Year A – 1st Sunday of Advent

The Art of Waiting

[Isa.2:1-5; Rom.13:11-14; Mt.24:37-44]

Waiting is something we all do often, but do we appreciate its benefits? Or do we resent it?

In his book, Oh the Places You’ll Go! Dr Seuss describes the ‘Waiting Place’ as ‘useless’. This is the place where we are all –

Waiting for a train to go
or a bus to come, or a plane to go
or the mail to come, or the rain to go
or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow
or waiting around for a Yes or No
or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting.

And as we wait, many of us become bored, anxious, impatient, or even angry. So, we try to avoid it as much as we can.  

But in her book When the Heart Waits, Sue Monk Kidd says that waiting is not at all useless. ‘For a world that hovers so delicately between beauty and destruction,’ she says, ‘waiting is something we can’t afford to ignore much longer.’

It’s a natural part of life, she says. Indeed, all through the Bible we can see people waiting. Noah, for example, waits for the floodwaters to recede; Jesus waits in the Garden of Gethsemane; and we are all collectively waiting for his return.

Kidd’s point is that waiting is an important part of God’s plan for us.  

She recounts the story of a retreat she attended at a Benedictine monastery, where she noticed a certain monk, sitting alone and very still. He had a ski cap pulled down over his ears, and he was enjoying the shade of a tree. 

There was such tranquil reverence in his silhouette that she stopped to look at him. He was the picture of waiting. Later, she spoke to him. ‘I saw you today sitting beneath the tree,’ she said, ‘just sitting there so still. How can you wait so patiently in the moment? I can’t seem to get used to the idea of doing nothing.’

Breaking into a grin, he replied: ‘Well, there’s the problem right there, young lady. You’ve bought into the cultural myth that when you’re waiting, you’re doing nothing.’

He placed his hands on her shoulders, looked into her eyes and said, ‘I hope you’ll hear what I’m about to tell you. I hope you’ll hear it all the way down to your toes. 

‘When you’re waiting, you’re not doing nothing. You’re doing the most important something there is. You’re allowing your soul to grow up. If you can’t be still and wait, you can’t become what God created you to be.’ [ii]

Waiting, then, is not the useless in-between time we often think it is. We may find it challenging, but that’s only because God is using it to weave blessing, beauty and wisdom into our lives. If we resist these things, we are the ones who miss out.

Today we begin the season of Advent, and Advent is essentially all about waiting – waiting for the coming of Christ into our lives at Christmas. In these four weeks we are all encouraged to take time out to reflect on our lives, to pray and seek the sacraments, and to think about all the suffering in the world around us.

Our hope is that when Jesus does come, he’ll bring with him all the peace, hope, joy and love that we and our world so desperately need.

To nourish and guide us through this time, the Church offers us a rich selection of readings every day. In today’s first reading, Isaiah shares his dream of God’s kingdom, where swords are beaten into ploughshares and spears are turned into pruning-hooks. His vision is of frightful weapons of war being reborn as instruments of nourishment and life.

In troubled times, we are all called to be peacemakers, just like Jesus. These are troubled times, of course, so our challenge is to recognise the weapons we tend to use in our own daily lives. Might this include our impatience, our anger and our harsh tongues? And how might we turn these things into instruments of peace?

In our second reading, St Paul tells us to wake up, because the night is almost over; it will be daylight soon, for God is on his way. And in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus warns us not to be unprepared, as the people were at the time of Noah. It’s time to get ourselves ready.

So, this Advent, let’s reflect on the art of waiting, and recognise that its purpose is to reshape and refine us, and prepare us for what is to follow.

Jesus Christ is coming at Christmas.

Let’s make sure our waiting is fruitful.

[i] Dr Seuss, Oh the Places You’ll Go!

[ii] Sue Monk Kidd, When the Heart Waits. HarperOne, NY. 2016.

Year C – Feast of Christ the King

Christ Our King

(2Sam.5:1-3; Col.1:12-20; Lk.23:35-43)

Today we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King. This is the last Sunday of the Church’s liturgical calendar, and we end the year by reminding ourselves of who Jesus really is.

Pope Pius XI established the Feast of Christ the King in 1925, partly because of his concern about the rise of repressive dictatorships in Europe. At the time, violence and anti-Christian rhetoric were all too common, and Pius feared that too many Christians were being duped by the false prophets of fascism, communism and Nazism.

He wanted to remind us all that it is God who created us, and that in our turbulent world our only real hope for the future is Jesus Christ.

Thankfully, Hitler, Stalin and Mussolini are all now long gone. However, the world today is witnessing instead the rise of new dictatorships that are both disturbing and dangerous, and too many people are living lives that are spiritually empty and aimless.

Many today try to compensate for this emptiness with various forms of self-obsession and by subscribing to the latest political and social fads.

But in her book Strange Gods, Elizabeth Scalia says that when we’re obsessed with ourselves, all our feelings, desires and thoughts become like gods to us, and they lead us down a long winding path that seems to take us somewhere, but really only takes us down into the dungeon of ourselves.

