Year B – 3rd Sunday of Easter

On Telling our Story

(Acts 3:13-15, 17-19; 1Jn.2:1-5; Lk.24:35-48)

Ever since the first cavemen sat around log fires, people have loved stories.

Stories are powerful. They help us understand who we are and where we come from. They help build strong families and communities. They can teach and inspire, and they can heal.

After the Rwandan genocide, many therapists went to Rwanda to help damaged and abused souls. They took with them many new techniques, but it was only old-fashioned storytelling that seemed to heal their wounds. As the Rwandan men and women sat together and told of their sons and daughters and the horrors they endured, healing and forgiveness took place. [i]

Why do stories resonate so deeply? It’s because we’re all made in God’s image. Our heavenly Father is the greatest storyteller of all. Our world is his story; we are his characters. And his Scriptures are filled with legendary tales about famous men and women and God’s remarkable love for us.

Jesus, the Word himself, is certainly a storyteller. He uses parables to reveal things ‘hidden since the creation of the world’ (Mt.13:35). And he clearly understands the power of story to convey profound suffering, love and wisdom.

Our reading from Luke’s Gospel today immediately follows Jesus’ walk to Emmaus. After the two disciples recognise Jesus in the breaking of the bread, they rush back to Jerusalem to tell everyone.

While they’re telling their story, Jesus enters the room and says ‘Peace be with you.’ They’re all stunned; he must be a ghost! But Jesus shows them his wounds, and he explains that his passion, death and resurrection were all part of God’s plan. Everything written about him in the Scriptures, he says, had to be fulfilled.

‘You’re my witnesses,’ Jesus says, ‘you must tell the world.’ We find the same message is in Isaiah 42:8-10 and Acts 1:8. Jesus wants his witnesses to spread the news.

Why? It’s because Jesus’ presence is always a blessing to be shared. The world needs him.

In Luke 12:49, Jesus says, ‘I have come to bring fire to the earth.’ That’s exactly what happens after his resurrection. Christianity spreads like wildfire because of the convincing testimony of his witnesses. His disciples had a story to tell and they told it, even when it was dangerous to do so.

Today, it’s our turn. If Jesus has touched our hearts and lives in some way, we have a responsibility to tell others (1Pet.3:15-16).

How, then, might we do this, especially in this challenging, secular age?

A good way to start is quietly. In subtle ways let others notice that we follow Jesus. Let them see our Christian symbols – the ones we wear and carry, and those we display in our homes. Let them witness us praying and going to Church. Let them know about our Christian values and our happiness because Jesus loves us.

Then, when the time is right, share your story. In your own way and in your own words, let others know about your journey to conversion. How did you discover Jesus? Did he help you through a tough time? Did he answer a prayer? Did you learn a valuable lesson? How does Jesus speak to you? And what difference does he make in your life?

Your story doesn’t have to be dramatic, like St Paul’s journey to Damascus. It might even be simple, like St Therese of Lisieux’s.

But we all have a story to tell. And after sharing your story, leave the results to God. He’ll take care of what follows. As St Teresa of Calcutta used to say, our duty is not to be successful; it’s only to be faithful.

Pope St Paul VI once wrote: ‘Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it’s because they are witnesses.’ [ii]

Today, we are Jesus’ witnesses, and each of us has a story to tell.

Let’s close with a story.

Centuries ago, a rich sultan in Baghdad gave a banquet in honour of his son’s birth. Every guest brought expensive gifts, except a young sage who came empty-handed. He explained to the sultan, ‘Today the young prince will receive many precious gifts, jewels and rare coins. My gift is different. From the time he’s old enough to listen until his manhood, I’ll come to the palace every day and tell him stories of our Arabian heroes. When he becomes our ruler, he’ll be just and honest.

The young sage kept his word. When the prince was at last made sultan, he became famous for his wisdom and honour.

To this day, an inscription on a scroll in Baghdad reads, ‘It was because of the seed sown by the stories.’ [iii]


[ii] Evangelii Nuntiandi n.41

[iii] William J Bausch, Touching the Heart. Twenty-Third Publications, New London CT. 2007:8.

Year B – 2nd Sunday of Easter

On a Drop in the Ocean

(Acts 4:32-35; 1Jn.5:1-6; Jn.20:19-31)

We often hear about God’s grace and mercy. But what do these two words – mercy and grace – actually mean?

In his book From Superficial to Significant, David Chadwick answers this question in a story about his son. He once asked the boy to do something, but he refused: ‘I won’t do it!’ Chadwick asked him again, but he still wouldn’t budge, so he sent him to his room.

Later, Chadwick went to talk with him. The boy looked up tearfully and begged not to be punished. He didn’t want to receive what he knew he deserved.

Chadwick’s heart was deeply moved by his son’s contrition. He didn’t punish him. Instead, he hugged him and asked if he knew what he’d done wrong. The boy nodded yes, and asked for forgiveness.

