Parable of the Sower – and Prayer

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

12 July 2020

Deacon Les Rührmund

Let’s give thanks this morning for the gift of life and the wonders of technology that allow us to remain connected during these difficult times.

The Parable of the Sower is well-known to most of us and doesn’t need much explanation because Jesus himself explains the parable fully.

He also explains that he uses parables to help his followers grasp and understand the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus uses metaphors drawn from nature or everyday life to present divine insights about God.

The parables challenge Jesus’ listeners to think about that he is saying and doing, in a way that is easily understood within their own every day experience.

Jesus says, “This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.”

The Son of God, their long awaited Messiah, is standing in front of them and yet many don’t understand or believe.

Over the last few weeks, in the email that goes our every morning to our subscribers under the heading “Discipleship during Covid 19”, we have been exploring our relationship with God through the numerous channels and methods of prayer that are available to us.

We’ve also addressed the difficulties, and in many cases, the misconceptions that serve as obstacles, in our prayer lives.

I thought I’d look at the Parable of the Sower through the lens of our human longing for intimacy with God that draws us to prayer.

Prayer, as we understand it, is the fullest and most intimate relationship that we have with God. A complete sharing of ourselves; everything that’s no our hearts and our deepest thoughts, fears, dreams, and desires.

One of the misconceptions about prayer is that we should only pray when we are feeling relatively holy and at peace.

In other words we should not pray when we are feeling angry, impatient, anxious, stressed, sexual, or even disenchanted with God. Well, for many of us, that pretty much excludes a very large portion of our waking hours.

And that’s not what God wants.

When we only pray when we think we’re in a relatively pious state of being, we’re not being honest.

That’s only telling God what we think he wants to hear.

God doesn’t just want warm, interesting, beautiful words of devotion.

He wants us; fully and intimately.

When we only pray when we think we’re in the right space and have nothing to hide, we put the real “me”, the uglier “me”, into a separate compartment; we exclude the real “me” from our relationship with God.

That’s not likely to nurture a close relationship and is most likely to make prayer dry, impersonal, formal and distant. It makes prayer difficult and unappealing.

An unhappy consequence when we offer only a token of prayer to appease our conscience is that we’re likely to exclude prayer when we, in fact, need it the most.

In an extract from one of the books we’ve been using in the daily ‘Discipleship” devotions, Fr Ron Rolheiser, the well-known and much loved Catholic theologian and author, writes:

”Simply put, if you go to pray and you are feeling angry, pray anger; if you are sexually preoccupied,  pray that; if you are feeling murderous, pray murder; and if you are feeling full of fervour and want to praise and thank God, pray fervour.

What’s important is that we pray what’s inside of us and not what we think God would like to see inside of us.”

So let’s look at the parable of the Sower.

Let’s imagine that we are each the sower and that our prayers are the seeds.

I think we’ll find that we’re not always that skillful in scattering the seeds, our prayers, on the most fertile soil.

The seeds that fall on the pathway and are devoured by the birds representing evil are our insincere, thoughtless prayers that bear no fruit.

This could be something like going to Mass and saying the prayers and responses without actually engaging with God in any meaningful way. Our hearts and minds are preoccupied with all sorts of others issues rather than on nurturing our relationship with God.

The seeds that fall on rocky ground with very little top soil could be like our prayers offered perhaps in times of great need or distress. For a short, urgent moment, we are honest with God and we experience the joy of relationship but it is short lived; once the emergence has passed, we soon forget about it; there is no depth to sustain the relationship.

The seeds that fall amongst the thorns could be seen as the prayers that we offer sporadically, as and when we find the time; time that is largely filled with other priorities and worldly concerns; priorities that choke our relationship with God.

And finally, the seeds that fall on good soil are our rich and nourishing prayers that grow and deepen our relationship with God.

For the seeds to produce the rich harvest that Jesus talks about, they need to be in constant contact with the soil, they need water regularly and they need sunshine.

We could see our faith community as the soil and the Sacraments, particularly the Eucharist and Reconciliation, as the nutrients and the sunshine that nourish and grow our relationship with God and support us in putting down deep roots to stabilise, sustain and nurture our spiritual growth.

If we exam our prayer lives, I suspect that many of us, including me, will find that we could become more skillful; that a lot of our prayer falls short of the target.

But we also know that with practice, more and more seed will fall on fertile soil and produce a rich harvest.

In the words of St Paul in his First Letter to the Thessalonians “Pray without ceasing.”

God bless.


Year A 2020

Deacon Les Ruhrmund

Good morning on this glorious solemnity of Pentecost!

Our celebration of Easter comes to a close today.

The Easter candle that was light at the Easter Vigil as a symbol of the Risen Christ, the light of the world, is extinguished today and from now until Easter next year, will only be lit for baptisms and funerals.

The red lamp beside the Tabernacle in the sanctuary reminds us that Christ is always with us in the Blessed Sacrament.

The importance of today’s feast in the liturgical year is on a par with Christmas, Epiphany and Ascension – second only to the great Easter Triduum.

We think of today as the celebration of the birth of the Church.

The anointing of the Holy Spirit on Jesus in the River Jordan at his baptism marked the start of his public ministry; and the anointing of the Holy Spirit on the disciples in Jerusalem at Pentecost marks the start of the Church’s public ministry.

At the time of Jesus, the festival of Pentecost was observed fifty days after the Passover and it was a joyful celebration of thanksgiving for the first fruits of the spring harvest.

Jerusalem would have been packed to the rafters with pilgrims arriving in their thousands from far and wide, carrying baskets of barley, the first crop reaped from the winter sowing, to the Temple where the Temple priests would lead the people in prayers of thanksgiving.

But on the holiday of Pentecost that Luke writes about in the book of Acts, fifty days after the crucifixion of Jesus, the apostles, with Mary the mother of Jesus, were in hiding.

I think we can assume that they were frightened, confused and apprehensive.

