Year A – 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time

On Troubled Waters

(1Kgs.19:9a,11-13a; Rom.9:1-5; Mt.14:22-33)

Some people love the sea. It reminds them of sunshine, surf and swimming.  For others, the sea is the great unknown, filled with shipwrecks and sharks. 

In 1823 the English essayist William Hazlitt wrote, ‘I hate to be near the sea … to hear it roaring and raging like a wild beast in its den …’

The people of ancient Israel disliked the sea, too.  They thought it was full of danger and nasty surprises – calm one moment, but fierce the next.  They were sure that monstrous ghosts and whales lurked below.  

Scripture had taught them that on the second day of Creation, God established dry land by separating the seas (Gen.1:9).  They also knew that God had helped the Israelites escape Egypt by parting the Red Sea (Ex.14:21-31).  So they were convinced that only God can control the sea’s frightening power.

In Matthew’s Gospel today, after feeding the 5,000, Jesus tells his disciples to cross the Sea of Galilee while he goes into the hills to pray.

Now, the Sea of Galilee is a large inland lake surrounded by steep hills.  It’s usually calm, but violent storms do suddenly occur, especially when the cool mountain air meets the hot air above the lake.  One storm in 1992 produced waves 3m high.

It’s night-time when the disciples’ boat crosses that sea, and a wild windstorm whips up the waves.  They become terrified, especially when they notice someone walking towards them on the water.  ‘It must be a ghost!’ they cry.  But Jesus says, ‘It is I. Don’t be afraid’.

They’re astounded.  How can Jesus do that?  Only God can control the sea.

Jesus then invites Peter to join him.  Peter is mesmerised, and steps out of the boat, walking towards Jesus.  He’s not afraid; his faith sustains him.  But suddenly the wind distracts Peter and he looks away from Jesus. He panics and starts to sink.  ‘Lord, save me!’ he cries, and Jesus reaches out to grab him.  ‘Oh man of little faith,’ Jesus says, ‘why did you doubt?’ 

As Jesus steps into the boat, the storm disappears.

This story is a wonderful metaphor for our lives.  We do like peace and calm, don’t we? But we’re so often battered by unwelcome storms.

In one sense, that little boat represents the Church, the Barque of Peter, which has certainly been buffeted by turbulent headwinds in recent times. 

Jesus is inviting us all to stay calm, to remain with the Church and to keep our eyes firmly fixed on him.  He will guide us through this passing storm.

But that little boat also represents our own selves, as we try to cross the troubled seas of our individual lives.  Like the disciples, we often worry about the dangers around us and whether we can cope on our own. 

But we don’t have to cope on our own! Jesus is in control. He wants to help us.

Just as God’s spirit hovered over the waters at the time of Creation, so Jesus is hovering over our troubled world right now.  He’s inviting us to rise above the chaos and to walk with him.  He doesn’t promise that there’ll be no more storms, but he is offering to hold our hand to guide us through.

When times are tough, this is our choice:  Do we look inwardly in fear?  Or do we focus on Jesus and draw strength from him?

Peter, the disciple, could walk on water because his eyes were squarely fixed on Jesus.  But as soon as he looked away, he started to sink. It’s the same with us.

It’s not enough for us to say we have faith.  We actually need to live by our faith. 

The French Jesuit writer, Jean Pierre de Caussade (1675-1751), explains what this means in his book Abandonment to Divine Providence. To live by faith, he says, is to live joyfully, to live with assurance, untroubled by doubts and with complete confidence in all we have to do and suffer at each moment by the will of God.

So, we must trust Jesus.  But why must we suffer all these storms?

We must realize, de Caussade says, that in order to stimulate and sustain this faith, God allows the soul to be buffeted and swept away by the raging torrent of so much distress, so many troubles, so much embarrassment and weakness, and so many setbacks … [i]

In other words, if we never suffered stormy seas, we’d have no reason to find God.  We would simply rely on ourselves.

So, today, are you in calm seas or troubled waters?

Whatever your answer, always keep your eyes fixed on Jesus.

We surely need him.


[i] Jean-Pierre de Caussade Abandonment to Divine Providence, Cosimo Classics, New York, 2007:281-285.

Year A – 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time

On Two Drops of Oil

(Isa.55:1-3; Rom.8:35, 37-39; Mt.14:13-21)

In his bestselling book, The Alchemist, Paolo Coelho tells the story of a boy sent by his father to learn the secret of happiness.  He travels to a castle, high atop a mountain, to see the wisest man in the world.

The wise man is busy, however.  He says he doesn’t have the time to share the secret of happiness, but he encourages the boy to explore the palace and return in two hours. He then hands the boy a teaspoon holding two drops of oil, saying, ‘As you walk around, carry this spoon with you without spilling any oil.’

The boy wanders all around the palace, keeping his eyes fixed on the spoon. After two hours, he returns to the wise man.

‘Well,’ asks the wise man, ‘did you see the Persian tapestries or the garden? Did you notice the beautiful parchments in my library?’

The boy is embarrassed; he saw nothing. He was too busy minding the oil.

‘Then go back and observe the marvels of my world,’ says the wise man. ‘You cannot trust a man if you don’t know his house.’

The boy takes the spoon and again explores the palace, this time observing all the fine artworks and the beautiful gardens, mountains and flowers. Returning to the wise man, he explains all he has seen.

‘But where are the drops of oil?’ the wise man asks.

