Category Archives: Lent

The Prodigal Son

4th Sunday Of Lent
Cycle C
31st March 2019
Tony van Vuuren

Listening to the Gospel, we hear Jesus illustrating to us through the parable, the joy of forgiveness and reconciliation, both on the part of the penitent sinner and of God.  Appropriate then that we are celebrating Laetare Sunday this weekend.

One of the major strands of biblical religion is the conviction of God’s holiness, his perfect love, truth, and justice. Next to the all-holy God we don’t look very impressive, and this aspect of Lent is highlighted mainly in the Old Testament readings on Sundays and weekdays, which concentrate on the occasions that the Chosen People abandoned their faith, and their tendency to wander away from God, only to be called back by him in a series of new beginnings, with expressions of sorrow and remorse on their part, and a constant readiness to forgive on God’s part.

This is the moral of the story Jesus tells in the gospel this Sunday, the parable of the Prodigal Son. People sometimes prefer to see the father as the leading actor in the drama but I would argue that in the context of Lent, at any rate, it’s the delinquent and finally repentant younger Son that should attract our main attention.

Would I be out of line if I suggested that adolescence and youth, in our culture, is often a time of rebellion, of abandoning the beliefs and values learned in childhood, and that when this happens in Christian families it causes great upset to parents, who regard the Christian faith as among the most important things they provide for their children? Obviously there are exceptions to that rule, as to every other. There are of course many families where the children go from youth to adulthood and their faith and their relationship with God simply progresses and grows, apparently without major upset or interruption.

But the general point is still true, I think, and in fact Jesus’ parable implies that it isn’t only something that happens in our modern “un-religious” culture. It was common, or at least unremarkable, even in his day

The Prodigal Son has many of the typical characteristics of youth: he’s egocentric in the normal, carefree, un-malicious way of young people, he’s attracted to a life of pleasure and enjoyment, he feels invincible. And while the sun shines he makes hay. But eventually his circumstances pass out of his own control and his fortunes change. We often need this sort of experience, an experience of failure or suffering, something that makes us aware of our sinfulness and our need to atone for our sinfulness, to know God and grow in our relationship with him.

This is the sort of experience that the Prodigal Son has. The end of his days of wine and roses brings a first of all a spiritual awakening – “he came to his senses,” Jesus says, and secondly it brings a transformation of character: “Father I have sinned against heaven and against you.”He realizes the superficiality and self-centeredness of his former life and starts to learn humility.

Those two elements make up the essence of genuine repentance. First we awaken, sometimes with a great shock, to the extent that our outlook and behaviour has revolved around ourselves.

We realise what an unworthy purpose in life that really is, and we have a powerful sense of our weakness and our capacity for error.

And second, in the light of this awakening, our will, our emotions, our way of thinking – our whole person – is gradually transformed. We turn to God and we rely on him to guide us, rather than on our own judgements or appetites. It has become commonplace for religious people to talk about God’s “unconditional love” for us and to put it forward as Christianity’s great selling-point. But we can talk about “unconditional love” in such a one-sided way that it appears as simply a permission to go on sinning, to live unawakened and untransformed lives.

In the welcome the younger son got, Jesus shows us God’s attitude to repentant sinners. If we are sinners—and who amongst us is not a sinner?—then God loves us not less but more. It doesn’t do us much good to be loved for only being perfect. But it is an extraordinary experience to be loved in one’s sinfulness. Such love is like rain falling on parched ground! One can even build up the courage to start forgiving oneself for an ill spent past.

It is in and through our sins that we experience the goodness and mercy of Christ. If we never sinned, we’d never know his forgiveness. This is not an excuse for sinning. All of us to a greater or lesser extent are in the sandals of the younger son. Which of us can say that we have always been faithful? Do we not at times all squander God’s grace and misuse his gifts? Which of us would like to be treated by God only according to strict justice? Do we not all need more mercy than justice? God’s forgiveness is not a cold, half hearted forgiveness, but a warm and generous one. The story doesn’t give us a license to sin. But it does show that if, through human weakness or wickedness, we do sin, then we can come back. Our past can be overcome. We can make a fresh start.

