Year C – 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Answering Prayers

(Neh.8:2-6, 8-10; 1Cor.12:12-30; Lk.1:1-4; 4:14-21)

In today’s Gospel, Luke addresses his words to someone named Theophilus. In Greek, Theophilus means ‘one who loves God’. But we’re all people who love God, so Luke is also addressing his Gospel to us.

Luke says that he has worked hard to double-check everything he’s heard about Jesus, so we can be sure that his Gospel is accurate.

Then he tells us about Jesus’ first public appearance after his baptism. Jesus is back home in Nazareth ‘with the power of the Spirit in him’. It’s the Sabbath, and he’s in the synagogue when someone hands him a scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Jesus selects a passage about the coming of the Messiah, and as he reads it, it’s clear that he’s reading about himself. 

Using Isaiah’s words, Jesus spells out the mission he’s about to begin. He says that his Father has sent him to bring good news to the poor; to proclaim liberty to captives; to help the blind to see; and to free the oppressed.

This is good news for anyone who’s suffering, because Jesus is offering real hope, healing and liberation. But this isn’t just about other people; it’s also about us, because we’re all to some extent poor, or enslaved, or blind, or oppressed. We all need hope, healing and liberation. 

Now, some people think that all God has to do from here is to wave his magic wand and give us all the miracles we need. But that’s generally not how he works. Most of the time, God works through ordinary men and women, just like us.

When we open ourselves up to God, his Holy Spirit starts working in us, gently guiding our hearts, minds and wills, and influencing our thoughts and actions. God uses us to help other people, often when we’re unaware.

Some years ago, a priest working as a hospital chaplain made a mistake and entered the wrong room. An old woman was lying on the bed, and he started talking to her. But she didn’t respond; she just glared at him. Eventually, he realised his mistake, apologised and left.

A little later, he received a note asking him to return. That lady couldn’t speak, so he asked her many questions until he came to the one she responded to: ‘Do you want to be baptised?’

He baptised her right away, and promised to return. But a few hours later, he received another note saying that she’d died.

That chaplain had not entered the wrong room. The Holy Spirit had sent him there to answer that lady’s prayer. [i]

Here’s another story. Jim Caviezel, who portrayed Jesus in Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion of the Christ (2004), was very nervous at the start of his acting career.

In 1997, he drove up to the house of Terrance Malick, the film director, to talk about an acting role. He was terrified. Before going inside, he sat in his car and prayed the Rosary, asking God for courage.

As he walked to the front door, he noticed that he was still holding his Rosary beads. He considered returning them to his car, but something told him to keep them.

A little maid answered the doorbell, and on her neck was a miraculous medal.

Without thinking, he held out his Rosary and said, ‘This is for you, ma’am.’ She was startled and said, ‘Why did you do that?’ She started to cry.

He replied, ‘I don’t know.’

‘My God!’ she said, ‘the woman who gave me this medal – the miraculous medal of the Virgin Mary – also gave me a rosary she got from Mother Teresa. But I lost it, and I prayed that God would send me another. Then you walk in.’

As she cried, and Caviezel felt shell-shocked, the director appeared. ‘Honey, what’s wrong?’ he asked. This was no maid, Caviezel realised. It was Malick’s wife. 

The Holy Spirit had answered their prayers: Mrs Malick received a new Rosary and Caviezel got his first major acting role, in the movie The Thin Red Line. [ii]

In our second reading today, St Paul tells us that as Christian disciples, we are all members of the Body of Christ. This idea of the Body of Christ isn’t just a nice metaphor; it’s how God works in the world today.

It’s through us, as the members of the Body of Christ, that God answers prayers today, offering hope, healing and liberation to all who need it (Jn.14:12).

But he can’t do it without our help. As St Teresa of Avila reminds us, ‘Christ has no body now but yours, no hands but yours, no eyes but yours …’

What is the Holy Spirit asking of you today?


[i] Diane Laux, Illustrations of the Holy Spirit, Liguorian, December 2016. https://www.liguorian.org/illustrations-holy-spirit/

[ii] https://www.churchpop.com/2019/06/23/jim-caviezel-rosary-hollywood/ 

Year C – The Epiphany of Our Lord

Star of Wonder

[Is.60:1-6; Eph.3:2-3, 5-6; Mt.2:1-12]

The stars at night have always been fascinating. In every age and every culture, astronomers have studied the stars closely, trying to reveal their secrets.

One thing these stargazers learnt is that the North Star is always in the same place, day and night. It’s not the brightest star, but its location never changes, so it became an important guidepost for sailors, pilgrims and other travellers.

Even runaway slaves in America followed the North Star in their flight to freedom in the 1800s. They called their escape route the Underground Railroad, and they memorised what they had to do in a song, Follow the Drinking Gourd.[i]

Vincent van Gogh, The Starry Night – Smarthistory

So, it’s not surprising that for many people, the stars came to symbolise hope, inspiration and new life.

There’s a star in Matthew’s Gospel today, but it’s not the North Star. It’s the Star of Bethlehem and it comes from the east. It, too, is a symbol of hope, inspiration and new life.

