AT THE FOOT OF THE CROSS

GOOD FRIDAY
19TH APRIL 2019
Rev Tony van Vuuren

From the Annunciation to the Cross, Mary always consented with the same obedience of faith, to all the designs of God. Every moment of Her life was an invitation to act on Her faith; and as a fruit of Her obedience, She in turn, deepened Her faith and understanding of Her role and participation in the plan of salvation. That is why we can truly say that Mary had a pilgrimage of faith from the Annunciation to Her Assumption, and that this pilgrimage climaxed on Golgotha.

In these times, marked by a spirit of unbelief, secularization and materialism, we need to ask the Holy Spirit to give us the same faith of Mary’s Heart, so as to be able to stand with Her at the foot of the Cross in fidelity to Her Son and His teachings
To have faith, to believe, has never been easy, since it implies the renunciation of our own thoughts, ways, and wisdom in order to accept the thoughts, ways and wisdom of God, which are infinitely superior to ours. Our Christian perfection depends, on the virtue of faith; our fidelity in times of tribulation, and our perseverance. Paul says: “we walk by faith not by sight” (2 Cor 5:7)

At the moment of the Annunciation, faith became for Mary the only pillar on which to sustain Her whole life and the only way to embrace, not only Her own mystery, but the mystery of Her Son: a gift of mercy from God the Father, for the salvation of all humanity.

St John writes; “Standing at the foot of the Cross of Jesus were his mother and her companions. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple, whom he loved, he said to his mother: ‘Woman, behold your son.’ John exalts Mary’s faith by presenting two elements in reference to the Passion of our Lord: First, Mary’s presence at the foot of the Cross. It is precisely at this place where the faith of the disciples and, logically, Mary’s faith, is put to the hardest test. Her steadfast presence manifests Her fidelity, Her constant abandonment to the will of God, and a faith that is undiminished, unchanged and unaltered even in the darkest hours.
Secondly, in the words of Jesus, “Behold your son,” Mary is invited to expand the horizon of her faith and the understanding of Her role, since Her motherhood is now moving beyond Her dying son; it is been extended to the reality of a spiritual maternity for all the children of God. This last will of Jesus on the Cross became, for Mary, a new annunciation of a conception and birth: The Church.
Mary’s faith was constant, not only present in the times of “apparent glory” when Her Son was performing miracles and had many disciples that believed in Him; it was just as strong when there was no “apparent glory,” and even when there were not that many disciples to believe – except one, the one that was with Her at the foot of the Cross.
The same faith that Mary had at the birth of her Son was the faith she had at the Cross. It had required much faith to have in her arms that defenceless baby, and to put him in the manger and believe in his divinity. It also now required much faith to see Her Son totally disfigured and defenceless on the Cross, waiting for him to be placed in her arms, to then be put in the sepulchre. Her faith gave her strength to continue standing at the foot of the Cross – where nothing seemed to make sense, where darkness seemed to have overcome light, where death seemed to have overcome life, where the messianic power seemed to have been lost, where goodness seemed to have been overcome by evil. There, at the foot of the Cross, Mary stood, supported by John, expressing the hardest thing that could have been expressed at that moment: faith in Jesus Christ, Savior, Messiah, Redeemer. The Son of God.
Mary’s faith is a model for us; we all have our own itinerary and our own journey to travel. It is Mary’s faith that will teach and guide us on this journey through life; to be faithful, undivided, perseverant and trustful in times of glory and in times of suffering.
The story of Holy Week is not simply one of death and destruction. It is more importantly one of hope and of new life. Good Friday makes no sense without Easter Sunday. Mary knows that hope is stronger than despair, love is stronger than hatred and life is stronger than death; and that nothing is impossible with God.
Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows, is our Spiritual Mother; and a mother always understands her children and consoles them in their troubles. Mary has that specific mission to love us, received from Jesus on the Cross; to love us always, so as to save us. Looking to the example of Mary, may we too unite our sufferings to our Lord, facing them with courage, love, and trust!

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PALM SUNDAY

PALM SUNDAY
CYCLE C
14 APRIL 2019.
Homily delivered before the reading of the Passion according to Luke
Rev Tony van Vuuren.

