Tuesday August 22nd 2017

A WORD FROM YOUR PARISH PRIEST 20th AUGUST 2017

I had expected to be in Nigeria at this time, attending the Redemptorist meeting which I spoke of last week. However, I have suffered a bad ear infection and the doctor insisted that it would not be a good idea to fly such a long journey in that condition. So, I am very happy to be here with you this weekend at Holy Redeemer after all. Br Richard also did not travel to the meeting because his visa did not arrive in time, leaving Fr Sean Wales as the only one to travel. We hope that he is enjoying his time in Lagos.

Today we celebrate the feast of the Assumption, which is one of the great feasts of our Catholic year. Obviously, we will be preaching on the significance of the feast at all Masses over the weekend. So today, as an aid to further personal reflection and prayer, I thought that I would use a reflection from an American Jesuit on another way to think of the feast of the Assumption, and what it means to us. Here below are some of his reflections:

“As he lay dying, St. Francis of Assisi asked to be placed on the floor, so that he could expire on wood, in imitation of his Saviour. He also asked his friars (brothers) to read the Gospel account of the Last Supper.

A dying St. John of the Cross, having prayed the penitential psalms with his own friars, asked them to read to him the great love song of the Old Testament, the Canticle of Canticles. He was eager to go out and to meet the Bridegroom.

How we experience death is closely linked to our relationship to sin. The last act of a play determines its meaning. The passing of so many of the saints suggest that how we experience death is closely linked to our relationship to sin. It is not that the physical pain, its duration and intensity, varies by degrees of holiness. No, physically, the deaths of saints and sinners are the same.

What does alter according to the sanctity of a soul is the acceptance of death. Sinners fear death more than the saints, perhaps because the saints possess a real intimacy with the presence awaiting them on the other side. The One who has always been with them, gently leading them, assures them that, though they will “pass away,” they will not be alone.

Thanks to the evangelists, we know the details of Jesus’ death. Each Gospel, in its own way, depicts this terrible death as fully accepted by Jesus. Christ handed himself over to that presence, which had accompanied him throughout his life, the one whom he called his Father. At the core of the passion, within the heart of Jesus, there is peaceful surrender.

We have no details about the end of Mary’s life on earth. There is no account. So, what is this talk of Assumption? Like the Ascension of Christ, we are not speaking of a spatial movement upward, into the sky. We are speaking of an entrance into a dimension of fully divine life, which we call heaven. At the Ascension, the full humanity of Christ, body and soul, entered the Godhead. At the Assumption, “the love that moves the sun and the other stars” drew the Virgin, body and soul, into itself, into Trinity.

Like her Son, at the end of her life, the words of the psalmist became Mary’s own.

I will lie down in peace and sleep comes at once

for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety (Ps 4:9).

In life and at death, even the greatest of the saints knows that he or she is not fully pleasing to God. Indeed, the greater the holiness, the stronger the consciousness of sin. But Christ and the Virgin left this world without any taint of sin. In their lives, nothing had ever stood between them and that silent, loving presence, which dwelt within their consciousness. Whatever the details of each’s death, neither stood in any fear of the presence, whose face was finally to be revealed”.

The Assumption of Our Blessed Mother into heaven, therefore, offers us the hope that by striving to live lives of faith, hope and charity, we too will at the hour of our own death, born into the fullness of God’s eternal love for us.

Fr Gerard, CSsR

 

A WORD FROM YOUR PARISH PRIEST August 13th, 2017

I would like to begin my letter to you today with some Redemptorist news. Firstly, we are very happy to welcome Fr Scott back, after the recent death of his mother. I am sure that we will all continue to keep him and his family in our prayer during their time of grief.

On Wednesday, 16th September, Fr Sean Wales, Br Richard and myself have to attend a meeting of Redemptorists in Africa, which will be held in Nigeria. We will return on 27th September. In my absence, Fr Scott will be responsible for the parish, assisted by Fr Charles, and Br Gavin will be responsible for our Redemptorist community. I would also ask your prayers for Fr Duncan Blackie who has been ill in hospital in Kwa Zulu Natal, and is now slowly recovering.

A couple of weeks ago we held an important meeting of our Parish Pastoral Council. The main focus of the meeting, in line with the meeting I attended in London, was how best we can improve the pastoral life of our parish community. In particular, we wanted to look at ways in which we can move forward from simply maintaining our existing structures, to become a parish which is focussed on the mission of each of us to make disciples and to build the spirit of God amongst us.

