The Assumption of Mary

The Patronal Feast of South Africa

18 August 2019 (transferred from 15 Aug)

Deacon Les Ruhrmund

On this glorious feast celebrating the Assumption of Our Lady, the patronal feast of South Africa, let me begin with a story or two.

Khanyisa Catholic High School is situated about 2kms outside Mthatha travelling in the direction of Butterworth and East London along the N2. I know the school well because I used the school hall for meetings twice a year for many years when I was still active in business.

Some 30kms further down the road is the small rural village of Qunu, where Nelson Mandela spent his childhood and where he build his home after he was released from prison in 1990. And where he is buried today.

There’s a story that Madiba once visited Khanyisa High School unannounced and that after talking to the staff and learners, he shook hands with every one of them – inspiring many of them and in some cases changing their lives forever.

When Mandela’s mother died following a heart attack in 1968, he was imprisoned on Robben Island and refused permission to attend her funeral. The authorities were afraid that he’d be abducted by foreign powers and given his freedom overseas.

He refers briefly to this painful experience in his autobiography describing his mother as ´the centre of my existence.”

We don’t know much about his mother but we do know that the residents of Qunu continue to hold her in high esteem and about eight years ago, they restored a church in her honour in the village; a Methodist church that she founded in 1960.

Another story.

Some years ago, a young man whose brother was at school with my son, made an enormous fortune in software security and was invited to spend a weekend with Nelson Mandela at his home in Qunu and to join him at a presentation at a school in Mthatha.

The young man was introduced to the school learners in Xhosa which he didn’t understand after which there was wild cheering, singing and spontaneous dance. He was taken completely by surprise by this reception and expressed his astonishment to his host. Apparently a happy, dancing Madiba told him that he had just informed the learners that this outstanding, young, proudly South African entrepreneur had made a donation of R1m to their school.

These and many other stories about Nelson Mandela have as yet not been written down. But that doesn’t mean that they didn’t happen; nor will they be forgotten by those who were there or by those who heard the stories from others who were there.

These unwritten stories tell us things about the man and his life that we otherwise would not know and the stories will be passed on from generation to generation.

That’s what we call tradition. Tradition means ‘to hand down’.

The Church has always taught and believed, from the very earliest origins of Christianity, that the Word of God is found not only in the written word of Scripture but also in the spoken word and witness of the followers of Jesus during apostolic times – the time from the first to the second century; that time before the written word, Scripture, was canonised towards the end of the fourth century.

Sacred Tradition, inspired by God, tells us how the early Christians expressed their faith and what they believed under the guidance and leadership of Jesus’ chosen Apostles.

The New Testament could not have been be compiled without the guidance and inspiration of God through Sacred Tradition.

Without Sacred Tradition we lose much of the humanity, the colour, the emotion and the active practices, beliefs and experiences of the first disciples of Jesus in the hundred or so years following his Ascension; that time when the church was first formed and developed by Christ’s Apostles.

An excellent example of Sacred Tradition is the Assumption.

Even though it wasn’t defined as official Church teaching until 1950 by Pope Pius XII, the Assumption of Mary has been believed (and never doubted) by Catholic Christians since the time of the Apostles.

The Assumption of Mary means that Mary was assumed, body and soul, into heaven by Jesus; an absolute expression of his divine love and a further illustration of Mary’s exceptional and extraordinary role in God’s plan of salvation.

The salvation of the world is made possible only when Mary agrees to carry the son of God in her womb. The Assumption doesn’t glorify Mary; it glorifies God demonstrating the unimaginable power of his love and grace.

Mary never diverts attention from the worship that is due to God alone. Rather, she joins us in giving Him praise because she stands as a powerful witness to the great things that God can do in the life of those who believe.