This is the great lesson of the parable!

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Listen to Him

2nd Sunday of Lent Cycle C
17 March 2019
Deacon Les Ruhrmund

And so we start the second week of Lent; our spiritual preparation for the glorious celebration of the Easter Triduum.

For some of us the first week of Lent has passed without much notice, for others it’s been rewarding and for some it’s been a struggle. I’ve struggled.

I’m a fervent reader often reading two or three books at the same time and while I enjoy reading Christian spirituality, I also love a fast paced thriller or a beautifully written novel or a thought provoking biography.

One of my Lenten disciples is to read only scripture and religious books during these six weeks – and after one week, I’m suffering withdrawal systems, longing to get my teeth into an exciting page-turner.

But that’s surely one of the objectives of Lent.

Through our conscious, disciplined denials of pleasure we await the end of Lent with eagerness and yearning; counting down the days to Easter with hungry anticipation.

If we don’t make Lent meaningful, Easter too will have little meaning and pass us by as just another long weekend. And we’ll be no closer to our Lord at Easter than we were when Lent began in the desert.

The Gospel reading describes the Transfiguration of the Lord; a mysterious event in the life of Jesus and I imagine, an exhilarating but terrifying experience for Peter, James and John; a crucial turning point in all their lives.

At the time, his pending death was very much on Jesus’ mind. He had taken the decision to go to Jerusalem and knew an awful destiny awaited him there. In the Transfiguration on the mountain, Jesus was given the assurance that he was on the right road and he was given a glimpse of the glory that would follow the horror of Calvary.

Jesus’ death would also have been on the minds of the disciples because he had told them just the week before that he would be killed in Jerusalem. What Peter, James and John experienced in the transfiguration would give them something to hold on to in the dark days ahead. The voice of the Father confirms for them that Jesus is who he says he is: the Son of God.

This reading has a precious significance in my life

It was while reflecting on the transfiguration that I came to understand and accept my calling to the deaconate.

I had completed three years of theology studies not with a view to becoming a deacon but rather driven by a critical need to sustain my fragile faith. A date had been set for the ordination of nine deacons which included me but I advised the Archbishop that I’d not be part of that group. I was busy building a business and raising a family and wasn’t prepared to take on further responsibilities. I told the Archbishop that I’d consider it later in my life.

A few days after I’d written this letter I went on retreat for the weekend and we were given this reading of the transfiguration as a meditation.

Sitting at the window in my small room at Schoenstatt, on a cold misty Saturday afternoon, not feeling particularly motivated by the reading, I was overcome by a real awareness of God and the Father’s voice “This is my Beloved Son. Listen to him” and putting my trust into God’s hands, I was ordained to the deaconate with the rest of the group a few weeks later.

I share this experience because I feel sure that God is talking to all of us in our hearts and Lent is a good time to stop and listen; open our hearts to the gentle voice inside.

Fr Ron Rolheiser in his book “Wrestling with God” writes: ‘Simply put, God lies within us, deep inside, but in a way that’s almost non-existent, almost unfelt, largely unnoticed, and easily ignored.

“However, while that presence is never overpowering, it has within it a gentle, unremitting imperative, a compulsion toward something higher, which invites us to draw upon it. And, if we draw upon it, it gushes up in us in an infinite stream that instructs us, nurtures us, and fills us with endless energy.”

Within each of us is a gentle, insistent voice, a nudge, urging us to listen and respond.

What are we being called to do in these weeks of Lent?

What actions are we being prompted to take?

Perhaps it’s just a nudge to be more generous with the time we give to our relationship with God.

Perhaps there are words that we need to say to someone who is hurting; or a relationship that we need to heal.

Perhaps we have habits we need to temper, thoughts we need to banish, emotions we need to express or control.