Seeing God's Grace and a Judge's Mercy in Real-Time – Ministry Village at  Olive

Chadwick forgave his son. That was mercy: he didn’t give him what he deserved.

But he also took his son out for ice cream. That was grace, because he gave him what he didn’t deserve. [i]

Max Lucado has a shorter explanation for mercy and grace. Mercy, he says, gave the Prodigal Son a second chance. But grace gave him a feast (Lk.15:11-32).

In John’s Gospel today, the fearful disciples are in the Upper Room, fully aware that only two days before they had betrayed and abandoned Jesus. Then Jesus enters the room saying, ‘Peace be with you’. They are stunned, so he says it again, ‘Peace be with you.’

There’s no blame or retribution; only mercy and love.

Then Jesus gives them a remarkable grace. He says, ‘As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.’ Instead of punishing his disciples, Jesus commissions them to share his merciful love with all the world. ‘Receive the Holy Spirit,’ he says. ‘Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.’

With these words, Jesus gives his disciples the power to forgive sins. He creates a way for everyone – everyone, including you and me – to leave our sins behind and start afresh.

Saint Faustina

In 1931, Jesus appeared to a humble nun, Sr Maria Faustina Kowalska, in Poland. He was concerned that too many people are unaware of God’s loving heart, and in several visits until her death in 1938, he revealed to her the secrets of his Divine Mercy.

Jesus said that he will pour out a whole ocean of graces upon those souls who approach him for mercy.

The soul that goes to Confession and receives Holy Communion, he said, will receive complete forgiveness of sins and punishment. And this mercy is available even to the greatest sinners.

Jesus also asked for an image to be painted of him wearing white with rays of red and white coming from his heart. And he said that that he wanted the Sunday after Easter to be celebrated as the Feast of his Divine Mercy. [ii]

Lent and Easter Icons: Divine Mercy Icon | Monastery Icons

In the year 2000, Pope St John Paul II canonised Sr Faustina and established this special feast day, which we celebrate today. On that day he said: ‘Today my joy is truly great in presenting the life and witness of Sr Faustina to the whole Church as a gift of God for our time. By divine providence, the life of this humble daughter of Poland was completely linked with the history of the twentieth century … In fact, it was between the First and Second World Wars that Christ entrusted his message of mercy to her.

‘Those who were witnesses and participants in the events of those years and the horrible sufferings they caused for millions of people will know well how necessary was this message of mercy,’ he said. [iii]

Mother Angelica, the Poor Clare nun who founded the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), had a good explanation for God’s divine mercy.

She loved going to the beach, and although she wore leg braces, she liked getting close to the surf. One day, on a beach in California, a large wave came in and wet her shoes. Then she heard a voice, saying: ‘Angelica, that drop represents all your sins, all your imperfections and all your frailties. Throw it in the ocean’.

Mother Angelica Inspirational Plaque Confirmation Gift | Etsy

She threw it back, and then she heard the Lord say: ‘The ocean is my mercy. If you looked for that drop, would you ever find it?’

‘No, Lord,’ she replied.

Mother Angelica often told people that their sins are like that drop in the ocean.

‘Every day, every minute of the day,’ she said, ‘throw your drop in the ocean of his mercy. Then, don’t worry, just try harder.’

[i] David Chadwick, From Superficial to Significant. Harvest House Publishers, Eugene Oregon, 2017. 



Year B – Easter Sunday

On the Life of Stardust

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

Christ is Risen! Hallelujah! This is our song of joy; the foundation of our faith. But how can we be sure that Jesus is risen?

Let’s start with history, and then we’ll look at the science.

It’s important to remember that the Gospels and Epistles aren’t myths. They’re actually historical and eyewitness accounts of Jesus’ life and resurrection (2Pet.1:16).

All four Gospels record that women were the first to witness Jesus’ empty tomb. This is significant, because in ancient times it was illegal for women to witness anything official. If the resurrection had been faked, women would never have been mentioned.

It’s also significant that Jesus’ linen wrappings were left in his tomb. If his body had been stolen, the bandages would have gone with him.

St Paul tells us that after his resurrection, Jesus appeared to over five hundred men and women on one occasion (1Cor.15:6), and over a period of forty days he appeared to many other people as well (Acts:1:3). We also know that Jesus’ resurrected body was touched at least three times (Mt.28:9; Jn.20:17, 27).

And Luke tells us that after walking to Emmaus, Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Look at my hands and my feet. It’s me! Touch me and see; a ghost doesn’t have flesh and bones like this’ (Lk. 24:39).

But what’s truly profound is the way the disciples’ behaviour changed. When Jesus was arrested, they were terrified and went into hiding. But after his resurrection, they changed completely. They came out of hiding and started preaching with incredible courage and passion.

Within 20 years Christianity grew explosively. It spread to Rome and eventually became the official religion of the Roman empire, despite constant persecution from both the Jewish and Roman leaders. [i]

The Empty Tomb Proclaims a Powerful Message - Congregation of the Mission

The philosopher and theologian Peter Kreeft was once asked: ‘If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, who started the resurrection myth and what profit did the liars get out of their lie?’

