The Baptism of the Lord

Cycle c

13th January 2019

Deacon Les Ruhrmund

We could ask ourselves on this Feast of the Baptism of the Lord why it’s important or relevant or indeed whether it was even necessary for Jesus to be baptised.

Jesus didn’t need baptism as we need baptism but this marks the start of his public ministry rooted in his identity as the Son of God anointed by the Holy Spirit. Jesus was baptised into our humanity, so that we can be baptised into his divinity.

All four Gospels relate the Baptism of the Lord by John the Baptist but Luke’s account is different from the others which imply that the Holy Spirit descended at the moment of Jesus’ baptism, while he was still in the water. That’s the way this scene is often depicted in religious art; Jesus and John standing waist deep in the water with a dove above Jesus’s head representing the Holy Spirit descending from heaven.

But Luke says, “Now when all the people were baptised, and when Jesus also had been baptised and was praying, the Holy Spirit descended upon him.” From this we might assume that Christ was out of the water and alone when the Holy Spirit appeared and he heard the voice of the Father. Did anyone besides Jesus actually witness these events?

The Gospel of John answers that question. He tells us that John the Baptist gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptise with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptise with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One” (John 1:32-34).

Luke wrote his Gospel primarily for Gentile Christians; non-Jewish people who have been baptised. He is telling them that their baptism means the same as Jesus’ baptism; that they, through baptism, are God’s daughters and sons. The same is true for us over 2000 years later; through baptism we are children of God calling God, our Father.

Jesus preached that you and I can have the same personal, intimate relationship with God that he has.

At that time this was a most radical and outrageous idea; a blasphemous idea that would certainly have upset the Jewish authorities and contributed enormously in their decision to have him killed. They taught that our relationship with God is like the accused before a judge, and God, therefore, is distant, stern and righteous rather than a loving, caring, compassionate and forgiving Father. Even today, Muslims consider it blasphemy to attribute fatherhood to God.

Our relationship with God as our Father is central to our Christian faith.

Christianity is not about being a good person or doing the right think or having a heart of gold – as wonderful as these attributes are. Anyone can have those qualities irrespective of their religion.

To be a Christian is to be grafted onto Christ; to become a member of his mystical body – sharing in his own relationship to the Father. Jesus is the Son of God by nature; we become sons and daughters of God by Baptism. And hopefully the fruits of our baptism will see us living as good people, doing what is right with generous and loving hearts.

Just as we take on life through birth, so our supernatural life is born in baptism; we are born again into spiritual life with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit; God’s magnificent gift of grace revealed through Jesus.

Baptism is our most ecumenical sacrament uniting almost all the world’s Christians in Jesus Christ.

The sacrament of Baptism is the gateway to the other sacraments; it’s the power that makes the other sacraments effectual. As an analogy, imagine that the other sacraments are devices in the kitchen; toaster, microwave, kettle, stove, fridge, etc. Until they are plugged into a source of power, they are useless and ineffectual. Baptism is the source that powers all the other sacraments.

St Paul saw baptism as the fulfilment of the ancient Hebrews ‘practice of circumcision on the eighth day of life; in his words baptism was “a circumcision without hands”.

In the Jewish faith, through circumcision an infant boy enters into God’s covenant with the family of Abraham.

In the Christian faith, through baptism we enter the new covenant into the family of God as sons and daughters, calling God, our Father.

From the very beginning the Church has welcomed infants, children and adults, male and female, into a covenant relationship with Christ, through the sacrament of Baptism.

We are reminded of this covenant every time we enter a church and dip our hands into the water font and make the Sign of the Cross.

The sign of the cross is the most common prayer of Christians and has been since the founding of the Church.

Tertullian, the notable North African theologian writing in the second century (in modern day Tunisia), wrote: “In all our travels and movements, in all our coming in and going out, in putting on our shoes, at the bath, at the table, in lighting our candles, in lying down and sitting down, whatever task occupies us, we mark our foreheads with the sign of the cross.”

We make the sign of the cross as a public profession of our faith, a reminder of our baptismal promises and our resolve that evil will have no place in our lives.

It is a physical reminder of God’s love for us and the greatness of our human dignity that flows from this love.

