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.

Amen.

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.

The Baptism of the Lord

Year A 12th January 2020

Deacon Les Ruhrmund

The feast of the Baptism of the Lord could be considered the first Sunday in Ordinary Time.

The liturgical cycle began in December last year with Advent followed by the Christmas Season and the Feast of the Epiphany. We now have six weeks of ordinary time ahead of us before we start the season of Lent on Ash Wednesday, the 26th February.

The day of Jesus’ baptism is one of the pivotal moments in his life.

It marks the beginning of what we traditionally call his “Public Life;” the three years in which Jesus travelled the roads of Galilee and Judea, preaching, teaching, healing, revealing the compassion, mercy and love of God and revealing his divinity as the Son of God, as the long awaited Messiah.

Up until this moment of his baptism, Jesus was known only as the son of Joseph and Mary. He was a humble carpenter, living and working in the village of Nazareth which at that time had a population of probably no more than a few hundred people; many of whom would have been related to Jesus in one way or another.

We know very little about the ‘hidden life’ of Jesus before his encounter with John the Baptist.

When John remonstrates with Jesus that it is he who should be baptised by Jesus rather than the other way round, Jesus says No! This is the right thing to do.

And so Jesus was baptised into our humanity, so that we can be baptised into his divinity.

Matthew’s Gospel tells us that ‘the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and alighting on him; and behold, a voice from heaven saying, “This is my beloved Son.”

Two incredible events are captured in these two verses of scripture.

Heaven, which had been closed to all humanity since the fall of mankind, opens for Jesus; and in the second event, the Holy Trinity is revealed in the voice of the Father, in Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit represented by the dove, resting on Jesus.

Through the extraordinary sacrament of Baptism, we have direct and full access to the Trinity that is God.

In Baptism we are ‘born again’; a spiritual rebirth into a personal relationship with God through Jesus; we are welcomed into the communion of saints.

Non-Catholics sometimes question why we encourage the baptism of babies and young children who are unable to understand the profound significance of Baptism.

One argument often offered is that it would be better to defer baptism of children until they are adults when they can make a conscious choice for themselves.

As appealing as this argument might seem, it really is inconsistent with other choices parents make for their children, in the very best interests of their children.

Parents don’t usually give their children a choice when it comes to eating healthily or eating their vegetables, learning to read and write, and living by a moral code of behaviour. They enforce these things because they know that good nutrition, literacy and ethics are essential for responsible  adulthood.

If we recognise that, from birth, a child has spiritual as well as educational, moral and physical needs, it seems irresponsible (and may I suggest even unchristian) to relegate the spiritual well being of our children to a choice they can make for themselves when they are adults.

Why would we not want to place our babies and children in the embrace of the Holy Spirit in Baptism, in union with the communion of saints?

Our children will of course have the opportunity when they are older to affirm (or not) their baptism for themselves in the sacrament of Confirmation.

Sadly, some of them may well choose against belief just as they may choose, as adults, to neglect their health, their ongoing education and the moral code that they were taught as children.

I read a story recently about a young man from Brazil who identifies so closely with his favourite soccer club, Flamengo in Rio de Janeiro , that he has covered his entire torso, from his neck to his waist, with a tattoo in the colours of the team’s jersey; broad black and red horizontal stripes. Apparently it took 32 sessions and over 90 hours with a tattoo artist to complete.

We may doubt this young man’s sanity, but we can’t doubt his commitment and witness to his support for his team. He was willing to invest his money, time, and I suggest a fair amount of pain, to demonstrate his loyalty.

In baptism we are figuratively covered in holy water and holy oil to mark us, indelibly, as followers of Jesus; certainly not as visible as a tattoo but infinitely more powerful and profound. The colours of our baptism are visible in and through our words and actions.

Perhaps as a new year’s resolution we could choose to show our Christian colours more; be more conspicuous followers and supporters of Jesus.

Choose to be more compassionate and less selfish;

more tolerant and patient and less critical;

to listen more and argue less;

to pray more and complain less;

to love more and demand less.

In Matthew’s gospel, immediately after Jesus was baptised, he went into the desert where he was tormented and tempted by the devil.

Baptism doesn’t make us immune to evil but it gives us the strength to resist it.

Unlike Jesus, we will often fall victim to the temptations of the devil who in the words of St Peter (1Peter 5:8) is prowling round us like a hungry lion looking for someone to devour.

The year ahead will bring unexpected joys, new hopes, new opportunities and undoubtedly some surprises.

There will be also struggles, sicknesses and sorrows, disappointments, anxieties and doubts.

Baptism is given to us as an unconditional gift of love and grace and is the gateway to the other Sacrament, very particularly the Eucharist and Reconciliation, to sustain and nourish us through the trials and tribulations of life.

If we choose to believe and live in that grace, notwithstanding our sorry states of unworthiness and sinfulness, we need not fear what the morrow brings.

The Holy Spirit is with us and within us, always – no more than a simple pray away.

I wish you and your loved ones a blessed 2020.