Year C – 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Five Simple Lessons

(Kgs.19:16,19-21; Gal.5:1,13-18; Lk.9:51-62)

In 2019, when I last visited the Holy Land, I happily discovered a sculpture called Homeless Jesus near St Peter’s Church in Capernaum.

Made of bronze, this life-sized sculpture shows Jesus covered in a thin blanket, and sleeping on a park bench. You know it’s Jesus by the wounds on his feet, and there’s just enough bench space left for someone to sit next to him.

The sculptor is a Canadian, Timothy Schmalz, and over 100 casts of this work have been installed around the world. [i] Schmalz says this piece was inspired by today’s Gospel, where Jesus says that ‘the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’

But why is Jesus homeless? It’s because he has just set out on his Great Journey to Jerusalem. Luke starts this narrative in today’s reading, from chapter 9 of his Gospel, and he ends it in chapter 19 when Jesus arrives in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. We’ll be following this story over the next few weeks, and along the way Jesus will be teaching us how to follow him as his disciple.

In today’s reading, Jesus gives us five simple lessons to get us started in discipleship.

Firstly, we’re told that Jesus begins his own great journey by ‘resolutely taking the road for Jerusalem…’ This word ‘resolutely’ is important, for it tells us that Jesus is totally committed to it. There’s no turning back, despite the challenges, and Jesus wants us to be just as resolute in following him.

Secondly, Jesus makes it clear that he wants no angry thoughts from us; we must always be patient and loving. When Jesus enters that Samaritan village and finds he’s not welcome, his disciples James and John, the ‘Sons of Thunder’, propose revenge. But Jesus won’t have it. He’s a man of peace and forgiveness, and we must be the same.

Then we hear Jesus’ advice to each of the three people who want to follow him.

To the first, Jesus says ‘foxes have holes and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head’. Here, Jesus warns that the journey ahead may be inconvenient and uncomfortable, but that’s OK. We must be prepared to make sacrifices if we want to earn eternal life.

Then, when the second person says, ‘let me go and bury my father first’, Jesus makes it clear that there’s nothing more important than being his disciple. This must be our first priority. So, he says, ‘let the dead bury the dead’.

Now, this sounds heartless, but it helps to understand the culture of the time. In ancient Palestine, burials involved a two-stage process. 

Firstly, the body was placed in a cave where it was left to decompose, leaving only the bones. These bones were then placed in an ossuary, which is a stone chest or a special room for the storage of bones.

But the family never personally touched anything. Only trained undertakers did such work. So, there’s no point in this man waiting for his father’s bones to be moved. It’s not his job. It’s better for him to start following Jesus right away.

And finally, to the third person Jesus says, ‘no one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God’.

If you’re a farmer and want to plough your field in neat, straight lines, it’s important to keep your eyes fixed firmly ahead. If you keep looking back, you’re going to make mistakes. This isn’t what Jesus wants. He wants us to keep looking forward – keeping our eyes on the prize.

Following Jesus is the very essence of the Christian life. Deep down, many of us know this, and we promise ourselves that we will follow Jesus one day. But too many of us put it off – perhaps we don’t know how or where to start.

That’s why Jesus offers us these five helpful tips today. Let’s summarise them:

Firstly, make a decision to follow Jesus, and commit to it. Be ‘resolute’, just like Jesus himself.

Secondly, stop being angry towards others. Jesus is a man of peace and forgiveness, and we must be the same. Our hearts must always be filled with love.

Thirdly, be prepared to embrace humility. You might never be homeless, but you could be uncomfortable. Discipleship isn’t always easy, but Jesus is there to help us.

Fourthly, be prepared to leave things behind. Jesus must always come first.

And finally, with courageous heart and firm faith, always look forward and never look back.

We’ll hear more from Jesus in the coming weeks as we follow him on his Great Journey to Jerusalem.

May this be our great journey, too.


Year C – The Body and Blood of Christ

The Power of a Good Meal

(Gen.14:18-20; 1Cor.11:23-26; Lk.9:11b-17)

What does food do for us?

