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/

Year A – Pentecost Sunday

On the House of the Soul

(Acts 2:1-11; 1Cor.12:3b-7, 12-13; Jn.20:19-23)

Houses and homes often appear in Scripture. St Paul speaks of the temporary tents we occupy here on earth (2Cor.5:1), and Jesus says it’s a wise man who builds his house on rock (Mt.7:24). 

St Teresa of Avila also refers to houses or homes in her spiritual writings.  She describes the soul as an interior castle with many rooms, and she speaks of her own spiritual life ‘becoming solid like a house’. [i]

In her book The House of the Soul (1930), the English mystic Evelyn Underhill (1875-1941) continues this tradition.  She says that the soul lives in a two-storey house. [ii]

In this two-storey house, the ground floor represents our ordinary physical lives and day-to-day concerns, while the upper floor represents our spiritual selves.  Upstairs is where we’re invited to meet and spend time with God, and learn his deepest truths about ourselves.

But many people, Underhill says, only live downstairs and rarely or perhaps never visit their upper room.  They don’t see the extraordinary views from their upstairs windows, and they miss out on the great joys stored up there. 

And there are others, she says, who only live upstairs and refuse to go down below. They prefer to remain aloof, avoiding the practical and earthy side of human life.

But these two floors are connected; they work together and support each other.  The upper rooms are entirely supported by the lower ones, and the lower rooms are protected from the elements by those above.

The ideal, she says, is for every mature soul to occupy their entire house.  They’ll make the best use of both floors, by letting both the natural and the supernatural flow freely through their lives. 

The truth is, you really can’t live a complete life by ignoring one floor of the house of your soul.

In today’s first reading, the disciples are once again hiding in their Upper Room, the same place they locked themselves in after Jesus’ death. They don’t know what to do with themselves. They’ve all tasted the mystery of Jesus, but they don’t know how to integrate that remarkable experience into their ordinary lives. 

They’re stuck in the upper room of their souls and just don’t know how to live downstairs. 

Then suddenly, a noise like a mighty wind fills the house. 

Tongues of fire rest above each of the apostles, and they’re all filled with the Holy Spirit.  Instantly, their lives are transformed and they start living their lives with energy and purpose.

Outside, it’s festival season as thousands of people crowd the streets of Jerusalem for the Feast of Shavuot (known as Pentecost in Greek).  They’re celebrating both the end of the summer harvest, and God’s gift of the Torah to Moses on Mount Sinai.

This is the perfect time for the Apostles to start their new ministry.  Filled with the Holy Spirit, they go down into the streets and they boldly tell everyone about Jesus Christ.  Despite all the different languages, everyone in the crowd can understand them and 3,000 people become Christians that day. 

The Christian Church is off to a great start.  (This is why Pentecost is often called ‘the Church’s birthday’).

Jesus had promised his Apostles he would send them his Holy Spirit, and at Pentecost he does exactly that.  They’re all filled with the gifts of the Spirit. [iii]

In his book, Meeting God in the Upper Room, Peter Vaghi reminds us that the original Upper Room (the Cenacle) is the place where many significant things happened:  The Last Supper, the Washing of the Feet, the Institution of the Priesthood and the first Holy Eucharist.  It’s also the place where the Church was born and Jesus healed Thomas’ doubts.

It’s a real place, Vaghi says, but it’s also so much more than a historical location. That’s because inside each of us is our own ‘upper room’ where we experience the living presence of God.  Wherever we are, whenever we take the time to find and speak and listen to God, we can experience his life-giving, sacramental and transformative presence.

In 2014, Pope Francis said, ‘How much love and goodness has flowed from the Upper Room!  How much charity has gone forth from here, like a river from its source, beginning as a stream and then expanding and becoming a great torrent. All the saints drew from this source…’ [iv]

In the house of our soul, each of us needs to spend time in our own personal upper room, discovering Jesus and receiving his Holy Spirit.

It’s the place where extraordinary things begin.


[i] https://levaire.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Teresa_dAvila_The_Interior_Castle_of_the_Mansions_1515-1582.pdf

[ii] Evelyn Underhill, The House of the Soul.  Methuen & Co, London. 1933.  http://platonic-philosophy.org/files/Underhill%20-%20House%20of%20the%20Soul.pdf

[iii] Isaiah 11:2-3 lists seven gifts of the Spirit: wisdom, understanding, right judgement, courage, knowledge, reverence, and fear of the Lord (which really means wonder and awe).