During Holy Week we recall Jesus’ last week on earth and so it opens today as we heard from the Gospel account earlier at the point where Jesus goes to Jerusalem for the Passover, welcomed by large crowds of people who have started to identify him as the long-awaited Messiah. But then Luke’s Passion reading will remind us, as Jesus himself warned his disciples, that his mission would not be completed amid popularity and acclaim; the Messiah had to suffer and die in order to reconcile humanity with God.

Palm Sunday isn’t just a commemoration of Jesus’ passion and death: that script belongs particularly to Good Friday, at the end of Holy week.

The Palm Sunday liturgy is more about the movement away from the jubilation and triumph and the popularity Jesus enjoyed among the crowds of ordinary people as he arrived in Jerusalem, to the rejection and hostility he encountered at the end. The character and the message of Palm Sunday is the rapid movement from “Blessings on the King who comes!” to “Away with him! Give us Barabbas! Crucify him!”

Luke describes Jesus’ passion as the ultimate confrontation between the son of God and the forces of evil. It is an opportune time for the devil to attempt to complete the temptation he began in the desert three years ago.

Luke starts his telling of the Passion with an account of the Last Supper which contains some subtle, intimate details. He says, “I have longed to eat this Passover with you.” And as the first Eucharist is celebrated, Jesus uses the words “for you” after the bread and cup are shared, which encourages us to accept Jesus on a personal level.

We will listen as Jesus’ agony in the garden is described in vivid detail, but ultimately we will hear that Jesus accepts his cup of suffering because His one desire is to accomplish His Father’s will and thereby destroy the power of the devil.

In quick succession Luke relates for us how Jesus is arrested, mocked, beaten and questioned, but his messianic strength cannot be overcome. Peter’s denial must be disappointing for Jesus, but when he turns and looks at Peter, we can trust that it is with a look of mercy and forgiveness. Even when he appears to be helpless and defeated Jesus continues to minister powerfully to his disciples.

Jesus is the perfect witness as he testifies to the truth before the chief priests and ultimately before Pilate. He does not refuse the titles “Christ” and “Son of God.” And ultimately seals his own fate by proclaiming that he will be seated at the right hand of the power of God.

Even after he is condemned to death and begins the walk to Golgotha, he stops to comfort some women who are mourning for him. Through unwavering faith and trust in God’s plan, Jesus maintains his union with God and so his ability to still comfort people along the way and despite his agony on the cross comforts and promises eternal life for the repentant criminal.

Jesus begins his passion as he is crucified by uniting himself to the Father in prayer “Father forgive them…”and we hear how he maintains this union to his very last moment. “Father into your hands I commit my spirit.”

Luke’s account has a whole host of characters and so where will we see ourselves among all these people?

What have our past thoughts and actions been regarding the will of the Father?

When have we known the right thing to do but just didn’t do it?

How will reflecting today on Jesus’ Passion and Death and the people he encounters lead us to be strengthened to embrace His Resurrection next weekend?

What darkness holds us back?

How can we change the path we are on to realign it more closely with the will of the Father?

How can we be instrumental in changing our future?

Many questions for us to reflect on as we stand and listen to the Passion of our Lord!

The Prodigal Son

4th Sunday Of Lent
Cycle C
31st March 2019
Tony van Vuuren

Listening to the Gospel, we hear Jesus illustrating to us through the parable, the joy of forgiveness and reconciliation, both on the part of the penitent sinner and of God.  Appropriate then that we are celebrating Laetare Sunday this weekend.

One of the major strands of biblical religion is the conviction of God’s holiness, his perfect love, truth, and justice. Next to the all-holy God we don’t look very impressive, and this aspect of Lent is highlighted mainly in the Old Testament readings on Sundays and weekdays, which concentrate on the occasions that the Chosen People abandoned their faith, and their tendency to wander away from God, only to be called back by him in a series of new beginnings, with expressions of sorrow and remorse on their part, and a constant readiness to forgive on God’s part.