In the first reading from John’s Book of Revelation we get a glimpse of her place in God’s kingdom:

‘And a great sign appeared in heaven,

A woman clothed with the sun, with the moon at her feet,

And on her head a crown of seven stars.’ (Rev 12:1)

The oldest written evidence of Marian prayer comes from a fragment of Egyptian papyrus dating back to about the year 250. On it is written in Greek  ‘Mother of God, hear my supplications: suffer us not to be in adversity, but deliver us from danger.’

Christians have been venerating the Mother of Jesus and seeking her intervention right from apostolic times and that is what we’re doing at this Mass when we bring up our nation flag and sing our national anthem during the Offertory.

We’re offering God not only ourselves and our gifts but we are also offering our country. We’re asking for God’s protection for our country with the intercession of Mary, Assumed into Heaven.

In love and confidence and humility, in the words of the angel Gabriel and Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, we should always be proud to pray the words given to us in Luke’s Gospel:

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you;

Blessed are you among women,

And blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.

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PERSISTENT PRAYER

17th  SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME
CYCLE C
28th JULY 2019
Tony van Vuuren

The Gospel this week tells us a lot about prayer. Be persistent. Ask for what we need. Be assured of the concern of God for us. It does not say: Give it one shot and see what happens.
Between the model of prayer that Abraham provides in his bargaining dialogue with God and the direct advice that Jesus Himself gives us regarding prayer; we need to be centered on the importance of praying every day for our needs and the needs of others. We keep hold of God’s hand through our persistent prayer.
The Our Father prayer is the greatest and most well-known of all Christian prayers. Its short and simple phrases embrace every relationship between us and God. It not only tells us what to pray for, but also how to pray for it. However it so often tends to be said so hurriedly and unthinkingly that much of its meaning is lost. This is a pity; because, properly understood, the Our Father contains a whole programme for Christian living. If we were to live up to what it contains, we would be perfectly in tune with the mind of Christ, because undoubtedly this is how he himself prayed and lived.

The first part deals with God. We begin by acknowledging God’s existence, and calling him “Father”. God is a parent to us, and we are his children. Sometimes he acts like a father and sometimes like a mother!
Then we praise his name; and in praising his name we praise him. We pray for the coming of his kingdom; a kingdom of truth and life, holiness and grace, justice, love and peace. We all have a part to play in making his kingdom a reality.
We pray that his will may be done on earth. “On earth” means in our lives too. God’s will may not always be the easiest thing to do, but it is always the best thing.

The second part deals with us and our needs. We begin by praying for our daily bread. “Bread” stands for all our material and spiritual needs. We may experience a physical hunger, but we can also experience a spiritual hunger. We have a soul as well as a body and sometimes we can experience great emptiness. The soul also needs food to sustain it.
We then pray for forgiveness for our own sins, and for the grace to be able to forgive those who sin against us. Inability to forgive others makes it impossible for us to receive God’s forgiveness.
We pray not to be led into temptation. God does not put temptation in our path, but life does. And we ourselves sometimes walk into temptation of our own accord with our eyes open. We are asking God to help us cope with the temptations that come to us unbidden, and to avoid those of our own choosing. Temptation isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s a chance for us to prove our loyalty and maturity.

Finally, we pray to be delivered from all evil, both physical and moral. We can’t expect never to encounter evil. God has given us the gift of free will and he respects our freedom; so we can’t be guaranteed a life free from pain and struggle. He didn’t even do that for his son. But there is something God will do. He will help us cope with whatever evil comes our way. We are asking God for the grace to be victorious over all evil, but especially moral evil.
Just something we should take note of; the whole of the Our Father is couched in plural terms. This shows that we are one family under God, and there can be no salvation for us independent of others.
Our best behaviour may not save our part of the world, but it certainly will make for less of the negative drama which each of us is exposed to, tolerates, or even contributes to, each day. The Our Father prayer tells us how to pray, with an emphasis on forgiveness. Our persistent prayer will surely change our hearts and stiffened necks to conform more to this awesome God of ours.