The Magi are widely believed to have been astrologers from around Persia, for they knew that this star signalled something important. That’s why they loaded up their camels and followed it for 1,000 kilometres or so, until they found baby Jesus, the ‘bright morning star’, swaddled in a manger (Rev.22:16).

There in Bethlehem, these Wise Men worshipped Jesus, they gave him their precious gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, and then they returned home.

magi-12-12-16-blog

For most people, this is where the story ends. But there’s much more to it than that, because as Bishop Robert Barron tells us, this story really spells out for us what it means to search for God in our world today.

Let’s look at the story once again.

In the beginning, the Magi constantly study the sky, looking for signs of God’s purpose and meaning. And so it is with us: we must always be spiritually alert, looking for signs of what God is doing around us in our daily lives.

Then, once they find that star, the Magi decide to follow it, despite the long journey and all its discomforts.

Sometimes people today know what God wants them to do, but they do nothing about it. Perhaps it’s fear or laziness stopping them, but the Magi teach us to take action when God calls.

Next, when the Magi speak to Herod about the birth of a new King, he becomes sneaky and tries to use them to destroy the child. When we walk the path God sets for us, we too should expect opposition, because our world does not value Jesus at all. It’s always working to undermine him.

Then, the Wise Men arrive in Bethlehem and give Jesus their precious gifts. When we come to Christ, we, too, should open up the very best of ourselves and offer it to him. And remember this: our gifts of trust, love and worship are far more valuable to Jesus than gold, frankincense and myrrh.

And finally, the Magi return to their home country by another route. As Fulton Sheen once commented: of course they did, for no one comes to Christ and goes back the same way they came! [ii]

These Magi are called Wise Men for good reason: they can see what others, including King Herod and the Jewish leaders, cannot. They know that something mystical is happening, and they do something about it. They leave home and discover the source of all wisdom and joy. 

Today, we have GPS and other technology to guide us in our travels, but they won’t get us far in our spiritual journey.

Like the Wise Men, we need to follow the one star that really does represent hope, inspiration and new life. That star is Jesus Christ.

Sadly, many of us get distracted and miss Jesus’ divine light, just as we might miss the soft light of the North Star. But when we look, we find that Jesus is always there: a constant beacon guiding us through the twists and turns of daily life; a lighthouse drawing us safely towards eternal salvation.

Let’s close with a story. Charles Blondin (1824-97) was a French acrobat who famously crossed Niagara Falls on a tightrope some 300 times. In all, it’s said that he walked 10,000 miles on tightropes, and sometimes he even took a bike or a wheelbarrow with him. How did he achieve this? What was his secret?

Blondin had very good balance and lots of self-confidence, but he also always placed a large silver star at either end of his tightrope. Every time he crossed over, he fixed his eyes firmly on that star. He knew where he was going. [iii] [iv]

We, too, need to fix our eyes firmly on the bright morning star, Jesus Christ.

Jesus will guide us safely to where we’re going.


[i] https://www.baltimoresun.com/news/bs-xpm-1997-01-26-1997026180-story.html

[ii] Bishop Robert Barron, Online Commentary on Matthew 2:1-12, 2021, adapted.

[iii] https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-daredevil-of-niagara-falls-110492884/

[iv] https://www.spiritequip.com/blog-10/follow-the-focus

Year C – Christmas Day

A Very Grinchy Christmas

(Is.62:1-5; Acts 13:16-17, 22-25; Mt.1:18-25)

Merry Christmas! Today is such a special day. So many people are smiling and feeling good inside.

But what is Christmas all about? This is a good time to ask ourselves: What is Christmas all about?

http://d1w7fb2mkkr3kw.cloudfront.net/assets/images/book/large/9780/0071/9780007170241.jpg

When we look around our city, it’s easy to think that Christmas is all about gifts and Santa and fairy lights. 

That’s what the Grinch thought. He hated Christmas. Have you seen the movie How the Grinch Stole Christmas? [i] The Grinch is a green, hairy and cranky beast who lives on a rubbish dump called Mt. Crumpit, outside the town of Whoville. 

Every Who down in Whoville liked Christmas a lot …
But the Grinch, who lived … just north of Whoville, did not!
The Grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season!
Now, please don’t ask why. No one quite knows the reason.

One night the Grinch decides to stop Christmas from coming to Whoville.  He steals everyone’s Christmas gifts and things. He packs his sled up … 

… with their presents! The ribbons! The wrappings!
The tags! And the tinsel! The trimmings! The trappings!
Three thousand feet up! Up the side of Mt. Crumpit,
He rode with his load to the tiptop to dump it!

The Grinch laughs, and he expects everyone to be miserable when they wake up. But then he hears a sound …

It started in low. Then it started to grow.
But the sound wasn’t sad! Why, this sound sounded merry!
It couldn’t be so! But it was merry! Very!
He stared down at Whoville! The Grinch popped his eyes!
Then he shook! What he saw was a shocking surprise!
Every Who down in Whoville, the tall and the small,
Was singing! Without any presents at all!
He hadn’t stopped Christmas from coming! It came!
Somehow or other, it came just the same! …

‘It came without ribbons! It came without tags!’
‘It came without packages, boxes or bags!’
And he puzzled three hours, till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before!
‘Maybe Christmas,’ he thought, ‘doesn’t come from a store.’
‘Maybe Christmas … perhaps … means a little bit more!’