Many people think that food simply fills us up, that it stops us feeling hungry. But it does so much more than that. Good food is nourishing; it helps us grow and be healthy. It can be healing, too, and it’s comforting in times of fear, uncertainty and sadness.

But food is also a wonderful way to express love, and it’s often used to seal business deals. 

Indeed, food brings people together. We create a family when we share our table, and we create a community when we have a street barbecue! 

In every culture, food is always meaningful. That’s because growing, preparing and serving food always involves both sacrifice and heart.

Jesus knows this. He knows how families and communities are formed, and that breaking bread brings people together. That’s why he so often eats with all sorts of people, including social outcasts.

Jesus eats with tax collectors and sinners (Mt.9:10–11); with the Pharisees and lawyers (Lk.11:37-54), and with lepers (Mk.14:3). He receives a shady woman at a men’s dinner (Lk.7:36-39), and he invites himself to a meal at Zacchaeus’ place (Lk.19:1-10). 

Jesus is criticised for this (Lk.7:34). But he understands the power of food, and that’s why he gave us the Holy Eucharist.

St John Vianney (1786-1859) said that it’s not only our bodies that need food – our souls do, too. ‘But where is this food?’ he asked. 

He answered by saying that when God wanted to give us food for our souls, he looked everywhere and found nothing suitable. So, he decided to give himself.

And how does God give himself? Through the Holy Eucharist, which is God’s most precious gift to us.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is preparing the way for this gift. Over 5,000 people have followed him to a place called Tabgha, near the Sea of Galilee. They’re tired and hungry, but he doesn’t turn them away. Rather, he welcomes and teaches them, and cures the sick. Then he asks his disciples to feed them all. 

They’re resistant, however, for it’s getting late. But Jesus insists. 

He sits them all down and takes the meal of five loaves and two fish. He blesses and breaks the food, and then gives it to them. 

This is exactly what Jesus does at the Last Supper, when he institutes the Holy Eucharist (see also Lk.24:13-35). And for all 2,000 years since then, the Church has consistently repeated this action at every Mass. 

Our priests, acting ‘in persona Christi’, take the bread, they bless and break it, and then they give it to the faithful, repeating Jesus’ words: ‘This is my body. Take it and eat it … and remember that I’m with you, always.’

Why do we do this? It’s because Jesus told us to (Lk.22:19), and because we know that the Eucharist is not just a sign or a symbol (Jn.6:32). It’s actually Jesus himself. It’s Jesus’ own body and blood we consume, through the consecrated bread and wine. We know this because he said so (Jn.6:51-59). 

The Eucharist is God’s special meal, where he invites us all to join together as one Christian family around the table that we call the altar

Just as we have a dining table at home, so here in this house of Our Lord we have this special table, which at Mass is typically adorned with fine linen, candles and tableware, including a paten and chalice.

And just as we share stories at home when we settle down to eat and drink together, so here at Mass we hear stories about Jesus and our Father God, before sharing the one bread and the one cup. 

This eucharistic meal, this food for our souls, is powerful, because Jesus has promised that ‘whoever eats me will draw life from me (and) anyone who eats this bread will live forever’ (Jn.6:57-58).

And who serves this meal to us? It’s Jesus himself, through his ministers. Jesus is the one who waits on us (Lk.12:37, 20:28; 22:27). And he invites everyone to partake, just as he fed everyone in that crowd of over 5,000 at Tabgha, where ‘all ate and were satisfied’ (Lk.9:17; 14:15-24).

In offering this divine meal to us, Jesus is offering sinners forgiveness, acceptance and healing, for Jesus himself is food for our souls. 

The purpose of the Holy Eucharist is not simply to transform the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. 

Its purpose is to change us, to reinvigorate us as the Body of Christ, so that we may then go out to nourish the lives of others.


Year C – Trinity Sunday

A Constant Flow of Love

(Prov.8:22-31; Rom.5:1-5; Jn.16:12-15)

Today puzzles many people. Why? It’s because this is Trinity Sunday. They can’t understand how three persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – can possibly be one God.