So as we take a breath and disengage a moment from the current news cycle or family need or workplace upset or health issue, let us pray! Let us first return a prayer of thanksgiving to God for being there. Let us call on the Holy Spirit over and over, to be with us, close by, so that our new direction along our journey of faith and hope and love may reflect this awesome God.

No matter what we face in life don’t let go of God’s hand!

Labouring in our Father’s harvest

14th Sunday Ordinary Time Year C

7 July 2019

Deacon Les Ruhrmund

“At that time, The Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him.”

The number seventy was very symbolic to the Jews:

  • That’s the number of elders who were chosen to help Moses in the wilderness
  • That’s the number of judges sitting on the Sanhedrin, the supreme council of the Jews
  • And seventy was held to be the number of nations in the world so perhaps there’s a suggestion here that Jesus was sending out missionaries to take his message to the whole world.

Seventy is a lot of people.

While I find it easy to imagine Jesus teaching and coaching, forming and molding his personally chosen twelve, it’s more difficult to image a group of seventy receiving the same attention. They could not have had the same intimacy with Jesus as did the twelve.

The seventy others would have seen Jesus, heard him and witnessed the wonder of his miracles, but did they really know who he was? They didn’t know the whole story. The full revelation of Jesus’ divinity only became clear after the resurrection.

And yet they trusted him enough to go out in faith preaching the Good News that the Messiah was at hand and lived among them.

Most of us have been baptised and confirmed. We know the whole story. We know what happened to Jesus when he got to Jerusalem, that he rose from the dead, ascended to the Father and sent the Holy Spirit to be our guide, our comforter, our teacher, our strength to bear witness to Christ.

Surely then we’re as well, if not better, prepared, formed and informed about the Good News than were those seventy others that Jesus sent out?

But how many of us would readily undertake a similar mission?

Translating Jesus’s instructions in more familiar terms, the seventy are asked to go out with no money, no credit card, no cell phone, no protection, no spare clothing, and no food facing the very real possibility of death; lambs in the midst of wolves.

A daunting task and quite remarkably all seventy returned safely having completed their mission successfully – filled with joy.

We may not be called to take on a mission of this immensity but we are nevertheless called as informed and anointed followers of Christ to give witness to the Good News.

To whom is Jesus sending us to prepare them to meet him?

Perhaps it’s someone in our own home; or a colleague, friend or relative? Perhaps a stranger in distress?

The harvest is plentiful. There are many people who are ripe and ready for the harvest; waiting for one of us, labourers and disciples of Jesus, to tell them about the Good News of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

We don’t need extra study or training or more time before we respond to God’s call. All we need is trust in the Holy Spirit to do the work through us.

This can seem so formidable and yet it can be so simple.

An example might illustrate this more clearly.

About 25 years ago, long before I was ordained to the deaconate, a work colleague asked me to visit his sister Beryl who had worked for me when we were both much younger and who was dying of colon cancer at St Luke’s hospice.

I hadn’t seen her in over fifteen years. I had an aversion to hospitals; a fear that went back to a traumatic experience I’d had as a child. Beryl’s family were members of the Moravian Church and I didn’t know how they felt about Catholics. I didn’t know what was expected of me and I was scared that I’d let down my colleague and the family or embarrass myself or them.

I sat in my car in the carpark at St Luke’s overwhelmed by fear and anxiety and I remember praying “Holy Spirit you have to do this because I know I can’t”.

When I entered Beryl’s room many of her family were there; her husband, children, parents, siblings. Other than the brother who worked with me, I knew a few of them only by sight.

They greeted me quietly and moved aside to let me be with her.

I hardly recognised Beryl in her emaciated state and I’m not sure she knew who I was.  I don’t remember much of what happened but I know that I sat and held her hand as I read to her, gently, from the Bible that was at her bedside. As I took my leave I kissed her on the forehead and cheek whispering words of consolation and hope. She died a few hours later.

I left her room in a state of shock and wonder at what had just happened and I wept profusely when I got back to my car.