The boy looks down at the empty spoon.

‘Well, there’s only one piece of advice I can give you,’ says the wisest of wise men. ‘The secret of happiness is to see all the marvels of the world, and never to forget the drops of oil on the spoon.’ [i]

It was Pierre Teilhard de Chardin who famously said that we are spiritual beings having a human experience.  Coelho’s story reminds us that we often lose sight of our spiritual selves in the busyness of our daily lives.  We get so caught up in our worldly pursuits that we forget what really matters in life. 

In today’s Gospel, Jesus goes with his disciples to a quiet place to pray and to mourn the death of his cousin John the Baptist, however a huge crowd appears.  The disciples are annoyed, but Jesus responds with compassion.

Now, many people today are quick to dismiss the Feeding of the 5,000 as yet another nice thing Jesus did.  But it’s so much more than that.  

This is a miracle so filled with mystery and symbol that it appears six times in Scripture and it’s in all four Gospels.  It’s full of allusions to the Old Testament, and it points to the fulfilment of ancient prophecy (Is.25:6-8; 40:10-11).

This event presents Jesus as the new Moses (Ex.16:1-36) and as the Son of David who leads his flock to green pastures (Ps.23).  And like the prophet Elisha, he feeds his flock with only a few loaves, but has plenty left over (2Kgs.4:42-44).  

Now, it’s significant that Jesus begins with 7 items of food (5 loaves and 2 fish), because in Scripture the number 7 symbolises completion or perfection.  It also points to the 7 days of Creation and the fact that everything begins with God.

And it’s significant that the gestures and words Jesus uses are the same he uses at the Last Supper when he institutes the Eucharist: He ‘takes the bread… he blesses it… he breaks it and he gives it to them’ (Mt.26:26). 

Jesus instructs his 12 Apostles to distribute this food, and the 12 baskets left over indicate that there’s still plenty of his Eucharistic bread available for all 12 tribes of Israel. Indeed, through the Apostles and their successors, Jesus has been nourishing the world with the Bread of Life – his divine self – ever since.

Too many of us today live only on the surface of things. We rarely plumb the depths of who we are and we ignore the movement of God in our lives.  Not surprisingly, we struggle to recognise the fundamental truth, beauty and meaning of life.

The secret of happiness, the wisest of wise men says, is to see all the marvels of the world, without forgetting the two drops of oil on the spoon.

In other words, we need to start seeing beyond the superficial (1Sam.16:7), by maintaining a constant balance between our spiritual and human selves. We need to develop spiritual insight.

Spirituality is wisdom of the spirit; it provides a kind of sixth sense which helps us to intuitively see and appreciate the movement of God in our ordinary human lives. [ii]

How might we achieve that? 

By cultivating a life of prayer and meditation. 


[i] Paolo Coelho, The Alchemist. HarperOne, NY. 1998:30-32 (adapted). 

[ii] Dom Hubert van Zeller, And So to God, published on Universalis, 28 July 2020.

Year A – 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time

On the Clairvoyant’s Message

 [1Kgs.3:5, 7-12; Rom.8:28-30; Mt.13:44-52]

Is the grass really greener on the other side?  Many people wonder about that. Their lives might be relatively comfortable, but they feel restless and uncertain, and they worry that they might be missing out on something.

It’s called the Grass is Greener Syndrome, and it’s driven by our doubts and our fears that our job, relationship or situation isn’t quite good enough for us.

Consider the story of the farmer who owned a small farm.  His land was stony, but he worked hard, and for a while he was happy and contented.  But then he began to feel that something was missing.  There must be more to life, he thought.

One evening a stranger arrived and asked for a night’s stay.  The farmer welcomed him; he’d been hoping for some company and excitement.

Around the fire that night, the stranger talked about diamonds and said that if he could find a diamond the size of a small fingernail, he’d never have to work again.

The next day, the stranger left, leaving the farmer unhappy and restless. As the days passed, he became more and more restless and he started neglecting his farm.  Finally, he sold it off cheaply, and began searching the country for diamonds.  He travelled far but found none. 

Meanwhile, the man who bought his farm worked hard.  One day, while out ploughing, he discovered a stone that shone in the sunlight.  It turned out to be a diamond. There were many more there, and it became one of the richest diamond mines in South Africa. [i]

Like the Prodigal Son, this farmer had squandered all he had to seek greener pastures.  The irony is that if he’d kept working, he’d have discovered those diamonds for himself. 

Many people are like this today.  They might work hard, but they don’t have the wisdom to recognise the treasures they already have or what’s important in life.

In today’s first reading, God appears to young King Solomon in a dream and says, ‘Ask me what I should give you’. 

Now, Solomon can ask for anything he likes: fabulous wealth, a long life, or even great power, but he doesn’t.  What he asks for is a heart of wisdom.  He wants to be a good leader, for his people are his treasure.

God likes this answer and he gives him a heart that’s wiser than anyone else’s.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus shares his parable of the poor workman who accidentally discovers treasure buried in a field. The excited workman sells everything he has, buys the field and the treasure is all his.

Jesus also gives us his parable of the rich merchant who searches for and finds a rare pearl.  He, too, sells everything he has to possess it.

Now, what is this treasure?  What is this pearl?   It’s the kingdom of heaven.  Many people think that God’s kingdom is somewhere up there in the sky, but it’s not a geographical place.  It’s a state of the heart.  It’s the power of God’s love working in our hearts, transforming our lives for the better.

