Category Archives: Les Ruhrmund Homily

Marriage

27th Sunday
Year B
7 October 2018
Deacon Les Ruhrmund

The focus of the readings this weekend is marriage and specifically the marriage covenant according to God’s plan.

In the society in which Jesus lived, divorce was common and the question put to Jesus about divorce by the Pharisees was not only trying to trip him up but was actually addressing a burning issue of the day.

There were two schools of thought in Jewish culture at that time.

The first was the school of Shammai which was very strict and only allowed divorce in the case of adultery (and the women had virtually no rights in these matters – it was always the man’s call).

The other was the school of Hillel which allowed a man to divorce his wife on virtually any grounds; if she spoilt the food, or spoke to a strange man in the street, was argumentative or raised her voice, or if he simply no longer considered her attractive.  And again, the woman was at the mercy of her husband’s whims.

Jesus in his reply goes back to the Creation story and quotes from the Book of Genesis saying that from the very beginning God intended marriage to be a permanent bond between a man and a woman; a covenant with God in which the two become as one flesh.   In the New Testament, the bond between a man and a woman in marriage is compared to the bond between Christ and his Church; holy and inseparable.

Scripture also tells us that not everyone is called to marry.

Jesus talking to his disciples in Matthew’s Gospel says of marriage: “This teaching does not apply to everyone, but only to those to whom God has given it. For there are different reasons why men cannot marry: some, because they were born that way; others, because men made them that way; and others do not marry for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven.”

Marriage is a calling; it’s a vocation from God and there is no greater vocation. While vocations to serve God outside of marriage – perhaps through the priesthood, religious life or celibacy – are greatly to be admired, they are not any greater than the vocation of marriage.

In the marriage covenant, the spouses are saying to each other: Through my love for you, you are able to be the best person you can be – I complete you – and together we will raise children to know, love and serve God.  That’s the promise, that’s the relationship that Jesus is talking about in the Gospel.

In the Sacrament of Marriage, the spouses when they give their consent, when they make their promises to each other in their marriage vows, are acting as Christ to each other; promising to love each other as Christ loves them; unconditionally, in good times and bad, good health and poor, in poverty and in wealth. This is extraordinarily difficult and there is no greater challenge in life.

I speak as a veteran. Claire and I will celebrate our 39th wedding anniversary in December and I am very conscious and incredibly grateful, and I’m sure I speak also for Claire, in saying that we are very thankful, for the grace of the sacrament of marriage that has sustained and nourished our commitment and love. There are no easy marriages and I can’t imagine trying to uphold the promises made, without the bedrock of God’s grace.

That’s why we get married in Church. Not because it’s a family tradition or motivated by romantic dreams and lovely photographs. We get married in Church because we want God to be included in our union.

We know that marriages fail. That’s a reality in our society. It’s interesting that the trend for couples to live together before they get married has proved to be dismal preparation for a successful marriage. If it was good preparation more marriages would succeed and the divorce rate would drop – but the exact opposite is true.

When a marriage fails, the very validity of the marriage covenant, the validity of the couple’s unconditional consent, can, and I believe should, be questioned and that’s what we know as the process of annulment.

Annulment is not a divorce which is purely a legal process to dissolve a legal contract.  An annulment recognises that there were factors, often unknown to the couple on the day of the wedding, which render the sacrament of marriage as null and void.

That’s why careful and thorough preparation for marriage is essential. I always encourage newly engaged couples to spend at least as much time preparing for marriage as they’ll spent preparing for the wedding which is just a party that lasts for a few hours; marriage is for the rest of their lives.

There is more written in canon law about marriage than about anything else and I couldn’t possible summarise the conditions for a valid marriage in a few minutes. In our humanity, we continue to grapple today with the complexities and difficulties of the marriage covenant as we have throughout time.

