Jesus was not born in a cozy place


“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.”
Luke 2:1-5

Jesus wasn’t born into a cosy, stable home environment. Mary was unexpectedly pregnant and not yet married to Joseph, and Jesus was born on the move and far from home. The family couldn’t even settle down following the birth, fleeing instead to Egypt to escape Herod. Jesus was born into confusion and turmoil.

Today, more than 50 million people around the world are internally displaced or living as refugees or asylum seekers. That’s 50 million people far from home this Christmas, many having fled from conflict, danger or abject poverty.


Your house used to be a home, but now it’s just a shelter. No comfort, no warmth. Although the memories remain. It’s nearly dark and there are no street lights. You can hear gunfire and bombs going off. Sometimes near, sometimes far. The ground shakes and the plaster crumbles from your ceilings.

How do you feel?

Things grow worse and the army arrives. They go through the streets, shouting at people to get out and get moving. You don’t want to go, but you don’t want to die either.

How do you feel?

You’re walking. Your mother is old, her arm is through yours to keep her from stumbling. There are people all around, all walking, on and on. You walk for days. There is hardly anything to eat. You’re so thin you hardly recognise yourself, and your body is so, so tired. You run out of land – there is water ahead, war behind.

How do you feel?

Everyone is clambering for a place on the boat. You don’t want to go, but you don’t want to die either…

For you, this was a fleeting and imaginary experience. For many, this is real life.

Rafi, aged seven, saw his little brother die in Syria. His mother told Tearfund: “He hasn’t been happy with himself since.  He has nightmares and tells me that he is scared during the day.”

Rafi and his family now live in Lebanon, one of the countries where Tearfund is helping refugees. While in Syria they lived under shelling, in Lebanon it is peaceful. Yet the whole family lives with a legacy of fear.  They are all, even the parents, frightened by loud noises like fireworks. Many are traumatised and need specialist help.  Most have no opportunity to earn money, because their work permissions are restricted, so they struggle to feed their families.  School places in host countries are limited because of the number of people arriving from Syria. 

Every minute, eight people leave everything behind to flee war, persecution or terror – A small number of them come to the West and make the news headlines. Tens of millions don’t.


The dark nights of Advent

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“Father in heaven,
the day draws near when the glory of your Son
will make radiant the night of the waiting world.”
Roman Missal

In the Northern hemisphere Advent corresponds with the season of Winter, when the days are short and the night is long. Advent reminds us that God comes to us in our darkest moments in order to bring His light. The dark nights of Advent reveal to us the light of Christ. Christ comes gently, without a rush, but He does come.

What is the area of your life where you long for Christ to visit you? Sometimes we may feel that certain parts of our life are in a season of awaiting, in Advent. Or we know other people who are in Advent of their lives. Often we associate waiting as something that is not pleasant, and yet when we wait for friends to visit us, or when we are hoping to see family or someone close to us after we haven’t seen them in a long time, the waiting is filled with joy and expectancy. It is an active waiting. Liturgically as we approach Christmas, the waiting takes this fragrance of joyful expectancy. 

In the next week, try and find a few quiet moments where you will let this external joyful reality of Christ’s coming feed your soul. The busyness of the season may make this a bit hard, but it is a worthwhile effort to pause in order to spend time in the presence of God. 

Do not hesitate to invite Jesus into the areas of your life that need Him the most, that long for His light. If there is something painful that you are dealing with, allow yourself to sit with it knowing that you are not alone; as if sitting in the middle of the night waiting for a new dawn. In a week’s time we will celebrate Christmas, which means that the hope that Christ brings is drawing near. And yet in many ways, same as when He was growing in Mary’s womb, He is already here. 

I pray that Christ, who is the true gift of the season, would bring you all the graces you need and that you would be willing to share them with those around you. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13). 


Iva Beranek
Dr Iva Beranek is the Ministry Facilitator for the CMH: Ireland

This Advent look for those in need

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The frenzy of Christmas shopping can so occupy some of us that it takes a special effort to think of those for whom this time is not going to be very happy. 

