these things. I think that means these tasks are making the Sabbath holy.

In our society today we are often expected to work on a Sunday as a normal part of the job. We expect the buses and trains to run on a Sunday. Where would we be if the emergency services didn’t work on Sunday? Doctors and nurses in hospitals must work on Sunday. Some people would not be able to get to Mass otherwise. Even in non-essential jobs Sunday working is seen as normal. The shops are open on Sunday. How many of us leave Mass and go straight to the supermarket or meet friends in a coffee shop to catch up? These things require people to work on Sunday.

It is also permissible to indulge in entertainment like going to a football match (though some of the matches I’ve seen require a great stretch of the imagination to describe them as entertainment) or the cinema or some other entertainment. These things promote bonding among friends and family. But what about the workers; those who have to work so that we can be entertained also have need of family time. They may get time off during the week but that might not allow for family activity.

I noticed that Poland has decided that Sunday shopping should be phased out to allow the workers to have their day of rest as well as everyone else. This may not be too popular with the shoppers but I for one would be delighted to have one day in the week when I can’t be taken shopping.

So what exactly do we mean by holy? This is a question that has got me into arguments in the past. Some would cling to an image of someone kneeling in prayer before a crucifix or a statue of a saint. Hands joined in prayer are a famous image on prayer cards. There is no doubt that being in contemplation of God or in deep prayer would be described as being holy. However I don’t think that is the only context that could be described as holy.

Saint Thomas described holiness as the virtue by which we make all our acts subservient to God. It would follow then that whenever we act in ways that follow Jesus’ example we are being holy. How, then, could we keep the Sabbath holy? If we join with our fellow Catholics in the celebration of the Eucharist we are joining with them in communion with Christ. Jesus spent time withal sorts of people, his disciples, friends and many people he did not know. He shared meals with them and engaged in conversation.

I would consider from his example that we could spend the Sabbath with family and friends, sharing a meal, conversation and entertainment (there is no mention of Jesus going to the football but we can disregard that) and act in a way that is holy. When we are dealing with those we don’t know we should treat them with respect and friendliness.

You might argue that we should always behave in that way and you would be right. Why would we expect to spend Sunday behaving in one way and the rest of the week behaving differently? Really we should try to keep every day holy. We don’t need to walk around with a beatific smile on our face every day but I suspect Jesus didn’t do that either.

Now the question is simply one of whether this approach to holiness would make us happy. Now it seems to me that breaking up the working week so that life is not just one long unbroken trail of working days must be good for the psyche. Whether your work is hard physical labour or some more cerebral occupation you need to stop and rest regularly.

Whatever your station in life, Prime Minister or bin man, it is good to stop and consider the relationship you have with God. You were made by the God who created the universe and all its wonders. In your Sunday Mass you receive the Saviour who died to save you personally. He knows your name and listens to your prayers. God has no favourites; you are just as important to Him as the Bishop or the Pope. In that Mass we are all joined together through Christ. How could that fail to make us happy?

In making our Sabbath day a holy day we can transcend the daily niggles and hurts that can make us unhappy. We stop and remind ourselves that we are passing through all this on a journey to our eternal home. We will leave behind all the worries, all the trivial issues that bother us. We can start a new week ready to face whatever confronts us.

It’s never material things that make us happy. Your new sports car will only make you feel good until you start to hear strange noises or warning lights start blinking on the dashboard. Our happiness depends on our relationships. We need to build good relationships with our friends, family and the people we come into contact with. Our relationship with God is the most important and brings true happiness.

Keeping our Sabbath day holy builds these relationships. So to be truly happy don’t treat the Sabbath as just another day; it’s the most important day of the week.


Are You Keeping The Sabbath Holy? My January column

Still on my theme of the Ten Commandments, my January column is published in the Scottish Catholic Observer this weekend. How do you keep the Sabbath? Is it something you think about? Get your copy in your parish this weekend. The full text is here next week.

My December Column, The Second Commandment – Full Text

This article was published in the Christmas double issue of the Scottish Catholic Observer on 22/12/2017.

The Second Commandment

In this series I’m having a look at the Ten Commandments from the point of view of them being God’s guide to human happiness. This month I’m having a think about the Second Commandment, ‘Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.’ At first glance that seems to be a straightforward command. What, exactly, does it mean? My old ‘penny catechism’ tells me that taking the Lord’s name in vain means using the name of God or the Holy Name of Jesus Christ without due reverence. That sounds quite reasonable but it also says that we are commanded to keep our lawful oaths and vows.