This is the moral of the story Jesus tells in the gospel this Sunday, the parable of the Prodigal Son. People sometimes prefer to see the father as the leading actor in the drama but I would argue that in the context of Lent, at any rate, it’s the delinquent and finally repentant younger Son that should attract our main attention.

Would I be out of line if I suggested that adolescence and youth, in our culture, is often a time of rebellion, of abandoning the beliefs and values learned in childhood, and that when this happens in Christian families it causes great upset to parents, who regard the Christian faith as among the most important things they provide for their children? Obviously there are exceptions to that rule, as to every other. There are of course many families where the children go from youth to adulthood and their faith and their relationship with God simply progresses and grows, apparently without major upset or interruption.

But the general point is still true, I think, and in fact Jesus’ parable implies that it isn’t only something that happens in our modern “un-religious” culture. It was common, or at least unremarkable, even in his day

The Prodigal Son has many of the typical characteristics of youth: he’s egocentric in the normal, carefree, un-malicious way of young people, he’s attracted to a life of pleasure and enjoyment, he feels invincible. And while the sun shines he makes hay. But eventually his circumstances pass out of his own control and his fortunes change. We often need this sort of experience, an experience of failure or suffering, something that makes us aware of our sinfulness and our need to atone for our sinfulness, to know God and grow in our relationship with him.

This is the sort of experience that the Prodigal Son has. The end of his days of wine and roses brings a first of all a spiritual awakening – “he came to his senses,” Jesus says, and secondly it brings a transformation of character: “Father I have sinned against heaven and against you.”He realizes the superficiality and self-centeredness of his former life and starts to learn humility.

Those two elements make up the essence of genuine repentance. First we awaken, sometimes with a great shock, to the extent that our outlook and behaviour has revolved around ourselves.

We realise what an unworthy purpose in life that really is, and we have a powerful sense of our weakness and our capacity for error.

And second, in the light of this awakening, our will, our emotions, our way of thinking – our whole person – is gradually transformed. We turn to God and we rely on him to guide us, rather than on our own judgements or appetites. It has become commonplace for religious people to talk about God’s “unconditional love” for us and to put it forward as Christianity’s great selling-point. But we can talk about “unconditional love” in such a one-sided way that it appears as simply a permission to go on sinning, to live unawakened and untransformed lives.

In the welcome the younger son got, Jesus shows us God’s attitude to repentant sinners. If we are sinners—and who amongst us is not a sinner?—then God loves us not less but more. It doesn’t do us much good to be loved for only being perfect. But it is an extraordinary experience to be loved in one’s sinfulness. Such love is like rain falling on parched ground! One can even build up the courage to start forgiving oneself for an ill spent past.

It is in and through our sins that we experience the goodness and mercy of Christ. If we never sinned, we’d never know his forgiveness. This is not an excuse for sinning. All of us to a greater or lesser extent are in the sandals of the younger son. Which of us can say that we have always been faithful? Do we not at times all squander God’s grace and misuse his gifts? Which of us would like to be treated by God only according to strict justice? Do we not all need more mercy than justice? God’s forgiveness is not a cold, half hearted forgiveness, but a warm and generous one. The story doesn’t give us a license to sin. But it does show that if, through human weakness or wickedness, we do sin, then we can come back. Our past can be overcome. We can make a fresh start.

This is the great lesson of the parable!

Listen to Him

2nd Sunday of Lent Cycle C
17 March 2019
Deacon Les Ruhrmund

And so we start the second week of Lent; our spiritual preparation for the glorious celebration of the Easter Triduum.

For some of us the first week of Lent has passed without much notice, for others it’s been rewarding and for some it’s been a struggle. I’ve struggled.

I’m a fervent reader often reading two or three books at the same time and while I enjoy reading Christian spirituality, I also love a fast paced thriller or a beautifully written novel or a thought provoking biography.

One of my Lenten disciples is to read only scripture and religious books during these six weeks – and after one week, I’m suffering withdrawal systems, longing to get my teeth into an exciting page-turner.

But that’s surely one of the objectives of Lent.

Through our conscious, disciplined denials of pleasure we await the end of Lent with eagerness and yearning; counting down the days to Easter with hungry anticipation.

