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.

Year A – 5th Sunday in Lent

On the Tank Man

(Ezek.37:12-14; Rom.8:8-11; Jn.11:1-45)

‘When you were younger,’ Jesus says to Peter, ‘you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you’re old … someone else will dress you and lead you where you don’t want to go’ (Jn.21:18).

I used to think these words were only for the apostle Peter, but now I know that Jesus is speaking to us all.  In our youth, we naively thought we could do whatever we wanted, but right now we know that’s really not true. The future is not our own – we’re in the hands of others.

Thomas Merton often criticised secularism and the secretive military-industrial complex that dominates society.  He once wrote that 90% of all news is a combination of pseudo-news, manufactured events and propaganda.  All this misinformation means that we live in a kind of pseudo-reality, a universal trance where people can’t see what’s really going on. [i]

He also wrote that there are powerful people in industry, politics and the media who are trying to grab our attention and harness our energies to suit themselves.  In the meantime, we’re left struggling, confused or angry and drifting away from the fundamental truth of our existence. [ii]

Merton penned these words long ago, but they’ve lost none of their relevance.  Whole nations today are struggling, confused and angry.  People cannot work, cannot congregate, and cannot even visit friends.  Why? Because a killer virus has reportedly escaped from a bioweapons research laboratory in Wuhan. [iii]

Whatever the truth of this story, it’s clear that things need to change. For too long politicians have played games with us; oligarchs have sought wealth and power rather than the common good; and media-practitioners have been manipulating too many minds.

Where will we put our faith when this pandemic is over?

Throughout history, a few notable people have had the courage, conviction and faith to take a stand against ignorance, injustice and repression. Churchill, Gandhi and Moses are good examples, but above all, so is Jesus Christ.

In 1989, the Tank Man blocked the path of a column of tanks in Tiananmen Square.  We don’t know his name, but it occurred the day after a student protest was brutally crushed.  The famous photo of him challenging such repressive might has become a powerful symbol of peaceful resistance. [iv]

What does all this mean for us?  Well, last week’s Gospel of Jesus healing the man born blind reminds us of the spiritual blindness pervading our world today.  It reminds us that when hearts are closed, suffering inevitably follows. The good news, however, is that Jesus has the power to heal both visual and spiritual blindness (Jn.9:1-41). 

In today’s Gospel, Lazarus is lying lifeless in his tomb when Jesus says, ‘Untie him, let him go free’.  Lazarus then emerges into the light, freed from death and released from his bindings to begin again. 

In a similar way, Jesus today is saying to you and me, ‘Leave your dark tomb; be free of your bondage and come into the light.  Don’t be afraid, but believe in me’.

Jesus uses the word ‘believe’ six times in today’s Gospel. He wants us to seriously believe in him, and to let go of all that binds us, especially those things that confuse and stifle our spirit and hold us back, including our fear, anxiety and anger, but also our selfish ways (Mk.8:35).

People secretly plotted against Jesus before his crucifixion, and it’s no different today.  Many still actively oppose all he stands for, and yet, it’s precisely the selfless love of Jesus Christ that the world needs right now.

The Coronavirus pandemic has exposed the emptiness of so much worldly ambition, and so we ask the obvious:  What do we really believe in? What will sustain our families and our society into the future? And what are we going to do about it?

Thomas Merton wrote this famous prayer:

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.
I don’t see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end, nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I’m following your will
doesn’t mean that I’m actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I’m doing.
I hope that I’ll never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road,
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always, though
I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.  Amen.

It’s time to recognise that our world is going nowhere without Jesus. 

Like Lazarus, and Jesus himself at Easter, it’s time to rise again to new life.

Like the Tank Man, it’s time to take a stand.


[i] Merton, T. Faith and Violence: Christian Teaching and Christian Practice. Notre Dame, IN: Indiana Univ. Press, 1968.

[ii] Merton, T. Confessions of a Guilty Bystander.  New York: Doubleday, 1966:84.

[iii] https://www.marketwatch.com/story/dont-buy-chinas-story-the-coronavirus-may-have-leaked-from-a-lab-2020-02-22

[iv] https://www.history.com/news/who-was-the-tank-man-of-tiananmen-square

Year A – 4th Sunday in Lent

On a Place Called Lost

(1Sam.16:1b,6-7,10-13a; Eph.5:8-14; Jn.9:1-41)

Our world has changed.  Only weeks ago, we worried about droughts, bushfires and climate change, but now something else has swamped our attention: the Coronavirus, Covid-19.