Now using the Holy Name with due reverence was a big issue in my religious education in primary school. We were all made aware of the importance of never using the Holy Name. Any time we used the word Jesus in a prayer we had to bow our head. I had forgotten all about this until I was approached at the end of Mass one day by someone who thought I must have been at his primary school. He explained that he had noticed I bowed my head when we said the word Jesus. He was taught that at his school and had realised he was still doing it too.

I’m not alone in this. Using the name Jesus outside of a prayer can be problematic. A few years ago, in my MISSIO days my Irish colleague related an event in a Dublin primary school. She had brought a Ugandan nun, who was on a visit, to meet the children in the school. Sister Fortunata was no quiet contemplative. She was big and forceful. She wanted the children to understand that what we do to others we do to Jesus. She wanted the children to see Jesus in others and she had a plan to help her achieve that. She told the children to turn to their partner and say “Hello Jesus. How are you?”  The children were quick to adopt this greeting and it became their standard greeting. Every day the children came into the playground shouting “Hello Jesus.” to their friends. The good Catholic teachers were shocked at the effect the nun had. They had to stop the children using the Holy name without losing Fortunata’s message. Even with all their efforts it took the teachers over a week to stop the children greeting each other with “Hiya Jesus.”

I confess it grates when I hear someone misuse the Holy Name. I’m sure I would never deliberately do that. However, it does raise a question. It is very annoying but why did God use one of his Ten Commandments to focus on this one act of disrespect? Is there more to this than I had thought? Does this apply to me? When would I use the Holy Name outside a prayer?

Thinking it through I suddenly realised that I do it all the time. I profess to be a Christian, a follower of Christ. I’m using that name. In my prayers I offer all I do in Jesus’ name. Whatever I do reflects on the Holy Name. I suppose that as a Christian I’m telling the world that I’m an example of how Jesus taught us to live. Now nobody wants to give a bad impression of Jesus’ teaching but I wonder how I go about that.

I don’t want to be seen to be someone who does wrong. That would really be giving the wrong message. I wouldn’t be doing wrong in Jesus’ name but Jesus wasn’t known for what He didn’t do. He was known for what he did. If I want to live my life in Jesus’ name then I will have to actually do the kind of things that Jesus did. Now I’m not talking about working miracles. I won’t be walking on water anytime soon. It wasn’t the working of miracles that made Jesus stand out; it was how he dealt with other people.

Jesus showed no interest in people of importance. He spent time with the poor, the sick, people shunned by polite society and sought out sinners. In his story of the widow’s mite he shows that the small coin given by the poor widow is more valuable than a much larger sum given by the rich man. He recognised that the poor are often more generous than the rich, more ready to share the little they have. Now I might think that I’m being generous by putting a pound in the charity box but I’m not really sharing; I’m giving the extra I have left over.

When it comes to helping the sick I’m afraid I fall short again. I’m happy to visit friends and family when they are sick but Jesus helped the sick people he didn’t know. I’ve never been one to think about the people in hospital who have nobody to visit them. Especially now in winter time I should be ready to look out for frail people who might need help.

Beggars are now a feature of our city streets. It’s now difficult to distinguish between people who really need help and those who could fend for themselves. That’s where my problem lies. I am ready to make a judgement about who is ‘deserving’ and who is not. I’m happy to help the deserving poor but not the others. What evidence do I have when considering my judgement? What right do I have to judge? I suppose the answer is that I am in no position to judge. I have no idea what circumstances have brought about the change in someone’s life that sees them outcasts. Given those circumstances could I find myself becoming an outcast? Jesus had no problem in associating freely with the outcasts.

What about sinners? Am I prepared to denounce those who are seen to be ‘living in sin’ or in prison? Jesus didn’t condemn sinners. His mission was to save sinners while He was without sin. On the other hand I am a sinner. My sins might not be publicly noted but never the less I’m not in a position to cast the first stone. As Jesus showed compassion to sinner shouldn’t I do the same?