In the previous chapter in Acts, just prior to the Ascension of Jesus, about ten days before Pentecost, Luke tells us that:

“For forty days after his death Jesus appeared to them many times in ways that proved beyond doubt that he was alive. And when they came together he gave them this order: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift I told you about, the gift my Father promised. John baptised with water, but not many days from now, you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit.”

So how many days are ‘not many days from now’?

They had no idea how long they’d have to wait and they also had no idea what form this gift from the Father would take.

I think it’s important to understand and visualise their state of insecurity and uncertainty because it adds great emphasises in illustrating the power and the effect that the Holy Spirit had on them arriving like a strong wind and what appeared to be tongues of fire.

They were completely transformed by the experience.

Filled with the Spirit they move out of hiding and into the streets, into the crowds, proclaiming the Good News of the Risen Lord and Luke tells us that three thousand people were baptised that day.

Indeed the public ministry of the Church had started; headed by Peter, the rock, the first pope.

There’s a lovely simile between the presentation of the gifts of the first fruits at the Temple and the giving of the gifts of the Holy Spirit to the apostles at Pentecost.

These are gifts that we too have received through the sacraments of baptism and confirmation.

We too are called to be transformed by the Holy Spirit.

Let’s consider for a moment how we can use these sanctifying gifts of the Holy Spirit during this time of pandemic and lockdown. These are the gifts through which we experience the prompting of the Holy Spirit directing us to holiness.

We could start with wisdom, understanding and knowledge.

Wisdom is our intellectual faith that is not necessarily dependent on education. Many of the saints were almost illiterate or poorly educated but in wisdom they were able to comprehend the divine truth of God.

It’s in wisdom that we come to the knowledge and understanding of our feeble humanity; our smallness in the greater scheme of creation; our foolishness and sinfulness in believing that the world was created to serve our pleasure and our happiness.

It is in these gifts that we come to understand that while life will bring joy it will also bring pain, suffering and death – we are subject to God’s providence.

We can’t wish the COVID pandemic away, but the gifts of wisdom, knowledge and understanding will hopefully produce in us, the fruits of these gifts – compassion, kindness, charity, generosity and tolerance.

Perhaps we will come to understand better that this isn’t all about me and my predicament, my discomfort, my anxiety, my fear but rather about how I am being called to serve God through this pandemic; bringing light into other’s darkness, bringing the joy of knowing and understanding that we are God’s beloved into a world that is in shock and distress.

On this National Day of Prayer, we could ask the Holy Spirit to inspire scientists around the world to draw on God’s infinite wisdom and knowledge in finding a cure and a vaccine for COVID-19.

And that brings us to the gift of Fortitude.

Fortitude gives us the strength to love and remain faithful to God when things get tough.

Fortitude gives us the resilience to persist in our Christian calling even when it’s extremely difficult.

It also gives us the capacity to remain faithful through pain and suffering.

Fortitude, with the other gifts, draws us to pray – even when praying is hard and not satisfying.

What oxygen is to a flame, prayer is to our faith.                                                                            If we take away the oxygen, the flame will splutter and die.

At this difficult time, the gift of fortitude strengthens our hope and motivates our prayer.

Another gift of the Spirit is Counsel through which we are open to God’s direction.  A supernatural intuition if you like that guides our decision making; guides us to make decisions that precede holiness.

This is also the gift that guides us when we offer counsel to others who are looking for hope and direction.

What counsel are we giving others during this pandemic?

We should be leading them to wisdom and understanding rather than fuelling the fires of fear and anxiety.

We could consider how in our activity on social media platforms we can bring good counsel, hope and comfort.

And finally the gifts of Piety and Fear of the Lord.

This doesn’t imply servile fear before a cruel task master, trembling in our boots.


This is fear of offending God because of the wisdom and understanding we have about God’s infinite love and mercy.

This is fear of separating ourselves from God through greed, pride, lack of compassion and selfishness.

And piety is the gift of reverence; a lens through which we see all created things as being from God; a reverence that prompts us to pray and bow down in humility in adoration and worship.

During this time of lockdown, perhaps we have more free time on our hands; time to pray, reflect, meditate, contemplate our lives and consider how we are using the gifts of the Holy Spirit to bring the Good News to a world that is desperately hungry for good news.

God bless you.

Saber Esperar

5th Sunday Of Easter
Cycle A.
10th May 2020.
John 14:1-12
Rev Tony Van Vuuren.

Today’s Gospel passage opens with Jesus saying to his disciples seated around the table, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”

Not be troubled? Well that’s hard to imagine! Jesus had just predicted that Judas would betray him and Peter would deny him. Of course the disciples were shaken up.
Jesus wanted his friends to know that even though he would no longer be with them in bodily form, he wasn’t really leaving them alone. He would be with them through the presence of the Holy Spirit. They just needed to learn to see him in a different way.

These words are still applicable today because our hearts are also troubled.

Like the disciples, we are faced with challenging changes in our lives; changes that might sometimes make us wonder if Jesus is still with us. The way of life that we are accustomed to has suddenly been disrupted.

Now is the time for us to trust and take his words to heart: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Have faith in God and have faith also in me.”

Six years ago I said, in my sermon on this 5th Sunday of Easter, that there comes a time in the lives of all believers when things can get very dark, and we have to believe what we cannot prove, and accept reality, even though we cannot understand or make sense of what’s happening.

It’s easy to convince ourselves that we have a strong faith when things are going well. When a crisis arises we discover what kind of faith we have, or if we have any faith at all! By faith here I mean hope and trust in God. Of course there are those of us who believe that if God is with us and if He really loves us, then no storm will ever hit us.
So, when a storm does hit us, we experience a deep crisis of faith, and even possibly believe that God has abandoned us.