The world has responded in fear, anxiety and confusion.  Whole countries have been locked down, routines have been suspended, financial markets have collapsed, shops have been stripped bare and sports have been cancelled. 

For those whose faith had centred on money, sport, possessions or pleasure, this is a bewildering time.  And many who believed in the ameliorating power of science and politics now wonder what went wrong.

We’re in the realm of the unknown, and many people simply feel lost. 

In her book Survivor, Christina Crawford writes: ‘Lost is a place, too’.

The Canadian writer Ron Rolheiser says that this phrase contains a deep truth, because being alone, lost and struggling for meaning is a valid place to be.

If John of the Cross was your spiritual director, Rolheiser says, and you told him that you’re going through a dark patch in life, he’d likely say that you are where you should be right now: you’re in the desert, letting the merciless sun do its work; in a dark night, undergoing an alchemy of soul; in exile, lamenting on a foreign shore so that you can better understand your homeland; in the garden, sweating the blood that needs to be sweated to live out your commitments; in the upper room, unsure of yourself, waiting for pentecost before you can set out again with any confidence; undergoing positive disintegration, having your life ripped apart so that you can rearrange it in a more life-giving way.

Rolheiser describes being lost as a biblical, mystical and necessary place to be.  It’s a place where everyone before us, including Jesus, has spent some time, for the desert spares nobody.  Dark nights eventually find us all. 

Knowing this doesn’t make it any easier to accept, but naming being lost as a valid place to be is important for us, both personally and communally.  That’s because inside that place, our souls are being shaped in ways we cannot understand, but in ways that will stretch and widen them for a deeper love and happiness in the future. [i]

So, all this isn’t new. Indeed, feeling lost in the midst of a pandemic has been felt before.  The English mystic Julian of Norwich (1342-1416) caught the Black Death at the age of 30. 

One night, as she lay on what she thought was her deathbed, she had several visions which led her to contemplate God’s love through the Passion of Christ.  She recorded her experiences in her book Revelations of Divine Love.   

She describes seeing God holding something tiny in his hand, like a hazelnut.  It seemed so fragile and insignificant that she wondered why it didn’t crumble before her eyes. But she understood that it was the entire created universe, which is as nothing compared to its Creator.  She was told: ‘God made it, God loves it, and God keeps it’.

She wrote: ‘God did not say we will not be disturbed; he did not say we will not be troubled.  But he did say that all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.  For there is a force of love moving through the universe that holds us fast and will never let us go’. [ii]

The sad thing, though, is that so many people have no sense of this.  They have no sense of the spiritual, and no awareness of God and his infinite love.  Here, perhaps the story of Jesus healing the man born blind in today’s Gospel has something to say to us.

Firstly, Jesus says this man was born blind so that God’s work may be made visible through him.  In other words, his disability gives others an opportunity to channel God’s love into him, in the same way that today’s crisis invites us to reach out in unconditional love to others in need.

Secondly, in this story physical blindness is a metaphor for spiritual blindness. The Pharisees refuse to acknowledge Jesus’ miracles.  Instead, they question and intimidate the blind man and his parents, and they throw him out of the synagogue.  The point is that Jesus has the power to heal not only blindness of the eye, but also blindness of the heart.

That’s exactly what we need right now, for spirituality is always about how we see things.  It’s not about earning or achieving some kind of merit.  But not everyone sees things rightly.  Some people simply misunderstand what they see, while others make deliberate choices that distort their perception of the world. [iii]

Yes, we may feel lost in the face of Covid-19, but when we emerge after it’s over, may we see ourselves, and those around us, with newly refreshed eyes. 


[i] Ron Rolheiser, https://ronrolheiser.com/lost-is-a-place-too-2/#.XnH-b6gzZyw

[ii] Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love, https://www.ccel.org/ccel/j/julian/revelations/cache/revelations.pdf

[iii] Richard Rohr, Yes, And…, Franciscan Media, Cincinatti OH, 1997.

Year A – 3rd Sunday in Lent

On Dottie and the Invisibles

(Ex.17:3-7; Rom.5:1-2,5-8; Jn.4:5-42)

In Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Professor Dumbledore says, ‘I don’t need a cloak to become invisible’. [i]  He’s right!  Consider the story of the company CEO who sat for the final exam of his business strategy class.  He spent many hours preparing for it.