Maybe there are acts of charity that we need to embrace: the Archbishop’s Lenten Appeal or clothes, shoes, food supplies that we have in excess to our needs that we could give to people who have so much less than we do.

Lent encourages us to look deeper into our hearts and believe absolutely that within our brokenness, we are nevertheless God’s beloved.

We all struggle. In the words of Ron Rolheiser again:

“We are just normal, complicated human beings walking around in human skin. That’s what real life is all about! The scriptures are filled with stories of persons finding God and helping bring about God’s kingdom, even as their own lives are often fraught with mess, confusion, frustration, betrayal, infidelity, and sin.

“There are no simple human beings immune to the spiritual, psychological, sexual, and relational complexities that beset us all.”

Our personal struggles are not the same but we struggle with similar issues: temptation, bad habits, pride, ego, self-pity, anger, bitterness, hypocrisy, hunger for acceptance and doubt.

Our weaknesses and struggles don’t make us any less Christian; they are a reflection of our humanity, a humanity that was lived by Jesus who loves and died for us in our sinful humanity.

If we were all perfect there would not have been a need for Easter.

Peter, James, and John heard God clearly affirm that Jesus was his Son and that they were to listen to him.

God our Father says the same to us as we follow Jesus, our guide through this Lent.

Into Battle

1stSunday Of Lent
Cycle C
10TH March 2019
Dcn Tony van Vuuren

We celebrate this weekend the first Sunday in Lent, the Church’s main penitential season. Jesus withdraws into the desert to fight and conquer his temptations and to place himself completely at the disposal of God his Father. The Gospel account uses images to show how Jesus was challenged to remain faithful to his heavenly Father. We have the same temptations.

The temptations faced by Jesus were real. This was no play acting. But the question arises: Can a good and virtuous person be tempted like the rest of us? The truth is: the good and virtuous person who resists temptation knows more about the power of temptation and evil than the weakling who submits at the very onset of temptation.

Those of us who give in too easily to temptation know little about the struggle involved. Those who struggle with temptation and overcome it know it best. There’s that old adage; If you want to know what victory over temptation costs, don’t ask a sinner; ask a saint.

What did temptation mean for Jesus? It meant the same as it meant for Adam and Eve and it means the same as it means for us. It means choosing between good and evil; between doing God’s will and one’s own will.

The fact that Jesus, “led by the Spirit” Luke  says, deliberately placed himself in an environment where the temptations lurking within himself were brought to the surface and where – by giving himself over totally to God’s guidance and putting his life totally at God’s disposal – they were confronted and defeated.

The temptation Jesus had to face was the temptation to go about his mission, but in the wrong spirit, using the wrong methods or tactics.

It was Jesus’ task, as Messiah, to reveal God and God’s character more completely than ever before. So what the devil tries to do is to persuade Jesus to turn away from the true character of God’s Reign and to conduct his mission with worldly tactics, to impress people with spectacular miracles, to submit to Satan in order to dominate the world politically, to use his spiritual power or his close relationship with God to produce purely earthly commodities – “if you are the Son of God, tell this stone to turn into a loaf”.

And his tempting was not a once-off event. He was tempted right throughout his life; even when on the cross. Jesus’ victory in the desert was not the winning of the war, but merely the winning of a battle.

Since even Jesus and the saints were tempted we can’t hope to escape it. All of us are intrinsically weak and prone to temptation. This may be a disturbing truth, but it is one we ignore at our own peril. The great problem of our time is our failure to know ourselves, to recognise temptation and evil and deal with it within ourselves. We have to struggle against the evil that is in others and in society. But our hardest struggle is against the temptation that originates inside us. We are born with conflicting impulses, so that doing good is always possible, but never easy. The hardest victory of all is over oneself.

