Category Archives: Lent

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.

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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.

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

Matthew’s Passion narrative

Palm Sunday
Cycle A
13th April 2014.

Homily given before reading the Passion.

Imagine that you are a non-Christian, reading a copy of Matthew’s Gospel for the very first time. Not knowing anything about Christianity, you would probably notice an odd thing about the writing; in Matthew’s Gospel there is more detail supplied about Jesus’ final hours than about any other event in his life. Immediately you ask: “What was so significant about this person’s death? Why would it overshadow all the good things he said and did during his life?”

The community of believers that Matthew wrote his Gospel for were primarily Jewish converts to Christianity. They were under tremendous pressure; not only were they still under Roman rule, but they were driven out of their synagogues for their belief in Jesus. And on top of this their newly born church was witnessing an influx of non-Jewish converts. For the first time, Jews found themselves worshipping and living alongside Gentiles who accepted the Gospel. The pressure to accept this new reality must have been great.

It was to this situation of community upheaval that Matthew began speaking and writing of things that were important to his audience’s circumstances. So while Matthew did reveal the importance of Jesus’ sayings and miracles, he maintained the primary focus on Jesus’ passion, crucifixion, death and resurrection because in these events he saw the principal work of our salvation.

Without Jesus’ cross, all his words and deeds would lose their power and meaning.

By listening to and examining some of the key elements in Matthew’s passion narrative we can appreciate the community for which Matthew wrote and gain a deeper understanding of Jesus’ victory on the cross as it applies to our lives today.

From the outset Matthew’s passion narrative reveals Jesus as a Messiah who remains in control of the events leading to his arrest and death. A difficult trial faces Jesus, but he embraces the struggle decisively, confident as the Son of God that he is doing his Father’s will; fulfilling his plan in all things. Here at the end of his ministry he is readily moving forward to his trial and death.

God is in control’ despite the upheaval, chaos and pain. However it may appear to the chief priests and scribes thinking they have the upper hand, Jesus decisively embraces the passion as the very moment for which he has been preparing his whole life.

Jesus’ suffering is no accident or twist of fate. It is not a by product of the chief priests’ opposition, Judas’s betrayal or Pilate’s power. Jesus’ death is God’s will for the salvation of all humankind. Matthew makes no attempt to hide the emotional turmoil this decision causes Jesus.

Listen and you will hear the real, human sorrow and anguish evident when Jesus prays: “My Father, if it is possible let this cup pass me by.” Jesus does not shrink back from the anguish of his cross.

He endures it to win our salvation. Matthew’s community undergoing upheaval and suffering was also encouraged to follow the way of the cross.

At the end of the Last Supper Jesus tells his disciples: “I shall not drink wine again until that day when I will drink new wine with you in my Father’s kingdom.” Indicating his awareness of his fate and it also made Matthew’s early readers aware that they could no longer look back to the Mosaic laws and rituals from which they had come.

This new stage of history begins at the very moment of Jesus’ death, as Matthew shows with the dramatic events that occur immediately thereafter: such as the earth shaking and rocks splitting and the tombs of the saints opening.

Jesus’ death accomplishes the very thing that Judaism looked for with the coming of the Messiah; the new era of the reign of God; when he promised to shake the earth and raise up his holy ones. Our salvation and renewal began when Jesus died on the cross.

Yet God’s chosen people; even ten of Jesus’ own disciples; missed its inauguration. It is left to a group of outsiders, the roman soldiers, who readily accept the cross and the signs of transformation that accompanies it.

By telling the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection as he did, Matthew sought to hold out hope to a community undergoing enormous pressure from inside and out. On a personal level we all experience struggles: the pain of rejection, the challenge to do God’s will in the face of opposition; the sorrow of apparent failures that face us every day.

Like Matthew’s community, we too can learn that not every obstacle comes from outside ourselves. “The spirit is indeed willing but the flesh is weak.” Growth and renewal come at a price; opening ourselves to be shaken up and allowing the Spirit to breathe new life into us. Let us look inside ourselves to discover that part of us that is the least like the Spirit and thus the weakest part of us.

The message of the passion is that Jesus is with us in this process of upheaval of our old life. While it is a challenge to follow the way of the cross, it is at the same time our best hope.

If we understand anything from listening and praying through Matthew’s narrative, the truth is that Jesus has already won the victory. We do not see its fullness, but neither could Jesus’ disciples. Hopefully we can take it in little by little, perhaps it takes a whole lifetime for that truth to reach our human brains, melt into our hearts and transform our very lives.

Perhaps a final comment after listening to the passion narrative is simply a quietly personal, yet profound “Thank you.”

Ref: Devotional Commentary

Leo Zanchettin

A moment in time ……..

3rd Sunday Lent Year A
23 March 2014
Les Ruhrmund

How many times have you been through Lent?

I don’t remember my first Lent but I guess I must have been eight, nine or ten years old the first time I gave up sweets or biscuits or fighting with my sister for Lent. That means I’ve been through Lent very many times; well over fifty times! And it seems to me that every year my need for conversion of heart and contrition is at least as great as it was the year before.