“The teacher handed out the exam,” he said. “It was on one piece of paper which surprised me, because I figured it would be longer than that.  Once everyone had their paper, the teacher said, ‘Go ahead and turn it over.’  Both sides were blank.”

The teacher then said, ‘I’ve taught you everything I can about business in the last ten weeks, but the most important message, the most important question is this:  What’s the name of the lady who cleans this building?’

‘It was the only test I ever failed,’ he said, ‘and I got the “B” I deserved.  Her name was Dottie, and I didn’t know Dottie.  I’d seen her, but I’d never taken the time to ask her name. I’ve tried to know every Dottie I’ve worked with ever since.’ [ii]

Ralph Ellison, in his book The Invisible Man (1952), writes: ‘I am an invisible man … I am a man of substance; of flesh and bone (but) I am invisible simply because people refuse to see me…’ [iii] 

Why won’t they see him?  It’s because he’s black.  They refuse to acknowledge his existence because of his colour.

There are lots of invisible people today.  People who, for various reasons, we don’t see or we simply won’t see.  The poor, the lost, the homeless, the elderly, the different – they’re all so easily ignored.  We turn our heads away. 

Do you sometimes feel invisible?

In his book I and Thou (1923), the philosopher Martin Buber says that there are two ways to relate to people. We can either see them as objects and things, or we can treat them as human beings worthy of respect. [iv]

In his memoirs, Buber explains how this idea came to him.  During WWI, he was a professor at a German university.  One day he was interrupted by a student who’d been called up to serve in the army.  The student was a pacifist and he asked Buber what he should do.  Should he serve his country and kill against his conscience, or should he say he’s a conscientious objector and let someone else be killed in his place?

Buber was busy and he became irritated.  He told the student to go away and make up his own mind. The student did go away, but he committed suicide.

Buber was horrified.  He suffered guilt for the rest of his life.  He had treated this young man as a thing, as an unwelcome interruption, rather than as someone special who God had created in his own image.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is at Jacob’s Well, in the Samaritan town of Sychar, 63 kilometres north of Jerusalem.  There he meets a woman.  According to the culture of the time, she’s invisible.  She would have been treated as an object because Jews hated Samaritans.  And the local women would have shunned her because of the scandal of her multiple husbands. 

So, she keeps her head down.  She goes to the well at the hottest time of the day, when no-one’s likely to be there.  But then Jesus arrives. 

Rabbis aren’t allowed to talk with women in public.  But Jesus won’t snub anyone, and this woman deserves love and respect.  He knows her past; he knows she’s unhappy, and he wants to help. 

So, he talks to her.  At first, it’s about water, but Jesus knows she needs more than that.  She’s lost, and she has been looking to men to satisfy her soul.  Her real thirst is for the spiritual refreshment of the Holy Spirit.  So, Jesus offers her the living water of his mercy and love.

This is the longest conversation Jesus has with anyone in the Gospels, and it transforms her life.  Initially, she dismissively refers to Jesus as a ‘Jew’.  But then she calls him ‘sir’, then ‘prophet’, then ‘messiah’, and finally the ‘Saviour of the world’.  Then she excitedly runs to tell everyone in her village.

This progression from hostility to respect, acceptance and awe, reflects the process of conversion for so many of us.

According to Eastern tradition, this woman is St Photina and she’s the first evangelist in John’s Gospel. She travelled far and wide, telling everyone that Jesus knew all about her, and that his living water gave her brand new life. [v]

This Lent, let’s go to the well, too, and ask Jesus for some of that living water

… and for the grace to never again treat anyone as invisible.


[i] In 1998, this book was released in the United States as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

[ii] https://www.tlnt.com/how-a-cleaning-lady-taught-me-a-management-lesson-i-never-forgot/

[iii] https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/ralph-ellisons-invisible-man-as-a-parable-of-our-time

[iv] https://www.brainpickings.org/2018/03/18/i-and-thou-martin-buber/

[v] https://www.seetheholyland.net/tag/church-of-st-photina/

Year A – 2nd Sunday in Lent

On Restoring Our Divinity

(Gen.12:1-4a; 2Tim.1:8b-10; Mt.17:1-9)

In last week’s Gospel, Jesus revealed his humanity by being tired, hungry and tempted in the desert.  Today we see another side of him, as God’s light shines through Jesus while he’s praying on Mount Tabor.  We see him as he truly is: The Son of God.

