People of Inner Unrest

Epiphany of the Lord
Cycle A
8th January 2017
Matthew 2. 1-12
Rev Tony van Vuuren

Those of us of a certain age will remember the TV detective Columbo, the guy wearing the shabby raincoat, who was the master of the parting question. He would finish questioning someone and, as he was going out of the door and their guard was down, he would turn back with a ‘Oh, just one other thing.’ and ask that crucial question.

The Magi are like that final question. Christmas has been well and truly celebrated, the Boney M CD has been packed away together with the decorations, and the New Year is here, life is getting back to its normal routine; but then at the last minute Christmas turns back and throws us one last question, throws us the story of the Magi. The Magi are like that final question.

It seems to us like the Magi just appear at the end of the Christmas story, but for these foreign travellers the journey has been a long one. We don’t really know exactly where they come from, probably Persia, in which case they have travelled a great distance to get to Bethlehem.

We are misled by the fact that they appear, stay briefly, then depart, into thinking that this journey of theirs is a brief one, but nothing could be further from the truth. This is a long journey of extortionate cost, fraught with danger. Whatever possessed them to set out on such a mission, just to spend a few moments in Bethlehem?

This question brings us to the heart of the Epiphany Feast. If we can understand why the Magi travel all this way, we will be able to see what this feast is really about. We are rather misled by the romance of the three exotic gifts.

Our focus tends to be on the Gold and Frankincense and Myrrh, so that we come to think of the Magi as little more than gift bearers to transmit these beautiful gifts into the presence of Christ.

But this is not what they themselves say they are doing. Addressing Herod they ask ‘Where is he who has been born king of the Jews…we have come to worship him?’ and then when they arrive in Bethlehem they first throw themselves to the ground in homage before the Christ child; and only then do they reach into their bags and bring out the gifts. The wise men have not travelled all this way just to bring Jesus gifts; they have travelled all this way to worship him.

If we lose sight of that, we lose sight of the real spiritual significance of this feast. The giving of gifts is very potent; it is a prophetic act, because as we know, these are gifts with a spiritual significance, but this is nothing like as important as the Epiphany as a moment of worship.

The wise men have come all this way, have faced all that danger and discomfort, in order to worship the divine Son of God.

Still, though, we are left asking ‘why?’ Why would they travel so far in search of a God who is outside their culture, outside their territory, outside their experience? Pope Emeritus Benedict, in his book (Jesus of Nazareth Vol 3.
The Infancy Narratives p.95), has a beautiful expression that he uses to describe the Magi. He says that they would never have set out on such a journey unless they were people of “inner unrest”, that is “people of hope, people on the lookout for the true star of salvation” They travel all that way, they take all those risks including the great risk of entering Herod’s presence, because they are people of “inner unrest”.

They are not satisfied with their lives, they are driven to seek some deeper meaning, some sense of truths beyond their grasp, some sense that there is a world outside their control which they cannot master, but which they can begin to comprehend. Their minds, their souls, are restless and unable to settle, and this translates into the need to travel, to journey in search of something that will draw them upwards, up towards the truth. They are in a sense disturbed souls, but they feel very at home with that sense of incompleteness, of challenge, because for them it is the doorway to growth.

Contrast them, in this, with Herod. By the time the Magi arrive he is very definitely disturbed.
But whereas the Wise Men are at home with this inner unrest, and are able to feed off the spiritual energy that it brings, Herod does not cope with disturbance. It is at about this time that Herod has three of his sons murdered because he fears they may be a threat to his security, so he is clearly not a man who thrives on challenge and the unknown. The Magi arrive in serenity and ask their questions, throwing Jerusalem into turmoil.

Herod doesn’t just ask about where the Christ is to be born, his enquiries are frantic with evil intent. So he stands as a contrast to the Magi. They are men of inner unrest, certain that there is much they do not know, nor understand, and are anxious to open themselves to a new and deeper vision of reality; Herod already has his own vision of the World, with him firmly at the centre, and he will do anything he can to protect that set up, to make sure it is preserved at all costs.

Now, at last, we are able to understand what the final ‘Columbo question’ is that the Magi ask of us. It is perfectly timed, coming as it does just as we close off the Christmas season but also at the start of the New Year and Ordinary time.

