Category Archives: Cycle B

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.

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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.

Always Access to God

33rd SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME.
CYCLE B
15TH NOVEMBER 2015.
Mark 13:24-32
Tony van Vuuren

It is near the end of the liturgical year and the Scripture readings traditionally describe the end times. It may seem like such time is nearer than we would like it to be for us today, especially if we look at the signs around us. Certainly there are many among us who could relate to what the book of Daniel reports will happen: “it shall be a time unsurpassed in distress.” (Old missal)

A glance at the newspaper or TV news is about all many of us can absorb. It seems that we all live in the middle of; or on the edge of psychological “war zones” because of the violence that happens around us. To wake up yesterday morning to the news of the cowardly terrorist attacks in Paris just seems to be the last straw, but we all know that there will be more to come elsewhere in the world. Closer to home, in our own families and work places, there are many other challenges that add to this internal distress. How do we process all of these things? Do we dismiss them? Do we obsess over them?

While our readings are indeed full of gloom and doom, and perhaps our lives too, the gloom and doom need not overwhelm us. Take some comfort from a line in today’s psalm which reads,” You will show me the path of life, the fullness of joy in your presence.” Our hope in the Lord can still shine through whatever difficulties befall us. We must have the confidence in our faith to ask the Lord to show us “the path to life” and “the fullness of joy in God’s presence”. Be among those who choose to say “my heart is glad and my soul rejoices, my body, too, abides in confidence”. I think we can beat this constant daily stream of gloom and doom by placing our trust in God and professing our faith!

I attended my first Catholic service here at St Michael’s many years ago before we were married and it happened to be the Good Friday service, which as you all know involves a lot of kneeling and standing and sitting. I stood out like a sore thumb, not really knowing what to do at any time. I obviously tried to follow Maeve’s example but my timing was out! The rest as they say is history.

I relate this anecdote because I want us to notice the postures we adopt during mass. When we stand and when we sit, when we kneel to, because these postures, this body language gives out a profession of faith. It says something of what we believe important.

When we stand ready to hear the Gospel proclaimed, we do so because it is not the word of the priest or deacon that we’re about to hear, but the word of Jesus our Saviour speaking to us directly. When we sit to listen to the homily we adopt a posture that says, now talk to me – make me think, give me food for thought to go away with; but don’t take too long doing it!

Standing and sitting have long symbolised the differing responses to what goes on when we publicly worship God. To stand in the presence of the Lord is not so we can stand eyeball to eyeball with him. We stand as a sign of unity with each other, as we stand together before God. When we kneel, especially during the consecration, we adopt a posture long used to show humility, adoration and submission to the one we acknowledge is the highest power.

Throughout the Sacred Scriptures standing, sitting and kneeling have not just been casual postures, done because those doing them couldn’t think of what else to do. The postures of standing and kneeling have something to say to us, they can draw us into a remembrance of why we’re here, what we receive and have to take away.

In the first reading, from the prophet Daniel, the writer spoke of the Archangel Michael standing up to mount guard over God’s people (Dan 12).

He writes about when a time of great distress would come, the people belonging to the Lord would be spared disaster because the archangel would stand on guard, ready to defend them. Had the writer told us the archangel would be sitting about to guard us from disaster we might not feel comfortable.

Guards on duty need to stand if they are to be ready to spring into action. To hear of the archangel Michael standing on guard to defend those who belong to the Lord is to be told of God’s care and protection – a care to cling to when the trials and terrors of life come visiting. To hear of such divine care may inspire us to stand up – stand up for our faith, firm in knowing the Lord cares deeply what happens to us.

In the Gospel this Sunday Jesus is actually sitting whilst saying what he does; not that the reading told us, but if you read back a few verses you discover that Jesus has just sat down on the Mount of Olives (Mk 13:3).

