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.

The King of All Reality

The Feast of Christ the King – Cycle C

24 November 2019

Deacon Les Ruhrmund

The feast of ‘Christ the King’ was introduced into the liturgical calendar by Pope Pius XI in 1925 following the First World War at a time of growing nationalism, communism, secularism and atheism in Europe.

Popular thinking at that time was that Christians must keep their religious believes and practices to themselves and give their highest allegiance to the state. The pope was insisting that the church had a right to freedom and immunity from the state, that leaders of nations must give respect to Christ and that the faithful must let Christ reign in every part of their lives – at home, at work, at play, socially and politically; everywhere.

The reign of Christ the King has no borders.

Pope Saint Paul VI expanded the name of the feast to “King of the Universe” in 1969 to emphasise that Christ is not just a King of Hearts, a teacher, a guide or comforter for humanity but that God encompasses all of reality, not just our human reality.

St Paul in the 2nd reading today taken from the opening chapter of his letter to the Colossians says that “In (Jesus) all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible; all things were created through him and for him.”

We repeat very similar words when we say the Nicene Creed “I believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible ……. Through him all things were made.”

Jesus is the source of all reality. He is the source of all creation. That includes all the planets, stars, black holes and galaxies in the darkest reaches of space and the evolution of life and all species that come together to make our perfect planet.

He is the source of everything.

Sometimes our faith in creation is challenged by new discoveries in science but I think science serves not to prove our faith redundant but rather reveals further the unimaginable immensity, wonder and mystery of God.

It’s impossible to explain music, laughter, morals, language, and even religion purely through science. While science takes things apart to see how they work, religion puts them together to see what they mean.

I’m reading Bill Bryson’s recently published book “The Body: A guide for Occupants” which I’m finding both entertaining and absolutely fascinating. The book illustrates the almost incomprehensible complexity of our bodies and also clearly brings into question the nonsensical idea that the body is a product of its own making and design; the bottom up philosophy expounded by atheists.

He writes “According to the Royal Society of Chemistry’s calculations (as part of the 2013 Cambridge Science Festival) fifty-nine elements are needed to construct a human being.”

“Unquestionably the most astounding thing about us is that we are a collection of inert components, the same stuff you would find in a pile of dirt. The only thing special about the elements that make you is that they make you. That is the miracle of life.”

The transition from being a lifeless element to being a living organism is beyond the power of science.

The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe marks the end of the liturgical year.

Next week we start Advent in Year A in our three year cycle and today’s feast brings together everything that we have celebrated in the year past; Christmas, Easter and Pentecost all come together at the foot of the throne of the King of the Universe – the Cross.

Jesus, alone, abandoned, naked, pinned to the cross, people making fun of him, bleeding and dying………This is the King of Kings, God from God, Light from Light.

Looking at the Cross we realise that our notion of kingship has little to do with the kingship revealed by Jesus.

In the Gospel reading today the Jewish authorities scoffed at Jesus on the cross and challenged him to save himself. The soldiers who had crucified him mocked Jesus and taunted him to save himself. One of the criminals hanging next to him railed at him to save himself.

In our world if we have enough money, or influence, or connections we can save ourselves from just about any situation. The King of Kings, the very source of life, gives up his life to save us – out of love.

Jesus reveals to us what it means to be part of his kingdom and he shows us how to exercise our power and our kingship as anointed and sent disciples.

We are made in the image of God meant to rule the world with God’s purposes – compassion, healing, tolerance, kindness, forgiveness, justice, generosity and mercy.

The power that is the source of all creation, the power that holds everything together, is the power of self-giving love.

If we want to experience that power, we need to spend less time trying to save ourselves and more time saving others; stop focusing exclusively on our own needs and focus on the needy.

If we want to live in the power that makes and holds the universe together, we need only reach out and touch someone with a simple act of love.

All Saints

Cycle C
Sunday 3rd November
Matthew 5:1-12
Rev Tony van Vuuren

Sometimes we have to ask ourselves: do I really believe? And we have to remind ourselves that believing is not feeling. Sometimes we feel our belief and sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we feel as if we believe in nothing. Yet feeling is not believing. Feeling is about what we feel, not about what we have decided is the ultimate truth.