As Christ is presented to us once again through the Gospels in the coming year, will we react like Herod, or like the Magi? Will we insist on bending and twisting and warping Christ so that he fits in with our way of doing things, with what I want to do, with what I want to be, will we try and force him to fit into our plans for the future?

Or will we allow him to challenge us and to change us; will we allow his words and his actions to disturb and unsettle us, even to make us change course, to turn life around, to do things differently? Will we allow ourselves to be led on a journey far from the place of comfort, so that we can take our place in God’s plan?

The Magi had to travel a long way on their journey, but most of us can make the journey within, because the real journey takes place in our minds, in our souls. It begins with a change of heart, with a decision to allow the Holy Spirit to help us find God’s presence.

If we can face each situation with confidence and with an open heart, fear and doubt will begin to melt away. We will find Jesus in unexpected, unlikely places; just as the Magi did.

RELATIONSHIPS

SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT
CYCLE A
4TH DECEMBER 2016
Matthew: 3: 1-12
Deacon Tony van Vuuren.

How many of us get a sense of peace listening to today’s Gospel? John the Baptist’s preaching is more like a dire warning on this 2nd Sunday of Advent with the theme of Peace.

The language of the ancient prophets was in large part the language of rebuke. It was harsh, condemnatory language, denouncing the community’s lack of faith, condemning any kind of hypocrisy or bogus spirituality, social injustice or economic exploitation. John the Baptist adopted this abrasive and threatening style of preaching.

He just pours out this angry, contemptuous language, doing what the prophet Isaiah said he would do, “Preparing the way of the Lord, making His paths straight.”
Whilst trying to prepare and find a thread of Peace in the Gospel message, it st

ruck me that it is not the Lord’s paths that need to be straightened out, but ours. We can take the opportunity of preparing for the coming of our Lord this Advent by straightening our paths.

So what might these words mean for us? What are the things that need to be straightened out in our lives? Of course, only we can truly answer that for ourselves. What if we just consider the relationships that we have or do not have with family and friends? Relationships that are often twisted and tangled and crooked.

Relationships that have embittered our hearts; the animosities that have set family member against family member or neighbour against neighbour; silly quarrels that are kept alive; the jealousies and misunderstandings; or just stubborn pride!

We let misunderstandings run on from year to year; meaning to clear them up someday. We keep quarrels alive because we cannot quite make up our minds to sacrifice our pride and end them. We avoid someone, not speaking to them out of some silly spite or prejudice, and yet knowing we would be filled with remorse and shame if we heard that that person were dead tomorrow.

Out of jealously we don’t give a word of appreciation or encouragement to a sibling or friend letting them think they had done something wrong by being ignored. And so one can go on quoting about a breakdown in different relationship situations that are allowed to fester and never get resolved.

If only we would realise that “time is short”, and how it would break the spell if we would go instantly and do the right thing which we might never have another chance to do.

For those of us who have had the opportunity of restoring a relationship with someone or even a whole family; we know the feeling of relief, of love, of peace.

The phrase “Peace on Earth” starts with us; with our attitudes towards others. Our words convey the attitude of our hearts and create a culture of peace or hate and anger within our homes. Sometimes it is hard to tell which attitude is being promoted as our words speak of peace but our actions promote discord. If we stop loving our neighbour as ourselves and forget to treat everyone with the same respect and love we would desire for ourselves, there can be no peace on earth.

To write “Peace on Earth” on our Christmas cards or email messages and then refuse to speak to certain family members over the holidays or teach our children not to have anything to do with children of another race stands in the way of true peacemaking. We have the opportunity during this Advent time of reflection to be the peacemakers. We are all given the opportunity to help in some small or big way to bring peace on earth. But it is more than a cute festive season phrase.

It is about the very attitudes of our hearts. Take the time to say St Francis’ prayer; “Make me an instrument of your peace.”

God doesn’t abandon us when we stray from the straight path. He keeps calling us back from our crooked ways to the straight path. Advent is an excellent time to aim ourselves in the right direction and commit ourselves to the right path.

The path of truth, honesty and peace of mind. So if there is some crooked or twisted attitude, or some crooked way of behaving, or some crooked relationship that needs to be straightened out; let’s straighten it out now. We will truly be preparing a way for the Lord to come to us.