This, she says, is why Jesus says the most important thing we can do is to love God first and then to love our neighbour. For only in this way will we be lifted from the empty depths of our inner selves and brought into the refreshing light of truth.

Today in our Gospel, Jesus is crucified on a cross in a rubbish dump called Calvary. Now, the very fact that our King and our God, Jesus Christ, would allow himself to be treated in this way should make us all stop and think. It says so much about how Jesus views his relationship with us.

In Mark’s Gospel (10:42-45) Jesus says to his disciples, ‘You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’. 

Pope Benedict XVI in his book The Joy of Knowing Christ (2009) says that this is the logic of Christianity. Jesus gave himself in love simply because God is love.

To those who don’t know him, Jesus nailed to the cross looks like an abject failure. However, we know from what follows that Jesus didn’t fail at all. He has actually proved to be the most remarkable king of all.

Not only did he rise from the dead, but he has shown us that his kingship is not about selfishness and greed, but about humility, service and love.

He has shown us that he is not a demanding, bullying king, but one who gently invites us to follow him.

And he is not imperious or remote like other kings, but rather he is a shepherd who genuinely cares for his flock. 

And significantly, he doesn’t ask us to do anything that he’s not prepared to do himself.

Jesus’ self-sacrificial love is the complete opposite of fashionable thinking today.

In his book Food for the Soul, Peter Kreeft draws our attention to the last sentence in today’s Gospel. He notes that it’s the last sentence of the last reading of the last Sunday of our liturgical year, and it’s Jesus’ answer to the good thief who was crucified next to him: ‘Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’

Kreeft says that these are the words we will be hearing from Jesus on the last day of our own lives, if we accept him as our King.

He says that if we make room for Jesus on the throne of our lives, then he will make room for us on his throne in heaven. He will share his kingship, his triumph, and his glory with us. [i]

That thief had lived a life of crime, and barely minutes before his death, he repented and opened his heart up to God. Jesus responded by offering him eternal life in paradise.

What a remarkable gift that was!

But what’s even more extraordinary is the fact that this gift is available to each of us, too.

[i] Peter Kreeft, Food for the Soul. Word on Fire, Park Ridge, IL. 2021:671-672.

Year C – 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

The End Times

(Mal.3:19-20a; 2Thess.3:7-12; Lk.21:5-19)

In all three synoptic Gospels, Jesus warns us that the world will end one day.

‘There will be great signs from heaven,’ he says. There will be fearful sights including wars and revolutions, earthquakes, plagues and famines.

If all these things are happening right now, might we be living in the end times?

People have been asking this question for the last 2,000 years, and many have tried to predict the world’s end. Indeed, one mathematician claims to have calculated that the world only has 760 years left. [i]

So far, these people have all been proved wrong, but in any case Jesus tells us not to listen to them because they are either ignorant or false teachers. For even he doesn’t know when the world will end; only his Father knows (Mt.24:36).

In today’s first reading, the prophet Malachi confirms that one day the world will end and all the ‘arrogant and the evil-doers of the world will be burnt up like stubble.’ What he means is that there’s no joy ahead for those who choose the way of sin and darkness.

Those who choose the way of light, however, can expect ‘the sun of righteousness to shine with its healing rays.’

In other words, if your faith is genuine, you need not fear because the Lord will come to ‘rule the world with justice and the people with fairness’ (Ps.97:9).

In our second reading, St Paul says that it’s wrong to sit idly by, watching and waiting for all this to happen. Instead, we should be setting a good example for others by living honest and humble lives, and working steadily to earn the bread we eat. Our work might not be easy, but it is a necessary and noble part of life, and an important pathway to heaven.

And in Luke’s Gospel today, after talking about the end of the world, Jesus warns that we Christians can expect to be persecuted for following him.

Now, the Church has always endured some form of persecution, but it’s much worse today. More Christians were martyred in the Twentieth Century than in all the previous 1900 years combined, and sadly, the numbers keep rising. [ii]

In many parts of the world, churches are regularly damaged and destroyed, and priests, religious and students are kidnapped and murdered. Laws have also been introduced to suppress Christian values and beliefs, and some professions, like doctors and nurses, are being forced to do things that contradict their faith.

Subtly and not-so-subtly, we’re all being encouraged to reject Jesus.

The Japanese writer Shusaku Endo was raised by a devout Christian mother and baptised at the age of eleven. He grew up a Christian in pre-war Japan, where Christians were less than 1% of the population. He felt an acute sense of alienation as his classmates bullied him because of his ‘western’ religion.

After the war, he went to France, hoping to find spiritual soulmates. But once again he faced persecution, this time because of his race. He became the target of racial abuse.

Rejected at home and abroad, Endo suffered a deep crisis of faith. He decided to visit Palestine to study the life of Jesus. There he made a profound discovery: that Jesus was also rejected. There was no room for him in the inn when he was born. His neighbours ran him out of town. His family questioned his sanity. One of his closest friends betrayed him, while the others abandoned him. And his countrymen traded his life for that of a terrorist.