As we journey towards Christmas, let us try and remember those who need us to bring the Christ light to them. If someone is hungry, we cannot ask them to reflect on the deeper meaning of Advent, we need to bring them food. Try and notice at least one person who would benefit from your smile or your helping hand and then do something, however small, which may bring them some joy. This can be an elderly person that you know, someone who lost their loved one this year, a person that in these cold months needs to live on the street, or someone else that life will introduce you to. Be attentive and help at least one person not to be lonely at this time of the year.

If for a moment we take our concern outside of Ireland, we are aware that the refugees are still coming into Europe, and winter brings added challenges to those who are trying to help them. I would like to tell you a story from my friend Tea, who lives in Bosnia. In the last few months the refugees have been coming through Serbia into Croatia, both of which are bordering Bosnia, so Tea goes to the border with a team of people to provide assistance to the refugees. While you read, if emotions or images you saw on the news come, offer them to God as a prayer. Even if you cannot put it into words, know that your heart prays. Tea says:

“The border between Serbia and Croatia: Buses are coming every 15-20 minutes. Each bus is full of people who are often dehydrated, hungry, wet… A lot of them are with kids. From the point where they leave the bus, people have to walk several kilometres to Croatia and then they continue their trip to the refugee camp in Croatia. We came on the Serbian side, to the point where the buses drop people off. We came with three cars full of food, clothes, blankets, raincoats, milk, juice, shoes… We also came with enough money to re-supply. People were leaving buses, briefly ate, drank and continued to walk. Often they looked confused, disoriented and at the edge of their strength.

Everything that we brought to the border was very useful. However, from the beginning we realised that some things are more important than others. Nearly every person had problems with their feet. I won’t even try to describe how their feet looked like. Obviously, a logical step was to start cleaning their feet, giving them dry socks and new shoes. Unfortunately our shoe supply was not very big (we had around 20 pairs). Well, at this point, as a team we decided that we have more shoes and shared our shoes with those who are in need. My team came back to Tuzla with different shoes. Now I have shoes that were walking from Syria to the Croatian border and that are wet. I didn’t feel that we did anything special. Several reporters saw when one of our team members took her shoes off and gave it to the refugee, then one of them started to cry.”

Joseph and Mary were also walking for days before Jesus was born. They were on their way to Bethlehem. I invite you to become aware of the shoes you are wearing. How far could you walk in them? Would they be good for walking over the fields or if you had to walk for days without changing them? Take a few moments to ponder on this in silence and to offer your silent prayers to God. (short pause)

We ask you, Jesus, to do what we cannot, and to inspire us to do more of what we can in order to help those who are in need.

Iva Beranek
Dr Iva Beranek is the Ministry Facilitator for the CMH: Ireland

Writing as an Advent practice


One does not have to have a vocation of a writer in order to taste the healing benefits of writing. It has long been known that keeping a journal helps us to be attentive to the inner movements of our soul and to the deep life learning that each season of life offers us. Life can move quickly, and it is easy to lose a meaningful experience, a life lesson, unless we commit it to paper. Writing about our experiences also gives us a chance to come back to what we have written, to remember and to draw from it at a later stage. 

Some people use journaling to record daily events, but we can go even deeper and use it as a tool to reflect on our life. Writing gives us a chance to slow down and to pay attention to experiences that we can otherwise so easily overlook. If you would like to nurture a reflective dimension in your life, why not take a few minutes each day during this Advent to write about your day. Where did you notice God’s presence? What thoughts, emotions surfaced within you? What prayer was being formed in your depths?  

Writing gives shape to our thoughts. While we can gather many blessings by noting beautiful experiences, God’s graces that we encounter daily, it can be quite healing to take time to journal about painful events as well, such as grief or loss of any kind. Writing gives us a tool to express emotions that we carry within us, instead of keeping them bottled up inside. In this way writing can provide healing and relief. 

In a way writing acts as a mirror; at times while journaling we will write something that we have never thought about before, something we didn’t know we knew or believed. Allow yourself to be surprised with what you write, should that happen. Journaling is a good way to reflect, to pay attention, to observe, to listen, to notice our inner movements and to grow. 

I will leave you with some questions that may help your reflections as you journey through Advent:

Where in my life do I need God’s light to grow?
Did I notice that God is teaching me something new at this moment in time?
What hope have I for this Advent?
What are the ways that I can prepare my heart for the coming of Christ?