This was his answer: ‘I’ll tell you what they got out of it. They got mocked, hated, sneered and jeered at, exiled, deprived of property and reputation and rights, imprisoned, whipped, tortured, clubbed to a pulp, beheaded, crucified, boiled in oil, sawed in pieces, fed to lions and cut to ribbons by gladiators.’

‘If the miracle of the Resurrection didn’t happen,’ he said, ‘then an even more incredible miracle happened: twelve Jewish fishermen invented the world’s biggest lie for no reason at all, and died for it with joy, as did millions of others.’ [ii]

Now, let’s briefly consider the science of the resurrection.

In 2016, Jesus’ tomb inside the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem was opened for restoration. When scientists reached the ‘slab of anointing’, their Geiger counters went berserk and other technical instruments died.

They had been affected by very strong electromagnetic disturbances, which some scientists have connected to Jesus’ image on the Shroud of Turin. [iii] [iv]

And here’s one final insight: the Franciscan theologian Richard Rohr tells us that science is helping us understand that the mystery of the resurrection is the constant pattern of the universe. Things are always changing; nothing stays the same for ever.

Did you know that there’s the same number of atoms in the universe today that there were five seconds after the Big Bang happened some 13.8 billion years ago? Rohr says that these atoms just ‘keep playing musical chairs and by all evidence — at ever higher levels of complexity and consciousness’. For example, 98% of our bodies’ atoms are replaced every year, and geologists know that no landscape is permanent.

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‘It’s not poetry to say we were all once stardust,’ Rohr says, ‘and what we are yet to be is the good surprise, the gift and pure grace of God.’

But, he says, God couldn’t wait for modern science to teach us that resurrection is a fact of life. People just needed to believe that Jesus ‘was raised from the dead’ so that the hope and possibility of resurrection could be planted in us.

His point is that Jesus’ life, death and resurrection reflect the whole pattern of creation. Jesus is the microcosm for the entire cosmos; the map for our journey.

Jesus’ resurrection wasn’t a one-off event. It’s happening inside us and outside us, all the time. God’s creation is constantly being made and re-made, whether we notice it or not.

Rohr says that anyone who holds any kind of unexplainable hope believes in resurrection, whether they are Christians or not. And the material resurrection of Jesus affirms what the whole physical and biological universe is saying to us: that everything is always changing.

Resurrection Of Jesus Stock Photos And Images - 123RF

‘The resurrection, therefore, is more than a mere spiritual belief. It must also be a material belief.’

So, let’s remember: Easter isn’t just one day. Easter is happening every day and everywhere! [v]



[ii] Peter Kreeft. ‘Miracles’, in Fundamentals of the Faith. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1988: 68.

[iii] Homiletic and Pastoral Review,



Year B – Good Friday

On the Passer-By

[Is. 52:13-53:12; Heb.4:14-16, 5:7-9; Jn.18:1-19:42]

In their telling of the Passion of Our Lord, the four evangelists mention several people. One of them represents you and me.

He’s simply a passer-by, feeling hot and tired after walking into Jerusalem from the country. His sons Rufus and Alexander are with him, and he’s looking forward to celebrating Passover.

He notices many people about. Some seem happy, but others are crying. And there are Roman soldiers, looking irritated. ‘What’s happening?’ he wonders.

Then a soldier grabs him by the shoulder, and at spear-point forces him to help a bleeding man lift his heavy cross. This doesn’t look good.

The passer-by protests: ‘this has nothing to do with me!’ He doesn’t want to carry an instrument of torture; that’s humiliating. And he doesn’t want to touch that man’s blood. It will make him ritually unclean and shut him out of Passover.

But he has no choice. Resentfully, he steps forward to help this poor, weak man. For just a moment, though, they look at each other, and the passer-by senses this man’s innocence.

Simon of Cyrene then reaches down to lift that heavy load, and starts following Jesus of Nazareth. And as he does so, his life changes. Completely.

At first, Simon had thought that this was all just bad luck . But later, he understood that hidden inside that unwanted burden was the secret of his own salvation.

In his book The Passion and the Cross, Ron Rolheiser says that Simon of Cyrene was not central to the drama or the meaning of Jesus’ passion and death. He was actually an unimportant figure standing at the edge of things, when he was forced to play an unglamorous and self-effacing role. He had to sacrifice his own plans and he wasn’t happy about that. Yet this unplanned and humble service became the most important thing he ever did. It was his signature piece. It gave him a place in history far beyond that of millions of people who were once considered important in the drama of life.

Thousands of years from now, Simon of Cyrene’s name will be remembered, and for the right reason: he helped carry the Cross of Jesus. [i]

Jesus had hoped that his disciples, his closest friends, would be there for him. But they all failed him.

It was actually a stranger who helped him when he needed it most. That stranger was the answer to Jesus’ prayer there in the Garden of Gethsemane, when he begged his Father for help.

