Author Archives: stmikeshomily

COMPASSION

6th SUNDAY ORDINARY TIME
CYCLE B
11th FEBRUARY 2018
Mark 1:40-45
Deacon Tony van Vuuren.

February 11th is observed in the Catholic calendar as World Day of Prayer for the Sick, an observation introduced by Pope John Paul II and first celebrated in 1993 as a way for believers to offer prayers for those suffering from illnesses. The day coincides with the commemoration of Our Lady of Lourdes.
An important opportunity for those who are faced with caring for loved ones to reflect and pray for those who are sick as well as for those who work so very hard to alleviate the sufferings of the sick.
How comforting it is, and what a relief we feel when a loved one, or a friend tells us “I’m here”. What consolation do we feel when these words become part of our lived experience, a firm inner belief that somebody is there for us.
The World Day of Prayer for the Sick is an invitation to show solidarity with the sick and suffering; reminding us of the dignity of all persons.
This year 2018, the day coincides with the Sunday Gospel reading of one of Jesus’ first healing miracles; cleansing a leper, which ironically brought the leper back into community life, but resulted in Jesus now been placed as an outcast having touched the leper.

When we see Jesus in all kinds of encounters with different people, and see how He deals with them, we are seeing, expressed in a human way so that we can understand it easily, the way in which God deals with us personally. And because the words of Jesus, and the actions of Jesus, enable us to catch a glimpse of His mind and heart – because they reveal what is really important to Him – then we are being given a glimpse into the mind and heart of God and are being helped to understand what is really important to God.

Something I think, for all of us to keep in mind each time we pick up and read the Gospels or hear them read at Mass. A good question we might ask of ourselves is this: what kind of man must Jesus have been to be able to speak like, this, or act like this? And, as we reflect on these questions and think about them more deeply, we are not just discovering what kind of man Jesus was, and is – we are discovering what kind of God we believe in.
This is what it means to say that Jesus was both true God and true man – in His humanity, His human characteristics; we are being drawn into the profound mystery of God, and especially of how God sees us, and loves us.
As we reflect on today’s Gospel, then, we see that Jesus is a man moved very deeply by compassion for people who suffer. When the man with leprosy says to Him, “Lord, if you want to, you can cure me”, Jesus responds immediately from the heart: “Of course I want to – be cured”. There is no doubt, no putting things off, no finding excuses: Jesus just responds – and responds with great compassion. We see both the divine power and the divine compassion of Jesus in this act of healing.

The divine power is necessary in all instantaneous cures. Even in the case of curable diseases nature takes its own time to bring about a healing. In this incurable illness the healing is immediate with the supernatural power placed in the healer. His compassion for the suffering person is also divine.

It is out of compassion for the whole of humanity that Jesus became incarnate and came to earth. It is out of compassion for humanity that he died on the cross.

Compassion means to suffer with, and Jesus suffers with the person who is unwell and heals him. This attitude of his makes him touch the person and accept him as he is. This is shown in his life whenever he preaches and works any miracle.
We may not be suffering the disease of leprosy but each one of us also carries wounds and scars. We may be suffering the disease of anger, or of bitterness, or of forgiveness, or of greed. What today’s Gospel assures us of, is this: if we can find within ourselves the courage to bring our frailty, our brokenness and our failure to the Lord, He will welcome us with the same compassion, the same understanding, and the same generous love with which He welcomed the leper.

In him, we will meet the God who calls to us and who offers us forgiveness, life and hope. He will help us, and heal us, in the ways that He knows are best for us – and these may be different from the ways we are looking for. But we can be sure that God who, in Jesus, revels Himself as a God of endless compassion and love, will not walk away from us, or leave us to our own devices.

All we have to do is come to Him – with honesty, with humility and with hope – just as the leper did in today’s Gospel. The question for each of us today is: am I ready to do this?

An extract from Pope Francis’ letter with reference to the 26TH World Day of Prayer for the Sick.

