Saturday, 28 November 2009

Christmas Bible Study

Did this artist get it right, is this
the way it might have looked ?


We are approaching that time of year dreaded and loved in different measure by one and all - Christmas. For some it is one big party and a social whirl of activity, for many it is all about making ends meet to ensure that Santa doesn't disappoint and for some Christmas can be the loneliest time of the year where difficult circumstances become accentuated. In all of these various reactions to Advent it is too easy to loose the original focus for the whole big shebang - the coming of Jesus to this earth. While church attendance declines and our attitude to an authoritarian structure that has let us down so badly in the past wavers, never has it been more important to distinguish Jesus message from his flawed messengers. In other words we need to get back to the man Jesus, that one who came among us as a man, and embodied in himself the very nature of God. The New Testament is our primary source where we can discover the real Jesus and make sense of His incarnation through those mysterious beginnings in Bethlehem and beyond. With this in mind I would like to recommend a 4 week Bible study on the Incarnation by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson of Joyful Heart Ministries that you can get through your e mail for free. The lessons arrive once a week and you study at your own pace, there are no 'catches' or hidden obligations and Dr, Wilson has a light style of teaching that make the lessons relevant and dynamic. To enrol simply click on the link below and fill out a short registration form, these few lessons will truly focus your attention on the reason for the Season - Jesus Christ. ~GOSh.~


Thursday, 26 November 2009


The story emerged during the week of the Belgian man who spent 23 years diagnosed as a comatose, and who now with the help of ultra modern therapy has described how he was conscious all the while. Rom Houben appeared to be in a vegetative state after being involved in a car crash, according to the expert diagnostics of the 1980’s. Now however with the aid of a specialised brain scan and computer technology he is able to communicate by pointing to letters on a screen using his little finger. He has described the loneliness and isolation of the last two decades as he lay there fully aware of his surroundings but unable to communicate. He wrote of his ordeal, “Just imagine. You hear, see, feel, and think but no one can see that. You undergo things. You cannot participate in life”. He went on to describe his new found ability to interact as being reborn. The doctor who discovered that Mr Houben had been wrongly diagnosed is now re-examining dozens of other cases. His studies have revealed that 40 pc of patients with consciousness disorders are wrongly given a diagnosis of a vegetative state.

When my uncle Frank had a stroke last year he spent several days just lying in the bed apparently oblivious to his surroundings. The medical staff essentially told us that his chances of any further recovery were negligible and they wanted to withdraw his naso-gastric feed and hydration. At the time we strenuously protested and he did recover limited mobility and full mental recognition within a week or two. One doctor was gracious enough to admit that they had got it wrong and he described Frank’s progress as nothing short of miraculous. Sadly Frank died after an unfortunate circumstance that I wont go into here. My point is that when medical professionals play God with human life they sometimes get it wrong.

There is a clamour in some quarters for so called ‘mercy’ killing to be made lawful in extreme cases where someone is terminally ill or whose quality of life is deemed to be very poor. The problem with this is who will adjudicate on the length or the quality of a human life. Traditionally God has been seen as the giver and the taker of life, but in our post-faith age rational humanism has opened up the pandoras box of mercy-killing at the latter stages of a life, having already established the right to abortion at the very beginning of life. I recall listening to the late Philosopher and Christian apologist Francis Schaeffer back in the 1980’s predicting that after the abortion battle, euthanasia would be next and then infanticide.At the time these words seemed somewhat dramatic now however they are chillingly true. Life is God’s gift (1Corinthians 3: 16 and Genesis 1: 26) and we are not the arbiters of when it is extinguished, even Job in his distress declared, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away” (Job 1: 21). The recent story of Rom Houben reminds us powerfully of how sacred and mysterious the gift of life is and even with our expertise we can sometimes read the signs incorrectly, pointing us towards a course of action that could be catastrophic.

Gerard O'Shea

Monday, 23 November 2009


Already the air is beginning to fill with sounds seasonal as stores belt out their well worn Christmas soundtracks and even some of the local radio stations have dared to spin the occasional Yuletide ditty. Gone are the days when Christmas music belonged exclusively to the festivity itself, now the jingle jangle of reindeers, sleigh-bells and gathering angels are used to extend the shopping extravaganza way beyond even the month of December.