Well that storm has arrived! On some levels the world as we have known it has stopped. I recently read there are now three days in the week: yesterday, today and tomorrow. There is certainly some truth in that thought. Life in the public, religious and private sector is no longer what it was just a few months ago.
We may all feel, to one extent or another, and it’s completely understandable; troubled, frightened, confused, angry and many other emotions. We want to see what the future holds, how this will all end, but in fact none of us know the answer to that question.

What we actually need to do, and it takes time and effort, is to focus and believe in the nearness of God; believe that we are not alone, even if in isolation, and to hear the voice of God saying gently but surely: “Stay on the path, follow the way I will show you.” And what is the way? Saint John clearly quotes Jesus Christ as saying to us “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life” (John 14:6). Nothing should be more consoling than those words!

What real faith does is assure us that God is with us in the midst of the crisis. It is not we who keep the faith; it is the faith that keeps us.
By embracing God we are in fact embracing hope. A Spanish phrase comes to mind here: “Saber Esperar.” Literally it means, “to know how to wait.” But equally correct is the translation, “to know how to hope.” Waiting and hoping are certainly intertwined in this current worldwide pandemic.

We must turn our understandable tendencies to mope and grumble into hope and action. Today’s psalmist tells us that those who hope for the Lord’s kindness will be preserved from famine. In these extraordinary hard times, many are hungry for the staples of life, truly starving, owing to chronic homelessness, loss of employment and so the list goes on. We are all enduring various kinds of other famines too, because of required restrictions for our own health and safety and that of others.
Our motivation might become sporadic, if not completely gone, and so we also occasionally succumb to being just plain listless. That’s OK, but it is not OK to stay listless!

We, too, are supposed to do greater things in our lives using the power of the Holy Spirit. In our first readings we hear that the early community had a serious problem to resolve. They prayed and led by the Holy Spirit chose to divide the tasks of ministry insuring that all were receiving proper attention.

So to for us; we need to ask where our current energy level can meet the grace of the Holy Spirit to DO something for the community at large. Praying is a great thing to do for the needs are many and the hours at 2 or 3 am seem very long to be just lying awake. A vital response to the pandemic, apart from the necessary precautions to be taken and attention for those who are afflicted, is the offering of prayer, standing before God without fear. Serving others involves a list of opportunities that will certainly outlast this pandemic.

We will outlast this pandemic. The spiritual house of which Jesus is the cornerstone and of which we are a part will outlast this pandemic. The promised place Jesus has prepared for each of us will outlast this pandemic.
His promise of his lasting presence wasn’t just a promise for rosy, blissful times, but holds especially true in times of stress and loss. Left by ourselves, our faith would crumble. Yet, if Jesus’ life has taught us anything, it is that new life can come out of pain and loss. We can and should keep choosing to live with love, especially since love is not so much a feeling as a choice freely made.

We can become people of compassion and understanding, especially to those who are in need and asking: why is this happening, why me, why my loved ones?
And so as we gather in our places of isolation listening and watching Fr Harrie celebrate the Eucharist on our behalf, we also ask Our Lady of Perpetual Succour to pray for us, now and always.

Jesus, I trust in You

Divine Mercy Sunday Year A 2020

The Second Sunday of Easter

Deacon Les Ruhrmund

Imagine for a moment that Jesus is the Son of God but didn’t rise from the dead.

In other words, he came to earth to reveal the Father to us; we put him to death, end of story. And for God, that’s the last straw.

It’s not difficult to image God saying….I tried to keep you close to me in the very beginning, but you disobeyed me. I tried to guide you through my prophets, but you ignored them and killed many of them.

And finally,  I’ve tried again by coming to you  in person, in the person of my Son, Jesus, and you tortured him to death.

That’s it!

To hell with the lot of you!’

But instead, Jesus came back and offered not one word of recrimination, retaliation, blame or accusation.

That’s the essence of Divine Mercy, the feast we’re celebrating today on the Second Sunday of Easter.

It is the love and divine mercy of God that has reconciled us to him and revealed his profound and incomprehensible desire to be in an intimate personal relationship with each one of us. That is why Jesus rose from the dead.

The feast of Divine Mercy was established by St John Paul II twenty years ago on the occasion of the canonisation of St Faustina on the Second Sunday of Easter in the millennium year 2000.

The Church’s teaching on Divine Mercy is based on the faith handed down by the apostles. St John Paul didn’t establish “Divine Mercy Sunday” to venerate St. Faustina.

This Sunday is the Octave Day of Easter and Faustina’s mystical experiences and revelations, powerfully voice the central truths that lie at the heart of our Easter celebrations: the merciful love of God, revealed vividly in the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus.

In his homily at St Faustina’s canonisation twenty years ago, Pope John Paul said:

“It is important then that we accept the whole message that comes to us from the word of God on this Second Sunday of Easter….Christ has taught us that we not only receive and experience the mercy of God, but we are also called to practise mercy towards others. What will the years ahead bring us? What will mankind’s future on earth be like? We are not given to know. However, it is certain that in addition to new progress there will unfortunately be no lack of painful experiences. But the light of divine mercy will light the way for the men and women of the third millennium.”

I wonder if he in his bleakest expectations of painful experiences in the future could have imagined our current state of affairs with the plague of COVID-19 bringing the world economy to a standstill; threatening the livelihood of heaven only knows how many people and forcing hundreds of millions of people into isolation in their homes.

This is evil and is certainly not the work of God.

We carry the full responsibility for this scourge through our careless irresponsibility for the welfare of our world and its people.

Jesus told Faustina to tell the world: I demand from you deeds of mercy, which are to arise out of love for Me. You are to show mercy to your neighbours always and everywhere. You must not shrink from this or try to excuse or absolve yourself.

Jesus stresses this action of mercy from us, for our own good; for our own well being.

We live in a world that continues to ignored the will of God.

The will that we treat each other with mercy.

We live in a time when we anxiously watch the COVID19 statistics of infections, tests and deaths every day.

Here are some sobering statistics that painfully reveal the need for mercy in our world.

