Author Archives: stmikeshomily

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!

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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.

A Rock-Like Faith

21st SUNDAY ORDINARY TIME.
CYCLE A.
27th August 2017.
Mat: 16: 13-20
Deacon Tony Van Vuuren

It comes over pretty clearly from the picture that Saint Matthew gives of Peter that Jesus chose him as the leader of the disciples not because of any great leadership skills that he showed or because he was a particularly charismatic personality, but because he had faith: the insight to discern Jesus’ identity as the Saviour.

Of course Peter’s insight into Jesus’ identity didn’t come from nowhere. He’d had plenty of time to get to know Jesus and to witness the way he went about his mission.

His faith had grown since his first meeting with Jesus; but we know that he was challenged along the way and reflecting on that made me realize that to overcome the personal challenges that I and my family have to face at the moment we, as a family, have to maintain a rock-like faith in Christ. We have to be rooted in God.                                                                                                                                                                        We We are all faced with challenges one way or another; and one of the biggest challenges to our faith is suffering. The question arises, “Why must I endure suffering?” Or, “What did she do to deserve so much pain?” It’s complicated. Among people who pray a lot there is a feeling that we should have a pass on suffering — after all, we pray and should receive some benefits — shouldn’t we? But it gets more complicated. Why do the innocent suffer, especially the very young, and the evil ones seem to prosper?

C S Lewis is quoted in yesterday’s Argus: “The problem is not why some pious, humble, believing people suffer, but why do some not?”

From the very beginning the question of suffering has been a stumbling block for believers. I don’t presume to have an answer. Except, I do not believe God deliberately afflicts us with pain. Nor do I believe that God tests our faith to see how strong it is. I reject the explanation that many give, as an attempt to comfort those in pain: “God never gives us more than we can bear.” Nor do I believe, as some people say, “God is testing your faith.”

I don’t believe any of that because I believe in Jesus Christ and his gospel which reveals a God who loves us, even before we know that love, or do anything to return it.
We certainly don’t have to earn God’s love — Jesus says we already have it. If anything, God is there with us in our suffering. In Jesus Christ, God joins us in all we go through; we are not alone in our most difficult times. That doesn’t answer many of our questions about suffering, nor why each of us seems to have our own unique type of suffering. By putting our faith in God’s love we learn to live with the mystery.

Christ says to us through the Gospels; “If anyone wants to be my disciple you must take up your cross and follow me.”
We often call our helplessness and suffering our cross. True, because our suffering unites us with Christ’s. But the cross that Jesus speaks of is one he invites us to take up. We can accept it or reject it, because it is voluntary. But it means accepting that suffering is a part of our lives. Accepting our cross 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.

Pope Francis is quoted as saying that  the Gospels remind us that faith in God and in his word doesn’t open up a path where everything is easy and calm; it doesn’t take away life’s storms. Faith gives us the security of Jesus’ presence to help us through the difficult times. Faith is not an escape from life’s problems and challenges; but it sustains us along the journey and gives our life meaning.

When we answer the 2nd question put to the disciples as Peter did, we respond to Jesus’ invitation. We also, apart from accepting suffering, also choose to sacrifice time, energy and resources through service to our community and for those in need.  In a world that measures a person’s worth by appearance, place of origin, income and possessions, we have to choose to be with the poor, and speak up for the outsider, even at the cost of being rejected and ridiculed — our cross. In a world that rewards gold medals to the strongest and victorious, we can choose to give a hand to the weak, infirm, elderly and the homeless out of personal time and resources — our cross.

In a world that chooses violence and force as a solution to problems, or to get one’s way, we can choose nonviolence, dialogue, love of enemies and we can attempt to listen to another’s point of view – even when others call us naive — our cross. We make daily choices to take up the cross and follow Jesus.

As I was saying at the start, Jesus didn’t choose Peter as the leader of the disciples because he had any of the skills or abilities that people look for today. He chose him because – despite all his failings, which the gospels don’t try to cover up – Peter’s faith was deep and sincere. In spite of his various weaknesses, he became rooted in God as a result of his encounter with Christ, in a way that he wasn’t before he met Christ. So can we!

Perhaps at a time when people seem to find it so difficult to decide what they believe in and what they hope for – when they’re always postponing any final decision about fundamental values and what they want as the driving force in their lives – the example of Peter’s faith is something that hopefully we, as believers, can identify with and imitate in our own efforts to recognise Christ for who he is and to become rooted in the God who sent him to us.