The period leading up to Christmas (starts mid-October now) has become a time to focus on buying gifts. Television adverts are full of great ideas for things you must give this Christmas. I watched part of a television programme about the most expensive gifts you can buy. They had gold plated everything you could think of. The best things were also diamond studded. I noticed a curious thing. The people buying the gifts wanted to show that only they could give these gifts. The gift was a sign of their status rather than their regard for the recipient. Christmas has become all about ‘me’.

The real Christmas is about a different gift. The coming of Christ is God’s gift to us. Christmas is not about me; it’s about others. The giving of gifts is about showing our appreciation of those we love. The message is quite simple. If you want to be happy forget about you and do what God does – think about others.

I hope you have a happy, relaxing Christmas.


My December Column – Guide to Happiness

My December Column is published in the Scottish Catholic Observer this weekend.

It continues my look at the Ten Commandments as God’s guide to happiness.  This is the Christmas Bumper issue and is great value at £2. Lots of good articles.

If you are too late then my full text will appear here next week.

Happy Christmas!


My November Column: The First Commandment

My November Column is published this weekend in the Scottish Catholic Observer. I begin my investigation of the Ten commandments with a look at the First.

Get your copy in your parish this weekend.

Full text here next week.



What’s Happening in the Catholic Church? – My September Column.

This article was published in te Scottish Catholic Observer on 22nd September 2017.

So what’s happening in the Church?

I was recently asked by the editor of this esteemed paper, “What’s happening in the Church, Joe?”

My immediate response was, “I don’t know.” Well, I don’t have any contacts in the Vatican and the Archbishop has never called me up to explain what’s on the agenda. So how would I know what’s happening in the Church?

On further reflection I wondered just what the question really meant. What’s meant by ‘the Church’ and where is it all happening? Reading the Catholic press and social media I hear of calls to return to our old ways. Latin in the Mass, the priest facing east and losing the Vatican II stuff, it all seems to be in the air. Young people are flocking to the traditional rite. There are calls for us to go back to the Mass as it was before Vatican II.

To be honest I’ve just been dismissing all this as the older generation refusing to move on. I can still remember debating the use of Latin in the Mass with my grandfather back in the early sixties before Vatican II. My grandfather argues that Latin was the language of the Universal Church and the Mass was exactly the same all over the world. We could go to mass in the farthest corner of the world and it would be exactly as it was at home. I argued that we could go to Mass anywhere in the world and not understand what was being said; just like at home.

The problem is I’m now the one who is old and it seems the call for change is coming from the young. Confronted with this revelation (am I really an oldie? – Yes you are.) I’m forced to revisit the old arguments and see if I think we need to change. I grew up with the traditional rite. I well remember the solemn dignity of the Latin Mass; the silences when the priest, facing away from us, recited the Latin prayers and we looked on in awe. We didn’t all sit in awe. I also remember the wee ladies who sat and recited the rosary all the way through Mass. That did strike me as strange.

It has to be said that the Mass is the Eucharist and it is Christ’s sacrifice which is at its core. The language we use does not change that. So what’s the big deal? Have we lost some of the dignity of the Mass in the modern rite? Are we not showing the respect that the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist deserves?

A few years ago I was at Mass in the traditional rite. To be honest I felt that I had lost something that day. I had lost involvement. I was a spectator in a rite that was being conducted by the priest with his back to me, quietly going through the words of the mass in a language I don’t understand even if I could have heard what he was saying. There was great dignity and we knelt at the altar rails to receive the Eucharist but I felt excluded.

I have also heard people of my own age complaining that the Mass is too busy and we don’t get time to kneel and pray in that important time after communion  with Christ within us. That is surely a serious complaint?

That brought me to the core of the matter, prayer. Why do we go to Mass? Many a lapsed friend has pointed out to me that they can just as easily say their prayers at home. Is there more to it than that? It seems to me that we have misunderstood the nature of prayer. Is prayer all about telling God what we need and giving Him the praise He needs? That can’t be right. God knows our needs better than we do. Who are we, with our very shaky understanding of what God is, to reassure Him with our praise? No, when Jesus taught the apostles to pray the Our Father He was teaching a prayer that reminds us of God’s greatness and tells us what we can expect from God. When we say “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” are we implying that God would lead us into temptation if we didn’t ask Him? I think we are being reminded that God is leading us out of temptation and has delivered us from evil by His sacrifice on the cross.