Together, these two stories show us that Jesus has two natures: he’s both human and divine. He’s true God and true man. We acknowledge this truth every time we say the Creed.  But what does this mean for us?

On the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome is Michelangelo’s painting of two hands reaching out to each other.  It depicts the moment when God created Adam in his own image and likeness (Gen.1:27).  But as we know, Adam tarnished that divine image at the Fall, when he and Eve chose to turn away from God in the Garden of Eden (Gen.3).  Mankind has been struggling with sin and suffering ever since.

God has not abandoned us, however.  He’s still determined to share his divine life with us. That’s why he sent his Son to live among us, and that’s why his Holy Spirit is still with us (Jn.3:16; Jn.14:16).  As St Athanasius put it, ‘God became human, so that humans might become like God’. [i]

So, there’s another way to read Michelangelo’s famous painting. It represents God the Father continually reaching out to Adam (and to us) as he tries to restore the divinity embedded in our all-too-human selves.  Through Jesus Christ, our heavenly Father is constantly trying to draw us back into his divine life (2Pet.1:3-4).

St Paul says that we are called to be imitators of God, as his beloved children (Eph.5:1).  We all came from God, and by the grace of baptism we have been formally received into God’s family as his adopted daughters and sons.  This means that we really are God’s children, for we have been deified and made holy. 

Now, this is important, because it means that this is where we begin our journey of faith.  We don’t have to do anything to make ourselves worthy, for we already are worthy.  God has already accepted us.

Our challenge as Christians, then, is simply to reflect our holiness, our inherent divinity, in our daily lives.  But how can we do this?  Today, I’d like to suggest three ways.

Firstly, there are as many approaches to holiness as there are saints.  But as Bishop Robert Barron points out, one particular approach is represented by the design of rose windows in medieval Gothic cathedrals.  These windows are symbols of the well-ordered soul.  

At the centre of every rose window is an image of Christ, and all around him in harmonious patterns are hundreds of medallions, each depicting a saint or a scene from scripture.

The message from these windows is that when your life is centred on Christ, all the energies, aspirations and powers of the soul fall into a beautiful and satisfying pattern.  And by implication, whenever something other than Christ, (such as money, sex, success or adulation) fills the centre, then the soul falls into disharmony (cf.Mt.6:33).

So, when we consciously acknowledge Jesus as the centre of our lives, something like wholeness or holiness will follow. [ii]

Another way to restore our divine dignity, our holiness, is through the Holy Eucharist.  We become what we consume.  In the Eucharist, just before the bread and wine are consecrated, the priest or deacon pours a little water into the wine and he quietly prays, ‘By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity’. 

The water symbolises our humanity and the wine symbolises God’s divinity. When the water and wine are combined, they transform each other.  They become inseparable.  In the same way, whenever we receive Communion, we receive Jesus’ Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity.  When we take him into ourselves, our human nature becomes mixed with his divine nature and another transformation takes place.

And finally, did you notice that Jesus’ transfiguration occurs while he’s praying?  He starts radiating the glory of God.  Something very similar happened to Moses when he prayed on Mt Sinai (Ex.34:29-35).  The point is that if we pray well, then we too can expect a profound transformation, both inside and out.

We can never actually become God, of course.  We can never be God’s ontological equal, for his essence will always be infinitely greater than anything we could ever aspire to.  But God does want us to become godly, taking on his values, his attitudes and his character. [iii]  He wants us to ‘partake of his divine nature’, as St Peter says (2Pet.1:4).

This process is known as divinisation or theosis, and far too many of us ignore it.  God is constantly calling us to share in his divine life. [iv]

He’s calling us to be better people.


[i] St Athanasius, On the Incarnation, 54, 3: p.25, 192B

[ii] Robert Barron, You’re Holier Than You Know. https://www.uscatholic.org/church/2008/07/youre-holier-you-know

[iii] Rick Warren, https://www.whatchristianswanttoknow.com/32-great-christian-quotes-about-holiness/

[iv] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1.