I must admit that I am a sucker for Christmas carols and there are a few Christmas cracker songs that also rock my sledge, like John and Yoko’s 'Happy Christmas, War Is Over’ and Jona Lewie’s ‘Don’t Stop The Cavalry’ and of course Jackson Browne’s ‘The Rebel Jesus’. ‘Oh Holy Night’, ’ Adeste Fideles and ‘The Coventry Carol’ would be my top three carols whose musical light burst through the morass of woolly thinking and mulled-wine-filled days that are part and parcel of this ambiguous festival. As an avid collector of Christmas albums from the Muppets to Mario Lanza I was excited to hear that my venerable musical icon Bob Dylan has this year ,surprise, surprise ,released his very own addition to this musical genre, ‘Christmas In The Heart’.

As I write I am listening to Dylan’s seasonal offering and a very upbeat, Pogueish version of ‘Must Be Santa’. Already I have heard a jaunty Dylanesque rendition of ‘Here Comes Santa Clause’ and a scratchy sky stretching ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’. Now he is singing ‘The First Noel’ as no one else can, punctuating the powerful lyrics of the old hymn in that distinctive drawl “ The first Noel the angel did say / Was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay; / In fields as they lay, keeping their sheep, / On a cold winter's night that was so deep. / Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel, Born is the King of Israel. “ Such is the potency of that voice that old favourites like ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’ and ‘Silver Bells’ lose their familiar banality and are endued with a freshness and immediacy that present those ancient and hallowed themes in an arresting and different way. Anyway Bob could sing the telephone directory and attach a gravitas to it with the awesome quality of his singing that has droned and sometimes hollered over the last five decades. The album is very much a traditional package with a Victorian painting of a lady and driver being pulled through the snow on a sledge with two horses on the cover, and a night scene of the Magi following the star on the back. Inside there is the slightly mischievous picture of a smiling brunette beauty posing in a Santa suit ! Whatever about the red suit with the fur trimmed collar this album should have pride of place in any stocking hung over the yuletide hearth this year.

Gerard O'Shea

Saturday, 21 November 2009


The Grand Parade in Cork resembling Venice ,
in the flooding of the last few days.


The water rushed in
Set free from the broken banks,
Submerging domestic life
In it’s swaddling ooze.

Stranded upstairs
Land dwellers look out to sea
Where lately lawns were trimmed,
And streams of murky brown
Torrent through the garden swing.

Dogs and cattle call
Alarmed at this fluid pasture
While experts crow again
Of changing climate
And further plans of action.

Meanwhile the island sinks
Beneath swamped hopes
And tidal waves of disappointment.

What Ark will now save us
From these foolish habitations
Built on the shifting sands
Of our heart-wrenched plains.
Gerard O'Shea

Wednesday, 18 November 2009



A woman rubbed a bottle and out popped a genie
The amazed woman asked if she got three wishes.
The genie said, "Nope, sorry, three-wish genies are a storybook myth.
I'm a one-wish genie. So... what'll it be?"
The woman did not hesitate.
She said, "I want peace in the Middle East.
"See this map? I want these countries to stop fighting with each other
and I want all the Arabs to love the Jews and Americans and vice-versa."
"It will bring about world peace and harmony."
The genie looked at the map and exclaimed, "Lady, be reasonable. These
countries have been at war for thousands of years. I'm out of shape
after being in a bottle for five hundred years.. I'm good but not THAT
good! I don't think it can be done. Make another wish and please be
The woman thought for a minute and said, "Well, I've never been able to
find the right man. You know - one that's considerate and fun, romantic,
likes to cook and help with the house cleaning, is good in bed, and gets
along with my family, doesn't watch sports all the time, and is
faithful. That is what I wish for...a good man."
The genie let out a sigh and said, "Let me see the map again."

Wednesday, 11 November 2009


I have neglected of late to bring you gems from the window-sill of my front porch, so to rectify this oversight I have plucked a tattered yellow copy of The Penguin Poets Contemporary Verse edited by Kenneth Allott. This volume first saw the light of day in 1950 and the price of two shillings and sixpence marked on the front cover is a bit of a giveaway. I picked it up in a second hand bookshop along the way being a firm believer that a well thumbed yellow-edged book of poetry holds a special atmosphere that allows the works within to live and breathe. It’s a good feeling to thumb through an old edition where eyes and thumbs have strayed before, there’s a distinct feeling that you are not travelling alone. The poem I’ve selected from this book is one by Irish poet Louis Macneice (left} which though seasonally a little premature, is a work rich in atmosphere and mystery. In his introduction Allott says of Macneice’s writing, “ his best work was unequalled in the Thirties for its gaiety, grace and a lightness which was never silly or ostrich-like.”
Gerard O'Shea
The room was suddenly rich and the great bay-window was
Spawning snow and pink roses against it
Soundlessly collateral and incompatible:
World is suddener than we fancy it.
World is crazier and more of it than we think,
Incorrigibly plural. I peel and portion
A tangerine and spit the pips and feel
The drunkenness of things being various.
And the fire flames with a bubbling sound for world
Is more spiteful and gay than one supposes -
On the tongue on the eyes on the ears in the palms of one's hands -