We come to Mass as a body, not as individuals making our own contact with God. The Mass is reinforcing the message of who we are. We are all parts of the Mystical Body of Christ. That is reaffirmed in our communion when we are united with Christ, and logically with each other through Christ. We are not kneeling down here with God somewhere up there. Christ rose from the dead and the living Christ is with us and we are part of Him.

My vivid memory of my visit to India is of an old man in a loincloth greeting me, hands joined and bowing. The explanation I was given was that he was paying homage to the deity within me. That seems to be something we have not fully grasped in the West. We were always taught that we are temples of the Holy Spirit but it didn’t seem to sink in with me. If the Holy Spirit is within you how can I behave towards you with anything other than love?

In our modern rite we have the ‘Sign of Peace’ where we greet our neighbours. It can seem like an incongruous break in the formality of the Mass. In reality it is an opportunity for us to formally recognise that deity within our neighbour as we greet the God within them. It is a formal recognition that we are one body. When we are commanded to ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ you are not being told to treat others as you would wish to be treated. You are being told that your neighbour is part of yourself. We are all one body.

I’d like to make one last comparison between old and new rites. I remember Canon Rooney standing on the pulpit giving the children a translation and explanation of what was going on in the Mass. The priest would face the congregation and say “Ite missa est.” The Canon would translate as “Go the Mass is ended”.

However that’s not what the priest said at all. A better translation would be “Go on your mission”. Today we are told to “Go and love and serve the Lord.” That’s a bit more accurate. The Mass isn’t ended. Mass is going on somewhere across the globe as you read this. Leaving the Church is not the end of the Mass it is the beginning. We go out on our mission to spread the Gospel in our everyday lives, recognising Christ in our neighbours be they locals or refugees on the other side of the world.

The Mass is the Mass in whatever language you celebrate it. I’m happy to go with the vernacular when I have a better chance of deepening my understanding. I’m for facing east to await the coming of Christ because He is all around me.


So What Are You Then? My August Column

That was the day that woman stumped me with her question. I thought I was ready for anything  but I soon realised I didn’t even know what I was.

Perhaps you know what you are – or do you? My article is published in this weekend’s Scottish Catholic Observer. Get yours before they all go.

Full text here next week.


Saints? My July Column – Full Text

Do you have a favourite saint? Some are very popular. In our parish, Saint Patrick’s, the patron saint of Ireland is very popular. He is seen as encompassing everything that is Irish and his feast day is a cause for celebration for almost the whole month of March. Irish folk the world over take him very seriously. Saint Andrew, our Scottish patron, does not attract the same devotion. I wonder why? Is it because the Catholic population of Scotland leans heavily on the Irish immigration of the last two hundred years and saints are a very Catholic thing?

Saint Anthony is another great favourite and he even has his own collection box in our parish, money for the poor usually as a result of his helping us find lost items. I can confide that he makes a good income from our household, usually concerning lost earrings or keys. He is another saint with worldwide following. Many years ago I visited his tomb in Padua. The tomb is plastered with photographs of those who have benefited from his intercession and notes of thanks.

Patron saints are puzzling. Ireland has chosen Saint Patrick who was not Irish rather than some other, Irish saint. Scotland has Saint Andrew, not Scottish and never came her in his lifetime. England has Saint George of dragon fame who never had anything to do with England. Countries in the Americas tend to have Our Blessed Mother in one or other of her appearances as a patron. Our Lady of Guadeloupe is particularly popular in Latin American places. I imagine that countries adopt a patron as a guardian. I wouldn’t be surprised if the patrons resigned in protest at the behaviour of some of the countries. I suppose we will never know.

It is in the Catholic tradition to adopt a saint’s name as our Christian name. We also adopt a saint’s name at confirmation. This seems like a wise move. Choosing an influential saint as a personal patron can have beneficial effects. Having Saint Joseph as my saint makes me feel that I have an influential intercessor working on my behalf. I have been reliably informed by some in the missions that when in a difficult situation they have prayed to Saint Joseph and their problem has been quickly resolved. Of course you don’t need to be named Joseph to get his powerful help but I still harbour a hope that it counts for something.

This brings me to the question, who are the saints? There are saints the Church has formally recognised by canonisation, some from long ago we are not too sure of (Saint Christopher for example) and there are people we know who lived very good lives and we have no doubt they are in Heaven. In the early church Christians were often referred to as the saints. Since we have adopted Christ’s teaching and follow his commands we expect to get into Heaven too. Relying on God’s infinite mercy, we can rightfully think of ourselves as the saints.

