Year A – 3rd Sunday of Easter

On the Walk to Emmaus

(Acts 2:14, 22-33; 1Pet.1:17-21; Lk.24:13-35)

We don’t always recognise Jesus when he’s with us, do we? Mary Magdalene is the first person to see Jesus after his resurrection, but she doesn’t recognise him.  She thinks he’s a gardener.

The two disciples in Luke’s Gospel today don’t recognise Jesus, either. One of them is Cleopas.  We’re not given the other person’s name, but tradition tells us that it’s Cleopas’ son, Simeon, who became the second bishop of Jerusalem.

These two disciples have left Jerusalem, and they’re walking to Emmaus, a small town about 11 kms away.  It’s perhaps a 3-hour walk in hilly country.

They are quite upset. They had hoped that Jesus was their Messiah, the great warrior who would save them from their miserable lives.  But now he’s dead and they’re totally confused.  They don’t know what to do with themselves.

As they trudge along, a mysterious stranger joins them.  He listens to them and asks them questions. But, like Mary Magdalene, they don’t recognise it’s Jesus.

Now, there are some important points to note about this well-loved story:

Firstly, it’s significant that the first people Jesus chooses to visit after his resurrection are ordinary.  They’re not the rich and powerful and famous.  They’re not even his own apostles.

Instead, Jesus chooses to see ordinary people like Mary Magdalene and these two disciples before anyone else. This is significant, because Jesus is telling us that ordinary people are his first priority. 

The second point concerns the way Jesus presents himself.  He doesn’t want us to think he’s high and mighty and remote.  Rather, he wants us to know that he’s always friendly and approachable, and even ordinary, like a gardener or a travelling pilgrim.  And he wants to meet us wherever we are, as we are.

And of course, none of these people recognise Jesus at first.  Isn’t that just like us?  How often do we fail to notice Jesus’ presence in our own lives? 

So how do these two disciples come to recognise Jesus? 

It’s by opening their hearts to him, listening to him, and sharing a meal with him.

Did you notice?  When they sit down to eat at Emmaus, Jesus repeats what he did at the Last Supper in Jerusalem (Lk.22:14-20).  He takes the bread, he blesses it, he breaks it, and then he gives it to them to eat.  And immediately their eyes are opened. 

This is exactly what the Church has been doing in the Holy Eucharist for the last 2,000 years.  First, we open ourselves up to receive Jesus. Then he speaks to our hearts in the Scriptures.   Then, in the person of the priest, he blesses and breaks the bread and he shares it with us.

If we want to find Jesus, then we, too, must open our hearts and actively listen and learn by participating in the Holy Eucharist.

Now, it’s important to note that when the disciples do discover Jesus, they don’t keep it secret.  They run back to Jerusalem to tell everyone else.  That’s exactly what Jesus wants us to do.  We are his disciples today; when we discover Jesus, we shouldn’t keep it secret.  He wants us to share the good news with others, so that they might find him, too.

And finally, by appearing as a stranger, Jesus is encouraging us to be welcoming to strangers, too.  For it’s through such people that we will discover him. 

In Benedictine spirituality, great emphasis is placed on welcoming the stranger.  Why?  It’s because the stranger may well be Jesus himself.  Remember what Jesus says in Matthew 25:35: ‘I was hungry and you gave me something to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink; I was a stranger and you invited me in’.

Dorothy Day once wrote: ‘A custom existed among the first generations of Christians, when faith was a bright fire that warmed more than those who kept it burning.  In every house then a room was kept ready for any stranger who might ask for shelter; it was even called “the stranger’s room”.  Not because these people thought they could trace something of someone they loved in the stranger who used it, not because the man or woman to whom they gave shelter reminded them of Christ, but because – plain and simple and stupendous fact – he or she was Christ’. [i]

The Emmaus story is rich with important messages for us.  How often does Jesus enter our lives but we really don’t notice?

This might be a good time to go for a quiet walk with him.