Sometimes the person who helps us most is just a passer-by.

Today, we live in a society that’s constantly urging us to take control of our lives, to do whatever we want. But we know that’s often impossible. We so often find ourselves doing things we never planned or wanted to do.

Just like Simon of Cyrene.

Perhaps it’s cleaning up someone else’s mess, or caring for an aging parent or disabled child, or having to find a new job, or facing an unexpected illness. We all have to bear such crosses.

But here’s the question: how do we respond?

Do we patiently accept these trials, and pray for help? Do we understand that such challenges help us grow in faith, love and maturity? And do we recognise that death on every holy cross is followed by resurrection and new life?

Or do we simply resent the inconvenience, and fight it all the way?

God loves us all, just as we are. But he loves us far too much to let us stay the same. He’s encouraging us to become better people.

Today, on Good Friday, we are reminded that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. We must learn from him.

No-one is meant to suffer alone. No-one should have to carry their cross without help from someone else. And sometimes, like Simon of Cyrene, God calls on us to do the helping.

Yes, Jesus does ask us to pick up our cross and follow him. But Simon is the only man in history who actually carried Jesus’ Cross.

According to Church tradition, he and his sons became prominent Christian leaders. They may be the ‘men of Cyrene’ who preached the Gospel to the Greeks, as recorded in Acts 11:20. And St Paul praises Simon’s son Rufus and his mother in Romans 16:13.

Sometimes our crosses seem so random; so unnecessary. But as Simon discovered, the Cross of Christ wasn’t random at all.

The cross is always a divine gift; an invitation to change our lives.

And hidden inside every cross is the secret of our salvation.

[i] Ron Rolheiser, The Passion and the Cross. Franciscan Media, Cincinnati, OH. 2015:68-69.

Year B – Palm Sunday

On Wings of Love

[Is.50:4-7; Phil.2:6-11; Mk.14:1–15:47]

Halfway down the Mount of Olives, overlooking Jerusalem, is a little church called Dominus Flevit (‘The Lord Wept’). It’s shaped like a teardrop, and it marks the place where Jesus stopped and wept on Palm Sunday, on his way into Jerusalem (Lk.19:41).

In front of the altar there’s a circular mosaic of a mother hen gathering her chicks under her wings. And around it in Latin are Jesus’ words from Luke’s Gospel: ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!’ (Lk.13:34).

These words, ‘you were not willing’, are set in a pool of red below the chicks.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus enters Jerusalem, acutely aware of its history of rejecting God’s messengers. He knows that soon it will be his turn, but he’s not angry; he’s just profoundly sad. He wants to gather his people and protect them, like a hen protects its chicks.

Yet they ‘are not willing’.

Just for a moment, though, it does looks promising as Jesus rides into the city on a donkey and the people welcome him as a great hero. They wave their palms about and they cheer him on, and the air is filled with joy.

But soon afterwards, the very same people turn on Jesus. They are so fickle.

Jesus is spat upon, beaten, whipped and mocked. He’s hit on the head and given a crown of thorns. He’s forced to carry that awful Cross. His clothes are stolen. Huge nails pierce his hands and feet. He’s given vinegar to drink. He’s left for dead and, just to make sure, he is speared.

Why does Jesus suffer like this? It’s because the people don’t want to change. They don’t want to hear his message of love. They don’t want to learn about peace, healing or forgiveness.

They don’t want to gather under his protective wings.

They would rather live shallow, worldly lives. So, Jesus is crucified.

Today, Jesus’ mission hasn’t changed. He’s still trying to teach us about love.  He’s still trying to teach us about peace, healing and forgiveness. He’s still trying to gather us under his protective wings.

But so many of us refuse to change. We much prefer to live worldly lives.

That’s why Jesus is still being mocked, beaten and crucified today.

Recently, I read about a farmer inspecting his property after a bushfire. As he searched through the rubble, he found a dead hen, with her wings outstretched. Her feathers had been scorched by smoke and flames.

When he removed her body, four little chicks came out from underneath, chirping and cheeping.

That hen had sacrificed herself, protecting her children.

That’s what Jesus did for us on the Cross. As the psalmist promised, ‘He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge’ (Ps.91:4).

Jesus still wants to protect us from the dangers of this world. He still wants to teach us how to live and love.

But are we willing?

‘Flevit super illam’ (1892) by Enrique Simonet (Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid). It shows Jesus mourning on the Mount of Olives as he approaches Jerusalem. The title means ‘He wept over it’.

Year B – 5th Sunday of Lent

On the Paschal Mystery

[Jer.31:31-34; Heb.5:7-9; Jn.12:20-33]

In 1963, when he was only 21, Stephen Hawking learnt that he had Lou Gehrig’s disease. The nerves controlling his muscles were dying and his doctors gave him just over two years to live. He was shattered.

He thought his life was over, but he was wrong. He became a professor of physics and mathematics and he wrote 15 books.  He died 3 years ago, aged 76.