[iv] Peter J Vaghi, Meeting God in the Upper Room. Servant, Franciscan Media, Cincinatti OH. 2017 (eBook).

Year A – Ascension Sunday

On Liminal Space

(Acts 1:1-11; Eph.1:17-23; Mt.28:16-20)

Last week I spoke about our comfort zones, where we often erect invisible barriers to stop ourselves from doing new things.  Why do we do that?  It’s usually because of fear.

But here’s the point: if we want to live life to the full, then we must be open to new things.   

When we step outside our comfort zones, what do we enter?  We go through a kind of doorway or threshold into something new. We step into a new beginning.

We enter into liminal space. 

Liminal space is an in-between place.  It occurs when we leave our comfort zones and we find a gap between what we’ve just left behind and where we’re heading. Dawn and dusk are both liminal spaces; they sit between night and day.  We know what’s behind us, but we don’t quite know what’s ahead. 

The word ‘liminal’ comes from the Latin ‘limen’, which means ‘threshold’ or a beginning place. [i]

When you’re off to a new school, or when you get married, move house, find a new job or retire, you’re entering into liminal space.  When you’re new to your parish, you’re in liminal space. You’re in-between because the future is unclear.

Liminal spaces involve waiting and being patient. This makes some people nervous.  They’d rather go back to where they used to be.  But liminal spaces are the places where we grow and develop and change.

Just before Jesus says goodbye to his disciples and ascends into heaven, he tells them to ‘Go and make disciples of all nations’ (Mt.28:19). 

This frightens them, for it’s unfamiliar territory.  It’s liminal space.  But Jesus tells them to wait, to be patient and to stay in Jerusalem (Lk.24:49).  They do wait, of course.  But they’re so scared that they lock themselves in the Upper Room (Jn.20:19).  Jesus knows this.  That’s why he promises to send his Holy Spirit to help them (Jn.14:16).

Now, Jesus’ Ascension into heaven marks a new beginning for him.  With his earthly mission over, he has a new ministry in heaven.  Because he is no longer confined by space and time, he becomes available to everyone, everywhere, all at once, including through the sacraments.

But for Jesus, liminal space is not an issue.  That’s because he’s united with the Holy Spirit in the Trinity.  So, he starts his new mission right away. 

For the disciples, Jesus’ Ascension is also a new beginning.  But they don’t know how to start.  They’re trapped in no-man’s land.  It’s only when they receive Jesus’ Holy Spirit at Pentecost that they receive the courage they need to go out and baptise all nations.

The Franciscan theologian Richard Rohr describes liminal space as the place ‘where we’re betwixt and between the familiar and the completely unknown … Our old world is left behind, but we’re not yet sure of the new existence’.

‘However,’ he says, ‘that’s a good space where genuine newness can begin … This is the sacred space where the old world is able to fall apart, and a bigger world is revealed’ to us.

He describes this threshold as ‘God’s waiting room’, where we’re taught openness and patience.  He says ‘these liminal spaces are everywhere and they’re inevitable, as each one ushers in a new chapter of our lives and holds varying degrees of disruption’. [ii]

So, what about you?  Are you facing a new beginning?  Are you caught in liminal space?  And does it scare you?

We can learn from Jesus’ disciples.  They waited, and the Holy Spirit came to release them from being ‘in-between’.  The Spirit gave them the power they needed to begin again.

According to Bishop Robert Barron, the Holy Spirit is the fuel of the Church. It’s the energy and the life-force of the body of Christ, and the only way to get that Holy Spirit is by asking for it.

Jesus promised that his Father would never refuse anyone who asks for the Holy Spirit (Lk.11:13).  ‘So ask!’ he says, ‘and ask again!’

Robert Barron also says that every liturgy is a begging for the Holy Spirit. He quotes Fr. Ted Hesburgh of Notre Dame University, who once said that the one prayer that’s always appropriate, whether you’re experiencing success or failure, whether you’re confident or afraid, whether you’re young or old, is, ‘Come, Holy Spirit’. 

‘This,’ he says, ‘is the fundamental prayer of the church’. [iii]

So, if you’re out of your comfort zone.  If you’re struggling in some liminal space somewhere – between what used to be and what isn’t here just yet – then ask the Holy Spirit for his help.  Pray ‘Come, Holy Spirit!’ 

Ask Our Father to send his Holy Spirit to help you. 

That’s how to begin again.