[i] Dorothy Day, Room for Christ. Houston Catholic Worker, December 1, 1995. https://cjd.org/1995/12/01/room-for-christ/

Year A – 2nd Sunday of Easter

On Doubting Thomas

(Acts.2:42-47; 1Pet.1:3-9; Jn.20:19-31)

In our Gospel this Sunday, Matthew gives us the story of ‘Doubting Thomas’.  It’s the story of St Thomas the Apostle who is away when Jesus visits his disciples after his Resurrection.  Thomas hears about this visit later on, but he refuses to believe that Jesus is alive until he actually sees Jesus and touches his wounds.

Now, was it a good thing for Thomas to have had these doubts?

Some people think that harbouring doubts is a weakness, but today I’d like to suggest that it can actually be a very good thing to be a Doubting Thomas.

Some people also think that doubt is the opposite of faith, but it’s not.  The American writer Anne Lamott says that certainty is the opposite of faith. [i]  ‘Certainty’, she says, ‘is missing the point entirely, (for) faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness and the discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns.  Faith,’ she says, ‘means reaching deeply within …’

What she’s saying is that when we’re certain about something, we tend to stop asking questions, and that prevents us from understanding more deeply.

So, doubt is an essential element of faith. The answers we get from our questions become anchors for our faith; they help make the faith our own.  If we don’t work through our doubts, if we don’t make the faith our own, then we just end up borrowing someone else’s beliefs. 

Many of the greatest saints lived with doubt.  St John of the Cross had his ‘Dark Night of the Soul’, which he knew was a necessary process for purifying the soul.  St Paul of the Cross, who founded the Passionists, also had a ‘dark night’ – it lasted for 45 years. 

St Therese of Lisieux had her doubts, too, including about the existence of eternity, but these questions only served to deepen her faith. [ii]

And when St Teresa of Calcutta’s letters were published in 2007, we all discovered that she’d been suffering terrible doubts and feelings of spiritual dryness for almost 50 years.  How do we explain that?

Well, they say you should be careful what you pray for, because you might just get it.  In 1951 Mother Teresa prayed hard that she might share in Jesus’ suffering on the Cross.  She said she wanted to drink from his chalice of pain.[iii] 

Why did she do that?  It’s because she loved Jesus.  She wanted to be totally united with him. 

Jesus must have answered her prayer, because her suffering was just like his agony in the Garden of Gethsemane; it was like his suffering on the Cross.

If we want to become more like Christ, then we need to be prepared to share his experience of doubt and pain.  We need to share his understanding that genuine love is inextricably bound up with sacrifice.

St Gregory of Nyssa said that God wounds the soul: The Son is this wound, and by this wound we are opened up. [iv]  And we need to be opened up, don’t we?

Our secular world demands that we think only in terms of scientific rationalism.  This makes us doubt anything that’s spiritual.  But God’s mind is so much bigger than the closed circle of human logic.  If we want to understand the truth, the beauty and the goodness of the divine, then we need to open up our minds.

St Paul wrote, ‘The one who remains on the human level does not understand the things of the Spirit.  They are foolishness for him and he does not understand because they require a spiritual experience’ (1Cor.2:14).

So, we must welcome our doubts.  Here, Mother Teresa is a great gift to us.  She teaches us that faith isn’t just a nice feeling.  Faith is a gift; it’s a grace that needs nurturing and growth, and this takes effort.

Despite her darkness and doubts, Mother Teresa kept going.  She lifted the lives of millions of people.  Jesus was clearly working through her; we know this, even though she didn’t always feel it herself.

According to Fr Benedict Groeschel, who was a good friend of Mother Teresa, her darkness lifted towards the end of her life. [v]  That was a great mercy.

Today is Divine Mercy Sunday.  Today we focus on the tender loving and merciful heart of our God.  Jesus wants a personal relationship with each of us.  Not just in our heads, but deep in our hearts.  Jesus is calling us to him. 

But remember it’s OK to struggle with doubts.  If you’re struggling with God, it’s a sure sign that you do have faith.

Remember this: If you never doubt, your faith will never grow. 


[i] Lamott, A. Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith, New York: Riverhead Books, 2006.

[ii] Martin, J. A Saint’s Dark Night, New York Times, 29/08/2007.

[iii] https://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=7955

[iv] Cameron, P.J., The Wounds of Jesus Play a Critical Role, Magnificat, April 2017.

[v] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dark_Night_of_the_Soul.

Year A – Easter Sunday

On Alleluia!