Hawking said that before his diagnosis he wasn’t much of a student; he’d been bored with life. But when he learnt that his life would be cut short, he worked hard to complete his research into black holes. [i]

Stephen Hawking’s disease gave him new life. It helped him become another Albert Einstein.

Ron Rolheiser tells us that there are two kinds of death.  There’s terminal death, which represents the end of life and the end of all possibilities.

And there’s paschal death, which is real death because something precious dies. It ends one kind of life, but it’s followed by a new, deeper and richer experience of life. [ii]

Paschal death is what Stephen Hawking had experienced as a young man.

Sometimes something in us has to die, before another part of us can flourish. 

That’s the paschal mystery, and Jesus talks about it in today’s Gospel. He’s in Jerusalem for the Passover festival, talking to some Greek pilgrims. He says, ‘Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies it yields a rich harvest.’

What Jesus is saying is that if we want to live fulfilling lives, then we must be prepared to let go. We need to surrender ourselves to God, and allow him to work through us. Like grains of wheat, we must let our shells break open and expose our interior lives to God’s transforming grace. 

Jesus says that when we die to ourselves and let God work through us, we’ll start producing a bountiful harvest of fruit.

So, what part of us needs to die? It’s anything that keeps us away from God’s creative spirit. Anything, like our pride, our selfishness, our unhealthy obsessions and our fear. These things stop us from growing.

This paschal mystery is the rhythm of life, and it’s all around us. It’s in every sunrise and in every spring. It’s in the green shoots after every bushfire. It’s in the start of every new career, and whenever a broken heart finds new love.

It’s also in the story of Jean Valjean in Les Miserables. His tragic life is transformed by a bishop’s surprising gift. And Oskar Schindler, the Nazi who discovers his soul and sacrifices everything he has to save 1,200 Jews. 

But the greatest paschal mystery of all is Jesus Christ himself. He is crucified, dies and is buried, and rises again to new life.

And it’s not only Jesus who is given new life; so are Mary and all the disciples who witness his resurrection, and everyone else who has followed Jesus ever since.

This is the joy of Easter: it’s the start of new life.

Henri Nouwen wrote that we are the people of the resurrection, living our lives with great vision that transforms us as we are living it. [iii]

Every now and then, something in our own lives dies and we’re left feeling shattered. But that’s never the end of the story.

There’s an old Japanese legend of a 15th century shogun warrior who broke his favourite tea bowl.

He sent it away to be repaired, but it came back full of ugly metal staples. He was disappointed, and asked a craftsman for a more elegant solution. 

This craftsman tried a new technique, mending every crack with a resin mixed with gold. The shogun was delighted. Streaks of gold ran through his tea bowl, telling the story of what had happened and adding to its beauty and value. 

They call this method Kintsugi, which means ‘golden seam’. It reflects the Japanese philosophy that an object’s value is not in its outward beauty, but in its imperfections and the story behind them. Every repaired piece is unique and its history is something to celebrate, not hide.

The art of Kintsugi shows us that there is both beauty and value in brokenness. [iv]

By God’s grace we are healed and restored to new life. Our faith in the resurrection is the gold that not only binds us back together, but gives us even more life, depth and meaning.

That is the paschal mystery.

[i] Stephen Hawking. My Brief History. Random House, London, 2013.

[ii] Ron Rolheiser OMI. The Holy Longing: The Search for a Christian Spirituality, Crown Publishing, N.Y., 1999:146.

[iii] Henri Nouwen, Our Second Birth, Crossroad NY, 1998:150.


Year B – 4th Sunday of Lent

On Darkness and Light

[2Chron.36:14-16, 19-23; Eph.2:4-10; Jn.3:14-21]

In the ‘olden days’, the good guys in cowboy films often wore white hats, while the baddies wore black hats. [i] Do you remember that?

Film-makers, writers and artists have long used darkness and light as symbols in storytelling. They’ve used light and white to convey positive things like joy, hope and life, and darkness to signal bad things like fear, evil and death.

We can see this in the Lord of the Rings movies, where the good wizard Gandalf usually wears startling white, while his nemesis, the dark lord Sauron, appears in threatening shades of black and grey.

This theme of darkness and light is present all through the Bible, as it records the universal struggle between goodness and evil. Indeed, the Old Testament begins in darkness, when God creates light and calls it good (Gen.1:4). And in the New Testament, Jesus says, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness’ (Jn.8:12).

So many biblical stories mirror this model of light following darkness. Joseph, for example, is locked in a dungeon before Pharaoh calls him to public service (Gen.41:14). Jonah is trapped in the dark belly of a whale before he’s freed to become God’s messenger (Jon.1-4). Daniel is locked in a dingy lions’ den when he discovers God’s power and becomes an evangelist (Dan.6).

Lazarus is dead and buried before Jesus gives him new life (Jn.11:38-44). St Paul is blinded before becoming an apostle (Acts 9:1-19). And of course, Jesus dies and is buried before his dramatic resurrection to new life.