God calls each of us to share in his holiness. But how are we supposed to behave in order for us to be able to share in his holiness? The Eight Beatitudes as outlined in Matthew’s gospel – the eight blessings or gifts which, according to Jesus, marks out those who belong to God’s Kingdom; are our guideline.

The Beatitudes are a Disciple’s Charter for the followers of Christ, a guide for ordinary disciples like you and me who aspire to be saints. Those eight gifts are; poor in spirit, mourning, meek, seeking righteousness, merciful, clean of heart, peacemakers and accepting persecution.

They show us where true human fulfilment lies, and all of them stand in opposition to various false ideals of happiness that we chase after in our day just as much as anyone in Christ’s time. In his book “Jesus of Nazareth,” Pope Benedict wrote that The Beatitudes amount to nothing less than a self-portrait by Christ. In the meek, the merciful, the clean of heart, the persecuted…Jesus is, in fact, describing himself. And by extension, he is describing his vision for us, his followers. They give us the guidelines of how we are supposed to behave, as we wait to meet Christ as he really is?

The logic of the Beatitudes is different from the logic of the world where personal success, celebrity status and wealth are so often looked on as the face of achievement. We all know that personal success is important and satisfying; but we also know that there are many moments in our lives when we need to be helped and supported and carried.

The people we officially call the saints, those who have been canonised and are recognised in the Church’s calendar, are the people who were most like Christ during their lives. They were the people who took this Disciple’s Charter to heart, and today’s feast is their celebration. But it’s also ours, because what they are is what we’re all called to.

The Feast of All Saints, when it comes round every year is there to remind us of that, and to inspire each of us to greater sanctity, by putting into the practice, as consistently as we can; the articles of the charter that Christ gave us. And keep praying that they may help us become, in every sense, “practicing” Catholics — practicing until we get it right!

If we take the time to examine the details of the canonised saints’ life-stories, we find their example encouraging in our own spiritual struggles and difficulties. Their example inspires us to persevere in our own vocation to holiness, because it shows how holiness has been possible for human beings who were often weak, selfish, bad-tempered, jealous, greedy, etc., etc. – just like ourselves. As the prayers in today’s Mass say, the saints give us hope.

Realistically speaking, of course, it would take most of us a whole lifetime, and beyond, to even come close to embodying all these qualities as laid out so clearly in Mathew’s gospel.

Fortunately, the Beatitudes aren’t intended to be a list of demands where Christ says, “right, this is the minimum you’re expected to achieve. Shape up or ship out”. The Beatitudes point us in the way we need to go, keeping us from straying off in the wrong direction.

The Feast of All Saints therefore is not just about the next world. It is about the way we are called to live today. The Beatitudes do not encourage us to sit back and do nothing. Being a Christian means belonging to a communion; one cannot be an isolated Christian, just caring for and thinking about oneself.

Far too often we think of saints as those people who are really good and holy, and that we are not among them. We easily forget that we are all called to be saints and to live our lives completely for God.

The more we try to adapt our way of life according to these Beatitudes, and the more we treat others according to these principles, the more God becomes active in our lives and draws us on. And the more God draws us on, the more our character and way of life take on the pattern of the Beatitudes.

The Communion of Saints is about the link with those who have gone before us, but the doctrine of the Communion of the Saints also demands that we look towards those who are beside us. It demands that we become saints to those around us – our children, our spouses, our community, our society – showing what it means to be the Church, what it means to use the gifts and to witness to the love and the mercy of God revealed in Jesus Christ……..the Ultimate Truth!!

So if we pray for anything today in connection with the feast of All Saints let’s pray that we get rid of any weary or defeatist notion that holiness is alright for some special people, but it’s not for us.

Let’s pray that we discover – or maybe re-discover – some of the holy men and women of the past and that we’ll be inspired by their example

Glorify the Lord by your life

20th October 2019

World Mission Sunday

Deacon Les Ruhrmund

Pope Francis has invited us to celebrate this month of October as an Extraordinary Month of Mission and this weekend we celebrate World Mission Day.

I don’t know what do you do when you want to distract yourself from doing some pressing task (but you still want to maintain the illusion of productivity) but I go to the Amazon website on my iPad and search for new book titles.