Let us always be mindful of the powerful significance of this simple prayer and make the sign of the cross over our bodies purposefully and thoughtfully with care and sincerity.

And in our hearts let’s be conscious of the Father’s voice:

“You are my beloved one. In you I am well pleased.”

In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Amen.

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How Blessed We Are!

4th Sunday Of Advent
Cycle C
23rd December 2018
Luke 1: 39-45
Deacon Tony van Vuuren

 

“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” Words uttered by Elizabeth greeting her young cousin Mary. The same words that are to this day recited by millions of people night and day when praying the Rosary. You could say that the central theme of the Gospel is the blessedness of those who believe.

All of Jesus’ preaching had as its aim to elicit faith in people’s hearts. However, it is not simply a matter of believing, but of believing and acting on that belief. It is a question of hearing the word and doing it—taking risks on it, and making sacrifices because of it. Remind ourselves that; “we should not bother proclaiming that we believe unless we act accordingly.” We sometimes hear people say, “It’s easy for you; you have great faith.” But it’s not like that. Faith doesn’t always make things easy.

In fact, the opposite is more likely to be the case. It’s because one has faith that one refuses to give up. Faith impels us to persevere, to struggle on, often with no guarantee of a happy outcome. A person with faith never gives up.

Mary is blessed because she not only believed, but also acted on her belief. Immediately after the visit from the angel Gabriel, she went with haste to visit Elizabeth. A long and hazardous journey. From this we see that her religion was not a matter of mere sentimentality. It was something she converted into deeds. Mary was the first and most perfect disciple of Jesus. That is why the Church proposes her as a model for us. We too will be blessed if, like Mary, we hear the word of God and act on it.

We are a couple of days away from celebrating Christmas. Christmas can be a great help to our faith. Dare I say that somehow we find it easier to believe that we are in touch with God at Christmas than at any other time, maybe because we feel that God is very close to us and very loving to us at this time. Our celebration of Christmas has many layers. The top layer is the hustle and bustle of the consumer Christmas from which there is no escape even if we don’t go near a shopping centre.

Next is the Charles Dickens layer. The decorations, the laden tables of delicious food. Good will to all men. Gifts given and received. And then everything goes on as before. The third layer is the Nativity scene, which depicts for us what this is all about. The school nativity play; the nativity scene here in church; reminding us of the first Christmas celebration of the birth in the stable. The fourth and deepest layer is the spiritual one. The story of this baby; God’s son, who was born and took our nature upon himself and entered our world in weakness and in love.

There is sometimes a tendency to dismiss or even condemn the first three layers and see the spiritual layer as the only true one when celebrating the birth of Jesus. This is based on the supposition that the spiritual and the material are opposed to one another. But this is not entirely so. Christianity includes matter and spirit.

There can be no such thing as a purely spiritual Christmas. What we have to do is find a connection between the secular market place and the spiritual content of the feast. Much of the buying and selling that occurs at this time results in giving and receiving gifts; good works, joy and affirmation of family ties. An opportunity of sharing the priceless gifts of Love, Gratitude, Honesty, Forgiveness and Reconciliation.

Mary did not withdraw from the world to treasure the gift she had received. We learn from Mary’s meeting with Elizabeth to go out to meet another in need: share with them a gesture of welcome, care and love.

Judging from Mary and Elizabeth’s meeting today such encounters are potential moments of grace, blessing and joy. Before Christmas arrives is there someone we should visit? Is there someone we have been avoiding and need to spend a little time with?
This approach helps us to see the close kinship between the spiritual and the material; between heavenly and earthly things.

We must learn how to integrate the two. The core religious problem is: how to reconcile spirituality and materiality, flesh and spirit, the inward and the outward.

There are those who insist on a clear division between the divine and the human, the sacred and the secular. But we won’t find that in Christmas. At Christmas these are so interwoven that they seem to be one and the same thing.

Now is a time for us to stop focusing on how stressed we are and remind ourselves how Blessed we are. It is when we serve others that we encounter Jesus Christ. It is when we give ourselves in love that we find that we are loved!

Prepare the Way

2nd Sunday of Advent Cycle C
8 December 2018
Prepare the Way by Deacon Les

We are already into the second week of Advent.

