Category Archives: Cycle B

Knocking on Heaven’s Door

All Souls
2 Nov 2018
Deacon Les Ruhrmund

Catholics throughout the world today are thinking about and praying for their loved ones who have died and are perhaps thinking about their own inevitable death.

Many other Christian denominations also celebrate a Commemoration of the Faithfully Departed today but see it rather as an extension of All Saints’ Day which was yesterday (and which we’ll be celebrating at all the Masses this weekend.)

Most of the other Christian denominations do not believe in Purgatory as a time of purification before we are worthy as holy saints to live in the presence of God.

In the first reading taken from the second book of Maccabees written roughly 100 -150 years before Christ, we have a clear reference to the custom of praying for those who have died but are not yet in a state of perfection with God in heaven. They are on the road to sainthood, as we all are, but are not yet saints.

The writer says that Judas Maccabee, a great Jewish leader of the time, following an epic and bloody battle in which many men had been killed, took up a collection to pay for a sacrifice to be offered in Jerusalem for the dead so that they might be released from their sins.

I’m deeply relieved that there is the option of Purgatory; the option to come to terms with my sinfulness and past transgressions with the blissful promise of heaven a certainty.

If I was to die today – perhaps better I suggest ‘ had I died yesterday’ – there is no way that I could possibly share in the perfection of heaven with God and the saints; my very presence there would render heaven imperfect because I am so far from being perfect, from being spotlessly holy.

Pope Benedict in his second encyclical “Saved in Hope” (Spe Salvi) published in 2007 writes
“The belief that love can reach into the afterlife, that reciprocal giving and receiving is possible, in which our affection for one another continues beyond the limits of death – this has been a fundamental conviction of Christianity throughout the ages and it remains a source of comfort today. Who would not feel the need to convey to their departed loved ones a sign of kindness, a gesture of gratitude or even a request for pardon?”

There is ample evidence of the custom of praying for the dead in the inscriptions in the ancient catacombs and in the writings of the early Church Fathers in the first centuries of Christianity. In fact, not praying for the dead is a relatively new practise originating in the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century.

Perhaps on this All Souls Day, we could reflect on the “Four Last Things” – death, judgement, heaven and hell.

We will all die and only die once – there is no such thing as reincarnation. In the NT in Hebrews 9:27 we are told “Everyone must die once, and after that be judged by God.”
When we die will meet our Lord face to face and receive judgement.

If we die in faith having lived a life trying our best to be true to the great commandments to love God and our neighbour we will be welcomed into the kingdom of God which we call heaven – though we may have to pass through purgatory first.

If we die having lived largely selfish lives, neglecting our baptismal promises and rejecting the sovereignty of God, our choices in this life will be reflected and respected in the next. We will not be forced to change our minds about God and we will live for eternity outside of God’s kingdom; that’s hell.

After death, there is no opportunity to bargain or appeal for a different outcome. Our choices in this life will determine the outcome for our eternal life.

Weekly attendance at Mass is not a guaranteed ticket to heaven. We’ll also have to account for the other 167 hours in each week.

We don’t like to talk much about death but, I don’t know about you, I certainly have thought about it throughout my life.

When I was in my teens I was sure I wouldn’t live much past the age of twenty-five. When I was twenty-five I believed that I’d probably live to about forty and I’d decided that I’d not marry and didn’t want to be a father. By the time I was forty I was happily married with two wonderful school-going children and I had just come through a cancer scare ….. and I hoped to live another thirty years or so.

Well twenty-seven of those thirty years have passed very quickly.

I know now that I wasn’t really ready spiritually to die at twenty-five or forty and I’m thankful to have had the time to better prepare for this eventuality.

I may live many years yet … or by this time next year, my ashes may well be buried in the garden of remembrance. None of us know whether we or which of our loved ones will be alive this time next year; or even be with us to share this coming Christmas.

Our hope, our purpose, our mission in this life is not old age; It’s sainthood.

In the extract we heard from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians he writes
“For we know that when the tent that we live in on earth is folded up, there is a house built by God for us, an everlasting home not made by human hands, in the heavens.”
That’s our hope.

And Jesus says in the Gospel reading “Whoever sees the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life.”
That’s God’s promise.

We know neither the hour nor day when that promise will be fulfilled.