I am well aware that we are already richly blessed here at Holy Redeemer, in the fact that so many people serve the parish in many different ways. But we cannot simply be satisfied with those who are already serving. A crucial factor of our personal discipleship is to recognise that we are all called, not simply to attend Mass on Sundays, but to bear witness to the love of God in our world. As St Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuits, wrote: What have I done for Christ? What am I doing for Christ? What will I do for Christ? These are questions that each of us need to pray about, and to act upon.

I would like to offer a few words on some of the areas where the Parish Pastoral Council felt that we could improve upon. A major topic of conversation was the quality of the music at our liturgies and the lack of participation in singing at most of our Masses. Given the fact that so many people attend Mass each Sunday, I really think that the level of participation in singing should be much greater than it currently is. There is a need for all choirs and bands to reflect on this, but even more importantly, for each of us to recognise that singing at Holy Mass is a very significant aspect of our worship of God.

Another area of improvement in our parish life would be to improve the quality of our welcoming people to Holy Redeemer, particularly visitors and non-Catholics. This is something we can learn from other Churches, which go out of their way to welcome visitors and newcomers. It is very important that anyone who attends our Church, for whatever reason, is made to feel at home among us.

We also focussed on some of our existing parish groups which are in need of new members. I am thinking in particular of groups like the St Vincent de Paul Society which does such good work for the needy, but is relying on only a very few members. I would also mention our Funeral Tea Ladies, who do such good work with people, serving family needs after our funeral services. The number of these ladies is becoming fewer, and they are not getting any younger. I am sure that they would be thrilled to welcome new members into their group. And indeed, there is nothing to stop some of our men from joining this group!

We also recognised to offer family support in a more structured way than presently exists. We all know that family life presents challenges at various points in life, and our parish should find some means to create a helpful structure to assist all families in times of personal or spiritual need.

So far, I have only mentioned some areas of concern, all of which are internal to our parish life. But it is also important that we look beyond ourselves, and ask what we are being called to do to make more manifest the love of God to all those in need around us. Amongst those in need around us would be the prisoners in Pollsmoor Prison, and the many hungry people living in the midst of us. This is precisely what Jesus asks of us if we to be His true disciples: to visit the sick, to visit those in prison and to feed the hungry.

These were just some of the topics that arose during our Pastoral Council Meeting. As a result, we have decided that the Pastoral Council will hold a morning of reflection on Saturday 9th September, in order to discuss these issues at greater length. I ask that you pray for God’s blessing on this meeting, that our parish may continue to grow deeper into the love of God through an active discipleship.

Fr Gerard, CSsR

A WORD FROM YOUR PARISH PRIEST August 6th, 2017

On Tuesday past we celebrated the feast of St Alphonsus, the founder of the Redemptorists. Obviously, this is always a very significant day for our Redemptorist community, and a day when we annually renew our vows together. On Thursday, Fr Sean Wales preached at Novena on the significance of the feast for all of us, and I felt that I should share it with you for this week’s reflection. If follows below:

“On Tuesday of this week we celebrated the feast of St Alphonsus, our founder. If there is one thing he bequeathed to us Redemptorists and through us to all who come to know us, it is a warm devotion to Mary, Mother of the Redeemer.

As you know, we received the Icon of Perpetual Help 79 years after Alphonsus’ death; but the spirituality that goes with the Icon fits into the spiritual path of Alphonsus himself.  We see this harmony in our Redemptorist Rule:

Let us take the Blessed Virgin as our model and helper. For she went on her pilgrim way in faith, and embraced with her whole heart the saving            will of God. She dedicated herself completely as a handmaid of the Lord to the person of her Son and to his work, and thus served the mystery of redemption.  Indeed, she still serves it, as the perpetual help of God’s           people in Christ.  Therefore, let us relate to her as a mother with all the love and veneration we owe her as sons. (C.32)

But Alphonsus knew human nature very well, because he knew himself, He knew how prone we are to slide into a mediocrity and a tepidity which saps our zeal and our love for God, for the Church, for Mary, for the Mission. So Alphonsus did not neglect this tendency in his writings. I want to share his way of dealing with mediocrity and tepidity.