This struggle, with its inevitable falls and failures, is not something to be ashamed of. Our struggle is not never to fall, but to fall, to rise, and go on in spite of everything. Temptation is not necessarily a bad thing. By forcing us to choose good over evil makes us strong. Every time one is tempted to do evil, but makes a decision to do good, makes one stronger. Suffering and struggle can make us stronger. (As difficult as that is to accept at the time!)

Furthermore, how could we prove our fidelity if there was no temptation? There wouldn’t be any particular credit in remaining virtuous through lack of temptation. Virtue would become meaningless if there was no evil, no struggle. Virtue involves a choice between good and evil. That choice can sometimes be very difficult, and there is no definite victory. The battle against evil is never over as long as we live. However, each right choice makes the next right choice easier.

But we might still say, “It was easier for Jesus!” As well as a divine nature, he also had a human nature. It wasn’t any easier for him. Besides; temptation in itself is not a sin. He too had to struggle to do the will of God. His victory in the desert was not easy. It was achieved through prayer, fasting, and reflection on and obedience to the word of God. The Holy Spirit was with Jesus during his struggle.

The Holy Spirit is with us too when we find ourselves in the wilderness; in our spiritual desert. It is a great consolation to have the faith to believe and know that God is not outside our struggle, but with us during our struggle.

St Augustine wrote and prayed: “It is through temptation that we come to know ourselves. God grant that I may know you, and grant that I may know myself.”

Into the second week of Lent

2nd Sunday Lent
Year B
2018 (25 Feb)
Deacon Les Ruhrmund

And so we begin the second week in Lent.

For some of us, we’re now starting to get into the Lenten routine that we’ve set for ourselves over this period of reflection, penance, sacrifice and renewal; and for some of us, we’re still thinking about it. It’s never too late to start. What we believe is not what we say we believe; what we believe is what we do.

Most of us, if we’re taking Lent seriously, will stumble along the way in keeping our Lenten observances and will experience some degree of disappointment and frustration. And sometimes we may feel as though we have let God down; perhaps even putting a strain on our relationship with God rather than improving it. We do at times get this all wrong don’t we?

In adopting new disciplines and making sacrifices during Lent we aren’t bargaining or negotiating with God or trying to influence God’s love for us. Nothing we do changes God’s unconditional grace and ferocious love for each of us.

Our failed attempts to be better disciples while teaching us a little more about our own selfish behaviour and weaknesses in the face of temptation, should also teach us humility and encourage us to embrace our belovedness; that deep inner assurance that we are precious to God and that God’s love does not change and is not influenced by our fickle natures and bad habits.

The readings this weekend are already directing us towards the end of Lent; towards the Triduum – the passion, death and resurrection of our Lord.

I’ve previously spoken about the Triduum but it’s as well that I again emphasis that our Easter celebration is not just the Easter Vigil or Easter Sunday or Good Friday; the Easter Triduum is one event that spans 3 days starting on Holy Thursday night with the Mass of the Last Supper, moving on then into Friday afternoon with the Passion, crucifixion, death and burial of Christ and concluding with the celebration of the Resurrection at the Saturday night Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday morning Masses.
This is the very crux of our faith. There is no more important celebration in our Catholic faith than the three days of the Easter Triduum.

The first reading is an abridged version of that incredible story of Abraham being asked by God to sacrifice his only son Isaac. Some years ago, I was asked to read this passage from Genesis at the Easter Vigil and while reading, found myself embarrassingly emotional.

My own son at that time was about 12 years old and I could not imagine under any circumstances doing what Abraham was asked and prepared to do, in faith, and kill my precious son.

Remember that Isaac was to born to Sarah and Abraham when they were both elderly and long past childbearing age. He was their only child. What did Abraham feel in his heart when his young son says to him “Father, I see that you have the coals and the wood but where is the lamb for the sacrifice?”

“God will provide” answered Abraham as indeed he did and Isaac was spared.
This story for me, while obviously illustrating Abraham’s astonish faith, gives an insight into the magnitude and depth of God’s love for us. He sacrificed his only son, the Lamb of God, out of love for me and each one of us; a sacrifice beyond my comprehension.