We pray today for those who have died.

In our prayers we could ask them too, to pray for us that we will be adequately prepared when the time comes for us to join them.

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.
May they rest in peace.
Amen.

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Salvation By God’s Grace

30th Sunday Ordinary Time
Cycle B
28th October 2018
Mark 10: 46-52
Deacon Tony van Vuuren

The author of the letter to the Hebrews is comparing Jesus’ work of reconciling mankind with God to the action of the high priest offering ceremonial sacrifices to God to express the community’s devotion to God, to atone for their sinfulness, to restore as far as possible the damaged relationship between God and man. We may often choose other goals and purposes in our lives apart from God ; what the Bible calls idolatry. But even when we feel that we want to establish contact with God and to live in accordance with God’s values, we’re powerless to achieve this purely by means of our own abilities and efforts.

We so often fail in our efforts by falling back into selfish habits. And so part of the picture which the author of the letter is trying to put across is that to release us from the prison of our fallen nature, to bring us back into harmony with God, in other words to bring about our salvation, something needs to be done for us. It requires some action on God’s part, a work of grace. We are reminded that we are not capable of bringing about our own salvation.

The blind beggar, Bartimaeus, is an example of someone who can’t, by his own efforts, bring about the healing and restoration of his lost sight. But just as important, he is an example of someone who candidly admits his own inability to heal himself. He is free from any illusions of self-sufficiency. “Son of David, have pity on me”. He freely admits his indigence and his dependence on outside help.

This attitude of Bartimaeus – admitting his own powerlessness to heal himself and throwing himself at Jesus’ feet – makes him a sort of prototype of Christian sanctity or holiness.
When we look at the lives of the saints, or anyone who is obviously very holy or spiritually advanced our tendency possibly is to see individuals with enormous strength of will-power, huge single-mindedness in their dedication to God; heroic perseverance in spite of all kinds of difficulties.

They seem to be people with superhuman qualities of patience, compassion, love for others, men and women who have absolutely no thought for their own interests. In other words, we tend to attribute their holiness to their own strength of character and we conclude that they’re people who are completely different from ourselves! But when we read what these genuinely holy people say about themselves, it usually turns out that they insist vehemently on their own weakness and sinfulness.

They’re quick to deny that they have done anything except respond to God’s grace, and they express a strong sense of having been redeemed by God’s actions, not their own. They take no credit themselves for anything they achieve. They put everything down to God’s influence and direction.

If we turn to the first reading this Sunday we find the prophet Jeremiah suggesting that this is the basic quality that’s needed at the heart of the community of believers in God. And at the core of this renewed community, again, are people like Bartimaeus, who admit their dependence on outside help, their inability to save and comfort themselves.

The truth is, God can’t do much with individuals who have a high opinion of themselves, or with people who pride themselves on having made it in life – perhaps acquiring great wealth, power and status, – by being tough and determined at the expense of others. So taken together the readings this Sunday point to an important element of Christian faith; an important reality in the life of faith of each believer; something which marks us off from unbelievers or atheist humanists: we don’t and can’t save ourselves.

Only God brings about our healing, the removal of our spiritual blindness, our salvation.
Obviously there’s always a balance to be struck between the idea of depending on God’s grace and responding to God by our own free-will and by freely chosen decisions. In our spiritual life it’s always possible to exaggerate in one or other direction, either overstressing God’s influence and giving no role to our own will-power and intelligence, or else exaggerating human capacities for moral goodness and virtually denying that God’s grace has any role to play.

Keeping a proper balance is something we have to do almost daily as we try to fathom the mystery of God and enter into his life more closely. But certainly the emphasis in today’s readings seems to be on warning us against our fallen tendency towards pride and self-sufficiency, and on acknowledging that the starting-point in our relationship with God is to surrender any such notions and instead admit our blindness and our weakness – to recognise that salvation is a gift from God, not something we create or bring about for ourselves.

Marriage

27th Sunday
Year B
7 October 2018
Deacon Les Ruhrmund

The focus of the readings this weekend is marriage and specifically the marriage covenant according to God’s plan.

In the society in which Jesus lived, divorce was common and the question put to Jesus about divorce by the Pharisees was not only trying to trip him up but was actually addressing a burning issue of the day.