In his analysis of this spiritual condition Alphonsus first notes that a sure sign of becoming lukewarm is making little account of what he called venial sins. “It’s only a venial sin…..it doesn’t matter so much”.  This is the beginning of the slide into mediocrity.   I can vouch for the accuracy of this analysis!

More important for us tonight is what Alphonsus proposes as a way out of this quagmire.  He highlights four steps:

1          In the first place, it is necessary to have a firm desire to get out of this state:

We are often invited to explore our deepest desires, to find God buried deep within us, even though we may for the most part take little notice of this desire.  I am reminded of the question Jesus put to the man at the Pool of Bethzatha who had been sick for 38 years “Do you want to be well again?”.  We may have been suffering from one form or other of mediocrity for over 38 years! Maybe we have grown comfortable with our tepid condition.

 

2          Secondly let us try to find out our predominant fault:

Here we touch on the critical question of self-reflection and self-knowledge. Can we identify the causes of our mediocrity.  If we never examine our conscience or never review the way our life is going, it is hard to pin-point why we end up bored and unhappy. St Alphonsus would have us examine our conscience/life every night before going to bed.

 

3          Thirdly we must avoid wherever possible the occasion, otherwise all our resolutions will fall to the ground. 

St Alphonsus was very insistent on “resolutions”. At the end of every meditation he recommends making one little resolution and with that, avoiding the occasions where we know we are weak and likely to forget or ignore our resolutions.  The ancient Greeks coined the phrase ” KNOW THYSELF”: there is great wisdom in that advice.

4          Lastly, we must above all be distrustful of our own strength and pray continually with all confidence to God begging Him to help us.  

In other words, the only way to escape mediocrity is with God’s help. Genuine conversion is the work of God; it is all God’s gift, not our achievement.  All we can do is dispose ourselves to receive this gift, to ask for it, to welcome it when it is given and to share it as best we can.

Alphonsus certainly received this gift, he welcomed it and he continues to share it with us through his writings.  The one thing he never tired of repeating and with which he concludes these Rules for Avoiding Tepidity is:

Those who pray obtain.  this is a promise of God and can never fail.  Therefore, we must always pray, always pray, and never leave off        repeating “My God, help me, and soon!”.

Through the intercession of Mary, our Mother and our Perpetual Help, we too pray: My God, help me, and soon!”

Fr Gerard, CSsR

A WORD FROM YOUR PARISH PRIEST July 30th, 2017

There are special times in our parish’s year when we become more aware of the presence of God in our community life. Today is one of such of those days, as we celebrate the Sacrament of Confirmation for more than twenty of our young people. I would like to thank all of those who have prepared them, over many years, for this wonderful day. The gift of Confirmation does not mark the end of a process of classes, but an introduction to living a mature Christian faith. I would like to take this opportunity, on behalf of all those who have helped our young people who will be confirmed this Sunday, especially their family members and the Life Teen group, for helping them this far on their journey of faith.

I was very touched by the personal letters of the Confirmation candidates, who wrote to me, expressing why they desired to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation. We can all be taught and inspired by the young, and I thought it would be good for all of us to hear the personal wishes of our candidates today. Here are just a few examples:

“The Catholic religion is a wonderful experience and I feel that Confirmation will help me live more deeply this experience and bring me closer to God”.

“I want to be confirmed in order to strengthen my bond with God and to continue on my spiritual journey. I want to keep growing within the Catholic Church”.

“Father, I request the Sacrament of Confirmation as I feel that it is the beginning of a deeper relationship with God. It will give me the opportunity to draw closer to God and to grow as a good person within the Church. I feel that the Church is where I belong, it is a huge part of my life and I want to continue to be so in the years ahead”.

“As I continue to try to become a better person, I feel that receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation will help me along my journey. I want to become a more involved member of the Church, so that I might become closer to Christ”.

“I want to be confirmed because I would like to be more deeply involved in living my Catholic faith. I want to be confirmed as one of the disciples of Jesus, to follow Him and to become more like Him”.

“I ask that the Sacrament of Confirmation be bestowed upon me because Holy Redeemer parish has been my family’s parish much longer than I have been alive. I would like to receive God’s grace and want to continue this journey with the other Confirmation candidates”.

“I would like to be confirmed so that I can become an adult in the Church, and so that the Holy Spirit can come upon me”.