Was the past week any different in our hearts from the week before? Did we spend time thinking about the meaning and relevance of Advent in our lives as we prepare for the celebration of Christmas? The answer for many of us is ‘Probably not’.

It’s very difficult to make Advent meaningful in a society that is focused on the synthetic glitter of commercialism and the anticipation of the holiday season.

All the more reason why our liturgy during Advent should be noticeably different from other seasons to remind us, if only once a week in our worship, that Advent is a time of quiet reflection in anticipation of Christmas; no flowers, no “Gloria”, purple vestments, and music kept to a minimum and noticeably subdued.

It’s quite likely that our time and energy over the next few weeks will be consumed by a sense of nervous anxiety; gifts to buy, preparing for Christmas lunch, a list of things to be done before the holidays start, concerns about money, perhaps some apprehension about spending time with difficult family, in-laws or friends, etc.

If we want this Advent and Christmas to be more meaningful, we are going to have to make that happen. If we do nothing, Advent will fly past without notice and Christmas will mean little more than an expensive meal and an exchange of gifts.

We could use today’s Gospel as a guide for some action to make Advent and Christmas more meaningful.

Luke tells us that “the word of God came to John (the Baptist) in the desert.” And John’s message was:

  • Repent and
  • Prepare the way for the Lord:
    • Make crooked roads straight
    • Fill in the valleys
    • Level the hills
    • And smooth out the rough paths

Let’s look at John’s urgent call in terms of our lives today.

Repent.

Repentance as we’ve heard many times before is not about being sorry; it’s about a determination to change.

I’ve recently read Tara Westover’s astounding memoir “Educated.”

She was born in rural Idaho in the northwest of the Unites States in 1986 to radical survivalist Mormon parents. She didn’t get a birth certificate until she was nine. She never went to school and she was seventeen the first time she entered a classroom. Remarkably within 10 years she’d earned a PhD from Cambridge.

As a girl and young woman she was repeated beaten and abused viciously by an older brother who was always really apologetic and sorry afterwards. He was always sorry but he never repented; he never changed his behaviour.

In our relationship with God and with our friends and family, where do we need to repent? What are the behaviours that we need to change?  Is it the words we use or perhaps the words we don’t use? Is it something we repeatedly do or fail to do?

When we are ready to say ‘I’m sorry” and are determined to change, we should seek the Sacrament of Reconciliation to give us the grace to do better in all our relationships.

How do we make the crooked road straight?

There’s a delightful animated movie called ‘The Star’ which tells the story of the nine months leading up to the birth of Jesus through the eyes of a donkey. A telling of the Nativity that is as appealing to adults as it is to children. I’ve been cajoled by my two Grandchildren (3 and 6 years old) into watching this movie with them umpteen times in the last few weeks.

We’re more likely to walk in a straighter line if we keep our eyes on “the star” that leads to Bethlehem.

When we take our eyes off the Star, we’re easily side-tracked and soon find ourselves wandering in the wilderness rather than kneeling at the manger.

How do we fill the valleys and level the hills?

Perhaps our valleys would be the times when we are discouraged or unwell or facing hardship or spiritual drought. We could try and fill these valleys with hope and trust; trust in God. Focus on our blessings rather than our burdens.

The hills might be those times when everything is going well and we feel on top of the world. We need some temperance here as well and again to give thanks for our blessings rather than bask in our accomplishments.

And finally, how do we smooth out the rough paths?

We could start by identifying the bumps in the road; the spiritual potholes.

What are the obstacles in our relationship with God and other people? When we look into our hearts, what do we see there? Are we honestly able to see the potholes?

Is it selfishness; wrapped up in our own world of needs and desires? Is it fear of commitment; perhaps a fear of putting our trust in God and giving up some control? Is it laziness or lack of self-disciple; perhaps inertia or apathy? Is it a cold heart that can’t forgive or get over past hurts?

Without conscious effort, nothing will change, nothing will get repaired. If anything, the potholes will multiply and the path to God will become bumpier.

