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.


[ii] Evelyn Underhill, The House of the Soul.  Methuen & Co, London. 1933.

[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.



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.






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]


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



Year A – 4th Sunday of Easter

On Good Shepherds

(Acts 2:14a, 36-41; 1Pet.2:20b-25; Jn.10:1-10)

In his novella The Good Shepherd, Gunnar Gunnarsson tells the story of Benedikt, a simple man who risks his life to round up other people’s lost sheep in the highlands of Iceland. [i]

He does this every year, in the dead of winter, accompanied by his faithful dog Leo and his companion sheep, Gnarly.  Like a Holy Trinity, they venture out into the Icelandic wilderness, searching for sheep before it’s too late.  ‘They shouldn’t die of exposure or starve to death up in the mountains,’ he says, ‘solely because nobody could be bothered, or dared, to search them out and bring them to safety.’  Benedikt is a saintly man on a holy mission. 

Throughout history, many saints began life as shepherds.  Great biblical figures like Abraham, Abel, Moses and David were all shepherds.  So were St Patrick of Ireland, St Peter Chanel, St Bernadette of Lourdes, and Sts Francisco and Jacinta Marto of Fatima, among many others. [ii]

What is it, then, about shepherding that prepares a person for sainthood?  Is it the earthy humility?  Is it the time it allows for solitude and prayerful contemplation?  Or does the experience of guiding, protecting, nourishing and healing an ovine flock help form a person for pastoral service?

The pre-eminent shepherd, however, the one who sets the standard for us all to follow, is Jesus Christ himself.  In one of his seven ‘I am’ statements in John’s Gospel, Jesus clearly tells us, ‘I am the good shepherd’ (Jn.10:11). 

Why does he call himself that?  It’s because he risks his life for his sheep.

Jesus says there’s a big difference between a shepherd and a hired hand (Jn.10:12-13).  A hired hand doesn’t own his flock; he has other priorities.  When the wolf comes, he runs away leaving the flock untended and vulnerable.

The Good Shepherd, however, has no greater priority.  His flock is his life. He loves his sheep and he’ll never leave them for fear or temptation.  That’s why Jesus lays down his life on the Cross.  He simply cannot abandon his people. 

Jesus knows his flock intimately.  He knows our names and our needs.  He knows our words before we say them.  He knows every hair on our heads (Ps.139:1-24; Lk.12:7).  ‘My sheep hear my voice,’ he says, ‘I know them and they follow me’ (Jn.10:27). 

The mark of a good shepherd is that he will always tend to the whole flock, while caring for each sheep.  The more compassion he has for each individual, the healthier and happier the flock will be. 

But Jesus warns that there are thieves and brigands about who masquerade as shepherds, killing, stealing and enriching themselves at the expense of others (cf. Ezek.34). 

That’s why, as St Peter says in our second reading today, Jesus left an example for us all to follow.  He wants us all to serve as good shepherds over the people and things entrusted to us.  Whether at home, at school, at work or elsewhere, we’re all called to reflect the love of Christ by guiding, protecting, nourishing and healing those for whom we have responsibility.

Many good shepherds have followed Jesus’ example in recent times.  Sister Dorothy Stang, the ‘Angel of the Amazon’, spent years working with the indigenous tribes of Brazil, teaching them how to confront illegal loggers, ranchers and local authorities who threatened their rainforest and their families.  She was murdered in 2005, at the age of 73. [iii]

The Filipino journalist and veterinarian Gerardo Ortega worked hard to protect ancient tribal lands on the island of Palawan.  Through his radio program, he criticised the destructive practices of the mining companies.  In 2011, just before launching his Ten Million Signature campaign, he was assassinated. [iv]

And in 1977, the quietly-spoken pastor Oscar Romero was installed as Archbishop in El Salvador.  After witnessing the assassination of a close friend, he began challenging the brutality of the country’s regime. He fought for the rights of his people and he loudly condemned the government’s policies.  In 1980, he was shot while celebrating Mass.  Enormous crowds attended his funeral.

Like Jesus Christ, these saintly people were not hired hands seeking personal gain.  They were driven by love to serve as good shepherds of their people. 

Genuine love, freely and unconditionally given, invariably involves some form of sacrifice.  The deeper the love, the greater the sacrifice. That’s why Jesus says there’s no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (Jn.15:13).

So, we are all called to be good shepherds: kind, forgiving, compassionate and merciful, just like Jesus.

And today, on this World Day of Prayer for Vocations, we remember that many people still need the love and protection of a good shepherd.

Jesus has set the example.  Now it’s our turn. 

[i] Gunnar Gunnarsson, The Good Shepherd. Bjartur, Reykjavik, 2016.




Year A – 3rd Sunday of Easter

On the Walk to Emmaus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So how do these two disciples come to recognise Jesus? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[i] Dorothy Day, Room for Christ. Houston Catholic Worker, December 1, 1995.

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.


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


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.




[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.