All this came as a surprise to Endo. He had thought that Christianity was a triumphant faith, but he discovered instead that Jesus was the Suffering Servant. Endo could see in the weak, the broken and the rejected, the Jesus who was also rejected by his own, and tortured and condemned to death.

He learnt that Jesus could understand the rejection that he himself had experienced, and knowing that gave him great strength. [iii]

It’s not easy being a faithful Christian these days, and that’s precisely why Jesus wants us to know that the world will not last forever.

He’s not trying to make us fearful, because fear is the enemy of love, and God is the source of all love. Rather, Jesus is promising us that something much better is coming for those who follow him. ‘Your endurance will win you your lives,’ he says.

The point is that God is ultimately in control, and it’s foolish to ever think we can ‘go it alone’.

Knowing that our troubled world won’t last forever actually gives us hope. It gives focus to our labours, and it encourages us to prepare for the life to come.

There’s a much better life ahead for those who truly love Jesus (Jn.10:10; 1Jn.2:25).


[ii] Peter Kreeft, Food for the Soul, Cycle C. Word on Fire, Park Ridge, IL. 2021:644.

[iii] Flor McCarthy, New Sunday and Holy Day Liturgies, Year C. Dominican Publications, Dublin. 2012:374-375.

Year C – 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

As It Is In Heaven

(2Macc.7:1-2, 9-14; 2Thess.2:16-3:5; Lk.20:27-38)

Some say that there are two kinds of people in this world – those who believe in heaven, and those who don’t.

Jesus, of course leads the first group, but in Biblical times, the Sadducees belonged to the second. They were a small Jewish group who refused to believe in an afterlife.

In today’s Gospel, when some Sadducees see Jesus in the Temple, they challenge him with a hypothetical question: whose wife would a woman be if she marries each of seven brothers, one after the other, after each one dies? [i]

They believe that God’s Law, as given to Moses, cannot be broken, and that God would never create anything that contradicted his own Law. So, by their reasoning, God could not have created an afterlife, because it would simply undermine the sanctity of marriage.

Jesus gives them two answers. Firstly, he says that marriage is an earthly institution blessed by God, and it doesn’t exist in heaven.

And secondly, he says that Moses learnt about the resurrection before he received the Law from God. That was when he first encountered God in the Burning Bush, and God said to him ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob’ (Ex.3:4-6).

Jesus’ point is that because God is the God of the living, and God of the patriarchs, then the patriarchs – Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – must still be alive. For God is a ‘living’ God and only the living can experience something that lives. The patriarchs, therefore, are still alive and heaven is real.

We affirm this belief for ourselves every time we recite the Creed and say ‘I believe in the… resurrection of the body and life everlasting.’

So what do we know about heaven? Not too much, unfortunately. That’s probably because, as St Paul says, the nature of heaven is beyond our human comprehension. ‘No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him’ he says (1 Cor 2:9).

However, we do know some things. For example, life in heaven is different to life here on earth, because there’s no more death or decay, or suffering or pain (Rev.21:4), and heaven is a place of eternal rest and peace (Heb.4:9).

And as Jesus says today, there’s no marriage, but this doesn’t mean that we’ll lose our family and friends. Rather, our relationships will be different as everything will centre around a close communion with God, who is love itself.

You might remember that shortly before he was crucified, Jesus sensed his disciples’ fear and said to them, ‘Don’t let your hearts be troubled… trust in me… I’m going on ahead to prepare a place for you… There are many dwelling places in my Father’s house’ (Jn.14:1-3). 

Jesus has prepared a home for all his disciples in heaven, but this is more than just somewhere to live. It’s actually our real home (Heb.13:14), our permanent home, unlike our temporary dwellings here on earth. And this home will be the fulfilment of our deepest desires, for as St Augustine wrote: ‘You made us for yourself O Lord, and our hearts remain restless until they rest in you.’ [ii]

Some people wonder if heaven might be boring. They fear that it might be just a wispy, ethereal place where people sit on clouds, chanting or playing harps all day long. But remember that in his first letter, St John says that we ‘shall see God as he is’ (1Jn.3:2).

This is significant, because God is the foundation of all wisdom, knowledge and understanding, and the source of all being. He is our Creator, and seeing him will give us the greatest possible happiness. We’ll find ourselves both excited and fulfilled by the extraordinary sights, and insights, that God will reveal to us.

In his book The Imitation of Christ, Thomas á Kempis wrote, ‘Happy is the person who always keeps the hour of death in mind, and daily prepares for it.’

So how might we prepare for it?

Richard Rohr says the simplest way to answer that question is by asking what’s happening in heaven. And what is happening in heaven is communion, unity and family. ‘Lord, your will be done on earth as it is happening in heaven.’

Rohr makes the point that God’s love in heaven is all about perfect union, and union and communion are what God is trying to achieve here on earth. ‘God is not creating religion and righteousness,’ he says. ‘God is creating unity.’

That’s why Jesus’ basic rules for the kingdom are about forgiveness, reconciliation, healing and communication.