The Grinch feels all toasty inside and his heart starts to melt. He realises that the people of Whoville still care about Christmas, even without their Christmas things. Before, his heart was two times smaller. Now it’s three times bigger! 

He decides to return all their Christmas things, and they have a happy Christmas after all. [ii]

Now, what about you? What does Christmas mean to you? Is it the presents, the ribbons, the colourful wrappings? Is it the tags, the tinsel, the trimmings and trappings?

Or does Christmas mean more than that?

Dr Seuss’ story of the Grinch has an important message for us. Christmas isn’t about the trimmings and the trappings. It’s not about the presents. These things are nice, but they’re not important.

As the Grinch says, many of those things will just end up on the rubbish dump, anyway.

Christmas is all about Jesus, the Son of God who is the source of all love. When Jesus was born, he didn’t need all the trimmings or trappings. All he had was Mary and Joseph, and they were really poor. But they were happy.

Remember that this Christmas. To be happy, all you need is your loving family, your friends – and Jesus. 

So, make sure you invite Jesus into your home and hearts this Christmas Day. 

And please ask him to stay,
for much more than a day.

Indeed, why not invite him to stay forever!


[i] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pbFma8Bd-AI

[ii] Dr Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas. HarperCollins Children’s Books, London, 2010.

Year C – 4th Sunday of Advent

Weak, Lost and Broken

(Jer.33:14-16; Thess.3:12-4:2; Lk.21:25-28, 34-36)

In 2017, at the end of an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, a bomb exploded, killing 22 people and injuring 120.

Who was the first responder on the scene? It was a homeless man, Stephen Jones. He’d been sleeping outside when the bomb went off. But when he heard people screaming, he rushed in to help. He’d had no medical experience, but he soon found himself pulling nails out of arms and faces. [i]

Sometimes God works through the most unlikely people.

Today, if something important needs doing, most of us want someone well qualified to do it. But God is different. Throughout history, he has consistently chosen weak, lost and broken people to do his work.

Abraham, for example, was already old when God asked him to be the father of many nations (Gen.17:1-2). Moses was a murderer and had a bad stutter, but God still asked him to lead the Israelites out of Egypt (Ex.2:12; 4:10).

St Paul had cruelly persecuted Christians (Acts 8:3); St Camillus de Lellis (1550-1614) was a gambler;[ii] and Matthew Talbot (1856-1925) was a drunk. Yet God still used them all to achieve great things.

Why does God choose such unlikely people? It’s because everyone is in some way weak, lost or broken. No-one is perfect.

But that doesn’t matter, because no-one has to be especially well-qualified, or holy, to do God’s work. With God, all things are possible (Mt.19:26).

God knows our flaws (Ps.103:14), but he believes in us. We often think we’re unworthy, but God knows better.

Very often, it’s our weaknesses that initially draw us to God, when we recognise that we’re struggling. But when we do turn to God, and agree to co-operate with him, he turns our weakness into strength (Heb.11:32-34).

In Manchester, Stephen Jones’ weakness was his homelessness. But it became a strength, for he was in the right place at the right time to help the victims. St Paul understands this. That’s why he says, ‘I take pleasure in my weaknesses, for when I’m weak, then I am strong’ (2Cor.12:10).

When we recognise our own weaknesses, we discover that it’s only by God’s grace that we can do anything at all. And if we’re honest, we know we can’t boast because any glory really belongs to God (2Cor.4:7).

In Luke’s Gospel today, Mary is pregnant with Jesus, and goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth in the hill country outside Jerusalem. Elizabeth is pregnant, too, with John the Baptist.

Neither of these women is a likely candidate for the job God has for them. Even Mary thinks she’s unsuitable (Lk.1:34), for how can she possibly raise the son of God when she’s not yet married? She’s a poor, illiterate teenager living a hard life in an obscure town. She spends most of her time carrying water, collecting wood, preparing food and washing.

Her cousin Elizabeth is also an unlikely choice (Lk.1:43). She’s childless and elderly, and lives modestly in a tiny village. But God wants her to be the mother of the greatest of the prophets, John the Baptist.

The point about these two women is that they didn’t do what so many of us tend to do. They didn’t say no to God; they didn’t tell him to find someone more suitable. Despite their fears, Mary and Elizabeth both said yes and their lives were transformed.

In 1978, in Rome, during the elections for a new pope to replace John Paul I, a young Polish cardinal, Karol Wojtyla, seemed to be winning. He was worried and he turned to his mentor, Cardinal Wyszynski of Warsaw.

Wyszynski reminded him of the story of St Peter in the novel Quo Vadis, where Peter was escaping from danger in Rome and Jesus challenged him to stay.

‘Accept it’, Wyszynski said.

At the end of the ballot, Karol Wojtyla was asked, ‘Do you accept?’  He replied, ‘In the obedience of faith before Christ my Lord, abandoning myself to the Mother of Christ and Church, and conscious of the great difficulties, I accept’.[iii]

That nervous young cardinal became Pope St John Paul II.

A simple ‘yes’ really can change the world.

Every saint who has ever lived has been very human, just like us. [iv] They were all at some stage weak, lost or broken. But they found themselves drawn towards God’s love and they chose to co-operate with him.

