Category Archives: St Michael's Homily's

A Rock-Like Faith

21st SUNDAY ORDINARY TIME.
CYCLE A.
27th August 2017.
Mat: 16: 13-20
Deacon Tony Van Vuuren

It comes over pretty clearly from the picture that Saint Matthew gives of Peter that Jesus chose him as the leader of the disciples not because of any great leadership skills that he showed or because he was a particularly charismatic personality, but because he had faith: the insight to discern Jesus’ identity as the Saviour.

Of course Peter’s insight into Jesus’ identity didn’t come from nowhere. He’d had plenty of time to get to know Jesus and to witness the way he went about his mission.

His faith had grown since his first meeting with Jesus; but we know that he was challenged along the way and reflecting on that made me realize that to overcome the personal challenges that I and my family have to face at the moment we, as a family, have to maintain a rock-like faith in Christ. We have to be rooted in God.                                                                                                                                                                        We We are all faced with challenges one way or another; and one of the biggest challenges to our faith is suffering. The question arises, “Why must I endure suffering?” Or, “What did she do to deserve so much pain?” It’s complicated. Among people who pray a lot there is a feeling that we should have a pass on suffering — after all, we pray and should receive some benefits — shouldn’t we? But it gets more complicated. Why do the innocent suffer, especially the very young, and the evil ones seem to prosper?

C S Lewis is quoted in yesterday’s Argus: “The problem is not why some pious, humble, believing people suffer, but why do some not?”

From the very beginning the question of suffering has been a stumbling block for believers. I don’t presume to have an answer. Except, I do not believe God deliberately afflicts us with pain. Nor do I believe that God tests our faith to see how strong it is. I reject the explanation that many give, as an attempt to comfort those in pain: “God never gives us more than we can bear.” Nor do I believe, as some people say, “God is testing your faith.”

I don’t believe any of that because I believe in Jesus Christ and his gospel which reveals a God who loves us, even before we know that love, or do anything to return it.
We certainly don’t have to earn God’s love — Jesus says we already have it. If anything, God is there with us in our suffering. In Jesus Christ, God joins us in all we go through; we are not alone in our most difficult times. That doesn’t answer many of our questions about suffering, nor why each of us seems to have our own unique type of suffering. By putting our faith in God’s love we learn to live with the mystery.

Christ says to us through the Gospels; “If anyone wants to be my disciple you must take up your cross and follow me.”
We often call our helplessness and suffering our cross. True, because our suffering unites us with Christ’s. But the cross that Jesus speaks of is one he invites us to take up. We can accept it or reject it, because it is voluntary. But it means accepting that suffering is a part of our lives. Accepting our cross means that, at some point, we have to make peace with the unalterable fact that frustration, disappointment, pain, misfortune, illness, unfairness, sadness, and death are a part of our lives and they must ultimately be accepted without bitterness.

Pope Francis is quoted as saying that  the Gospels remind us that faith in God and in his word doesn’t open up a path where everything is easy and calm; it doesn’t take away life’s storms. Faith gives us the security of Jesus’ presence to help us through the difficult times. Faith is not an escape from life’s problems and challenges; but it sustains us along the journey and gives our life meaning.

When we answer the 2nd question put to the disciples as Peter did, we respond to Jesus’ invitation. We also, apart from accepting suffering, also choose to sacrifice time, energy and resources through service to our community and for those in need.  In a world that measures a person’s worth by appearance, place of origin, income and possessions, we have to choose to be with the poor, and speak up for the outsider, even at the cost of being rejected and ridiculed — our cross. In a world that rewards gold medals to the strongest and victorious, we can choose to give a hand to the weak, infirm, elderly and the homeless out of personal time and resources — our cross.

In a world that chooses violence and force as a solution to problems, or to get one’s way, we can choose nonviolence, dialogue, love of enemies and we can attempt to listen to another’s point of view – even when others call us naive — our cross. We make daily choices to take up the cross and follow Jesus.

As I was saying at the start, Jesus didn’t choose Peter as the leader of the disciples because he had any of the skills or abilities that people look for today. He chose him because – despite all his failings, which the gospels don’t try to cover up – Peter’s faith was deep and sincere. In spite of his various weaknesses, he became rooted in God as a result of his encounter with Christ, in a way that he wasn’t before he met Christ. So can we!