(Acts 10:34, 37-43; Col.3:1-4; Jn.20:1-9)

Happy Easter!  Sadly, we can’t come together to celebrate this wonderful day.  It really is the high point of our Christian calendar.  But why is Easter so important?

It’s because Christ is risen!  And this means that all God’s promises are true.

Before Jesus’ Resurrection, death always followed life.  It didn’t matter how rich or how powerful you were; death was always the end of the road.  But now, because of Jesus’ incredible sacrifice, we know that love is stronger than hate, and we know that death is as empty as Jesus’ tomb. 

Through his death and resurrection, and through our Baptism, Jesus has given each of us a share in his life and identity.  He has opened the gates of heaven, and he’s given us the graces we need to get there.  As Jesus says in John’s Gospel, ‘I came that they may have life, and have it to the full’ (Jn.10:10). 

So, how might we celebrate this special day?  One way is by singing Alleluia! 

Today, I have a song for you.  But first, what does Alleluia actually mean?  Pope Benedict says Alleluia is a word that really can’t be translated. He says it’s a way to express an overflowing joy that transcends all words.  It’s a jubilus,[i] he says, a cry of exaltation, a shout that shows our hearts are trying express what they cannot possibly say in words. [ii]

In Hebrew, the word is Hallel-ujah, which means Praise the Lord.  This expression is basically telling God that we’ve experienced something of him, and that experience was so good that we simply must cry Hallelujah! (Ps.34:8).

Leonard Cohen wrote a song with that name; it’s been hugely popular over the last fifty years.  The tune is captivating, and that word, hallelujah/alleluia, may be just what we need right now to celebrate the joy of Easter.

The original lyrics, however, really can’t be called Christian; they’re quite secular.  So, the wonderful poet Jo Fiore and I have penned some new lines that I hope connect this song more closely with the mystery and joy of Easter.

They came the hour before the dawn
With heavy hearts and so forlorn.
He’s risen, He is risen, Alleluia!

The angel bid them: ‘Do not fear,
The one you seek, He is not here.’
He’s risen, He is risen, Alleluia!

Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia

The others rushed to see the tomb.
They found a cold and empty room.
He’s risen, He is risen. Alleluia!

In time they came to understand  
And spread His word throughout the land.
He’s risen, He is risen, Alleluia!

Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!

He gives us hope for he’s always near,
Shows how to love and lose our fear.
He’s risen, He is risen, Alleluia!

He’s the truth we need from day to day,
The light that shines upon the way.
He’s risen, He is risen, Alleluia!

Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!

We come today to find the Lord.
We come to hear His holy word.
He’s risen, He is risen, Alleluia!

We come to praise His holy name,
With humble hearts we all proclaim:
He’s risen, He is risen, Alleluia!

Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluuuuuuia!

It’s catchy.  To help us sing along, Emma and Sam North have kindly recorded this song for us. 

To hear it, please listen in the player below or download here.

Year A 22. Alleluia He is risen

We can’t go to Mass to celebrate Easter this year, but we can surely sing Alleluia! 


[i] A jubilus is defined as an elaborate melisma on the final syllable of the word ‘Alleluia’ (and a melisma is itself the musical art of stretching a syllable over a run of notes, e.g. in Gregorian Chant). Since medieval times, this has been considered an expression of great joy.

[ii] Pope Benedict XVI, Dogma and Preaching, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 2011:299.

Year A – Palm Sunday

On the Silence of the Lamb

(Is.50:4-7; Phil.2:6-11; Mt.26:14-27:66)

During the Passion of Jesus Christ in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus is subjected to the most cruel and inhuman abuse.  He is falsely accused, insulted, scourged, beaten, mocked, robbed, spat upon and crucified. 

In response, any other victim would have screamed, kicked, cursed and argued, but Jesus remains silent (1Pet.2:23).  He doesn’t complain and he doesn’t even try to defend his innocence (Mt.26:63; 27:12-14).  Why?

Some think that silence in the face of adversity is weakness, but silence is actually more complex than that.  The acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton defines real quietness as presence – not an absence of sound but an absence of noise, for we take in the world through our ears. [i]

In Sanskrit, the word used is Mauna or Maunitva, which is not mere absence of sound.  It’s silence of the mind which is essential to the spiritual life. 