Her brother told me some days later that my visit had brought the family much comfort and a sense of peace. That’s undoubtedly the work of the Holy Spirit.

I’m sure many of us have had similar experiences; experiences that visibly demonstrate the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. And yet our stubborn ego-driven pride continues to get in the way of the Holy Spirit as we rely on our own resources; talents, intelligence, education and experience, to muddle our way through this hostile world.

It’s pride that Jesus is talking about when he says “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” He warns the joyfully returned seventy others not to boast of their accomplishments but to rejoice because they have born witness to him and their place in heaven is assured.

It’s a formidable mission but if we can see past our pride, everything is possible.

We need keep our eyes on Jesus, relying on the Holy Spirit to guide us and use our gifts and talents and education and experience and time to make the reality of the Holy Spirit in our lives, a reality in the lives of all those we touch with our love; the love of Christ.

That’s what it means to labour in our Father’s harvest.

The Most Holy Trinity

Cycle C
16th June 2019
Romans: 5:1-5
Tony van Vuuren

I am not given to telling stories in my sermons, but I was reminded that I was due to preach on the Holy Trinity when I read David Biggs’ Last Laugh column in the Argus last week.

Three farmers were sitting in the local agricultural co-op chatting about this and that, and the talk turned to religion and the merits of various faiths. The oldest was very quiet so he was asked, “so what do you think Oom Hennie?’
“Well there are three roads leading to the grain elevator,” he said, “and when you arrive there, they are not going to ask you which road you came by. They’ll only be interested in the quality of your grain.”

Moving through the three special feasts culminating in the Holy Trinity this weekend we might review what the impact of this period has been on the quality of our faith? On the Ascension we celebrated Jesus’ return to his Father’s side.

Pentecost fulfilled Jesus’ promise that he would not leave us on our own to struggle in a contrary world of rejection and indifference. Today we celebrate the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity, our belief that God is One and yet Three Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, One in Three and Three in One.

This is something so wonderful and sublime that the human mind cannot pretend to comprehend the full meaning of the mystery, which nonetheless is the cause of our hope as followers of Jesus Christ. Even St Augustine once stated that it is impossible to fill the human mind with the immensity of the mystery of the Holy Trinity.

Paul’s letter to the Roman Christians begins with a double reassurance. Paul wants to make sure that, as we undergo the daily trials that test our faith, we can be confident that we don’t have to go through them on our own. Jesus is the lens through which Paul interprets the Trinity.

Paul writes; “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” That’s where it begins for us, doesn’t it? It is not about what we did to please God; but that God has first been pleased with us. This love of God; it is not “our love of God” but rather, “God’s love of us.” Paul tells us that through sufferings, endurance, the forming of character and hope, God’s love is poured into our hearts through the indwelling Holy Spirit.
God, in Jesus, has “justified” us. The term “justification” is the Bible’s assurance that we have been put in a right relationship with God. The first effect of justification is the Christian experience of peace. This is a peace that anxieties cannot upset, a hope that knows no disappointment, and a confidence of salvation of which any Christian can truly boast.

So how do we get this “righteousness,” or “justification”? Well, we can never earn it according to Paul. Instead, as he has often said, we are set right with God through faith. But it does not end there, in complacency. Instead, the faith we have received urges us to respond to our neighbour as Jesus did.

God, our Creator, has in Jesus shone the divine face of love and forgiveness on us. He has revealed His unsurpassing, unlimiting and unearned love for us. He has also gifted us with the Spirit, the life force within us, that moves us to accept Jesus into our lives by faith and to respond to the Spirit’s urging to be as Christ was in the world.
All the gifts that we receive from God, be it His grace, faith, hope, peace, justification, they are bestowed upon us through the Blessed Trinity. It is by the grace of God through the power of the Holy Spirit in the Name of Jesus that God manifests His love in us, with us and through us. God’s love for us gives us courage in all the difficulties of life.