God isn’t put off by our flaws. He says to us, as he said to St Paul: ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’ (2Cor.12:9).

In these last few days before Christmas, as we wait for Jesus to arrive, what is God asking you to do?


[i] https://edition.cnn.com/2017/05/23/europe/homeless-man-manchester-attack/index.html

[ii] https://www.franciscanmedia.org/saint-of-the-day/saint-camillus-de-lellis

[iii] George Wiegel, Witness to Hope, HarperCollins NY, 1999:253-254.

[iv] https://aleteia.org/2016/08/24/5-saints-who-were-notorious-sinners/#

Year C – 3rd Sunday of Advent

Blessed Charles de Foucauld

(Zeph.3:14-18; Phil.4:4-7; Lk.3:10-18)

In last week’s Gospel, John the Baptist told everyone to get ready, because the Messiah is coming. In today’s Gospel, the people ask John, ‘Master, what should we do?’ 

Yes, what should we do? For Jesus Christ really is coming.

To answer that question, let’s consider the story of Blessed Charles de Foucauld. [i]

Charles was born in 1858 into an aristocratic family in France. But like so many other people, his life didn’t start off too well.

When he was six, Charles’ parents died and his grandfather raised him. But he became vain and selfish and so overweight that his friends called him ‘Piggy’. His grandfather got him into the army, but they found him troublesome.

Charles later inherited his grandfather’s fortune, but he squandered it on wine, women and gambling. He once said, ‘I sleep late, I eat a lot and I think little’.

One day however, aged 28, something inside him changed. There in the North African desert where he served in the army, he saw how the Muslims worship. It made him think that there must be something more to life. He left the army, disguised himself as a Jew and went to Morocco to learn Arabic and Hebrew.

One evening, alone in a church, he prayed, ‘My God, if you exist let me know’. God did let him know, through his cousin, Marie. She talked with him for hours, gave him books to read and encouraged him to see her parish priest in Paris.

Charles found this priest in his confessional. He said, ‘Father, I have no faith. I’ve come to ask you to teach me’. The priest replied, ‘Kneel down. Confess to God. You will believe.’ 

Charles replied, ‘But I didn’t come for that’.

The priest insisted, ‘Confess!’ So, Charles confessed his many sins and he was forgiven. The priest then told him to go to communion, and he did. There at the altar, Charles saw the light he was looking for. He recognised God. 

Later on, he said that as soon as he believed in God, he knew that he couldn’t do anything else except live for him.

Charles then joined a Trappist monastery in Syria, and later he went to Nazareth where he lived as a hermit in a small tool shed and worked as a gardener. But all the while he wanted to live among the poor.

In 1901, at the age of 43, he was ordained a priest and sent back to the Sahara Desert in Algeria. There he lived as a hermit, not far from the semi-nomadic Tuareg people.  He came to love them, sharing their life and hardships and he wrote books about them and their language.

He helped them grow crops in the desert. He fed the hungry; he helped the poor and the sick. He also bought the freedom of slaves and he worked hard to protect them from mistreatment. The locals called him ‘the holy one’. 

However, in 1916, during WW1, some Muslims fighting the French threatened to kill Charles if he didn’t renounce his faith. He refused, and they shot him. [ii] He died, aged 58.

So, what can we learn from Blessed Charles de Foucauld?

Well, firstly, he was fascinated by the ‘hidden life’ of Christ; the 30 years when Jesus lived quietly with his family and worked hard as an artisan. Jesus ate simply, dressed simply and lived simply, and he was gentle and loving towards everyone. Charles copied this way of life.

Secondly, Charles said that if we want to think, talk, act and pray like Jesus, then we should keep reading the Gospels, because that will teach us how.

And thirdly, Charles saw a profound link between Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist and his presence in the poor. When Jesus said, ‘This is my body … this is my blood’, he wasn’t just talking about the Eucharist. He was also talking about the people around him. Realising this changed Charles’ life.

In 1916, he wrote that nothing in the Gospels had transformed his life more than these words: ‘Whatever you do for the least of my brothers, you do for me’ (Mt.25:40).

In May 2022, Pope Francis will be canonising Charles de Foucauld.[iii]

This Advent, if you’re wondering how to prepare yourself for the coming of Jesus, remember the story of St Charles de Foucauld.

He knew that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life (Jn.14:6). So, he was determined to live, talk, think, act and pray just like Jesus. 

He even chose to die like Jesus, sacrificing himself for the people he loved.


[i] https://www.charlesdefoucauld.org/en/biographie.php

[ii] Maolshealachlann O’Ceallaigh, Inspiration from the Saints, Angelico Press, NY, 2018, 30-32.

[iii] https://www.vaticannews.va/en/vatican-city/news/2021-11/charles-de-foucauld-blesseds-canonization-15-may.html

Year C – 2nd Sunday of Advent

William Holman Hunt’s Light of the World

(Jer.33:14-16; Thess.3:12-4:2; Lk.21:25-28, 34-36)

Today, on the second Sunday of Advent, let’s explore the famous painting, The Light of the World, by the British artist William Holman Hunt (1827-1910).