An invitation from the King

Christ the King
Year C
20 Nov 2016
Deacon Les Ruhrmund

Today, the Church celebrates with great joy the Feast of Christ the King. It is the last Sunday of the liturgical year and, in many ways, the culmination of all the feasts of the past year – the intent of Advent and Christmas, Lent and Easter, Pentecost and Corpus Christi, and all the Sundays and feasts. They have all pointed toward this reality, that Christ is the King of the Universe, the Lord of all. All of time, all of history is heading toward this climax when Christ will be proclaimed as the universal King of Kings.

We also celebrate today the end of the Jubilee Year of Mercy and the Jubilee Doors of Mercy that were opened on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception in December last year are being closed in cathedrals and shrines throughout the world this weekend.

The introduction of the Feast of Christ the King is a relatively recent addition to the liturgical calendar. It was instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925.

Some weeks ago I spoke about how our human experience and understanding of the role and behaviour of a ‘Father’ in our own lives and in society can often be an obstacle in our relationship with God, the Father because we project the picture that we have in our heads of a father onto the persona of God who is far beyond the scope of our experience and imagination.

The same could be said for our understanding or misunderstanding of Christ the King. We normally associate kingship with political and economic influence, majesty and pomp, wealth and elevated status, privilege and prestige; words that are quite contrary to the kingship of Christ. In the Gospel reading we are presented with the king of the universe nailed to a cross; condemned and humiliated; naked and powerless; dying. He dies that we may enjoy eternal life. He rescues us from a kingdom of darkness and opens the door to his kingdom of light.

The values that best describe the kingdom that Jesus proclaims would include humility and love, service, sacrifice, charity, mercy and forgiveness. And so it’s no surprise that the kingdom of God and our secular world are at extreme odds with each other. It was this vast gulf between the two and the ever consuming power of materialism and greed, a turning away from God, that motivated Pope Pius XI to introduce this feast seven year after the end of what is referred to as the Great War; WW1. It was a bleak time in the history of the world when the dark clouds of dictatorship and communism cast their shadows over a world desperate forpeace.

Pope Pius wrote at that time  “As long as individuals and states refuse to submit to the rule of our Saviour, there can be no really hopeful prospect of a lasting peace among nations” Those words are as frighteningly true and prophetic today and they were in 1925.

We celebrate today a king who reigns from the cross. The rulers of the people at that time and the roman soldiers insult him with the title ‘King of the Jews.” It’s a picture of a man whose life has ended in disgrace. The only one who does recognise Jesus’ kingship is the so called ‘good thief.’ Hanging next to Jesus, this man knows himself and he accepts that his crime has brought him to crucifixion. He knows that Jesus is innocent and makes a profound cry for mercy which becomes an act of faith “Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

From this gospel portrait we can take away a simple truth about Christ our King. The world will not always recognise him. His kind of kingship is revealed in the midst of suffering and death and those that do recognise him do so when they understand that truth.

As we prepare to start a new year in the life of the Church, we each today could think about our personal history; our mistakes, our sins, our fears and joys, our successes and failures in our relationships with God and with each other. We know that we are truly not worth of the love of Christ and his sacrifice on the cross; not one of us has cleans hands and a pure heart. But we also know with absolute certainty that we’ll find forgiveness and redemption through God’s infinite mercy if we seek it with a contrite heart. The repentant thief, crucified at Jesus’ side, accompanied him into paradise.

We should not allow ourselves to be held captive by the past!

Even if we wanted to, we can never rewrite the past. But the history that starts today, and looks to the future, has yet to be written. It will be written by the grace of God and by the choices we make from this day on. By learning from past mistakes, we can open a new chapter of your lives. Let us never yield to the temptation of thinking that we cannot be forgiven. Whatever our weaknesses and failings, great or small, whatever accusations we level at ourselves in our hearts, God’s love and grace is greater and knows no limit.

We need but entrust ourselves to his mercy; to allow him to rule over our hearts as our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.So long as our hearts continue to beat, the invitation of Christ to join him in paradise, still stands.

——–

Deacon Les 19 November 2016

Gift of Salvation

31st SUNDAY ORDINARY TIME
CYCLE C
30th OCTOBER 2016.
Luke 19: 1-10
Tony van Vuuren

The whole picture of God that emerges through today’s readings is a picture of someone who understands the frailty of human nature, someone who never loses sight of our potential for holiness in spite of various kinds of sinfulness. And this is the image of God that Jesus projected, very deliberately and purposefully, in his own ministry –as a Father who sent his Son, “to seek out and save the lost”; as we see in the encounter between Jesus and Zacchaeus.