We are each being invited to engage more than the mind as we ponder the mystery of our living under the watchful care of the Holy Trinity. St Benedict expressed it beautifully when he said that we are invited to open “the ears of our heart,” in order to comprehend, to the degree that we can, the greatness of our God.
While living this life, we will never understand fully the God who saves us, but that is no reason to give up in our search for God, and our ardent pursuit of God’s will for our life, as well as our proclamation of the Gospel by the life we live.

The Gospel reassures us that God is Love, and whoever lives in love lives in God and God in the one who loves. Let us put God in the centre of our existence and go to Him frequently in prayer, in praise, as well as adoration, supplication, and thanksgiving for giving nourishment and encouragement for our daily existence.

We form a family with God. As the Trinity dwells in unity, we are called to do likewise. May we never cease to thank our God for the gifts we have received and may we remain today and always united to the Holy Trinity, our One God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The Fruits of the Holy Spirit

Pentecost

Year C 2019

Deacon Les Ruhrmund

Last Sunday afternoon, I was relaxing in my study reading when my 6 year old Grandson Joshua came bouncing in and out of the blue with very serious intent asked “Papa, where is the Holy Spirit?”

Indeed a pertinent question on today’s feast of Pentecost which brings our Easter celebrations to a close; a grand finale.

Christ’s Passover celebrated 50 days ago is fulfilled in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost; the full revelation of the Holy Trinity; the birth of the Church.

In the first reading’s account of Pentecost in the Acts of the Apostles, Luke is trying to describe an event that is completely outside his experience and frame of reference and he uses strong imagery that helps make the event somewhat comprehensible to his audience and to us. We are familiar with the elements of wind and fire.

Quoting Fr Francis Fernandez, a contemporary Spanish priest and author: “The rushing wind on the day of Pentecost expresses the new force with which divine love invades the church and souls.”

 We cannot see the wind but we can see it’s effect and feel its presence; invisible, sometimes gently and other times extraordinary powerful.

The tongues of fire gave the apostles in the upper room the power to preach and proclaim the news of the Risen Christ in every language “from every nation under heaven”. And the Word spread like wildfire – uncontainable.

In our world today, in our enthusiasm or reluctance to spread the Good News of the Risen Christ, we kindle or kerb the fire of the Holy Spirit.

Coming back to Josh’s question: Where is the Holy Spirit?

We find the Holy Spirit in ourselves and in each other in our actions; in the fruits of the Spirit that we offer to the world and to God.

St Paul writing to the Galatians in chapter 5 (v22, 23) lists nine fruits of the Holy Spirit. Where we find these fruits, we find the tangible presence of the Holy Spirit.

And so we could look at our lives and ask whether we are witnesses to the power of Pentecost in the ways in which we behaviour, think and treat others.

The first and most obvious fruit is love.

Do we love all of God’s people and creation or do we pick and choose and love only those whom we consider worthy of our love? Perhaps only love those who speak our language or are the same colour or creed? Perhaps we only love those whose lifestyle resembles our own or those who meet our standards of moral behaviour?

Love is a choice, not a feeling.

Where we find unconditional love, we find the Holy Spirit.

The second fruit is joy.

Joy isn’t the same as happiness which comes and goes depending on whether things are going well or not.

Joy is the always present certainty in our hearts that we are God’s beloved and that there’s a place waiting for us in his kingdom when this pilgrimage is over.

Where we find that joy, we find the Holy Spirit.

Then we come to peace.

This isn’t the peace that suggests the lack of war or violence. This is the inner peace amid the turmoil, cruelty, violence and corruption that we find in the world around us; a peace in response to God’s ever present grace in our lives in the certainty of salvation.

Where we find this peace, we find the Holy Spirit.

The next fruit is kindness.

In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (Eph 4:31) he writes “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each another, just as God in Christ forgave you” 

Where we find a kind heart and a compassionate, caring tongue, we find the Holy Spirit.

Goodness, the next fruit, is the opposite of badness or evil.