‘Those who are capable of union and communion are capable of God,’ he says. [iii]

So, that’s how we prepare for heaven.

[i] To explain, this practice of a man marrying his brother’s widow comes from the Torah (Deut.25:5-6). It’s called the Levirate Law of Marriage (From the Latin word ‘levir’, meaning brother or brother-in-law), and its purpose was to ensure that widows are looked after and that the first husband’s name lived on after him.

[ii] St Augustine, Confessions, Penguin Books, London, 1961:21

[iii] Richard Rohr, What the Mystics know. Crossroad Publishing, NY. 2015:99.

Year C – 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time

Anyone, Anywhere, Anytime

[Wis.11:22-12:2; 2Thess.1:11-2:2; Lk.19:1-10]

Being ridiculed and excluded can be very painful. This is what Zacchaeus finds in Luke’s Gospel today.

As a tax collector for the Romans, Zacchaeus has become rich, but the people of Jericho hate him. They think he’s a worthless cheat.

Not surprisingly, he is unhappy. He feels lost and sorely in need of a fresh start.

Zacchaeus has heard that Jesus is coming to town, and hopes to get a glimpse of him. But Zacchaeus is a short man in a big crowd, so he climbs a tree to get a better view.

Jesus sees him up there, and says, ‘Come down. Hurry because I must stay at your house today.’ Instantly, Zacchaeus’ life changes. His curiosity is replaced by an intense sense of repentance and conversion.

They haven’t met before, but Jesus knows Zacchaeus well (just as he knows each of us), and he gives him all the hope and joy he’s looking for. Zacchaeus then commits himself to giving away half his fortune to the poor, and generously repaying anyone he has wronged.

Thanks to Jesus, he is now a new man with a new life, and tradition tells us that Zacchaeus went on to become the first bishop of Caesarea.

There are three things to note from this story.

Firstly, although everyone else rejects Zacchaeus, Jesus still loves him. Jesus never rejects anyone, and neither should we.

Secondly, this story demonstrates that Jesus can call on anyone, anywhere and anytime – even nobodies perched high up in a tree. Is he calling you?

And finally, Jesus uses Zacchaeus as his instrument to serve that community. We know this because he generously commits to helping the poor.

In other words, God often works through the most unlikely people.

Now, someone else who suffered ridicule and exclusion was St Martin de Porres. His feast day is next week, on 3 November.

Martin was born in Lima, Peru, to a Spanish nobleman and a former black slave. His father soon abandoned him, leaving him to live in poverty with his mother and sister.

Martin only had two years of schooling, and was often mocked for his colour, but this didn’t stop him growing into a kind and caring man. He discovered Jesus through his mother, and from the age of ten he prayed for hours every day.

When he was twelve, Martin served as an apprentice and learnt basic hair-cutting and simple medical procedures.

At fifteen, he tried to join the Dominicans, but mixed-race people weren’t welcome back then, so instead he became a servant boy at a nearby convent. There, he cooked, cleaned and laboured in the fields.

Ten years later, he was invited to become a Dominican brother. He was overjoyed, but remained humble. He ate and dressed simply, slept little and worked hard. But even there, he found himself mocked by cruel jokes.

At 34, he was given responsibility for the infirmary and he spent the rest of his life doing remarkable things, healing both the rich and the poor.

Many miracles are attributed to Martin. He often appeared miraculously at the bedside of sick people, and he was sometimes seen in two places at once. He was a great fundraiser, using the money to feed and shelter hundreds of families. He established orchards and taught people how to farm, and he established an orphanage and school that still operate today. He also once bought a slave to set him free.

Martin died in 1639, aged 59. Thousands attended his funeral, and he was canonised by Pope St John XXIII in 1962.

Just like Zacchaeus, there are three things to note from this story. Firstly, although others rejected Martin, Jesus still held him close to his heart. Jesus never rejects anyone, and neither should we.

Secondly, this story reminds us that Jesus can call on anyone, anywhere and anytime – even nobodies on the margins of society. Is he calling you?

And finally, Jesus used Martin to serve that community. We know this because of his extraordinary achievements.

In other words, God often works through the most unlikely people.

Zacchaeus and Martin had much in common. They were both ‘nobodies’, rejected by their communities. But they both had faith, and allowed Jesus to work through them. Because of that, they both lived lives of great purpose, meaning and joy, and today they continue to inspire millions of people.

Zacchaeus came to Jesus much later in life than Martin, but that is never an issue.

Whenever anyone opens up their heart and life to God, the rewards are always the same (Mt.20:1-16).

Year C – 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Jesus Prayer

(Sir.35:12-14, 6-18; 2Tim.4:6-8, 16-18; Lk.18:9-14)

‘Pray constantly,’ St Paul tells the Thessalonians (1Thess.5:17).

But how can anyone pray constantly? That’s the question a young homeless man asks in the spiritual classic, The Way of a Pilgrim, written by an anonymous Russian author.

It’s the 1800s, and this young man hears St Paul’s words in an Orthodox church. He’s puzzled: how can anyone possibly pray non-stop?