Zacchaeus was a wealthy man and a senior tax-collector. That means that he was somebody who had been prepared to sacrifice his religious principles and his membership of the Jewish community to work for the Romans and increase his own wealth.

But in spite of these apostasies, which mean having rebelled against God, it turns out that Zacchaeus wasn’t someone who was completely closed to God. Luke doesn’t give us any great psychological explanation as to why Zacchaeus was curious about Jesus. He doesn’t tell us whether Christ noticed something special about Zacchaeus’ attitude that suggested a sort of openness to his message. There must have been more to Zacchaeus’ meeting with Christ, which had such a huge impact on him, than we’re told in these few lines.

The important thing though is that after receiving Christ as a guest in his house, Zacchaeus turned his life around. He gives away half of his property to the poor and pays back the people he’s cheated four times the amount he took from them in the first place. Jesus describes these concrete actions as the coming of salvation in Zacchaeus’ life.

There are two aspects to this salvation that comes to Zacchaeus. One aspect is what we might call restoration. The relationship between God and Zacchaeus, which had been lost, is now restored. The relationship between Zacchaeus and the rest of the community of believers is restored. That comes about because Zacchaeus repairs his relationship with the people he’s cheated in the past: he wipes out the wrong he’s done by paying them back four times as much as he took from them in the first place.
The story of Zacchaeus’ restoration reminds me of a statement made by an Italian survivor of the Nazi concentration camps when talking about the Nazis who expressed sorrow afterwards for what they had done, He said that for him “verbal repentance is not enough”; genuine repentance means “a person has to show by their actions that they are no longer the person they were”.

This was what Zacchaeus did. His turn around; his change of heart, his conversion, could hardly have been more spontaneous, more sincere, more complete. He showed by his actions that he was no longer the man he’d been. And when harmony is restored between people in that way, Jesus called it ‘salvation’.

The second aspect of the salvation that’s at work in this incident is what we might call liberation. In the Bible, and in our Christian theology, the idea of salvation always carried with it the meaning of being delivered, or freed, from slavery – and Zacchaeus is freed in a very obvious way from the slavery of accumulating money, which up till this point had been the main goal of his life.

Earlier on in his gospel Luke has already given us an example of somebody who wasn’t able to take this step – the rich young man, who wasn’t necessarily a sinner, but ‘went away sad’ rather than parting with any of his wealth. He didn’t experience his meeting with Christ or hear the gospel message, as liberation. He experienced it as a sacrifice which he wasn’t prepared to make.

Zacchaeus is a counterbalance to the young man. Jesus’ visit to his house left him more than willing to give up the lesser good of his wealth for the greater good of being reconciled with God. And on this one occasion at least, Christ’s preference for the company of people who were outside the boundaries of the religious Law was vindicated.

There is so much enlightenment and comfort for us in this story of Jesus, “going in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” We see Jesus for what he was and still is, ‘the friend of sinners’, and therefore our friend. Our understanding, compassionate, and forgiving friend! Our friend who is there when others fail or desert us! The one who helps and heals when others only criticize and condemn! The one who never gives up on us, never despairs of us! The one who waits patiently for us to change our lives, and who allows us time to do so!

The one, in short, who loves us with an everlasting love, an everlasting forgiving love, an everlasting healing love, and an everlasting transforming love!

Just like Zacchaeus, then, let us welcome Jesus, into our lives and into our home, knowing and trusting what a difference he will make, as he brings to us his precious gift of salvation! Life for us will undoubtedly still have its challenges and temptations, but what an easier journey it will be for us if we answer His knock on the door. There is no handle on His side.

There is something we must always remember about God. On the one hand, He takes us as we are; He overlooks our faults and sins in His desire to restore our friendship with Him. But on the other hand He never leaves us as we are, and it’s only when a fundamental turning-around has taken place in our lives that Jesus will announce the arrival of salvation.

THE GRATEFUL LEPER

28th SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME.
CYCLE C
9th OCTOBER 2016
LUKE 17: 11-19
Deacon Tony van Vuuren

Jesus is not afraid to venture into places where he is unwelcome – in this story; it is Samaritan territory — where there is hostility toward him, and where he would not be expected to travel being a Jew. Samaritans were accused by the Jewish people of that day of contaminating their worship. Although they had much in common with the Jews, they were despised as foreigners. Rather than worshiping in Jerusalem, the Samaritans worshipped on Mount Gerizim.

