Category Archives: Easter

OUR FRAGILE FAITH

3rd SUNDAY OF EASTER
CYCLE B
15th APRIL 2018
Deacon Tony van Vuuren

 

When Jesus appears to the disciples in the upper room for the first time after His resurrection they are frightened and alarmed and their first reaction is to think that they’re seeing a ghost. Jesus responds by going out of his way to show that he has very definitely risen from death in his physical body; “flesh and bones” as he says of himself. Then he eats some food to accentuate the point.

St. Luke is emphasising that in his risen body Jesus is the same as before. As the disciples made more sense of the events God had pulled them into, they discovered aspects of faith and reached conclusions about God’s character and God’s plan of salvation which are just as valuable for us today.

On our part, as present-day followers of Christ, we don’t have the proofs that we can produce of Jesus’ Resurrection, scientific studies of what his risen body was like. Someone who insists on that kind of information today is unlikely to become a believer.

What we do have through the scriptures is the testimony of the disciples: their descriptions of their meetings with Christ and the evidence of the transformation these meeting worked in them. Those are the experiences that the Church is founded on; based on Jesus’ resurrection, which is the central reality of the Christian faith.

St. Luke’s message to us in these final lines of his gospel is that although Christ isn’t directly present to us the way he was to his first followers, he is present, and remains present, to us in the “breaking of the bread” – not just in the bread and wine that become his Body and Blood during the Eucharist, but in the whole spirit of prayer and solidarity in Christ that the Eucharist creates in us, if we approach it and take part in it in the right spirit.

I know that God calls people in all kinds of circumstances and make his presence felt in our lives in whatever way he wants. God might be able to work more effectively in an atheist who actually practices the commandment of love in regard to other people than he might be in a person who calls them self a Christian but refuses to dedicate them self in any way to serving the needs of others.

But it’s also true I think, in the context of our own Catholic faith, that when people are earnest about their spiritual life and their whole relationship with Christ and with God, they come to value the Eucharist more and more as a support and a means of progress in holiness, and a source of contact with Christ. St. John’s advice might be particularly valuable to the many people today who find faith in God difficult.

Every Christian, at one point or another, will have an experience of the “absence” of God: the sense that he has somehow departed, is no longer providing support, or simply doesn’t exist. When this happens many believers gradually drift away from faith altogether.

Attending Mass every day or each weekend; we may show up being able to speak of the story of Jesus, but we do not feel that we are part of the story. We are able to simply recount the events, but we do not see how we fit inside the story ourselves.

Our faith can be very fragile. We are presented with readings from Sacred Scripture to which we listen for inspiration, for encouragement, for challenge, for the voice of God speaking to us in intimate ways. Finally, we ask to be intimately united to Jesus in the eating of his body and the drinking of his blood in the Blessed Sacrament. We pray to have our ears and eyes open to what is true and holy.

Perhaps what happened to the disciples is what we want to happen to ourselves. We want to have that burning feeling in our hearts. We want to hear the voice of God speak to us intimately through Sacred Scripture. We want to recognize Jesus in the Eucharist. We want to have the enthusiasm, hope and courage to make an about-face and return to Jesus — to return to a deeper faith.

So I would finish by suggesting that perhaps this Sunday we could pray for the whole Church community, but especially for ourselves here today, that we’ll take Luke’s point and appreciate the Eucharist more as a real meeting-point with Christ and that we’ll be able to “recognise him in the breaking of bread” as readily as his first followers did.

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Hearing the gentle voice of the Good Shepherd

4th Sunday Easter
Year C
17 April 2016
Deacon Les Ruhrmund

In the first reading we pick up on Paul on his first missionary journey accompanied by Barnabas arriving in Antioch of Pisidia which is situated in the lakes region of modern day Turkey and which was about 700 kms as the crow flies from Antioch in Syria where Paul and Barnabas had been commissioned to make this journey. Barnabas you will recall was the chap who vouched for Paul’s sincerity after his conversion and he pleaded Paul’s case to the apostles who were suspicious and afraid of him because of his history of aggressive persecution of the Christians.