The message from these parables is that the greatest treasure of all isn’t diamonds, pearls or money.  It’s the love of God, and it’s available to everyone, rich and poor alike, and we don’t have to go anywhere special to find it.  We can find it wherever we are in our ordinary lives. The workman found it while working; the merchant found it after a long search. 

But like young King Solomon, we need hearts of wisdom to recognise it.

Sir Douglas Bader, the British WWII flying ace, used to meet his friend Henry Longhurst regularly for drinks and conversation.  One afternoon in the 1970s, as Henry was dying of cancer, he said to Bader, ‘Old friend, there’s something I’ve always wondered’.

‘What’s that, Henry?’ Bader replied.

‘I’ve always wondered: Will the grass be greener on the other side?’

Neither man was particularly religious, and they talked for a while longer, but came to no conclusion.  Henry died that week, and Bader forgot about that conversation.

Months later, Bader was in London for a speaking engagement.  As he emerged from his taxi, there on the street was a woman, looking like a beggar.  She approached, and as Bader put his hand to his pocket, she said, ‘I don’t want your money. Are you Sir Douglas Bader?’ He said he was.

She said, “I’m a clairvoyant. I have a message from a friend of yours in the spirit world named Henry. I don’t have his last name, and I don’t know what the message means.

“He said, ‘Tell Bader: The grass is greener on the other side’.” [ii]


[i] Flor McCarthy, New Sunday and Holy Day Liturgies – Year A. Dominican Publications, Dublin. 2019:268-269.

[ii] https://www.golfdigest.com/story/will-the-grass-be-greener-

Year A – 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time

On Weeds among the Wheat

[Wis.12:13, 16-19; Rom.8:26-27; Mt.13:24-43]

In Hans Christian Andersen’s tale, The Ugly Duckling, all the farm animals disliked one little duck. His mother wished he was miles away, and his siblings said, ‘Oh, how we wish the cat would catch you, you ugly thing.’ [i]

It was all a mistake, of course, because he was really a swan.  But isn’t this so common in life?  We often misunderstand; we often get things wrong. 

In 1963, in Fremantle WA, 19-year-old John Button was found guilty of murdering his girlfriend. Why? Because he had a bad stutter. The police interpreted this as nervous guilt, and Button served 5 years in prison before someone else confessed to the crime. [ii]

When we misinterpret people and situations, the results can be devastating.  They can also be far-reaching. 

As a student, Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948) liked reading the Gospels and he wondered if he’d found the answer to India’s caste system.  One day he decided to look into becoming a Christian.  He entered a church, but the usher refused to give him a seat.  He suggested that he worship with his own people instead.

Gandhi left the church and never returned. He said to himself, ‘If Christians also have caste differences, I might as well remain a Hindu’. [iii]

How do we avoid such mistakes?  Jesus talks about this today in his Parable of the Weeds.  It’s the story of a farmer who sows wheat across his field, but someone else has sown weeds there as well.  His workers ask if they should pull the weeds out.

Now, we’re all inclined to remove weeds as soon as possible, aren’t we? But this farmer says no. Why? It’s because the weeds in this story are called ‘darnel’ or ‘false wheat’.

Darnel was common in Israel. It’s a poisonous rye-grass that looks like wheat.  But as the plants grow together, the differences become clearer.  Wheat bends under its own weight while darnel keeps growing straight. By this time, however, their roots are so entangled that you can’t separate them without damaging the wheat. So, it’s better to leave them until harvest time.

This parable reminds us that whether we like it or not, we’re all living with weeds – with people and things we don’t like.  We can’t avoid it.  But we need to be patient, because we can’t always tell the difference between weeds and wheat. 

St John Vianney (1786-1859), the Curé of Ars, was a poor student in the seminary. He failed Theology, French and Latin, and, like a weed, he was told to leave. But that was a mistake, for he later received private tuition and he was ordained.  Now he’s the patron saint of all priests. 

His teachers should have been more patient with him, because what looked like a weed turned out to be very good wheat.

But this parable isn’t just about other people; it’s also about us.  We, too, have wheat and weeds mixed up inside ourselves. 

It’s significant that Jesus didn’t weed out Judas or Peter or any other disciple who disappointed him. He recognised their good qualities and he was patient with them. Thankfully, he’s also patient with us, because although we do have good qualities, we also have faults. 

In his book Weeds Among the Wheat, Thomas Green says that God leaves weeds inside us (our weaknesses), to keep us humble and to make us realise how much we need him and how helpless we are without his grace and power.  

‘The wheat of our virtues,’ he says, ‘including trust, humility and gratitude, could never come to full maturity without the weeds of our faults and failings.’ [iv] 

So, we must be patient with ourselves, and with others, just as God is patient with us. But there will be a harvest one day – at the end of our lives – and that’s when Jesus will separate the wheat from the weeds.

Here’s a final story.  Mulla Nasrudin decided to start a flower garden. He prepared the soil and he planted the seeds of many beautiful flowers.  But when they grew, his garden was filled not just with his flowers but also lots of dandelions.  He sought advice from gardeners near and far, and he tried everything to get rid of them, but to no avail.

Finally, he approached the royal gardener at the palace.  This wise old man had helped many gardeners before and he suggested several solutions, but Nasrudin had tried them all.  They sat together in silence for some time.