In short, Samaritans did not like Jews, and the Jews did not like the Samaritans. Still, Jesus is unafraid to travel into places where there may be hostility, uneasiness, or darkness. Likewise, Jesus enters into our lives in places where we might be ashamed to meet him — where we might be surprised to find him; for he is unafraid to engage us wherever we are.

We should never think that Jesus will only meet us in sterile, lovely, sin-free places. Over and over Jesus enters into situations where there is sickness, death, pain, sadness, despair, and even hatred. Like the ten lepers, nine Jews and one Samaritan, who shout out to Jesus, we should also never be afraid to call out to Jesus no matter how distant we feel from him because of where we might find ourselves morally or spiritually.

The lepers had many reasons to be alienated from society; yet they have the courage to call out to Jesus for mercy. Jesus knows that the journey back into their family circle requires a declaration of cleanliness by the priest and so, without approaching or touching them, he orders the men to waste no time in beginning this process.

Although we might not suffer from a physical leprosy on the outside, we may suffer a spiritual or a sinful leprosy on the inside. Is there something in our lives that we are carrying around with us that keeps us unclean and made to feel unworthy to be full and active members of our family circle or community? Is there something so hideous to look at or touch within us that we cannot imagine letting Jesus touch it? After all, Jesus is the Messiah; our Lord and Savior. However, Jesus is also the one in this unique Gospel story who is willing to heal.

If Jesus is unafraid to touch our deepest, darkest hurts and impurities, then let us not hide them. Just as the lepers yell out to Jesus for healing; let us also call out to Jesus for our healing. Leprosy was considered a punishment by God for one’s personal or family’s sin.

Lepers were both religious and social outcasts. The visible marks of the disease were the equivalent to a sign around their neck announcing, “I am a sinner.” If a member of the community came in contact with a leper he or she too would become an outcast.

Just as the so called “sinful disease” caused a barrier between the sufferer and his family and friends, so too does sin create personal barriers and division for us, preventing us from being brothers and sister in Christ. It cuts us off from God.

Sin isolates us and can so easily make us focus on ourselves and not on the needs and the love of those around us. We may know a number of people in our lives who suffer from various mental, physical and emotional disorders. Sometimes we may feel that they are responsible for their own problems. Perhaps they suffer from an addiction or from an emotional disorder brought on by a series of bad choices they made. Our job is not to judge, but to love.

Our job is not to condemn, but to bring hope and healing. Our job is to bring them back into the love of their families: biological, the parish family, the neighborhood family. Whilst walking to the temple as instructed to do by Jesus, all the lepers were cured; but only one, the Samaritan, was healed. Oftentimes curing is equated to biomedical betterment and healing is equated to restoring meaning, hope, and wholesomeness.

Nine of the lepers weren’t able to express gratitude, which seems to suggest that their cure was only skin deep. Their leprosy was gone, but they missed out on receiving something far greater than any physical healing. The Samaritan leper who returns to thank Jesus is both cured and healed. He exhibits both a physical cure and a deeper spiritual, emotional healing that prompts him to express gratitude. Jesus says, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” He is already cured, but here Jesus refers to him now as saved.

This is what we long for — both curing and healing. In good times we sometimes forget God, even though we continue to pay lip service to him; but then an illness brings us to our knees and suddenly we are faced with our own poverty, weakness and mortality.

However if this brings us closer to God and makes us more spiritual, it will prove to be a blessing in disguise. Sometimes in life we see loved ones experience sickness or disability and although we pray for a physical cure, the mystery of suffering dumbfounds us when they do not get better. Yet, I am sure many of us have known folk who were never physically cured, but they were certainly healed before they went home to God.

There is a certain peace and hope that can be untouched by physical sickness. We pray for this kind of healing always. The Samaritan who returned to thank Jesus shows us the way to this healing. At mass today, let us be sure to return to Jesus to thank him for what he has done for us and ask for help to overcome our barriers.

The battle for our souls

Feast of the Holy Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael
2 October 2016
Deacon Les Ruhrmund

St Michael is mentioned by name five times in Scripture: three times in the Book of Daniel in the OT and twice in the NT in the Letter from Jude and the Book of Revelation to John.