[i] Richard Rohr, ‘Yes, And …’ Franciscan Media, Cincinatti OH. 2013:175.

[ii] https://cac.org/liminal-space-2016-07-07/

[iii] http://anastpaul.tumblr.com/post/160981606340/romancatholicreflections-23rd-may-2017-daily

Year A – 6th Sunday of Easter

On Our Comfort Zones

(Acts 8:5-8, 14-17; 1Pet.3:15-18; Jn.14:15-21)

In 2018, scientists at Yale University found that when monkeys face a test with obvious results, parts of their brains basically shut down.  It was only when they faced the unpredictable, when they left their comfort zones, that their brains lit up and they started learning. [i] 

It’s the same with us. Inside our comfort zones, invisible barriers stop us from doing or learning anything new.  And our brains switch off.  It’s like being in a cocoon, a cage or a shell – we’re separated from the real world.  However:

If caterpillars don’t leave cocoons, butterflies cannot fly. 
If birds don’t leave their cages, they cannot taste the sky.
If crabs don’t leave their shells, they cannot grow; they die.

We’re not meant to be locked away.  We’re meant to live life to the full! 

Shonda Rhimes is the creator of the TV show Grey’s Anatomy.  In a 2015 interview about her autobiography, The Year of Yes, [ii] she said, ‘My sister said to me, “You never say yes to anything”.  By that she meant I never accepted any invitations… I never go anywhere.  I never do anything.  All I did was go to work and come home.  And she was right.  My life had gotten really small.

‘Once I realised that she was right,’ she said, ‘I was going to say yes to all the things that scared me, that made me nervous …  Anything that took me out of my comfort zone I was going to do it, if asked to do it.’ [iii]

That was quite a challenge.  But as Christians, the important thing isn’t saying ‘yes’ to just anything, but saying ‘yes’ to God – because the aim is to create a better world.

In 2005, at the start of his pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI said, ‘Christ did not promise an easy life. Those who desire comforts have dialled the wrong number.  Rather, he shows us the way to great things, to the good (and) towards an authentic human life’. [iv]

In other words, God is inviting us to achieve greatness, to live extraordinary lives, by stepping outside our comfort zones and helping Jesus with his work.

In John’s gospel today, Jesus is in the Upper Room in Jerusalem, talking to his disciples.  He knows they’re worried.  For three years he has led them and loved them.  They feel safe with him, but it’s time for Jesus to go, and it’s time for them to take up his mission.  This means they must leave their comfort zones, but they’re scared.  So, Jesus makes three promises: 

Firstly, he promises to send his Holy Spirit to be with them.  His Spirit will give his disciples all the strength and inspiration they need to continue his work. Of course, we are Jesus’ disciples today, so he’s speaking to us, too.

Secondly, Jesus promises, ‘I’ll not leave you orphans: I will come to you’. Here, he’s referring to his Resurrection, when he will return on Easter Sunday.  He’s also referring to the way that he is always present to us in the Holy Eucharist, offering us his strength and love and the promise of eternal life.

And thirdly, Jesus promises his disciples that if we keep his commandments, he and his Father will reveal themselves to us. 

What he means is that if we love Jesus and live the way he wants us to, then the Father, Son and Holy Spirit will make their home in us.  They’ll help us see things in new ways, and they’ll make their presence in our lives clear to us. 

Now, these are remarkable promises, but they mean we must be prepared to change, to live our lives in new and better ways.

Someone once said that life begins outside our comfort zone.  If that’s true, then living inside our comfort zone really isn’t living at all. 

In 2005, Pope Benedict XVI said: ‘If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed. Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation.

‘And so,’ he continued, ‘today I say to you, don’t be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything. When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ – and you will find true life. [v]

God created the birds, but he didn’t make the cages.  It’s people who make cages, and too many of us choose to live in them. 

It’s time to set ourselves free. 

Let’s accept this challenge, and live as Jesus wants us to.


[i] https://news.yale.edu/2018/07/19/arent-sure-brain-primed-learning

[ii] https://www.amazon.com/Year-Yes-Dance-Stand-Person/dp/1476777128

[iii] https://www.npr.org/2015/11/09/455340952/for-one-year-shonda-rhimes-said-yes-to-all-the-things-that-scared-her

[iv] http://www.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/speeches/2005/april/documents/hf_ben-xvi_spe_20050425_german-pilgrims.html

[v] http://www.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/homilies/2005/documents/hf_ben-xvi_hom_20050424_inizio-pontificato.html

Year A – 5th Sunday of Easter

On Wasted Time

[Acts 6:1-7; 1Pet.2:4-9; Jn.14:1-12]

If time is life, why do we waste so much of it? 