Then the gardener looked at Nasrudin and said, ‘Well then, I suggest you learn to live with dandelions.’ [v]


[i] Hans Christian Andersen, Hans Christian Andersen Tales, Word Cloud Classics, San Diego, 2014:161-169.

[ii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_miscarriage_of_justice_cases#Australia

[iii] http://ministry127.com/resources/illustration/he-was-turned-away-from-church

[iv] Thomas H Green, Weeds among the Wheat. Ave Maria Press, Notre Dame. 1984:145.

[v] Geoffrey Plant, Ascending the Mountain. John Garratt Publishing: Melbourne. 2010:160.

Year A – 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time

On Soils and Souls

(Is.55:10-11; Rom.8:18-23; Mt.13:1-23)

Max Lucado, the American pastor and writer, says he sometimes gives money away at the end of a sermon – not to pay people, but to make a point. He offers a small, but free gift of cash.  All anyone has to do is take it.

The response is predictable, he says.  There’s usually a pause, some shuffling of feet. A wife elbows her husband, and he shakes his head. A teen starts to stand and then remembers her reputation. A child starts walking down the aisle, but his mother pulls him back.  And finally, a brave (or impoverished) soul stands up and says, ‘I’ll take it!’ and the money is given.

‘Why didn’t you take my offer?’ he asks. Some say they were too embarrassed.  Others thought there might be a catch, or their wallets were already full. [i]

There are other reasons, too.  Like pride, because it takes some humility to accept a gift.  As well, a gift can imply the need for change, and some people just don’t like change.  And accepting a gift can mean opening up to the giver, and some people won’t open up to anyone.

So, there are two sides to gift-giving: there’s the giving and then there’s the receiving. Jesus talks about this today in his Parable of the Sower.

A farmer lavishly scatters his precious seeds wherever he goes.  Some seed falls on the pathway and is eaten by the birds.  Some falls on rocky ground and starts growing, but soon withers in the hot sun.  Some lands in the thorns, where it’s choked.  And some seed falls on rich soil, where it produces a great harvest of fruit.

Now, who is the sower?  It’s God himself, and the seed he’s sowing is his divine love.  He’s spreading it everywhere, all the time, through his creation and through the work of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.  It’s available to everyone, regardless of who we are.  And it’s not only free, but it’s also good and nourishing.

But it all depends on the soil.  And what is that soil?  It’s our hearts.  Are our hearts ready to accept this seed, this gift of God’s love?  Are our hearts deep and rich, like good soil?  Or are they hard and unyielding, like a roadway?

Are our hearts perhaps like rocky ground with shallow soil, where seeds struggle to put down roots?  Pope Francis says this rocky ground represents the person with a superficial heart, who receives Jesus and who wants to pray and love, but only when it suits him.  Such hearts will never bear fruit, he says.

Or are our hearts more like thorny ground, covered with brambles that choke the good plants?  Pope Francis says these brambles represent our worldly fixations, our desire for wealth and power. These things suffocate God’s growth in us.  We must get rid of these vices, he says, otherwise the seed of God’s love will never grow and blossom in us. [ii]

Now, note that no-one is forced to accept these divine seeds.  No-one has to accept God’s love. We’re all free to make our own choices. Love always respects freedom. [iii]

But God doesn’t give up.  As Isaiah says in today’s first reading, God’s word ultimately will be fruitful.  Like the rains that soften the earth and make it rich and fertile, so Jesus is constantly working in our lives, trying to break up the hard ground of our hearts.  He’s encouraging us to clear away the obstacles that choke our growth, preparing us for a rich harvest of love.  

Max Lucado says that after giving away his free cash, he makes the point that God’s grace is available to everyone, but only a few accept it.  Many people would rather sit and wait, and only a few choose to stand and trust.

That’s usually the end of it, he says, but on one occasion he later met a woman who had accepted his gift.

He asked her if she still had that money. ‘No,’ she replied.

‘Did you spend it?’

‘No, I gave it away,’ she said. ‘When I returned to my seat a youngster asked me if he could have it, and I said, sure, it was a gift to me; it’s a gift to you.’

Lucado thought that was wonderful.  As simply as she had received, she gave. As easily as it came, it went.

The boy didn’t beg, and she didn’t struggle. How could she, who had been given a gift, not give a gift in return?

Her heart was good, rich soil and already that small seed had produced fruit.

How would you describe the soil of your heart?


[i] Max Lucado, In the Grip of Grace, Word Publishing, 1996:109-110.

[ii] Pope Francis, Angelus Address: On the Parable of the Sower, St Peter’s Square, 16 July 2017 http://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/angelus/2017/documents/papa-francesco_angelus_20170716.html

[iii] Pope Benedict XVI, Angelus Address, Castel Gondolfo, 10 July 2011 http://www.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/angelus/2011/documents/hf_ben-xvi_ang_20110710.html

Year A – 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time

On a Higher Calling

(Zech.9:9-10; Rom.8:9, 11-13; Mt.11:25-30)

Have you heard the story of Ann Russell Miller?  She and her husband Richard were fabulously wealthy socialites who loved yachting in the Mediterranean, skiing in Austria and living in a mansion in San Francisco.

They were also devout Christians, and they vowed that when one of them died, the other would dedicate their life to God.  In 1984, Richard died of cancer and that left Ann with 10 children and 18 grandchildren.  But she kept her promise. 