The Gospel reading tells of the Transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain with Peter, James and John. Mark tells us that this took place six days after Jesus had spoken to his disciples for the first time about his pending death. He told them that he would be rejected by the elders and authorities and would be put to death; but that on the third day he would rise to life again. Mark says “He made this very clear to them”. For all of that, they would not have been able to get their minds around the idea of someone being killed and then rising from death to full life.

In the Transfiguration, the three disciples got a glimpse of Jesus in his resurrected glory and a glimpse of the eternal glorious life to which they could look forward to sharing with Jesus one day.

But first, there’s the cross.

In our faith, as in the Triduum, the cross and resurrection are inseparable.
Even when we are struggling under the weight and pain of our own crosses and those of our loved ones, it is that hope made visible and tangible in the resurrection that gives us the grace, strength and courage to keep walking.

I preached on the Transfiguration in August last year and I suggested then that we might like to have a personal experience like the Transfiguration in our own lives to affirm our faith. That perhaps if we were to encounter the resurrected Lord personally, we’d find it easier to be loving and faithful disciples.

Is that not why we have gathered here?

The Eucharist is a personal encounter with Jesus Christ in his resurrected glory.
Just as the voice of God the Father was heard on the mountain by Peter, James and John saying “This is my beloved Son”, he is saying the same to us in the Eucharist.

“This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” If we listen carefully, we’ll hear that voice in our hearts; guiding and directing us through this Lenten season of repentance towards our joyful celebration of the Easter Triduum.

May this Lent, for each of us, be a time of renewed vitality and love in our relationship with God.

Lord change me !

 5th Sunday Lent
Year A
2 April 2017
Rev Les Ruhrmund

The readings on this 5th Sunday of Lent,  with only two weeks to go to Easter, revolve around life and death; literally, figuratively and spiritually.

In the 1st reading the prophet Ezekiel has a vision in which the dry bones of the dead are raised from their graves and brought to new life through the spirit of God. It’s a vision of a new beginning for Israel.

In the 2nd reading from Paul’s Letter to the Romans we are reminded that we are born into this world in the flesh and through Baptism we are reborn in the Spirit. He says that ‘If Christ is in you, although our bodies are dead because of sin, our spirits are alive because of righteousness.’ Though we exist in the flesh, we live in the Spirit. It is in the weakness of our bodies that we ultimately find our strength in the Spirit.

In the gospel John tells us that through the death of Lazarus, the Son of God is glorified. Just as the blindness of the man in last week’s gospel served to show Jesus as the light, so the death of Lazarus will serve to show Jesus as the life.

While this reading from John’s gospel at first glance tells a powerful and moving story about an amazing event in Jesus’ life, typical of John’s writing, the words often have two meanings;  one which appears obvious and true, and the other that lies beneath the surface and is equally true.

As an example, at the beginning of the reading, after Jesus is told that his much loved friend Lazarus is ill he says: ‘This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’

The obvious understanding is that the raising of Lazarus will be a visible sign of his divinity and his power over death and bring his disciples to a deeper faith and understanding of who he is.

But there’s more to it than that.

Throughout John’s gospel Jesus talks often about his glory in connection with the cross.  Jesus regarded the cross both as his supreme glory and as the way to glory. So when he said that the cure of Lazarus would glorify him, he was also saying that to go to Bethany and bring Lazarus back to life would lead to his own death on the cross. As indeed it did. In the verses immediately following the raising of Lazarus, we’re told that the Jewish authorities on hearing about the dramatic events in Bethany, from that day onwards planned to kill him.

A paradox: Lazarus’s return to life leads to Jesus‘s death; and the death of Jesus gives life to the world.

Jesus said to Martha and he says to us; ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Do you believe this?’

Well, do we really believe this?

Up until the moment that Lazarus walks out of the tomb, none of the people present really believe that Jesus is the resurrection and the life; not Martha, Mary, the disciples nor the Jewish mourners.