How can we identify with this kind of life; the life of a disciple?  Might I suggest; It requires what Jesus congratulated Peter for, and what Jesus built up in Peter, a “rock-like faith.”

The Transfiguration

Year A 2017
6 August
Deacon Les Ruhrmund

Today’s feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord celebrates an extraordinary event in the life of Jesus and in the lives of the three disciples who witnessed it. For Jesus, the transfiguration was an affirmation of his Father’s love and a foretaste of his glory.
For Peter, James and John, the transfiguration was a vivid revelation, a preview, of Jesus’s full identity; fully human and fully divine. While the three of them knew and loved Jesus, the carpenter from Galilee, in the transfiguration they got a glimpse of his divinity; Jesus, the Son of God, Jesus the Messiah, the completion of the Law (represented by Moses) and the prophets (represented by Elijah).

Jesus in the mystery of the Holy Trinity; the voice of the Father, the transfigured Son and the Holy Spirit brilliantly animated in the clouds and the light as bright as the sun.

An awesome experience beyond description; impossible to describe adequately. How can one describe an encounter with God? The three of them must have been frightened out of their wits and shaken right out of their sandals.

The transfiguration took place about a week after Jesus had spoken to his disciples for the first time about his pending suffering, death and resurrection. And you’ll recall that to Peter the whole idea of Jesus dying was unthinkable and he’d protested strongly; and Jesus had rebuked him sternly rejecting the temptation that Peter presented to him to walk away from the cross “Get behind me Satin.” This rebuke must have come as a real shock to Peter and bruised his ego and his relationship with Jesus.

The transfiguration, coming just days after this misunderstanding, was surely a turning point in Peter’s understanding of Jesus; Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.

In today’s Second Reading Peter recalls his experience of the transfiguration to remind the early Christians that he stands as a personal witness to Jesus’s majesty and divinity.

In the law in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 19:15) three witnesses are required to attest to the truth. The truth of the transfiguration was witnessed by Peter, James and John.

All of us believe in an intellectual way that God is with us. But sometimes we wish for a mountain-top experience to make that intellectual belief a tangible reality in our lives. Often God’s presence is not obvious to us in the cruel, corrupt world in which we live and in the everyday challenges of our lives.

We might wish that we could have an experience like the transfiguration. Wish that God would appear to us in a way that could not be mistaken for anything else; preferably an encounter that we would share with other witnesses who could vouch for this truth.

Perhaps then we’d find it easier to love God and love our neighbour; easier to be faithful disciples.

Well it didn’t work that way for Peter, James, and John. This experience on the mountain didn’t take away the ambition of James and John to be singled out for special treatment. They wanted a distinctive place kept for them in God’s kingdom (Matthew 20:20). The transfiguration didn’t take away their selfish pride and hunger for recognition. Or their doubt. They deserted Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane and left him to die.

We know about Peter.

Even the transfiguration didn’t heal his doubt. He cowered in fear when Jesus was arrested and then publicly professed that he didn’t know the man.

Even the sight of the resurrected Jesus was not a fool proof experience for some of Jesus’ followers. Matthew tells us in chapter 28 that after the crucifixion “The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them. When they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted.”

As much as we might wish for a dramatic display of God’s power and presence we’re not likely to receive one. We build our faith on the testimony of those who witnessed the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and on the witness and evidence of God’s presence in our lives and the lives of the many saints who have gone before us; the Presence of Jesus among us and within us.

Most of us have had an experience of the presence of God.

An experience that we can’t adequately describe or explain but one which has left us with no doubt that we have encountered something beautiful that’s out of this world.

Perhaps in prayer or meditation we’ve been overcome with a sense of joy and peace.

Or perhaps the sudden recognition of the majesty of creation in a sunrise or sunset or star lit night that leaves us speechless.

Perhaps an exquisite piece of music or art that takes our breath away.

Perhaps a look or gesture of love from a child or someone we’ve touched with our kindness and compassion.

Perhaps the overwhelming awareness of God’s forgiveness in the words of absolute in the sacrament of reconciliation.

Or perhaps just the sheer happiness of being alive and knowing that we are God’s beloved; an unexpected feeling of certainty that nothing can separate us from the love of God.

Often these experiences happen when we least expect them.

But we’re come here specifically to encounter our Lord.