From there he can see across the Kidron valley to a view of the Temple in Jerusalem. He has just visited the Temple and now sitting on the Mount of Olives geographically opposite the Temple Jesus is confronting all that it represents. He sits because his work is almost complete. All that remains is for the curtain in the Temple, the one which marked out the Holy of Holies, to be torn in two at the moment of his death; symbolising our access to God through Jesus’ sacrifice.

By sitting Jesus is teaching his disciples to look beyond what seems permanent and to remember what is of lasting value: “heaven and earth will pass away but my words will not. The Son of Man will gather his elect.”

Jesus wants us to know that at the end of our lives, God is going to ask us to give an account of what we did with our lives; but God’s judgement isn’t something we should be afraid of. That’s why Jesus says today that nobody knows when the world will end; because that’s not what is important. It doesn’t matter when the world will end, or when our lives will end. What’s important is what are we doing with our lives right now? How are we living right now?

Are any of us in a position to answer that question in the way St Francis of Assisi did when asked what he would do if he knew that the end of time was tomorrow? He simply said he would be hoeing in his garden!

As you sit listening to me allow me to ask: what in your life seems permanent, what gives you security in these distressed times? Our jobs may be taken away from us; our health may fail at any time; but not our access to God.

By His sacrifice on the cross, Jesus opened for us a new way to God through his flesh. To receive his body is to receive a pledge of what is eternal and in whom we can trust. Whatever may be going on for each one of us right now, dare to believe in the sign of communion given at this and at every Mass.

Whether we stand or kneel to receive the blessed host, don’t treat it lightly. Receive the body of Christ acknowledging this is how God gives us a pledge of his faithful love. A pledge that His words will not fade away; a love without end; and a love inviting us to go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.

PRAYER OF LAMENTATION

30th Sunday Ordinary Time
Cycle B
25th OCTOBER 2015.
Mark 10: 46-52.
Dcn Tony van Vuuren

Every now and then we come across people knocked for six by some terrible disaster or mishap in their lives. In their extreme pain they are often incapable of saying even one word about what they are feeling. So when we ask: ’How are you feeling?’ or ‘Is there anything I can do?’, there’s no answer. The victims of sudden disaster are simply incapable of answering anything at all. In their numb state they are feeling just too much pain and shock even to hear what is being said to them, let alone focus on what is being said.

The first step to easing our pain is for us to find a language, however slowly, to express it. In the pages of the bible we find a language to express the pain that comes from loss, and the pain that comes from fear. In fact there are many prayers of lament, many lamentations of one kind or another in the bible. What they have in common is that they are cries from the heart, shouts of suffering, groans of anguish, and even screams for help. A lamentation typically includes an invocation to God; a plea for divine intervention.
Cries, shouts and groans to God when we are in acute pain not only help us to express ourselves. They are also expressions of hope that things can change, that they can get better.
Lamentation, then, is not pessimistic, it is trustful. It refuses to remain powerless and passive in response to suffering, frustration, disappointment, or disaster.

When that poor blind beggar Bartimaeus hears that Jesus is nearby, he shouts out his lament: ‘Son of David, Jesus, have mercy on me.’ Some of those surrounding Jesus resent this beggar expressing his pain and screaming out for help. They tell him to ‘shut up’. But Bartimaeus knows that if things are ever going to change for the better, he must grab the opportunity and communicate to Jesus the loss of his sight and his lack of an income to buy food, clothing, or any of the necessities of life. He has been blind nearly all his life, and he’s had enough of living in his world of total darkness, and he’s just not going to take it anymore; with the arrival of Jesus on the scene he’s convinced that his one and only chance of a brand new start is now at hand.

Bartemaeus’ cries for help stop Jesus in his tracks. He tells the bystanders to reach out to Bartimaeus by calling him over. At this command the disciples now change their tune. ‘Courage,’ they say, ‘Get up; he is calling you.’ Jesus asks him that question of all questions: ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ When the blind man finds words to express his loss, Jesus heals him and commends him for expressing the faith that is saving him. Saved by faith in the power and compassion of Jesus, he uses his new sight to follow Jesus along the way, as his newest disciple.
So this marvellous healing of the blind man takes place as the result of a prayer of lamentation.
It’s a story that reminds us that in the frustration and anger over bad things that happen to us or others, or in situations of acute pain, it’s quite all right to give vent to our feelings, and even, like Bartimaeus, to yell or even scream at God for help. After all, God is big enough, great enough and good enough, to absorb all our cries of pain and all our cries for help.