They confessed their belief that he was a miracle worker and the long awaited Messiah sent by God but until that moment they didn’t understand that he is God.

Do we believe that? Do we believe that he calls us out of the tombs that we have created for ourselves and that he offers us new life? Do we believe that he can change us and restore us?

We don’t have to be dead physically to be in need of being raised up. We can be dead in the midst of life; spiritually dead, emotionally dead, vocationally dead, psychologically dead, dead to the endless possibilities of life.

We know our lives should be more joyful; more peaceful. We know we should be more loving, kind, forgiving and generous. But instead too often we are anxious, selfish, self-centred and cold hearted. We wrap our conscience in burial bandages and are dead to the cry of the poor, the afflicted, the persecuted, the homeless, the lonely and the lost.

Lazarus is given to us on this 5th Sunday of Lent to help us think about the tombs in which we lie hidden and the life to which we are called. The spirit of darkness, seduces most of us into believing that we can create our own happiness, that we know what is best for us and that we cannot change. We are kept bound by things about ourselves that we are afraid to share and that we allow to sway our thinking and our actions.

It might be a secret we can’t tell, a sin we’re unable to confess, a memory we can’t bury or a desire that challenges our Christian values.

This is the part of us that is buried in the tomb. We carefully guard and defend the entrance and we’re ashamed and afraid that if anyone rolls away the stone they’ll see the mess inside.

This Sunday Jesus stands at the entrance of our tombs and calls us out of them. We’re asked to face the behaviours and thoughts that keeps us entombed, to move away from shame, embrace repentance, recognise the price to be paid to be true to what’s best in ourselves. We’re invited to experience Christ’s healing and forgiveness.

This journey is not easy, but it’s what Lent is all about; the journey from the tomb, through penitence, to the new life of Easter.

In the miracle of the Eucharist that we’ve come together to celebrate, may we see the Lord, the resurrection and the life, standing at the entrance to our tombs calling us by name; “Come, come out !’

To which we might respond asking for our own miracle:

Lord, you are the resurrection and the life.

Change me.

Help me to want to be healed.

JOURNEY OF FAITH

2nd SUNDAY OF LENT
CYCLE A
12th MARCH 2017
Mt 17:1-9
Rev Tony van Vuuren.

Just as Abraham, the first of the great patriarchs of Israel, was called on to make a journey out of ignorance and error and towards knowledge and love of God, and just as Jesus’ mission meant journeying towards Jerusalem, where he knew he would be put to death, our life, as disciples of Christ, also involves a journey: away from our sinful leanings and our self-assertiveness and towards greater closeness to God and holiness of life.

The bright light of Jesus’ transfiguration transfigures us, as long as we don’t turn our backs on it. When God calls someone or some group, and they answer his call, God doesn’t leave them as they are. If we’re serious about getting to know God, he never leaves us unchanged.

The story of Abraham being told to uproot himself and set out for some unknown destination, and an uncertain future, is the story of the beginning of the Hebrew people, the beginnings of the Jewish faith in God. It’s the story of the origins of the community that held that faith.

With anyone who hears God’s call or becomes aware of the reality of God and the way he draws us to himself – which should mean all of us at some level or other – it doesn’t usually involve settling into a contented, comfortable situation. It involves uprooting, a shift of direction, the sacrifice of certain securities and attachments – in our spiritual lives, in our habits, in our consciences.
“Leave your present way of life,” God says to us, “for the new life that I will show you”.

The gospel reading this Sunday is about another journey, or at any rate, the halfway point of another journey: the journey that Jesus is on towards Jerusalem and his death and resurrection.

If the temptations, which we heard about last Sunday, described what happened at the start of Jesus’ ministry, what we get in this Sunday’s gospel story of the Transfiguration is a sort of anticipation, or a preview, of the end of the journey: Christ’s glorification and his return to the Father.