In 1989, on her 60th birthday, she held a huge and lavish party for 800 friends in the Hilton Hotel ballroom.  She told them that the first two-thirds of her life had been devoted to the world, and the last third would be devoted to her soul.[i]

She also said to a friend, ‘I can do more for you by praying than any other way.’ She then gave everything away and joined a Carmelite monastery in Des Plaines, Illinois. 

Today she’s known as Sister Mary Joseph of the Trinity, and she lives a life of poverty, chastity and obedience behind cloister walls.  She wears a plain brown habit; she sleeps on a thin mattress on wooden planks and she eats simple vegetarian meals.  Her days are filled with prayer, making rosary beads and weeding the vegetable garden. Many thought she’d give up, but she hasn’t. [ii]

In a worldly sense, Ann Russell Miller had it all.  But there’s one thing she really craved, and that was her relationship with God.  To truly satisfy that craving, she knew she had to let everything else go.  

To those who live their lives for pleasure, power and material gain, what Ann did was radically counter-cultural. 

The prophet Zechariah, in our first reading today, also does something counter-cultural.  He prophesies that the people of Israel will get a new king.  But this won’t be a typical king, pursuing privilege and power.  Rather, he’ll be meek, humble and modest in his ways. 

We know who that is, of course.  It’s Jesus, and in Matthew’s Gospel today he tells us that God reveals the secrets of his divine kingdom not to the wealthy, or to the wise or important, but to those who live simply and with open hearts. 

St Francis de Sales (1567-1622) was a bit like Ann Russell Miller.  He was born into a noble family in France. His father wanted him to become a magistrate, so he studied law.  But he gave it all away to become a priest.  

He became Bishop of Geneva and a great writer. He established an order of nuns and he invented a sign language to help him teach a deaf person about Jesus.

But what makes St Francis truly remarkable is his emphasis on ordinary people.  At the time, the holy life wasn’t for lay people; it was only for priests and monks and nuns.  He changed all that by giving spiritual direction to ordinary citizens.  His most famous book, Introduction to the Devout Life, was written in 1608 specifically for lay people. [iii]

St Francis once wrote to a woman who was struggling with life.  He wrote: ‘Soon we shall be in eternity and then we’ll see how insignificant our worldly preoccupations were and how little it matters whether some things were done or not.  However, right now we rush about as if they were all-important.’  

‘When we were little children,’ he wrote, ‘we used to gather pieces of broken tile, little sticks and mud with which to build houses and other tiny buildings, and if someone knocked them over, how heartbroken we were!’

‘But now we understand that these things really didn’t amount to much.  One day it will be like this for us in heaven, when we shall see that some of the things we clung to on earth were only childish attachments.’

‘Do faithfully all you must do,’ he said, ‘but be aware that what matters most is your salvation and the fulfillment of that salvation through true devotion’. 

St Paul says something similar in today’s second reading.   He contrasts the worldly life with the life of the spirit, and says that if you live your life according to the world you will die.  

But if you live by the spirit, you will remain fully alive. 

Each of us has a higher calling (Jn.15:16; 2Pet.1:10-11), but something so often seems to get in the way.  There’s always something stopping us from getting closer to God. 

Ann Russell Miller knew that, and so did St Francis de Sales. That’s why they gave everything else away.

What do you need to let go?


[i] https://www.catholiceducation.org/en/faith-and-character/faith-and-character/from-high-society-to-a-higher-calling.html

[ii] https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1994-10-29-me-56060-story.html

[iii] https://www.catholicspiritualdirection.org/devoutlife.pdf

Year A – 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time

On Welcoming the Stranger

(2Kgs.4:8-11, 14-16; Rom.6:3-4, 8-11; Mt.10:37-42)

The way strangers are treated varies between cultures.  Some years ago in Alaska, our B&B hosts promised to collect us from the small-town airport. They didn’t, so we had to walk.  We arrived hot and thirsty, and asked if we could have a cup of tea.  The answer was no.

Compare that to our visit to India for a wedding.  We didn’t know the bride’s father, but he phoned us just as we entered our hotel, saying that he’d pay all our expenses while we were in town.  He even provided a car and driver! 

This Indian welcome taught me that that true hospitality isn’t just warm and generous; it also includes a delightful surprise.

People in Western society are generally friendly and polite towards strangers, but don’t go much beyond that.  In many other cultures, however, hospitality is a sacred duty and the host is obliged to offer the stranger food, shelter and safety.

Paul Coelho tells the story of two men crossing a desert.  They saw a Bedouin’s tent and asked him for shelter.  He didn’t know them, but welcomed them as nomads did in their culture: a camel was killed and its meat was served in a sumptuous dinner.

The next day, the guests stayed on and the Bedouin had another camel killed.  Astonished, they protested that they’d not finished eating the one killed the day before.  ‘It would be a disgrace to serve my guests old meat,’ he replied.

On the third day, the two strangers woke early and decided to resume their journey.  As the Bedouin wasn’t home, they gave his wife a hundred dinars and apologised for not waiting, but they wanted to avoid the hot sun.

After four hours’ travel, a voice called out to them.  It was the Bedouin.  As soon as he caught up with them, he threw the money to the ground. ‘I gave you such a warm welcome! Aren’t you ashamed of yourselves?’

Surprised, the strangers said the camels were surely worth far more than that, but they had little money.