Paul suggests that goodness doesn’t come to us naturally.  In other words, we find it easier to yield to our human nature in our sexual behaviour, jealousy, envy, selfishness, over indulgence, etc. than we do to emulate the goodness of God.

Where we absence of evil, we find the Holy Spirit.

Faithfulness is another fruit that seriously tests our human nature; particularly in our relationships; with God, our spouses, families, friends, colleagues, neighbour.

Very simply, faithfulness is holding true to our promises.

In Baptism and Confirmation we promise to reject Satan and all his works and empty promises; and yet we are so easily seduced by a world driven by the illusion that when we get just a little more than we have, we’ll find happiness; that our personal pleasure, needs and desires are paramount; and in the process our promises to God and each other are compromised.

Where we find faithfulness, we find the Holy Spirit.

Humility is also a tough fruit to produce.

Saint Teresa of Calcutta once said “If you are humble nothing will touch you, neither praise nor disgrace, because you know what you are.”

Here are a few pointers:

Humility is:

  • Accepting humiliations
  • Obeying legitimate authority
  • Physically kneeling in prayer
  • Thinking of others before ourselves
  • Not looking for recognition for our good deeds
  • Seeking forgiveness and saying I’m sorry to those we have hurt
  • Admitting our mistakes and weaknesses before God in the Sacrament of Confession

 Patience, another fruit, is more than keeping our cool when we are frustrated.

There’s a lovely verse in Psalm 37 that reads “Be still before the Lord; wait for him.”

When we learn to be still we are not controlled by impatience which feeds anger, irritation and annoyance. We often lose our patience because we want to control the situation; we want things to be done our way.

A verse from Ecclesiastes (Ecc7:9) says:   Do not be quickly provoked in your spirit, for anger resides in the lap of fools.

And finally, self-control.

In 1 Corinthians (9:25), Paul plays on the idea of self-control by remarking that, if athletes can exercise discipline—or self-control —in order to win a wreath that will wither, Christians should be able to exercise the self-control required to win the greatest prize of all; eternal life.

We could ask ourselves how we let our lack of self-control influence our lives. Do we eat or drink more than we should? Are we addicted to cigarettes, or alcohol or drugs or pornography or social media, video games, etc.?

Self-control is a fruit of the Holy Spirit and a gift from God, not something we figure out or achieve by ourselves.

Self-control isn’t always saying ‘ No!”

It also means saying ‘Yes!”

Yes – I will pray more

Yes – I will love more

Yes – I will produce more fruits born of the Holy Spirit.

——————

“Love one another even as I have loved you”

5th SUNDAY OF EASTER
CYCLE C
19TH MAY 2019
Rev Tony van Vuuren.

Carrying out this new commandment is the centre of Christian life; the standard and pattern of Jesus’ life has to be the standard and pattern of our lives as well. Love is one of the great preoccupations of life.

Personal relationships, and the warmth and security they provide, are a refuge from an outside world which is in many aspects uncaring and devoid of love. There’s a hint of desperation in the efforts of some people to avoid being left “on their own”, which suggests that there’s an element in our culture which generates loneliness or fails to meet the human need for meaningful companionship and communication with each other.

There are many TV reality shows that illustrate this sad need. The way the Christian gospel understands love, and the way that our society in general understands it, are often two different things. One basic distinction between our Christian outlook and the outlook of non-believers is that along with Christ, and along with all the authors of the Bible, we see God as being the original source of love. Saint John says elsewhere in his Gospel; “God is love, and whoever lives in love lives in God, and God lives in him”.

Love is not something we create out of the resources of our own human nature. Human nature can be pretty brutal and unloving. The world news is always full of stories that show the depths of loveless behaviour that human beings are capable of sinking to. For us, as believers, love is the spark of divine life in each of us that permeates our whole character and personality and our behaviour more and more deeply. We don’t keep God’s commandments so that he will love us; we do so because He loves us!
To become less self-centred, and to direct ourselves more towards other people and their concerns, is really the main sign of genuine conversion, in our Christian understanding. The main impact God has on us, and the main way that he draws us into his own life, is by way of this conversion. And the person who is genuinely trying to seek God and to be open to God’s influence in their life recognises this.
The second big difference between Christ’s notion of love, and the way our culture understands it, is that for Christ it’s mainly a matter of will, not a matter of feelings or emotions.

