Author Archives: lesruhrmund

The Baptism of the Lord

Cycle c

13th January 2019

Deacon Les Ruhrmund

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

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Prepare the Way

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

We are already into the second week of Advent.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Repent.

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do we make the crooked road straight?

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

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

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

How do we fill the valleys and level the hills?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are many ways to smooth the rough path.

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

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

————

Christ the King (B) 2018

 

Solemnity of Christ the King

Cycle B

25 November 2018

Deacon Les Ruhrmund

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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