There is no shortage of food in the world and yet it is estimated that 25,000 people die of starvation every day; over 9million people a year.

There is no shortage of resources in the world and yet more than 3 billion people, half of the world’s population, live in extreme poverty.

There is no shortage of education, intelligence, science and knowledge in our world, but we’re as happy to fund wars and research into effective ways of killing each other as we are to fund research to find cures, vaccines, medicines, and fund hospitals and healthcare.

We are responsible because through the taxes we pay, we fund the good and the evil.

About 300 babies die in war zones every day. About 142 million children are currently living in high intensity war zones in Yemen, Syria and Somalia.

And yet these cries for mercy are largely unheard above the noise of wealth driven politics.

St John Paul wrote “There is nothing that man needs more than Divine Mercy—that love which is benevolent, which is compassionate, which raises man above his weakness to the infinite heights of the holiness of God. It is a message that is clear and understandable for everyone.

“Anyone can come and look at this image of the merciful Jesus, His Heart radiating grace, and hear in the depths of his own soul what Saint Faustina heard: ‘Fear nothing. I am with you always’. And if this person responds with a sincere heart: ‘Jesus, I trust in you,’ he will find comfort in all his anxieties and fears.”

The message that Jesus gives us is that we should trust in his mercy which is beyond our understanding.

Jesus, I trust in you!

This simple prayer of faith is a gift that gives us the power and the courage to love God and to love each other. It is a prayer that we can say anywhere at any time.

It gives us strength in our struggles and comfort in our suffering; it brings peace into a fearful world.

As we face this global epidemic, let us turn with trust to the Divine Mercy.

Let us pray more than ever before for those who are sick and dying with this disease, for all those providing care for them, for those mourning the loss of loved ones, and very particularly for politicians and world leaders to respond to this crisis with integrity and compassion.

Perhaps like the apostle Thomas, some of us may doubt the power of prayer and faith; inclined to believe only in the evidence that we can see and touch.

We should pray that we might provide that evidence in our homes and our communities in our loving and encouraging words and acts, in our generosity in supporting the poor and the hungry and in our determination not to be complacent in the face of evil.

There has probably never been a crisis in our lifetimes that needed our discipleship more than it’s needed today, this week and in the months ahead.

With the confidence of Thomas in his declaration of faith “My Lord and my God”, let us pray together “Jesus, I trust in you”.

Thank God for Good Friday

Good Friday 2020

Deacon Les Ruhrmund

We’ve come together this afternoon, all be it digitally during this time of pandemic and isolation, because we appreciate the significance of Good Friday; the Passion, death and burial of Jesus.

Not all professed Christians actual celebrate Good Friday; many keep their focus on Easter Sunday, the day of the Resurrection.

But the Church has been observing Good Friday since the first century and up until the fourth century, Jesus’ Last Supper, his death, and his Resurrection were celebrated in one single commemoration on the evening before Easter Sunday.

Since then, those three events have been observed rather over the three days recorded in scripture but are nevertheless celebrated as one continuous event; the Sacred Easter Triduum (the three days); Thursday evening to Sunday evening.

A simple way of explaining this idea of one event over three days is to consider sporting events. If one takes the Wimbledon tennis tournament for example; it is one event but it’s played over two weeks.

Celebrating only Easter Sunday is a little like watching the Wimbledon final and ignoring all the drama that went before that made the final possible.

The Cross is central to our profession of faith and is prominently displayed in every church and in many homes and worn on a chain around our necks by many of us, including myself.

We are sometimes questioned for our focus on the Cross.

The argument from those who don’t understand why we revere the Cross might be that Jesus was raised from the dead so why on earth are we celebrating his death?

We are not celebrating death, we are celebrating eternal life.

Dying on the cross, Jesus gave up his life that we might have eternal life; the perfect sacrifice of reconciliation.

Prior to the death of Jesus, we were estranged from God following that origin sin of rebellion and rejection when we as humanity decided that we could best determine for ourselves the difference between right and wrong; and we got it very wrong.

We are people of the Cross.

The Cross in itself has absolutely no significance apart from the One who died nailed to it on Good Friday. The Cross isn’t just a symbol of the crucifixion of Jesus; the Cross is the symbol of the salvation of the world.

In the book Miracle on the River Kwai by Ernest Gordon there is a true story of a group of prisoners of war working on the Burma Railway during WWII.

At the end of each day the tools were collected from the work party and counted.

On one occasion a Japanese guard shouted that a shovel was missing and demanded to know which man had taken it. He began to rant and rave and work himself into a furious frenzy and ordered the guilty man to step forward immediately. No one moved.

“You will all die!” he screamed, cocking and aiming his rifle at the prisoners.

And then one man stepped forward and the guard beat him to death with his rifle. When they returned to the camp, the tools were counted again and no shovel was missing. That one man had given his life to save the others.

We don’t have to look far to see how capable we are of hurting each other.

Let us consider for a moment, Judas Iscariot.

Judas betrayed Jesus because he didn’t meet his expectations and it’s easy for us to condemn him. But he didn’t know with certainty at that time that Jesus was God and that he would rise from the dead. We do know – and yet we so often betray our calling as Christians.

We condemn people of different races, religions, cultures and sexual orientation because they don’t meet our expectations.  Jesus loves and died for every one of them as he did for each one of us and asks us to love them too.

Or perhaps we have been betrayed by someone we love and trust; a Judas in our lives?

There’s a story or an ancient legend, that on the day of the final judgment, there is great rejoicing in heaven.  Everyone is singing and dancing except Jesus who is standing quietly at the gates.  Someone goes and asks the Lord why he is standing there, to which Jesus replies: “I am waiting for Judas.”

This story reminds us that Jesus never gives up on any of us.  He is always ready to forgive even the one who betrayed him. We are called to do the same.

On Good Friday about 2000 years ago, we crucified the Son of God and incredibly, God still loves us.

Can you think of a greater example of unconditional love?