But if, on the other hand, we’ve been brought up to think that the religious response to pain and suffering should be silence and passivity, then we won’t ever pray those prayers of complaint and lament to God that we need to pray. We’ll just take it all on the chin, and fall into a crumpled heap of depression and anxiety. To do that, however, means that we will be depriving ourselves of a language to state our suffering.

Instead of honestly telling God our loving Father exactly what we are thinking and feeling, our prayer will be a kind of polite and reverent game of ‘make-believe’.

We will also deprive ourselves of the possibility of help and healing from God in one form or another.
Just as Bartimaeus touched the heart of Jesus and found the comfort and healing he needed in his life-long predicament, we will also find that our prayers of lament will go straight to the heart of God.

We all have different needs; physical, financial, relational and spiritual. No matter what our need, however, Jesus can help us if we cry out to him. Be humble but confident. The world often rebukes simple faith in God, but God never does.
For a host of reasons we sometimes stop praying or we pray less frequently. Sometimes if we do pray, we neglect to ask for anything for ourselves. What stops us from praying? Fear, anger, guilt, broken hearts, temptation, apathy. We do not deserve to be happy. We are afraid of holiness. We are angry at God for what appears to be unanswered prayers. We are tempted away from prayer by worldly or sinful things. We stop caring about our relationship with Jesus.

It is time to put a stop to all that. It is time to call out to Jesus here and now.

Loud and clear. To once again contemplate what we are missing in life. To hear the voice of Jesus ask us — “What do you want me to do for you?” And we must be able to respond.

Bartimaeus said that he wanted to see.

What is it that we want to see in our lives?

Ask for it. Have faith!

ONLY HAVE FAITH

Mark: 5: 21-43
13th SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME.
Cycle B.
28th June 2015.
Rev Tony van Vuuren

“Do not be afraid; only have faith.” What does that mean to a family who has lost a child to an incurable disease after 4 years of trying to keep her alive, whatever the cost? What does it mean to a wife and mother who has to explain to her young children that their father and sole breadwinner will not be coming home having been killed in a taxi high jacking in Mannenberg? And so I can go on.
It is far easier said than done; “to not be afraid; and only have faith!”

The importance of faith is obvious in Mark’s two stories in today’s Gospel, because they give us valuable insight into the character of Jesus. They tell us of someone who feels acutely the desperate pain of others, and who does not disappoint those who approach him for help.

It is solely because of faith that the woman is healed when she touches Jesus, and when Jairus approaches Jesus and thereafter He raises Jairus’s daughter from the dead. What does this say to us about our faith today and about the miracles that we also need, especially the ones that don’t seem to happen? Just because we don’t “get what we ask for” exactly the way we want, doesn’t mean that a miracle has not happened. In my opinion, I think that in order to match faith with reality, we need to expand our concept of faith and also what we consider a miracle.

Faith does not mean that God will do what we ask like a Mr. or Ms. Fix-it-right -now, on demand… and just the way we expect. No, faith means that God will act on our behalf, for our own good and the good of others. Whether it is one of life’s literal or figurative storms, a serious illness, a complex problem, the closing in of the death of a loved one or whatever; God will help us through it. That is faith. That is where miracles happen.
Faith then, to me, is that God will provide for all we need, mostly in unexpected ways and through unexpected sources.

Holding on to God rather than on to the outcome we want is what is hard for us. We want the murky waters of life to become clear; sometimes they just don’t! We have persevere to see and work through the muck and feel the solidness of what God provides as an alternative. Searching for alternatives is not being a Pollyanna, it is believing that God will provide.