Perhaps at a time when people seem to find it so difficult to decide what they believe in and what they hope for – when they’re always postponing any final decision about fundamental values and what they want as the driving force in their lives – the example of Peter’s faith is something that hopefully we, as believers, can identify with and imitate in our own efforts to recognise Christ for who he is and to become rooted in the God who sent him to us.

How can we identify with this kind of life; the life of a disciple?  Might I suggest; It requires what Jesus congratulated Peter for, and what Jesus built up in Peter, a “rock-like faith.”

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The Transfiguration

Year A 2017
6 August
Deacon Les Ruhrmund

Today’s feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord celebrates an extraordinary event in the life of Jesus and in the lives of the three disciples who witnessed it. For Jesus, the transfiguration was an affirmation of his Father’s love and a foretaste of his glory.
For Peter, James and John, the transfiguration was a vivid revelation, a preview, of Jesus’s full identity; fully human and fully divine. While the three of them knew and loved Jesus, the carpenter from Galilee, in the transfiguration they got a glimpse of his divinity; Jesus, the Son of God, Jesus the Messiah, the completion of the Law (represented by Moses) and the prophets (represented by Elijah).

Jesus in the mystery of the Holy Trinity; the voice of the Father, the transfigured Son and the Holy Spirit brilliantly animated in the clouds and the light as bright as the sun.

An awesome experience beyond description; impossible to describe adequately. How can one describe an encounter with God? The three of them must have been frightened out of their wits and shaken right out of their sandals.

The transfiguration took place about a week after Jesus had spoken to his disciples for the first time about his pending suffering, death and resurrection. And you’ll recall that to Peter the whole idea of Jesus dying was unthinkable and he’d protested strongly; and Jesus had rebuked him sternly rejecting the temptation that Peter presented to him to walk away from the cross “Get behind me Satin.” This rebuke must have come as a real shock to Peter and bruised his ego and his relationship with Jesus.

The transfiguration, coming just days after this misunderstanding, was surely a turning point in Peter’s understanding of Jesus; Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.

In today’s Second Reading Peter recalls his experience of the transfiguration to remind the early Christians that he stands as a personal witness to Jesus’s majesty and divinity.

In the law in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 19:15) three witnesses are required to attest to the truth. The truth of the transfiguration was witnessed by Peter, James and John.

All of us believe in an intellectual way that God is with us. But sometimes we wish for a mountain-top experience to make that intellectual belief a tangible reality in our lives. Often God’s presence is not obvious to us in the cruel, corrupt world in which we live and in the everyday challenges of our lives.

We might wish that we could have an experience like the transfiguration. Wish that God would appear to us in a way that could not be mistaken for anything else; preferably an encounter that we would share with other witnesses who could vouch for this truth.

Perhaps then we’d find it easier to love God and love our neighbour; easier to be faithful disciples.

Well it didn’t work that way for Peter, James, and John. This experience on the mountain didn’t take away the ambition of James and John to be singled out for special treatment. They wanted a distinctive place kept for them in God’s kingdom (Matthew 20:20). The transfiguration didn’t take away their selfish pride and hunger for recognition. Or their doubt. They deserted Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane and left him to die.

We know about Peter.

Even the transfiguration didn’t heal his doubt. He cowered in fear when Jesus was arrested and then publicly professed that he didn’t know the man.

Even the sight of the resurrected Jesus was not a fool proof experience for some of Jesus’ followers. Matthew tells us in chapter 28 that after the crucifixion “The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them. When they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted.”

As much as we might wish for a dramatic display of God’s power and presence we’re not likely to receive one. We build our faith on the testimony of those who witnessed the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and on the witness and evidence of God’s presence in our lives and the lives of the many saints who have gone before us; the Presence of Jesus among us and within us.

Most of us have had an experience of the presence of God.

An experience that we can’t adequately describe or explain but one which has left us with no doubt that we have encountered something beautiful that’s out of this world.

Perhaps in prayer or meditation we’ve been overcome with a sense of joy and peace.

Or perhaps the sudden recognition of the majesty of creation in a sunrise or sunset or star lit night that leaves us speechless.

Perhaps an exquisite piece of music or art that takes our breath away.

Perhaps a look or gesture of love from a child or someone we’ve touched with our kindness and compassion.

Perhaps the overwhelming awareness of God’s forgiveness in the words of absolute in the sacrament of reconciliation.

Or perhaps just the sheer happiness of being alive and knowing that we are God’s beloved; an unexpected feeling of certainty that nothing can separate us from the love of God.

Often these experiences happen when we least expect them.

But we’re come here specifically to encounter our Lord.