We can know some things about God, however. St Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) said that ‘behaviour is determined by the nature of things,’ so we can tell something about God from the things he does.

God the Father, for example, is the Creator of all life. Our life is a gift from him, so we know he’s clever and generous. Jesus also calls his Father ‘Abba’, which means ‘Papa’, so we know he’s kind and gentle. And we know that he’s the loving and forgiving Father who waits patiently for his son, in Jesus’ Parable of the Prodigal Son (Lk.15:11–32).

We also know that Jesus, as the Son of God, gave up everything to live among us as an ordinary man. He reveals his loving heart by curing the sick, by helping the blind and downtrodden, and by sacrificing himself for us on the Cross. And by rising again, Jesus shows us that we can do the very same thing.

Then there’s God the Spirit, who is the love between the Father and the Son that constantly flows into our world. Wherever there’s love, there’s the Spirit. He makes us holy. He makes it possible for us to lives of faith, hope and love. He comforts, unites and strengthens us, and he leads us to the truth about God. And when God’s Spirit works in and through us, we are part of God’s life.

But many people still struggle with the Trinity, because they think that God must be a being, perhaps a grey-haired old man, controlling things from afar.

Richard Rohr says this idea of God as a being comes from the Greek philosopher Aristotle (384–322 BC), who taught that there were ten different qualities to all things, including ‘substance’ and ‘relationship’. Substance, he said, was the highest quality, so people thought that God must surely have substance.

Then, in the fourth and fifth centuries, St Augustine (354–430) described the Trinity as God in three substances united as one. And by the sixth century, God was defined as one substance who had three relationships.

Later on, however, Thomas Aquinas argued that God is one substance, but these relationships constitute the very nature of that substance.

This thinking has helped us understand that God doesn’t need to have any physical substance at all, for he is Spirit and relationship itself.

Richard Rohr says that our salvation is simply our readiness and capacity to stay in that relationship. As long as we remain vulnerable to some degree, he says, the Spirit can keep working in us.

But when we’re self-sufficient, we effectively shut ourselves off from God. That’s why Jesus arrived as a naked and vulnerable baby, Rohr says. Jesus was completely dependent on relationships, for that’s the way God works.

Rohr says that the Way of Jesus is our invitation into a Trinitarian way of living, loving and relating. We’re all essentially just like the Trinity, living in absolute relatedness, and to choose to stand outside this Flow is the deepest and most obvious meaning of sin.

This Flow is called love. We were made for love, and outside of it we die very quickly. [i]

He adds that infinite love is planted in all of creation, including ourselves. Everything is attracted to everything: life is attracted to life; love is attracted to love; God in you is attracted to God in everyone and everything else.

That’s what it means when the Bible says we’ve all been created in the image and likeness of God (Gen.1:26-27). God placed this alluring attraction of life toward life in everything he created.

The Trinity, then, is the heart and soul of all creation.

But what image should we use to represent the Trinity? Richard Rohr suggests the ‘fidget spinner’ toy. When it’s still, a fidget spinner has three different lobes. However, when it spins (which is its essential function), we can’t see the distinct wings; only an unbroken movement or flow, which is how God works.

This movement and flow between the three members of the Trinity is more significant than the qualities of each individual. That’s because God is a verb more than a noun; a flow more than a substance, an experience more than a deity sitting on a throne.

And we live naturally inside that constant flow of love – if we don’t resist it. [ii]

Our challenge, then, is to always go with the Flow.

To always allow God’s love to flow in and through us.

[i] Richard Rohr, Daily Meditation, God is Relationship, Thursday, May 9, 2019

[ii] Richard Rohr, Daily Meditation, Aliveness, Friday, May 10, 2019

Year C – Pentecost Sunday

Camino Moments

[Acts 2:1-11; Gal.5:16-25; Jn.15:26-27; 16:12-15]

Ten years ago this week, I completed the Camino Frances with five members of my family. This is the famous 800 km pilgrimage from southern France to Santiago de Compostela in north-west Spain.

Pilgrims often talk about the ‘Camino Moments’ they experience on this walk. These are the times when a problem they face is suddenly and mysteriously resolved. They might be lost, or thirsty, or needing something, and then suddenly a solution will appear.