“The care given within families is an extraordinary witness of love for the human person; it needs to be fittingly acknowledged and supported by suitable policies. Doctors and nurses, priests, consecrated men and women, volunteers, families and all those who care for the sick, take part in this ecclesial mission. It is a shared responsibility that enriches the value of the daily service given by each.
We turn to Mary, Mother of tender love, we wish to entrust all those who are ill in body and soul, that she may sustain them in hope. We ask her also to help us to be welcoming to our sick brothers and sisters. The Church knows that she requires a special grace to live up to her evangelical task of serving the sick.

May our prayers to the Mother of God see us united in an incessant plea that every member of the Church may live with love the vocation to serve life and health.

May the Virgin Mary intercede for this Twenty-sixth World Day of Prayer for the Sick; may she help the sick to experience their suffering in communion with the Lord Jesus; and may she support all those who care for them. To all, the sick, to healthcare workers and to volunteers, I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing.”
Francis

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Speak of the devil

4th Sunday Ordinary Time
Year B
28 Jan 2018
Deacon Les Ruhrmund

The reading we’ve just heard is taken from the first chapter in Mark’s Gospel and already we have a second encounter between Jesus and the devil; the first being in the wilderness after Jesus was baptised by John.

The story of Christ’s life and ministry simply cannot be told without referring to the devil. The Apostle John, in his First Letter (3:8), sums up Jesus’ mission in these words: “Indeed, the Son of God was revealed to destroy the works of the devil.”

The devil, the power of evil, Satan is not a subject that is discussed often in our modern world but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. Perhaps it just illustrates that we live in a world in which the power of evil is enjoying some success in encouraging our egos to believe that we know what’s best for us and keeping God and God’s commandments at a safe distance from our hearts and conscience.

Perhaps the current state of world disorder, conflict, climate change, poverty and inequality are a reflection of our world’s hell-bent progress.

So what does the Church believe about the devil and evil?

A starting point would be an understanding of the Church as the Communion of Saints.
During his homily at the Confirmation Mass at St Michael’s on the Feast of All Saints in November last year, the Archbishop asked the young adults who were to be Confirmed what they understood about the Communion of Saints.

When we recite the Apostles Creed, we profess that we believe in the Communion of Saints but do we know what that means? The Confirmandee were a little uncertain in their reply and I think their sponsors were grateful and relieved that he didn’t ask them to answer the question.

The Communion of Saints refers to the unity that exists between all the members of the Church:
– The Saints in heaven
– All the believers living on earth and
– The souls in purgatory, preparing for sainthood

This communion of saints is most fully expressed and experienced in the Mass – especially at the Consecration and at Holy Communion. In those moments, heaven and earth are united. The saints, those in purgatory and we the believers are intimately connected and united at Mass because the power of Christ binds us together.

Shortly, when we receive the Blessed Sacrament, we could reflect on how we are, in that splendid moment, in union with the whole church and particularly with those we have loved who have died.

We, the believers on earth, are called the Church Militant. The word militant isn’t used in the sense that we’re at war with other religions or nationalities; we’re at war spiritually against sin and Satan. The spiritual battle is for our souls and our weapons are the grace and the Word of God in the power of the Holy Spirit. We are the warriors against evil; soldiers of Christ.

The fight for our souls is relentless. Victories over temptation and sin are often short lived and the battle soon resumes, frequently with increased intensity. St Peter in his First Letter (5:8) says: “Be sober and vigilant. Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for (someone) to devour.”

In my own life I’ve found that often following an experience when I’ve felt really close to God, soon afterwards I’m floundering in spiritual apathy and have had to fight hard to regain the ground I thought I’d won.

Lent is just over 2 weeks away and offers us a concentrated time of renewed discipline and hopefully progress in the battle.
One way to recognise evil is to see it as the direct opposite or lack of everything we know about God and our calling to love God and our neighbour.