We could try and fill a few potholes over the next 2 weeks of Advent:

  • Talk to God; frequently every day about everything
  • Do a frank examination of conscience and commit to making a good confession
  • Share some time and bring some joy into the life of someone who is lonely or depressed or seriously ill
  • We could share some of our things; raid the wardrobe and generously give away clothes that are in excess to our needs. Children could raid their toy baskets and give away toys that they no longer use. Donate generously to the Advent Appeal, buy vouchers for the poor, buy a gift for an underprivileged child.

There are many ways to smooth the rough path.

The only thing that is holding us back from repentance is ourselves.

If we choose to, over the next two weeks of Advent, we can bring about small but meaningful changes in our lives that will bring us closer to the Lord whose birth we celebrate at Christmas.

————

Christ the King (B) 2018

 

Solemnity of Christ the King

Cycle B

25 November 2018

Deacon Les Ruhrmund

The Feast of Christ the King is a relatively recent addition to the liturgical calendar established by Pope Pius XI in an encyclical titled Quas Primas published in December 1925.

Originally the feast was celebrated on the last Sunday in October each year just prior to the Feast of All Saints but Paul VI in 1969 moved it to the last Sunday in the liturgical year just prior to Advent lending a stronger emphasis on Christ the King in his Second Coming at the end of time.

The feast was first introduced at a troubled time in the world as an antidote to increasing secularism, a way of life which leaves God out of politics, government and education; basically society governs itself as if God doesn’t exist. In many ways perpetuating humankind’s original sin.

Events happening around 1925 that prompted Pope Pius to institute the Feast of Christ the King included:

  • The publication of Adolf Hitler’s personal manifesto Mein Kampf following his release from prison the year before
  • Benito Mussolini had established a dictatorship in Italy
  • Spain had experienced a coup d’état and a military dictator and seized absolute power (Miguel Primo de Rivera).
  • And Joseph Stalin, on the death of Lenin, had begun the purge of his rivals to clear the way for his dictatorship of the Soviet Union

Troubled times indeed; the rise of new dictator kings with little respect or consideration for the sovereignty of God.

In the opening paragraph of Quas Primas, Pius wrote: “These manifold evils in the world are due to the fact that the majority of (people) have thrust Jesus Christ and his holy law out of their lives; that these have no place either in private affairs or in politics. As long as individuals and states refuse to submit to the rule of our Saviour, there will be no really hopeful prospect of a lasting peace among nations.”

Prophetic words that ring true today in our disordered world that largely excludes and does not acknowledge the authority, often not even the existence, of Christ the King.

A question for each of us on this feast day could be: In our lives, do we submit to the sovereignty of God in our thoughts, words and deeds?

There’s a great difference between believing in God and submitting to God.

If Jesus is king of our lives and really important to us, how often do we think about him? Or talk to him? If we only pay attention to Christ for an hour a week during Mass, we’re just paying lip service in our practice of Christianity and Christ is not our king.

If we keep Jesus out of our homes, work, play and social lives – he’s certainly not our king.

In the dialogue between Pilate and Jesus that we heard in the reading from John’s Gospel we get a glimpse of Pilate’s dilemma in encountering Christ which may well resonate uncomfortably in our own lives.

We know that Pilate was about the same age as Jesus and he must have had mixed feelings about his appointment as Governor of Judea. It was one of the most difficult places to govern in the Roman Empire because of the religious sensitivities of the Jews.

On the other hand, he probably thought that if he did a good job in Judea, it would set him up for greater success in the future.

But from the beginning almost everything went wrong for Pilate. At first he tried the strong-arm approach with the Jewish people who hate the Roman government with a passion. In an attempt to force Rome upon the people he ordered his soldiers to carry images of Caesar into the Jewish Temple.

In retaliation, 2000 praying Jews surrounded Pilate’s palace for 6 days and nights. Pilate threatened to massacre them, and in defiance these Jewish protesters knelt before him, stuck out their necks and dared him to do it. They had called his bluff. Enraged and humiliated, he ordered the images of Caesar in the Temple to be taken down.

Next Pilate tried the benevolent approach. Jerusalem needed a fresh water supply and Pilate agreed to build an aqueduct. But he financed this project with funds from the Temple treasury.

There was a riot, soldiers were called in, people were killed and Pilate received a scathing rebuke from Rome.