So on Monday I typed in the words ‘Christian Mission’ on the Amazon website and within seconds had a list that went on for over 400 pages of books with ‘Christian Mission’ somewhere in the title.

I obviously wasn’t going to be able to do any justice to this list before the weekend but while I was browsing, I was happy to come across a video on YouTube posted by Pope Francis three weeks ago in which he says:

‘Today, a new impulse to the Church’s missionary activity is needed to face the challenge of proclaiming Jesus and his death and resurrection. Reaching the peripheries—the human, cultural, and religious settings still foreign to the Gospel: this is what we call the missio ad gentes. We must also remember that the soul of the Church’s mission is prayer. In this extraordinary missionary month, let us pray that the Holy Spirit may engender a new missionary spring for all those baptized and sent by Christ’s Church.”

If we’re looking to sum up the mission in one sentence, we need go no further than a verse from Mark’s Gospel (Mk 16:15):  “Go into the whole world and preach the gospel to all creation”

This missionary mandate touches each one of us personally: Each of us is a mission to the world; we are baptised and sent; sent to proclaim the good news of the Risen Lord to the world.

I am a mission; you are a mission; every baptized man and woman is a mission. That is the purpose and reason for our life on earth.

The Church is the servant of the mission. It is not the Church that makes the mission, but the mission that makes the Church.

The dismissal at the end of Mass is: “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.”    That’s our mission.

And we are sustained and nourished in our mission by prayer.                                            Prayer is the most intimate relationship we have with God.                                            Prayer is the heart of our mission and it is prayer that keeps our mission at the centre of our lives.

In the opening verse of today’s Gospel “Jesus told his disciples a parable, to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.” (Lk 18:1)

The parable tells of a widowed woman who has been denied the right to justice by a corrupt judge. The judge would have been appointed by Rome or by Herod and had little sympathy for the rights of a poor Jewish woman.

The dishonest judge is worn down by the widow’s ceaseless pleas for justice.                   He has no real interest in justice but he gives in to her because of her persistence.

The message of the parable is that if a crooked judge who respects no one will grant justice to a widow because of her persistence, how much more will a loving and just Father God give to us, his beloved, who persistently ask in prayer.

Only through perseverance in prayer can we make progress in our spiritual lives and become fully the people God has created us to be.

Prayer is not always easy but then sometimes our attempts at prayer are a little misguided.

Sometimes we try praying every day because we know that it’s what God wants of us. We put in the time out of a sense of obligation. If our motivation does not go beyond a feeling of obligation, we are not likely to persevere. Prayer becomes difficult and we’re likely to give up.

Or we might only pray when we desperately need something from God. Our desperation brings us to our knees and we storm heaven with our petitions. If our motivation does not go beyond a cry for things to be done as we want them to be done, we’re likely to stop praying once we’re either happy that our prayers have been answered or stop praying because we’re not satisfied with God’s response.

Prayers don’t and can’t change God – they change us.

We know within our deepest being what needs to change in our lives.

We know what needs recrafting or reshaping in us and when we take that to God in prayer, we are more likely to grow closer to God than we will through obligation or anxiety.                                                                                                                                              And we’re less likely to lose heart.

Praying every day means talking to God anywhere at any time about anything.

We pray to love more and judge less.

We pray to nourish and sustain us on our mission as disciples of Jesus Christ.

Today’s gospel concludes with a frightening question from Jesus.

He asks “ When the Son of man comes will he find faith on earth?”

Jesus is not asking for a yes or no answer but rather urging his followers to preserve to the end, remaining faithful to prayer.

Without prayer, the terrifying prospect of an atheist world becomes a real possibility.

In this coming week, I believe that every one of us will have an opportunity, somewhere at some time, to proclaim our faith to someone.

For each of us the circumstances and situation will be different; often unexpected.

The way in which we reveal our love for Jesus and his Church will also be different for each of us.

But if we’re open to this possibility, we’ll recognise the opportunity when it comes; an opportunity undoubtedly prompted by the Holy Spirit.

We are baptised and sent.

Let us pray for the courage and humility to be Christ’s missionaries in our families, work places and communities; glorifying the Lord by our lives.

The Holy Archangels

29th SEPTEMBER 2019.
John 1: 47-51
Rev Tony van Vuuren

St Michael: “Who is like God?”

