This year the Diocesan Priests Retreat, held at Mariannhill from 5-10 October, was given by Fr. Bob Jones SVD and was called an Earthen Vessel retreat.
SUNDAY 6 MARCH
Scripture: Luke 15: 1 – 3, 11 – 32
Healing, Reconciliation, Forgiveness and Peace. These four words summarise the work, preaching, teaching and mission of Jesus. This is what he came to bring. No where is this more evident than in Luke 15.
The parable of the Prodigal Son is perhaps one of the most well-known of the parables of Jesus. In fact we might be tempted to ‘switch-off’ when it is proclaimed at Mass today and/or tempted not to read it again before reading this reflection. Yet, it is in frequent reading that much begins to emerge.
The mercy and forgiveness of the father is quite illogical. The blatant rejection which the son had shown in asking for his share of the estate before his father’s death and his decision to leave home where he had everything, should have caused this Jewish father to tear his garment and disown his son. But love conquers custom and tradition. This loving father could never disown his son, nor could he behave as if he was dead to him. Such love is often beyond comprehension and our human ways. But then, is that not the very nature of love – once we are able to immerse ourselves into the heights and depths of it?
Sometimes we are like the Prodigal Son. In our restlessness we leave our Father’s House to explore the greener pastures of the many attractions the world offers; especially self-indulgence and self-satisfaction. The Prodigal Son (this Jewish boy) in a state of desperation finds employment feeding pigs. (Who says Jesus doesn’t have a sense of humour!) How low could he go?
He knows the truth of his foolishness and the folly of his ways. Perhaps it was sheer desperation or, on the other hand, it was possibly knowing exactly what his father was like – one way or another he puts pride in his pocket, picks himself up and makes his way back home.
It took courage and a fair dose of humility. That’s what we need when we decide to go to our Father and say “Bless me Father for I have sinned.” Like the Prodigal Son we know all about the Father’s love and compassion. We must know too that he is waiting, longing for our return and through the ministers of his Church he comes to us, embracing us with his love and speaking the words we long to hear; “Your sins are forgiven. Go in peace” WOW! We are restored to full sonship – not the status of a servant! Healing, Reconciliation, Forgiveness and Peace – given freely, lovingly and willingly. Our hearts are made new! We begin again.
When was the last time you heard those words: “Your sins are forgiven. Go in peace?” These words are spoken to us when we go to Confession. Go and experience Healing, Reconciliation, Forgiveness and Peace. Confession in the parish is every Saturday and the Lenten Penitential Service and Confessions provides an ideal opportunity.
Father, thank you for sending Jesus to reveal to us and bring to us a very real experience of your love, mercy and compassion. Thank you for the gift of forgiveness given every time I approach you in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Help me to trust in your love and mercy. Amen.
MONDAY 7 MARCH
Scripture John 4: 43 – 54
Go to any shopping complex and you will frequently see stores offering goods at sale prices. In these stores there will always be people looking through the racks for a bargain, and for the most part, it is not because they need that item, but rather because it is going cheap and it would be nice to have.
People are always attracted by bargains, because they can have what they want without having to pay so much for it, regardless of the fact that they may not really need it.
In the time of Jesus, many experienced his healing power, and there were probably those who went asking for healing, not because they believed in what Jesus was teaching, but more because they wanted to be healed – come hell or high water.
Remember the ten who were cured of leprosy? They wanted to be healed, but only one came back to say thanks to Jesus. The others had got what they wanted and that was all they came for.
So Jesus the prophet was welcome as long as he was healing, but when he pointed out the faults and failings of those who were listening, his popularity waned drastically.
There is however, always the exception to the rule and often this exception comes from the last person you would expect it from.
In the gospel we hear about the official who came asking for his son to be healed. For him Jesus was the real deal and he was prepared to accept whatever Jesus had to offer. He was not a bargain shopper, looking for the best possible deal. So when Jesus said, “None of you will ever believe unless you see miracles and wonders” this official simply brushes aside this comment and again asks Jesus to come before his child dies. Then without question, he confirms his faith in Jesus by accepting the response he receives, “Go your son will live.” And away he goes without any doubt in his mind.
He accepts the promise made by Jesus and, of course, he is not disappointed. His child lives just as Jesus said he would.
How often do we hear people complaining that they pray, but God does not answer their requests? The difference between the official and these poor souls, is their lack of faith in God. They doubt that God will answer them, even if it is in his own way, and so they try to bargain with God for a better deal and of course they fail. You will hear them say, if you help me, I will do this or that for you.
God doesn’t like those who go looking for bargains, those who try to bargain with Him. What we need is Faith, Hope and Trust.
Faith, that prompts us to ask God for our needs rather than our wants.
Hope, that we will accept without conditions, anything we are given.
Trust, that God will help us and that we will never forget to thank Him for his generosity.
