Year B – 1st Sunday of Advent

On Sleeping Too Long

(Is.63:16-17; 64:1,3-8; 1Cor.1:3-9; Mk.13:33-37)

In the storybook world, a few characters are great sleepers. Rip van Winkle sleeps for twenty years, Sleeping Beauty sleeps for a hundred, and in one ancient myth, the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus slumber for two centuries. [i]

But it’s not only storybook characters who forever sleep. The Jesuit spiritual writer Anthony de Mello says that most people are asleep, but just don’t know it. ‘They’re born asleep, they live asleep, they marry in their sleep, they raise children in their sleep and they die in their sleep without ever waking up.’

Why does he say this? It’s because they are spiritually unaware. Most people have been conditioned to live mechanical and predictable lives, and never really come to understand the loveliness and beauty of human existence.

‘All mystics,’ de Mello says, ‘no matter what their theology, no matter what their religion, are unanimous in one thing: that all is well. Although everything is a mess, all is well. It’s a strange paradox,’ he says, ‘but tragically, most people never get to see that all is well because they are asleep.’ [ii]

‘They’re just not aware of what’s going on. They might as well be a block of wood, or a rock or a talking, walking machine … They are puppets, jerked around by all kinds of things. Press a button and you get a reaction. You can almost predict how a person is going to react,’ he says. [iii]

Today we begin a brand-new season of Advent, when we start preparing our hearts and minds to receive Jesus, who we know is on his way.

When is he coming? St Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153), a Doctor of the Church, says that Jesus has three comings. The first two are visible, and the third is invisible. [iv]

His first coming is his birth in Bethlehem, which we celebrate at Christmas.  That’s visible, of course, but Jesus did so much more than arrive as a baby.  He also died for us on the Cross and he arose again to new life. So, at Christmas we also celebrate Jesus as the Son of God who showed how much he loves us and who shows us how to live.

Jesus’ second coming will also be visible. This will be at the end of our lives and at the end of all time. That’s when he will come in his glory and we’ll finally see him face-to-face (2Thess.1:6-7).

And in between these two times is Jesus’ third coming, which is happening right now. It’s invisible, and that’s why only some of us can see him. Everyone else is asleep.

Where might we see Jesus? In the Scriptures, in the Holy Eucharist, in the Church, in our neighbours and in the ordinary events of our daily lives.

Most people can’t see Jesus because they are spiritually unaware. They have eyes, but really can’t see. They have ears, but really can’t hear. They have yet to learn how to see beyond our material world. 

Anthony de Mello tells the story of a man who found an eagle’s egg. He put it in the nest of a barnyard hen. The eaglet hatched with the brood of chicks and he grew up with them.

All his life the eagle did what the chicks did, thinking he was a chicken. He scratched the earth for worms and insects. He clucked and cackled. He thrashed his wings and he flew a few feet into the air.

Years passed, and the eagle grew old. One day he saw a magnificent bird flying high in the cloudless sky. It glided majestically in the wind, barely using its strong golden wings.

The eagle looked up in awe. ‘Who’s that?’ he asked.

That’s the eagle, the king of the birds,’ said a hen. ‘He belongs to the sky. But we belong to the earth – we’re chickens.’

The eagle lived and died a chicken, for that’s what he thought he was. [v]

This season of Advent reminds us that too many people today are scratching around in their barnyards when they really should be rising above and flying high, like eagles.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us to watch for his return.  He says it three times.  ‘Be on your guard, stay awake, because you never know when the time will come’. 

‘Stay awake,’ he says, ‘for you don’t know when the master of the house is coming … if he comes unexpectedly, he must not find you asleep’. 

Then he adds, ‘… what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake!’

In other words, don’t miss this opportunity: wake up your spiritual selves. 

Open your eyes, open your ears and open your hearts, and start noticing the subtle signs of Jesus’ presence all around you.

Life has a remarkable depth and beauty that too many of us miss.


[i] https://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05496a.htm

[ii] Anthony de Mello, Awareness – The Perils and Opportunities of Reality. Image, New York. 1992:5.

[iii] Op Cit. p.67-68.

[iv] https://www.discerninghearts.com/catholic-podcasts/three-comings-of-christ-st-bernard/  

[v] Anthony de Mello, The Song of the Bird, Image, New York. 1984:96.

Year A – 34th Sunday in Ordinary Time

On Two Princes and a King

[Ezek.34:11-12, 15-17; 1Cor.15:20-26, 28; Mt.25:31-46]

Today, on the Feast of Christ the King, we’ve all been invited to reflect on our lives so far. To help us do this, I have two princely stories for you.

The first is Niccolò Machiavelli’s book The Prince (1532). It’s his guidebook for ambitious people, using everything he’d learnt working as an Italian diplomat.

This story is basically all about power: how to get it and how to keep it. If you’re an aspiring prince, Machiavelli says, be prepared to use all sorts of tricks like secrecy, deception and force to get what you want out of life. You might even have to do something evil from time to time.

Sure, faith and virtuous living are good things, he says, but they can limit you. So, it’s better to separate politics from religion; it’s better to separate private and public morality. After all, naked ambition is an art in itself.