So as God is love, evil is hatred and indifference
As God is pure, evil is impure; contaminated
As God is unchangeable, evil is mercurial
As God is righteous, evil is dishonest and corrupt
As God is truth, evil is lies and deceit
As God is wisdom, evil is foolishness; reckless and rash
As God is holy, evil is sinful
As God is generous, evil is greedy and selfish
As God is tolerant, evil is prejudiced and bigoted
As God is compassionate, evil is impervious and uncaring
As God is merciful, etc, etc

A lesson we could take from the Gospel reading is to stay close to Jesus. The objective of evil is to separate us from God. The man possessed by the unclean spirit in the synagogue was set free when the evil spirit encountered Jesus.

We stay close to Jesus through prayer and the Sacraments; the Eucharist and Reconciliation.
There is a long tradition in the Church of praying to our guardian angels every day to protect and guide us; a tradition that goes back over 1000 years.

One modern translation of an ancient prayer goes like this:
Angel sent by God to guide me,
Be my light and walk beside me,
Be my guardian and protect me,
On the paths of life direct me.
Let me finish with a quote from Blessed Cardinal Newman’s poem ‘The Dream of Gerontius’.

The departed soul of Gerontius is met by his guardian angel who greets him with these words:

My work is done
My task is o’er,
And so I come
Taking it home
For the crown is won
Alleluia
For evermore.

My Father gave
In charge to me
This child of earth
E’en from its birth
To serve and save.
Alleluia,
And saved is he.

This child of clay
To me was given,
To rear and train
By sorrow and pain
In the narrow way,
Alleluia,
From earth to heaven.

As we continue now with this Mass, surrounded by many angels and in communion with the whole church, let’s renew our commitment to being courageous soldiers of Christ, no matter how tough the battle may get.

God is not bound by Our Ideas

4th SUNDAY OF ADVENT.
Cycle B.
24th December 2017
Deacon Tony van Vuuren

Here we are celebrating the fourth Sunday of Advent and also Christmas Eve on the same day!  I feel like I’m being cheated out of a week’s worth of Advent!

Mary has hardly had time to absorb the news of her pregnancy, and baby Jesus is about to nestle into her loving arms, at least liturgically.  A reminder to us that the mysteries we celebrate and reflect on are interconnected and timeless.

In the first reading we find King David, having overcome his enemies and secured his kingdom, relaxing and dreaming of building a more suitable “dwelling for God”.

It sounded very praiseworthy and to begin with the prophet Nathan was persuaded to give the project his blessing. But David’s real motive was to glorify himself and to bolster the institution of the monarchy. What he was really planning to do, in effect, was to assume control of Israel’s religion, to contain and institutionalise God, so that the royal court could determine the way that people understood God and the way he acted in history. It was an attempt to use God to reinforce his own position as king.

According to the authors of the book of Samuel, God reacted to this by reasserting his freedom. God refuses to play up to David’s man-made image of what God should be like. Instead he reveals what he’s really like and what he wills through the words of the prophet Nathan by dissociating himself from David’s royal religion. It doesn’t matter how many other kings build fancy temples for their gods, he says. Not this God, and therefore not this King.

In the gospel passage we find Luke relating another instance of God acting in history, not in the grandiose and majestic way that we might think is appropriate for the deity, but in his own free and unpredictable way.

It so happened that at the time when the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that God had chosen her to bear his Son the Messiah, the latest King; King Herod, was in the middle of building another vast Temple in Jerusalem.

Again, although the ostensible idea was to glorify God, Herod had his own political reasons for building a new Temple. And while all that was going on, God’s greatest revelation of himself was taking place somewhere else, far away from Herod’s inflated schemes, in conditions that were far removed from what conventional religion would have considered appropriate or acceptable.
First of all, God chose to appear, and to become human, not in Jerusalem, in the great capital and religious centre of Israel, but in Nazareth, a tiny, obscure town of about 150 people in Galilee.

From the point of view of respectable religion, the town had a bad name. The people there had a reputation of being lapsed, as we might say, and of being infected with pagan ideas and practices. That was why later on in Jesus’ ministry, people laughed when they heard that he came from Nazareth. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” was the rhetorical question.