The reading tells us that Paul and Barnabas had a fantastic reception when they preached in the synagogue and that by the second week, almost the whole town turned up to hear their story about Jesus, his resurrection and the salvation of the world. This news was received joyfully by the Gentiles, the non-Jewish population, and many of them became disciples but it really upset the Jewish religious authorities who drove Paul and Barnabas away;and they moved on, determined and unperturbed, to the next town, Iconium, about 150kms away. Paul and Barnabas didn’t mince their words in their warning to the Jewish leaders. They told them that the Messiah had been revealed first to the Jewish people as had been foretold in scripture but that in rejecting Jesus they had brought judgement on themselves and precluded any hope of their salvation.

In the second reading taken from the Book of Revelation, John describes a scene from his trance experience and gives his readers one understanding of what eternal life means. He’s trying to describe something that is indescribable. How can anyone possibly describe adequately what life with God in heaven for all eternity is like? We have no frame of reference or experience from which to draw a picture or a description. John sees Jesus as the shepherd on the throne surrounded by huge numbers of adoring disciples from every nation, tribe, people and tongue, a number so great that it is beyond reckoning. These are the people who notwithstanding great pain and suffering had followed Jesus in their lives on earth and now are rejoicing with him and want for nothing; every need is fully satisfied; that’s heaven.

These two readings ably introduce the short reading from John’s Gospel in which we hear Jesus, as the Good Shepherd, say “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give them eternal life”

Jesus calls each one of us by name to follow him.

The difficulty that we often have is to hear his voice; the gentle voice of the shepherd. We run the risk of following other voices that leads us away from God rather than towards God. Typically these are the voices that we hear in our thoughts and even our prayers and in the depths of our soul that are focused on our own hurts and needs and desires rather than those of our neighbour.

During Lent this year I read a recently published book called “A Basic Field Manual for Hearing God’s Voice”written by Philip Kosloski, an American Catholic author, journalist and blogger who writes on discernment, discipleship and prayer.He draws on the wisdom of Ignatius of Loyola and John Paul II among many others in his writing.

In one chapter of the book he describes 3 ways to distinguish between God’s Voice and Satan’s Voice. Three ways that will help us recognise the voice of the Good Shepherd from the voice of the wolf in sheep’s clothing.

The first way is to recognise the voice that contradicts God’s Commandments. This is the voice that tells us, for example, that it’s not really important to keep holy the Sabbath day and that to miss Sunday Mass occasionally when we don’t feel like it, is not a big deal. Or that taking the Lord’s name in vain is just a figment of speak and doesn’t do any harm. That pornography really isn’t all that bad or that gossip doesn’t actually hurt anyone.To identify this dangerous voice we need to be familiar with God’s Commandments and how they apply to us today in this complex world andwe need to do an examination of conscience to discern the voice of the Good Shepherd.

The second way is to test whether the voice, or decisions that we have made, create peace or anxiety in our hearts. God is a God of peace. That was Jesus’ greeting to his disciples after his resurrection: “Peace be with you.”The voice that creates anxiety and disturbs our interior peace is the voice of the wolf. When we are discerning our vocation in life, what is God calling me to do – today and everyday – the right voice will be the one that brings peace of heart.

The third way to distinguish God’s voice is that he always seeks to affirm us and tell us about our beauty as children of God. He tells us we must never be afraid to come to him; we are always beautiful in his eyes. He is the Father of the Prodigal Son, always ready to embrace us after we have fallen and lifts us up. The evil voice tells us that we are useless and unlovable, we are failures and have no hope of God’s mercy. The devil hates the Sacrament of Confession because it is such an abundant expression of God’s infinite mercy.