There were two schools of thought in Jewish culture at that time.

The first was the school of Shammai which was very strict and only allowed divorce in the case of adultery (and the women had virtually no rights in these matters – it was always the man’s call).

The other was the school of Hillel which allowed a man to divorce his wife on virtually any grounds; if she spoilt the food, or spoke to a strange man in the street, was argumentative or raised her voice, or if he simply no longer considered her attractive.  And again, the woman was at the mercy of her husband’s whims.

Jesus in his reply goes back to the Creation story and quotes from the Book of Genesis saying that from the very beginning God intended marriage to be a permanent bond between a man and a woman; a covenant with God in which the two become as one flesh.   In the New Testament, the bond between a man and a woman in marriage is compared to the bond between Christ and his Church; holy and inseparable.

Scripture also tells us that not everyone is called to marry.

Jesus talking to his disciples in Matthew’s Gospel says of marriage: “This teaching does not apply to everyone, but only to those to whom God has given it. For there are different reasons why men cannot marry: some, because they were born that way; others, because men made them that way; and others do not marry for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven.”

Marriage is a calling; it’s a vocation from God and there is no greater vocation. While vocations to serve God outside of marriage – perhaps through the priesthood, religious life or celibacy – are greatly to be admired, they are not any greater than the vocation of marriage.

In the marriage covenant, the spouses are saying to each other: Through my love for you, you are able to be the best person you can be – I complete you – and together we will raise children to know, love and serve God.  That’s the promise, that’s the relationship that Jesus is talking about in the Gospel.

In the Sacrament of Marriage, the spouses when they give their consent, when they make their promises to each other in their marriage vows, are acting as Christ to each other; promising to love each other as Christ loves them; unconditionally, in good times and bad, good health and poor, in poverty and in wealth. This is extraordinarily difficult and there is no greater challenge in life.

I speak as a veteran. Claire and I will celebrate our 39th wedding anniversary in December and I am very conscious and incredibly grateful, and I’m sure I speak also for Claire, in saying that we are very thankful, for the grace of the sacrament of marriage that has sustained and nourished our commitment and love. There are no easy marriages and I can’t imagine trying to uphold the promises made, without the bedrock of God’s grace.

That’s why we get married in Church. Not because it’s a family tradition or motivated by romantic dreams and lovely photographs. We get married in Church because we want God to be included in our union.

We know that marriages fail. That’s a reality in our society. It’s interesting that the trend for couples to live together before they get married has proved to be dismal preparation for a successful marriage. If it was good preparation more marriages would succeed and the divorce rate would drop – but the exact opposite is true.

When a marriage fails, the very validity of the marriage covenant, the validity of the couple’s unconditional consent, can, and I believe should, be questioned and that’s what we know as the process of annulment.

Annulment is not a divorce which is purely a legal process to dissolve a legal contract.  An annulment recognises that there were factors, often unknown to the couple on the day of the wedding, which render the sacrament of marriage as null and void.

That’s why careful and thorough preparation for marriage is essential. I always encourage newly engaged couples to spend at least as much time preparing for marriage as they’ll spent preparing for the wedding which is just a party that lasts for a few hours; marriage is for the rest of their lives.

There is more written in canon law about marriage than about anything else and I couldn’t possible summarise the conditions for a valid marriage in a few minutes. In our humanity, we continue to grapple today with the complexities and difficulties of the marriage covenant as we have throughout time.

Pope Francis in his exhortation ‘The Joy of Love” addresses the pain and suffering endured by families through broken marriages and reminds us all, clergy and lay alike, that Jesus never failed to show compassion and closeness to the frailty of individual’s like the Samaritan woman and the woman caught in adultery. He says we need always to consider that the complexities and circumstances for each couple, for each individual, are different and that we must not put so many conditions on mercy that we empty it of its concrete meaning and real significance. That he says is the worst way of watering down the gospel.

As we continue now with the liturgy of the Eucharist let me finish with another quote from ‘The Joy of Love’: He writes “I would also point out that the Eucharist is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak”

IS MY FAITH ALIVE?

Mark 8: 27-35
James 2:14-18
24th SUNDAY ORDINARY TIME
CYCLE B
16TH September 2018
Deacon Tony van Vuuren.