Following these biblical references Christian tradition believes thatSt.Michael has four responsibilities:

And so it is that in art and sculpture St Michael is usually depicted either killing the dragon representing the defeated figure of Satan or holding a pair of scales in which he weighs the souls of the departed – though this is much less common than St Michael the protector and the leader of the army of God against the forces of evil.

The dichotomy of good and evil has challenged the minds of great thinkers, philosophers, scientists and theologians from the beginning of recorded time and there are many divergent points of view and theories. But on one thing everyone agrees. Evil is real.

In our Christian worldview, evil is any action, thought or attitude that is contrary to the character or will of God. Evil shows itself through deviation from what we believe to be the goodness of God.

St Thomas Aquinas defines evil as the absence of good.

We are engaged continuously in the fight of good against evil;light against the powers of darkness; spiritual warfare.

It’s a difficult and constant struggle. St Paul writes about this in his letter to the Romansin chapters 7& 8.Paraphrasing his words he writes “For even though the desire to do good is in meI do the evil I do not want to do it.….. Who will recue me from this mortal body? ….The answer, thank God, is that Jesus can and does……. With his Spirit living in you, your body will be as alive as Christ’s!”

The most potent weapons of war we have against the devil are in easy reach. There’s prayer as a conscious way of rejecting the seduction of temptation to satisfy our anger, frustrations and selfish desires. We have the grace of the Sacraments, and particularly the Sacraments of Reconciliation and Holy Eucharist. And we’re armed with the gifts of the Holy Spirit that we received in the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation.

I find that reflecting on the seven deadly sins is a good way to check myown battle status.

The first deadly sin is pride which makes us believe that we’re better than other people. Are we not inclined sometimes to judge people of other races or religionsor lifestyles of which we disagree or disapprove?We use derogatory phrases like “you can’t trust the Arabs …or the Chinese ….or the Blacks ….or the Whites ….or homosexuals, or Muslims or Jews, or the French, etc., etc.”

We forget that every human being, of every shape, size and colour, nationality and religion, abled and disabled alike, is a beloved son or daughter of God.We insult God when we berate any one of his beloved.

Envy is another deadly sin. Perhaps there are times when we resent others who have more money, talent, beauty, friends, personalityand so on than we do.May even resent those who are happier or more joyful than we are.

The next is lust which presents enormous challenges throughout our lives. Lust is the abuse of the gift of our sexuality. It’s normal, healthy and essential that we find other people attractive. Without that attraction we’d not be able to enjoy personalrelationships. All relationships are dependent on the gift of our sexuality; that includes parents, siblings, spouses, friends, family and lovers. It’s when we image or treat others, in fantasy or reality, as mere objects to serve our pleasure that we’re playing with fire and courting the deadly sin of lust.

And then there’s anger. I think being a parent teaches us much about the futility of anger. Anger is a normal human response over which we sometimes have little control. But we can control what we do after we’ve become angry. Yearning for revenge or an opportunity to get even or thoughts of hate or a desire to see someone suffer,are all serious sins of anger.

Gluttony is next and most of us have probably fallen victim to this at one time or another. Gluttony is choosing to over-consume; this could be food or drink. Both are good for us in moderation.But over eating or drinking to the point of drunkenness is gluttony. Legitimate eating disorders, such as anorexia or bulimia, aren’t gluttony. They’re medical conditions and require treatment and care.

Greedis the selfish desire for more, more and still more; often prioritising material wealth and possessions ahead of nurturing our relationship with God and our family. I’m reminded of a quote from Warren Buffet, the American multi-billionaire and one of the wealthiest people on earth who when asked how much is enough replied “When I have just a little more than I have now.”

The last deadly sin is sloth which is laziness – particularly when it concerns prayer and spiritual life. Sloth is an aversion to work –physical, mental and spiritual and often breeds indifference which impedesjoy and appreciation in every aspect of our lives.

If we’re not vigilant we easily fall into habits and behaviours that are contrary to God’s commandments of love.

We are engaged in a furious fight for our souls.

Quoting from the First Letter of Peter (1 Peter 5:8) “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.”

Jesus has won the war but we each need to choose for ourselves to win the daily battle for our souls.

We implore the Holy Archangel Michael “St Michael Archangel, defend us in battle, be our protector against the wickedness and snares of the devil.”