‘I’m not talking about the amount,’ he said.  ‘The desert welcomes Bedouins wherever they go, and never asks anything in return. If we had to pay, how could we live?  Welcoming you to my tent is like paying back a fraction of what life has given us.’ [i]

Hospitality, then, is far more than just courtesy. Indeed, in ancient Israel, strangers were often seen as messengers of God’s blessing (Heb.13:2). 

In today’s first reading, the prophet Elisha arrives in Shuman and a lady warmly greets him.  She knows he’s a holy man, and invites him to stay whenever he’s in town.  Elisha is grateful and wants to do something in return.  When he learns that she and her husband have no sons, he prophesies that God will reward her by giving her a son.  His prophecy is fulfilled.

In Christianity, hospitality isn’t something you sometimes do.  It’s a way of life, because God can be found in everyone. That’s why Jesus says in today’s Gospel, ‘Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.’  In Matthew 25:40 he says something similar: ‘Whatever you do to the least of my brothers you do to me’. 

In other words, the way we treat the stranger is how we treat God. But is this how we live today? 

Flor McCarthy writes that winter was over, and everyone in the street rejoiced.  They drew back their curtains and opened their windows.  Fresh air, sunlight and warmth poured into their homes.  ‘Thank God for spring!  Thank God for the sunshine!’ they exclaimed.

Then a beggar man appeared.  Everyone saw him.  All down the street, the windows quickly closed, the curtains were drawn and the doors were locked.  The beggar man knocked on every door, but not one opened for him.

Forlornly, he left and went somewhere else. Then the curtains, the doors and the windows were all opened up again. The sunshine poured in, and again all the people rejoiced. [ii]

In Greek, hospitality is philoxenia (xenia means foreigner or stranger, and philo means love).  So, we’re all meant to love strangers. 

Years ago, people used to actively socialise at church dances, dinner parties, bridge nights and other such events.  This rarely happens today. We’re all so much more isolated than before. Sure, social media might be everywhere, but online communities aren’t real. 

We are actually a lonely people, and yet, we were made to love and our hearts crave meaningful relationships. 

True hospitality means recognising God’s presence in others, and nourishing that presence. 

When we are truly welcoming, the stranger is no longer a foreigner but a friend who’s always welcome.  Just like Elisha.

What shall we do about it?


[i] https://paulocoelhoblog.com/?s=hospitality

[ii] Flor McCarthy, New Sunday & Holy Day Liturgies Year A.  Dominican Publications, Dublin. 2019:241.

Year A – 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time

On a Little Chinese Girl

(Jer.20:10-13; Rom.5:12-15; Mt.10:26-33)

Archbishop Fulton Sheen (1895-1979) was a popular theologian on TV and radio. Shortly before his death, he was asked, ‘Bishop Sheen, you’ve inspired millions of people all over the world. Who inspired you?’

He replied that it wasn’t a Pope, a Bishop, or even a priest or a nun. It was a little Chinese girl, eleven years of age. He explained that when the Communists took over China in 1949, they imprisoned a priest in his own rectory near his church.

After they locked him up, the priest was horrified to look out his window and see the Communists enter the church and break into the tabernacle. In a hateful act, they threw the ciborium onto the floor and all the consecrated hosts spilled out. The priest knew exactly how many hosts there were: thirty-two.

When the Communists left, they seemed not to notice a small girl praying at the back of the church.  She saw it all.

That night the little girl returned to the church.  Slipping past the guard at the priest’s house, she entered the church and there she made a holy hour of prayer, an act of love to make up for that act of hatred.  Then she went into the sanctuary, knelt down, bent over and with her tongue she received Jesus in Holy Communion.  In those days, laypeople weren’t allowed to touch the sacred host with their hands.

She returned every night to pray for an hour and to receive Jesus in Holy Communion on her tongue.  On the thirty-second night, after consuming the last host, she accidentally made a noise and woke the sleeping guard. He caught her and beat her to death with the butt of his rifle.  The priest saw this heroic act of martyrdom from his window and was grief-stricken.

Archbishop Sheen said he was so inspired by this story that he promised God he’d make a holy hour of prayer before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament every day of his life.  He thought that if that little Chinese girl could risk her life every day to express her love for Jesus, then at the very least he should do the same.

If that little child could give witness to the world concerning the Real Presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, then he should do it, too.

From that moment on, he said, he would not be afraid to speak out about the love of Jesus. That little girl had showed him what true courage really is; how faith could overcome all fear, and how true love for Jesus in the Eucharist must transcend life itself. [i]

In every place, and in every age, the world needs authentic witnesses who will attest to the truth of Jesus Christ.

That’s what Jesus is talking about in Matthew’s Gospel today.  He’s preparing his twelve disciples for their mission and he warns them that some people will reject their message about God and his love. You’ll be scorned and threatened, he says, but you must speak out boldly anyway.

Matthew wrote his Gospel in about 85AD, a time when the early Church was heavily persecuted.  It seems that things haven’t much changed, because Christianity is still under pressure today.  Christians are the most persecuted religious group in the world.[ii]  Last year, over 260 million Christians in 70 countries were persecuted for their faith. 2,983 were killed, 3,711 were arrested and 9,488 Christian churches and buildings were damaged or destroyed. [iii]

In Australia and many other Western nations, we’re fortunate that opposition to Christianity isn’t quite so obvious, but it still exists.  We see it in our politics and in the media.  And it’s even in our families, where there’s often a subtle or even a not-so subtle rejection of our faith (Ps.68:7-9).  Jesus faced the same thing in his own family (Mt.13:57; Jn.7.5; Mk.3:21).