Maybe like Jairus, we sometimes seem to wait too long to ask Jesus for his help. How many doctors, exorcists, or remedies had Jairus tried first? Like Jairus, sometimes a major crisis is required before we break through the restraints of apathy, fear, or pride and ask Jesus for help; and even then sometimes we feel it is too late!

Are we like the un-named woman who has reached a stage of desperation; a point of daring without worrying about the consequences, to break through the crowd to deliberately touch Jesus with faith and trust? Sometimes we are like the crowds and mourners who accept a world that appears absent of the power of God — a power that can turn predictability and logic on its head. We tend to forget that nothing is impossible with God — and this story proves that point.

The raising of Jairus’ daughter, like the raising of Lazarus in Saint John’s gospel, is meant to bring up the themes of life and death and life after death – themes which lie at the heart of the Christian message of salvation.

The first reading today mentions the fact that according to God’s original intention, human beings were made “imperishable”. We were destined to immortality, and this is one of the main ways that we resemble God and share his nature. The symbolic meaning of the miracles in the gospel then is that Christ has knocked down the barriers to our eternal life with God and “abolished death” as today’s Gospel Acclamation puts it. Christ has restored God’s original intention.

There are many who don’t have any religious faith or any belief in life after death who take what we might call a resigned or pessimistic attitude to death. They claim that death destroys us, wipes us out, and does not lead anywhere. But there’s no place for that attitude among us. After all, we are Christians.
We believe strongly in Jesus as the ‘Resurrection and the Life’, and in his reassuring words, ‘Don’t be afraid; only have faith’.

All of us are wounded persons – more or less. The woman who came to Jesus was deeply and even desperately wounded. But we can be wounded without showing it. We can carry such invisible wounds as feelings of rejection, failure, guilt, worthlessness, loneliness, bitterness and hostility.

All of us need healing, and all of us can be ‘wounded healers’ too. Our lives are continually touching those of others. With a little sympathy we can heal a wounded heart. With a little care we can ease a troubled mind. With a little time we can ease another’s loneliness.

So every now and then let’s stop and ask ourselves, ‘What goes out from me when I am approached or touched, through my words, my deeds, and my relationships? Am I hurting someone? Or, under God’s guidance, am I actually healing someone?”

Faith is the knowledge of God that takes us beyond a purely worldly-wisdom. When we start to live in contact with God we start to lose any notion that our lives have no purpose or meaning. It’s faith that gradually gives us a sense of the direction our lives are supposed to move in and a sense of our real vocation as God’s creatures: “to know him, love and serve him in this world, and to be happy with him forever in the next”.

Peace be with you

2nd Sunday of Easter
Cycle B
12 April 2015
John 20:19-31
By Deacon Tony van Vuuren

Of all the ways Jesus could have greeted the apostles on that first day of the week, he chose four simple words: “Peace be with you” (John 20:19). It can be very easy to just gloss over this greeting, but Christ is not only wishing them a material “well-being”, he is also giving the Apostles a spiritual “well-being”. Remember, Jesus had just risen from the dead. He had just fulfilled God’s centuries-long plan of salvation, and opened heaven for all who believe. Now the time had come to reveal himself to his closest friends.

It was time to reveal their salvation and the miracle of the resurrection. So wouldn’t you think he would say something far more important to mark this crucial moment? But he didn’t. He chose instead to offer an informal, everyday greeting; a greeting nevertheless that captures the heart of the Easter message. .

The apostles were not in the most peaceful state of mind when Easter Sunday dawned. Not only had they seen Jesus arrested and been told of the crucifixion, but they also experienced their own weakness and lack of faith. Rather than hold on to Jesus’ promise that he would rise again, they gave in to fear and doubt.

By all accounts, they had failed Him; but when Jesus appeared, he didn’t bring up the painful, embarrassing events of the past few days. He didn’t even mention them! Instead, he just wished them peace.

Peace be with you. SHALOM!

This word reminds us of words of a similar ilk that Jesus spoke to men and women in various Gospel stories. For example the woman caught in adultery. When all her accusers had walked away, Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you.