Are we not blessed indeed to have the Presence of Christ available to us in the Eucharist in the Mass? Let us never undervalue the magnitude and magnificence of this great Sacrament of the altar. This is the same Jesus that Peter, John and James encountered in the Transfiguration.

It’s not necessary to climb a mountain to experience the presence of God.

All we have to do is be attentive so that we don’t miss the time and place when God wants to enter more deeply into our lives.

eeply into our lives.

People of Inner Unrest

Epiphany of the Lord
Cycle A
8th January 2017
Matthew 2. 1-12
Rev Tony van Vuuren

Those of us of a certain age will remember the TV detective Columbo, the guy wearing the shabby raincoat, who was the master of the parting question. He would finish questioning someone and, as he was going out of the door and their guard was down, he would turn back with a ‘Oh, just one other thing.’ and ask that crucial question.

The Magi are like that final question. Christmas has been well and truly celebrated, the Boney M CD has been packed away together with the decorations, and the New Year is here, life is getting back to its normal routine; but then at the last minute Christmas turns back and throws us one last question, throws us the story of the Magi. The Magi are like that final question.

It seems to us like the Magi just appear at the end of the Christmas story, but for these foreign travellers the journey has been a long one. We don’t really know exactly where they come from, probably Persia, in which case they have travelled a great distance to get to Bethlehem.

We are misled by the fact that they appear, stay briefly, then depart, into thinking that this journey of theirs is a brief one, but nothing could be further from the truth. This is a long journey of extortionate cost, fraught with danger. Whatever possessed them to set out on such a mission, just to spend a few moments in Bethlehem?

This question brings us to the heart of the Epiphany Feast. If we can understand why the Magi travel all this way, we will be able to see what this feast is really about. We are rather misled by the romance of the three exotic gifts.

Our focus tends to be on the Gold and Frankincense and Myrrh, so that we come to think of the Magi as little more than gift bearers to transmit these beautiful gifts into the presence of Christ.

But this is not what they themselves say they are doing. Addressing Herod they ask ‘Where is he who has been born king of the Jews…we have come to worship him?’ and then when they arrive in Bethlehem they first throw themselves to the ground in homage before the Christ child; and only then do they reach into their bags and bring out the gifts. The wise men have not travelled all this way just to bring Jesus gifts; they have travelled all this way to worship him.

If we lose sight of that, we lose sight of the real spiritual significance of this feast. The giving of gifts is very potent; it is a prophetic act, because as we know, these are gifts with a spiritual significance, but this is nothing like as important as the Epiphany as a moment of worship.

The wise men have come all this way, have faced all that danger and discomfort, in order to worship the divine Son of God.

Still, though, we are left asking ‘why?’ Why would they travel so far in search of a God who is outside their culture, outside their territory, outside their experience? Pope Emeritus Benedict, in his book (Jesus of Nazareth Vol 3.
The Infancy Narratives p.95), has a beautiful expression that he uses to describe the Magi. He says that they would never have set out on such a journey unless they were people of “inner unrest”, that is “people of hope, people on the lookout for the true star of salvation” They travel all that way, they take all those risks including the great risk of entering Herod’s presence, because they are people of “inner unrest”.

They are not satisfied with their lives, they are driven to seek some deeper meaning, some sense of truths beyond their grasp, some sense that there is a world outside their control which they cannot master, but which they can begin to comprehend. Their minds, their souls, are restless and unable to settle, and this translates into the need to travel, to journey in search of something that will draw them upwards, up towards the truth. They are in a sense disturbed souls, but they feel very at home with that sense of incompleteness, of challenge, because for them it is the doorway to growth.

Contrast them, in this, with Herod. By the time the Magi arrive he is very definitely disturbed.
But whereas the Wise Men are at home with this inner unrest, and are able to feed off the spiritual energy that it brings, Herod does not cope with disturbance. It is at about this time that Herod has three of his sons murdered because he fears they may be a threat to his security, so he is clearly not a man who thrives on challenge and the unknown. The Magi arrive in serenity and ask their questions, throwing Jerusalem into turmoil.

Herod doesn’t just ask about where the Christ is to be born, his enquiries are frantic with evil intent. So he stands as a contrast to the Magi. They are men of inner unrest, certain that there is much they do not know, nor understand, and are anxious to open themselves to a new and deeper vision of reality; Herod already has his own vision of the World, with him firmly at the centre, and he will do anything he can to protect that set up, to make sure it is preserved at all costs.