Reflections of the parable of the Prodigal Son

24th Sunday Cycle C
11 September 2016
Deacon Les Ruhrmund

When I first looked,about a week ago, at the Gospel reading for this weekend I was a little surprised and also a little shaken. Surprised because I preached on the parable of the Prodigal Son six months ago during Lent and shaken because this parable had been one of the prevailing themes during my retreat, 3 weeks ago, at St Beuno’s in Wales and I knew I couldn’t prepare a homily without being influenced by some of my reflections and I wasn’t sure whether these would be meaningful to anyone else. The retreat was 8 days of silence under the guidance of a spiritual director with who I met for half an hour each day and it was a wonderful experience.

In telling the parable of the Prodigal Son, Jesus was trying to do the impossible. He was trying to explain and describe in human terms, the unfathomable love of God the Father. And while we may be able to intellectually understand the concept of this absolute love, this understanding in itself doesn’t necessarily bring comfort or joy. Joyfulness comes when we can feel it; when we can understand that love in terms of our own human emotional experience of love. It’s a little like having an intellectual understanding of what is rain that really only becomes meaningful once we’ve got wet. Feeling and understanding the love of God the Father can be difficult. The whole notion of a father’s love is difficult for some people. We haven’t all had a loving, compassionate and understanding father as a reference and our notion of the love of God the Father may be inhibited by our life experiences of ourown fathers.

And the same is true of love. Many of our experiences of love come with unhappy baggage: hurt, unfulfilled expectations, disappointments and regrets. Many of our relationships, even our deepest relationships, are built on some kind of reciprocity; finding a balance between give and take. The unconditional love of God the Father is very different from most of our experiences of ‘father’ and of love.

To ‘feel’ the love of God the Father I think it helps to find a frame of reference within our own life experience that expresses that all-giving, all-forgiving love. It may be the love that we feel for a child or a baby; it could be a niece or a nephew or even an unknown child. The picture showing a small boy lying face down in the sand on a Turkish beach that flooded the media this time last year evoked huge outrage but perhaps also for a moment we experienced that love, that desire to comfort, hold and heal, that we can’t explain. I have found that praying to God the Father wrapped in my experience of love as a grandfather has brought me to a new understanding and experience of God’s love for me.Perhaps you may like to think of a relationship that brings you great joy and approach God in that understanding of the Father’s love.

In the parable, in describing the actions of the prodigal son and his experiences after he left his father, Jesus is drawing a picture of some of the many temptations to sin that we experience in life and to which we so easily succumb. His audience would have been shocked and offended that Jesus could even suggest such behaviour. The young man’s actions in their human frame of reference and judgement were unimaginably immoral and unforgivable.

But the father loved his boy and waited, day in and day out for him to come back. In one of myreflections, father and son see each other from afar and cannot believe their eyes. They run to each other and the boy in tears tries to tell his Dad that he’s sorry but his father just hugs him tightly and says over and over again “No words, no words, my child. I’m just so happy that you’re back.” Perhaps as you imagine this scene you too can feel the call from the Father to run into his arms.

In another reflection, I found myself on the road with the young son returning home. His heart is heavy with shame and he’s uncertain of his father’s response. When he sees his father waving and running towards him he stops and then stumbles forward and his father takes him inhis arms and just holds him. The father is overcome with both joy and a deep sorrow that his child has suffered so much. Perhaps you can identify with the young man’s uncertainty and apprehension in returning to his father and asking for his forgiveness.  Fear not, the Father yearns for you day in and day out.

We know from the parable that the older son wasn’t happy when his brother was welcomed home. In a reflection I imagined the prodigal son begging his older brother to forgive him. Initially his appeal was scorned and the younger son was troubled and just couldn’t enjoy the celebration his father was planning for him. And he went again to his older brother and again he told him how sorry he was for leaving; sorry that he’d left him to shoulder the burden of the work alone. And the boys are reconciled and return to the house in high spirits to join the celebration. I know that’s not in Jesus’ telling of the parable but I think there’s a lesson there for us nevertheless. To find the peace and experience the joy and consolation that we seek in returning to the Father, we need also to be reconciled to our brothers and sisters; those who we have hurt through our selfishness, our egos, our stubbornness, our prejudices and our neglect.

Just as we are able to feel and experience God’s love for us through our human love for each other, so it is that we really feel God’s mercy through our mercy for one another.