Second, the fact that God chose to communicate his plan of salvation first of all to a woman would have been offensive to pious and respectable Jews of the time. In Jewish society at that time women didn’t have any real rights of citizenship or legal status. Last of all, the idea of the long-awaited Messiah being conceived outside of marriage – which is after all what happened – would also have been an affront to conventional attitudes.

Even in the slack religious atmosphere of Nazareth Mary would have been in danger of being stoned as an adulteress, if Joseph hadn’t promised to marry her so quickly.

So the lesson of these readings, it seems to me, is a lesson about God’s freedom to act in the way that he thinks best. God isn’t compelled to act through channels that we deem appropriate, or appear in the places we dictate.

Whenever God has wanted to communicate something more about himself, he’s never felt that he had to conform to our human expectations of how he should reveal himself. He’s always worked in circumstances, and through the people, that he chose. In doing so he has often overturned self-serving human notions of what the divine character is like.

It’s a warning, in a sense, against every tendency towards becoming a religious bureaucrat or a religious busybody: that so often, while we’re busy constructing our modern versions of David’s temple, or Herod’s temple, trying to control the way that God is presented to people, with the real motive of glorifying ourselves, God is active in another, unexpected place, with a completely different set of people, carrying out his real work of salvation.

Mary had no idea what her “yes” would mean for the future, but she said “yes” because she knew that God’s grace would sustain her through whatever that might be. As we ponder how fully we are able to say “yes” at this point in our lives, let us ask our Blessed Mother to help us be all we are meant to be, relying on God’s grace as she did. Inspired by her example, may we have the grace and courage to respond openly and whole-heartedly to God’s invitation to serve him.

Yes, Mary’s life was difficult, but she was right: God’s grace will sustain us. That is true through the hardest of times as well as when the smallest of things challenge our peacefulness the most.

Stay awake this Advent

1st Sunday Advent
Year B
3 Dec 2017
Deacon Les Ruhrmund

This weekend marks the start of the season of Advent and the start of a new liturgical year; Year B in the three year cycle. Advent is a uniquely special season in the year in which we are encouraged to reflectively re-evaluate our faith and the status of our spiritual relationship with God.

But the reality is that these next few weeks of Advent approaching Christmas are for many of us chaotic, stressful and taxing. Traffic, crowds, busy shopping centres, presents to buy, visiting family, Christmas lunch to plan, holiday arrangements to finalise, stretched budgets and frazzled nerves.

If we don’t make time to include some spiritual activity in Advent, the season will simply pass us by and before we know it, Easter will be upon us; and then winter and then another spring. Spiritually, we will have slept through it all. In today’s Gospel reading Jesus forewarns us about this very possibility: “Stay awake!” he says because we do not know how many seasons or even days we have available to us in this life to know, love and serve God.

Advent is a time of expectant waiting and spiritual preparation. The season anticipates the coming of Christ from three different perspectives; past, present and future; in the flesh as a baby in Bethlehem, in our hearts every day and the Eucharist, and in glory at the end of time.

Advent is a time of hope.

We renew our hope by remembering that on that first Christmas night, God in the person of the baby Jesus became one of us to reveal God’s love for us and we renew our hope for a future time when Christ will come again. When we participate in the Mass, we give thanks that our hopes for a Messiah have been fulfilled and we profess our faith in our hope that is yet to be fulfilled; “we awaited the blessed hope and the coming of our Saviour, Jesus Christ.”

It’s a new year.
It’s a time to look back at that which has past and to look to the changes we want to make in the future.

But nothing will change in our hearts this Advent unless we consciously decide to make this season spiritually meaningful and significant.

There are a number of Advent traditions that can help keep us spiritually awake over these next few weeks.

We lit the first candle in the Advent wreath at the beginning of Mass and we could have a wreath at home. A few years ago I spent the week before Christmas in Vienna and I remember well that every shop, hotel and apartment in the city centre had an Advent wreath displayed prominently in a window or in the foyer.
The wreath is shaped in a circle and has no beginning or end – symbolizing the eternity of God’s love for us and eternal life that Christ has promised us.
The green branches remind us that Christ’s love remains fresh and strong even in the face of life’s most difficult challenges.