How often do you think about angels and the influence they have in your life? In some ways, thanks to the unsettled world that we are experiencing, it is easier to accept the reality of Satan and his cohort of fallen angels, than it is to recognize the influence in our lives of the heavenly spiritual bodies, who remain faithful to God. As we celebrate the feast of the three Holy Archangels today we should also consider the role of all angels. Angels are literally “spiritual messengers”.

St Augustine declared that if you seek the name of their office, it is angel; if you seek the name of their nature, it is spirit. They have been present since creation, serving as heralds of the divine plan. God sends angels to announce the divine will; to rebuke, encourage, assist, punish and teach; and to execute divine judgement. They serve as key mediators between God and man. If they are called to help advance God’s kingdom, it’s not unthinkable that angels would have a role to play in our lives —- so called, our guardian angel. St Jerome said that each one of us has an angel to help and guide us and inspire us with the greatness of God.

The functions of the three Archangels whom we venerate this weekend correspond to three major thrusts of Jesus’ ministry on earth; announcing good news, healing the sick and delivering the oppressed. They are particularly important to us in the Christian life, both for the messages they have brought from God to mankind, as well as for the examples they provide us in what it means to be holy; a quality which we surely all strive for in our Christian life.

Michael – meaning “Who is like God?” … serves as the leader of God’s holy angels; whose name is their war cry against Satan and his followers. As one of the chief princes of heaven, Saint Michael wields the strength of God to lead heaven’s powers in victory over the forces of hell. He is the defender of Holy Mother Church and stands ready to help us in both our personal and collective battles against the forces of the Satan. The reading from Revelation gives us a dramatic account of the power of St Michael on his mission.

Our parish is indeed honoured to have such a powerful patron and we should all make daily use of his patronage, saying at least the prayer to St Michael, instituted by Pope Leo XIII in 1899.

Gabriel, whose name means “God is Mighty”, is God’s special messenger. He announced to Mary that she would give birth to the Saviour. Raphael, whose name means “God Heals”, is associated with God’s healing power in the book of Tobit; bringing healing to Tobit and Sarah and presenting their prayers to God.(12:12)

Certain Scripture passages give us a glimpse of what the Angels’ heavenly worship is like.

In today’s Gospel Jesus describes “the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man” referring to his own baptism. The descriptions of angelic worship in the Book of Revelation provide a window for our imagination as well. And let’s not forget the heavenly chorus that announced the birth of Jesus with joyful songs of praise and glory! Amazingly, here and now at this mass, we are called to join the angels and archangels in this joyous celebration.

When we come to Mass, we witness heaven touching earth, and we mere mortals are lifted up into worship together with the rejoicing angels. At every consecration, angels descend to the altar, bringing heavenly grace and blessings. True to their name, they act as messengers. They descend to testify to the miracle that is taking place in our midst. But the angels’ ministry is not just to descend on the altar and minister to us. They also ascend to heaven, bringing glory to God. They bring the songs, hymns and prayers that we offer to our heavenly father.

But let’s face it, any time we lift our hearts to the Lord is a chance to enter into this heavenly worship. Whilst our time of personal prayer is an essential foundation for our worship, our hearts can be raised up to heaven at any time; walking down a busy street, doing whatever. Opportunities can present themselves at anytime; not just as we kneel in a quiet church, but as we cook dinner or drive to work. And there’s nothing to stop us from putting on some praise music such as John Talbot and sing along with our family.

Let’s ask the Holy Spirit to open the heavens for us so that we can join Raphael, Gabriel, Michael and all the other angels and archangels in their jubilant songs of praise.

The angels are sent to help us realize our ultimate goal of perfect communion with God in heaven. We are not in this battle alone. Maybe we need Saint Michael’s superhuman strength to battle the evils of particular temptations or sins in our life, so let us call upon him for heavenly aid! If we need Saint Gabriel as a source of heavenly power to become a better person of God, then we need to ask him for help.

If we need God’s healing of deep wounds in our life, then we should seek Saint Raphael’s assistance. May their angelic holiness inspire us and their leadership direct us to embrace, in our minds and in our hearts, that holiness which manifests the perfectly loving essence of who God is and what God does, so that we might be transformed more fully — as individuals and as a Christian community.