Go, and from now on do not sin any more.” In these stories, Jesus’ main goal was to show that he did not come into the world to condemn us but to save us (John 3:17). He didn’t want a relationship marked by vengeance, retribution, or anger. All he wanted was for us to experience His mercy and be at peace with him.

What do the words “Peace be with you” say to us? No matter how many times we sin, no matter how grievous our offenses are, God stands ready to forgive us and release us from guilt. He does this so that we can experience the peace that comes from being reconciled with him; allowing ourselves to be at peace with ourselves and at peace with each other.

The peace that comes from Jesus is not the same as the peace of this world (John 14:27). At the last supper a few days before; Jesus says; “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.” The world’s peace depends on favorable circumstances: our getting our way, things going as expected, with maybe a few manageable problems.

That sounds nice, but as soon as things go awry, this type of peace tends to dissipate, leaving us anxious and fretful. By contrast, the peace that Jesus brings, helps us face troubling circumstances without becoming swallowed up by anxiety or anger or fear.

It brings a quiet confidence to our hearts that guides us as we face challenging decisions. It’s a peace that depends not on the events of our day but on the boundless love of the Lord: A peace that says; “I belong to Christ, and I know that he will never abandon me!”

None of us will be perfect disciples. There may be days in a row when we disappoint Jesus or someone close to us. But we are so much more than the sum of our mistakes and failings. We are more than the sum of our successes and breakthroughs.

We are beloved of God, chosen and destined for heaven. Jesus isn’t interested in reviewing all of our past sins. He isn’t interested in questioning all of our current motivations.

All he wants to do is point us to the love that we already have for him, and we’ll find our way to peace in our hearts. And the more peaceful we are with ourselves, the easier it will be to follow Jesus and fulfill his calling for us. What about being at peace with each other? Jesus’ gift of peace is meant to spill over into our relationships with each other.

Immediately after saying to the Apostles for a second time, “Peace be with you,” Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (John 20:21). Jesus is sending us out spiritually; asking us to treat each other with the same mercy and love that he has shown us.

It’s a mercy that pulls down dividing walls of hostility, unforgiveness, and prejudice (Ephesians 2:14). It’s a love that empowers us to love each other deeply and be at peace with one another. Loving each other and forgiving each other is perhaps the most challenging aspect of our life as Christians. We know how difficult it is to love without conditions and stipulations. We know how difficult it is to forgive someone who has hurt us. Our natural response is to lash out in anger, sink into guilt, or shrink back in resentment.

The only way we can overcome these patterns is to do as Paul says; “let the peace of Christ” control our hearts (Colossians 3:15). If we can imagine what Peter and the others felt when Jesus stood before them, offering them unconditional forgiveness and endless friendship, we’ll find our hearts softening. If we can imagine ourselves in their place, knowing that Jesus tells us, “Neither do I condemn you,” we’ll find the grace to do the same with each other.

If we can dedicate ourselves to living in love and mercy, we’ll find ourselves more united with our friends, family members, and neighbors. We’ll even find ourselves becoming more peaceful around the people who trouble us! The powerful and the poor, and everyone in between.

Throughout his life, Jesus worked tirelessly to remove the obstacles that keep us from knowing peace with God, peace in our hearts, and peace with each other.

Then on Easter Sunday, he announced that the promise had been fulfilled. Every obstacle to peace has been removed! Now Jesus stands before us as a forgiving Savior, not as a vengeful judge. He stands before us offering us his peace.

“Shalom.

Let his words sink into our hearts. Let the truth behind them find a home in us. “Peace Be with You.” is so much more than a pleasant greeting. It’s a promise and a gift from almighty God!