Jesus had already announced to the disciples that his ministry would end with his being killed. What the transfiguration on Mount Tabor showed them was what was to come after Jesus’ death. This was such a mysterious and wonderful experience that Peter wanted to freeze it in time. In the transfiguration, the three disciples caught a glimpse of the divine, glorified Jesus.

But after this glimpse of the presence of God in Jesus, Matthew reminds us of the context. The bright light fades, Jesus and the disciples have to come back down from the mountain top. Jesus has to prepare to re-embark on the journey to Jerusalem and to Calvary. He must have felt himself comforted, reassured, affirmed and strengthened for the ordeal ahead.

It wasn’t that everything would now be rosy and comfortable. In fact nothing changed! He still has to face a dark and threatening future. He knew that it was what God wanted of him and that God would give him the strength to face it all.

The Tabor experience could be called a “peak experience”. (Pardon the pun!) We too can have peak experiences or moments of transfiguration. We can have intense experiences of peace, unity, joy, exhilaration, meaning…and of the presence of God.

These are true moments of grace that can be triggered off not only by prayer, but by music, nature….but they are also more likely to be the fruit of suffering and painful struggle. In His love for us, God allows us to taste on earth the joys of the world to come. He gives us glimpses of the Promised Land to which we are travelling in faith; moments given to us so that we can remember them when God seems far away and everything appears dark and empty.

But after a peak experience we too have to come down from the mountain and return to our valley, where life goes on in the darkness of faith. The truth is we are undertaking not one, but two journeys. The first is the outward journey we make through involvement in the world around us and finding our role here. The second is the inward journey; which is a search; a search for oneself and ultimately a search for God.

Life’s inward journey is truly a journey of faith because we don’t know where it will take us. Faith begins with a call from God in some shape or form. God calls us forward, away from idols and distractions where we might find ourselves; not necessarily into a new location, but into a new vision, new values, and a new way of living.
We can draw inspiration from the examples of many folk within our parish.
That life is a journey is a very powerful metaphor, but don’t understand it in too linear fashion. It’s not that simple. Every stage of the road is different.

Even with the best faith in the world we may still end up on dark roads we never imagined or wanted for ourselves. To have faith is not to have all the answers. It is to have bearings. There will be times in each of our lives when we will have to go forward armed only with our courage and our faith.

Abraham’s voyage into exile turned out to be a journey towards greater knowledge of God. Jesus’ progress towards Jerusalem was a journey back to the Father who’d sent him.

Especially during the season of Lent let’s think about how willing we are to make the same journey: in our case, from sin to holiness; from self-centredness to love; from an outlook centred on our own desires and ambitions to one that revolves around God and what he wants us to be like.

So what to make of all this? We should understand that, if we are Christian disciples; our attitude, if we follow the model of Abraham, is to be firm in trusting God and willing to endure what he asks of us, confident that “he knows what he is about.” And confident, too, that while we may not receive what we ask, we will receive the grace and strength to achieve what we are called to do and be; which though it is more than often hidden from us, is truly what we want.

Ash Wednesday

Today we start a new journey; a new Lent, journeying towards the great climax of the Easter Tridiuum. Although many of us have journeyed through Lent many times before, each year presents new opportunities and new challenges. Things have changed over the last 12 months; we have changed. New people have come into our lives and some have left us; new opportunities have materialised and some have disappeared. Perhaps the status of our health has changed; some have improved and some are struggling. Perhaps our relationship with God has changed; for some of us it’s improved and for some we’re struggling.

This Lent is not a repeat of previous Lents; it’s a brand new journey.

At its heart Lent is a journey to wholeness; wholeness of self and wholeness as a beloved child of God. But that journey begins with an acceptance of our brokenness – we must first confront the brokenness in our own lives and in the world around us. We confront the barriers that keep us from loving God and the barriers that keep us from loving each other.

This is not a onetime act. We don’t overcome these barriers in a day or even in 40 days but each year as we go through this Lenten process we hope to find ourselves closer at the end of it than we were when we started…closer to the goal of wholeness; a wholeness in our relationship with God and with each other.