In some years the experience of Lent has been extraordinarily satisfying; richly sustaining my spirituality and drawing me into a new intimacy with God. But in some years, Lent has pasted disappointingly almost without notice; perhaps a few token gestures of sacrifice and an attempt at extra prayer but nothing that’s made any real difference in my relationship with God. And while in these ‘dry’ Lents I have blamed a busy schedule or other circumstances that have hampered my progress, the truth is that in those years I’ve simply not made Lent a priority in my life; to my own detriment.

Lent is a blessed time each year in which we are encouraged to assess and reflect not just on our faith but on the very purpose of our existence. Is the world a better place because of my life and my actions? Do people find and see Jesus in my words, my touch, my behaviour? Am I sorry for the times that I have selfishly failed to love God and my neighbour?  Am I sorry enough to humbly seek forgiveness through the sacrament of reconciliation; humbly seek God’s loving grace to give me strength to do better, to serve better, to love better?

Repentance is not a one off event. Well I wish it was! The day after I finished my pilgrimage to Santiago de Compestela last year I remember approaching the young priest in the confessional in the cathedral with some reservation about his capacity to understand the temptations, the habits and the behaviour of a man at least twice his age. I imagine the youth have the same reservations about approaching a much older priest. I’m not sure if he heard the details of my confession because he made no reference to any of my sins. He took my hands in his and in halting English told me over and over again how much Jesus loves me and how he had been longing for this very moment. He was as overcome as I was by the intensity of that realisation. The realisation that though I had received the sacrament many times before, my whole life experience, good and bad, had brought me to this moment in Santiago de Compestela; this intense encounter with Christ.

I left the cathedral feeling as though I had been reborn but within the hour I had let myself down and spoken sharply and unkindly to my walking companion and close friend – hardly the behaviour of a disciple. Such is the fickleness of our human nature and such is the necessity and ongoing need for the sacrament of reconciliation; and our need for Lent.

In the first reading we get a glimpse of this sad truth of the fragility of our relationships with each other and with God. In the reading, the Israelites who had been led by Moses out of slavery in Egypt, who had escaped with God’s direct intervention through the sea from the Egyptian army, are fed up with Moses and fed-up with God. Why did you bring us out of Egypt? Just so that we can die in the desert? Is the Lord among us or not?

When things were going their way, they were happy to sing songs of faith and worship. But when the going got tough, they put God to the test and expected him to sort it out. Do we not sometimes find ourselves in a similar position? A position in which we find it easy to believe in a kind and merciful God when we are living comfortable, well fed, health lives but in which our faith is rattled by misfortune, hardship, disease and death. The advantage we have over the Israelites in the desert is that we have the example of Jesus who showed us through his life the face of the loving Father and in his death our horrifying human capacity for malice and cruelty. And in all of this, God is ever present.

He is not pulling the puppet strings and planning our every next move but rather he waits for us to turn to him for grace; to turn to him in pain as in joy, in darkness as in light, in sickness as in health.

Paul reminds us in the second reading that “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.” In our deepest being we know that that love is there and we know the emptiness that haunts us when we smother it.  How often we press for the satisfaction of our immediate wants even when we know that these are seldom what we really need. Our thirst remains even after we’ve drunk the best champagne.

In the Gospel reading about the Samaritan woman at the well we meet a woman who has had a very difficult life. Shunned by society because of her scandalous relationships in and out of marriage, she’s forced to draw water from the well alone in the heat of the day.

Notice that when she approaches the well, Jesus is already there waiting for her and it is he who initiates the conversation. He asks her to share with him some of the water from the well. Water is the essence of life. It occurs to me that Jesus asks her to share her life with him and offers her eternal life in return. Jesus knows everything about the woman’s shameful past but doesn’t condemn her; rather he commends her for her truthfulness.

It was the very circumstances of her dissolute past that brought her to that moment at the well where she was alone with Jesus. It is the same for each of us. We find God not in spite of our past failings but through them.

In a paragraph from James Martin SJ’s newly published book Jesus: A Pilgrimage he sums this up well: “There is no post-conversion person and pre-conversion person. There is one person in a variety of times, the past informing and forming the present. God is at work at all times.”

Everything that we have experienced in our lives right up until this very moment has prepared us for our next encounter with Christ in this season of Lent.

Sin & Temptation

1st Sunday Of Lent
Cycle A
9 March 2014.
Matt: 4:1-11
Genesis: 9.3:1-7
Tony van Vuuren

For most people, reality is that which we can see, touch, hear, smell and taste; it is the world around us. For the Christian, however, reality extends beyond the physical environment and encompasses a whole spiritual realm as well; both the glory of heaven and Satan’s realm of darkness.

The devil is a reality of our world, and he challenges us, by waging war against us day and night!

The two themes in today’s readings that ring out loud and clear are Sin and Temptation. Both are most appropriate to reflect on for this first Sunday of Lent, as we begin our Lenten observances.