If we don’t make Lent meaningful, Easter too will have little meaning and pass us by as just another long weekend. And we’ll be no closer to our Lord at Easter than we were when Lent began in the desert.

The Gospel reading describes the Transfiguration of the Lord; a mysterious event in the life of Jesus and I imagine, an exhilarating but terrifying experience for Peter, James and John; a crucial turning point in all their lives.

At the time, his pending death was very much on Jesus’ mind. He had taken the decision to go to Jerusalem and knew an awful destiny awaited him there. In the Transfiguration on the mountain, Jesus was given the assurance that he was on the right road and he was given a glimpse of the glory that would follow the horror of Calvary.

Jesus’ death would also have been on the minds of the disciples because he had told them just the week before that he would be killed in Jerusalem. What Peter, James and John experienced in the transfiguration would give them something to hold on to in the dark days ahead. The voice of the Father confirms for them that Jesus is who he says he is: the Son of God.

This reading has a precious significance in my life

It was while reflecting on the transfiguration that I came to understand and accept my calling to the deaconate.

I had completed three years of theology studies not with a view to becoming a deacon but rather driven by a critical need to sustain my fragile faith. A date had been set for the ordination of nine deacons which included me but I advised the Archbishop that I’d not be part of that group. I was busy building a business and raising a family and wasn’t prepared to take on further responsibilities. I told the Archbishop that I’d consider it later in my life.

A few days after I’d written this letter I went on retreat for the weekend and we were given this reading of the transfiguration as a meditation.

Sitting at the window in my small room at Schoenstatt, on a cold misty Saturday afternoon, not feeling particularly motivated by the reading, I was overcome by a real awareness of God and the Father’s voice “This is my Beloved Son. Listen to him” and putting my trust into God’s hands, I was ordained to the deaconate with the rest of the group a few weeks later.

I share this experience because I feel sure that God is talking to all of us in our hearts and Lent is a good time to stop and listen; open our hearts to the gentle voice inside.

Fr Ron Rolheiser in his book “Wrestling with God” writes: ‘Simply put, God lies within us, deep inside, but in a way that’s almost non-existent, almost unfelt, largely unnoticed, and easily ignored.

“However, while that presence is never overpowering, it has within it a gentle, unremitting imperative, a compulsion toward something higher, which invites us to draw upon it. And, if we draw upon it, it gushes up in us in an infinite stream that instructs us, nurtures us, and fills us with endless energy.”

Within each of us is a gentle, insistent voice, a nudge, urging us to listen and respond.

What are we being called to do in these weeks of Lent?

What actions are we being prompted to take?

Perhaps it’s just a nudge to be more generous with the time we give to our relationship with God.

Perhaps there are words that we need to say to someone who is hurting; or a relationship that we need to heal.

Perhaps we have habits we need to temper, thoughts we need to banish, emotions we need to express or control.

Maybe there are acts of charity that we need to embrace: the Archbishop’s Lenten Appeal or clothes, shoes, food supplies that we have in excess to our needs that we could give to people who have so much less than we do.

Lent encourages us to look deeper into our hearts and believe absolutely that within our brokenness, we are nevertheless God’s beloved.

We all struggle. In the words of Ron Rolheiser again:

“We are just normal, complicated human beings walking around in human skin. That’s what real life is all about! The scriptures are filled with stories of persons finding God and helping bring about God’s kingdom, even as their own lives are often fraught with mess, confusion, frustration, betrayal, infidelity, and sin.

“There are no simple human beings immune to the spiritual, psychological, sexual, and relational complexities that beset us all.”

Our personal struggles are not the same but we struggle with similar issues: temptation, bad habits, pride, ego, self-pity, anger, bitterness, hypocrisy, hunger for acceptance and doubt.

Our weaknesses and struggles don’t make us any less Christian; they are a reflection of our humanity, a humanity that was lived by Jesus who loves and died for us in our sinful humanity.

If we were all perfect there would not have been a need for Easter.

Peter, James, and John heard God clearly affirm that Jesus was his Son and that they were to listen to him.