To be canonised and formally declared a saint we have to meet conditions laid down by the Church. We could be martyred for our faith and I’m sure there are many who have been murdered by extremists in the Middle East recently who qualify on those grounds. Alternatively you could live a life of ‘heroic’ virtue demonstrating Christian virtues. Both of these categories depend largely on documentary evidence and proof of miracles. The lack of documentary evidence is the main reason why some older saints are now thought to be doubtful.

There is also a process whereby the Pope can declare a person to be a saint, bypassing the usual procedures because he is sure they are in heaven as a result of a very holy life. Two recent examples of this are when Pope Benedict declared Hildegard of Bingen a saint, as did Pope Francis with Peter Faber.

The Holy Father has just introduced a third category for canonisation. This category is for those who heroically give up their lives for others through Christian charity. They must freely give their life to save others. There must be the practice of Christian charity to the point of death and there must be signs of sanctity after death and the need for a miracle as a result of their intercession. One example of such a case is that of Fr. Mychal Judge, a Franciscan friar and New York Fire Department chaplain who rushed to the scene of the twin towers following the 9/11 attacks, and was the first recorded death that day.

The thing I find curious about the saints is the things we ask them to intercede for us about. Take Saint Anthony of Padua. As I mentioned earlier we are often praying to him for help in finding lost items. In his life Saint Anthony was known as a great preacher, spreading the word of God. There is no mention of him finding things. Now I wouldn’t want to put anyone off asking his help in finding things as I continue to do that myself. However, it does distract us from what he did in his life. He was a great preacher and surely that is his great example to us.

Saint Patrick was a great missionary, bringing the Faith to the pagans of Ireland. He was not renowned as a carouser as we might expect from the Saint Patrick ’s Day celebrations. His love for Ireland was a love for the people whose souls he set out to save. As a final example I can tell you about my wife’s prayers to Saint Rita. Whenever we arrive at a car park that is obviously full she has a quick word to Saint Rita and within a couple of minutes we find a space.

Last year we visited Saint Rita’s shrine where we learned about her work with the dying. We saw the little chapel at the top of the hill in a place where she went to pray. There was no mention of cars or parking in her life although there was a large car park with plenty of spaces.

It seems to me that praying to the saints to intercede for us when we have a problem is a good thing. However I think we should find out more about the lives they lived and the works they accomplished to really understand why they are saints. Their lives should be an example to us that we can use to make our own lives more pleasing to God. Finding out more about them will take us beyond the wee plaster statues with beatific faces and help us to see people who lived in our world; faced difficulties just like us and managed to make their way to Heaven.

They can put our difficulties and concerns into perspective and show us how to live a holy life in the real world. We should not be waiting until we get to Heaven to start a saintly life. It might be too late then. We are the saints and we are challenged to make our normal lives saintly. Just like the real saints, not the plaster statues, we can follow Christ’s teaching as our guide to daily life.

I’ve just realised that means I’ll have to stop being grumpy around the house. This is not going to be easy.


Got a Favourite Saint? – My July Column

Do you gave a favourite saint? Perhaps your patron has special interests? This month I have a look at the saints and why we like them. My column is published this weekend in the Scottish Catholic Observer. Get your copy before they run out.

If you are too late the full text will be here next week.



My June Column – Who’s Standing on Your Shoulder?

The recent General Election produced some surprising results. The government hoped for a large increase in its majority but expectations were not met and the majority was lost. How could this happen? What caused the voters to cast their votes in the way they did?

I was one of those who reasoned that I should cast my vote for one party but decided in the end to stick with my normal voting pattern. What influenced me to make that decision? I would like to think that I thought it through and came to a logical decision but I suspect that my eventual vote was the result of emotion. I wasn’t able to desert the party I had always supported.

This has made me think about what influences our behaviour. Whether we are truly logical beings or respond to our feelings we experience influences from everything around us. I started to think about the possible influences on my behaviour. Which of the many influences is steering my thoughts?

An obvious influence on me is my family and upbringing. As a child I absorbed values and opinions from parents and relatives. These must be imprinted on my brain, even if I have moved on, determined to think for myself. That’s not to say that I’ve been programmed to copy my parent’s behaviour. Perhaps I’ve been moved to rebel against their views and act in a completely different way. Whether I’m moved to copy or oppose their thinking I’m still influenced, one way or the other.