‘A wise prince,’ he says, ‘must build a foundation on what is his own, and not on what belongs to others.’ And he adds, ‘it’s better to be feared than loved’. [i]

Machiavelli’s book is 500 years old, but lots of people still like his ideas. Shakespeare used them to create villains like Iago and Lady Macbeth. And more recently, we’ve seen similar characters like Lord Varys in Game of Thrones and Tony Soprano in The Sopranos.

Today, many politicians and other people use these techniques to get what they want out of life. Are you among them?

The second story is Oscar Wilde’s tale of The Happy Prince (1888). This prince lived a very sheltered, but happy life. When he died, the people erected a statue of him in the town square. This statue was gilded with leaves of gold, it had sapphires for eyes and a large red ruby on the handle of its sword.

One cold evening, a little swallow flying south stopped to rest under that statue. As he rested, some water droplets fell on him. He looked up and saw the prince crying.

‘Why are you crying?’ the swallow asked.

‘When I was alive, I saw no suffering,’ said the prince. ‘But from here I can see lots of unhappiness in the world. I’d like to help, but I can’t because I’m stuck to this pedestal. I need a messenger. Can you help me?’

‘But I have to go to Egypt,’ the swallow replied.

‘Please stay this night with me,’ the prince said.

‘Very well, then. What can I do for you?’ asked the swallow.

‘Nearby, there’s a mother nursing a sick child,’ the prince said. ‘She can’t afford a doctor. Take the ruby from my sword and give it to her.’

The swallow took the ruby and gave it to the woman. She was overjoyed. The doctor came, the child recovered and the swallow returned to the statue.

The next day, the prince asked him to stay another night. He also asked the swallow to give one of his sapphires to a little match girl down the road. She’d sold no matches that day, and was afraid she’d be beaten when she got home. Again, the swallow did as he was asked.

As he ran these errands of mercy, the swallow became aware of all the poverty and suffering in the town. He liked helping the prince. Each day he stripped gold leaves off the statue and gave them to the poor and needy.

Finally, one morning, the little swallow was found dead below the prince’s statue. The statue itself was completely bare, stripped of all its ornaments. The Happy Prince had given away all he had to help others. [ii]

Pope Pius XI established the Feast of Christ the King in 1925, at a time of enormous political upheaval, when tyrants like Hitler and Stalin were leading whole nations astray. Pope Pius wanted to remind everyone that it’s God who created our world, and that Jesus is our only sure hope for the future.

Today, things aren’t much better; the world still has its tyrants. So, this is a good time for us to reflect on our lives so far.

Are we drawn to the style of Machiavelli’s manipulative prince, who does whatever it takes to get what he wants? Or are we more like the Happy Prince, who sacrifices himself for others?

At the Last Judgment, when our turn comes, we’ll be reminded that Jesus had clearly asked us to feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty, to welcome the stranger, to clothe the naked, to care for the sick, to visit prisoners …

And we’ll remember that whatever we did in love and compassion for others, we did for Jesus himself.

On that day, can you honestly say to Jesus, ‘Yes, I did all I could’?


[i] Nicolo Macchiavelli, The Prince. https://www.gutenberg.org/files/1232/1232-h/1232-h.htm#link2HCH0021

[ii] Oscar Wilde, The Young King and Other Stories, Penguin Books, Essex, 2000 https://ec.europa.eu/employment_social/2010againstpoverty/export/sites/default/extranet/news_documents/188_The_Happy_Prince.pdf

Year A – 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

On the Law of the Gift

(Prov.31:10-13,19-20,30-31; 1Thess.5:1-6; Mt.25:14-30)

Isn’t it nice when we get back more than we give?

Pope St John Paul II often talked about this. It’s called the Law of the Gift, and it says that the more you give away, the more you’ll receive in return and the happier you’ll be.

Jeff Goins gives us an example of this in his book Wrecked: When a Broken World Slams into your Comfortable Life. When some friends visited him from out of town, he decided to spend his last ten dollars buying them coffee.

‘After that,’ he writes, ‘everywhere I looked people were offering us meals, giving me stuff out of the blue, and anonymously leaving money in places where I would find it.’

‘The strangest incident,’ he explains, ‘was when I found a random envelope pinned to a public message board with my name on it. Inside the envelope was a ten-dollar bill. Later that night, my friends and I went out to dinner. Without offering, someone picked up the bill. So, I did the only logical thing I could think of: I left the waitress a ten-dollar tip.’ [i]

That’s the Law of the Gift, which says that the more you share what you have, the more blessed you will be.

To understand this law, we need to recognise that God himself is a gift. Why? It’s because God is love (1Jn.4:8), and his whole existence is giving. Indeed, Jesus himself said, ‘I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly’ (Jn.10:10). Of course, living abundantly is living generously.

The only reason we exist is because of God’s generous love, and everything we have is a gift from him. But we’re not meant to hold onto gifts. They’re meant to be given. So, the Law of the Gift says that whatever you’ve received must be given away, and in return you’ll receive even more – thirty, sixty, a hundredfold (Mk.4:8). [ii]

Jesus taught this law in many different ways.  In his Multiplication of the Loaves and the Fishes (Mt.14:13-21), the disciples only have five loaves and two fish to offer, but end up with 12 baskets of leftovers.