The Jews had the measure of Pilate and so when he was confronted with the problem of Jesus he was a little apprehensive, knowing that he couldn’t afford to make another mistake; afraid to prompt another riot.

He wasn’t looking to make the right decision; he wanted to make a decision that would best protect his own interests; not unlike many politicians.

In our lives, do we make decisions based on the integrity of our faith or rather decisions that are most expedient to our personal needs, desires and interests?

Pilate stands face to face with Jesus – but he doesn’t see him for who he is. We come face to face with Jesus in the Eucharist; do we see him as Christ the King of our lives or as an innocuous religious symbol?

Pilate questioned Jesus’s authority; his kingship. When we choose to follow our own road and play by our own rules without deferring to God, we too are questioning his authority.

In the closing paragraph of Quas Primas, Pius XI writes:

“If to Christ our Lord is given all power in heaven and on earth; if all (people), purchased by his precious blood, are by a new right subjected to his dominion; if this power embraces all people, it must be clear that not one of our faculties is exempt from his empire. He must reign in our minds ….. He must reign in our wills, which should obey the laws and precepts of God. He must reign in our hearts …. (we must) love God above all things.”

That brings us back to today’s question: Do we truly acknowledge and pledge our allegiance to Christ the King in everything we say, think and do?

Words

 

33rd Sunday
Ordinary Time
Cycle B
18th November 2018
Deacon Tony van Vuuren

When biblical writers want to get our attention, shake us out of our lethargy and give us hope, they write in the apocalyptic literary genre. We see evidence of this literature in today’s readings from the book of Daniel and from Mark’s gospel. The word “Apocalypse” comes from the Greek and means “to lift the veil.”

Apocalyptic literature suggests what we think we see as true and as reality, in fact, may be obscured by veils. We think we see — we don’t. We think we know the truth and the
way things are — but we don’t. We need vision; we need the veil over our own eyes lifted so we can clearly perceive God’s presence and God’s future coming into our world.

This literature has often been misunderstood by fundamentalist interpreters and preachers. Its startling images of the passing away of the present world were not intended to describe how the end will come; its essential message was an assurance that God’s designs will be fulfilled, despite all appearances to the contrary.

Jesus preached on the coming of the final reign of God; so it’s not surprising, therefore, that He used some of the images and expression of this literature – as He does in today’s Gospel; the final section of a long passage that gathers together recollections of this teaching of Jesus.

Thanks to the writers of the Gospels, the words of our Lord remain with us to this very day. Still with us to teach us, to guide us, to inspire us, to comfort us and to challenge us. It is up to each one of us as to how well we listen to His words; and how hard we try to practice them in our lives.

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”

Words of Jesus that we hear in today’s Gospel.

In the course of a lifetime we hear a lot of words, and also speak a lot of words. Though we may forget most of the words we hear, some do remain with us. In fact, certain words can burn themselves into our memory, so much so that we will probably remember them to our dying day.

We will hear words that comfort us, and remain to inspire us.

Unfortunately words are said that can be very hurtful and inflict deep and lasting wounds. However, sometimes it’s not the words themselves, but the way that they are said that does the damage.

Words are very important and very powerful. Once uttered, they can take on a life of their own, for good or for bad! They can bring a blessing or a curse, healing or wounding, life or death. Words can continue to harm us or help us for many years after they have been spoken. Hence, we should be careful how we use words.

I am sure you are all familiar with the saying, “you cannot put the toothpaste back into the tube once you have squeezed it out.”

When we are angry, it is better to remain silent. Words spoken in anger can cause deep hurt and make reconciliation very difficult. Choosing a blessing instead of a curse often starts by choosing to remain silent, or being careful to choose words that open the way to healing. Sometimes loving someone means keeping quiet and letting them be! Adopt the philosophy of the salesman, which is “the customer is always right!”

The world in which we live is a very uncertain one. It seems to lurch from one crisis to another; causing great fear and anxiety. In the midst of this uncertain and changing world we need something solid to rely on. For a Christian that can only mean one thing: faith in God. Today’s psalm simply says: “I keep the Lord before me always; with Him at my right hand, I shall not be moved.” And of course we have the words of Jesus:  “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”

This is all we have and all we need; but for all that, they will benefit us little unless we act on them.