He painted three versions of this work. The last one, completed in 1904, is now in St Paul’s Cathedral, London. [i] [ii]

year-c-2nd-sunday-in-advent-9

This picture is set in an orchard at night, and a man wearing a crown and holding a lantern is knocking on a door, waiting for it to open. It’s Jesus Christ, of course, and he wants to enter. But the door is firmly shut and it’s overgrown with weeds.

This door represents our hearts and minds, which are obstinately closed, and the weeds symbolise our sins. The door has no handle, no keyhole, no external lock. It can only be opened from within, but the weeds and rusty hinges tell us that it’s rarely, if ever, opened.

Look at Jesus’ face: he is kind and gentle, and his eyes are looking directly at you, wherever you are. But there’s also a hint of sadness, as he waits patiently for a reply. And notice his hands: they’ve been pierced by nails.

There are three light sources in this picture. Behind Jesus, moonlight is shining through the trees and promising the dawn of a new day. It reminds us of St Paul’s words: ‘The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armour of light’ (Rom.13:12).

Light is also shining from Jesus’ halo, signifying his holiness and presence as the Light of Truth. And the bright lantern symbolises the Light of Christ, who shows us the way (Jn.8:12). As the psalmist says, ‘Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path’ (Ps.119:105).

But do you see the holes atop the lantern? The six-pointed stars and the crescent moons symbolise Judaism and Islam, and tell us that Jesus is the light for all nations. He’s knocking on everyone’s door.

The chain affixing the lantern to Jesus’ wrist symbolises his commitment to his Church and to each of us personally.

Jesus is wearing a long white robe, and he has a clasp on his cloak, like the breastplate of a Jewish Temple high priest. Every year the high priest performed a sacrifice for the people’s sins. This clasp has a cross on it, demonstrating the link between Judaism and Christianity.

Now, Jesus’ cloak and the door have similar colours. This reminds us that Jesus is also a doorway; he’s the gateway to peace and eternal life (Jn.10.7).

On Jesus’ head are two crowns: one of thorns, the other of gold. The thorns symbolise his passion, death and resurrection, and the gold his heavenly glory. But notice the thorns: they are beginning to bud and blossom. They remind us that new life flows from Christ’s sacrifice, and hope can always be found, even in the darkest of places.

Behind Jesus is a tangle of trees. They point to Adam and Eve’s Original Sin, and the tree on which Jesus died. But they also symbolise our own family trees, which are waiting to be lit up and filled with divine life.

Above the door is a bat, blind and flitting about in the darkness. It symbolises worldly ignorance, ruin and neglect. And the decaying fruit on the ground represents life wasted without Jesus.

The title of this painting comes from Jesus’ words: ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life’ (Jn.8:12).

And the words on the lower frame come from Revelation 3:20: ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If any man hear my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and sup with him and he with me’.

After this painting was completed in 1904, it was taken on a world tour, attracting huge crowds. In Australia, some 80% of the population reportedly saw it, at the rate of 100 people every minute. [iii] [iv] [v]

When the first version of this painting was sent for repairs, the restorers removed the frame and found the words ‘Don’t pass me by, Lord’ written underneath in Latin. [vi]

And when the newest version was sent to be cleaned, they found a message under its frame, too. The artist had written: ‘Forgive me, Lord Jesus, that I kept you waiting so long!’ [vii]

Are we, too, making Jesus wait too long?

Notice Jesus’ feet. It looks like he’s starting to turn and walk away. Could he be giving up?

One day, even Jesus will stop waiting for us.


[i] William Holman Hunt (1827-1910), The Light of the World (c.1900-04), Oil on canvas, St Paul’s, London.

[ii] https://www.stpauls.co.uk/history-collections/the-collections/collections-highlights/the-light-of-the-world

[iii] https://allsaintstenerife.org/the-light-of-the-world/

[iv] https://www.stpauls.co.uk/documents/Education/Light%20of%20the%20world%20booklet.pdf

[v] https://www.sightmagazine.com.au/lifestyle/great-works/13451-great-works-the-light-of-the-world

[vi] https://dantisamor.wordpress.com/tag/the-light-of-the-world/

[vii] Gary L Carver, Gotta Minute? CSS Publishing Co, Lima OH. 2020:231.

Year C – 1st Sunday of Advent

An Often-Neglected Gift

(Jer.33:14-16; Thess.3:12-4:2; Lk.21:25-28, 34-36)

Every year, in the weeks before Christmas, most of us spend time thinking about gifts – gifts for the people we love and care for.

Every year, however, there’s one gift that too many of us neglect in the run-up to Christmas. It’s the Season of Advent. It only lasts for four Sundays, it starts today, and it really is a gift to each of us from Jesus and his Church.

Advent is a remarkable gift. It marks the beginning of a brand-new liturgical year, and the start of a fresh new journey as we set out once again to follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ.

As we travel together over the next twelve months, we’ll be reliving Jesus’ story, from his birth and early life, to his public ministry, his passion, death and resurrection, and his Ascension into heaven. And along the way, we’ll be listening to his teachings, we’ll be hearing the personal messages he has for us, and we’ll be his witnesses as he sends his Holy Spirit into the world.

Starting a new journey can be a wonderful thing, but to gain the most benefit we must fully engage our hearts and minds, and allow ourselves to embrace new stories and new ways of living.