Christian love is more to do with a kind of reverence for others as fellow sons and daughters of God and a practical dedication to their welfare as spiritual beings. The ethos of Christian community life takes shape when every individual takes this attitude to everyone else: when each serves the others.

But this takes place in our wills, not in our feelings. Christian love doesn’t mean getting deeply emotionally involved with everyone that we meet. That’s not humanly possible. It’s not what Christ did himself and it’s not what he asks us to do. The effort we make to show concern and to give comfort to people when they’re vulnerable is certainly a way of showing genuine Christian love – but it’s not necessary to link up our own personal emotions with people’s anxiety or their grief. We can identify with people when they’ve suffered a loss, but that’s not the same as actually feeling the loss ourselves.
When people are distressed it’s far more helpful to express sympathy in a down-to-earth way. They don’t need to be bombarded with a lot of gushy stuff about how we’re totally devastated and won’t be able to sleep and how we’ll be worrying about them all week. The main fault of that is that it’s really a form of self-indulgence. It’s not actually directed to the welfare of the other person at all. And as Christians we’re supposed to root out self-indulgent tendencies, not cultivate them.

So if that’s not what Christ’s new commandment is about, may I suggest two simple ways that we can carry out this instruction that Jesus gives us in the gospel today. The first way is to surrender some of our own demands and ambitions about what we want out of life, and attend more to serving other people – not in grand gestures of self-sacrifice, but in small and manageable ways instead.
Maybe being more generous to people with our time and attention. When we do that, all our small actions build up into a habit, and we begin to assume the overall pattern of love and service that Christ puts to his followers as the way of living in communion with God.

Something else we can do, as an act of Christian love, is: we can pray for people. God wants us to turn to him with our own needs as well as with other people’s needs, because he wants us to communicate with him constantly about the plans and activities that we’re involved in.

If we can get into the habit of praying for other people – asking God in ordinary language to make himself present in their lives and help them in whatever way they need – then he also makes himself more present to us, and changes us, at the same time. He makes us gradually more detached from our own wants and desires, he changes our priorities and our sense of what’s important, and he reinforces this whole attitude of concern and service to others.

When we refuse to love, we build a wall around ourselves. But we ourselves are the first to suffer. We condemn ourselves to a winter of loneliness and unhappiness But when we love, the wall falls down. We open ourselves to others. And we ourselves are the first to benefit. We experience a springtime of friendship, goodwill, peace and joy.

“Love one another even as I have loved you.” That sums it all up.

Divine Mercy

Deacon Les Ruhrmund

28 April 2019

Its 19 years since Pope John Paul II – now St John Paul II – canonised the Polish nun, St Faustina Kowalska and on that occasion in 2000 proclaimed that the Second Sunday of Easter would in future be celebrated as Divine Mercy Sunday. It seems fitting that he died on the night of the vigil before Divine Mercy Sunday, in 2005.

Quoting from St Faustina’s diaries written between 1934-1937, she writes that she heard Jesus say:

My daughter, tell the whole world about my Inconceivable mercy. Everything that exists has come forth from the very depths of my most tender mercy. It is my desire that it be solemnly celebrated on the first Sunday after Easter. I desire that the Feast of Mercy be a refuge and shelter for all souls. I pour out a whole ocean of graces upon those souls who approach the fount of my mercy. 

Let no soul fear to draw near to me, even though its sins be as scarlet. My mercy is so great that no mind, be it of man or of angel, will be able to fathom it throughout all eternity.