His love is more profound than anything that is in this world.

This afternoon we place our fears, our hopes, our gratitude and our love at the foot of the Cross.

Let us never be too embarrassed or proud, to wear the cross of our salvation, to venerate the cross of Divine Mercy and to thank God for Good Friday.

A Question of Conscience

Palm-Passion Sunday Year A 2020

Deacon Les Ruhrmund

Good morning on this quite extraordinary Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord!

The first reading before the beginning of Mass has a very much alive Jesus arriving in Jerusalem to a jubilant welcome “Hosanna! Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”

And the gospel reading in the Mass is a grim account of the final few harrowing hours of Jesus’s life on earth; just days after his euphoric welcome into the city.

From champion of the people to crucified criminal – all within a few days.

How quickly things can change, in a few days!

We are undoubtedly more aware of that today than we were this time last year.

This time last year, most of us would have had little more than a vague idea of what a coronavirus is or what it looks like.

Today, there is little else on our minds and on the minds and demands of governments, doctors, nurses, hospitals and citizens confined to their homes across the world.

Hopefully this too will pass, quickly , and this Easter will be remembered as being quite exceptional; empty churches, families in isolation from each other, unable to fully celebrate the remarkable events of the Easter Triduum.

In the Easter Triduum, we celebrate the most important, the most extraordinary and the most momentous event in the history of humanity.

We remember and celebrate the Passion, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Nothing less than the salvation of the world – all people, in all places, in all times.

As we reflect on Our Lord’s Passion today, we could reflect on our lives at this moment in time;  isolated in our homes and perhaps fearful.

I’d like to focus for a few minutes on the effect of fear on Pilate in the Passion; fear that persuaded him to have Jesus put to death  rather than follow the prompting of his intellect and conscience.

What did Pilate fear?

Pontius Pilate was a powerful man,  propped up by the might of the Roman Empire.

He held the keys to life and death in his hands.

On Pilate’s appointment as Governor of Judea by the Roman emperor, he retained the services of Caiaphas as the Jewish High Priest. It was Caiaphas who had motivated the plot to have Jesus killed and it was he who had sent Jesus to Pilate to authorise his execution.

So what did Pilate fear?

Well one of his fears was that of losing his job.

He was already in trouble with Rome for his handling of an earlier Jewish riot in which many had been killed and now he feared that should the Jewish people petition the Roman emperor about his reluctance to act against Jesus who had been sentenced as a dangerous traitor, who had proclaimed himself a king, it might expose the other crimes of brutality he had committed while in office  and that he’d be recalled to Rome and dismissed.

Interestingly, this is in fact exactly what happened about three years later.

Another point of interest is that because of the Gospels’ portrayal of Pilate as reluctant to execute Jesus, thCoptic and Ethiopian Churches believe that Pilate became a Christian and venerate him as a martyr and saint.

Which brings us to Pilate’s other great fear; he feared Jesus.

In Pilate’s pagan religious beliefs  it was quite possible that Jesus was in fact the Son of God. In Pilate’s religion, they acknowledged the existence of demi-gods and super heroes.

The Romans were very superstitious as we witness in Pontius Pilate’s wife’s reaction to her dream.

The emperor often carried the title Divi Filius (son of a god).

Pilate would no doubt have heard about Jesus’ miracles and teachings and he was perhaps now starting to think that what the people had been saying about Jesus being the Son of God, may well be true.

So what does he do?

Follow his conscience and his religious beliefs?

Or act to protect his position and his status with all its power and perks?

Are we not also sometimes faced with a choice of this nature?

Can we honestly say that we always act on the strength of our conscience?

That we are guided by the gospel in the ways in which we think, speak and live our lives with Jesus as our role model?

Are we not often influenced by aspirations that celebrate wealth, pleasure, comfort, fame and status?

Do we spent as much time praying for relief for the homeless and the hungry as we do praying for our own interests and needs?

In this time of lockdown, isolated in our homes, we have time to reflect and pray about our faith; our calling to serve in the name of Jesus; our discipleship.

Do we trust in the hope that comes through the Passion, death and resurrection of Christ? Or do we succumb to the fears that little by little fill our hearts with doubt and erode our faith and lead us into making choices that betray our conscience?

The choice that saw the crowd’s cry for the release of Barabbas and turn a blind eye to the suffering Christ.

Let us pray in this holiest of all weeks ahead that our decisions and choices be guided always by the love, Passion, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.


The Gift of Sight

4th Sunday In Lent
Year A.
22nd MARCH 2020.
Gospel: John 9: 1-41
Dcn. Tony

The colour of the vestments that would have been worn on the altar today is rose, a reminder for us to rejoice, for we are half way through the Lenten journey. The traditional title for this Sunday is “Laetare Sunday,” taken from the first word of the Entrance Antiphon, “Rejoice,” or “Laetare” in Latin.
The problem is that there is not a lot that we can rejoice over! There is so much about which to be distracted and confused, and therefore blinded by the world’s current medical crisis! Pushing away those constant and invasive thoughts, the alerts on our phones and ever-changing news flashes takes significant effort. This crisis is not something we can control or navigate by ourselves… we need the mercy and stability of God.

Our readings this Sunday contain the 23rd Psalm. It is a great time to recall it, share it, and try to live it in concrete ways.
As things stand for the foreseeable future we are all going to have to carry out our devotions in the isolation of our homes, hopefully together with close family and loved ones. There are rituals we can use to focus our thoughts and prayers; such as simply lighting a special candle with intent.

“The very act of lighting a candle is a prayer.”
The simple practice of lighting a candle with special intention can help us focus on the Light of Hope instead of despair; the Light of Compassion that eases isolation; the Light of Mercy that opens our eyes to the presence of grace in our lives. “The very act of lighting a candle,” witnesses our commitment to resist the darkness of a frightening pandemic, and also the ongoing conflict, violence and poverty that covers so many places in our world.