This light-after-darkness pattern is also reflected in today’s readings. In our first reading, the Jewish people have been living in exile in Babylon for many years, until the Persian king Cyrus allows them to return home to resume their lives.

And in today’s Gospel, Nicodemus, a wealthy Pharisee, wants to meet Jesus. However, it’s dangerous to be seen talking to him, so they meet under cover of darkness.

There they discuss faith and divine power, and Jesus explains that his incarnation is a sign of God’s profound love for the world.

He puts it this way: ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life (Jn.3:16).’ This one sentence summarises the whole Bible.

Nicodemus emerges from that dark place a changed man. He has been touched by the light of Christ and he’s on the road to conversion.

Later in John’s Gospel, Nicodemus reminds the Jewish leaders that Jesus is owed a fair hearing (Jn.7:50-52). And after the crucifixion, Nicodemus helps Joseph of Arimathea prepare Jesus’ body for burial and he donates some very expensive aloes and myrrh (Jn.19:38-42).

Darkness is a natural feature of life. It comes in many forms, from the simple absence of light through to the deepest pain and anguish. Some people try to avoid it altogether, while others try to hide it under a mask.

The British writer HG Wells lived in London during WWII. One evening during the Blitz, a friend found him outside shaking with fear. ‘It’s not the bombs,’ Wells said. ‘It’s the dark. I’ve been afraid of darkness all my life.’

And yet, Kahlil Gibran wrote that the only way to reach the dawn is by the path of night. Everything, from creation and pregnancy to new ideas, begins in darkness. It’s just a question of how you react to it.

The Spanish mystic St John of the Cross (1542-91) was imprisoned for nine months in a tiny, dark and windowless cell in Toledo. The heat, the cold and the hunger were unbearable, but he didn’t become bitter. Instead, he used his time writing poems, including his most famous works, The Spiritual Canticle and Dark Night of the Soul.

In Dark Night of the Soul, St John explains the steps involved in the journey of the soul from its bodily home to union with God. He calls it The Dark Night because of the difficulty we so often have in letting go of our worldly attachments. It’s not easy burning away our faults and imperfections.

But here’s the thing: it’s in losing that we gain (Mt.10:39), and what we gain is so much more than what we lose.

St John writes: ‘Oh, night that guided me, Oh, night more lovely than the dawn, Oh, night that joined Beloved with lover, Lover transformed in the Beloved!’ [ii]

After escaping from prison, St John said he was forever grateful to his captors. He had learnt that darkness is a gift; it’s an invitation to new life.

He had learnt the truth of Jesus’ promise: ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness’ (Jn.8:12).

[i] In the Western movie 3:10 to Yuma (2007), Christian Bale’s good guy wears a white hat, and Russell Crowe’s bad guy wears a black hat.


Year B – 3rd Sunday of Lent

On Cleansing the Temple

[Ex.20:1-17; 1Cor.1:22-25; Jn.2:13-25]

Early in John’s Gospel, after his first miracle at the wedding in Cana, Jesus goes to the Temple in Jerusalem to celebrate Passover.

This Temple is a sacred place. According to the Hebrew Bible, it’s the place where God lives. It’s where sacrifices are made for the forgiveness of sins, and it’s where huge numbers of pilgrims gather to worship God, especially at Passover time.

But when Jesus gets there, he’s horrified.

The Temple has become a noisy bazaar, focussed more on money than on God. The moneychangers, the animal traders and the high priests are all making great profits out of the people.

Jesus is furious. He cracks a whip and tells them all to get out. ‘Stop making my father’s house a marketplace!’ he says. The tables are turned, the animals panic, and coins and pigeons fly everywhere.

The first of the Ten Commandments, which we heard in our first reading today, says, ‘I am the Lord your God… you shall have no gods except me’. But here in the Temple, they are doing just the opposite. Instead of worshipping God the Father, they’re worshipping the false god of money.

Jesus says this must stop. The Ten Commandments aren’t suggestions, they’re commandments, and his mission is to put everyone back on track.

The Jews ask Jesus to justify what he’s done, but they don’t understand his answer. In essence, what Jesus says is that the Temple’s days are numbered.

For hundreds of years, the Temple had been the place where people came to meet and worship God. But God had long promised that he would come one day to live among his people (Ez.43:7; Zech.2:10). He fulfilled that promise by sending us his son, and after his resurrection, Jesus became the new Temple (Jn.2:21; Mk.14:58).

So, Jesus is now the sacred point of contact between heaven and earth. We no longer need to go to the Temple for worship; we simply go to Jesus, for he is the new sanctuary. The Body of Christ, the Church, is now where God lives, and when we are spiritually united to his body, God lives in us, too (Jn.14:23).  

St Paul said to the Corinthians, ‘Don’t you know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? … God’s temple is holy and you are that temple’ (1Cor.3:16-17).

What all this means is that Jesus is actually speaking to us in today’s Gospel.

He’s telling us that we are now his temples, and just like the original Temple, we should be serving God through worship, prayer and sacrifice.