Pope Francis in his exhortation ‘The Joy of Love” addresses the pain and suffering endured by families through broken marriages and reminds us all, clergy and lay alike, that Jesus never failed to show compassion and closeness to the frailty of individual’s like the Samaritan woman and the woman caught in adultery. He says we need always to consider that the complexities and circumstances for each couple, for each individual, are different and that we must not put so many conditions on mercy that we empty it of its concrete meaning and real significance. That he says is the worst way of watering down the gospel.

As we continue now with the liturgy of the Eucharist let me finish with another quote from ‘The Joy of Love’: He writes “I would also point out that the Eucharist is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak”

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Earth Day/GPS to Heaven

22nd Sunday Year B
2018 (2 Sept)
Deacon Les Ruhrmund

Before we look at the readings we have been encouraged by our Archbishop to recognise on this weekend, the significance of Earth Day which is celebrated today.
Earth Day is a reminder to us that we must do more to care for our ‘Mother Earth’, as Pope Francis calls it. The situation is critical and we are approaching the point of no return from which it will be impossible to reverse the devastating consequences of pollution, global warming and climate change on our environment and on humanity.

Pope Francis, in his encyclical Laudato Si (Praise be to you, my Lord!) on the environment and human ecology reminds us that we are stewards of the earth, and suggests that we must care for it as we would for a sister. He writes “This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. …There are symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life.”

God is the Master of creation. He is the Lord of all and He has entrusted the earth to us – to care for it and for all living things. We are directed in scripture to be responsible stewards of all that God has created. In everything we do we should keep in mind that we are privileged human beings living in God’s creation, caring and working always to nourish life; in the sea and the rivers, on the lands and the forests.

We seem to be on the road to self-destruction. We’re destroying our environment, we’re destroying entire species of animals, plants and sea life, and we’re pollution the air, the seas and our rivers with plastic and waste.
This is not news. We’re being presented with catastrophic evidence of this on an almost daily basis. But it’s all meaningless and ineffective – just hot air – unless we respond with some sort of remedial action.

We each have the God entrusted responsibility and obligation to do whatever we can in our own small way: reduce wastage of water and other precious resources, avoid plastic as far as possible, never pour cooking oil, fat or grease down the sink, only use energy efficient light bulbs and appliances, recycle whatever we can, check that our car tyres are properly inflated to consume less fuel, quit smoking, and there are very many other ways to make a contribution in the fight to protect, nurture and preserve Mother Earth who is slowly being smothered by our reckless disregard for her health.

In the first reading Moses, addressing the people he has brought out of slavery in Egypt, speaks of the fundamental loyalty that is essential to Israel’s unique relationship with God. He says that obedience to the commandments of God is the key. He’s referring to the 10 Commandments he received from God on Mount Sinai.

The 10 Commandments are the GPS on our journey to fulfilling the loving covenant we have entered into with God through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus; the GPS co-ordinates to heaven. The commandments prescribe how we are to relate and interact with God and with each other; with our neighbour. When we ignore the guidance and promptings of this GPS, ignore the teachings of the 10 Commandments, we lose our way and all too soon find ourselves lost in the wilderness.

In the Gospel reading, Jesus turns the challenge from the Pharisees and scribes about the manner in which his disciples prepared to eat bread, into a wide-sweeping exposure and criticism of their ‘lip-service’ interpretation of God’s commandments.

Understanding Jesus’s words to the Pharisees and to his disciples in terms that would be pertinent to us today, Jesus is saying:
• While we might appear to be Christian on the outside, we might well be quite evil on the inside.
• We can go to Mass regularly, avoid obviously offensive or sinful behaviour in public, while entertaining unkind and cruel thoughts of prejudice, intolerance, anger, bitterness and dishonesty in private
• That’s the hypocrisy that Jesus is talking about.