He decides to go on pilgrimage to find an answer. He asks many people along the way, and eventually stops at a monastery, where an old monk agrees to help him understand what St Paul means.

He begins by teaching him the Jesus Prayer: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner’.

‘Go to your room and say it 1,000 times,’ the monk says. When he does this, the monk says, ‘Now, pray it 10,000 times.’

He teaches the pilgrim to slowly pray the first part, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God’ while breathing in, and then to say ‘have mercy on me, a sinner’ while breathing out. He instructs him to do this all day.

Later, the monk dies and the pilgrim resumes his journey, slowly chanting this prayer by inhaling and exhaling the words. Sometimes he stresses a different word, or he shortens the prayer down to ‘Lord Jesus, have mercy on me’, or simply ‘Jesus, have mercy’.

All the while he’s using this breathing technique, humbly confessing his sinfulness and expressing his longing for God. In the process, he moves from praying the words aloud to praying them silently, and gradually, his whole being becomes the prayer. The words become embedded in his heart, mind and body, and their presence becomes as natural and constant as breathing itself.

‘Now I walk and say the Jesus Prayer without ceasing,’ the pilgrim says, ‘and it’s more precious and sweet to me than anything else in the world.’ [i]

The Jesus Prayer is a prayer of the heart. It’s similar to an Eastern mantra in that it’s short and it’s prayed over and over again, sometimes using knots or beads on a prayer rope.

But the difference is that non-Christian mantras are often meaningless and aim to empty the mind.

The words of the Jesus Prayer, however, are Biblical and deeply meaningful, and aim to fill the heart, mind and soul with Jesus himself.

The strength of this prayer comes from Jesus’ holy name, which is powerful in itself (Phil.2:9; Rom.10:13). Whenever we use Jesus’ name, we invoke his presence and he brings with him peace and forgiveness, love and hope.

Indeed, you cannot separate the name and person of Jesus.

This prayer began with the 3rd Century monks of the Egyptian desert. They took the words ‘Lord have mercy on me’ from the psalms and from the story of Jesus healing the blind beggar in Jericho (Mk.10:47).

The essence of this prayer, however, can be found in today’s Gospel, in Jesus’ Parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector.

Two men are praying in the Temple. The Pharisee stands where everyone can see him. Looking up to heaven, he loudly thanks God that he’s not like everyone else, and especially not like that Tax Collector, for he’s a virtuous man who fasts and is generous with his money.

That’s not genuine prayer, however. That’s self-promotion.

The Tax Collector then stands at the back of the Temple. He’s ashamed of his life and can’t lift up his eyes (Ez.9:6). He prays quietly, saying ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ He is lowly and humble, and honest about his mistakes. He knows he needs help, so he prays, seeking God’s love and forgiveness.

In the 1930s, Jesus promised St. Faustina Kowalska that he will ‘pour out a whole ocean of graces’ to those who approach the fountain of His mercy. [ii] This is what he does for the Tax Collector. He’ll do the same for us if we take this prayer to heart.


Today, the Jesus Prayer is especially popular in the Eastern Church, and increasingly so in the West. It’s said to be the most widely used prayer after the Our Father and the Hail Mary. [iii]

And it’s effective. A 1998 study found that practising the Jesus Prayer for ten minutes a day for 30 days, sitting quietly, offers many benefits. This includes increasing one’s perception of closeness to God, and decreasing levels of hostility, depression and anxiety. [iv]

The Jesus Prayer is easy to remember, and easy to pray, anywhere and anytime. It also comes with a whole ocean of God’s graces. [v]

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Now, say this 1,000 times.

[i] Helen Bacovcin (trans.), The Way of the Pilgrim. Doubleday, NY, 1992. 





Year C – 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity

(Ex.17:8-13; 2Tim.3:14-4:2; Lk.18:1-8)

Being cast adrift can be a scary experience.

That’s what we see in Alfonso Cuarón’s movie Gravity. It won seven Oscars in 2014. [i]

Sandra Bullock stars as a young astronaut, Dr Ryan Stone, on her first space mission. George Clooney is her commander, a veteran astronaut on his last space expedition.

Disaster strikes while they’re investigating the Hubble Space Telescope. Their space shuttle is destroyed, they lose contact with the world and they start floating hopelessly into space. It’s a frightening thought.

The film is set in outer space, but the real story is about the inner life of this young woman. Her drifting through space serves as a metaphor for human life, for so many people today do seem to be drifting aimlessly through life. 

Dr Stone discovers to her horror that science cannot answer the most basic questions about life, and this movie asks the question: when science and technology fail, what’s left to sustain us?

Image result for Gravity movie images

At one point, she thinks she’s going to die. She cannot contact mission control, but keeps talking into her microphone anyway, asking, ‘Who’ll pray for my soul? Will you say a prayer for me? I’d say one myself, but I’ve never been taught how to’.

She discovers that we all need a faith and hope that’s grounded in solid truth, a truth that exists beyond us. And she learns that prayer is our only real lifeline to that truth and hope. (This point explains the film’s tagline: Don’t Let Go.)