Now, at last, we are able to understand what the final ‘Columbo question’ is that the Magi ask of us. It is perfectly timed, coming as it does just as we close off the Christmas season but also at the start of the New Year and Ordinary time.

As Christ is presented to us once again through the Gospels in the coming year, will we react like Herod, or like the Magi? Will we insist on bending and twisting and warping Christ so that he fits in with our way of doing things, with what I want to do, with what I want to be, will we try and force him to fit into our plans for the future?

Or will we allow him to challenge us and to change us; will we allow his words and his actions to disturb and unsettle us, even to make us change course, to turn life around, to do things differently? Will we allow ourselves to be led on a journey far from the place of comfort, so that we can take our place in God’s plan?

The Magi had to travel a long way on their journey, but most of us can make the journey within, because the real journey takes place in our minds, in our souls. It begins with a change of heart, with a decision to allow the Holy Spirit to help us find God’s presence.

If we can face each situation with confidence and with an open heart, fear and doubt will begin to melt away. We will find Jesus in unexpected, unlikely places; just as the Magi did.

RELATIONSHIPS

SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT
CYCLE A
4TH DECEMBER 2016
Matthew: 3: 1-12
Deacon Tony van Vuuren.

How many of us get a sense of peace listening to today’s Gospel? John the Baptist’s preaching is more like a dire warning on this 2nd Sunday of Advent with the theme of Peace.

The language of the ancient prophets was in large part the language of rebuke. It was harsh, condemnatory language, denouncing the community’s lack of faith, condemning any kind of hypocrisy or bogus spirituality, social injustice or economic exploitation. John the Baptist adopted this abrasive and threatening style of preaching.

He just pours out this angry, contemptuous language, doing what the prophet Isaiah said he would do, “Preparing the way of the Lord, making His paths straight.”
Whilst trying to prepare and find a thread of Peace in the Gospel message, it st

ruck me that it is not the Lord’s paths that need to be straightened out, but ours. We can take the opportunity of preparing for the coming of our Lord this Advent by straightening our paths.

So what might these words mean for us? What are the things that need to be straightened out in our lives? Of course, only we can truly answer that for ourselves. What if we just consider the relationships that we have or do not have with family and friends? Relationships that are often twisted and tangled and crooked.

Relationships that have embittered our hearts; the animosities that have set family member against family member or neighbour against neighbour; silly quarrels that are kept alive; the jealousies and misunderstandings; or just stubborn pride!

We let misunderstandings run on from year to year; meaning to clear them up someday. We keep quarrels alive because we cannot quite make up our minds to sacrifice our pride and end them. We avoid someone, not speaking to them out of some silly spite or prejudice, and yet knowing we would be filled with remorse and shame if we heard that that person were dead tomorrow.

Out of jealously we don’t give a word of appreciation or encouragement to a sibling or friend letting them think they had done something wrong by being ignored. And so one can go on quoting about a breakdown in different relationship situations that are allowed to fester and never get resolved.

If only we would realise that “time is short”, and how it would break the spell if we would go instantly and do the right thing which we might never have another chance to do.

For those of us who have had the opportunity of restoring a relationship with someone or even a whole family; we know the feeling of relief, of love, of peace.

The phrase “Peace on Earth” starts with us; with our attitudes towards others. Our words convey the attitude of our hearts and create a culture of peace or hate and anger within our homes. Sometimes it is hard to tell which attitude is being promoted as our words speak of peace but our actions promote discord. If we stop loving our neighbour as ourselves and forget to treat everyone with the same respect and love we would desire for ourselves, there can be no peace on earth.

To write “Peace on Earth” on our Christmas cards or email messages and then refuse to speak to certain family members over the holidays or teach our children not to have anything to do with children of another race stands in the way of true peacemaking. We have the opportunity during this Advent time of reflection to be the peacemakers. We are all given the opportunity to help in some small or big way to bring peace on earth. But it is more than a cute festive season phrase.

It is about the very attitudes of our hearts. Take the time to say St Francis’ prayer; “Make me an instrument of your peace.”

God doesn’t abandon us when we stray from the straight path. He keeps calling us back from our crooked ways to the straight path. Advent is an excellent time to aim ourselves in the right direction and commit ourselves to the right path.

The path of truth, honesty and peace of mind. So if there is some crooked or twisted attitude, or some crooked way of behaving, or some crooked relationship that needs to be straightened out; let’s straighten it out now. We will truly be preparing a way for the Lord to come to us.