In comparison with faith, there is nothing sure or lasting in the world. The Gospel is the handbook of every Christian. Our opinions are rooted in appearances and can change from day to day; but the words of Jesus do not change or pass away.

We would do well to build the house of our life on His words.

Knocking on Heaven’s Door

All Souls
2 Nov 2018
Deacon Les Ruhrmund

Catholics throughout the world today are thinking about and praying for their loved ones who have died and are perhaps thinking about their own inevitable death.

Many other Christian denominations also celebrate a Commemoration of the Faithfully Departed today but see it rather as an extension of All Saints’ Day which was yesterday (and which we’ll be celebrating at all the Masses this weekend.)

Most of the other Christian denominations do not believe in Purgatory as a time of purification before we are worthy as holy saints to live in the presence of God.

In the first reading taken from the second book of Maccabees written roughly 100 -150 years before Christ, we have a clear reference to the custom of praying for those who have died but are not yet in a state of perfection with God in heaven. They are on the road to sainthood, as we all are, but are not yet saints.

The writer says that Judas Maccabee, a great Jewish leader of the time, following an epic and bloody battle in which many men had been killed, took up a collection to pay for a sacrifice to be offered in Jerusalem for the dead so that they might be released from their sins.

I’m deeply relieved that there is the option of Purgatory; the option to come to terms with my sinfulness and past transgressions with the blissful promise of heaven a certainty.

If I was to die today – perhaps better I suggest ‘ had I died yesterday’ – there is no way that I could possibly share in the perfection of heaven with God and the saints; my very presence there would render heaven imperfect because I am so far from being perfect, from being spotlessly holy.

Pope Benedict in his second encyclical “Saved in Hope” (Spe Salvi) published in 2007 writes
“The belief that love can reach into the afterlife, that reciprocal giving and receiving is possible, in which our affection for one another continues beyond the limits of death – this has been a fundamental conviction of Christianity throughout the ages and it remains a source of comfort today. Who would not feel the need to convey to their departed loved ones a sign of kindness, a gesture of gratitude or even a request for pardon?”

There is ample evidence of the custom of praying for the dead in the inscriptions in the ancient catacombs and in the writings of the early Church Fathers in the first centuries of Christianity. In fact, not praying for the dead is a relatively new practise originating in the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century.

Perhaps on this All Souls Day, we could reflect on the “Four Last Things” – death, judgement, heaven and hell.

We will all die and only die once – there is no such thing as reincarnation. In the NT in Hebrews 9:27 we are told “Everyone must die once, and after that be judged by God.”
When we die will meet our Lord face to face and receive judgement.

If we die in faith having lived a life trying our best to be true to the great commandments to love God and our neighbour we will be welcomed into the kingdom of God which we call heaven – though we may have to pass through purgatory first.

If we die having lived largely selfish lives, neglecting our baptismal promises and rejecting the sovereignty of God, our choices in this life will be reflected and respected in the next. We will not be forced to change our minds about God and we will live for eternity outside of God’s kingdom; that’s hell.

After death, there is no opportunity to bargain or appeal for a different outcome. Our choices in this life will determine the outcome for our eternal life.

Weekly attendance at Mass is not a guaranteed ticket to heaven. We’ll also have to account for the other 167 hours in each week.

We don’t like to talk much about death but, I don’t know about you, I certainly have thought about it throughout my life.

When I was in my teens I was sure I wouldn’t live much past the age of twenty-five. When I was twenty-five I believed that I’d probably live to about forty and I’d decided that I’d not marry and didn’t want to be a father. By the time I was forty I was happily married with two wonderful school-going children and I had just come through a cancer scare ….. and I hoped to live another thirty years or so.

Well twenty-seven of those thirty years have passed very quickly.

I know now that I wasn’t really ready spiritually to die at twenty-five or forty and I’m thankful to have had the time to better prepare for this eventuality.

I may live many years yet … or by this time next year, my ashes may well be buried in the garden of remembrance. None of us know whether we or which of our loved ones will be alive this time next year; or even be with us to share this coming Christmas.

Our hope, our purpose, our mission in this life is not old age; It’s sainthood.

