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Father may they be one

We are in the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. The Week points us to just one of many broken unities in our human race. “The Cold Within” was written in the 1960s by American poet James Patrick Kinney.

Six humans trapped by happenstance, in bleak and bitter cold; Each one possessed a stick of wood, or so the story’s told.

Their dying fire in need of logs, the first man held his back, For of the faces round the fire, he noticed one was black.

The next man looking cross the way, saw no one of his church, And couldn’t bring himself to give the fire his stick of birch.

The third one sat in tattered clothes, he gave his coat a hitch; Why should his log be put to use to warm the idle rich?

The rich man just sat back and thought of the wealth he had in store, And how to keep what he had earned from the lazy, shiftless poor.

The black man’s face bespoke revenge as the fire passed from his sight. For all he saw in his stick of wood was a chance to spite the white.

The last man of this forlorn group did naught except for gain, Giving only to those who gave was how he played the game.

Their logs held tight in death’s still hand was proof of human sin: They didn’t die from the cold without –

They died from the cold within.

Small things… Great love

We are into the season of awards – the Golden Globes ceremony took place last Sunday, the nominations for the BAFTAs were announced on Tuesday, and the Oscars can’t be far away. These glittering occasions remind us of the achievements of our celebrities, those public people who inhabit our screens and magazines. But what about the achievements of those who are not celebrities – our next door neighbours, the good deeds done by members of our own family?

As a priest, one of my responsibilities is, of course, to conduct funerals. Although this is part of my “job”, I count it as a great privilege. Before a funeral I’ll always sit down with the family to plan the service, after which I ask if it’s OK to talk about the deceased, so that I can make what happens in church more personal. They always agree, because they’re often very relieved to do so.

What happens next is like an artist painting a portrait. As we chat, a picture emerges of the person’s life, family, work and interests. Finally I ask them about who they were. It’s at this point that I get the feel of the real person, and often it’s now that the most remarkable aspects of their life comes out. Often I have to scribble fast as I learn about the wonderful achievements of ordinary people. Like the son who told me very recently how his mother couldn’t understand why not everybody will travel miles and miles by bus to visit a sick acquaintance like she did, even in her advanced years.

Now there’s nothing worse than a funeral which depicts someone as an impossibly perfect saint. But learning about people and their fascinating lives, and then being able to share that at a service, means that each funeral can become its own award ceremony. Mother Teresa of Calcutta said “Not all of us can do great things. But we can all do small things with great love.” So Golden Globes and Oscars are not for everyone, but the love and care we show in day-to-day life – small things done with great love – is so often heroic. And if we take a moment to think about people we know – it’s happening all around us.

Fr Matthew, adapted from “Wednesday Word” 10th January BBC Radio Wales

C+M+B

This weekend we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany – the Revelation or Showing Forth of Jesus to the world. The Jewish shepherds had already been there on Christmas night. Now it was the turn of the wider Gentile world, which includes us! We followed the shepherds to Bethlehem through our representatives, the Wise Men from the East.

There are many customs attached to the day in different parts of the world. In the Spanish-speaking world the Three Kings receive letters from children and so bring them gifts on the night before Epiphany. In Spain, each one of the Magi is supposed to represent one different continent, Europe (Melchior), Asia (Caspar) and Africa (Balthasar). According to the tradition, the Magi come from the East on their camels to visit the houses of all the children, much like Santa Claus with his reindeer elsewhere. In some areas, children prepare a drink for each of the Magi. It is also traditional to prepare food and drink for the camels, because this is the only night of the year when they eat.

In Spain, Argentina, Mexico, Paraguay and Uruguay, there is a long tradition for having the children receive presents from the three “Reyes Magos”. Many Spanish towns organise cabalgatas on the evening of the 5th, in which the Kings and their servants parade and throw sweets to the children (and parents) in attendance. Meanwhile, a tradition in Poland and German-speaking Catholic areas is the writing of the three kings initials (C+M+B, or K+M+B in those areas where Caspar is spelled Kaspar) above the main door of Catholic homes in chalk. This is a New Year’s blessing for the occupants and the initials are also believed to stand for “Christus mansionem benedicat” (“May Christ Bless This House”). Often these markings are made by the

“Sternsinger” (literally, “star singers”) – a group of three school children dressed up as the magi, and carrying a star. After singing, the children write the three kings initials on the door frame.

This “C+M+B” is catching on elsewhere. Why not involve your children or grandchildren in this lovely tradition – or just do it yourself? Write the letters in chalk over or near your front door. Who knows – it can be an opportunity to gently share your faith when callers at your front door ask “What’s all that about”!

To you all – may Christ bless your house this year!

Fr Matthew