The candles representing the four Sundays of Advent represent the hope, peace, joy and love we desire as we anticipate Christmas.
We could keep an Advent calendar in our homes perhaps prompting a brief reflection each day on our eager expectation of the joy of Christmas.

From next weekend we’ll have the Nativity crib in the church and we could have a Nativity scene in our homes; perhaps a moment’s reflection on the crib each day will help keep us spiritually awake.

Every week for the next three weeks, we have an Advent activity planned in the church. We can make an effort to fit these services into our diaries:

  • Tuesday evening this week at 6.30pm we have adoration of the Blessed Sacrament for 30 minutes; only 30 minutes
  • On Wednesday next week at 7pm we have an introduction to the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary after which we’ll pray the Rosary together; probably no longer than 45 minutes
  • On Wednesday 20th at 7pm we have a penitential service. Advent is a time for reflecting on our weaknesses, our temptations and our struggles with sin; a time to place ourselves humbly in the redeeming grace and mercy of Our Lord. A time to let Christ’s light shine into the dark corners of our lives.

Here are a few other ideas for Advent:

  • If there’s an area of spiritual growth with which we are struggling, acknowledge it and pray for the courage and discipline to change.
  • If we find ourselves captive to thoughts, words or deeds that distance us from God, confess them and start again
  • If we’ve become estranged from someone we love (or perhaps loved), ask Our Lord to help us find the path to reconciliation
  • While we are shopping for our ourselves and our families we could remember those who have so much less than we do and buy something also for them
  • Our focus at Christmas is usually very much on our own families, on the people we love, we could remember in our prayers and in our charity those who have no one to love them
  • Is it too much to add just one decade of the Rosary, to our daily schedules? One decade takes about 3 minutes to pray.
  • Or maybe we could include a weekday Mass in our schedule?
    The frenetic rush to Christmas is upon us.

We cannot escape the traffic, the impatient crowds, the shopping frenzy and the piped Christmas Carols. But we do not have to be completely captive to this madness nor should we allow it to blunt our spiritual awareness of this special season.

For a moment or two every day through Advent we can remind ourselves that we are in a time of waiting, watching and hoping; hoping that when Our Lord comes, we will not be found fast asleep.

Destiny

32nd SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME
Cycle A
12th November 2017
Matthew 25:1-13
Rev Tony van Vuuren

The readings this Sunday touch on some central Christian beliefs, which in the past were a source of division between the different Christian traditions, and which are still interpreted differently by the various churches: beliefs about our life after death, about Jesus’ Second Coming, about Purgatory, about God’s Judgement.

Today’s parable points to a moment, not just at the end time, but now. It calls us to seize the moment and direct our lives guided by the wisdom God gives us in Christ. We do not yet see Christ coming. What we experience is the preoccupying routine of our daily lives.

From the standpoint of Christian faith our life here and now is imperfect and incomplete. It’s the life to come, when we’re with God, when we encounter God’s love fully, which is permanent and complete. As he got near the end of his preaching ministry Christ encouraged people to see their present lives in the light of their eternal destiny, their future life with God.

The Christians Saint Paul is writing to in the second reading have started to worry that the people who die before Christ’s Second Coming – most people, presumably – will somehow be at a disadvantage compared to the people who happened to be alive at the time of the Second Coming. Paul’s answer is to tell them that they’re worrying about nothing. The particular moment that we die doesn’t make any difference to our final destiny, but it is partly this worry, voiced by the Christians in Thessalonica that led to the development of our belief in Purgatory.

As we know, some of the more evangelical Churches reject the idea of Purgatory because there’s no direct or obvious reference to it in the Bible.

But like so many of the Church’s beliefs that developed very early in its history, the belief in Purgatory was the answer the Christian community came up with when they reflected on their knowledge and experience of God, in this instance his love and care and mercy and his desire that every person should gain salvation.