Jesus also teaches us this law in the Eucharist. We bring a few tiny gifts up to Jesus – a little bread, some wine, and a drop of water – and they come back to us as the Body and Blood of Jesus himself. And when we receive him, he feeds the deepest hunger in our hearts. [iii]

And in Jesus’ Parable of the Talents in today’s Gospel, a man is planning to go away and he leaves his money with three servants. In those days, a talent was a measure of gold or silver.

The first two servants use their talents well, and double their investment. But the third man simply buries his talent in a hole. The owner praises and rewards the first two, but he’s not happy with the third man. He confiscates his talent.

The message for us today is that if you’ve received any talents, you must use them, otherwise you will lose them.

But what are these talents? Bishop Robert Barron says we should think of them as everything we’ve ever received from God – our life, our breath, our strength, our abilities and all our many blessings.

Pope Francis adds that these talents also include the Gospel, our Baptism, prayer, forgiveness and the sacrament of Jesus’ sacrificed Body and Blood.

All these things are loving gifts from God. If we share them with others, they will grow. But if we selfishly hold on to them, as the third servant did, they don’t grow. They just wither away and die.

Do you remember Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (1843)? At the beginning when Scrooge is hoarding all his gifts, he feels sick, miserable and empty inside. But when he starts giving things away, his heart fills with love and he begins to feel happy.

That’s the Law of the Gift. It’s a paradox: the more you give away, the more you receive.

But all this is counter-cultural, because most people don’t think this way. Most people actually do the opposite: they hold tightly onto God’s gifts.  But this isn’t the way things work in the spiritual life. If you want the divine life, then give it away. If you want love, give loads of love. If you want to be happy, then make someone else happy by living the Law of the Gift.

This isn’t just about donating to charity. It’s about adopting a whole new attitude towards the people around you. Instead of wondering what they can do for you, ask instead what you can do for them. How can you really help them?

Whatever you give away in a spirit of love is guaranteed to come back to you.  It might not return immediately, but it will come back to you in some way. 

Your life will become fuller and more complete, and you’ll be much happier.


[i] Jeff Goins, Wrecked: When a Broken World Slams into your Comfortable Life. Moody Publishers, Chicago. 2012:56. https://www.amazon.com.au/Wrecked/dp/B00NPB2HFC/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=wrecked+Jeff+Goins&qid=1605139033&s=books&sr=1-1

[ii] https://www.wordonfire.org/resources/homily/parable-of-the-talents/818/?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=socialmedia&utm_term=fb-barron&utm_content=171119-parable-of-talents&utm_campaign=homily

[iii] Weigel, G. City of Saints: A Pilgrimage to John Paul II’s Krakow. Image, NY.  2015:292.

Year A – 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

On the Hourglass

[Wis.6:12-16; 1Thess.4:13-17; Mt.25:1-13]

Something is missing. Researchers have recently found that the number of ‘likes’ on social media for lies and fake information has trebled in the last 2-3 years.

It seems that people are increasingly happy to ‘like’ sheer nonsense, either because it’s popular, or it fits with their personal opinions (or both). Influential leaders have also found that they only have to ‘put it out there’ and their followers will swallow it whole. [i]

How can this be, when our society is reportedly more educated and better informed today than at any other time in history?

In 1948, General Omar Bradley (who led the US 12th Army in WWII) gave a speech that still resonates today. He said: ‘… humanity is in danger of being trapped in this world by its moral adolescence. Our knowledge of science has clearly outstripped our capacity to control it. We have many men of science; too few men of God. We have grasped the mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon on the Mount. Man is stumbling blindly through a spiritual darkness while toying with the precarious secrets of life and death. The world has achieved brilliance without wisdom, power without conscience. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing than we know about living.’ [ii]

Yes, something is missing in our world today. Could it be wisdom?

Wisdom is intelligence combined with deep understanding. It’s something that grows with maturity, experience and age, and it helps us make sound choices and good decisions.  Scripture describes it as being better than gold (Prov.16:16).

The Bible often speaks of wisdom, but it also distinguishes between its worldly and Godly forms (Jas.3:13-18; 1Cor.3:19).

Godly wisdom is characterised by humility, mercy and love. It is peace-loving, gentle, impartial and sincere. It also allows us to see things from God’s perspective, because God is the source and cause of all things. It therefore reflects truth.

Worldly wisdom, however, tends to be self-centred and opinionated. It exalts the self above others, and can lead to jealousy, pride and selfishness. It sees things from the human perspective (Mt.16:23).

Our world is full of ideologies and sayings that sound like great wisdom. They might benefit some, but ultimately, they lead us away from God. As the Book of Proverbs tells us, ‘there’s a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death’ (Prov.14:12).

In Matthew’s Gospel today, Jesus gives us his Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids. In ancient Hebrew tradition, the bride and her bridesmaids wait at the bride’s home for the groom to arrive. He typically arrives in the evening, when it’s dark, and then they go singing and dancing to his home for the wedding celebration.

In this story, the groom is delayed and arrives very late. Five wise bridesmaids are well-prepared, with their lamps ready to go. But the other five have been wasting their time and don’t have any oil. So, they get left behind.

The parable ends with the warning: ‘Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour’.

This parable is essentially about Christ’s Second Coming, which St Paul in our second reading reminds us is sure to happen one day.

The question for us today is whether we have the wisdom to prepare for this significant event, or whether we’ll be left behind because we’ve been too distracted by other things.