There’s a similar message for us in today’s reading from Exodus. The Israelites are under attack, and as they try to defend themselves, Moses is praying on a hilltop. His hands are held high and he’s looking up towards heaven (for that’s how the ancients prayed).

As long as Moses keeps his arms up in constant prayer, the Israelites are safe; but when he lowers them, the enemy gains ground. 

The message is simple: Keep praying! Don’t let go! 

Like Sandra Bullock’s character in Gravity, there are times when we all feel we’ve been cast adrift. We feel lost, fearful and uncertain of where we’re going. That’s why Jesus in today’s Gospel reminds us of the source of our hope. Pray constantly, he says. Never lose heart.

Don’t let go!

But what is prayer? Basically, it’s communicating with God, and there are many ways to do this: in words, in song and even in silence. We can also pray by reading Scripture and by participating in the liturgy, most especially the Holy Eucharist.

Some of us have yet to find God, so prayer is also our search for him. We can look for God in our hearts and minds or listen for his quiet voice. We can seek him in art, music and literature, or sense him in the people, events and world around us. All these are forms of prayer.  

But once we’ve found God, prayer is then reaching out to him, inviting him into our lives, allowing him to change us from within. 

After that, prayer is staying connected with God, sharing in his divine nature and living as he wants us to.

St John Vianney described prayer as union with God. Prayer, he said, is like two candles – one for God and one for the soul – that have slowly melted into each other and become inseparable.

Ultimately, however, prayer is love. It’s our heartfelt search for the source of all life and love. And when we find God, when we absorb all he has to offer, then we become a source of new life and love for others. God then works through us, offering others a new beginning.

But this is only possible if we accept that there’s more to life than what we see.

Like Dr Stone in Gravity, we must learn that there truly is a deeper, spiritual world beyond the limits of space and time, for God is the source of all truth and meaning; the home of all love. And that’s where we belong. 

There’s a moment in Gravity where Dr Stone starts to understand. She’s floating in space in a foetal position, and then emerges with new life. This image is reinforced in the final scene where she emerges from the sea to begin afresh, in the same way that we rise to new life from the waters of baptism.

Our challenge then, is to maintain our link to the source of all life.

Fashion Rosary Black Red Bead Guadalupe & Jesus Cross 28" Rosary Necklace  HR 600 KKRD |

October is the month of the Holy Rosary, which reminds us of the ancient prayer that focuses so beautifully on the life of Jesus Christ.

St Therese of Lisieux saw the Rosary as a long chain linking heaven and earth, with one end in our hands, and the other in the hands of Jesus and Mary.

Like all prayer, the Rosary is an important lifeline to the truth of our existence.

Whatever you do, don’t let go!

[i] Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity, Warner Bros. Entertainment, 2013.

Year C – 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Thank God for the Fleas

(Kgs.5:14-17; 2Tim.2:8-13; Lk.17:11-19)

How important is gratitude? Do we really need to say thank you?

Most of us probably know someone who rarely or never says thank you. Perhaps they’re angry or resentful about something, or they simply take things for granted, but being ungrateful tends to have consequences.

For example, ungrateful people often make poor life decisions. Why? It’s because negative thinking tends to cloud our judgement.[i] And have you noticed that ungrateful people are never happy? That’s because gratitude is the key to happiness. You cannot be happy if you’re never grateful.

So, what is gratitude? It’s appreciating what we have. It’s saying thanks for the good things that happen to us. Gratitude helps us feel connected with the world and with each other. It helps us see the world in fresh ways. It makes it easier for us to feel good, to overcome stress and adversity, and to be healthy. [ii]

In today’s Gospel, ten lepers approach Jesus. They’ve heard all about him and they’re hoping for a cure. In Greek, they cry ‘Eleison!’ (This is our cry, too, when we say ‘Lord have mercy’ at the start of every Mass.)

‘Go, show yourselves to the priests,’ Jesus says, and on the way all ten of them are healed; such is the strength of their faith. But only one, a Samaritan, returns to say thank you. Only he is humble enough to appreciate the gift he’s received. He throws himself thankfully at Jesus’ feet, and as he does so, he receives an even greater gift: his heart and soul are filled with divine grace.

He is both physically healed and spiritually transformed.

In this Gospel, Jesus is saying that we should all be grateful for our blessings. So, we ask ourselves: are we truly grateful, like the Samaritan? Or do we choose to be like the other nine, taking but giving nothing in return?

Through his letters, St Paul often talks about being thankful. In fact, he does so 46 times (e.g., Col.1:3-8,15; 1Tim.2:1). ‘Give thanks in all circumstances’ (1Thess.5:18), he says. Give thanks to God and to each other, always and everywhere. Give thanks for our existence, for the world we live in, for the food we eat and the air we breathe. Give thanks for our family and friends, and for our peace and prosperity.

Life might not be perfect, but we’re all blessed in so many ways.