All through history, many remarkable people have had the courage to witness to their Christian faith.  Some were public figures like Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King and Archbishop Fulton Sheen himself. Others were ordinary citizens, like this little Chinese girl.  It’s because of them that we know about Jesus today. 

To live any kind of meaningful life requires courage.  But to live a Christian life today calls for a special kind of courage.  Three times in today’s Gospel, Jesus says ‘do not be afraid’. In fact, that phrase is repeated 366 times in the Bible. [iv]

Fear is something we all have to cope with.  It’s a barrier we all must overcome if we are to accomplish anything in life. 

And how might we do that?   By trusting God.  It’s not enough just to believe in God.  We must trust him, too.  We must really put our faith in him. 

Jesus tells us that God knows every detail of our lives, and he promises to protect us. Yes, others can be hurtful, but they cannot touch our souls (Mt.10:28).

So, have courage.  Trust in our loving God. 

And inspire others to do the same.


[i] https://www.americaneedsfatima.org/Conversions/the-little-girl-who-inspired-archbishop-fulton-sheen-s-vow.html

[ii] https://www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2018/29-june/news/world/christians-are-the-most-persecuted-religious-group-in-the-world-says-report

[iii] https://www.opendoorsusa.org/christian-persecution/

[iv] Flor McCarthy, New Sunday & Holy Day Liturgies, Year A. Dominican Publications, Dublin, 2019:234

Year A – Corpus Christi

On Baking Bread and Breaking Bread

(Deut.8:2-3, 14-16; 1Cor.10:16-17; Jn.6:51-58)

Home-baking has become very popular lately.  Lots of people are now baking wholesome loaves of golden goodness at home.

It’s a rewarding thing to do as our world descends into fear and uncertainty.  Breadmaking soothes the nerves and it engages all the senses.  It also only requires four basic ingredients: flour, water, salt and yeast. Indeed, few things in life are as comforting as a fine loaf of freshly baked bread.

This wholesome new trend reminds us that the simple things are often the most satisfying. The home baker can’t take all the credit, though, because the soil, sun and rain – and the farmer, miller and merchant – all contribute to each loaf. 

Bread, then, is so much more than just food. It’s the fruit of the earth and a gift from God, because none of this would be possible without him. [i]  Indeed, the Bible mentions bread almost 500 times.

In today’s first reading, Moses reminds the Israelites that man does not live on bread alone.  It’s God who fed them manna in the desert, and it’s God who provides for all their needs. [ii]

This manna satisfies physical hunger only briefly, and must be eaten again.  But the living bread Jesus offers in John’s Gospel today satisfies his disciples’ deepest desires forever.  ‘I’m the living bread come down from heaven,’ he says, ‘the bread that gives eternal life’.

Then he adds, ‘Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you’.  These words have startled some people, but Anthony Oelrich in his book Feeding on the Bread of Life says that Jesus is using them deliberately, to confront us with the dramatic absoluteness of his claim. [iii]

In the Hebrew culture ‘flesh and blood’ refers to the whole person.  So, Jesus is inviting his followers to unite themselves with him by taking into themselves all that he is and does and says.

Approaching Jesus in the Bread of Life, Oelrich says, means being ready to consume the whole of his teaching, life, passion and death.  It means a whole new way of living:  no longer living our own lives, but living the life of Christ in us, changing us and transforming us into his very self. 

And in describing the bread he offers as ‘my flesh for the life of the world’, Jesus is alluding to his death, in which he will sacrifice his human life so that we might share in his divine life.

In 2018, Pope Francis said that this bread of life, this sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ, is given to us freely at the table of the Eucharist.  Every time we take part in Holy Mass, he says, we anticipate heaven on earth, because from the Eucharistic food we learn what eternal life is. It’s to live for the Lord: ‘He who eats me will live because of me’ (Jn.6:57).

It’s not about material food, but about a living and life-giving bread which communicates the very life of God. By nourishing ourselves with this food, he says, we can enter into full harmony with the living Christ, who transforms us and prepares us for Heaven. [iv]

Now, every loaf of bread contains grains that have been harvested, gathered together and ground into flour.  St Paul in our second reading uses this image to symbolise our unity in Christ, in which even the smallest of grains play an important role.

But the Eucharist isn’t just where we celebrate our union with Christ. Henri Nouwen says that the Eucharist also creates this unity. By eating from the same bread and drinking from the same cup, we become the body of Christ present in the world.  And just as Christ becomes really present to us in the breaking of the bread, so we become really present to one another as brothers and sisters of Christ, members of the same body. [v]

However, this breaking of the bread is not just so that it may be shared. Jesus was ‘broken’ on the Cross before he could become our food. And while we do receive all his humanity and divinity in the Eucharistic bread, he actually comes to us broken and humbled.

We, who are broken and humbled by the challenges of our own lives, are nourished and strengthened through the brokenness of the Bread of Life.

Yes, bread is so much more than just food. The celebration of the Eucharist is at the heart of the life of the Church, and because we all share in the one Eucharistic bread, it’s the sign and the source of our unity.

But remember this: we can’t truly be united with Jesus without being united with each other. 