Year A – 1st Sunday in Lent

On a Trap for the Unwary

(Gen.2:7-9, 3:1-7; Rom.5:12-19; Matt.4:1-11)

Today, let’s begin with a story.  It’s about a wealthy man who had his own private zoo.  One day he heard about a rare and beautiful type of African gazelle, and he decided to get one.

When he arrived in Africa, they told him that these animals are much too fast and much too smart to be caught.  But he replied, ‘I’ll get one. You’ll see.  I’ll get as many as I want.’  And he did.  This is how he did it.

He found a herd of gazelles, and one night he poured some sweet feed onto the open ground and left.  It was a blend of oats and molasses.  Every night for two weeks he scattered that feed, and every day they came to eat.  In the third week he scattered more feed, but he also sank a long post into the ground some distance away. 

The next night he scattered more feed, and he erected another post.  Each night he did the same, gradually adding more posts, and boards, to build an enclosure.  But the gazelles kept coming.  They found their way in and they ate all they could.

They didn’t realise they were losing their freedom.  They didn’t notice he was building a trap.  On the last day, when they were all inside, he closed the gap in the fence and the gazelles were trapped. 

Someone asked how he knew all this, and he replied, ‘That’s how I treat people.  I give them what they want, and in return they give me their freedom’. [i]

In Hamlet, Shakespeare wrote, ‘the devil has the power to assume a pleasing shape’.[ii]  What he’s saying is that Satan is very good at making something evil appear good.  He seduces people until they’re trapped.

That’s how people become addicted to alcohol, drugs and gambling.  That’s how we get ensnared by the seven deadly sins. That’s how we fall into wasteful habits, like spending too much time on our Smartphones or watching TV. 

The first step is easy and it’s often very pleasant.  But an ounce of pleasure is sometimes followed by a ton of regret.  Adam and Eve learnt that.  When they ate that forbidden fruit, their momentary pleasure was followed by a lifetime of pain.

Have you been seduced into a way of life or a behaviour you now regret?  Do you feel trapped?  Well, this Lent we’ve all been given a second chance.

In Matthew’s Gospel today, Jesus is in the desert, preparing himself for his public ministry.  He’s praying, fasting and reflecting.  But he’s also tired and hungry.  

Satan thinks this is a great time to tempt him, for his defences are down.  So, he asks Jesus, why not turn those stones into bread?  That will fix your hunger.  But Jesus says no; there’s more to life than physical satisfaction.

Then Satan asks, why not prove yourself by throwing yourself off a tower?  But Jesus says no; he’s not motivated by power or pride.

And finally, the devil promises Jesus the world.  But again he refuses.  Jesus has no ambition for himself; he only came to love and to serve. 

Jesus won’t be distracted.  He has a big job to do, and he’s preparing himself for it. 

This Lent, we also have a job to do.  We all have to work on our hearts and minds so that we become closer to God than ever before.

The life of a Christian disciple is essentially a movement away from our flawed and inadequate selves, and towards the truth, beauty and fullness of Jesus Christ.

But what holds us back is our attachments.  Jesus tells us, ‘where your treasure is, there your heart will be also’ (Mt.6:21).  Our goal, as Christians, is to attach ourselves to the things of God, rather than the things of this world. 

This isn’t always easy to achieve, because our world works hard to seduce us into all sorts of things that are either not good for us (like the seven deadly sins) or that we simply don’t need (like the consumer culture).  Once we’re caught, it can be hard to escape.

Our challenge this Lent is to find a way to get closer to Jesus. 

So, choose one thing in your life that’s holding you back.  It might be a possession or an obsession.  It could be an unhelpful attitude or an unhealthy behaviour.  What is it?  Let it go!

And having let it go, use this opportunity to spend more time with Jesus: sitting quietly, praying, reflecting and listening to his quiet voice. He’s got something important to say to you.

Our world is full of bright and shiny things that draw us in but ultimately take us nowhere.  They’re traps!  Lent is the perfect time to open our eyes to them, and to let them go.  Lent is the perfect time to get closer to Jesus.

Might that be impossible?  No, nothing is impossible with God (Lk.1:37).


[i] Bausch, W. The Story Revealed, Twenty-Third Publications, New London CT, 2013:47-48.

[ii] W Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2.

Year A – 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time

On an Eye for an Eye

(Lev.19:1-2, 17-18; 1Cor.3:16-23; Mt.5:38-48)

Revenge, they say, is a dish best served cold.  It seems quite a popular dish, too, because revenge often appears in film and literature.  Hamlet, Star Wars, True Grit, Taken and The Count of Monte Cristo are all stories of people seeking justice for past wrongs.