Let me close with a story.

There was once a little girl who lived near a beach. She loved her grandpa very much and she enjoyed seeing him. He collected hourglasses and she loved turning them upside down and watching the sand sift through the glass bulbs.

‘Why do you keep them?’ she asked.

‘They remind me that time is the most precious thing in the world,’ he replied.

As Christmas approached, she asked her mother why she hadn’t seen her Grandpa for weeks. She said that he was in hospital and might die.

The little girl wasn’t sure what death meant, so her mother explained that life is like one of Grandpa’s hourglasses, and that he had very little time left.

One morning her mother announced that they would visit Grandpa that day. She asked the girl to make a special Christmas present for him. She did.

When they got to the hospital, the little girl gave her Grandpa a beautiful gift. He unwrapped it slowly, looked inside and smiled. He understood immediately.

She had filled the box with sand. [iii]

So, remember this: time is running out.

True wisdom can take a lifetime to acquire.


[i] Dr Laurie Woods, Australian Catholic University, Weekly Lectionary Commentary, 32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A.

[ii] General Omar Bradley (1893-1981). These words are from his 1948 Armistice Day address in Boston. https://www.whatsoproudlywehail.org/curriculum/the-american-calendar/armistice-day-address

[iii] Jay Cormier, Table Talk, Year A. New City Press, New York. 2010:212-213.

Year A – All Saints Day

On a Sweeping Challenge

(Rev.7:2-4,9-14; 1Jn.3:1-3; Mt.5:1-12)

Today, on All Saints Day, let’s begin with two questions. Do you want to go to heaven? And do you want to become a saint?

Most people, I’ve found, will happily say they’d like to go to heaven, but few will actually admit they want to become a saint. Yet, you can’t go to heaven if you’re not a saint.

So, what is a saint? There are two kinds: there are canonised saints, who’ve been officially proclaimed as such by the Church (there are about 10,000 of them). And there are uncanonised saints, who make up the huge majority. They might not be known to anyone but God, but they’re still saints. [i]

The word ‘saint’ comes from the Latin ‘sanctus’ (meaning ‘holy’), which itself comes from the verb ‘sacrare’ (‘to set apart’). Saints, therefore, are holy people who are set apart. But how are they set apart?

St Paul says that Christians are saints who’ve been set apart by their baptism. Baptism makes us children of God, and it also gives us the graces we need to live a holy life. But we should take none of this for granted, because no-one is born a saint. As St Peter reminds us, we must work to achieve this holiness in our daily lives (1Pet.1:14-15).

Indeed, it was St Teresa of Calcutta who said that holiness isn’t the privilege of the few, but the simple duty of each of us.

Now, some people think that the only way to live a holy life is by living as a hermit in the wilderness. But in his meditation, A Short Road to Perfection, St John Henry Newman says that to gain spiritual perfection, all we have to do is perform the ordinary duties of the day well. [ii]

In other words, sainthood isn’t about doing extraordinary things, but doing ordinary things in an extraordinary way. Even washing the dishes!

To help us achieve this, Jesus gives us his Beatitudes in Matthew’s Gospel today. These Beatitudes tell us that the way to live a holy life, and to receive the joys flowing from it, is by living humbly; by recognising our brokenness; by living meekly and gently; by hungering for the truth; by being kind and forgiving; by having a pure heart; by being a peacemaker, and by having the courage to live openly for God.

‘Be holy, as your heavenly Father is holy,’ Jesus says (Mt.5:48).

Ed Bloom, in his book Humdrum to Holy, says that this call to sainthood isn’t really the strange, foreign and externally-imposed standard we may think it is.

The human heart, he says, has an insatiable hunger for Our Lord (Ps.42:1). We may try to replace him with food, sex, power or fame, but these are false gods. They are idols. Deep down, he says, it’s really God whom we seek.

Bloom goes on to say that holiness is something that has to be learned and lived and practised. He explains the Beatitudes and he suggests several ways for us to achieve greater holiness. These include starting every day with morning prayer, praying before every meal, and meditating on the Bible.

He also offers other practical approaches to sainthood, such as cultivating gratitude, cherishing our families, forming a healthy conscience and learning from great saints such as St Faustina and St Teresa of Avila. [iii]

St Therese of Lisieux joined the convent at 15 and died of tuberculosis aged only 24. Like all the other nuns, she lived a very ordinary life, following the daily routines of the convent. However, she did all these things in an extraordinary way, by doing everything out of love for God. She called this her ‘Little Way’. As she explains in her autobiography, The Story of a Soul, she offered up absolutely everything she did as a beautiful flower for God. [iv]

It’s because of this that in 1998 Pope St John Paul II declared her a Doctor of the Church. Why? Because she has something significant to teach us about how we might live our own lives.

Shortly before his assassination in 1968, Martin Luther King Jr said something similar. He said that the secret to living a saintly life is to always do our very best in everything we do. 

‘If it falls to your lot to be a street sweeper,’ he said, ‘sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures. Sweep streets like Beethoven composed music. Sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry. Sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will have to pause and say: Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.’ [v]

So, here’s a sweeping challenge: today, our world desperately needs saints.

What about you?


[i] Ed Bloom, From Humdrum to Holy. Sophia Institute Press, Manchester NH, 2016:3.