We face some challenging questions in our readings today, and it forces us to actually ask, “Is my faith alive?” Now for many of us, that’s the reason we come to mass in the first place! We want to make an effort to follow Christ; so we would probably say that our faith is alive and not dead.

But the interesting thing is, St. James, in the second reading, is speaking to the very same kind of people. He is speaking to people who go to Mass every Sunday, who are in the minority of religious practice in his society. Yet he challenges them to ask that question, “Is my faith alive?”
It presents us with the reality of what it actually means to be a true Christian. Are we being practical Christians as Christ was? St James reminds us that: “Faith without good work is dead or useless”.

Christ proved his love for us by being practical. For three years he cast out demons and healed both Jews and Gentiles. He prayed for his followers and offered his life for us on the cross. This is ultimate practical Christianity that speaks volumes.

St James is pushing us to act out our faith; to completely live the faith that we may have only in our hearts and in our minds. He is convinced that our actions are really important—more important than our words. St James is concerned about proclaiming the Gospel to someone who has nothing without offering them something to sustain and comfort them.
There are so many opportunities to be practical each day; just ask God to be present; ask Jesus to be part of our decisions and our thoughts and use the gifts and fruits of The Holy Spirit.

In the Gospel, we hear Jesus asking that age-old question, “Who do you say that I am?” And as we hear; Peter professes his faith in Jesus, calling him the Christ, the anointed one of God.

It would seem to us that Peter’s faith was strong and alive. But as soon as Jesus starts explaining what his mission as the Christ will entail; spelling out the demands of discipleship – rejection, suffering, sharing in his responsibility for the human family; even if it means sharing His cross; Peter objects.

He is uncomfortable hearing about what the future has to hold. Peter has faith, but maybe it isn’t as alive as he had assumed. What Peter did get right were his words as far as they went. But when he came to acting on his faith, he failed. Mark’s Gospel does not spare Peter in relating his lapses of faith.

Who do you say I am? Is not a question we have to answer just once at a certain period of our lives. As we pass through various stages, our response will vary, depending upon life’s circumstances and our own maturity and faith. Christian life is a rigorous one, a daily challenge.

If we’re not being challenged to do more, we’re not doing it right. Jesus is not only the model who teaches us how to live our lives in accord with God’s will. His life, death and resurrection and his gift of his Spirit, is the very source of the good works or merciful deeds that we do or can do in his name.

We don’t have real fidelity to God unless that faith is producing works of fidelity. We need God’s grace, not only to profess our faith in words, but also to live it, to practise it, and especially if or when we find ourselves under pressure. In fact, in asking us what do we think of him, Jesus also implies that additional question: ‘So, what are you going to do about it?’

That’s the difficult question that our readings offer us today – is my faith alive? Answerable by each one of us here present; A faith that is alive, a faith that deeply impacts the way that I live, a faith that will ultimately lead me to the deeper meaning and happiness that God wants me to experience starting right here and now.

There’s a simple Ignation spiritual exercise that can help us with that. It’s a practice of prayer at the end of the day call the examination of conscience. (We have experts in the parish to tell you more) All it consists of is 5 to 10 minutes of quiet reflection and silence.

One doesn’t even need to do it in church! We can do it from the comfort of our own bed at night. Give thanks for our awareness of God’s presence through the day. Try going through the commandments or the beatitudes step by step to see if you were faithful to each one that day.

It might be tempting to say, “No, I didn’t kill, steal, or commit adultery today! So I’m good!” But look deeper at your life. “Maybe I didn’t kill anyone physically today, but did I do damage to their reputation?”

Examine our key relationships and responsibilities and see if we have lived them with maturity and true Christian purpose. And then at the conclusion, thank God for His grace and blessings of the day, ask pardon for our failures, and make that resolution to live a life of faith relying on God’s presence to keep our faith alive tomorrow.

As we celebrate this Mass today, we’re challenged to look at our lives of faith. Are we alive with Christ? Or have we grown comfortable with a faith that appears real, but actually has no life, no substance to it. Let us turn to the Lord, and invite him into our hearts through the Holy Eucharist, asking him for the gift of faith, asking that our faith will be alive in the way we live and finally we can ask for a deep and abiding sense of God’s personal presence in our lives.