So, here’s the question: do our temples need a good clean out, too?

The French philosopher Blaise Pascal once said that there’s a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every person, and we’re always looking for something to fill it.

This explains why so many people today seem to worship things like money, pleasure and sport. But doing these things is like trying to fit square pegs into round holes. Ultimately, nothing will satisfy us except God himself. [i]

That’s why St Augustine wrote, ‘you made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you’. [ii]

We are now in Lent, and Lent is the perfect time for us to clear out our false gods. It’s the perfect time for us to focus instead on loving God and our neighbour, just as Jesus commands us to (Lk.10:25-28).

But temples are also about prayer, and prayer had become impossible in the noisy Jerusalem Temple. That upset Jesus. Has prayer become impossible in us, too? As Psalm 46 says, ‘Be still and know that I am God’ (Ps.46:11). We must find some quiet space each day for prayer.

And finally, temples are about sacrifice. When Jesus clears the Temple, he effectively declares that the days of animal sacrifice are over, and that a new kind of sacrifice is coming: personal sacrifice. As Jesus said, ‘If anyone wants to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his Cross and follow me’ (Mt.16:24).

If we truly love God and each other, then our first priority cannot be ourselves. This means sacrificing our selfishness, laziness and greed. It means living our lives for others, just as Jesus did.

So, why did Jesus get so angry? It’s because he’d had enough. God loves each of us totally, but unconditional love isn’t the same as unconditional approval.

We are all temples of God. A temple is a very special place, filled with love, prayer and genuine sacrifice.

Does your temple need a good clean out?

[i] Blaise Pascal. Pensees VII #425. Penguin Books, New York. 1966:75.

[ii] St Augustine. Confessions. Image Books, New York. 1960:43.

Year B – 2nd Sunday of Lent

On Heaven’s Edge

[Gen.22:1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18; Rom.8:31b-34; Mk.9:2-10]

‘Stop the car!’ my wife said, as we drove through the red desert of outback NSW. She got out and mysteriously vanished down a track.

I was quite bewildered then, but I understand now. She had been drawn towards a sacred space where she had an intense spiritual experience. She had found a ‘thin place’, a holy moment where the gap between heaven and earth is so thin that she briefly experienced God’s awesome presence.

This idea of ‘thin places’ comes from the ancient Celtic Christians. They had a saying that heaven and earth are only three feet apart, but in thin places that gap is much narrower. In Gaelic, they call it caol áit (‘kweel awtch’). [i]

The poet Sharlande Sledge describes it this way:
‘Thin places,’ the Celts call this space,
Both seen and unseen,
Where the door between the world
And the next is cracked open for a moment
And the light is not all on the other side.
God shaped space. Holy. [ii]

A ‘thin place’ is a time, place or event where the veil separating heaven and earth is lifted, and just for a moment a person gets a taste of God himself.

The author Mary DeMuth describes thin places as ‘snatches of holy ground, tucked into the corners of our world, where we might just catch a glimpse of eternity. They are aha moments, beautiful realizations, when the Son of God bursts through the hazy fog of our monotony and shines on us afresh…’ [iii]

My mother experienced this once, in her lounge room. For only an instant, she said, an invisible veil lifted in front of her and she found herself surrounded by hundreds of shimmering, fluttering angels. It was a moment of mystical wonder at heaven’s edge, and it filled her with immense joy. But it didn’t last.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus goes with three disciples to pray on Mount Tabor. This must have been a ‘thin place’, because Peter, James and John briefly witness Jesus talking with Moses and the prophet Elijah. They’re dazzled as the light of God’s glory shines through Jesus’ face, and his clothes are as bright as the sun. For only a moment they see Jesus as he truly is: The Son of God. 

Peter wants this moment to last forever, and suggests that they stay. But such mystical moments aren’t meant to last. Their purpose is to give us a taste of God’s awesome reality and to encourage us in our journey towards heaven.

So, Jesus and his disciples leave the mountain.

But where might we find these ‘thin places’ today? They can be anywhere. For some people, they’re in sacred places like St Peter’s in Rome, or in Bethlehem, Lourdes or Fatima. However, you really don’t have to travel far to find them.

They can also be on a beach or in a park close to home. And our experiences can be thin places, too, wherever we are. Listening to inspiring music or seeing a remarkable painting can transport us to heaven’s edge. So can sickness, grief and suffering.

I once experienced one of these mystical moments after Mass in our Cathedral, and the feeling was almost electric. But if you think about it, this shouldn’t be so surprising because everything about the Church and the Christian life aims to help us find thin places.

Consider the silence, the prayers, the music, the art, the Holy Eucharist, and of course, the Bible itself. All these things are thin places, inviting us to encounter the awesome mystery of God.

Indeed, the sacraments are thin places. Many people sense that something very special happens at baptisms, weddings and at Mass, for example, but they can’t quite explain it. That’s because God is always present at these times.

No-one can control when or where they experience such mystical encounters; they are always a gift from God. It’s God who decides how he reveals himself to us.