This often happened to me. One day, for instance, it was hot and I had no sunscreen. Without any prompting, a lady approached me, offering me some.

Joyce Rupp talks about this in her book Walk in a Relaxed Manner. She tells the story of when she was lost in the city of Ponferrada, and all of a sudden, a bearded man in a red cape appeared and guided her safely through the streets.

On her Camino, she writes, ‘many unannounced angels came into our lives at just the right time to help us with their considerate care…’ [i]

‘Since my return from the Camino,’ she adds, ‘others have told me about strangers offering them solace in a hospital emergency room, unknown people stopping to help change a flat tyre, and unnamed persons reaching out to extend help or give information at precisely the time of greatest need.’ [ii]

What they all witnessed was the Holy Spirit unexpectedly helping them through strangers.

Today, on Pentecost Sunday, we celebrate Jesus’ disciples being filled with the Holy Spirit’s graces. Jesus had promised to send his Spirit to help them, and he did, as they all huddled in fear in the Upper Room.

A great noise like a mighty wind rushed through the house, tongues of fire appeared above the disciples, and they were all filled with God’s Holy Spirit.

This is the same Spirit that helped Mary conceive Jesus in her womb (Lk.1:35); the same Spirit that descended on Jesus at his baptism in the Jordan (Lk.3:22); and the same powerful Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead (1Pet.3:18).

The disciples’ lives changed instantly. No longer fearful, they bravely ventured out into the streets of Jerusalem, telling everyone about Jesus.

Now, the Holy Spirit’s work didn’t stop with Jesus and his Apostles. Today the Spirit continues to work throughout the world in many different ways, supporting, transforming and energising countless lives (1Cor.12:4-11).

For each of us, our own personal Pentecost occurred at our Baptism, when we were filled with the gifts of faith, hope and charity.

And at our Confirmation, these gifts were strengthened by the gifts of wisdom, understanding, right judgment, courage, knowledge, reverence and fear of the Lord (or ‘wonder and awe’).

Through these sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation, the Holy Spirit gives us the same special graces he gave Jesus and his Apostles. These spiritual strengths were exactly what they needed to get going, and they’re also just what we need today if we are to live our lives to the full (Jn.10:10).

We cannot see the Holy Spirit, and sadly, most people don’t even notice him working in their lives. They take him for granted. But we can sense his presence when we take the time to be quiet and reflective – like when we’re walking the Camino.

Walking the Camino can take many weeks, and you take with you only the most basic of necessities. Life becomes simpler and quieter, your mind becomes clearer, and you start to notice things that you’d normally miss in your busy life.

As you reflect on the Holy Spirit, you start to realise all he does for us. He leads us to Jesus, and helps us get to know him (Jn.15:26; 16:14). He guides us to where we need to go (Jn.16:13). He shows us what we’re meant to do (Acts 13:2; 16:6-7). And he helps us do God’s work (1Cor.12:11; Acts 1:8).

Something the Camino teaches us is that life itself is a pilgrimage, a journey from one day to another towards our heavenly home. And along the way, we’re all invited to see and experience, to learn and understand.

In our pilgrimage through life, the Holy Spirit is constantly trying to lead and inspire us, to help us become like Jesus.

And he’s always giving us help and encouragement. But do we notice? And are we truly open to him?

Today, let’s give thanks for the Holy Spirit’s loving presence in our lives.

And let’s be alert to our next Camino moment.

[i] Joyce Rupp, Walk in a Relaxed Manner. Orbis Books, Maryknoll, NY. 2007:154.

[ii] Op cit, p.159.

Year C – Ascension of Our Lord

10,000 Hours

(Acts.1:1-11; Heb.9:24-28, 10:19-23; Lk.24:46-53)

How long does it take to become highly skilled at something?

In his bestselling book, Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell says that you have to practise for 10,000 hours before you can truly master a skill. ‘In study after study of composers, basketball players, fiction writers, ice skaters, concert pianists (and) chess players,’ he says, ‘this number comes up again and again.’