In her book, The Hiding Place, Corrie Ten Boom explains how she learnt to be grateful, even in the most awful of places.

In 1944, in the Netherlands, she and her family were arrested by the Nazis for secretly sheltering Jews in their home. They were sent to Ravensbruck concentration camp, a truly cruel and miserable place.

Arriving at Barracks 28, they were horrified to find the straw mattresses soaked with urine, the sewers backed up and their beds swarming with biting fleas. How could they live in such a place?

Corrie’s sister Betsie had a Bible, and in it she came across St Paul’s instruction: ‘Give thanks in all circumstances.’ They talked and wondered about this, and decided to make a list of all their blessings.

They were thankful they were together. They thanked God they had a Bible. They even thanked God for the crowds of prisoners, that more people could hear God’s word through them. And then, Betsie thanked God for the fleas.

‘The fleas!’ Corrie said. This was too much. ‘There’s no way even God can make me grateful for a flea,’ she thought.

But it turned out that Betsie was right. The fleas were a nuisance, but they were also a blessing. The women were able to have Bible studies in the barracks with a great deal of freedom, never bothered by supervisors coming in and harassing them. The fleas actually kept the guards away.

God used those fleas to protect dozens of women from harassment and abuse. They were left free to support each other and to hear the comforting and life-giving word of God. [iii]

We all have things that irritate us, things that at first appear to be annoying, painful or even unnecessary. But as Corrie Ten Boom found, God often uses such things for our protection and blessing.

St Therese of Lisieux learnt the same lesson: ‘Everything is a blessing’, she said. Everything.

So, we must always be thankful, even when times are tough and unpleasant. We might not be aware of it, but God is always looking after us.

Very often, it’s only when we look back that we realise what God has done for us.



[iii] Corrie ten Boom, The Hiding Place, Hodder and Stoughton, London, 2015:184-192.

Year C – 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Faith and Science

(Hab.1:2-3; 2:2-4; 2Tim.1:6-8, 13-14; Lk.17:5-10)

Is it true that faith and science are enemies?

No, that’s simply not true. Today, the Church runs countless schools and universities which teach science. It also sponsors the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the Vatican Observatory.

But let’s go back into history. Bishop Robert Barron reminds us that it was the Church that gave birth to science. The great scientific pioneers, including Kepler, Copernicus, Galileo, Newton and Descartes, all went to Church-sponsored schools and universities, and it was there that they began their journeys of scientific discovery.

These early schools and universities taught two theological truths that underpin the experimental sciences today: firstly, that the universe is not God, and secondly, that the universe he created is both orderly and rational (Ecc.42:21; Jer.33:25-26).

It’s because God’s creation is so orderly and rational that science is able to do what it does so well – conducting observations, analysis and experimentation.

Science’s foundations, then, emerged from theology, and the pioneers of science got their start from Church-sponsored schools and universities.

Now, we know that God created the universe (Gen.1). This means that he must be outside it. It also means that you cannot use the scientific method to find or study God.

When pioneer cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin returned from outer space in 1961, he said, ‘I looked and looked but I didn’t see God.’ Of course he didn’t. God is not an object inside his own creation. He’s outside it.

Similarly, my wife is an artist. If you closely study her work, you’ll find evidence of her style, her techniques and her imagination. But you’ll never find the woman herself because she exists outside her creations.

Finding our divine creator therefore requires a different approach, and that’s why science and theology use very different methods in their work. It also explains why science can never decide the question of God’s existence or describe God or what he does. That requires a very different kind of rational thought, one that doesn’t compete with the scientific approach.

And here’s another point: Scientism is not science.

Scientism says that the only knowledge worth having is scientific knowledge. Many people today say they will accept only what they can clearly see, touch and control, and therefore the only knowledge of any value comes from science. But we know that science has its limitations.

Science has done great work in fields like health and technology, but it still can’t distinguish good from bad, or right from wrong. It can’t explain love or goodness or beauty, and it can’t decide what to do with its own discoveries.

There is such a thing as objective truth. Jesus spoke about it (Jn.14:6), and there are many roads to it, including art, literature, history, philosophy, science and religion. It’s wrong to suggest that only one approach has any value.

And finally, we should acknowledge the ground-breaking work of countless Catholic scientists, including Danish Bishop Nicholas Steno who founded Geology, and German Fr Athanasius Kircher who founded Egyptology. (He also studied medicine, physics, astronomy, maths, music and linguistics). [i]

Fr Roger Boscovich’s ideas in the 1700s led to modern atomic theory. Seismology is often called the Jesuit science. Economics was founded by fourteenth-century Catholic thinkers, Jean Buridan and Nicolas Oresme. The father of modern genetics was an Augustinian friar, Gregor Mendel. Fr Georges Lemaître formulated the Big Bang theory. And finally, Sr Miriam Stimson, a Dominican nun and Chemistry professor, helped discover DNA. [ii]

Clearly, there’s a distinguished relationship between Christianity and science.