As the old saying goes, unless we live according to what we believe, we will soon start believing in accordance with how we live.
We can never consider ourselves better than any other person, no matter their lifestyle or circumstances, simply because our sins are less visible.
Jesus goes on to teach the crowd a revolutionary doctrine which puts him at odds with his own religious tradition. He says that it’s not what or how we eat that makes a person clean or unclean; only that which comes from our hearts.

External things like food don’t make us evil; it is our actions, as conscious choices, which reveal whether we are actually living according to God’s commandments.

Our beliefs don’t make us good people or good disciples, our actions do. We don’t make a difference in the world by going to church. We will only make a difference to the world by being the church.

Jesus accuses the Pharisees of disregarding the commandments of God so that they won’t be inconvenienced in following their man-made conventions. That’s an ever more difficult challenge for us as Christians – and particularly for Catholics – in a world that expects the church to ‘get with it’ and change its apostolic teachings rooted in the revelations of Christ and follow the road designed by a self-centred society.

We live in a world that largely relegates the role of God and his commandments to the sideliners suggesting that obedience to God is a fanciful option.
It isn’t and the sorry state of our world stands as stark testimony to that truth.

We are called to bring healing into our broken world

15th Sunday Year B 2018
Deacon Les Ruhrmund

The prophet Amos lived close on 2800 years ago in a village about 10km south of Bethlehem in the southern Hebrew kingdom of Judah but when called by God to be his prophet he moved across the border to Bethel in the northern kingdom of Israel; a travel distance of about 40km.

For the Hebrew kingdoms, this was a time of relative peace and prosperity but beneath its affluence, the nation was rotten: luxury and excess for the rich, exploitation of the poor, loose moral standards, corruption in public life, and religious observance based on ritual rather than piety.

It was against these abuses that God called Amos to preach and he didn’t mince his words. His criticism is fierce and damning and it’s hardly surprising that the authorities disliked him. He was accused of treason and conspiring against the king and as we heard in today’s reading, was told to pack his bags and go home. The voice of truth is seldom welcome in the courtyards of the powerful.

On the world stage today, Pope Francis is a very strong voice speaking out about the abuses of power and wealth at the expense of the poor and we are encouraged to do the same.

In the Gospel reading, Jesus sends the twelve disciples out to be the voice of truth. And he forewarns them that they may not always receive a warm welcome and that where they are rejected they should walk away and “shake off the dust that’s on your feet”; implying that those who will not receive them are unclean and unworthy.

Jesus sent them out on their mission with nothing except his authority; no food, no money, no spare clothes. This stands in stark contrast to some of the prosperity evangelists professing to proclaim God’s message today. A few weeks ago an American televangelist Jesse Duplantis, who claims to have 130m followers worldwide, appealed to his audience to buy him a new private jet worth $54m because God had told him that he needs it and he deserves it. He says the plane gets him closer to God and in his video explained that he needs a private plane because there are demons on airlines, and also because fans come up to him and agitate his spirit. He actuals uses a quote from the prophet Amos to justify his message.

There’s no shortage of charlatans purporting to be messengers of Christ. A pastor in Nigeria at the start of the World Cup urged his followers to pay him $2 000 to unleash a squadron of “prayer warriors” to help the country’s footballers secure a World Cup win. I doubt he’s refunded their money.

The message of the twelve that Jesus sent out is simple: “Repent!”
Repentance means a change of heart and a change of action. It’s painful. It means facing up to the unpleasant reality that the way we are living may be wrong. We may not be committing diabolical sins like theft, murder or adultery but we may be living lives that are centred primarily on ourselves; our comfort, our desires, our bubble of self-contentment. A change to a God-centred life is very difficult and perhaps that’s why so few truly repent.

But the twelve also brought healing; the mercy of God.

Mark tells us that the disciples drove out demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them. The anointing of the sick is still a very powerful and wonderful sacrament available to all of us today through the ministry of the Church and is perhaps the most misunderstood and most underutilised of the seven sacraments often seen as the “last rites”, or Extreme Unction, of the dying. Small wonder that some may want to avoid being on the receiving end. The anointing is a sacrament, not of death, but of life. There is no sacrament that can save us from death.