From our Christian point of view our death is the moment when we leave behind all the shadows and inadequacies of earthly life and move into the light and fullness of life with God.

The person we reach out to in our prayers, the person we often experience in a dim, partial, fleeting way during our present life will now be known directly and clearly in the next life.

And according to what we believe about life after death, that involves two things. One is that we get a much clearer sense of God’s holiness and love and mercy, and the happiness that goes along with that. There’s the knowledge that we’re saved – that we’re heading towards God.

And the other thing is that we get a much clearer sense of our own lack of holiness and love. We don’t only see God face-to-face, we see ourselves much more truthfully as well – all our self-centredness, our clinging to wrong goals, our pride and childishness.

Of course there’s an element of pain and upset – the pain of contrasting our imperfections with God’s perfection, our lack of love with God’s perfect love. And it’s that state, after we’ve died, that we refer to when we talk about Purgatory.

It’s not some place where we spend millions of years being tortured – the usual picture conjured up by a certain tradition of preaching, taking Jesus’ own apocalyptic images too literally. Purgatory is more the experience of seeing God’s goodness and love alongside our own faults and inadequacies, and being purified of those elements, so that we’re fit to be with him forever.

Jesus’ parable about the sensible bridesmaids and the foolish bridesmaids waiting for the bridegroom to arrive also gives us another image of the Second Coming, the end of time, and the Judgement that goes along with it. The possibility of having the door closed on us.

But it’s not too late. The parable’s locked door hasn’t happened yet. We are reminded that God is available to us now with the gift of Wisdom, to show us what we must still do to keep a good supply of oil. Being at this Mass we acknowledge our need and dependence on God.

We yearn and search for Wisdom — it is given to us in these scriptures and in the Eucharist available to us.

The only thing that can stop us from enjoying that future is by deliberately turning away from it – preferring to assert ourselves and choosing to alienate ourselves from God.

That’s why Jesus’ parables about the end of time always have a hint of a threat. There’s going to be a judgement and our time here and now is a sort of probation, a time of testing. The final choice that we make about our eternal destiny will be a summing up of all the free actions and decisions that we’ve made during our life, not an arbitrary punishment by a capricious God.

Reflecting on what the readings today tell us about death, about judgement and our future life with God; they can open up the way to greater truth about the purpose of our lives on earth and our relationship with God.

They open up the way to greater truth about the purpose of our lives on earth and our relationship with God. Many people only give superficial thought to these subjects and obviously find them difficult to accept or believe in.

But when we spend some time reflecting on them, and praying to God about them, we will hopefully begin to see that they can’t be dismissed so easily.

A final point! We may feel that the wise bridesmaids were rather selfish in refusing to share their oil with the foolish ones in such a critical situation.

We can also say in the context of today’s parable that our preparedness to meet the Lord is something that is ultimately only our responsibility. No one can say “Yes” to Christ on our behalf!

What’s love got to do, got to do with it?

30th Sunday Ordinary Time Year A 2017 (29 Oct)
Deacon Les Ruhrmund

In the words of Tina Turner: What’s love got to do, got to do with it?
To which the answer, taken from today’s Gospel, is: Everything!!

We are created in the image of God who is love. Our hope, our joy, our happiness and our peace in this life are to be found and are centred in this one truth; that we are created in the image of love that we may love and know that we are loved.

When the Pharisee (who, like all Pharisees, was an expert in “the law and the prophets”) asks Jesus to identify the greatest among the 613 commandments of the Old Testament, Jesus summarises the entire law in his simple and profound reply:
We must love God with all our heart, mind and soul and we must love each other as we love ourselves.

Essentially, Jesus’ reply is quite orthodox. There’s nothing radical in the two commandments he quotes. The commandment to love God comes from the Book of Deuteronomy (Deut 6:5) and the command to love our neighbour comes from The Book of Leviticus (Lev 19:18). What is radical is that Jesus is saying emphatically that we can’t separate loving God from loving our neighbour.

The Pharisees professed great love for God in their obedience to the law but they demonstrated scarce love for the people; they were arrogant, aloof and critical.