[ii] http://www.newmanreader.org/works/meditations/meditations8.html#shortroad

[iii] https://www.amazon.com.au/s?k=from+humdrum+to+holy&rh=n%3A2496751051&ref=nb_sb_noss

[iv] https://www.bookdepository.com/Story-Soul-St-Therese-Lisieux/9780895551559

[v] https://1ccaxf2hhhbh1jcwiktlicz7-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/MLK-Lifes-Blueprint.pdf

Year A – 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time

On a Journey: Siena to Vienna

(Ex.22:20-26; 1Thess.1:5c-10; Mt.22:34-40)

I’m ashamed to say it, but some years ago in Siena, Italy, I was walking down a quiet street one evening when a homeless man approached me. ‘Sir, can you help me? I’m hungry and have nowhere to stay.’

I looked at him reluctantly. He was a refugee. ‘Even 5 Euros would help,’ he said.

To my eternal regret, I turned and walked away. At the time I thought it was wrong to encourage begging. But he was desperate. ‘Please don’t walk away!’ he cried. ‘Please help me!’ But I kept on walking.

‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself,’ Jesus says.

There are 613 commandments in the first five books of the Bible (the Torah). [i] In ancient times, rabbis spent considerable time debating these laws and their relative importance.

In Matthew’s Gospel today, they ask Jesus: ‘Master, which is the greatest commandment of the law?’

In his famous reply, Jesus says that the greatest and first commandment is to ‘love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind’ (Deut.6:5). Then he says that the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’ (Lev.19:18). And then he adds: ‘On these two commandments hang the whole law and the prophets also’.

What Jesus is saying is that the meaning of all these 613 laws, and all the teachings of the prophets, can be summarized by these two verses.

Essentially, our Christian faith is all about loving God to the very best of our ability. But this requires us to love both God and our neighbour, with all our hearts, with all our souls, and with all our minds.

Why? It’s because Jesus is both human and divine. It’s not possible to love Jesus who is God, without also loving our neighbour who he created and even died for (Mt.25:40).

We fulfil our love for God by loving our neighbour, and this requires us to embrace the world around us with an open and loving heart.

There was once an old man who was sitting on a bench at the edge of town when a stranger approached. ‘What are the people in this town like?’ the stranger asked.

‘What were they like in the last town?’ the old man replied.

‘They were kind and generous. They would do anything to help you if you were in trouble,’ came the reply.

‘Well, I think you’ll find them much the same in this town,’ said the old man.

Sometime later, a second stranger approached the old man and asked the same question: ‘What are the people like in this town?’

The old man replied, ‘What were they like in the town you’ve just come from?’

‘It was a terrible place,’ he answered, ‘To tell you the truth, I was glad to leave. The people there were cruel and mean. They wouldn’t lift a finger to help you if you were in trouble.’

‘I’m afraid,’ said the old man, ‘you’ll find them much the same in this town,’ [ii]

The love we are called to extend to others is much more than just being nice, friendly and affectionate. These things are good, but we can do them without love.

Real love is willing the good of the other. It’s wanting what’s best for them and then doing something about it. It’s not about saying the right words; rather, it’s about taking concrete action to make meaningful things happen (1Jn.3:16-18).

Loving God and loving our neighbour, then, aren’t parallel commandments. They are two sides of the same coin. We cannot say we love God while ignoring our suffering neighbour (1Jn.4:20), and it’s clearly not sufficient to love our neighbour while turning our backs on God.

As an old Persian proverb puts it:

  • I sought my God, my God I could not see.
  • I sought my soul, my soul eluded me.
  • I sought my neighbour, and I found all three. [iii]

One day during a more recent visit to Vienna, I noticed a homeless man begging on the footpath outside our accommodation. It was evening, and I’d decided to take a stroll, searching for a nice dinner for my wife and me to eat. The beggar said nothing as I passed, but I knew he was hungry.

I bought three good meals and carried them back to the apartment. With a genuinely humbled heart, I gave one to the hungry man. He looked at me in surprise.

You shall love your neighbour as yourself.


[i] https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/756399/jewish/The-613-Commandments-Mitzvot.htm

[ii] Flor McCarthy, New Sunday and Holy Day Liturgies Year A, Dominican Publications, Dublin, 2019:349.

[iii] William Bausch, Once Upon a Gospel. Twenty-Third Publications, New London, CT. 2011:305.

Year A – 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

On a Hidden Life

[Isa.45:1,4-6; 1Thess.1:1-5b; Mt.22:15-21]

Have you heard the story of Franz Jägerstätter? He’s the simple Austrian farmer, born in 1907, who features in Terrence Malick’s film A Hidden Life (2019). [i]

In his youth, Franz was considered a ruffian, wild in his ways and always ready for a fight. But by 1936 he changed. That’s when he married his beloved Franziska and they travelled to Rome for a papal blessing.

Together, they had three daughters, and Malick’s movie depicts them living a blissful life on his farm high up in the Austrian Alps. Franz once said, ‘I could never have imagined that being married could be so wonderful’.

He worked hard and often gave food to the poor. He also became very prayerful, often saying the Rosary while ploughing, or singing hymns while tending the cows. He spent hours learning about his faith and he served as sexton at his local church.