The healing power of the sacrament is often clouded with the desire for physical healing but the encounter with Christ through the sacrament attends to our spiritual health and well-being as well as our physical sickness.

Often when people are sick, they get discouraged, depressed, angry and afraid. The sacrament offers the grace to calm the soul and strengthen the spirit bringing peace and courage in the face of pain, anxiety and fear. If physical recovery is God’s will, so be it; but our calling and our mission aren’t dependent on good physical health. The intention of the sacrament isn’t the extension of life on earth nor does it negate the need for medical care. The sacrament provides God’s grace and supernatural assistance to coincide with the miracles of modern medicine.

And the anointing brings forgiveness in the absolution of sins; forgiveness and mercy from God and the grace to forgive ourselves for the many ways in which we have failed to love.

We are able to receive the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick as often as we may need it. The elderly, the serious ill, those with life threatening diseases, chronic pain or recurring illness, can and should be anointed regularly.

While the sacrament of healing can only be administered by a priest or bishop, we are all called and able to offer healing. Often suffering and pain is more emotional than physical and we could look into our hearts and perhaps hear there the voice of Jesus sending us out to bring healing into the lives of those we may have hurt with our words or actions, or lack of words and actions.

Let’s pray that the call of the Holy Spirit to bring healing into our broken world will find a secure place in our hearts; if not it will shake off the dust and move on.

Treasure – Covenant of One June 2018

 

Deacon Les Ruhrmund

Since the launch of the Covenant of 1 in April, we have covered the concept of Time (the spiritual component focused on the time we invest in our relationship with God) and Talent (the service component, focused on using our gifts and talents in the service of the parish and the outreach projects in which the parish is involved).

This weekend we launch the third component which is Treasure, the financial contribution we make to support the parish and the ministries of the parish.

Our lives, our families, our health, our education, our unique talents and skills, our job and our income are all blessings from God, entrusted into our care for the good of all.

We are accountable to God for how we use our treasure.

We tend to keep our financial matters separate from our faith, rather than looking at our treasure, our money, as a gift to be used within the wrapping that is our faith.

Jesus says in Luke’s Gospel (12:33-34,48), “Where your treasure is, there also your heart will be …….Much is asked of the person who is entrusted with much, and even more is expected of the person who has been entrusted with more.”

We should all want to give.

Motivated by love – our love for God, love for each other and love of the Church and our parish – we should want to give as generously as we are able. There is no other source of funding for the parish. If we aren’t giving then we are just taking and surely that’s not right; that contradicts the very premise of our faith. So, whether we are children, students, working or retired, we should all want to contribute to the upkeep and development of our parish.

Here are 4 simple principles about Christian giving:
1. We give as a response to what God has given to us. In creation, through Jesus, and through the Holy Spirit, God has given us everything that we have, and all that we are. Our giving is a response to this.

2. We give in grace, and not through law. The Old Testament tithe was required by law. Many Evangelical churches use the OT laws to justify the call on their members to tithe 10% of their gross income to the church. The New Testament commends giving generously of our treasure, in grace; each to our own capability. In scripture we have the example of the woman donating all she had and Zacchaeus, the tax collector, giving away 50% of his treasure. For some a generous amount will not represent any real sacrifice; while for others a much lesser amount represents a tremendous sacrifice.

3. Our giving to the parish is a moral obligation well founded in Scripture and in the life of the early Church and is an essential part of the management of all our treasure. Apply the same measures of generosity and integrity in giving to the parish as we do in other areas of our lives.

4. It feels good to give generously – it really does. We best understand that heart-warming joy of giving generously when we have experienced it.