We’ve all been hurt, at some point, by someone else, and it’s a natural thing to seek justice.  It can also be very satisfying to see wrong-doers get what they deserve.

But consider this. Towards the end of World War One, the British Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, told his chief peace negotiator, Admiral Wemyss, that the war must end at 2.30 pm on armistice day.  He wanted to be the one to tell the nation. 

Admiral Wemyss, however, thought it better to end the war at 11 am on the 11th day of the 11th month.  This time had a stronger and more poetic ring to it, and ending the war slightly earlier would save thousands of lives.  The French and the Germans agreed, and King George V made the announcement.

Lloyd George was furious; he’d lost his moment of glory. But he got his revenge: he cancelled Wemyss’ war pension that would have been worth over £5 million today. [i]

It seems natural to want to hurt those who hurt you. That’s what children do.  But stories like this reveal just how nasty and misguided revenge can be.

Some people try to justify revenge by quoting Moses’ rule of ‘an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth’ (Ex.21:24; Lev.24:20; Deut.19:21). This is called the Lex Talionis (law of retaliation), but its purpose wasn’t to encourage revenge.  It sought to ensure that people don’t overreact when they’re wronged.  So, if a man breaks your tooth, you can’t respond by breaking all his teeth (cf. Gen.4:23).   

Moses believed that the punishment should fit the crime, and this principle still applies in criminal law today.

But in 1963 Martin Luther King warned that this philosophy of an eye for an eye will leave everyone blind.[ii]  What he meant is that if everyone followed the tit-for-tat approach to justice, then the retaliation and the pain would never end.

Do you remember the famous feud between the MacDonalds and Campbells in 17th Century Scotland?  Dozens of people died.

Or the feud between the Hatfields and McCoys in Kentucky and West Virginia? This vendetta began in 1878 and many were killed or wounded.  It was only in 2003 that the two families signed a formal truce. [iii]

In today’s Gospel, Jesus warns his disciples not to retaliate when someone hurts them.  In fact, he says we must love our enemies.  Not just tolerate or vaguely accept them, but actually love them.

This sounds like a real challenge, but Bishop Robert Barron says that when you hate your enemy, you confirm him as your enemy.  But when you respond to his hatred with love, you take away the very energy that feeds his hatred.

He gives the example of aikido, one of the oriental martial arts.  The idea of aikido is to absorb your opponent’s aggressive energy by moving with it, continually frustrating him until he comes to realise that fighting is useless.

‘Some people’, Barron says, ‘have pointed out that there’s a great deal of this in Jesus’ strategy of nonviolence and love of the enemy. You creatively absorb your opponent’s aggression, channelling it back against him, to show him the futility of violence. So when someone insults you, send back a compliment instead of an insult.  When someone conspires against you, work to help him’.

Such responses are bold, but non-violent.  They rob the aggressor of their power, and they can break the cycle of revenge.  They can also help the victim gain control over the situation. [iv]

Jesus isn’t expecting us to accept abuse, but he does say that any response should be non-violent.  And it is important to always seek peace.  

Mahatma Gandhi once said, ‘I object to violence because when it appears to do good, that good is only temporary.  The evil it does is permanent’. 

And in 1957, Martin Luther King said, ‘Somebody must have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate and the chain of evil in the universe.  And you do that by love’. [v]

That’s what Jesus is trying to teach us.  That’s why he says we must love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Mt.5:44). 

And that’s why Jesus prayed for those who nailed him to the Cross, saying ‘Forgive them Father, for they don’t know what they’re doing’ (Lk.23:34).

How do you respond when someone hurts you?


[i] Jonny Taylor, Remembrance Address. Concordia, Merchant Taylors School, London, Winter 2018, p.14.

[ii] http://kingencyclopedia.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/quotes_contents.html

[iii] http://www.cbsnews.com/news/official-end-of-legendary-feud/

[iv] http://singtomary.blogspot.com/2018/02/todays-lenten-gospel-reflection-by.html

[v] http://kingencyclopedia.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/quotes_contents.html

Year A – 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time

On Scrapping the Old Testament

(Ecc.15:15-20; 1Cor.2:6-10; Mt.5:17-37)

In Roman times, a wealthy ship owner named Marcion (85-160AD) demanded that the Old Testament be scrapped. He said it was dangerous and unnecessary, and he insisted that the Scriptures should only focus on Jesus and love.