A time for us all to be encouraged and inspired to get tough and aggressive with whatever sins or temptations we may be facing in our lives. What better time than the forty days ahead for us to prepare and equip ourselves to start this journey into the desert of Lent and of our lives? And what better readings are there to break open this topic of sin and temptation than today’s selection? We all battle with sin and temptation.

No one who has ever lived on earth has been exempt from this day to day challenge. Even if one is sinless (Jesus, Mary), the fact of facing the temptation of sin remains. We all need help battling sin. We all want to live a life that is less sinful than the day before.

The book of Genesis presents the tragedy of wrong choices in front of good and evil; an evil that is born in the heart of mankind, from our choices, our refusals and our stubbornness in using our own criteria instead of those of God.

Do we recognize ourselves in every character in the first reading from Genesis? As we all know too well from our own bad choices, the lines between good and evil are not exactly easy to determine sometimes and we are all too eager to let our vision be blurred.

We might wonder why the serpent was even allowed to exist in the Garden of Eden where all things were presumably paradisiacal. We wonder why God would have allowed such simple innocents as Adam and Eve to be tempted. Adam can blame Eve for handing him the apple. Eve can blame the serpent for tempting her.

The serpent can blame God for allowing him to exist and to tempt such unsophisticated innocents. Like Adam have we often entered into sin by simply following the behaviour of another? No deep thought processes, no moral deliberations. Have we simply followed another blindly?

Like Eve we have all faced temptations. We have entered into a conversation in our minds about right and wrong and we have rationalized our decision to give into temptation by pretending to find some good in it — some advantage in it — some power in it. Like the serpent how often have we seduced others into sinning?

Whether we, as children on a playground, have taught a younger child a swear word or a rude gesture or whether we are adults gossiping about someone else, to their detriment. Can we all find moments in our past where we have caused another to sin?

Pope Francis was quoted in last week’s Southern Cross that if everybody stopped gossiping we could all possibly be saints! We may also consider the absurdity of sin. St. Paul writes to the Romans (7) – “I do not understand my own actions. For the very thing that I do not want to do, I do, and the very thing I DO want to do, I do not do.”

Who amongst us has escaped that scenario in our lives? In the passage from the Gospel, Matthew presents the same temptation of Adam and Eve, but shows how Jesus is victorious and points out the way to live a life faithful to God and free from the profound evil that threatens us.

But the temptations also represent important categories to consider in our own lives. The first temptation is to provide more comfort for ourselves than we reasonably need or choose to have.

It may seem silly for us to equate Jesus being tempted to eat a bit of bread in the middle of his fast as overindulgence, but in the strict sense of the word that is what Jesus would be doing.

Jesus would be taking for himself more than he sees reasonably fit to take at a particular time in a particular place in his personal history.
We have all overindulged.

We are both temporal and spiritual beings and Jesus reminds us that there is a balance between these things. How many times have we caught ourselves trying to fill a deep need for comfort and intimacy with things that will never ultimately satisfy?

Food, Drink, Sex, Exercise, Clothes, Cars, Houses, Drugs, etc. Balance is required. Moral behaviour is required. And, a strong dependence upon God is required the most, when we have to struggle through our personal deserts with only God’s word to assure and sustain us.

Let’s rewrite a sentence of St. Augustine:” When you’re caught by the pangs of hunger – (and we can add of temptation) – let the Word of God become your bread of life, let Christ be your Bread of Life.”

The second temptation involves putting oneself in a situation to see how far one can go with God. By putting ourselves in a situation that is deliberately threatening and then we expect to be rescued by God. Risk taking in life may be required to fulfil the will of God, but what Jesus is being asked to do is to take a risk for his own prestige — for his own gain.

Jesus simply responds – “You shall not tempt the Lord your God.” How many times have we put ourselves in dangerous situations and have then remorsefully prayed for and relied upon the help of God to keep us out of trouble; Irresponsible drinking and driving, financial mismanagements, promiscuous sexual liaisons, cheating, lying, criminal behaviours?

Finally, Satan tempts Jesus with the possibility of immediately gaining immense power. Jesus’ response is – “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.”

We can so easily be lured by prestige and titles while we slowly lose our dependence upon the one true God.

Overindulgence, putting ourselves in dangerous and irresponsible situations, and wanting to exercise power over others are three major categories of temptations that we are faced with every day.

Jesus does give us a way out — a way to defend ourselves; and that has to do with dependence upon God. We may never be completely sin-free but if we focus all of our energies upon being completely dependent upon God, we are guaranteed to be tempted less.

Let us remember that Prayer, alms giving and fasting are significant and lasting ways for us to become closer to God.

The temptation scenario described by Matthew is no pretend-temptation. Jesus couldn’t just brush aside the choices placed before him, not if he were, as the Scriptures tell us, “fully human.”

But Jesus comes out of the desert as the one who has overcome Satan; he faced real temptations and rejected them in favour of God and God’s ways–as mysterious as those ways can seem at times.

We pray today for a renewed gift of the Holy Spirit, so that we can remain faithful to our calling and, as Jesus says to us today — worship “the Lord your God” and serve God alone.

By trying to make some meaningful change to our lives we are all faced with a serious but joyful challenge for Lent 2014.