We have a wonderful parish of which we can and should be very proud; proud because we are able to offer so many ministries and opportunities to enrich our faith and our experience of God. Our relationship with God is realized in the mystical Body of Christ; the faith community of the parish and the Church. The parish is only able to fulfil its mission through the generosity of the parishioners. The parishioners are the only source of income. Without our willingness to give of our treasure, the parish as we know it would not and could not exist.

This is our pastoral home.
This is where we encounter Christ personally in the Mass and where we come for support, comfort and spiritual nourishment to sustain us through life’s hard journey.

This is where we experience the Body of Christ as a living presence through each other and through the discipleship of service within and outside of the parish.
This is where we baptise our babies and bring them into our Christian family.
This is where we teach our children, teens and young adults about the love of God; teach them that they are each God’s beloved and bring them into communion with our faith and their faith family through the sacraments.

This is where we declare our love and commitment to love in marriage and where we bid farewell to the bodies of our loved ones when their life journey is over; and where we bury their ashes and honour their memory on the wall of remembrance.

We have a precious and splendid legacy to pass on to our children and to their children’s children.

But the parish is struggling financially.

In the financial year ending June 2018, our expenses will have exceeded our income by about R325,000. If our contributions stay the same in the year ahead, with the effect of inflation on our expenses, the deficit is likely to be close to R500,000 by June next year. This is obviously not sustainable and unless contributions increase, we will be forced to make some drastic cuts in our expenses. Sadly, this is likely to most affect some of our ministries.

The finance committee are meticulously scrutinising the budgeted expenses for the year ahead and in consultation with the Parish Pastoral Council, reducing costs where ever possible. They will also be keeping us updated monthly in the weekend bulletin, providing data of our income and expenses.

In the letter prepared by James Collett, the chairman of the finance committee, which is in the planned giving envelopes in the foyer, he uses an example of how an extra R100 can make a significant difference to balance the books but this is only by way of illustration.

In keeping with the concept of the Covenant of 1, we are asked to consider making a minimum contribution to our parish of one hour’s income per week; roughly one fortieth of our monthly income.

Putting this into numbers:

A family or individual with an income of R5,000/month, would commit to giving R125/month.
R10,000/month, contribute R250/month;

On an income of R20,000/month, the minimum contribution should be R500/month
Etc

If that amount isn’t possible at this time, then commit to working towards reaching that level of generosity over the next few years.

If you don’t earn yet, give a percentage of your pocket money (think in terms of the value of one movie, one beer, one pizza).

Treasure: Am I giving fairly of my treasure to my pastoral home?

We should pray about it and ask the Holy Spirit to guide our hearts in deciding what to give. The work of the parish is God’s work and the Holy spirit will prompt our hearts; let’s pray also that we have the courage in faith to respond.

God so loved the world …….

Palm Sunday
Year B
25 March 2018
Deacon Les Ruhrmund

We have arrived at the last Sunday in Lent and the start of Holy Week. In this coming week we commemorate the most profound mysteries of life and death; of God and humankind; of love and sin. The Triduum starting on Thursday evening and continuing through to Easter Sunday is the most holy celebration in our faith.

This is the very nucleus of our faith. Without the events of the Easter Triduum, Christianity would not exist.

We recall the Passion today and we’re going to hear it again on Good Friday.
In the Passion we relive a most defining moment in human history: the brutal killing of the Son of God and the salvation of the world.

With each hearing we hopefully embrace anew the wonder and profound significance of God’s consummate sacrifice of love for us.

I’ve currently reading a book called Rediscovering Catholicism written in 2010 by Matthew Kelly, an American based author and founder of the Dynamic Catholic Institute. In the prologue to the book he presents an analogy of this sacrifice of love that I’d like to share with you in an abridged version.

He says:
Imagine you hear a report on the radio about a small village in India where at least four people have died, suddenly, strangely, of a flu that has never been seen before. You don’t think too much about it until you hear a week later that the death toll from this, as yet unidentified flu, has risen to thirty thousand in the back hills of India; whole villages have been wiped out.