That’s because Christ’s body is the Church, and whatever I do to his body, his people, I do to him (Mt.25:40-45). [vi]


[i] This truth is beautifully reflected in our Offertory prayer at Mass: ‘Blessed are you, Lord of all creation, for through your goodness we have received the bread we offer you, fruit of the earth and work of human hands, it will become for us the bread of life’.

[ii] Dr Laurie Woods (Australian Catholic University) says the name ‘manna’ probably comes from the question in Hebrew, ‘What is it?’ (‘Manu’). It’s mentioned in Num.11:7 as being like coriander seed that the Israelites ground and baked into cakes. Because it seemed to fall with the dew at night and was gathered in the morning, they called it ‘bread from heaven’.

[iii] Anthony Oelrich, Feeding on the Bread of Life. Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN. 2014:68.

[iv] https://zenit.org/articles/angelus-address-on-jesus-christ-the-living-bread-come-down-from-heaven/

[v] Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey. Darton Longman & Todd, London, 1996:314.

[vi] Peter Kreeft, Ask Peter Kreeft. Sophia Institute Press, Manchester NH, 2019:94.

Year A – Trinity Sunday

On Rublev’s Trinity

(Ex.34:4-6, 8-9; 2Cor.13:11-13; Jn.3:16-18)

Today I’d like to explore the nature of the Holy Trinity through Rublev’s Trinity, the famous icon painted by the Russian monk Andrei Rublev in 1410.  It’s kept in the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. [i]

It depicts a scene from Genesis, in which three angels visit Abraham at the Oak of Mamre, to tell him about the birth of Isaac (Gen.18:1-8).  They’re sitting around Abraham’s table, enjoying his hospitality.

These visitors aren’t just angels, however.  They’re the three persons of the Trinity.  From left to right, they are God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.  They’re sitting in a balanced triangle, none more important than the other.  Each holds a staff pointing towards both heaven and earth, indicating their shared authority. Their wings and haloes indicate their holiness.

Now, notice their faces: they look like matching triplets. And notice their similar garments. Blue is the colour of heaven, while gold represents their royalty. 

Click image for a larger version

But each person is also wearing something different.  The Holy Spirit, on the right, has a green cloak.  Green is the colour of new life, and in the Nicene Creed we describe the Holy Spirit as the ‘Lord, the Giver of Life’.   

Jesus, in the centre, has a dark red robe.  This earthy colour points to his incarnation as an ordinary man, and it represents the blood of his crucifixion.

On the left, God the Father is wearing a translucent cloak.  This symbolises his eternal glory, but also the fact that we can’t see him in this life.

Abraham’s rectangular table represents our world of time and space.  But it’s also a communion table, like our altar, with a chalice on it.  Jesus is pointing to it with two fingers, representing his two natures – human and divine.  He’s also pointing to the Holy Spirit who fills Jesus’ disciples with love.

Now look at the way they’re sitting.  They’re all angled towards each other. Jesus and the Holy Spirit are both looking at the Father, while the Father looks back at them.  They’re peaceful, united and totally in love.

Behind Jesus is a tree which represents the Oak of Mamre, where this story takes place.  It reminds us of the Tree of Life in Revelation 22:2, which produces twelve different kinds of fruit and has leaves which are perfect for healing. 

It also points to the wood of the Cross on which Jesus died for us.

Behind the Father is a house, symbolising divine hospitality.  In John 14:2, Jesus says his Father’s house has many rooms which he will prepare for us when our time comes.

Now, look carefully.  The inner line of the body and legs of the Father and the Spirit forms the shape of a Eucharistic cup, and Jesus is inside it.

You can also see that the outline of their bodies makes a circle, which represents the Eucharistic host, the consecrated Body of Christ we receive at Holy Communion, which is God himself (Mt.26:26-28).  It also represents their holy communion, their perfect union as one Trinitarian God, united in love.   

But why does God take the form of three persons?  Richard Rohr says that for God to be good, God can be one.  For God to be loving, God has to be two because love is a relationship.  But for God to be supreme joy and happiness, God has to be three.  That’s because lovers do not know full happiness until they both delight in the same thing. [ii]

Put another way, the Father is the lover, the Son is the beloved, and the Holy Spirit is the fruit of that love.  And they want us to join them.  Look at the Holy Spirit’s hand.  He’s pointing to the space at the front, and inviting us to join their divine communion. 

At the front of the table, do you see that little rectangle?  There was once a mirror there, which served as an invitation to us to enter into this divine circle.  Whoever saw this icon could see themselves reflected in it. [iii]

In Byzantine art, the viewer always forms part of the icon, so there are at least four figures in this picture.  And we directly face Jesus, because he’s the only person of the Trinity we can really know in this life. 

Indeed, whenever we come forward for the Holy Eucharist, we’re received into the divine communion of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

In our increasingly fragmented world, where tension and conflict between people and nations are growing, it’s important to remember that we’ve all been created in God’s image.

God lives in loving communion, and right now he’s calling us to wholeness.

He’s inviting us to join his circle of perfect, selfless love. [iv]

How will you respond?


[i] I took this photo myself in 2018, when I visited the gallery in Moscow.  The icon is much larger than I expected.

[ii] Richard Rohr, Yes, And … Franciscan Media, Cincinatti OH. 2013:100.

[iii] Richard Rohr, The Divine Dance. Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, London.  2016:30-31.

[iv] For further insights, go to https://catholic-link.org/andrei-rublevs-icon-of-the-holy-trinity-explained/