There is more than glass between the snow and the huge roses.
Louis Macneice

Tuesday, 10 November 2009


Continuing our occasional series on curious signs, I spotted this one while awaiting a hospital appointment recently. The aim of the poster is laudable in encouraging people to quit the noxious habit, but what took my eye was the grand sounding title of the lady entrusted with the task of stamping out the practise ,a SMOKING CESSATION FACILITATOR . What a mouthful ! Reminds me of a summer job that I once had in Roches Stores, a large (now departed) store in the middle of Limerick where amongst my duties was the task of keeping the main door free of obstructing prams! The daily brigade of women with prams queuing up to park in the restricted area became the bane of my workday life. To alleviate the monotony of my task I invented a fancy title for my occupation - A PERAMBULATOR EXTINGUISHER ! In my defence my exotic job description was a bit of fun while I think the notice in the hospital was meant to be taken seriously !
Gerard O'Shea

Sunday, 8 November 2009


Today is Remembrance Sunday, the anniversary of the cessation of hostilities in the First World War at 11 a.m.on November 11 th. in 1918 and when the dead of all wars are remembered. The Day is chiefly commemorated in the U.K. but as over 200,000 Irish served with the British army and an estimated 35,000 + died in the war ,there are also services of remembrance in this country. The Royal British Legion who look after the interests of war veterans and their families sell the ‘poppy’ badge at this time and this has been a bone of contention here going back over the years ,as for some the ‘poppy’ represents British Imperialism and is anathema to full blooded Republicans. The counter argument is that the Remembrance activities are not glorifying the conflict but honouring and remembering those who died in this most bloody war. My own grand-uncle ,Jack Kelly died in the war and is listed on the roll of honour at Flanders Field in Belgium. Like many other young men at the time, he enlisted in the Dublin Fusiliers and left his home at Shanakyle near Larkin’s Cross in Limerick, to fight in the ‘ war that was to end all wars’. He fell in battle at the age of 37 leaving behind his wife and two children, Alice and Mary. He was one of many Irish who joined the British Army for several reasons. Some joined spurred on by Home Rule campaigner John Redmond, in the hope (vain as it turned out) that after the war Britain would reward Irish involvement by granting home rule to Ireland. Some, I’m sure joined for the adventure and romance of army life (as it was then perceived!) and many joined to get a job in a depressed economic climate. 8,556,315 troops from all countries died in the war while the total number of people killed during WW1 (including civilians) is 16.5 million, making it one of the bloodiest conflicts in history. Many of the men who survived action at the front witnessed all the horrors of war and some were permanently scarred emotionally as a consequence, one such soldier was Wilfred Owen who suffering from ’shell shock’, was confined to Craiglockhart War Hospital in Edinburgh. While there, in October of 1917 Owen began to reflect on all he had seen and experienced at the front and wrote this poem as a lament for the huge wastage of young lives cut down in the conflict.

Gerard O'Shea


What passing bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choir,
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.
Wilfred Owen

Tuesday, 3 November 2009


There was a man named Nicodemus, a Jewish religious leader who was a Pharisee. After dark one evening, he came to speak with Jesus. “Rabbi,” he said, “we all know that God has sent you to teach us. Your miraculous signs are evidence that God is with you.”
Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.”
“What do you mean?” exclaimed Nicodemus. “How can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?”
Jesus replied,
“I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life. So don’t be surprised when I say, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it wants. Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit.”

“How are these things possible?” Nicodemus asked.
Jesus replied, “You are a respected Jewish teacher, and yet you don’t understand these things? I assure you, we tell you what we know and have seen, and yet you won’t believe our testimony. But if you don’t believe me when I tell you about earthly things, how can you possibly believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ever gone to heaven and returned. But the Son of Man has come down from heaven. And as Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life.

“For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.
“There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son. And the judgment is based on this fact: God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants.”

Gospel of John, chapter 3, verses 1 - 21

Monday, 2 November 2009


Many GAA match goers will be familiar with the man with the John3:7 sign. The man in question often referred to as ‘John’ is in fact one Frank Hogan who for the past 25 years has been witnessing to his faith by displaying the text reference on a bright yellow board of Jesus statement in the gospel of John, ‘You must be born again’.