God our Father says the same to us as we follow Jesus, our guide through this Lent.

Into Battle

1stSunday Of Lent
Cycle C
10TH March 2019
Dcn Tony van Vuuren

We celebrate this weekend the first Sunday in Lent, the Church’s main penitential season. Jesus withdraws into the desert to fight and conquer his temptations and to place himself completely at the disposal of God his Father. The Gospel account uses images to show how Jesus was challenged to remain faithful to his heavenly Father. We have the same temptations.

The temptations faced by Jesus were real. This was no play acting. But the question arises: Can a good and virtuous person be tempted like the rest of us? The truth is: the good and virtuous person who resists temptation knows more about the power of temptation and evil than the weakling who submits at the very onset of temptation.

Those of us who give in too easily to temptation know little about the struggle involved. Those who struggle with temptation and overcome it know it best. There’s that old adage; If you want to know what victory over temptation costs, don’t ask a sinner; ask a saint.

What did temptation mean for Jesus? It meant the same as it meant for Adam and Eve and it means the same as it means for us. It means choosing between good and evil; between doing God’s will and one’s own will.

The fact that Jesus, “led by the Spirit” Luke  says, deliberately placed himself in an environment where the temptations lurking within himself were brought to the surface and where – by giving himself over totally to God’s guidance and putting his life totally at God’s disposal – they were confronted and defeated.

The temptation Jesus had to face was the temptation to go about his mission, but in the wrong spirit, using the wrong methods or tactics.

It was Jesus’ task, as Messiah, to reveal God and God’s character more completely than ever before. So what the devil tries to do is to persuade Jesus to turn away from the true character of God’s Reign and to conduct his mission with worldly tactics, to impress people with spectacular miracles, to submit to Satan in order to dominate the world politically, to use his spiritual power or his close relationship with God to produce purely earthly commodities – “if you are the Son of God, tell this stone to turn into a loaf”.

And his tempting was not a once-off event. He was tempted right throughout his life; even when on the cross. Jesus’ victory in the desert was not the winning of the war, but merely the winning of a battle.

Since even Jesus and the saints were tempted we can’t hope to escape it. All of us are intrinsically weak and prone to temptation. This may be a disturbing truth, but it is one we ignore at our own peril. The great problem of our time is our failure to know ourselves, to recognise temptation and evil and deal with it within ourselves. We have to struggle against the evil that is in others and in society. But our hardest struggle is against the temptation that originates inside us. We are born with conflicting impulses, so that doing good is always possible, but never easy. The hardest victory of all is over oneself.

This struggle, with its inevitable falls and failures, is not something to be ashamed of. Our struggle is not never to fall, but to fall, to rise, and go on in spite of everything. Temptation is not necessarily a bad thing. By forcing us to choose good over evil makes us strong. Every time one is tempted to do evil, but makes a decision to do good, makes one stronger. Suffering and struggle can make us stronger. (As difficult as that is to accept at the time!)

Furthermore, how could we prove our fidelity if there was no temptation? There wouldn’t be any particular credit in remaining virtuous through lack of temptation. Virtue would become meaningless if there was no evil, no struggle. Virtue involves a choice between good and evil. That choice can sometimes be very difficult, and there is no definite victory. The battle against evil is never over as long as we live. However, each right choice makes the next right choice easier.

But we might still say, “It was easier for Jesus!” As well as a divine nature, he also had a human nature. It wasn’t any easier for him. Besides; temptation in itself is not a sin. He too had to struggle to do the will of God. His victory in the desert was not easy. It was achieved through prayer, fasting, and reflection on and obedience to the word of God. The Holy Spirit was with Jesus during his struggle.

The Holy Spirit is with us too when we find ourselves in the wilderness; in our spiritual desert. It is a great consolation to have the faith to believe and know that God is not outside our struggle, but with us during our struggle.

St Augustine wrote and prayed: “It is through temptation that we come to know ourselves. God grant that I may know you, and grant that I may know myself.”