Within a few days it’s the lead story in all media and the disease is spreading. There are now reports of deaths in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and North Africa. World authorities are scrambling to identify this ‘mystery flu’ and find a vaccine or at least a way to treat those who have been infected. As best they can tell, after contracting the disease, you have it for about a week without any signs of illness, then you have four days of ghastly symptoms, and then you die.

The President of France announces that he is closing the French borders after a man dies from this flu in a hospital in Paris. Panic strikes Europe which soon spreads to the rest of the world.

The British close their borders, but it’s too late; there are reports of people dying in Southampton, Liverpool and London. The United States cancels all flights to and from the USA. But there are already accounts of infected people dying in cities throughout the States and in many more countries around the world.

Scientists in laboratories are working frantically around the clock to find a cure. And then there’s a break through. The code has been broken. A cure has been found. A vaccine can be made. But it’s going to take the blood of someone who hasn’t been infected.

So you and I are asked to do just one thing: Go to the nearest hospital and have our blood tested.

At the hospital there are long lines of people and a constant rush of doctors and nurses taking blood samples. Finally, it’s your turn. You go first, then your spouse and children follow. Once the doctors have taken your blood they tell you to wait in the large car park outside for your name to be called. You stand around with your family and neighbours, scared, waiting, hoping and wondering if this is the end.
Nobody seems to have had their name called.

But then suddenly a young doctor comes running out of the hospital waving a clipboard and yelling a name. You don’t hear him at first but then a whole team of medical staff come out yelling the name and your son tugs at your sleeve and says “Dad, that’s my name they are calling.”
Before you know it they have grabbed your boy and are rushing him back into the hospital.

“Wait a minute. Hold on!” you say, “That’s my son!”
“It’s okay”, they reply “Your son’s blood is perfect and we can use it make a vaccine.”

As the news begins to spread across the car park, people scream and pray and laugh and cry and everyone’s hugging each other.
But there’s a problem. The doctor pulls you aside and tells you “We weren’t expecting it to be a child …….we need you to sign consent.”

“How much of his blood do you need?” you ask.
The doctor looks uncomfortable and after a short pause says quietly “We are going to need it all!”
“What do mean you need it all? I don’t understand! He’s my only son!”

The doctor grabs you by the shoulders and looking straight into your eyes says “We are talking about the whole world here. Do you understand? The whole world! Please sign the form.”

In numb silence you sign the form because you know it’s the only thing to do.
You walk into the hospital room where your son is being prepared for the procedure but are soon asked to leave.

Your son is crying out to you “Mom? Dad? What’s going on? Where are you going? Don’t leave me alone! Why are you abandoning me?”

A few months later, they hold a ceremony to honour your son for his phenomenal contribution to humanity …..but some people sleep through it, others don’t even bother to come, while others sit and fidget and say things like “This is so boring.”
Would you not want to stand up and say “Excuse me! My son died so that you could live. He died for you! Does it mean nothing to you?”

Perhaps that is what God wants to say.
Perhaps when we hear the Passion read again on Friday we’ll comprehend a little better the great love that our Father has for us.

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.

Speak of the devil

4th Sunday Ordinary Time
Year B
28 Jan 2018
Deacon Les Ruhrmund

The reading we’ve just heard is taken from the first chapter in Mark’s Gospel and already we have a second encounter between Jesus and the devil; the first being in the wilderness after Jesus was baptised by John.

The story of Christ’s life and ministry simply cannot be told without referring to the devil. The Apostle John, in his First Letter (3:8), sums up Jesus’ mission in these words: “Indeed, the Son of God was revealed to destroy the works of the devil.”

The devil, the power of evil, Satan is not a subject that is discussed often in our modern world but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. Perhaps it just illustrates that we live in a world in which the power of evil is enjoying some success in encouraging our egos to believe that we know what’s best for us and keeping God and God’s commandments at a safe distance from our hearts and conscience.