The Hindu sage, Ramana Maharshi (1879-1950), said that there are four kinds of silence: silence of speech, silence of the heart, silence of the ear and silence of the mind.  But only the last is pure silence and it’s the most important.

He said that from silence comes thought, from thought, the ego, and from ego, speech.  So, if speech is effective, how much more so must be its source? [ii]

During his public ministry, Jesus often invites his disciples to ‘come away’ with him to a quiet place (Mk.6:31; Mt.11:28).  He knows that it’s vital for his disciples to periodically rest, refresh and refocus themselves by spending some quiet time in prayer.  He also knows that being held in the loving embrace of his heavenly Father is both healing and strengthening. 

So, in his silence, Jesus isn’t being weak or even passive-aggressive.  He’s actually in communion with his Father, drawing on the strength he needs to understand and endure this terrible torture (Jn.10:30). 

At the same time, he’s also expressing his authority.  Caiaphas, Pilate and Herod are powerful men who expect answers, but Jesus says almost nothing to them.  They find Jesus’ silence unsettling, for it reveals his power over them.

Indeed, the few words Jesus actually does say only serve to affirm his divine authority.  He tells Caiaphas the high priest that he’s the Son of God who will be seated at the right hand of God (Mt.26:63-64). 

At his first appearance before Pilate, Jesus confirms what Pilate has said, that he’s the King of the Jews (Mt.27:11)   

At his second appearance, Jesus tells Pilate who’s truly in charge: ‘You’d have no authority over me if it were not given to you from above’ (Jn.19:11).

And when he’s cruelly nailed to the Cross, he whispers, ‘Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they’re doing’ (Lk.23:34).

In all this, however, Jesus knows he’s not just an innocent victim.  He’s also fulfilling ancient prophecy (Mt.26:52-54).  It was Isaiah who foretold of the suffering servant ‘despised and rejected by others’, who would be ‘wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities’ and led ‘like a lamb to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth’ (Is.53:3-7).

And of course, what follows is Jesus’ extraordinary and most glorious Resurrection.

Certainly, his accusers wouldn’t listen to him anyway, but it’s Jesus’ Resurrection that finally explains his silence. Jesus has unshakeable faith in his Father and, despite the unbearable pain, he knows that in the end he’ll be okay (Deut.31:6; Jn.3:16; Mt.28:20).

That’s the lesson Jesus wants us to learn – that if we have deep faith, we’ll be okay, too, despite our everyday challenges and troubles (Josh.1:9; Rom.8:38-39).

We live in a noisy world, full of technology that’s constantly demanding our attention. And even when there is a moment’s peace, we so often reach for our digital devices or we start talking.  We actively work to avoid silence.

Yet, in our hearts we know that’s wrong.  Pope Benedict XVI once observed: ‘We are no longer able to hear God – there are too many different frequencies filling our ears’. [iii]

Michael Casey, in his book Balaam’s Donkey, says that silence brings three benefits.  Firstly, it makes us more aware of our inward enslavements and addictions and it motivates us to free ourselves from their grasp.  Secondly, by giving us an opportunity to consider, it helps us choose the most life-giving path.  And thirdly, it stirs up in us the energy to go beyond our comfort zone and venture into new territories. 

Casey says we all need to recognise the value of silence, and to find more opportunities to be quiet and still. For silence is a source of empowerment; without it we are lost. [iv]

And St Teresa of Calcutta said we need to find God, but he cannot be found in noise and restlessness.  God is the friend of silence, she said.  ‘See how nature – trees, flowers, grass – grows in silence.  See the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence.  We need silence to be able to touch souls.’

Next Sunday is Easter – the climax of our Christian calendar. 

Let’s use this time to find some sweet and sacred silence in our lives.


[i] https://onbeing.org/programs/gordon-hempton-silence-and-the-presence-of-everything/

[ii] https://ihreiki.com/blog/what_is_silence_why_is_it_important/?v=6cc98ba2045f

[iii] http://www.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/homilies/2006/documents/hf_ben-xvi_hom_20060910_neue-messe-munich.html

[iv] Michael Casey, Balaam’s Donkey. Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota. 2019:384.