Earth Day/GPS to Heaven

22nd Sunday Year B
2018 (2 Sept)
Deacon Les Ruhrmund

Before we look at the readings we have been encouraged by our Archbishop to recognise on this weekend, the significance of Earth Day which is celebrated today.
Earth Day is a reminder to us that we must do more to care for our ‘Mother Earth’, as Pope Francis calls it. The situation is critical and we are approaching the point of no return from which it will be impossible to reverse the devastating consequences of pollution, global warming and climate change on our environment and on humanity.

Pope Francis, in his encyclical Laudato Si (Praise be to you, my Lord!) on the environment and human ecology reminds us that we are stewards of the earth, and suggests that we must care for it as we would for a sister. He writes “This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. …There are symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life.”

God is the Master of creation. He is the Lord of all and He has entrusted the earth to us – to care for it and for all living things. We are directed in scripture to be responsible stewards of all that God has created. In everything we do we should keep in mind that we are privileged human beings living in God’s creation, caring and working always to nourish life; in the sea and the rivers, on the lands and the forests.

We seem to be on the road to self-destruction. We’re destroying our environment, we’re destroying entire species of animals, plants and sea life, and we’re pollution the air, the seas and our rivers with plastic and waste.
This is not news. We’re being presented with catastrophic evidence of this on an almost daily basis. But it’s all meaningless and ineffective – just hot air – unless we respond with some sort of remedial action.

We each have the God entrusted responsibility and obligation to do whatever we can in our own small way: reduce wastage of water and other precious resources, avoid plastic as far as possible, never pour cooking oil, fat or grease down the sink, only use energy efficient light bulbs and appliances, recycle whatever we can, check that our car tyres are properly inflated to consume less fuel, quit smoking, and there are very many other ways to make a contribution in the fight to protect, nurture and preserve Mother Earth who is slowly being smothered by our reckless disregard for her health.

In the first reading Moses, addressing the people he has brought out of slavery in Egypt, speaks of the fundamental loyalty that is essential to Israel’s unique relationship with God. He says that obedience to the commandments of God is the key. He’s referring to the 10 Commandments he received from God on Mount Sinai.

The 10 Commandments are the GPS on our journey to fulfilling the loving covenant we have entered into with God through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus; the GPS co-ordinates to heaven. The commandments prescribe how we are to relate and interact with God and with each other; with our neighbour. When we ignore the guidance and promptings of this GPS, ignore the teachings of the 10 Commandments, we lose our way and all too soon find ourselves lost in the wilderness.

In the Gospel reading, Jesus turns the challenge from the Pharisees and scribes about the manner in which his disciples prepared to eat bread, into a wide-sweeping exposure and criticism of their ‘lip-service’ interpretation of God’s commandments.

Understanding Jesus’s words to the Pharisees and to his disciples in terms that would be pertinent to us today, Jesus is saying:
• While we might appear to be Christian on the outside, we might well be quite evil on the inside.
• We can go to Mass regularly, avoid obviously offensive or sinful behaviour in public, while entertaining unkind and cruel thoughts of prejudice, intolerance, anger, bitterness and dishonesty in private
• That’s the hypocrisy that Jesus is talking about.

As the old saying goes, unless we live according to what we believe, we will soon start believing in accordance with how we live.
We can never consider ourselves better than any other person, no matter their lifestyle or circumstances, simply because our sins are less visible.
Jesus goes on to teach the crowd a revolutionary doctrine which puts him at odds with his own religious tradition. He says that it’s not what or how we eat that makes a person clean or unclean; only that which comes from our hearts.

External things like food don’t make us evil; it is our actions, as conscious choices, which reveal whether we are actually living according to God’s commandments.

Our beliefs don’t make us good people or good disciples, our actions do. We don’t make a difference in the world by going to church. We will only make a difference to the world by being the church.

Jesus accuses the Pharisees of disregarding the commandments of God so that they won’t be inconvenienced in following their man-made conventions. That’s an ever more difficult challenge for us as Christians – and particularly for Catholics – in a world that expects the church to ‘get with it’ and change its apostolic teachings rooted in the revelations of Christ and follow the road designed by a self-centred society.

We live in a world that largely relegates the role of God and his commandments to the sideliners suggesting that obedience to God is a fanciful option.
It isn’t and the sorry state of our world stands as stark testimony to that truth.