In her diary, St. Faustina described an image revealed to her of the risen Lord, with two rays shining from his heart: red representing blood and white symbolizing water, with the words “Jesus, I trust in you” underneath.

As beautiful as is the artist’s rendition of the image that she described, apparently on seeing the painting she wept and exclaimed, “Who would paint You as beautiful as You are?” Jesus replied, “Not in the beauty of the colour, nor of the brush lies the greatness of this image, but in My grace.”

The Feast has become increasingly popular and it’s not uncommon today to see the image of Divine Mercy displayed permanently and prominently in churches and cathedrals around the world.

The devotion to divine mercy is not something new but rather serves to further highlight and animate the virtue of trust in God’s love and mercy that finds its fulfillment in the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist.

Faustina was born into a poor peasant family in a remote village in Poland in 1905; the third eldest of ten children. She only had a very basic education and started working as a housemaid in her early teens to help support her family.

She had a calling to a religious life from a very young age and following a vision she had of a suffering Jesus when she was 19 she caught a train and traveled to Warsaw (about 85kms) to join a convent without telling her parents and taking with her nothing but the dress she was wearing.

She approached several convents in Warsaw, but was turned down every time. In one case being told that “we do not accept maids here.”

A kindly parish priest found her accommodation with a parishioner while she searched for a convent that would accept her.

After many weeks, she was accepted into a convent but only on condition that she could pay for her religious habit.

She worked for a year as a housemaid to save money, making regular deposits at the convent towards the cost of her religious clothing until she was finally admitted at the age of 20. She took her first vows when she was 22 and when she took her final vows at the age of 26, her health was already deteriorating (probably tuberculosis).

Faustina spent most of her convent life in the kitchen working as a cook or in the garden growing vegetables. She was 33 years old when she died.

Before her death in 1938 Faustina predicted that “there will be a war, a terrible, terrible war” and asked the nuns to pray for Poland. A year later Poland was invaded by Hitler’s troops marking the beginning of WWII.

The focus of the Divine Mercy image is the Risen Christ’s wounded body; the source of the rays of light being his heart pierced on the cross.  And we find a similar emphasis in our reading from John’s Gospel.

The disciples were only glad to see Jesus on Easter Sunday after he had shown them his wounded hands and side and a week later, Thomas says “Unless I place my fingers in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

Can we blame Thomas for his disbelief? The horror and disillusionment of Good Friday had not yet been transformed in his life by the light of Easter.

The mercy of God comes to Thomas as it comes to us through Christ’s wounds.

We are all wounded. We may not necessarily carry visible scars on our bodies but we have been wounded in many ways.

We carry the wounds of relationships that have hurt us, perhaps physical illness or disease, unfulfilled dreams and broken promises; addictions, frustrations and disappointments; wounded by the harsh realities and hardships of life.

When we bring our wounds to Jesus in the sacrament of confession, instituted by Jesus on Easter Sunday, our very wounds become the entrance, the opening, through which flows his merciful love. And we experience the peace and the joy that Christ offers us; the peace that Jesus offered the disciples when he appeared to them on Easter Sunday.

Acts of terror as we’ve witnessed recently in New Zealand and Sri Lanka, incessant religious wars, violence within our own communities and families, sickness, disease and enduring poverty put our faith to the test.

And yet, Easter reminds us that there is something more powerful than suffering and death: the love of God who, in Christ, has taken upon himself our broken humanity.

This is the mystery we celebrate on this Feast of Divine Mercy.

Pope Benedict XVI speaking in 2007 said: “Thomas has received from the Lord, and has in turn transmitted to the Church, the gift of faith put to the test by the passion and death of Jesus and confirmed by meeting him risen. His faith was almost dead but was born again thanks to his touching the wounds of Christ, those wounds that the Risen One did not hide but showed, and continues to point out to us in the trials and sufferings of every human being.”

In the image revealed to St Faustina, Jesus points to his wounded heart and offers us the grace of his divine mercy.

We would be foolish to ignore it.

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