You can turn your writing into prayer. God is attentive to what is in your heart, and so be free as you write. The paper will not judge. May you have a truly blessed Advent. 

Iva Beranek
Dr Iva Beranek is the Ministry Facilitator for the CMH: Ireland

The power of Presence: God with us

“What would happen in a world like this if Christians were to become very still and quiet, creating oases of silence for people whose ears ache and whose heads hurt from all the noise?”
(Barbara Brown Taylor)

Join us in DCU as we explore the value of slowing down and tapping into the power of God’s presence in our daily lives. 

All are welcome.


Come to the well.
The well is deep.

Wellspring is a one-day retreat incorporating Christian mindfulness and biblical reflection, to which all are welcome. It’s a chance to spend some time apart from the noise of the world, to be fully present to yourself and to your communion with God, so that by the end of the day, you can re-enter the world refreshed.

A series of nurturing silences in which you can choose to pray, read, take a walk, or even have a little snooze will be interspersed with a few guided (and optional) reflections led by facilitators Iva Beranek and Carol Casey. There will also be an opportunity to avail of one-to-one discussion with a spiritual director.

This is our second offering of Wellspring and takes place as we’re beginning our Advent journey. Here are some things participants said of the last Wellspring in May:

‘Best of all were the thoughtful and well paced presentations which gave me a wonderful springboard for the times of silence.’

‘An incredibly sensitively and prayerfully planned day.’

‘I have come away reminded of the tools at my finger tips so to speak to deal with the many curved balls life seems to throw.’

‘A truly refreshing day.’

The day will begin at 9.45am at the Church of Ireland Theological Institute and conclude by 4.00pm.

The cost is €40, including coffee & tea, lunch and parking. Places must be booked in advance (

Lodging of the heart

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At the present hour of history we are living in God’s darkness; His face is eclipsed, blacked out in the present tragedy where millions of people are without a home or homeland.

What can we do?

There is something, as Christians, that we believe we can do, which is important and significant. We can pray, intercede for all those people. And this activity can have the effect of making us more compassionate in a practical way towards our suffering brothers and sisters. The privilege of intercession is a trust committed to all Christians. It is our special prerogative and it is the kind of prayer which brings us into nearest resemblance to Jesus.

“Even the poorest persion, the one weighted down by a burden of sin can pray for another person”, so wrote Edith Stein, “firstly because the Lord is not only just but also merciful”.

Edith Stein was a German Jew, a Philosopher and a Carmelite Saint. She was gassed in the concentration camp in Auschwitz in 1942. She wanted her life and death to be a prayer and intercession for her people, the Jewish race. I mention her because I think she helps us to understand what we are doing when we are interceding for these suffering men and women and children scattered without a home, fleeing from their homeland.  

Edith Stein wrote: 

“I am travelling through the world
to plead for lodgings for the homeless
the people so scattered and trampled.”

She was referring to her own people the Jews who were being persecuted and were fleeing. She prays, “I’ll take them into the lodging of my heart praying secretly and sacrificing secretly. I’ll take them home to my Saviour’s Heart”.

It seems to me that it is something like that that we are doing [when we pray for the refugees and for peace]. We are taking all those people into our heart and brining them home to the heart of Jesus through our prayer. We have access to the Heart of Jesus in prayer, it is for us the place of intimacy, the place of love and warmth, it is home. That is where we are brining all those people – home to the Heart of Jesus in our prayer. So that He may bless them and bondage their wounded hearts.

Hungry for Peace

famine memorial OCt 2015-Iva B.

We pray for Refugees.
We pray for the 60 million people who are either internally displaced or who have fled their countries because of conflict, persecution or natural disasters.

We pray for those living in temporary settlements for years on end, in a state of limbo, their lives on hold, hopelessness chipping away at their resolve, who feel forgotten, cast aside, worthless.  We pray for those in Direct Provision in our own country and those in camps on borders around the world.

We pray for people in Bangladesh who have had to flee their homes because of rising seas, land erosion and floods, all caused by our over-consumption and our excessive relentless emissions.  Many of them flee to the cities where they live in squalor and are exploited, often to the point of slavery, by the garment industries, the same ones that provide our clothes.