Perhaps the current state of world disorder, conflict, climate change, poverty and inequality are a reflection of our world’s hell-bent progress.

So what does the Church believe about the devil and evil?

A starting point would be an understanding of the Church as the Communion of Saints.
During his homily at the Confirmation Mass at St Michael’s on the Feast of All Saints in November last year, the Archbishop asked the young adults who were to be Confirmed what they understood about the Communion of Saints.

When we recite the Apostles Creed, we profess that we believe in the Communion of Saints but do we know what that means? The Confirmandee were a little uncertain in their reply and I think their sponsors were grateful and relieved that he didn’t ask them to answer the question.

The Communion of Saints refers to the unity that exists between all the members of the Church:
– The Saints in heaven
– All the believers living on earth and
– The souls in purgatory, preparing for sainthood

This communion of saints is most fully expressed and experienced in the Mass – especially at the Consecration and at Holy Communion. In those moments, heaven and earth are united. The saints, those in purgatory and we the believers are intimately connected and united at Mass because the power of Christ binds us together.

Shortly, when we receive the Blessed Sacrament, we could reflect on how we are, in that splendid moment, in union with the whole church and particularly with those we have loved who have died.

We, the believers on earth, are called the Church Militant. The word militant isn’t used in the sense that we’re at war with other religions or nationalities; we’re at war spiritually against sin and Satan. The spiritual battle is for our souls and our weapons are the grace and the Word of God in the power of the Holy Spirit. We are the warriors against evil; soldiers of Christ.

The fight for our souls is relentless. Victories over temptation and sin are often short lived and the battle soon resumes, frequently with increased intensity. St Peter in his First Letter (5:8) says: “Be sober and vigilant. Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for (someone) to devour.”

In my own life I’ve found that often following an experience when I’ve felt really close to God, soon afterwards I’m floundering in spiritual apathy and have had to fight hard to regain the ground I thought I’d won.

Lent is just over 2 weeks away and offers us a concentrated time of renewed discipline and hopefully progress in the battle.
One way to recognise evil is to see it as the direct opposite or lack of everything we know about God and our calling to love God and our neighbour.

So as God is love, evil is hatred and indifference
As God is pure, evil is impure; contaminated
As God is unchangeable, evil is mercurial
As God is righteous, evil is dishonest and corrupt
As God is truth, evil is lies and deceit
As God is wisdom, evil is foolishness; reckless and rash
As God is holy, evil is sinful
As God is generous, evil is greedy and selfish
As God is tolerant, evil is prejudiced and bigoted
As God is compassionate, evil is impervious and uncaring
As God is merciful, etc, etc

A lesson we could take from the Gospel reading is to stay close to Jesus. The objective of evil is to separate us from God. The man possessed by the unclean spirit in the synagogue was set free when the evil spirit encountered Jesus.

We stay close to Jesus through prayer and the Sacraments; the Eucharist and Reconciliation.
There is a long tradition in the Church of praying to our guardian angels every day to protect and guide us; a tradition that goes back over 1000 years.

One modern translation of an ancient prayer goes like this:
Angel sent by God to guide me,
Be my light and walk beside me,
Be my guardian and protect me,
On the paths of life direct me.
Let me finish with a quote from Blessed Cardinal Newman’s poem ‘The Dream of Gerontius’.

The departed soul of Gerontius is met by his guardian angel who greets him with these words:

My work is done
My task is o’er,
And so I come
Taking it home
For the crown is won
Alleluia
For evermore.

My Father gave
In charge to me
This child of earth
E’en from its birth
To serve and save.
Alleluia,
And saved is he.

This child of clay
To me was given,
To rear and train
By sorrow and pain
In the narrow way,
Alleluia,
From earth to heaven.

As we continue now with this Mass, surrounded by many angels and in communion with the whole church, let’s renew our commitment to being courageous soldiers of Christ, no matter how tough the battle may get.