JESUS HIMSELF IS OUR SPIRITUAL FOOD

18th SUNDAY ORDINARY TIME
CYCLE B
5th AUGUST 2018.
(John 6:24-35)
Deacon Tony van Vuuren

The First reading telling how God fed His people in the desert with manna is regarded as the classic example of God’s care for His people.

Jesus too fed people who were hungry as we heard about last Sunday. But the Gospel makes it clear that the Son of Man did not come down from above merely to satisfy physical hunger. He came to give heavenly bread that people will eat and never become hungry. The bread in question at this time is primarily the teaching given by Jesus. Only at a later point does it refer to the Eucharist.

Often in his preaching Christ uses images of food, particularly bread, to emphasise our need for spiritual as well as physical nourishment. He warned his listeners about having too much of a preoccupation with their material needs – or what they imagined to be their needs – and he criticised them for not being attentive enough to their more crucial need to be well-fed spiritually.

“Do not work for food that cannot last,” he says here, “but work for food that endures to eternal life – the kind of food the Son of Man is offering you”.
He spoke in a similar way at the outset of his ministry when he rejected the devil’s temptations and said that man does not live by bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.

There are two conclusions that I would like to draw from these kinds of statements made by Jesus.

Firstly; not to exaggerate what he said. Jesus never made out that our ordinary physical or material needs are irrelevant, or that they’re not real needs.
It’s not being unspiritual to acknowledge that we all need to eat. And it’s not being selfish to try to gain a certain minimum of security and stability in our material circumstances.

For most of us, if we’re caught up in great anxiety or upheaval in the outward circumstances of our lives, it’s much more difficult to pray and to concentrate on God in any sense, and at those times we often have to be content with whatever brief, distracted prayers we can manage.

What Jesus tended to warn his listeners against wasn’t the idea of maintaining a certain minimum level of stability in their material circumstances. More often he warned against the temptation to make the material side of life the whole of life; making it an end in itself; getting over-concerned about money, possessions, or about the level of comfort that we have; hankering after a luxurious style of living; that might exclude any time or thought for our spiritual needs.

According to Christ’s way of seeing things those sorts of total preoccupation alienate us from God. They stifle the spiritual side of our nature and they erode the bonds of care and compassion that we’re supposed to have towards other people and their needs.

And then there’s a second aspect of this Sunday’s gospel reading we can look at, because Jesus does more here than stick up for spirituality in some vague sense. When they ask him how they can get this bread that he’s talking about; bread that endures to eternal life, Jesus answers: I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never be hungry; he who believes in me will never thirst.

To enter into friendship with Christ, to grow in knowledge of Christ, is like a path we have to walk along if we want to come to a full, truthful knowledge of God.

Finding God – the way we understand it – isn’t just a product of our human imagination or capacity for creativity. We find the true God revealed in the person of Christ, and faith is the attitude of acceptance of what’s revealed by Christ.
And it’s through this attitude of acceptance towards the person and work of Christ – acknowledging him for who he says he is – that we’re led into a life of closer communion with God. Without Christ’s ministry and preaching, without his Passion and death, we would know a certain amount about God, but we would still be waiting for the most important facets of God’s nature to be revealed to us.

We must distinguish between faith and trust. Though they are closely linked they are not the same thing. The person, who firmly believes with strong faith, trusts completely. But if one does not have perfect trust in God, their faith will be faint as well.
Faith and trust in God will nourish us at all times, but especially during times of trial. It’s not we who keep the faith; it’s the faith that keeps us.

John wrote his gospel in the first place because he was convinced that in Jesus, God has been revealed to us in a final, full and unsurpassable way. He wrote in the hope that as many of his readers as possible would be led to the same conclusion.

So these are just a couple of the lessons we can draw from this part of Jesus’ discussion with the people who are questioning him about the “bread of life”.
Jesus repeats what is a frequent theme of his, trying to persuade people not to become mired in the preoccupations of material life. And at the same time he goes further, insisting on his own unique vocation to lead humanity towards knowledge of, and communion with, the true God.