The ashes traced on our foreheads today are a reminded of our brokenness and our human mortality and a sign of humility. A reminder that we are striving for sainthood through our imperfection.

If we journey faithfully and try diligently over the next 6 weeks to draw closer to God, the celebration of the Easter Tridiuum will be a new experience; renewed joy and wonder at the miracle of our salvation.

The Easter Tridiuum, the three days starting with the Mass of the Last Supper on Holy Thursday and concluding with the celebration of the Resurrection on Easter Sunday are the holiest and most sacred days in the year. The Passion, Death and Resurrection of our Lord celebrated in the Tridiuum are not separate and isolate events; it’s one event that takes place over three days and we are called and expected to participate fully over all three days not just Easter Sunday.

Lent has been part of the Church’s liturgical calendar for close on 1700 years and traditionally the emphasis has always been on fasting, almsgiving and prayer. Through these disciplines we consciously acknowledge our failings and weaknesses, our struggles and temptations and deliberately focus on being more loving, generous and tolerant through spiritual and corporal works of mercy.

There are many ways to practice these disciplines during Lent and it is important for each of us to search our hearts and figure out what works best to connect us more closely with Jesus in his Passion and Resurrection and with each other in our shared mission to know, love and serve God.

These sacrifices in themselves are not the focus; they are there to serve as prompts and constant reminds to us that we are in a time of penitential reflection, preparation and renewal.

Here are a few ideas we could consider and practice over the next 6 weeks:

  • Carry  a pocket size cross , or pocket rosary or a religious medal with you throughout lent as a reminder of the season
  • Participate in the various liturgies at St Michael’s during Lent:
    • Stations of the Cross on a Friday
    • Adoration for 30 minutes with Benediction on the first Tuesday
    • Spend some time in the Adoration Chapel that’s open throughout the day ever day
    • Mass during the week; we’re privileged to have Mass every day in our parish
    • The Ecclesia program on Thursday evenings
  • Keep a daily journal as a means for self-examination and prayer
  • Abstain from something:
    • perhaps a favorite food, or smoking or alcohol or a favourite TV series
    • Give up sugar and all things sweet
    • No eating or snacking after dinner or between meals
    • Remember that every Friday is a day of abstinence from meat
    • Consider some form of fasting every day; perhaps miss one meal or eat smaller portions at every meal
  • No gossiping. If someone says something negative about another person, either say something nice or say nothing. Make a note in your journal every time you slip up. We could memorize and repeat every day verse 29 from chapter 4 of the Letter to the Ephesians: :  “Do not use harmful words but only helpful words; only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who hear you.”
  • Read completely one of the Gospels (perhaps read Luke together with Luke’s Acts of the Apostles)
  • Pray every day for the poor, the brokenhearted, the hungry, the sick and the dying
  • If you are busy and can’t find time – make time by saying no to some activities and commitments and say yes to spending time with God
  • Clean out the house and the cupboards and donate things you don’t need to those who do need; or perhaps find one thing every day for 40 days to give away
  • Donate generously to the Archbishops Lenten appeal and in this way materially assist the poor and needy
  • Don’t buy anything during Lent that you don’t need and put the money that you save into the Lenten Appeal.
  • Pay your spouse or loved one, your parents and children a compliment every day
  • Replace 30 minutes of TV time with some devotional reading and prayer
    • We could use the book of daily Devotions prepared by the Youth of our Archdiocese including some written by the youth of St Michael’s
  • Replace some of your favourite music with Christian and sacred music and song
  • Keep your activity of all social media platforms to a bare minimum …. And if you really must post something let it always be kind and charitable; less about ourselves and more concern for others

Lent is really about going through a process that should change us, that should bring us closer to being fully the people God has called and created us to be.

Lent is not a means and end in itself… today is the beginning of a journey to Easter; the journey of the rest of our lives; our journey home to God.