“The very act of lighting a candle” is a sign of our desire, like the man born blind, to see clearly.
The story of the man born blind is more than a story of his blindness. The story also reveals the blindness of Jesus’ disciples, the community, and the Pharisees. The man’s blindness is a state of his being; not an ethical statement about his sinful behaviour. Because of that, it is our
story too, since blindness is a part of the human condition. The Gospel passage is quite long and has many ironical twists, but I want to focus on the theme of discipleship.

The story of the man born blind is about discipleship: listening and responding. The blind man never asks to be healed, but Jesus heals him. Before he receives his sight, his life is difficult, but he is rather inconspicuous, but once he becomes sighted, his life becomes complex. He finds himself and his family at the centre of a harsh temple dispute. The Scribes and Pharisees who claim to have sight are presented by John as examples of a diseased spiritual blindness and a diseased attitude toward God.

The story is filled with questions and judgments. These are not just for us to observe, but also for us to answer and to resolve within ourselves. As we read or listen to the story we begin to understand, along with the blind man, how important it is to listen carefully to Jesus and trust his words. Without knowing who Jesus is, the man allows this stranger to touch him and put mud on his eyes. When Jesus tells him to go to the pool of Siloam, he goes. Perhaps it is because he is in great need, but his docility is courageous.

As he goes through the cleansing of the mud, the opening of his eyes, the harsh conversations with the community and priests, his integrity shines. He speaks only the truth he knows. Step by step small revelations lead him to the One who is the Truth. As we listen to his story, we hear the voice of a true disciple and we can question ourselves. Where, or whom, do we need to see more clearly?

In a way, this story is one of the saddest cures in the Bible. The unnamed man receives his sight, but it is a bitter sweet experience. At a moment when everyone should be rejoicing, he finds himself alone and alienated from his former life. His whole life has changed. No longer can he support himself by begging for his daily bread. No longer will his parents take responsibility for him.
No longer can he claim blindness as a reason for inaction. In the midst of this confusing and
isolating situation he stands alone. “They drove him away (from the temple).” It is then that Jesus seeks him out and finds him. “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” His answer is clear, “‘Lord, I believe’ … “and worshiped him.” A new disciple!

It is evident that through our discipleship we need a really strong focus on God so we can follow God’s Plan and not lose our way!!!

And when we are spiritually in tune, when we enjoy spiritual sight, what is it that we see or experience? We feel the love of God. We see Jesus as a model for life and someone to follow as a disciple. We feel His presence walking beside us. This is what is like to have spiritual sight. This is what it is like to grow in faith. Spiritual blindness is different. We feel empty, judgmental, afraid, depressed, lonely, disconnected. If we are feeling blind how do we get healed? How do we look for Jesus?
In the Gospel the first line reads — As Jesus passed by he saw a man blind from birth. This may give us a hint of how to make a start. Oftentimes it begins with proximity. It begins with making our way closer and closer to Jesus so that we can give him the opportunity to help us in our need.

We need to move closer to Jesus through our prayer. We need to see Jesus as a healer. We need to say to ourselves — I am tired of feeling this way. I am tired of feeling blind. I want to see. I want to be healed. And, I am willing to do what it takes to grow closer to Jesus in order to be healed and to be given spiritual sight.

What kind of goodness can each of us, through God’s grace, produce in this crisis? The answers are as unique as each of us and our circumstances, but yet still bound together in prayer and good works. Take the time to pray and act intentionally.
“The very act of lighting the candle is prayer.” As we light our candles during this Lenten season, we might want to pray for insight and a listening heart of a true disciple. “Eyes see only light, ears hear only sound, but a listening heart perceives meaning.”

May our common and private prayer help us see the path before us, not with fear but with confidence that Christ is with us at all times and everywhere.

Memories and the Transfiguration

2nd Sunday Lent Year A 2020

Deacon Les Ruhrmund

I officiated at a wedding this weekend of which there are probably already many photographs floating around on various social media platforms.

And there was the official photographer and videographer of course, charged with capturing the whole event from the bride’s prep through to the reception.

Why are photographs so important on an occasion like a wedding?

I think it’s because the photographs are essential for capturing and safeguarding memories.

In ten, twenty or more years’ time, the couple, their children and even their grandchildren will be able to look at the wedding photographs and see afresh the love and joy of a newly married couple; memories that delight on reflection and inspire hope for the future.

Capturing and safeguarding memories.

That’s why Jesus took Peter, James and his brother John to the mountaintop to witness his transfiguration.

Jesus knew that the horror of his torture and death were not far away.

He knew that his followers would be shattered by these events.

Jesus hoped if these three, his closest disciples, could catch a glimpses of his glory, if they could see clearly that he is the fulfilment of the law and the prophets, if he could impress upon their memories the full truth of who he is, then, in his darkest hour, Peter, James and John would not lose heart but would remain faithful.

It was not to be. When the soldiers came to arrest Jesus in the garden, they abandoned him and ran for cover.

They had seen a glimpse of the truth of Jesus but they had not yet met the Risen Christ; they had not yet received the Holy Spirit who would be given at Pentecost. They didn’t have the authentication and testimony of the Gospels, the saints and the Church.

I have no doubt that after the Resurrection, Peter, James and John would have related again and again, with wonder and enthusiasm, their experience on the mountain with Jesus and they would have drawn strength and hope from that memory.

We have the benefit of two thousand years of retrospection and so, on this Second Sunday of Lent, we could examine our own memory and memories of God and draw on them to sustain and nourish our faith.

On my first visit to Israel, over 30 years ago, on my first night in Jerusalem, I decided to venture into the Old City to find the Via Delarosa – to walk the Way of the Cross.

The tour guide had told our group that we should not venture from the hotel that night and most of the group were travel weary and planning to have an early night anyway. But I was not deterred  and went out confidently, feeling very excited, at about ten o’clock that night, entering the Old City through the Jaffa Gate which was a short walk from our hotel.