Finding grace in the wilderness

1st Sunday Lent
Year B 2015
22 Feb 2015
Les  Ruhrmund

 As we start the first full week of Lent, some of us will still be thinking about what we’re going to do this Lent to make it meaningful and others will already be well under way. Lent is just too important a time in the year to let it slip away unnoticed. Just as in our personal calendars there are times in the year of joy and celebration and times of quiet and reflection, so there are in our liturgical calendar different times with very different moods and character. And each season is dependent on the other. We only know real joy when we have experienced real sorrow; we only appreciate happiness when we’ve know the pain of sadness. Spring is all the more wonderful because it follows winter. Every year the seasons repeat themselves – autumn, winter, spring and summer – and yet every year they are different.

This Lent too is different; much water as flowed under the bridge in our lives since Lent last year. Things have changed: love, health, family, job, our relationship with God and the Church; our relationship with ourselves.

The changes in the liturgy during Lent are there to encourage and remind us that these next six weeks have a different significance from any other time in the year. In the Mass, the Gloria is not said, there are no Alleluias or flowers, the colour is purple and music is kept to a minimum.  This is a time for reflective preparation of our great Easter celebration.

The first reading taken from the book of Genesis recounts the covenant that God made with Noah after the flood. Is the story of the flood myth or history? The recent epic movie ‘Noah’ probably leans towards myth. But it is neither myth nor history. The best term would be the creation-flood story. The ancient writers and thinkers didn’t have the tools of philosophy and theology and language that we have today to explore complex and serious questions and ideas and instead they used a narrative to express their understanding of our relationship with God and vice versa; and while that may strike us as being a bit naive, the stories are nevertheless quite profound in the telling.

The flood story tells of new beginnings, a fresh start, a new covenant between God and his people and it prefigures what we today celebrate in Baptism. In the extract we heard in the second reading from Peter’s First Letter, he writes that just as Noah was saved by water, so we are saved by the waters of Baptism. Through Baptism we are brought into a new relationship with God. The sign of God’s covenant with Noah is the rainbow and perhaps the next time we see a rainbow we could let it remind us of our covenant with God through Christ.

Lent is a time for us to reflect on how far we have drifted from the purity of our baptismal promises and a time to refresh our relationship with God; a time for a change of heart. Lent is a time for action. We cannot think ourselves into a change of heart; we have to change our behaviour before we’ll experience a true change of heart. We are not disciples by virtue of our silent prayers and weekly Mass; we’re only disciples when we take the faith that is in our heads, nourished with prayer and worship, and put it into action in our every day living.

“Repent and believe in the Gospel’ says Jesus after he returns from the wilderness in the extract we heard from Mark’s Gospel.

Mark’s version of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness is much shorter than Matthew’s or Luke’s but in its brevity it loses none of it punch. Jesus is driven into the wilderness immediately after his baptism in the Jordan and it comes as a bit of a surprise I think that the Spirit who came upon him in the River Jordan is the very same Spirit that drove him into the wilderness. The wilderness in scripture is a place of both testing and revelation as witnessed in the centuries before Jesus in the lives of Moses, Elijah and the people of Israel on their way to the Promised Land.

I think it would be fair to say that many of us are already in the wilderness as we start this Lent and we should be encouraged to know that we are there because of the prompting of the Holy Spirit. It’s a lonely place and notwithstanding the physical comforts and pleasures of our lives, there is often an empty, unfulfilled space of disquiet in our hearts. A nagging sense that we’re alive but that we’re not really living. Lent is a time to explore that space and find God’s grace. Grace creates the very emptiness that grace alone can fill.

It’s in the wilderness, in our weakness, in out temptations and trials, that we’ll find grace.

Jesus was tested by Satan but sustained in his faithfulness to the Father by God’s grace.

In the wilderness we’ll find God within us and we’ll find ourselves in God.

Our temptations, our failings, our flaws and mistakes and our sufferings, are doorways to God’s grace. But nothing will change unless we take a risk and open that door and allow the grace to uphold us.

Jesus preached that the very power of God is available to those who open themselves to him and to his gospel way of loving service.

Through prayer, sacrifice, penance and charity we can come out of the wilderness in this Lenten season with a renewed and revitalised relationship with God, ourselves and our neighbour