I will never forget the comment made by a neighbour, when I had suffered a serious mishap. They cautioned me to “Let go, let God.” And I can testify, that because I did what they suggested, God did answer my request, plus He did it in such a way that I would never have thought possible, the best possible way, “His Way.”
You see, God loves us so much, that he always does what is best for us, and we must learn to accept that He does know what is best for us and that He does gives us our needs without reservation. We must “Let go, let God.”
Read Luke 17: 11 – 19 and remember that Jesus helped all who came to him for healing, even if they failed to thank Him and praise Him. Then pray that you will never be like those who failed to give praise and thanks.
Dear Lord, I know that you love me, because you willingly died for us and so reconciled us to yourself and to the Father. Help me through the power of the Holy Spirit, to respond to your love by loving and showing mercy to my neighbour. I ask this in Jesus name. Amen.
TUESDAY 8 MARCH
Scripture Ezekiel 47:1 – 9, 12
Often when one is feeling out of sorts, it is recommended to have a “Detox”; a cleansing of the body of all impurities. Many say that the best and simplest way is to drink plain and simple water, a little more than the daily requirement of eight glasses.
One does this when the body is filled with these debilitating toxins (what a word!) but, once cleared out, our bodies begin to function again – properly!
Our minds too need clearing out of clutter that builds up and prevents us from following a fruitful spiritual life. What then, are the “waters” that can clear us of all the worldly clutters? As water is natural to us and the earth, so too, will the word and presence of Jesus be in our hearts, our minds – our whole being! We must bring ourselves into the presence of Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, to fill us with this “water”.
We then become spiritually cleansed; that our minds and hearts become /continue to be open to the Word and Love of God that will sustain us in our Lenten fasting and carry us throughout this period, in fact, throughout our time on earth. Our focus will be to live; IN THE LIGHT OF CHRIST, that will guide us to the wonder and glory of; Eternal life.
Our earthly living is not all bad – we only need to filter/cleanse those “things” that are toxic – toxic to our souls.
Jesus’ Life-giving water is in His Word and the Eucharist; receive it as often as you can – not just on Sundays. Attend Stations of the Cross and experience Jesus on His Way to Calvary.
Dear Lord God may I drink often of your “water” – the water that purifies my life and love for you and will cleanse me of my sins. Amen
WEDNESDAY 09 MARCH
Scripture: John 5: 19
We’ve all heard the saying “Like father, like son.” This is the perfect title for today’s Gospel. (John 5:17-30) Jesus had just performed a healing on the Sabbath which did not please the Jewish authorities. In His defence, Jesus explained that everything He did He had learned from His Father. This statement got Him into even deeper trouble. He had blatantly stated that He was God’s Son.
This discourse continues with Jesus words “I do not seek my own will, but the will of the one who sent me.” In the Garden of Gethsemane we recall how earnestly Jesus prayed “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me: nevertheless not my will, but Your will be done.” (Luke 22:42)
What was God’s will which Jesus came to fulfil? In John 6:39–40 Jesus tells us that “The will of my Father is that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life.” It is for this very reason that Jesus gave His life as a sacrifice, so that believing in Him, we can pass from death to eternal life.
Our merciful Father has given us the promise of everlasting life. This is probably why St. Paul writes in his letter 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
As Christians we have every reason to rejoice because at our Baptism we received the flame of faith and our guarantee of everlasting life. As sons and daughters of God our Father, we too should be imitating the example of Jesus who showed us how to live a life pleasing to the Father. Prayer should form an integral part of our daily life. Our prayers should not be merely petitions for our many wants and desires, but prayers of praise and thanksgiving to God our Father who loves us more than we could ever know.
Let the first thing you do before you get out of bed in the morning be to say a short and simple prayer of thanksgiving to God the Father for the new day and for all the blessings the day holds for you.
God my Father, it was Your will that no one should be lost but that through the perfect sacrifice of Jesus, everyone should gain eternal life. Thank you for the gift of my life. Thank you for all the blessing you bestow on me every day. Forgive me when I fail to thank you for caring for me and for loving me. Help me to do Your will today and to be an example to others in all I say and do. Amen
THURSDAY 10 MARCH
Scripture John 5: 31 – 47
“The horse on the dining room table.” It is about people seated around a table but no one talks about the huge horse standing incongruously in their midst. They ignore a blatant reality! Such is the dilemma about Jesus the Christ in our world and in the world of the Pharisees. In our time any mention of the Saviour is banned from school gatherings, secular meetings and other events for fear of hurting what others believe in. He is ignored as a reality.
Today’s scripture states exactly who He is! He is confirmed by God, He was sent by God, He is one with God, He will come to judge us ALL. Jesus proves who He is by resting His case on four prime witnesses. The first and second witnesses are linked. The greatest and last prophet of the Old Testament: John the Baptist and Scripture. His call to repentance and him paving the way for people to recognise the Messiah are well founded and documented in Scripture. The Pharisees knew their Bible backwards and would have easily been able to make the connection between all the prophesies about Jesus and His reality: Isaiah in particular.