But we can make ourselves more open to them. We can do this by creating more space for peace, quiet and reflection in our lives; by slowing down our lives, and taking more time to pray; and most especially, by opening our hearts to Jesus, because that’s the one place where God most wants to be.

Mahatma Gandhi once said, ‘There’s an indefinable, mysterious power that pervades everything. I feel it, though I don’t see it. It’s this unseen power that makes itself felt and yet defies all proof, because it’s so unlike all that I perceive through my senses. It transcends the senses.’

Lent is the ideal time for us to think about thin places.

Let’s prepare our hearts and minds for a mystical visit from God.



[iii] Mary E DeMuth, Thin Places: A Memoir. Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI. 2010.

Year B – 1st Sunday of Lent

On Our Shadow Side

[Lev.13:1-2, 44-46; 1Cor.10:31-11:1; Mk.1:40-45]

‘Man is not truly one, but truly two,’ Dr Jekyll says in The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1868).

Dr Henry Jekyll is the kind and respected scientist who conducts experiments on his shadow side. He tries to control his dark self, ‘Mr Hyde’, but he fails because he underestimates the power of evil. He wreaks havoc on London and in the end, he’s destroyed. [i]

In writing this book, Robert Louis Stevenson understands what psychologists recognise today: that everyone has a shadow side, a dark alter ego they prefer to hide from public view.

We all have personality traits we’d rather not admit to, like our weaknesses, temptations and sins. We tend to hide such things because we perceive them to be bad and we’d rather be seen as good people.

Carl Jung, the Swiss psychoanalyst, was a pioneer in this field. He said that everyone carries a shadow, and the less it’s embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. And if we don’t control this side of ourselves, it will unconsciously influence our thoughts, feelings and actions. [ii]

But how can we control our shadow? It’s by bringing these dark urges out into the light. By acknowledging them and dealing with them honestly (Lk.21:8, 28).

If we don’t do this, we risk our shadow taking control, forcing us into self-destructive behaviours, like Mr Hyde. Perhaps it’s stealing, gambling, drinking, drug-taking, pornography or violent anger. Maybe it’s greed or laziness or resentment. But we know these things are wrong, and we can end up fighting ourselves.

Who wins, though? Is it our conscious personality or our shadow?

Today is the First Sunday of Lent, and every Lent we are given forty days to prepare our hearts and minds for the extraordinary joy of Easter. [iii]

Every year, too, on this day our Gospel reading is about temptation. This year, Mark’s Gospel tells us about Jesus going into the desert for forty days to face his temptations. There, in the bright sunlight, Satan tries to draw Jesus into the dark side (Mt.4:1-11; Lk.4:1-13). However, Jesus holds firm. Helped by the angels, he survives the desert and goes on to preach the good news of God’s kingdom.

But here’s the point: it’s only after facing and rejecting these temptations that Jesus can begin his divine mission.

It’s the same with us. If we are to live our very best lives, we, too, must learn to control these temptations.

That’s why every Lent we are encouraged to follow Jesus into the desert. Not a physical desert, but a spiritual one, a quiet place where we can be alone with Jesus in our hearts. The beauty of the desert is that it’s a place of silence and solitude, where everything slows down, where there are few distractions and where the truth is plain to see.

There in the desert, we’re invited to look honestly at ourselves, to see what needs to change. This is what repentance is all about. It means changing the way we think, feel and do things. It means filling our hearts and minds with the light of Christ, and no longer living in the dark.

To help us achieve this, the Church encourages us to fast, give alms and pray. Each of these actions is a healthy response to our shadow self.

Fasting is giving up something we tend to overdo. It’s bringing some moderation into our lives. It means giving up something that’s clearly not of God, but that too often takes his place in our lives. By cutting back we can redirect our time and energy into something much more positive.

Almsgiving is the way we respond to our self-centeredness.  It means focusing on the needs of others, rather than our own selfish desires. It means admitting that life isn’t all about me, and that other people are actually more important.

And finally, Prayer is acknowledging that God is the centre of everything. It’s recognising that the only way to achieve anything in life is with his help (Jn.15:4-5). Genuine prayer unites us to God, and it opens up our hearts, minds and lives to the amazing power of the Holy Spirit.

In his book Yes…And, the Franciscan theologian Richard Rohr says that most people focus on denying their shadow self – to keep feeling good about themselves – and their ego then enjoys a perpetual holiday.

‘It’s a massive misplacement of spiritual attention,’ he says. ‘You can (have) a totally inflated ego, while all your energy goes into denying and covering up your shadow – which then gets projected everywhere else. What you don’t transform, you will transmit.’ [iv]

All this represents unfinished business for so many of us.

This Lent, get serious. Ask Jesus to help you tackle your shadow self.

[i] R L Stevenson, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.


[iii] Lent is 46 days if we include the Sundays.

[iv] Richard Rohr, Yes…And. Franciscan Media, Cincinatti OH. 2013:255.