   The Cost Of Discipleship

23rd Ordinary Sunday.
Cycle C
8th September 2019.
Rev Tony van Vuuren

There is no such thing as casual Christianity.
Jesus’ point is quite clear. Those who hear him and want to be his disciple have to first consider the cost before we decide to seriously follow him.

Pain and sacrifice are inevitably attached to committed discipleship. Do we have the resolve to keep the promise of discipleship even when it requires serious and ongoing personal commitment?

Those are some of the questions raised by today’s gospel passage, which has some harsh words. Hate is a harsh word. It has been suggested that the original Aramaic meant simply “love less than.”But that in turn is probably too weak. The real meaning is that following Jesus means the surrender of the whole of one’s life. But how could Jesus tell us to hate a beloved family member? How does what he says here match with his teachings elsewhere about loving one another as we love ourselves – our neighbour and even our enemy?

Throughout the gospel Jesus often speaks of loving others, including one’s own family. He wants us to be of one mind and heart with them; but choosing to follow Jesus in all parts of our life may expose us to hatred, ridicule, rejection and physical harm — even from our own family.

Luke wrote for a church community living in hostile, pagan places where Christians faced deadly persecution. He presents to us Jesus’ admonition to a suffering church at the time.

Today we are still suffering, albeit it under very different circumstances; the ongoing abuse, rape and murder of women and children is unprecedented. These last two weeks alone have again highlighted the extraordinary high level of abuse and femicide in our country. As a community we must stand together in prayer and solidarity with all those making their voice heard in condemning this scourge and be prepared to take a stand when we see or hear of abusive behaviour of any kind.

Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple. What does Jesus mean by this? Firstly, it means accepting that suffering is a part of our lives. Accepting our cross and giving up our lives means that, at some point, we have to make peace with the unalterable fact that frustration, disappointment, pain, misfortune, illness, unfairness, sadness, and death are a part of our lives and they must ultimately be accepted without bitterness.

Secondly, it means that we may not, in our suffering, pass on any bitterness to those around us. This does not mean that we cannot share our pain with others. But there’s a healthy way of doing this, where our sharing leaves others free, as opposed to an unhealthy kind of sharing which subtly tries to make others unhappy because we are unhappy.

Carrying our cross daily means accepting that God’s gift to us is often not what we expect. God always answers our prayers but, often times, by giving us what we really need rather than what we think we need. To carry our cross is to be open to surprise.

There are moments in the Gospels when people get excited over Jesus and begin following him. But when the way gets difficult, as Jesus predicted it would, our superficial commitment comes to light. In terms of the parable, we start to build a relationship, but cannot finish. As he has done before, Jesus calls his disciples to “renounce all their possessions.” Again, he is asking for a total response and commitment from them. They must be willing to give up the security and comfort of even their own families and to offer themselves entirely as his disciples.

That is why Jesus called the enthusiastic crowds following him to consider carefully the serious commitment they would be making in following him. Could they really follow him all the way, when it could mean giving up everything else and even result in suffering for Christ’s sake?

When we hear these challenges and all that Jesus is asking of us, don’t we feel somewhat inadequate to the task? When we actually hear what is asked of us are we tempted to throw our hands up in frustration; because we know there is a strong possibility that we will fall short of what he asks; because we know that we will inevitably still be inclined to seek out personal interests over his; we will still hunger for material comfort and possessions and not be totally willing to work for the sake of what the gospel asks.

“Who can possibly do everything that Christ asks of us? I can’t!”

None of us can on our own.

Behind all the other goals we might set ourselves in life our primary goal should be friendship with God and communion of life with him. Then, when other attachments disappoint us or betray the trust we’ve put in them, we’ll find that we can still rely on the support and strength of God’s grace. Grace is a free gift of God which enables us to share in the richness of God’s own life. Grace is also used to name the gifts that flow from this mercy or favour of God through the merits of Jesus Christ. Grace spurs us to conversion. Grace enables us to recommit ourselves.

Grace also promises us not to leave us on our own as we try to throw our whole selves into the gospel project — the “tower” we are called to construct. Grace helps us pay the complete cost of that construction project, which Jesus started and we have been called to share in finishing.