The Jewish philosopher Martin Buber used to say that all journeys have secret destinations of which the traveller is unaware. But before we can reach these secret destinations, we must let go of our old ways of seeing and be prepared to do new things.

Have you heard the folktale of a woman named Bilfina? The Three Wise Men and their camels pass by her house while she is busy cleaning inside. They invite her to join with them as they journey to Jesus in Bethlehem.

          Bilfina, the housewife, scrubbing her pane
          Saw three old sages ride down the lane,
          Saw three grey travellers pass by her door –
          Gaspar, Balthazar and Melchior.

          ‘Where journey you, sirs?’ she asked of them.
          Balthazar answered, ‘To Bethlehem,
          For we have news of a marvelous thing,
          Born in a stable is Christ the King’.

          ‘Give Him my welcome!’ she said,
          Then Gaspar smiled,
          ‘Come with us, mistress, to greet the child’.
          ‘Oh, happily, happily would I fare, she said
          Were my dusting done and I’d polished the stair.’
          ….. Old Melchior leaned on his saddle horn,
          ‘Then send but a gift to the small Newborn.’

          ‘Oh, gladly, gladly, I’d send him one,
          Were the kitchen swept
          and my weaving done.

          As soon as I’ve baked my bread,
          I’ll fetch him a pillow for his head,
          And a blanket too,’ Bilfina said.

          ‘When the rooms are aired and the linen dry,
          I’ll look at the Babe,’ she said,                                             
          ….. But the three rode by.

          She worked for a day, and a night and a day,
          Then gifts in her hands, she went on her way.
          But she never found where the Christ child lay.

          And she still wanders at Christmastide,
          ….. Houseless, whose house was all her pride.
          Whose heart was tardy, whose gifts were late;

          ….. She wanders and knocks at every gate.      
          Crying, ‘Good people, the bells begin!
          Put off your toiling and let love in!’

Yes, put off your toiling and let love in. 

year-c-1st-sunday-of-advent-3

Some of us are so busy; we’re so stuck in our day-to-day routines, that we often miss the important things when they come our way. And then, when we do notice them, sometimes it’s too late.

Today, the gift of Advent is being offered to you personally. Accept it. Slow down a while, and perhaps even stop altogether. Take time to listen, to reflect, to pray and to trust Jesus, for he’s reaching out to you right now.

It is important for us to prepare our hearts and homes for the coming of Jesus at Christmas. But it’s also essential that we prepare our souls for when he comes again – at the end of our lives and at the end of all time.  Let’s not make Bilfina’s mistake. Let’s journey to Jesus before it’s too late.

So, put off your toiling, and let love in.

Put off your toiling, and let joy and wisdom in.

Put off your toiling, and accept the wonderful gift of Advent.

Year B – 34th Sunday in Ordinary Time

On the Cristeros

[Ezek.34:11-12,15-17; 1Cor.15:20-26,28; Mt.25:31-46]

Today we mark the end of our liturgical year by celebrating the Feast of Christ the King.

Pope Pius XI established this celebration in 1925, at a time when the world was in deep trouble. WWI was over, but Nazism, Communism and Fascism were on the rise, and Pope Pius wanted to warn the world. He wanted to remind us all that life comes only from God and that it’s a mistake to put our faith in politics. 

In that same year, 1925, Blessed Miguel Pro was ordained a Jesuit priest in Belgium. He was Mexican, but he had to study for the priesthood in Europe because Mexico had become very dangerous for the Church.

Blessed Miguel Agustín Pro

The Mexican government had been persecuting Christians for 100 years, but things got much worse in 1926 when President Plutarco Calles tried to destroy the Church completely. He closed all Catholic schools, confiscated all church property, banned any teaching or public expression of the faith and he exiled or executed huge numbers of priests and nuns.

When the archbishop of Mexico City complained, his house and the chapel of Our Lady of Guadalupe were bombed. Priests and bishops then went into hiding and all public worship stopped for three years.

Fr Miguel Pro returned to Mexico that year, but he had to go ‘underground’, serving the people in secret. In 1927 he was arrested and falsely accused of bombing and attempted assassination. On November 23 that year, without any trial, he was sent for execution. [i]

As he walked from his cell to the firing squad, he blessed the soldiers, knelt and prayed quietly. Then he faced his executioners with a crucifix in one hand and a rosary in the other, and held out his arms like Christ on the Cross. 

‘May God have mercy on you! May God bless you!’ he cried out boldly. ‘Lord, you know I’m innocent! With all my heart I forgive my enemies!’

Then he shouted ‘Viva Cristo Rey!’

Long live Christ the King.

And he died in a hail of bullets. [ii]

President Calles had photos of Fr Miguel’s execution published in all the newspapers, expecting this to scare off any opposition. But it had the opposite effect.

Some 40,000 people attended his funeral procession, while another 20,000 waited at the cemetery. 

Calles had said that after a year without the sacraments, the people would surely forget about their faith. But he was wrong, because they started to rebel. 