Now, some people say that the story of Galileo is proof of the Church’s supposed “war” against science. But Robert Barron says that this is only one chapter in a very long book. ‘The Galileo episode was hardly the Church’s finest moment,’ he says, ‘(but) in point of fact, John Paul II apologised for it.’ [iii]

The Galileo story was clearly a mistake, but it should not overshadow the historically positive link between science and the Christian faith.

Let’s close with a story. A young university student was travelling in the same train carriage as an elderly man who was praying the Rosary. The young man confronted him: ‘Instead of praying the Rosary, why don’t you take the time to learn and educate yourself a little more? I can send you an instructive book,’ he said.

The old man replied, ‘Please send me the book at this address,’ and he handed him his card. It read: Louis Pasteur, Paris Institute of Science.

The student was embarrassed. Pasteur was the most famous scholar of his time. He invented vaccines and pasteurisation and regularly prayed the Rosary.

Pasteur was also the man who said that a little science estranges us from God, but much science leads us back to him.




Year C – 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Parable of Dives and Lazarus

(Amos 6:1a,4-7; 1Tim.6:11-16; Lk.16:19-31)

How many parables are there? Surprisingly, no-one’s quite sure. One scholar says there are 33, but other sources say there are 30, or 37, or 40, or 46, or even 60.

It all depends on how you count them, whether you include various proverbs and metaphors, and whether you group together parables like The Lost Sheep and The Lost Coin.

Jesus’ parables occupy a third of the first three Gospels. He likes using them in his teaching, for he knows how much people love stories.

In Hebrew, the word for parable is mashal, which also means ‘riddle’. So, Jesus’ parables serve as riddles that make us think.

Harvey Cox says that one of the most surprising features of Jesus’ parables is that they are not about God. Rather, they are about ordinary things like weddings and banquets, family tensions, muggings, farmers sowing and reaping, and shrewd business dealings. Only one or two actually mention God.

Cox’s point is that Jesus wants us to look closely at this world we live in, and not somewhere else, for it’s in the here and now – all around us in the most ordinary things of life – that we find God’s divine presence. [i]

Image result for lazarus and the rich man images

Parables always work at two levels. There’s the literal level with a very simple story, and then there’s a deeper level offering us profound lessons about life.

Today’s parable is The Rich Man and Lazarus. We don’t know the rich man’s name, but some call him Dives, which simply means ‘rich man’ in Latin. I’ll use that name for him today.

This Lazarus isn’t the brother of Martha and Mary. Lazarus was a common name back then; it means ‘God has helped’. Interestingly, this Lazarus is the only character that Jesus actually gives a name in any of his parables.

The first half of this story is set on earth. The rich man is enjoying life with fine food and clothes in his very expensive home, but he totally ignores poor Lazarus, who is sick and starving and waiting just outside his gate. 

The story then switches to the afterlife as both men die. Their roles are reversed, and Dives finds himself trapped in hell, while Lazarus is delighted to find himself with Abraham in heaven. (And we recall Jesus’ promise that the last will be first, and the first will be last [Mt.20:16]).

We soon discover that Dives actually knew Lazarus all along, because he uses his name to demand a cooling drink. But he still hasn’t learnt anything, because he treats Lazarus dismissively, like a slave.

On the surface, this story is simple: Dives should have done something to help Lazarus.  But like all parables, this one offers us plenty of food for thought.

Firstly, it reminds us that human suffering is everywhere, and it asks us to reflect on our own response to it. Dives had every comfort, while Lazarus suffered in misery, and we are reminded of Jesus’ words: ‘Whatever you do to the least of my people you do to me’ (Mt.25:40).

St Teresa of Kolkata built her life on these words. Whenever she found someone abandoned and suffering, she always saw them as ‘Jesus in disguise’.

Lazarus, covered in sores and licked by street dogs, was Jesus in disguise.

How do we respond to such suffering? There’s so much hardship and pain in our world today. Every family, community, school and workplace has people who struggle. They might need friendship, encouragement or some kind of practical support, but they are all Jesus Christ himself.

And secondly, this parable warns us that hell is real. Jesus often talks about hell in the Gospels (e.g., Mk.9:43, 48; Mt.10:28; 13:42; 25:30, 41). In fact, he talks more often about hell than about heaven.

Today, he’s telling us to choose, because once we cross over that threshold into eternal life, it will be too late to change our minds.

Dives wanted to escape from hell but knew he couldn’t. As Abraham says to him, ‘…between us and you a great gulf has been fixed, to stop anyone, if he wanted to, crossing from our side to yours, and from your side to ours.’

Dives then asks if his brothers can be warned not to make the same mistake. But Abraham says, ‘if they won’t listen to Moses or the prophets, they won’t be convinced even if someone should rise from the dead.’

He’s right, isn’t he? Jesus himself rose from the dead, and yet so many people today refuse to listen to him.

So often with parables, the real story begins when the storyteller ends.

What’s your response to the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus?

[i] Harvey Cox, When Jesus Came to Harvard: Making Moral Choices Today (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 2004), 155, 159. Quoted in Richard Rohr’s Daily Reflection, the Parables of Jesus, August 2022.