The Narrow Door

21st Sunday Ordinary Time
Cycle C
25th  August 2019
Rev Tony van Vuuren

Using a quote from this weekend’s missal intro, the question is asked; “Is our religion one of life, or one of words, rites and devotions?”In the gospel reading Jesus echoes the preaching of the Old Testament prophets when he tells his listeners that it’s more important to practice the commands of God than to offer him token gestures of allegiance and worship.

Jesus is on his preaching tour around the towns and villages and someone asks him a question about the number of people who will be saved. He was asked questions like this one many times during his ministry; but rather than preoccupation with numbers, such as “how many will be saved?”, Jesus emphasizes the more important point, namely; to make sure that we are on the path to salvation by our lives being on fire for the things of God. He has turned the question back on us: “never mind worrying about whether or not other people are going to be saved. He rather says to each of us; “Search your own conscience, and examine your own behaviour and concentrate on whether you are being open enough to God in your own life.” That’s the only thing each of us needs to feel responsible for, rather than speculating about who else is going to be saved.

Salvation, cannot be bought, inherited or stolen, but can be simply gained by a life of doing God’s will and living under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. We are incorporated into the Church through Baptism and nourished by the other Sacraments of the Church. Admittedly, it takes time and persevering work to attain the fullness of God’s Kingdom, but it is not impossible.

So when Jesus talks about “entering by the narrow door” he doesn’t mean that God has restricted salvation to a tiny number of people, an elite group. God offers his invitation to everyone, without any restrictions. But the way of life that’s involved in responding to the invitation involves some very difficult demands and sacrifices. And it’s in that sense that Jesus means that many try to enter but only a few succeed. To love as he did will not be easy.
The “narrow door” is after all an image for Jesus’ way of living and his gift of himself for us. It is a special kind of suffering and self-sacrifice he invites us to enter into. The cost of true discipleship; to forgive is a narrow door; to serve by giving time and money for those in need is a narrow door; to put aside my schedule and agenda to listen to another’s pain, is a narrow door; to live a careful and frugal life, to have less so someone can have some, is a narrow door; to speak out for those who have no power or authority, even if it makes us unpopular, is a narrow door; to work to right wrongs is a narrow door.

In the framework of the Jewish faith both John the Baptist and Jesus attacked the idea that simply being a member of the Chosen People gave them a privileged status in God’s eyes. In this passage Jesus is making that point for his followers – for us. We must look to our own quality of discipleship. Just eating and drinking in the company of Christ to use his image, (and here we can place the Eucharist) doesn’t make someone a real disciple. Just being a Sunday member of the Church isn’t equivalent to actually living the gospel. Discipleship is a total surrender and commitment to God. Making genuine contact with God, and living the effect of that contact, is more important than just wearing the label.

At the same time the opposite is also true. Luke conjures up a picture here of people who don’t have any regular direct active relationship of faith with Christ, but who get welcomed into the Kingdom because they’ve put a way of life into practice which actually expresses God’s values and attitudes. For example; a young couple contemplating marriage who are of mixed faith; EG Catholic and Methodist; yet have a fantastic spiritual bonding should not be afraid to commit to each other in a lifelong relationship that will be faith driven.

Luke’s point isn’t that there’s no value in belonging to the Christian community or taking part in its formal worship, or receiving the sacraments and so on. It’s more of an appeal not to make those things empty gestures, and an appeal to practice the substance of discipleship, and not just claim the name. The worst mistake on the spiritual path is to become complacent, presuming we are “home safe,” simply by having been baptized and confirmed. These are of course important steps on the path to salvation, but the spiritual life has to be cultivated; lived out day by day.

So those are the attitudes that Jesus is trying to persuade us to adopt in this part of his teaching: to leave any final judgements about other people’s salvation to God; to concentrate on our own following of the demands of the gospel instead; and to recognise that faith in him shows itself in concrete discipleship, not in claiming rewards and privileges on the basis of a fairly superficial acquaintance.

He will recognize us at the door if he recognizes himself in us, if he sees in us: his eyes–that saw those often unseen; his mouth–that spoke the truth and was the voice for those who had no voice in society; his hands–that reached out in care and compassion; his ears–that listened to those often unheard.
We must not settle for a life that simply gets close to Jesus by being near him according to our proximity. Rather, let’s live lives that radiate his love so that when the time comes for us to knock on the door Jesus will say — I know where you are coming from.