For Greater Glory movie review (2012) | Roger Ebert

Have you seen the movie For Greater Glory (2012)? It tells the story of the Cristero (‘soldier for Christ’) Rebellion in Mexico (1926-29). It shows how ordinary people believed that there’s no greater glory than to give one’s life for Jesus Christ. Some chose to fight back non-violently, through economic boycotts or civil disobedience, while others chose armed resistance.

One story in that movie is that of José Sánchez del Rio, a boy who was canonised by Pope Francis in 2016. He was only 14 when the Cristero War broke out. When his brothers joined the resistance, he wanted to offer his life for Christ, too. So, he became the flagbearer for his rebel troop. 

In one battle, the leader of the Cristeros lost his horse and José gave him his own. But he was captured by government troops, and they tried to get him to renounce his faith. They said, ‘If you shout, “Death to Christ the King” we’ll spare you’. But José refused. He said, ‘I’ll never give in. Viva Cristo Rey!’

20th Century Martyrs: Tell Christ the King I shall be with him soon (Jose  Sanchez del Rio)

So, they tortured him violently. A month before his 15th birthday, he was forced to march to the cemetery on cruelly bloodied feet. Just before they shot him, he called out, ‘Viva Cristo Rey!’ 

Long live Christ the King.

Now, why did Pope Pius XI want us to celebrate Christ the King?  It’s because our world has been working steadily to banish him. We can see it in the media, in our politics, and in the culture of our society. There’s long been a concerted campaign to banish Jesus Christ from our world, and it continues today.

Our world is full of fear, violence and greed, and vested interests are working hard to control the way we think, speak and live.

Jesus, however, represents something very different. He represents justice, peace and hope. He represents truth, love and mercy – all the things we need to thrive and be happy.

The Feast of Christ the King has nothing to do with crowns, palaces or robes. Rather, it’s about getting our priorities straight. It’s about the way we live, the decisions we make and who we follow in our day-to-day lives. [iii]

Jesus Christ is our king.

Long live Christ the King.

Viva Cristo Rey! [iv]


[i] https://www.jesuits.global/saint-blessed/blessed-miguel-agustin-pro/

[ii] https://aleteia.org/2018/11/23/a-special-novena-prayer-in-honor-of-blessed-miguel-pro/#

[iii] Bausch, W.J. Once Upon a Gospel.  Twenty-Third Publications, New London, CT. 2011:315.

[iv] https://www.catholicworldreport.com/2012/07/06/the-true-story-of/   

Year B – 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

On the Prepper’s Handbook

(Dan.12:1-3; Heb.10:11-14,18; Mk.13:24-32)

Today they’re known as preppers, or survivalists, and they’re preparing for the end of the world.

Whether it’s an asteroid strike, nuclear war, climate chaos or some other disaster, they’re all convinced that global catastrophe is coming, and they’re determined to survive. They’re readying themselves by installing underground bunkers and stockpiling food, ammunition and other supplies, and their plan is to ‘ride out the storm’ until life returns to normal.

None of this is new, of course. Ever since Jesus first warned that the world will end one day, countless people have been trying to anticipate the event.

The Mystical Nativity - Wikipedia

In 1501, the Renaissance painter Botticelli was convinced that he lived in the end times, and he hid lots of messages about the world’s end in his painting Mystic Nativity. [i]

In 1524, when the German mathematician Johannes Stöffler predicted a massive worldwide flood, one man built a three-storey ark. [ii]

And in 1910, some people were sure that the poisonous tail of Halley’s Comet would destroy the world as it flew past. [iii]

So far, they’ve all been wrong.

As Christians, we know that our earthly lives are temporary, and we accept that the world will end one day. Jesus confirms this in Mark’s Gospel today. But he also says that even he doesn’t know the day or the hour when the world will end; only his Father knows. So why are these people trying to guess what even the Son of God doesn’t know?

In Luke 21:8, Jesus says, ‘Watch out that you’re not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming… “The time is near”.’ Don’t follow them, he says.

And St Paul says there’s no point waiting for the end because Jesus will only return ‘like a thief in the night’ – when we least expect it (1Thess.5:2). So, there’s no point guessing when that might be. It’s wiser to listen to what Jesus is trying to tell us.

In today’s Gospel, he assures us that, like a good shepherd, he will one day return to gather up the elect – the scattered people of God – into one community. And he says, ‘The sun will be darkened (and) the moon will lose its light…’

Now, it’s the sun that gives us our years, and it’s the moon that gives us our months. So, without the sun and the moon, time as we know it will end.  But that doesn’t mean the end of everything. Rather, Jesus is talking about a new beginning, and a new creation.

Fig Leaves Pictures | Download Free Images on Unsplash

He then points to a sprouting fig leaf, which in winter marks the start of a new season. In the same way, these cosmic events will signal the start of a new heaven and a new earth, and the fulfilment of God’s plans for us.  

Now, this is what we should be preparing for. As Christians, our challenge isn’t just to get ready for the next emergency; it’s to prepare for eternal life. And the way to do that isn’t by installing bunkers, but by opening our hearts, strengthening our faith and gathering as much grace as we can, while we can.

It’s also by focusing on those around us, and not just on ourselves.

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says that at the end of time, when the Son of Man comes in his glory, he’ll be separating the sheep from the goats (Mt.25:31-46). The sheep, of course, are those who cared for ‘the least of his brothers and sisters’, by giving them something to eat, something to drink and something to wear when they needed it. The goats are those who were too selfish to bother.