What the tour guide had not told us was that the Palestinians had declared an Intifada a few weeks earlier and that following violent protests and some deaths, there was a curfew in place and nobody was allowed on the streets after sunset.

I was soon disorientated in the dark, narrow and completely deserted streets of the Old City and couldn’t find the Via Delarosa.

A young man wearing a white vest and jeans appeared from the shadows and asked me “What are you looking for?” I followed his directions and was soon lost again.

An old woman emerged from behind a door and asked me again “What are you looking for?” This was repeated another two or three times and each time, I was asked the same question –“What are you looking for?”

I only appreciated later that those are Jesus’ first words in John’s Gospel.

I eventually found my way into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre built over the site of Jesus’ crucifixion and his tomb and entering the tomb I knelt in prayer at the shelf or burial bed on which Jesus’ dead body had been placed before the tomb was sealed.

It was now midnight and I was surprised by a small group of the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem standing at the entrance to the tomb, each carrying a smoking thurible accompanied by candle bearers, and I was asked to leave. They were preparing to celebrate midnight Mass for the feast of Christmas which they keep on 19th January which is why the church was open that night.

As I was leaving the Old City, in the very early hours of the morning, as I approached the Jaffa Gate again, some armed troops and medics ran past me and I learnt later that day that a number of people had been injured and some killed in violent clashes in the Old City that night.

Walking back to the hotel, overwhelmed with wonder at my astonishing experience, I threw my hands in the air and shouted “Lord if I ever doubt you again, remind me of this night.”

And indeed, in troubled and bleak times, this memory has sustained and nurtured my faith.

We have all had mountaintop experiences; times or perhaps even fleeting moments when we have felt God’s undeniable presence; profound and almost tangible.

  • Perhaps it was on our wedding day?
  • Or on the birth of a child?
  • Or the healing of a sick friend?
  • Or the answer to a desperate prayer?
  • Perhaps it was at a retreat, our First Communion or Confirmation.
  • Or perhaps it was when we went to confession for the first time in a long time, and experienced a fresh start.
  • Perhaps it was in the midst of a tragedy, a struggle, or serious illness.

Have we not at some time felt in our bones the wonder and glory of creation?

Maybe it was simply one day hiking on the mountain or walking on the beach; or in the beauty and perfection of a flower; or the immense majesty of an ancient tree.

Somewhere, sometime, we’ve been conscious of God’s awesome presence.

God is with us always of course; we need only be more aware.

Our ability to recognise, remember, and receive God’s presence to us is essential if we are to remain faithful in dark times and in the desert.

Jesus in his transfiguration teaches us that in the face of the inevitable trials of life we can draw strength from our memories of the times we have experienced and been acutely aware of his presence.

But memories are not enough.

God reveals his presence to us every day; often in the most unlikely circumstances.

See God in the smile of a stranger and the laughter of a child; in the poor and homeless; in the owl that hoots at night, in the sunrise and sunset, in the stars, the moon and the sun; in our relationships; when we say grace before meals and in the celebration of the Sacraments.

In these next five weeks of Lent, we could reflect on our memories and on the times that God has been acutely alive and present to us.

And we could search for God in everything, everywhere, every day to create new memories to sustain our faith through the good times and the bad.

Agape, Love Your Enemy

7th Sunday Of Ordinary Time
Cycle A
23rd February 2020.
Matthew 5: 38-48
Tony van Vuuren.

Jesus says to us; “Love your enemies!” Love our enemies? Most of us find it hard enough to love our friends and family all of the time. How can we be expected to love our enemies? We are naturally inclined to resent those who do us wrong.

The second part of today’s Gospel passage is perhaps the central and most famous passage of the Sermon on the Mount. It is certainly true that there is no other passage of the New Testament which contains such a concentrated expression of the Christian ethic of personal relations;
“Love one’s neighbors and forgive one’s enemies.” Jesus never asks us to love our enemies in the same way as we love our nearest and our dearest.

He is not asking any of us ‘to be in love with’, to have warm fuzzy feelings for someone who is doing us serious harm. To do this would neither be possible or right.

Loving our enemies is Agape love; one of the Greek synonyms for love. If we regard someone with agape, it means that no matter what that person does to us, no matter how we are treated by that person, no matter if they insult us or injure us, we will never allow any bitterness against them to invade our hearts, but will regard them with benevolence and goodwill.

Jesus laid this love down as a basis for personal relationships with our family and our neighbours and the people we meet every day in life. It is not easy to go about living a life in which we personally never allow any such thing as bitterness to influence our relationships with those we meet with every day.

First and foremost, this commandment deals with personal relationship. It is a commandment of which we should say up front; “This means me!”
So Jesus puts the challenge to each one of us: ‘love your enemies’.
He is talking about someone close – someone in my family, my community, my work-place, my neighbourhood, who is making life difficult for me.

Who are the people we try to avoid, the ones we don’t want to talk to, the ones who make us frightened or angry, the ones we find it hard to forgive, and the ones we feel like hating and hitting out at, for what they have done to us?

To be able to forgive and turn the other cheek is not a soft way. It’s an extremely hard reaction that calls for great strength and toughness and sacrifice. An ultimate example of this of course is our witness to Christ during his trial and crucifixion.

We can sincerely wish the well being of those who harm or persecute us. We pray that they may change, not just for our sake but also for their own.

We pray that from being hateful, hurtful people they become loving and caring. Jesus tells us that the basic reason for doing this is to manifest God’s love towards us. After all, He is the one who makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good, and when the good rain finally arrives it will fall on the good and on the bad.

In fact, if we let ourselves become hateful we burn up more energy than with any other emotion. Hate can become so demanding and consuming that it can become totally obsessive and leaves us bitter and twisted -physical wrecks. Surely, we need to save our strength for better things!