We pray for people in Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Ethiopia, who are becoming displaced from their land and thousands of hectares are being deforested by large multi-nationals to grow cash crops that will then be exported for our food.  Food that we then waste at such a rate that it is estimated Western countries throw away the equivalent of what the entire continent of Africa produces in a year.  We are reminded of Ireland in the 1850s, where 1.5 million people decided that leaving was better than staying to die of starvation, and all the while vast quantities of wheat, oats and barley were being exported out of Ireland to feed the British population. The devastation that food for profit instead of food for survival causes is still imposed on nations today.  Since 2013, the U.S. has sent food aid to South Sudan all the while exporting vast crops from thousands of hectares of land they have acquired in South Sudan for sale supermarkets across America.

We pray for people who are displaced in the Democratic Republic of Congo due to lack of Governance and ongoing civil war. 5 million people have dies since the late 1990s and millions more have been displaced and live in destitution and in fear of militia. These wars have been exacerbated by the mass mining of DRCs natural resources to provide the minerals (cobalt, gold, tin) needed for our phones, our electronics and our jewellery. We pray for those impoverished communities in South Africa who have not fled when international mining companies have set up shop on their doorsteps and are now living in areas ten times more toxic and radioactive than Chernobyl because of uranium dumping.  

In many instances, the destitution that people are fleeing to, bears no thought for what they must be fleeing from. Often the poorest communities bear the brunt of welcoming thousands and tens and thousands of others who have lost their homes.  

So as we pray for refugees worldwide, we recognise our own interconnectedness, our own compliance through relentless consumerism that perpetuates the suffering and displacement of millions around the world.

All of us are on a journey.  None of us have arrived.

We pray that our cry for change would challenge us and move us to respond in a way that we become the answer to our own prayers.  May we be willing to curb our lifestyles and to demand that production and supply of goods promote peace, through food security, land rights and fairly obtained, fairly traded goods.

God is closer to you than your breath. May He bring you peace.
But may He also keep you restless and hungry for the peace of all people.

Disturb us O Lord.  Amen

November Mini-Retreat

The Church of Ireland Theological Institute’s Lay Training programme is offering a 2-day mini retreat for commissioned lay ministers across the Church of Ireland. This includes commissioned prayer ministers and lay pastoral assistants, as well as lay readers.

This retreat will offer reflections upon our encounters with and responses to human suffering and will be led by the Rev Bruce Pierce, Director of Education at St Luke’s Home Education Centre, who brings a great deal of experience, wisdom and gentleness to the subject.

The retreat begins on a Friday evening, the 13th November, at 6pm, and ends Saturday, 14th November at 4pm in CITI, Braemor Park, Dublin 14. Both residential (€50/£40) and non-residential (€25/£20) places are available and must be booked by 12 noon on Friday, 6th November 2015.

All queries and bookings should go through David Brown, Director of Lay Training at CITI.

Prayer Stations at the Vigil for Peace

“There is something in the human spirit that will survive and prevail, there is a tiny and brilliant light burning in the heart of people that will not go out no matter how dark the world becomes.”
(Leo Tolstoy)

Earlier this month we held a Vigil for Peace in Christ Church Cathedral. We prayed for peace in Syria and other countries, and for the many refugees coming to Europe. We are aware that some of you wanted to be there but due to your commitments you were not able to join us in person. Perhaps you joined us in prayer in your workplace, while commuting during the working day, or in whatever situation you found yourself that day. Know that all of our prayers were joined together and like incense they went before God. 

We will share here on our website some of the prayerful reflections that participants offered on the day. We hope that these heartfelt words will spill over to wherever you are and enrich you too, as well as inspire all of us to keep praying. The Vigil for peace was like a lighthouse where we gathered together to pray for peace, and its light is reminding us that prayer is still needed, for the plight of the refugees is ongoing. 

During the day we had interactive prayer stations in the Lady Chapel at the back of the Cathedral to help us engage with prayer in a creative way. We are very grateful to Emma Lynch from Tearfund Ireland, Lydia Monds from the Bishops’ Appeal and the Rev. Abigail Sines for helping us set these up. Visitors and participants found it a very useful tool; the prayer stations were hardly without someone roaming around and praying there. Below you can see images of some of the prayer stations.

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