As it happens Frank is a friend of mine and I have known him over all those years, now in his seventies he continues undaunted and has become a regular fixture at Croke Park on All Ireland day not to mention the countless other games he attends in the course of a season.TG 4 spent some time with Frank as he prepared to go to the Munster final and have produced a 30 minute documentary shown last night and to be repeated tomorrow evening (Tuesday)at 8pm in the Cogar series.

The documentary concentrates on the man behind the public persona and also allows Frank to testify to his life changing experience of being ‘born again’, and his passion to share the good news, which motivates his ongoing excursions to sporting events with the distinctive sign. If you missed the broadcast last night tune in to TG 4 at 8pm tomorrow evening and discover the man behind the board !
Gerard O'Shea

Sunday, 1 November 2009


An artists impression of the original vision

The little town of Knock in Count Mayo became, not for the first time in its history, the focal point of religious devotees yesterday as self proclaimed visionary Joe Coleman awaited a further visitation of the Virgin Mary at the famous shrine. Along with an estimated crowd of 10,000 pilgrims Mr. Coleman sat at the front of the basilica apparently in a trance receiving further messages from ‘Our Lady’. Before the event the Archbishop of Tuam, Dr. Michael Neary, issued a statement cautioning the faithful, “It is not healthy, does not give glory to God and . . . is not good witness to the faith to be looking for extraordinary phenomena,” In the light of the origin of the shrine at Knock many would feel that the Archbishop’s concerns are a little overdue, by about a hundred years or so. On the evening of August 21 st. 1879 several villagers witnessed an apparition of the Virgin Mary, her husband St. Joseph, and St. John the Evangelist at the south gable end of the local small parish church, the Church of St. John the Baptist. Behind them and a little to the left of St. John was a plain altar. On the altar was a cross and a lamb with adoring angels. A commission of enquiry was set up by church authorities who found that the testimony of the witnesses was “trustworthy and satisfactory” and almost immediately people began to flock to the little church. By 1979 when Pope John Paul 11 visited Knock it was already a place of national and international pilgrimage, and of course the papal visit further confirmed the authenticity of the shrine as far as Catholics were concerned.

The latest activity at Knock has some similarities with the original ‘visitation’ as in both cases the ‘visionaries’ were just ordinary people without any theological or religious training, the stark difference though is the speed with which the church has rushed to condemn the latest episode. Marian devotion is a huge part of Catholic piety with shrines devoted to Mary’s apparitions dotted all over the world, most notably at Lourdes in France, Fatima in Portugal and Medjugorje in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Because Catholic theology allows Mary a place almost co-equal with Christ (Jesus is regarded as the mediator and Mary as the mediatrix !) the question asked by the church after alleged appearances by the ‘Virgin’ is always with regard to the reliability of the witnesses and not as it should be, does this square up with what God has revealed to us about Mary in His word, the Bible. Even a cursory glance through the New Testament shows that Mary while having a special place of favour with God, was like every servant of God a recipient of His grace and mercy as she sought to fulfil the role that He had ordained as the mother of His Son, Jesus. Out of Mary’s own mouth we have this testimony of her own human frailty, “ My soul rejoices in God my Saviour”, though chosen by God she was a sinner and depended just as much as you and I on the death of her Son to save her. What a pity that the Catholic church does not really guard the faithful from visionary delusions by judging all such occurrences against the truth of Gods word and not just against the reliability of human witness and say so.

The shenanigans at Knock past and present just shows how desperate people are for some spiritual certainties in this troubled and unsure world. It is hardly a co-incidence that the last outbreak of mass vision linked episodes took place back in the eighties when people flocked to places like Ballinspittle where statues reportedly shook and danced. Again at that time Ireland was going through one of its bleakest times with poverty, unemployment and emigration spiralling. The ‘moving statues’ and the apparitions at Knock may make entertaining reading for the religiously sceptical, but what a tragedy that many sincere souls would look in the wrong places for a morsel of hope and comfort. Jesus is our only point of contact with our eternal Creator and He calls now as He did two thousand years ago to all who hunger and thirst for spiritual reality, “ Come to me all of you labour and are burdened and I will give you rest” He appeared once in human flesh that He might deal with our sin at the cross, nailing it there for once and for all for everyone who believes. The death and resurrection of Jesus verified by reliable witnesses at the time and vindicated by God the Father through the Scriptures are reliable certainties that a man or woman can place their trust in, now and for eternity. No church, no teacher, no priest or saint can so be trusted…just Jesus pure and simple. The empty cross and the empty tomb are enduring reminders that He alone is Lord of all .
Gerard O'Shea