Category Archives: Faith

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.

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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.

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”.