The Golden Rule

7th Sunday Ordinary Time Year C 2019

24 February 2019

Deacon Les Ruhrmund

Last week I visited with my children, Woodside Special Care Centre in Rondebosch East which is a haven for the profoundly disabled – physically and mentally. There are 78 residents ranging in age from 5 to 50 years old, they are all in nappies, only two of them can hold a spoon to feed themselves, very few of them are able to stand or walk because their limbs are so badly deformed and only a small number of them are able to express themselves in understandable words. My children are involved in marketing and digital media and we were there to evaluate what assistance we can give Woodside in raising desperately needed funds.

I think it would be fair to assume that the parents of the disabled residents of Woodside all wanted a perfect child.

We are told that God looked at the world he had created and it was good. A question that comes to mind when one sees these profoundly disabled adults and children is ‘What could possibly be good about this?’

I believe that through such as these, each one of them a precious child of God, perfection is found in the way that the people around them react. They bring out the Christ in us.

That’s the message in today’s Gospel.

Paraphrasing a verse from Paul’s 1st letter to the Corinthians that we heard in the Second Reading, he says “Just as we bear the image of Adam the man of dust, we also bear the image of Jesus, the man of heaven.”

The Gospel Jesus says ‘If you love only those who love you, what credit is that to you? Be kind, be merciful, forgive and do not condemn, for the measure you give out is the measure you will receive.’

Jesus is painting a self-portrait. He is telling us how God acts and how he expects us to act. Jesus goes beyond the ‘golden rule’ of ‘do as you would want done’ and says rather ‘do as God would do.’

The very essence of Christian conduct is not as much about refraining from bad things, as it is about whole-heartedly doing good things. And we know all too well in our own brokenness, just how difficult that can be.

It’s much easier to stop ourselves from consciously committing serious sin than it is to consciously treat others, neighbour and stranger alike, with patience, respect, kindness, generosity and love desiring only that which is good for them no matter how they have treated us.

We live in a world that encourages instant gratification summed up succinctly by my three year old granddaughter Ella who walked into the kitchen and said recently “Nana I want a biscuit.“ When Claire asked “And what’s the magic word?” Ella replied “NOW!”

With so much focus in society on ourselves, our personal needs, wants and emotional satisfaction, it’s really challenging to be a good Christian. It doesn’t come naturally.

Christianity is a discipline. Our faith demands of us every day that we should be the visible presence of Christ in the world through our words and in our actions.

Saint Teresa of Calcutta was someone who understood this completely.

Once when she was staying with her community of sisters working with the Aborigines in Australia, she visited an elderly man who lived in total isolation, ignored by everyone.  His home was messy, dark and dirty.

She offered to clean his house and wash his clothes but he told her that he was just fine with everything as it was and she should leave him alone. To which she replied “Yes but you would be even better if you allowed me to do this” and he relented.

While she was cleaning the house she discovered a beautiful lamp covered with dust which obviously hadn’t been used in years.

Mother Teresa asked him if he ever used the lamp and he told her that no-one ever came to visit him and there was no reason to light the lamp.

To which she asked ‘Would you light it every night if the sisters came?”

“Of course” he replied and from that day on, the sisters visited him every evening.

A few years later, back in Calcutta, Mother Theresa received a message from the old man “Tell my friend that the light she lit in my life continues to shine still.”

That’s what it means to be a Christian: to give, to bless, to stop judging, to stop condemning, to serve and to start lighting lamps.

Christianity is an action not an emotion.

We may feel emotionally fulfilled after a wonderful liturgy of great music, song and prayer but if that does not motivate us to bring the light and love of Christ into the world through our actions, then our prayer and worship are little more than an extension of our focus on our own gratification.

Preparing an action plan for the week ahead we could start with our words.

Language is one of our greatest gifts allowing us to know each other, understand each other, express and share our thoughts, our love, our hopes and our fears but language is also an instrument of immense destruction inflicting untold pain and suffering (often on those we love most) and fermenting ideas that cause division and wars.

In the week ahead, we could take conscious action to use language to express love, hope, forgiveness, kindness and encouragement and avoid saying, posting or tweeting anything negative , critical or derogatory to anyone; refrain from saying that would cause pain, doubt, anger, anxiety or the dispersion of rumours, gossip and innuendo.