Are we not blessed indeed to have the Presence of Christ available to us in the Eucharist in the Mass? Let us never undervalue the magnitude and magnificence of this great Sacrament of the altar. This is the same Jesus that Peter, John and James encountered in the Transfiguration.

It’s not necessary to climb a mountain to experience the presence of God.

All we have to do is be attentive so that we don’t miss the time and place when God wants to enter more deeply into our lives.

eeply into our lives.

CALL TO WITNESS

THE ASCENSION OF THE LORD
CYCLE A
28th MAY 2017
Acts 1:1-11
Math 28:16-20
Rev Tony van Vuuren

We can’t read the Bible as if it’s a collection of news reports: it’s a different kind of knowledge which is being communicated. Jesus’ Ascension, which we commemorate today, is one of the many events in the Bible where – behind the images and the metaphors – we do find the truth about the work and the activity that God has carried out for our sake and for our salvation.

Whatever the image, we run the risk of looking on the Feast of the Ascension with our eyes raised to the sky. This is exactly the opposite of what we should do. It is a feast that invites us to look to earth, to people among whom we are called to witness to and make present the work of our Lord.

The readings today are a poetic way of saying that Jesus is no longer on earth in a fleshly, physical and material way. The words of scripture mean that Christ’s ascension and withdrawal brings about a new mode by which Christ can be present to us, intimate, yet universal and ‘interceding for us at the right hand of the Father.’He is actually with us more strongly, more powerfully, than when he walked the roads and streets of Palestine.

He is with us in his gift to us of the Holy Spirit. Always inside us as an invitation that fully respects our freedom, never overpowers us; but also never goes away. He acts on us in all the down-to-earth ways that the Spirit influences us. So we don’t have to go looking for him on the clouds or in the sky. We find him in our reading, hearing and understanding of the scriptures, which speak of him. We find him in our celebration of the sacraments. Each of the seven sacraments is a sign of his presence and action upon us here and now.

This is especially true of the Eucharist, which is specifically the sign and presence of his now glorified and spiritualized body. We find him in our practical love for our neighbour, and especially for our caring for fellow human beings who are disadvantaged in any way, and those who are sad, sorrowing, afraid or despairing.

But if Jesus is no longer visible in the old familiar ways, how will people come to know of his presence? The answer is that he is present through us. On this Feast of the Ascension we are reminded in Matthew’s Gospel of the great commission he gave us; his followers; before he went home to God. This is to go and tell everyone everywhere the good news that Jesus is alive and is our Saviour – making disciples of all nations.

The end of Jesus’ ministry on earth is the beginning of our ministry, as the community of believers, the Church. He says to his followers in every century ‘You are my witnesses’, and that in order to witness to my Father ‘you will be clothed with the power from on high’, the power of the Holy Spirit.

That then is our task: to be witnesses. There are two aspects to the role of witness 1) to actually experience the subject in question and 2) to tell others about it. Obviously one comes before the other. One can’t give witness to something that you have not experienced. Some of us here might feel that our experience of God has been inadequate up to now and therefore we don’t think that we have anything to communicate to others.

We shouldn’t underestimate ourselves. If we are sitting in Church today it is surely because most of us already have some experience of God. It is surely because we already hope and trust in him and because we know that it is in celebrating his Eucharist that we can come closest to him. Most of us came to this mass quite freely and must therefore have a good reason to want to spend time with him in service and prayer. If that’s not experience of God, then what is?

It is this that the people in the world around us want to know about. They thirst for meaning and purpose; all too often they find themselves filling up the empty holes in their lives with material possessions, and all kinds of inappropriate things.

They want to hear from us. Or maybe, they don’t want to hear from us but want to observe people who do find their lives fulfilling and who have direction and moral purpose. They want to look at us from afar and only later, when they become convinced that what we are doing is right, come to know us better. In ascending to heaven, Jesus has not left us. He has merely disappeared from our sight. This is similar to the Eucharist. So long as the host is outside us, we see it and we adore it.

When we receive the host we no longer see it. It has disappeared from sight, but it has disappeared so that Jesus can be within us, and be present to us in a new way, and an even more powerful way than when he walked our earth in the flesh. So, like the first disciples, we are not sad that Jesus has disappeared from sight but happy, happy because he is still with us through the Spirit.