These are just a few of the examples of the letters that our Confirmation candidates have written to me recently. I find myself touched by their words, and inspired by their spiritual desires. I also believe that their words have something to say to all of us, no matter how young or old we may be. It is this. Confirmation is not simply an event that takes place once in our life and means nothing thereafter. Rather, the Sacrament of Confirmation is a gift that is given to us, that we might more confidently become witnesses to the world of God’s love and presence amongst us. In other words, Confirmation is a sign that we have accepted our personal vocation to be witnesses of the overwhelming love of God.

Today, as we celebrate this wonderful Sacrament for our young people, may each of us be inspired by them, and be renewed in our own sense of Christian vocation. May our whole parish become renewed and transformed by the presence of the Holy Spirit, that we might truly witness to the love of God, and share that love with one another and with the world.

Fr Gerard, CSsR

A WORD FROM YOUR PARISH PRIEST July 23rd, 2017

It is good to be back with you here at Holy Redeemer parish, and also to be with my Redemptorist Community again. I really had a wonderful time in Scotland with my family. All of them could see that I am very happy here in Cape Town, and send greetings to each of you. In particular, my sister Eileen send her love and thanks you for all your continued prayers for her well-being. She remains physically unwell, but is in very good spirits. There was also the joy for me of having four new babies in the family since my last time at home, so that certainly kept me engaged and amused.

Being at home reminded me of something that I have spoken of a few times in my letters to you: the significance of our family life as the place where we most intimately encounter the love of God. Because of this, I would like to share some recent words of Pope Francis, on how we are all called to be holy families. I think that his words give us an opportunity to reflect on the quality of our family life today.

Pope Francis on the Family — What Makes a Family Holy?

1. First: the family prays.

…I would like to ask you, dear families: Do you pray together from time to time as a family?  Some of you do, I know.  But so many people say to me: But how can we? …But in the family how is this done? After all, prayer seems to be something personal, and besides there is never a good time, a moment of peace…  Yes, all that is true enough, but it is also a matter of humility, of realizing that we need God… all of us! We need his help, his strength, his blessing, his mercy, his forgiveness.  And we need simplicity to pray as a family: simplicity is necessary! Praying the Our Father together, around the table, is not something extraordinary: it’s easy. And praying the Rosary together, as a family, is very beautiful and a source of great strength!  And also praying for one another! The husband for his wife, the wife for her husband, both together for their children, the children for their grandparents…. praying for each other.  This is what it means to pray in the family and it is what makes the family strong: prayer.

2. Next, the family keeps the faith.

Here too, we can ask: How do we keep our faith as a family? Do we keep it for ourselves, in our families, as a personal treasure like a bank account, or are we able to share it by our witness, by our acceptance of others, by our openness? We all know that families, especially young families, are often “racing” from one place to another, with lots to do. But did you ever think that this “racing” could also be the race of faith? Christian families are missionary families. …They are missionary in everyday life, in their doing everyday things, as they bring to everything the salt and the leaven of faith! Keeping the faith in families and bringing to everyday things the salt and the leaven of faith.

 

3. And finally: the family experiences joy.

I would like to ask you all a question today. But each of you keep it in your heart and take it home. You can regard it as a kind of “homework”.  Only you must answer.  How are things when it comes to joy at home?  Is there joy in your family?   You can answer this question.

Dear families, you know very well that the true joy which we experience in the family is not superficial; it does not come from material objects, from the fact that everything seems to be going well…  True joy comes from a profound harmony between persons, something which we all feel in our hearts and which makes us experience the beauty of togetherness, of mutual support along life’s journey.  But the basis of this feeling of deep joy is the presence of God, the presence of God in the family and his love, which is welcoming, merciful, and respectful towards all.  And above all, a love which is patient: patience is a virtue of God and he teaches us how to cultivate it in family life, how to be patient, and lovingly so, with each other. To be patient among ourselves. A patient love.  God alone knows how to create harmony from differences.  But if God’s love is lacking, the family loses its harmony, self-centredness prevails and joy fades.  But the family which experiences the joy of faith communicates it naturally.  That family is the salt of the earth and the light of the world, it is the leaven of society as a whole.

Dear families, always live in faith and simplicity, like the Holy Family of Nazareth!  The joy and peace of the Lord be always with you!

Fr Gerard, CSsR

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