Jesus is not throwing out the 613 commandments. He is simply saying that all the other commandments hang on the Greatest Commandment: love God and love your neighbour.

The love for God and neighbour are intently linked. Religious and political extremists of any persuasion who harm their neighbour in the name of God are about as far from God and the truth as can be imagined. They are testimony to the presence and reality of evil in the world.

This love that Jesus talks about is not some fleeting, fickle, self-indulgent emotion. It’s a courageous lifestyle that puts God first, others second, and self third.

First, he said, we must love God; starting with the heart.
When we desire what God desires, we love with our heart.
When we cherish and actively try to understand God’s love for us and the world, we love with our mind.

When we joyfully live our lives following those desires and that understanding, we love with our soul; with our whole being.

This is an intimate relationship with God; a relationship that constantly influences and directs our actions, our desires and our thoughts.
We can’t grow and sustain that relationship if we relegate it to an hour of worship on a Sunday. Our relationship with God, like all relationships, is fulfilling and rewarding in proportion to our commitment to it.

Opening our heart and mind to an intimate relationship with God can be as challenging as it is in human relationships. We find it difficult exposing and admitting our vulnerabilities and weaknesses, our deepest fears and desires; even to ourselves. Perhaps that’s why some find the Sacrament of Reconciliation daunting.

Trust is the core of our relationships with God and with each other.

In our human relationships Jesus says we must love our neighbour as we love our self.

So this would imply that if we are not able to love ourselves, we are not able to love our neighbour; and this obviously would seriously undermine our relationship with God.

In terms of self-love, Jesus is not for a moment referring to self-centred, conceited vanity that excludes love of anyone other than self.

The self-love Jesus is talking about is seeing ourselves, warts and all, as God’s beloved.

We love ourselves because we are loved; we are created in the image of God who is love. Nothing else is relevant.

This self-love is not dependent on our physical size, fat or thin; our intellect, bright or dim; age, old or young; physical condition, healthy or infirm; physical features, attractive or plain, athletic or disabled; our wealth, affluent or destitute; sexual orientation, gay or straight; our careers, success or failure; our popularity, liked or disliked.

Warts and all, we are God’s precious creation. We are loved as we are.
When we embrace that understanding of God’s love for us, we learn to love ourselves.
Through our numerous human differences we glimpse the vastness and diversity of God’s creation that is so much more than just me and my world.

Some years ago a young man in our parish asked me why he had not been born perfect like everyone else in his family. He’d been born with a physical disability. He was kind and gentle, humble and funny, intelligent and caring. It wasn’t difficult to see the image of God in his less than perfect body.

When we focus on what we don’t love about ourselves, wanting to be someone else, when we can’t find the love of God in ourselves, we become deaf and blind to the needs of others. If fact we share the same space as those who are blinded by the perception of their own brilliance.

The way we treat our neighbour then could be a reflection of our self-love.
It’s often easier to express our love for our neighbour who is far away; those caught up in political persecuted or abject poverty or those suffering from the consequences of natural disasters.

But the real test is with those closest to us; our families, friends, colleagues, parishioners; the waiter, shop assistant and hungry beggar. Do they see us as being kind and gentle, generous and compassionate, patient and considerate? Do they see the joy of our certainty of God’s love for us in our eyes and in our words; and in our actions?

The more love we carry in our hearts for God and our neighbour, the better we reflect the image of God that we each carry within us.

What Are Our Fruits?

27th Sunday Ordinary Time.
Cycle A.
8th October 2017.
Mt 21: 33-43. Is 5: 1-7

The basic purpose of Isaiah’s song and Matthew’s account of Jesus’ parable being linked today is to make us think and to search our own conscience. What are our fruits, as believers? Are we in the situation where God has done his part, but sometimes we’re only producing sour grapes, or even worse, turning on our neighbour?
The symbol of the vine and vineyards was an image that Jesus liked to use in different ways in his preaching. Our relationship with God is compared to the way a carefully-tended plant yields good fruit. The hymn: “I am the fruitful vine, and you my branches are,” illustrates this.