So did it happen exactly as the Acts reading describes it? Jesus being lifted to heaven on a cloud? Why not? Nothing is impossible with God. In the end though, the imagery matters less than the lessons of the Ascension: Jesus is with the Father. Jesus is always present to us through the Spirit. The two men in white robes assure us that Jesus will return. Meanwhile we have to stop staring up at the sky and get busy being the witnesses Jesus has asked us to be!

Jesus loves me this I know

Good Friday
Les Ruhrmund

Crucifixion was a familiar method of execution used by the Romans at the time of Jesus and was an excruciatingly painful procedure resulting in a slow and agonising death. It was for this very reason that it was used as a deterrent to would be traitors and criminals. We’re told by historians that many of the soldiers who were tasked to carry out crucifixions were traumatised by the experience and would fortify themselves with wine beforehand.

Jesus says to us from the cross this afternoon: You have tortured me and put me through this most terrible suffering, yet I love you. There is nothing you can do in this world that would change my love for you. The Father says to us: Do you believe now how much I love you? My beloved son has died so that you may live with me in God’s kingdom.

Prior to the crucifixion of Jesus, there was no access to the kingdom. Human creation was completely cut off from God. None of the great people of scripture who proceeded Jesus were in the kingdom; not Abraham nor Isaac, nor Moses, David, Solomon, Elijah, nor any of the other great prophets; not even John the Baptist had access to the Father’s kingdom. The Passion, death and resurrection of Jesus opened the gateway to the Father and saved all humankind from eternal darkness. This is the greatest story ever told.

In John’s Passion we hear a variety of questions asked by different people who participated in the Passion of Jesus and I’d like to reflect simply on three of them:

“Who are you looking for? “Jesus asks twice.

“Aren’t you another of that man’s disciples?” is the question that is twice put to Peter.

“So you are a king, then? “asks Pontius Pilate.

So who are we looking for?

Our answer is surely the same as the soldiers: Jesus of Nazareth. If that was not true, we wouldn’t be here this afternoon. In our own ways, for many different reasons we’re all looking for Jesus in our lives. His love sustains, nourishes, comforts and carries us as we struggle with our own crosses to our own Calvary and redemption. Few of us will get through this life without pain and suffering; be it emotional, physical or spiritual. Jesus didn’t come to eliminate pain and suffering; his crucifixion is proof enough of that. But Jesus has been there; he understands our fear and dread in the face of pain and death. We need Jesus in our lives. While the soldiers were looking to take Jesus into custody, we place ourselves in the custody of Jesus.

The second question is to Peter. Although he had sworn vehemently at supper the night before that he would never desert Jesus, when challenged, three times he insisted that he didn’t even know the man.  We can empathise with Peter given a stark choice of perhaps life and death but do we deny Jesus nevertheless though the stakes are not nearly as high?  In our homes, families, work places and recreation do we compromise our relationship with Jesus by saying and doing things that hurt others?  Are we the voice of Jesus, the voice of peace, in a grossly cruel and violent world?

We live in a world that is extensively connected through social media. We are able to communicate instantly with a great many people at the push of a button. Would it be obvious to anyone reading what we post on social media and our smart phones that we are another of that man’s disciples?

The third question is posed by Pilate.

Is Jesus king? Do we really believe that? King of our hearts, king of our lives?

Jesus says his kingdom is not of this world. Those who will be welcomed into his kingdom will be recognised by how they fed the hungry and the thirsty, welcomed strangers, clothed the naked, cared for the sick, and visited prisoners. Hunger may not necessarily be a shortage of food. It may be a hunger for love, acceptance, tolerance, kindness and understanding.  In the same way we don’t necessarily have to visit a jail to visit prisoners. Many are prisoners of loneliness, depression, addictions and abuse. They all cry out for the healing touch of Jesus that we as disciples can bring them.

We are challenged to show true allegiance to our king through our actions. Not ambition, greed and status, not pious words and conspicuous devotions, but quiet revolutionary work of making the world a better place in which to live; better because we have made it better.

Each of us stands alone before Jesus on the cross. We stare at his broken body that cries out in love for us. We know we are not worthy of his great sacrifice but we also know that he loves us in our imperfection.

He has chosen to travel the same journey all over again, in, through and with each one of us. No wonder we call this solemn feast “Good Friday”. What greater goodness could we know than that the cross of Jesus reveals that God is our companion at every step of life’s journey? A compassionate God who grieves with us when we despair and is a companion to us in our darkest days. He is the hope with which we look for the light of resurrection in all our lives.