Hate poisons the heart and destroys relationships. It does nothing to build a better world. When Jesus says ‘love your enemies’ it is not only for their sake but for ours as well. It stops us stooping to the same base level and preserves our dignity and self-respect.

The Gospel passage concludes with Jesus saying, “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” On the face of it that sounds like a commandment which cannot possibly have anything to do with us. Surely no one of us can even faintly connect ourselves with perfection.
(Except maybe when we fill in our CV’s)

But seriously though this obviously is an ideal, a goal to be aimed at. The perfection intended is not total perfection for us, but rather to pray for ourselves for that total impartiality of a God who extends his providential care and love equally to all; If we reflect on it, we will begin to see that this is the only reasonable way for us to deal with people both for our own personal growth and fulfillment and as contributing also to that of others. Jesus is not asking us to do something impossible and unreasonable.

The point is, “perfection” isn’t out of our reach. It is about loving God in a way that causes us to change our lives and do whatever he asks of us. It’s about loving our neighbours—and even our enemies—with the love that God has for us.
So we shouldn’t get discouraged when we read this Scripture verse. God is merciful; he knows that we are sinners. But he also knows that we can aspire to be “perfect”—with his love and grace.

The Presentation Of The Lord

2nd February 2020
Luke 2: 22-40
Tony van Vuuren

The Presentation of the Lord, celebrated on 2nd February every year, is among the most ancient feasts of the Christian Church.

February 2nd is forty days after the birth of Christ, and this year happens to fall on a Sunday, which adds solemnity to the day, which reflects on the journey of Mary, Joseph and Jesus to the Jerusalem temple.

What we commemorate each year on this day is the fulfillment of the Jewish law by Jesus’ parents. The Jewish law regarding purification laid down that forty days after the birth of a male child (or eighty days in the case of a female), the mother was to make an offering in the temple whereby rendering her purified or restored once again.

The Feast is a combined feast; whilst commemorating the Jewish practice of the purification of the mother after childbirth it also commemorates the presentation of the child to God in the Temple It is also known as the Feast of the Purification of Mary, and the Feast of Candlemas; hence the blessing of candles today.

It is also called the Feast of Encounter because the New Testament, represented by the baby Jesus, encounters the Old Testament, represented by Simeon and Anna.

Being a poor man, Joseph offers two pigeons instead of a lamb as sacrifice for the purification of Mary after her childbirth and for the presentation and redemption ceremonies performed for baby Jesus.

The 4th Joyful mystery of the rosary recalls this event.

The birth of Christ is revealed by three kinds of witnesses in three different ways — first, by the shepherds, after the angel’s announcement; second, by the Magi, who were guided by a star; and thirdly, by Simeon and Anna, who were inspired by the Holy Spirit.

Today’s Gospel describes the Presentation of the Baby Jesus in the Temple. It was intended to ritually redeem Jesus who was the first born in the family and where Mary herself will have to be ritually purified.

Actually, Jesus never needed to be “bought back or presented,” as he already belonged wholly to God, but Joseph kept these laws as an act of obedience to God. Mary and Joseph were a typical pious Jewish couple, who went to the Temple in obedience to do all that was required and expected of them by the Law.

By the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the elderly, pious and Spirit-filled Simeon and Anna had been waiting in the Temple for the revelation of God’s salvation. Simeon, who is described as a righteous and devout man, obedient to God’s will, addresses himself to our Lord as a vassal or loyal servant.

When he takes the Child in his arms, he learns, not through any reasoning process, but through a special grace from God, that this Child is the promised Messiah. He thanked God that he had finally “seen” salvation and received consolation.

Anna, despite her advanced age, found new vigor and began to speak to everyone about the Baby. It is a beautiful image: two young parents and two elderly people, like excited grandparents; brought together by Jesus.

He is the one who brings together and unites generations! He is the inexhaustible font of that love which overcomes every occasion of self-absorption, solitude, and sadness.

In our journey as families, if we are fortunate to be in that position; we get to share so many beautiful moments and times of mutual support… Nevertheless, if there is no love then there is no joy.

How do we take Jesus into our arms like Simeon did? We simply respond to the invitation;”This is my body; take and eat!” Every Holy Mass in which we participate is our presentation.

Although we were officially presented to God on the day of our Baptism, we present ourselves and our dear ones on the altar before God through our Savior Jesus Christ at every Holy Mass.

Hence, we need to live our daily lives with the awareness both that we are dedicated people consecrated to God and that we need the assistance of the Holy Spirit to recognize the presence of Jesus in ourselves and in others: All those who, like Simeon and Anna, persevere in piety and in the service of God, no matter how insignificant their lives seem in men’s eyes, become instruments that the Holy Spirit uses to make Christ known to others. In His plan of redemption, God makes use of these simple souls to do much good for all mankind.

In other words, The Holy Spirit employs ordinary men and women, like us, of simple faith, as His instruments to bear witness to the teachings and ideals of Christ, just as He used Simeon and Anna.

The Holy Spirit reveals the presence of the Lord to us when we are receptive and eager to receive Him. Let us be open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit within us to recognize the indwelling presence of the Lord with us and in others.

Simeon and Anna used their time well whilst they spent most of it in the Temple praising God. There is an important lesson here for us. It is relatively easy to spend time in God’s presence — simply because God is always with us.

We are not required to be in the Temple or in a church or in any designated sacred space. We can be in God’s presence wherever and whenever we choose and, enlivened and encouraged by God’s presence, we can be witnesses to Jesus Christ who is the light of the world.

The tradition of lighting candles in our homes as a sign that Christ is the light of the world is a practical custom that we could easily initiate to focus our attention on him being at the centre of the feast of Candlemas and at the centre of our lives.

As we think about the choices we have made and the choices each new day presents, let us ask Jesus, Mary, and Joseph to guide us. Let us strive to learn more about our faith and practice it intentionally. And Lord, please let us know your favour is upon us,…… in the good times and especially the confusing times and the not-so-good times.