But when Nazi Germany annexed Austria in 1938, Franz feared the worst. He was aware of Nazi cruelty and he began reflecting on what it really means to be a Christian in an unchristian world.

He refused to support Nazi fundraisers and he avoided the local alehouses because he didn’t like arguing with his neighbours about fascism.

In 1940 and in 1941, he reported for military training but each time was allowed to return home because he was needed on the farm. In 1943 he was conscripted again, but this time he refused to swear loyalty to Hitler. He also refused to serve with a weapon because of God’s commandment ‘to love your neighbour as yourself’. He thought that fighting and killing so that Hitler could rule the world was a sin.

He was willing to serve as a paramedic, but he was imprisoned instead. Everyone thought he was mad, and only his wife Franziska remained supportive. ‘If I hadn’t stood by him,’ she said, ‘he’d have had no-one at all.’ [ii] 

But Franz was unshakable. He wrote to his pastor: ‘If so many terrible things are permitted by this terrible gang, I believe it’s better to sacrifice one’s life right away than to risk the danger of committing sin and then dying.’ [iii]

In Matthew’s Gospel today, Jesus says his famous line: ‘give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God’. What he’s basically saying is that as Christians, we have dual citizenship. We belong to our country and to the Kingdom of God. We receive benefits from both, and we have responsibilities towards both.

In saying that we must give to Caesar what belongs to him, Jesus is assuming that what Caesar wants of us is reasonable. He’s not giving Caesar a blank cheque. But as we know, secular governments do sometimes expect us to support laws and policies that are morally incompatible with our faith. Some examples include euthanasia, assisted suicide and abortion, but there are many others as well, depending on where we live.

Here we have a duty to put God first, because our most important loyalty is to him.

Franz Jägerstätter once wrote, ‘It’s true that Christ commanded that we obey our secular rulers. But I don’t believe he ever said we must obey such rulers when they command something that is actually wicked.’

He also wrote, ‘I cannot believe that we Catholics must make ourselves tools of the worst and most dangerous anti-Christian power that has ever existed.’

In 1943, on the night before he was executed in Berlin, Franz was invited to sign a document that would have saved his life. But Franz pushed it aside and said, ‘I cannot and may not take an oath in favor of a government that’s fighting an unjust war.’ [iv]

In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI beatified him in the presence of Franziska.

At the screening of this film in the Vatican last year, Terrence Malick described Blessed Franz Jägerstätter as a martyr of freedom. He’s a martyr, he said, because he chose to be faithful to his conscience. As his father-in-law says in the film, ‘it’s better to be a victim of injustice that to perpetrate an injustice’.

Malick also noted the incredible faith, strength, sacrifice and witness of Franz’s wife Franziska. He said she’s a martyr just as he was, supporting him to the last breath, despite the pain.

Today our secular institutions no longer conduct themselves according to the Word of God. Whether something is right or wrong now so often depends on individual whim, or simple voting. As Christians, this presents us with significant moral challenges.

May we learn from the remarkable courage of Franz Jägerstätter and be guided by our own good Christian consciences.

As St Thomas More said just before his own execution: ‘I die the king’s good servant, but God’s first.’ [v]


[i] This film takes its name from the last paragraph of George Eliot’s novel Middlemarch: For the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.

[ii] https://www.dioezese-linz.at/site/jaegerstaetter/english/biography/article/22528.html

[iii] https://www.plough.com/en/topics/justice/nonviolence/franz-jagerstatter-a-quiet-martyr

[iv] http://www.natcath.org/NCR_Online/archives2/2007d/110907/110907a.htm

[v] Flor McCarthy, New Sunday and Holy Day Liturgies, Dominican Publications, Dublin, 2019:342-343.

Year A – 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time

On the Clothes We Wear

(Isa.25:6-10a; Phil.4:12-14; Mt.22:1-14)

Many years ago, I was invited to a big Christmas event in Chinatown. I arrived wearing T-shirt and shorts, while everyone else was dressed up. I was mortified. I foolishly didn’t think to change and spent all evening hiding my legs under a table. 

Clearly, it’s not enough just to show up. We need to prepare ourselves.

At the end of WWII, the Russian leader Josef Stalin organised a big banquet for Winston Churchill. The Russians wore their best military dress uniforms, but Churchill arrived in the overalls he often wore during the German air raids on London. He thought the Russians would like it, but they felt insulted. [i] 

Again, it’s not enough just to show up. We need to prepare ourselves.

The clothes we wear say a lot about who we are and how we think. In one episode of Seinfeld, George enters Jerry’s apartment wearing track pants.  Seeing him, Jerry says, ‘You know the message you’re sending out to the world with these sweatpants? You’re telling the world, “I give up. I can’t compete in normal society. I’m miserable, so I might as well be comfortable”.’ [ii]

There’s a direct link between the clothes we wear and the way we think. In her book, Mind what you Wear: The Psychology of Fashion, Karen Pine says that when we put on a piece of clothing, we cannot help but adopt some of the characteristics associated with it, even if we’re unaware of it.  

Research indicates that students wearing Superman T-shirts feel significantly stronger than those not wearing them. And when people put on white lab-coats they tend to become more mentally agile, regardless of their technical background.