Television has been accused of being a bad influence on children. Other commentators would disagree and point out how our views on third world poverty have been influenced by images of starving children broadcast on our screens. I think there is little doubt that television is an influence on our attitudes. It has been suggested that because the television set is in our home we are more susceptible to its influence that we would be to an outside source. Television is accepted as a trusted family member.

I don’t know how much I’m influenced by television since I find so much of it unwatchable but I’m sure there are subtle influences in the things I do watch. Recognising the influences and thinking about the attitudes they convey is a first step to maintaining some truly independent thought. Radio might be a more insidious influence. It tends to be on in the background while driving or working in the kitchen.

I’m not sure how much we are influenced by music on the radio. Some have described rock and roll as the music of the Devil and blamed the rebellious behaviour of teenagers on its influence. That may or not be true but I don’t find it a problem on Classic FM. Talk radio is a different beast. Opinions are filtered out to us – sometimes dressed up as news. Experts can make reasonable sounding cases for all sorts of nonsense but we may be more likely to accept it if we hear it on radio than if we hear it in the pub.

Celebrities seem to be the great purveyors of opinion today. So important are they that charities and political parties often use them to put over their message. Why should celebrities be influential? This has always been a puzzle to me. Apparently celebrities should be listened to because they are famous. Some are actors or people in the media. Because they are in the public eye their opinions are valued. Some celebrities seem to be famous for being famous. They don’t seem to actually do anything. That’s something I just fail to understand.

Newspapers and books are thought to be influential. The recent election results seem to contradict the idea of newspapers being crucial to election success. Perhaps they have overdone it. Surely you can get to a point where the public can recognise nonsense when the lies are so blatant? Newspapers are transient. We read them today and they go in the recycling bin (did you notice my green credentials there?). Books, on the other hand, hang around. I was once asked what book had influenced me most. I found that one very difficult to answer. I think everything you read has an influence on you, even the back of the cornflake packet.

Having given that question more thought I would have come to the conclusion that the Bible must be the book that has influenced, not just me, but the western world. You might never have opened a Bible but still have experienced the influence of its contents. Over the centuries the teaching contained in that book has produced societies that increasingly hold ordinary people to be valuable. Much of western law is Bible based although recent developments in abortion and euthanasia seem to have moved against that trend.

Every time we go to Mass we hear the word of God proclaimed in the Bible. The great religious feasts of Christmas and Easter that mark out our year are straight from the Bible. How many blockbuster films can you remember that are straight off the pages of the Bible? The great promise of the Bible that the chosen one will come as our saviour has permeated through literature and still forms the basis of Hollywood’s output.

Think of the great movie heroes, Superman, James Bond, John McClean in Diehard. Each is the one person come to save us. Superman is sent by his father to Earth. He, the son, has supernatural powers and uses them to save mankind. The heroes all suffer for us. James bond even dies and comes back again in ‘You Only Live Twice’. They all come to us from somewhere else. The theme of the lone hero who comes, suffers and eventually overcomes to save us permeates much of literature.

Even those who have never heard of Jesus look to a hero to lead and rescue us. Even in politics we look to a leader to be our hero and save us. Has Jeremy Corbyn come from nowhere, suffered and eventually overcome? Alas I feel that searching for our hero in politics is bound to lead to disappointment. I must own up to one of my film influences. Tom and Jerry cartoons always carry a moral message. How often have I seen Tom in a moral dilemma with a tiny angel on one shoulder and a tiny devil on the other? Each whispers advice to Tom. Tom, to the Devil’s delight, always flicks off the angel and goes the way of the other fellow.

Do I experience the influence of these spiritual advisors in my life? Is there an angel, a guardian angel whispering in my ear at times of moral doubt? Is there a devil whispering in my other ear; not urging me to be bad but helping me to see the wrong thing as somehow good? How good am I at rejecting this influence? Was it Oscar Wilde who said “I can resist anything but temptation”?

I need to face up to the fact that I am not totally in control of my thoughts and opinions. I am bombarded daily by influences I am not aware of. If I want to live as a Christian, following Christ’s teaching then I must be open to the whispering of that wee guardian angel on my shoulder and see the other fellow for what he is.