This one action of deliberately using our words to build the kingdom rather than undermine it can have profound consequences of good in our lives and in the lives of the many we touch through language.

Hatred can be defeated only by love; injury can be healed only by forgiveness; evil can be restrained only by goodness.

 

Christian love & family divisions

Our Lady Of The Flight Into Egypt
Cycle C February 2019
Colossians 3:12-21;
Matthew: 2:13-15; 19-23.
Rev Tony van Vuuren

One of the noticeable things about the opening chapters of the gospels is that Mary and Joseph say so little. Neither of them spoke a word, for example, in the passage from Matthew that we have just heard. Both Matthew and Luke prefer to show us what they were like through their actions: their search for a safe place for Jesus to be born, their efforts to protect their child, fleeing into Egypt while King Herod is looking for him to kill him; their efforts, later on, to bring Jesus up with a deep and sincere devotion to God.

Traditionally, Mary and Joseph have been seen as prime example of parental care and love, But at the same time it has to be said that the bonds of love that derive from marriage and family-membership, are things which belong to every time and every culture.

So for Christ; our ties to each other as individuals devoted to God have a priority over our family relations – and this is all the more true if perhaps our faith in God comes into conflict with our membership of our family.

What we have to remember, I think, is that the kind of love Jesus preached about, and revealed in his own life and ministry, wasn’t identical with the ordinary bonds of affection and care and so on that we have for the members of our own family, or for our friends and the people we like.

The kind of love which was the heart of Christ’s message was the love he showed when he was prepared to go to his death for the sake of mankind, and when he turned round and asked for forgiveness for those who had plotted to kill him.

And what St Paul is recommending to the people he’s writing to, is that they should imitate that love which Christ showed, in their relationships with everyone.                                                                                  “You should be clothed in sincere compassion,” says St Paul, “in kindness, and humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with one another; forgive each other as soon as the quarrel begins. And over all those things, to keep them together, put on love”.

In a Christian perspective, the family – he says is the place where we should learn to bear with each other’s failings, not where we should expect to experience perfection. It’s the place where we should learn mutual tolerance and patience, not where we’re served up with a seamlessly happy life.

It’s a sad fact, but I think it’s a fact of life just the same – perhaps even more so at the present time – that very often, for all sorts of complicated reasons, the people whom we end up seeing as our enemies, the people with whom we have the most bitter disagreements and who stir up the most violent emotions, are the members of our own family.

When divisions occur in families, they usually run deep. But when these divisions arise, or when there’s a breakdown in the relationships between members of a family, it’s in those circumstances most of all that we need to appeal – not to conventional ideas of family bonds and affection – but to those aspects of Christian love that St Paul is talking about.

Very often in a situation of conflict we can’t be responsible for other people’s decisions and other people’s behaviour. We can only be responsible for our own. And while we shouldn’t feel obliged to allow ourselves to be treated as a doormat, or to remain totally passive in the face of unjust treatment or manipulation, what we often have to do is at least to keep a careful guard over our own motives and our own actions. So that if we are caught up in a bitter dispute, especially in our family, we’re not reacting out of hatred and a desire to win at all costs.

It may turn out that it’s precisely in situations of great stress or breakdown in our families that we come up against the challenge to respond with the values that we profess as Christians. And we’re always doing the right thing if we try to look at the situation in a Christian perspective and try to act out of these motives of gentleness, patience, kindness, and love as far as we possibly can – regardless of the behaviour of the others who are involved, even though it might be very difficult and demand a lot of us.

That is the reflection I would like to offer on the Pauline reading for today’s feast. I don’t think it’s any good conjuring up a trite or sentimental picture of the Holy Family. We have to think of what it means to apply the idea of real holiness to the circumstances and reality of family life in our own time, which is often also very fraught. We have to try and see how the different aspects of Christian love that St Paul talks about are even more relevant to us if we’re caught up in some argument or division with individuals who, in an ideal world, are the people we would be closest to.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               Pope Francis once asked us “to remember the 3 key phrases for a life of peace and joy in the family: excuse me, thank you, and I’m sorry.