Our goal is to be counted among the sheep, not the goats.

So, here’s the point: Everything we need to prepare for eternal life can be found in the Gospel, for it’s the ultimate handbook for Christian preppers.

The Gospel is full of inspiring stories and practical advice which together present the great story of Jesus Christ, who not only shows us the way to heaven, but through his Holy Spirit also helps us get there.

But to achieve this, we must stop being so passive. We must take our faith actively in hand and develop it. We must get to know Jesus Christ personally and do all we can to follow him.

The time for passive Christianity is over.

So many of today’s doomsday preppers focus on fear. But St Augustine tells us that fear is the enemy of love, and ultimately, love is what we seek.

The place to find it is in Jesus Christ, because God is love itself (1Jn.4:8).

When we follow the Gospel and that last day comes, we’ll find that there’s nothing else left for us to do.

For we’ll already be well prepared.


[i] Sandro Botticelli, Mystic Nativity, c.1501, oil on canvas, National Gallery, London. https://totallyhistory.com/the-mystical-nativity/

[ii] https://www.britannica.com/list/10-failed-doomsday-predictions

[iii] https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/ten-notable-apocalypses-that-obviously-didnt-happen-9126331/

Year B – 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

On the Widow’s Mite

(1Kgs.17:10-16; Heb.9:24-28; Mk.12:38-44)

I once knew a man, a politician, who liked to promote himself. Every week he’d always arrive late for Mass with his large family in tow. Making a grand entrance, he’d walk to the front of the church, look around, and sit down.

It wasn’t long before other churchgoers asked themselves: was he honouring God or himself? Was he looking for faith or votes?

Something similar happens in Mark’s Gospel today. Jesus warns his followers to beware of the scribes in the Temple. These men like to strut around in fine clothes, greeting people and taking the best seats in the synagogue. They like to parade their wealth and importance.

But Mark then contrasts this life of pride and selfishness with another story, about a poor widow. She quietly donates to the Temple two tiny copper coins, each smaller than a fingertip. (These coins are often called Mites today, but in ancient Israel they were known as Lepta). [i]

widows-mite

Two mites were enough to buy two sparrows (Mt.10:29).

It’s not much, but Jesus says her gift is the greatest of all because it’s all she had. This is a real sacrifice, compared to the wealthy who only give from their surplus.

This widow’s tale is the last story from Jesus’ public ministry in Mark’s Gospel, before he begins his passion. It’s significant, because it summarises all Jesus has been trying to teach us about following him.

This widow represents Christ himself, because soon afterwards Jesus does the very same thing. He gives up everything he has – his whole life – for the people he loves: you and me. So, this widow is an icon of Christ, a living image of Jesus himself. 

Her two coins represent the two greatest commandments: to love God and to love our neighbour, with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind.  This is the selfless sacrifice we’re all called to make.

But can we do it? Can we let go of our worldly attachments and open ourselves up to the life of Jesus Christ? 

Someone once said that if we want God’s kingdom to come, then we need to let go of our own personal kingdoms.

Let me tell you of three people who did just that.

The first is St Elizabeth of Hungary. She was a princess, born in 1207 to the King of Hungary. At the age of 14 she married a German count and they had three children. She was wealthy, but she insisted on living a simple, humble life, just like Jesus and St Francis of Assisi.

She gave food to the poor. She built hospitals and worked in them. She helped a leper colony, and when she ran out of money, she sold her jewellery and gowns and dressed as a commoner. She gave up everything to help others and, at the age of 24, she died. [ii]

The second person who learnt to let go is an American, Tom Monaghan, born in 1937. His father died when he was four. His mother was so poor that she put him and his brother into a foster home. When he was 23, he bought a pizzeria and called it Domino’s. He grew the business, became enormously rich and lived a lavish lifestyle.

Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

Then, one day he read C.S. Lewis’ book Mere Christianity. One chapter, especially, changed his life. It was Chapter 8, which is all about pride. In 1998 he sold Domino’s Pizza for $1 billion and he decided to devote his life and fortune to helping the Church.

Since then, he has built many schools, a cathedral in Nicaragua, Ave Maria University in Florida and the Thomas More Law Center in Michigan. He has established radio stations and newspapers and many other charities and projects supporting Catholic education and values. [iii]

Monaghan says his goal is to help as many people as possible to get to heaven.

The third person who learnt to let go is Margaret, an ordinary woman I met some years ago. She, too, is a widow. She’s not rich, either, but she is utterly devoted to sponsoring poor African children. Every time she has a spare $20, she sends it to the Missions in Africa. So far, she has sponsored dozens of children. That’s her life’s work. She is like the poor widow in today’s Gospel.

We all have something to offer, even if it’s only a widow’s mite.

We’re not meant to live our lives for ourselves. We’re all meant to live for others, in a spirit of great generosity and love.

Doing whatever we can.


[i] Each Lepton was worth 1/64 of a denarius, which was the daily wage of a common worker.

[ii] https://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=45

[iii] https://www.catholiceducation.org/en/education/catholic-contributions/ave-maria-founder-tom-monaghan-is-a-man-of-faith-plans-and-action.html