Jesus says that no one is able to snatch us out of his hand when we follow him. But there are times when we don’t follow him. Even when we have strayed and have lost our way; he calls. We may stop listening to his voice but he never stops calling. If we listen with an open heart we will hear the gentle voice of love calling us. He is calling us to know him, love him and serve him. When we listen to his voice we find inner peace in this life and we find the road that will take us to a place of eternal happiness.

 

The Mystery of Salvation

Good Friday
25th March 2016
Dcn Tony van Vuuren

In the Gospels, the story of Jesus’ mission falls into two main parts. The first half consists of his public ministry of preaching, healing and exorcising and the second half consists of his passion and death. Superficially Jesus appears almost as two different characters.

During his ministry he was outspoken, courageous, urgent. He proclaimed his message with the passion of the Old Testament prophets and often went out of his way to antagonise the religious leadership of the time, pouring scorn on their teachings and practices, constantly using them as examples of how not to relate to God. He was a man who was asking for trouble. But then there’s the other half of the picture, the part we see today: the Jesus of the Passion narratives.

Fully human, yet divine.

The contrast between the bold, fearless Jesus of the preaching ministry, and the broken, humiliated figure of the passion is very vivid. Now the image is of the sacrificial lamb, led to slaughter, an outcast figure, punished for the faults of others. Fr. James Martin SJ, in his book, Jesus A Pilgrimage, describes at length how fully human Jesus is in His emotions as He faces his inevitable torture and death. But of course for the members of the first Christian communities and for the gospel writers, Jesus is God incarnate in the hour of his suffering and defeat just as much as in days of his successes and triumphs.

In one sense, more so, and this is the heart of the mystery of our salvation. Jesus told his followers in advance that his mission could not be accomplished solely through the prophetic preaching and the prophetic signs and miracles of his ministry: he told them that the Son of Man would have to suffer and die to complete his work on earth.

In the religious leaders who plotted Jesus’ death, in the mob that demanded Jesus be crucified while calling for Barabbas to be freed, in the disciples who thought first of their own safety and abandoned their leader to his fate, we’re not supposed to see a picture of the Jewish people of two thousand odd years ago. We’re supposed to see a reflection of ourselves – a picture of fallen human nature, which we all share, in every period of time, in every people and nation.

It is part of the message of the Gospel, isn’t it, that human nature is so wounded, our vision so distorted and our freedom so limited by sin, that when God’s Word does come into the world we fail to recognise it, we’re blind to it. Or worse: we do recognise goodness, truth, love, holiness when these qualities appear among us, but we consciously turn against them because we choose other, inferior, values and purposes.

The Passion story describes our predicament: When God comes before us we so often don’t welcome him and accept him. We turn our back on him and allow him to be crucified! But of course the Christian message is called Good News because even that doesn’t stop God from saving us – if I can use that word.

“To save” means to rescue, to liberate, to free. We’re not capable of freeing, liberating, rescuing ourselves. It required an initiative on God’s part, and this is where the symbolism of today’s second reading comes in: Jesus is the high priest.

By virtue of his priestly state he provides something that we cannot provide for ourselves. Jesus on the Cross: offers a sacrifice and achieves reconciliation between the all-holy God and sinful humanity, which we are not capable of offering and achieving by our own resources.

It is Saint John’s gospel most of all though, that shows how, behind the particular circumstances of Jesus’ life and passion and death, a larger cosmic drama is unfolding: God’s plan to rescue humanity from the predicament of sin is being worked out through the actions, and in spite of the actions of the baying mob, the disciples, the leaders, Caiaphas, Pilate. We should never forget the concrete historical circumstances of Jesus’ death: a good, honest man, unjustly executed by the influential people who felt their position threatened by his message.

The actions and motives of a sinful humanity couldn’t hold back God’s plan: they even unwittingly contributed to its fulfilment. That’s one part, at least, of the whole mystery of our salvation which Christ’s Passion, according to Saint John, has put before us today, Good Friday.

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!