As well, when we signal to others through our appearance that we care about ourselves, they’re more likely to see us as someone worth caring about. And when we dress like everyone else, we tend to feel less responsible for our actions.

So, what you wear not only reflects your inner state; it also has the power to change the way you think.

In Matthew’s Gospel today, Jesus gives us his Parable of the Wedding Banquet. The king’s son is getting married and he sends out special invitations. 

This parable is similar to our Gospel readings over the last two Sundays.  Today’s is about a wedding feast, while the last two were about vineyards.

But the message is the same: God is inviting us to join him in heaven. 

In today’s parable, many people attend the King’s wedding banquet, but one person isn’t properly dressed. In those days, wedding guests were expected to wear a long white garment called a kittel. If a guest couldn’t afford it, a rich host would provide one. 

The King asks this guest how he managed to get in without his kittel, but the guest doesn’t answer. So, the King expels him. Why does he do that?

Well, firstly it would have been an insult not to wear the garment the host gave him. But the main point is that what you wear reflects who you are; it reflects how you think. If this guest had truly valued the King’s invitation, he would have done more than show up.  He’d have prepared himself by dressing properly.

Jesus often uses the image of the wedding feast to teach us about Heaven (e.g. Lk.14:7-11; Jn.2:1-11). And Scripture often uses clothing as a metaphor for spiritual change. In Colossians, Paul says, ‘…As God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, goodness and patience’ (Col.3:12). And Peter says, ‘All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble”’ (1Pet.5:5).

In other words, before we can enter the Kingdom of heaven, we need to change the way we live. As Paul says, we need to ‘Clothe (ourselves) with the Lord Jesus Christ’ (Rom.13:14). This process of ‘putting on Christ’ or ‘wearing the habit of love’ [iii] begins at our baptism, but it doesn’t stop there. We need to grow into Christ: living like him, becoming like him.

Jesus is the model to follow.

Many people today think that when their turn comes, all they have to do is show up and they’ll go straight into heaven. But today Jesus warns us that that’s simply not true. Not all who are called will be chosen for eternal life (Mt.22.14).

If we want to go to heaven, we must first demonstrate that we’re worthy of it.  We need to be clothed in ‘the fine linen… of the saints’ (Rev.19:8).

It’s not enough just to show up.

If we want to go to heaven, we must prepare ourselves, both inside and out.


[i] Brett Hickey, Let the Bible Speak. Sermon #766 (82) www.letthebiblespeak.com 

[ii] Karen Pine, Mind what you Wear: The Psychology of Fashion. 2014 https://www.amazon.com.au/Mind-What-You-Wear-Psychology-ebook/dp/B00KBTB3NS

[iii] Pope Francis, Homily, 15/10/17 https://zenit.org/articles/pope-francis-declares-35-new-saints/ 

Year A – 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time

On the Parable of the Wicked Tenants

(Isa.5:1-7; Phil.4:6-9; Mt.21:33-43)

Today’s readings once again use the metaphor of the vineyard to explore the way we live our lives. The question this time is about how we are using the extraordinary gifts God has given us.

Our first reading from Isaiah is often called the Song of the Vineyard.  It tells the story of a beautiful vineyard that its owner carefully cultivates and gives to tenants to look after. But instead of a bountiful harvest, all these tenants produce is sour grapes.

Jesus builds on this story in Matthew’s Gospel, in his Parable of the Wicked Tenants. A landowner asks some tenants to look after his vineyard while he’s away.

Now, leasing vineyards wasn’t unusual in biblical times. Wealthy landowners often had tenants look after their vines, and the tenants paid rent by sharing the crop with the owner at harvest time. But in Jesus’ parable, the tenants refuse to pay anything. When the rent collectors arrive, they respond by beating, stoning and even killing them.

The landowner then sends his son, expecting a better response. But he’s killed, too. The tenants want that vineyard all for themselves, without any payment and without any conditions. 

In this parable, the landowner represents God, and the vineyard is the people of Israel. The tenants are the religious and political leaders who God expected would look after his people. And the harvest is the good and wholesome lives that God wanted them to cultivate.

The landowner’s son is Jesus, and the servants he sends to collect the produce are the prophets. 

We know from Scripture that the prophet Jeremiah was beaten (Jer.26:7-11; 38:1-28), Zechariah was stoned (2Chron.24:21) and John the Baptist was killed (Mt.14:1-12). So, by telling this story, Jesus is reminding the Jewish leaders of how they have failed to look after his people, and how they have consistently mistreated God’s messengers.

This parable gives us a good summary of Jesus’ life. He was sent by his Father to the people of Israel, to show them how to produce good fruit.  But as we know, the leaders of the time considered him a threat to their privilege and power, so they had him killed. These leaders were living the good life in God’s vineyard, and they refused to be held accountable for it.

This parable also reminds us of the story of Adam and Eve. God created the Garden of Eden and invited Adam and Eve to look after it for him, on one condition. But after being tempted by the serpent, they decided that it wasn’t enough to be caretakers. They wanted that garden all for themselves, without any limits. So, they turned their backs on God and thereafter suffered the consequences.

Now, isn’t all this really the story of our own world today?  God created our beautiful world; he designed it to produce lots of wonderful fruits for the benefit of all mankind.