So he produced a Bible he liked.  He dropped the Old Testament, he discarded some of St Paul’s letters, and he shortened St Luke’s Gospel.  In this way, he tailored for himself a Christianity that was all about God’s goodness and love, but without any unsettling references to right and wrong, or hell or Judgment Day.  

Many people think like Marcion today.  They like Jesus’ words about love, but they really don’t want to hear anything else that God might have to say about their lives.

This is called cherry-picking.  But would Jesus approve? 

In today’s Gospel, Jesus says, ‘I’ve come not to abolish the Law or the Prophets, but to complete them’.  What does he mean by that?  He’s saying that the Old Testament is fundamental to his mission, and he’s come to finish the job.

There are three ways to understand the Old Testament. It’s a history book, it’s a collection of promises and it’s a set of laws. [i]

As a history, the Old Testament tells the story of God’s Creation and his action in the life Israel over 1000 years.  It’s the story of a family and a people, from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob down to Joseph who was enslaved in Egypt. 

It’s the story of Moses and the Exodus of the Jewish slaves from Egypt.  It’s the story of the Jewish kings, both good and bad, the forced exile of the Jews to Babylon, and their eventual return home.

Jesus’ mission is to complete this story. As the Son of God and as a descendant of King David, his job is to lead his people to eternal life in heaven.

So we can’t scrap the Old Testament.  It explains far too much about life.

The Old Testament is also a record of all the promises God made to Noah, Abraham, Moses and David, and the promises he made through the prophets. 

He has promised us a new heart (Ez.36:26), forgiveness (Ps.103:12; Mic.7:19), healing (Jer.30:17), peace (Is.26:3) and eternal life (Is.49:25).  And he promised to send us a saviour, his Son Jesus Christ (Is.53:1-12).  Someone once counted the number of God’s promises in the Bible, and found 3,573. [ii]  How will they be completed? 

Only through Jesus Christ.  So, again, we can’t scrap the Old Testament.

And finally, the Old Testament is about laws.  There are 613 of them in the Torah – the first five books of the Bible.  ‘Torah’ means ‘law’, ‘guidance’ or ‘instruction’. It contains the Law of Moses and it covers everything from ceremonial to civil and moral law (including our Ten Commandments).  There are 365 negative laws, and 248 positive laws.  Now, what’s their purpose?

Their purpose was to organise those unruly Jewish slaves after their Exodus from Egypt. God was annoyed when they worshipped a golden calf in the Sinai desert.  He wanted them to live as his people, so through Moses God gave them some laws to shape their lives.

By the time Jesus was born, however, many of these people (including the Scribes and Pharisees) had forgotten the purpose of these laws.  They only paid them lip-service; they were only interested in external appearances.

That’s why Matthew’s Gospel presents Jesus as the new Moses delivering the new divine law: The Beatitudes.  Jesus didn’t scrap the old law – he raised it to a higher level.  He said it’s not enough to be seen to do the right thing; we must be genuine about it.  We must use our hearts as well as our heads.

And Jesus gives us some examples.  He says it’s not enough to avoid murder.  Rather, we must convert our anger and our resentment into love.  And it’s not enough to merely avoid adultery.  Instead, we must avoid any impure and sinful thoughts.   And when we make any promises, we must be genuine about them.

So what happened to Marcion?  In 144 AD he was denounced as a heretic and excommunicated.

Jesus didn’t come to scrap the Old Testament.  He couldn’t, because it’s the very foundation of his work and it’s the source of our hope. 

The Old Testament, then, is a history book, and Jesus’ mission is to complete this story by leading us all to heaven. 

It’s also a collection of promises, and Jesus’ mission is to fulfil them all for us.

And it’s a set of laws, and Jesus’ mission is to complete the Law by teaching us all to use our hearts as well as our heads.

Here’s the point:  we really can’t understand the goodness and love of Jesus Christ if we ignore the very foundation of his mission – the Old Testament.


[i] Gumbel, N. The Jesus Lifestyle. London: Alpha International, 2010:40-41.

[ii] http://www.bibleinfo.com/en/questions/how-many-bible-promises-are-there