Holy Thursday

13 April 2017
Cycle A
Rev Tony van Vuuren

Holy Thursday, or Maundy Thursday, marks the start of the Easter Triduum. The Mass of the Lord’s Supper this evening commemorates the institution of the Eucharist. In John’s account of the Last Supper, which forms the gospel reading tonight, John makes the point that the Church has to make Christ present not only sacramentally, in his Body and Blood, but also in the spirit of service and surrendering of power which Jesus symbolises by washing his disciples feet.

In the other three gospels, the description of the Last Supper was modelled partly on what the early Christians were already doing in their Eucharistic celebration. And what they were doing was modelled, of course, on the actual event of the Last Supper itself, and Jesus’ words over the bread and wine: “This is my Body”; “This is my Blood”. “Do this in memory of me”.

In John’s gospel, that particular aspect of the Eucharist is dealt with in Chapter Six, where Jesus gives his long discourse on the living bread. “The bread I give is my flesh, for the life of the world…whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood, lives in me and I live in them”.                                                                                                                                  This evening John doesn’t mention anything about bread and wine becoming Jesus’ body and blood. He uses the event of the Last Supper to emphasise another facet, or another dimension, of the Eucharist.                                                                                                                                                                     John’s version of Lord’s Supper describes Jesus washing his disciple’s feet – and informing them by this gesture that he’s the Messiah who’s come to serve rather than be served. And, just as important, he’s telling the disciples that they’ve got to do the same if they want to think of themselves as his followers.

John’s point in putting that incident right in the middle of the Last Supper illustrates how we can put our belief in the Eucharist into practice. The meaning of the Eucharist is lived out in practice when we all treat each other with that attitude of humility, self-emptying, service and love that Jesus himself demonstrated.

John never got tired of making the point that if our devotion towards God is real; it will express itself in devotion towards our neighbour, an active dedication of ourselves to our fellow human beings. “If God has loved us, so we must love each other”, he says, elsewhere in his writings.                                                                                                          It’s this aspect of our life in communion with God which John wants to emphasise in his account of the Last Supper as well.

For the true Christian, who is genuinely open to God’s influence in their life; taking part in the Eucharist is conditional on this attitude of service and humility – this willingness to take up a stance in life which involves performing menial or servant-like tasks for each other. Washing people’s feet in Jesus’ time was of course a task that only a servant or lowly slave would perform.                                                                                                            According to John, no Christian should approach the Eucharistic table, or receive Christ’s Body and Blood, without this prior commitment.                                                                                                                          At the same time, none of us should go away from the table, having received communion, without having this commitment strengthened and reinforced. We have to find the presence of Christ both in the Eucharist and in the washing of feet. They’re two sides of a single reality.                                                                                                                     Well, the question is: what reality? Why does John say that we as followers of Christ have to take on this servant-like commitment?                                                                                                                                                           The answer is that it’s a reflection of God’s nature, God’s character, and so it’s something that we take on as we gradually realise or grow into the vocation we all have to be like God.

By the time John’s gospel was written Jesus was clearly seen as being divine. “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” he said. So the gesture of the foot-washing demonstrates a vital aspect of God’s nature – the fact that he chooses to reveal himself in powerlessness and servant hood.                                                                          God shows himself – to make the point another way – by reversing the ordinary human values and customs, where important and powerful people demonstrate their superiority with all kinds of badges of privilege and ways of being treated in a servile way by their subordinates. Peter shows how far he still holds to that way of thinking by his embarrassment and by the objections he raises to Jesus’ action. ‘You shall never wash my feet.”

Christ is present in the bread and wine as a sacramental sign and when we celebrate Mass together we are making him present in that way. But Christ must also be made present in real life, by a concrete commitment to servant hood. We make Christ present when we renounce our own pride and self-interest and respond to the needs, and especially to the suffering and the distress, of others. The Mass of the Lord’s Supper is to remind us not to separate those two aspects of the Eucharist and always to see them as belonging together.

That’s why out of the four gospel accounts of the Last Supper, it’s especially John’s account that belongs within the Easter Triduum: it belongs especially in the context of Christ’s journey to the Cross. And it’s partly for that reason that the Mass of the Lord’s Supper doesn’t have a formal ending – it remains open and unfinished, and picks up again tomorrow, with the remembrance of Christ’s Passion and Death.

So the institution of the Eucharist, the washing of the feet, and the Path to the Cross, are all part of a single mystery, and they all cast light on each other.

These are the realities of our faith which we can bear in mind and reflect on as we come together once again to re-enact and celebrate this year’s Paschal Triduum.

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.