We are called to bring healing into our broken world

15th Sunday Year B 2018
Deacon Les Ruhrmund

The prophet Amos lived close on 2800 years ago in a village about 10km south of Bethlehem in the southern Hebrew kingdom of Judah but when called by God to be his prophet he moved across the border to Bethel in the northern kingdom of Israel; a travel distance of about 40km.

For the Hebrew kingdoms, this was a time of relative peace and prosperity but beneath its affluence, the nation was rotten: luxury and excess for the rich, exploitation of the poor, loose moral standards, corruption in public life, and religious observance based on ritual rather than piety.

It was against these abuses that God called Amos to preach and he didn’t mince his words. His criticism is fierce and damning and it’s hardly surprising that the authorities disliked him. He was accused of treason and conspiring against the king and as we heard in today’s reading, was told to pack his bags and go home. The voice of truth is seldom welcome in the courtyards of the powerful.

On the world stage today, Pope Francis is a very strong voice speaking out about the abuses of power and wealth at the expense of the poor and we are encouraged to do the same.

In the Gospel reading, Jesus sends the twelve disciples out to be the voice of truth. And he forewarns them that they may not always receive a warm welcome and that where they are rejected they should walk away and “shake off the dust that’s on your feet”; implying that those who will not receive them are unclean and unworthy.

Jesus sent them out on their mission with nothing except his authority; no food, no money, no spare clothes. This stands in stark contrast to some of the prosperity evangelists professing to proclaim God’s message today. A few weeks ago an American televangelist Jesse Duplantis, who claims to have 130m followers worldwide, appealed to his audience to buy him a new private jet worth $54m because God had told him that he needs it and he deserves it. He says the plane gets him closer to God and in his video explained that he needs a private plane because there are demons on airlines, and also because fans come up to him and agitate his spirit. He actuals uses a quote from the prophet Amos to justify his message.

There’s no shortage of charlatans purporting to be messengers of Christ. A pastor in Nigeria at the start of the World Cup urged his followers to pay him $2 000 to unleash a squadron of “prayer warriors” to help the country’s footballers secure a World Cup win. I doubt he’s refunded their money.

The message of the twelve that Jesus sent out is simple: “Repent!”
Repentance means a change of heart and a change of action. It’s painful. It means facing up to the unpleasant reality that the way we are living may be wrong. We may not be committing diabolical sins like theft, murder or adultery but we may be living lives that are centred primarily on ourselves; our comfort, our desires, our bubble of self-contentment. A change to a God-centred life is very difficult and perhaps that’s why so few truly repent.

But the twelve also brought healing; the mercy of God.

Mark tells us that the disciples drove out demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them. The anointing of the sick is still a very powerful and wonderful sacrament available to all of us today through the ministry of the Church and is perhaps the most misunderstood and most underutilised of the seven sacraments often seen as the “last rites”, or Extreme Unction, of the dying. Small wonder that some may want to avoid being on the receiving end. The anointing is a sacrament, not of death, but of life. There is no sacrament that can save us from death.

The healing power of the sacrament is often clouded with the desire for physical healing but the encounter with Christ through the sacrament attends to our spiritual health and well-being as well as our physical sickness.

Often when people are sick, they get discouraged, depressed, angry and afraid. The sacrament offers the grace to calm the soul and strengthen the spirit bringing peace and courage in the face of pain, anxiety and fear. If physical recovery is God’s will, so be it; but our calling and our mission aren’t dependent on good physical health. The intention of the sacrament isn’t the extension of life on earth nor does it negate the need for medical care. The sacrament provides God’s grace and supernatural assistance to coincide with the miracles of modern medicine.

And the anointing brings forgiveness in the absolution of sins; forgiveness and mercy from God and the grace to forgive ourselves for the many ways in which we have failed to love.

We are able to receive the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick as often as we may need it. The elderly, the serious ill, those with life threatening diseases, chronic pain or recurring illness, can and should be anointed regularly.

While the sacrament of healing can only be administered by a priest or bishop, we are all called and able to offer healing. Often suffering and pain is more emotional than physical and we could look into our hearts and perhaps hear there the voice of Jesus sending us out to bring healing into the lives of those we may have hurt with our words or actions, or lack of words and actions.

Let’s pray that the call of the Holy Spirit to bring healing into our broken world will find a secure place in our hearts; if not it will shake off the dust and move on.