The second witness is the works of the Redeemer in the hundreds of miracles He worked. Thousands were physical witnesses to these amazing events from relatives of those healed in all sorts of ways to fellow countrymen who were there at the time. The Pharisees had their spies and news of every miraculous event would have reached them as factual and with no doubt whatsoever.
The final witness is that of God the Father – who both at the Baptism of Our Lord and at His Transfiguration told us that Jesus was His Son. The Pharisees were unwilling to accept the truth of His reality. They were spiritually blind. They were hostile to His message. They purposefully ignored the evidence in their reaction to him. They were like people who still believe the world is flat!
What is the problem today? Quite simply the lack of our own witness to the reality that we believe in Him. We do not talk about Him to non-believers, we do not invite others to come to know Him, and we do not readily portray Him in our daily thoughts, words and actions.
Write down how you witnessed to the reality of Jesus in your life today. Invite someone to Come and See tonight.
Jesus, help me to show your face to others just as you show the Father’s face to us. Amen.
FRIDAY 11 MARCH
Scripture: John 10: 25 – 30
There’s a serious problem with communication in today’s gospel. The Jews are in the Temple in Jerusalem, and Jesus is also there. They are demanding an answer to the question, “Are you the Christ? If so, tell us plainly!” To which Jesus replies, “I have told you, but you do not believe!” In other words, you have not listened, you have not seen, and thus you have not believed.
A little further on in His reply, He says, “The sheep that belong to me listen to my voice”.
There are three words, which together combine to produce FAITH – they are: HEAR, BELIEVE, and OBEY. If you look at the people called by God to take on roles in His plan of salvation; people such as Noah, Moses, Abraham, the prophets etc, all of them have “heard” God speak to them in one way or another; all of them have had to decide, “Do I believe this is God speaking?”, and in each case they have ultimately had to obey His command to them.
In this busy world, where we are trying to pack 48 hours into 24, the NOISE created tends to drown out God’s voice. As the prophet Elijah discovered, God did not speak in the great events, but in “the gentle breeze”. We are all guilty, somehow, of not listening. We are unable to hear His voice in the cries of those suffering around us. We are unable to recognize Him in the poor, the needy, the outcast and the marginalized. Yet we claim to be “His sheep”.
Let us resolve today to really LISTEN – to others, to the messages He sends in the signs of the times – to His voice in His Word, and then let us act upon what it calls us to do!
Set aside fifteen minutes today to sit quietly by yourself. Tune in to the voice of the Lord – in nature, in His Word in Scripture, in conversation with Him as you pray. Try to do this each day, and you will hear His voice, and what He is asking of you.
Lord Jesus, help me to tune out the world and to really listen to Your voice. Help me to hear You speak in the things that are happening around me – at home, at work, in the world. May I always recognize Your voice above all others. Amen.
SATURDAY 12 MARCH
Scripture: Jeremiah 11: 18 – 20; John 7: 40 – 53
It is a great honour to be called by God to a leadership role, especially to be his prophet, but as Jeremiah discovered it comes at a heavy cost. He had the unenviable task of condemning the infidelity and corruption of his people and incompetent kings. His warnings were most unwelcome.
If one criticises or condemns the president, the boss, the church leader, one’s spouse or anyone else loudly and for long enough, sooner or later one will draw his or her ire, often with unpleasant consequences. It’s much easier just to turn a blind eye to what is going on, avoid rocking the boat and agree with whatever that person says, no matter how stupid or wrong it is. “Yes Sir, yes Father, yes Dear…”
But when there is something that is not right, silence does not bring happiness. The long-term repression of emotions can result in stress, anger, depression or a breakdown. Jeremiah couldn’t remain silent: “For me the word of the Lord has resulted in reproach and derision all day long. But if I say, ‘I will not mention his word or speak anymore in his name,’ his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot” (Jeremiah 20:8-9). The more he spoke up, the more he was attacked.
Jesus had the same experience. He would not be silenced by verbal attacks or physical assaults. He endured all kinds of abuse and through it all he remained faithful to his calling.
If neither the prophets nor the Son of God himself could please many people, can you or I expect to do so? The solution is not to try to please anyone but to be faithful to our calling and to “speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ” (Ephesians 4:15).
If there is someone in your family or circle that is difficult or objectionable try not to criticise or condemn them, or gossip about them, but try to win them over by your Christ-like kindness.
“People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centred. Love them anyway” (Kent Keith).
Lord give me the courage and appropriate words to say what must be said for the good of others, the discernment to know when it is best to remain silent and the graciousness to listen with an open ear and without anger to those who point out my failings. Amen.
These Daily Reflections for Lent 2016 are written by Fr. Desmond Nair, Lawrence Surgeson, Deacon Mark Wardell, Veronica Donnelly, George Cominos, Irene Helsdon and Fr. Justin Stirton. Please acknowledge the authors when copying and distributing. We wish you a fruitful and blessed Lenten Journey.