In the extract we heard from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians he writes
“For we know that when the tent that we live in on earth is folded up, there is a house built by God for us, an everlasting home not made by human hands, in the heavens.”
That’s our hope.

And Jesus says in the Gospel reading “Whoever sees the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life.”
That’s God’s promise.

We know neither the hour nor day when that promise will be fulfilled.

We pray today for those who have died.

In our prayers we could ask them too, to pray for us that we will be adequately prepared when the time comes for us to join them.

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.
May they rest in peace.
Amen.

Salvation By God’s Grace

30th Sunday Ordinary Time
Cycle B
28th October 2018
Mark 10: 46-52
Deacon Tony van Vuuren

The author of the letter to the Hebrews is comparing Jesus’ work of reconciling mankind with God to the action of the high priest offering ceremonial sacrifices to God to express the community’s devotion to God, to atone for their sinfulness, to restore as far as possible the damaged relationship between God and man. We may often choose other goals and purposes in our lives apart from God ; what the Bible calls idolatry. But even when we feel that we want to establish contact with God and to live in accordance with God’s values, we’re powerless to achieve this purely by means of our own abilities and efforts.

We so often fail in our efforts by falling back into selfish habits. And so part of the picture which the author of the letter is trying to put across is that to release us from the prison of our fallen nature, to bring us back into harmony with God, in other words to bring about our salvation, something needs to be done for us. It requires some action on God’s part, a work of grace. We are reminded that we are not capable of bringing about our own salvation.

The blind beggar, Bartimaeus, is an example of someone who can’t, by his own efforts, bring about the healing and restoration of his lost sight. But just as important, he is an example of someone who candidly admits his own inability to heal himself. He is free from any illusions of self-sufficiency. “Son of David, have pity on me”. He freely admits his indigence and his dependence on outside help.

This attitude of Bartimaeus – admitting his own powerlessness to heal himself and throwing himself at Jesus’ feet – makes him a sort of prototype of Christian sanctity or holiness.
When we look at the lives of the saints, or anyone who is obviously very holy or spiritually advanced our tendency possibly is to see individuals with enormous strength of will-power, huge single-mindedness in their dedication to God; heroic perseverance in spite of all kinds of difficulties.

They seem to be people with superhuman qualities of patience, compassion, love for others, men and women who have absolutely no thought for their own interests. In other words, we tend to attribute their holiness to their own strength of character and we conclude that they’re people who are completely different from ourselves! But when we read what these genuinely holy people say about themselves, it usually turns out that they insist vehemently on their own weakness and sinfulness.

They’re quick to deny that they have done anything except respond to God’s grace, and they express a strong sense of having been redeemed by God’s actions, not their own. They take no credit themselves for anything they achieve. They put everything down to God’s influence and direction.

If we turn to the first reading this Sunday we find the prophet Jeremiah suggesting that this is the basic quality that’s needed at the heart of the community of believers in God. And at the core of this renewed community, again, are people like Bartimaeus, who admit their dependence on outside help, their inability to save and comfort themselves.

The truth is, God can’t do much with individuals who have a high opinion of themselves, or with people who pride themselves on having made it in life – perhaps acquiring great wealth, power and status, – by being tough and determined at the expense of others. So taken together the readings this Sunday point to an important element of Christian faith; an important reality in the life of faith of each believer; something which marks us off from unbelievers or atheist humanists: we don’t and can’t save ourselves.

Only God brings about our healing, the removal of our spiritual blindness, our salvation.
Obviously there’s always a balance to be struck between the idea of depending on God’s grace and responding to God by our own free-will and by freely chosen decisions. In our spiritual life it’s always possible to exaggerate in one or other direction, either overstressing God’s influence and giving no role to our own will-power and intelligence, or else exaggerating human capacities for moral goodness and virtually denying that God’s grace has any role to play.

Keeping a proper balance is something we have to do almost daily as we try to fathom the mystery of God and enter into his life more closely. But certainly the emphasis in today’s readings seems to be on warning us against our fallen tendency towards pride and self-sufficiency, and on acknowledging that the starting-point in our relationship with God is to surrender any such notions and instead admit our blindness and our weakness – to recognise that salvation is a gift from God, not something we create or bring about for ourselves.