The important thing about the vineyard in this particular parable – as in the song by Isaiah in the first reading – is that unfortunately it’s a vineyard that doesn’t produce any fruit, or doesn’t produce the right kind of fruit.
We have images of a vine that produces sour grapes, and vineyard workers who refuse to carry out the owners wishes and turn against him, which are conjured up for us as symbols of those who close themselves off from God’s grace and fail to bear spiritual fruit; despite all the care and the cultivation by the gardener – obviously a symbol for God’s care and concern for his people.

There’s a saying that is sometimes used as a way of emphasising God’s compassion and kindliness: “God takes us as we are”.

It’s true, but it’s only half the truth. God does take us as we are, but if we respond he doesn’t leave us as we are. Contact with God; a relationship with God; changes us. We become a different person: our attitudes, and our behaviour changes. In the more figurative and symbolic language of the Bible – we produce fruit.
I am sure there are some of us here present, myself included, who at some time had no interest or involvement with formal religion, but through some intervention or influence have become more entrenched in our faith—-however frail that might be.

When a gardener puts a lot of care into his plants they ripen and mature. When we play our part in our relationship with God, and respond to the influence of his grace, we also develop in a certain direction and mature as Christians. There’s a move towards greater integrity or cohesion in our own character, and there’s a move towards greater understanding and gentleness regarding the frailties and weaknesses of other people.

If we look at the passage from Isaiah we can see that the kind of fruits God particularly expects us to manifest are justice and integrity. In fact Isaiah describes those qualities not so much as expectations by God, but as the natural outcome of being faithful to God, in the Covenant. What is true on the level of our individual personal relationship with God should also be true for our community that sincerely worships God and recognises him as the source of our moral principles: just relationships, free from exploitation and domination; just some of the fruits which will grow naturally in our community, as a result of our genuine contact with God.
Inevitably, however, in both the first reading and the gospel, there’s also a more negative implication raised by Isaiah and by Jesus: they criticise their fellow-believers for not responding in the way that they should to God’s involvement with them.

Particularly in the Gospel there’s a tone of warning and threat in Jesus’ language, typical of the style of preaching employed by the Old Testament prophets, claiming that since the community are not producing the fruit that comes from knowing and loving God, God’s Kingdom will be taken from them, and given to other people, who will be receptive to the values of the Kingdom, and will produce the right fruits.
Matthew’s idea in including it in his gospel wasn’t just to disparage the chief priests and the elders. Matthew was addressing his own community – the Christian community – and his aim in this passage was to get the new followers of Christ to ask themselves whether they were producing the fruit they were supposed to.

Jesus’ warning here is also aimed at us: if we don’t produce wholesome fruit, God’s Kingdom will be taken away from us, and given to people who – even if they don’t have an explicit belief in God – are actually doing God’s will by the way they live and the values they put into practice. I am sure we all know someone of that ilk?
Again, it’s not that God has a spiteful streak, or takes pleasure in removing something from us which can only be for our benefit. What this final remark of Jesus implies, really, is that God doesn’t force himself onto people who aren’t interested in him. Nobody can be coerced into having a more profound faith, or growing in holiness, or becoming a more compassionate and loving person.

The rule of God’s Kingdom can only be active in our lives if there’s the effort to actually welcome it and co-operate with it. Christ knew that there were men and women who were doing that, even though they hardly carried out any of the formal religious rules and ceremonies of the time that the religious leaders thought were so important.
I return to the question I posed when I started speaking: What are our fruits as believers?

Most of us can think of ways that in our own specific circumstances we could be become more rooted in the qualities and attitudes that make up the Kingdom – even just becoming more conscious of our need to cultivate the fruits of justice, love and peace; rather than just stagnating. Waking us up to that need, rather than threatening us with the loss of God’s friendship, is the real purpose of the language Jesus and Isaiah use in their parables in today’s readings.

We are challenged to ask Jesus to be with us as the cornerstone of all that we build and cultivate.