Many of us worry about wasting what little time we have.  We worry about being too idle or too disorganised, or spending too much time doing meaningless things.  What can we do about it?

Years ago, my father told me that if you want to avoid wasting time, then find yourself a good purpose.  A good purpose, he said, is like a compass – it gives direction to your life.  It gives you reason to get up each day, and it helps you set your priorities. 

I’ve since learnt that for our purpose to be meaningful, it should not focus on material things (such joys are always short-lived).  And importantly, our purpose shouldn’t be selfish; it’s not about our own pleasure. Good purpose is about pursuing something beyond ourselves, giving joy to others (Prov.19:21).

The BBC journalist, Malcolm Muggeridge (1903-90), lived a full and famous life, yet he called his autobiography ‘Chronicles of Wasted Time’.  Why?  It’s because he was slow to discover the true meaning and purpose of his life. [i]

He had long been an atheist, but his life changed when he met Mother Teresa in India in 1968.  He made a TV program about her, called Something Beautiful for God.  It was this program that introduced Mother Teresa to the world and made her famous.    Each morning he went to Mass with her and saw how she drew extraordinary strength and love from the Holy Eucharist.

Muggeridge and his wife Kitty joined the Church in 1982.   It was the most profound moment in his life, he said.  He felt ‘… a sense of homecoming, of picking up the threads of a lost life, of responding to a bell that has long been ringing, of finding a place at a table that has long been left vacant’. [ii]

Someone else who wasted too much of his life was Matthew Talbot (1856-1925).  Born into a family struggling with poverty and alcoholism, he soon became an alcoholic himself.  One night in 1884, he found himself totally penniless and unable to buy a drink.  He went home and promised his mother he’d ‘take the pledge’.  He never drank again.

‘I was terribly fond of drink,’ he said, ‘but God gave me the grace to give it up; it was a great struggle for me’. He returned to the Church and became very devout in the practice of his faith, spending long hours in prayer and study.

He also devoted his life to helping others, despite his own poverty.  

In his later years, he used whatever he had (even selling his own coat) to pay for church flowers, to help an elderly lady and to support the missions in Nigeria and China. He supported several convents, an orphanage and the preservation of holy shrines in Palestine.  His donations were typically anonymous. [iii]

Matt Talbot was ashamed of the years he had wasted, but his newfound purpose gave meaning and structure to his life, and great joy to others.

In John’s Gospel today, Jesus is at the Last Supper talking to his disciples.  It’s the night before he dies and his disciples are worried.  They know he’s leaving.  But Jesus says, ‘Don’t let your hearts be troubled … trust in me … I’m going on ahead to prepare a place for you in heaven’.

Here, Jesus is saying two things to us:  Firstly, we must stop wasting time on our selfish desires.  It’s time to trust Jesus and his plans for us.

Secondly, we must recognise that our earthly life is only temporary, for our real home is in heaven.  Deep down, we know that’s true, don’t we?  We know our time is limited, and that’s why we worry about wasting it.

And Jesus says something else we need to hear: that he’s the way, the truth and the life. 

He’s the way, because it’s through Jesus that God helps us discover meaning and purpose in our lives.

He’s the truth, because it’s through Jesus that God reveals himself to us. 

And he’s the life, because Jesus shows us how we should live.

If we’re serious about making the best use of our time, then we must find meaningful purpose for ourselves – good purpose that gives joy to others.  The challenge may seem daunting, but remember that Jesus will help us find it, and the Holy Spirit will help us achieve it.

So, what’s your good purpose in life?

Let me close with a short poem by GK Chesterton.  It’s called Evening:

‘Here ends another day,
during which I have had eyes, ears, hands
and a great world around me.
Tomorrow begins another day.
Why am I allowed two?’ [iv]


[i] https://archive.org/stream/MuggeridgeMalcolmChroniclesOfWastedTime/Muggeridge%2C+Malcolm+-+Chronicles+of+Wasted+Time_djvu.txt

[ii] Muggeridge, M. Confessions of a 20th-Century Pilgrim, San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988:13.

[iii] https://www.mostmercifuljesus.com/the-life-of-the-venerable-matt-talbot/

[iv] https://humanitas.org/?p=1804