None of us owns this world, however. It still belongs to God, although each of us has been given a piece of it to look after. But it’s not enough to simply keep our little patch tidy and weed-free. We actually need to produce something – something worthwhile and nourishing that benefits others and also pleases God.

Have we been doing that?

Collectively, we are the caretakers of his planet and God expects a harvest of good fruit from us all. But so many of us have let him down. Too many of us have plundered the earth’s resources and used God’s gifts for selfish purposes, giving nothing in return.  Too many of us produce little or no fruit.

Worse still, some people are actually producing bad fruit.  Consider all the cruelty, corruption, violence and pollution in our world today.    

In today’s parable, Jesus asks, ‘When the owner returns, what will he do to those tenants?’ Well, here’s the answer: ‘He’ll bring those wretches to a wretched end, and he’ll give the vineyard to someone who will produce good fruit.’

And what is that good fruit?  St Paul tells us.  It’s the fruits of the Spirit:  love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal.5:22-23a).  These are the fruits God expects from his people.

Ironically, these are precisely the things we want for ourselves. But we can never get them by rejecting God, for these things only come from God. We need the Holy Spirit to help us achieve them.

At the end of today’s Gospel, Jesus reminds us that he’s the keystone, the solution we’re looking for.  In John 15:5, Jesus says, ‘I am the vine and you are the branches.  If you remain in me and I in you, you’ll bear much fruit’. 

Jesus was planted in us at our baptism, and today God is calling us to cultivate this vine in our lives. We are meant to produce a rich harvest of good fruit. If you haven’t already, it’s time to start.

And if you need help, just ask Jesus.

Year A – 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time

On Five Sons

[Ezek.18:25-28; Phil.2:1-11; Mt.21:28-32]

It can be hard to motivate children, can’t it? We ask them to do something. We remind them, we bribe them, we kid and cajole them. Sometimes we succeed, but sometimes we don’t.

In Jesus’ Parable of the Two Sons, a father asks his two sons to go out and work in his vineyard. The first son says no, but later he has a change of heart and he starts working. The second son says yes, but in fact he does nothing. Does that sound familiar?

In this story, the father represents God, and the vineyard represents the people of Israel, our community of faith.

The first son represents sinners, like the tax collectors and prostitutes, who initially reject God but later change their minds and start doing his will. And the second son represents those who at first seem saintly, like the chief priests and the elders. They outwardly say yes to God, but really do nothing at all. They have other priorities.

In this parable, Jesus is warning us. He’s saying that those who reject our loving Father, but later repent and obey, will go to heaven. But those who give a meaningless yes to God will miss out, unless they change their ways. Our words mean nothing if our promises aren’t followed by action.

As Jesus says earlier in Matthew’s Gospel, “It’s not those who say to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ who will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the person who does the will of my father in heaven” (Mt.7:21).

Neither of these two sons is given to us as the model to follow, because the ideal person is the one who immediately says yes to the Father and carries out his wishes. That’s what Jesus did. As Paul says in our second reading, Jesus emptied himself and became obedient, even to the point of death on a Cross. And God was so pleased that he gave him a name above all other names. So, Jesus is the model for us all to follow.

The first son was late in doing his Father’s will, but he wasn’t too late. Over the years, that’s what many sinners have come to learn, and many even became saints. St Augustine is a good example, but there have been others.

St Paul literally terrorised Christians before meeting Jesus on the road to Damascus. St Matthew was a hated tax-collector before becoming a disciple.

And in England, St Philip Howard was a notorious womaniser and gambler. But when he heard St Edmund Campion eloquently defend the faith in the Tower of London, he was so impressed that he reconciled with his wife and he returned to the Church. [i]

Today, however, many people are much too distracted to ever hear our loving God calling them.

Consider Leo Tolstoy’s story of three women who went to the well for some water. Nearby, a wise old man watched and listened as the women talked about their sons. ‘My son,’ said the first woman, ‘is so skillful; he always does things better than the other children.’

‘My son,’ said the second woman, ‘sings so well, so beautifully, like a nightingale! No-one has such a beautiful voice as him.’

‘And you,’ they asked the third woman who was quiet. ‘Why don’t you say something about your son?’

‘Oh, he has nothing which I could praise, or tell about him,’ she replied. ‘My son is only a common boy, there’s nothing so special about him.’

The women filled their buckets with water and they headed home. The old man followed slowly behind. But the buckets were heavy, so the women stopped for a rest. Suddenly the three boys came towards them.

The first one turned cartwheels, and the women shouted: ‘What a skilled boy! Good job!’ The second one sang beautifully, like a nightingale, and the women listened with tears in their eyes.

The third boy went to his mother, took the buckets and went home. Then the women asked the old man: ‘What do you think about our sons?’

‘Where are your sons?’ asked the surprised old man. ‘I can see only one son!’

In this story, the wise old man is God himself. Unlike the others, he’s not distracted by the song and dance. The only boy he sees is the third one who carries his mother’s buckets. He’s the only person who accepts his call to humble service.

Right now, we’re all being asked the same question: are we doing the will of the Father? Is it Yes or No?

Deep in our hearts we know the answer. Fortunately, it’s not too late to change. But remember this:

Our ‘Yes’ is worthless if it’s not reflected in the way we live.


[i] https://www.osvnews.com/amp/2012/06/23/the-worst-sinners-who-became-saints/