The Beatles, for example, reached the heights of success because they spent 10,000 hours playing live music in the clubs of Hamburg, Germany, before touring England and America.

Mozart, too, put in 10,000 hours of hard practice before producing his greatest work. And as a student, Bill Gates spent 10,000 hours programming huge university computers before starting Microsoft.

10,000 hours, Gladwell says, are roughly equivalent to 10 years. That’s 2.7 hours of practice a day, every day, for 10 years to be good at something. [i]

Some people have criticised this theory, saying that it’s too simplistic and that it overlooks other important factors, like the influence of genetics, the quality of the practice and the level of encouragement the person might receive. [ii]

But Gladwell’s basic point is valid: it takes time and dedication to develop high level skills and understanding in any field.

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Ascension, the moment when Jesus farewells his disciples and returns to heaven because he has completed his earthly mission. He has taught his disciples all they need to know, and now it’s up to them to continue his work.

Jesus knows they can’t do it on their own, so he promises to send his Holy Spirit to help them (Jn.14:16). This, of course, happens at Pentecost.

But how much confidence did Jesus have in his disciples? Earlier, in Luke 18:8, he asks the question: ‘when the Son of Man returns, will he find faith on Earth?’

Jesus must have worried about this, and for good reason, because today many people have stopped learning about their Christian faith. They’re either no longer interested, or they think they know enough already.

So why should we keep learning about our faith? Here are two reasons:

Firstly, it’s because our world is in a mess; it’s full of conflict, corruption and pain.

Many people think that more money, technology, laws and even weapons will fix things. But history proves that’s not true. We cannot transform our sinful world without God. So, we need to keep learning from him.

Secondly, it’s because of all our unanswered questions. Including: what’s the meaning and purpose of life? What’s the point of suffering? How can I find peace and happiness? And how do we get to heaven?

Until we understand all these things, we need to keep learning.

Jesus said, ‘I came that they may have life, and have it to the full’ (Jn.10:10). In other words, he came to teach us how to live, how to love and how to get to heaven. But what does this mean for us personally?  

St John Paul II used to worry that too many Catholics really don’t understand their own faith. He encouraged us all to do something every day to strengthen our beliefs – to read the Bible, to learn about the saints, to pray, to go to Mass.

The important thing, he said, is to keep learning and growing.

He practised what he preached.  Every day, before going to bed, he read books or articles he’d set aside during the day. Every Tuesday he invited 5 or 6 experts in various fields – theology, philosophy, sociology, politics, culture or science – to talk and have lunch with him. He believed in lifelong learning. 

‘All men and women are entrusted with the task of crafting their own life,’ he once said. ‘In a certain sense, they are to make of it a work of art, a masterpiece.’

But it takes time and effort to create any masterpiece.

And of course, every learner needs a teacher. St Therese of Lisieux called Jesus the Teacher of teachers. She said, ‘…though I’ve never heard him speak, I know he’s within me, always guiding and inspiring me; and just when I need them, lights… break in upon me’.

So, how much time do you spend learning about your faith? At least 10,000 hours? The more you learn, of course, the more you realize how much you don’t know.

So, here’s the point: it’s not enough to say you believe in God. Even the devil believes in God (Jas.2:19).

Unless you truly understand Jesus Christ, and reflect him in your daily life, you have more learning to do (Jas.2:17).

[i] Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers: The Story of Success. Penguin Books, London. 2009:35.


Year C – 6th Sunday of Easter

Mother Earth, Brother Son 

(Acts 15:1-2, 22-29; Rev.21:10-14, 22-23; Jn.14:23-29)

I love fish and chips! Or at least, I used to. I’m not quite so sure anymore, after learning about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. It’s an island of plastic rubbish the size of Texas, floating in the north Pacific.

We all know that plastic is everywhere: in our homes, cars, clothes, in packaging, toys and water bottles. There are even microbeads of plastic in some toothpastes and skin cleansers. Some of it goes down our drains, but much of it ends up in our waterways and oceans. [i]

Sadly, plastic doesn’t go away. It just breaks down into ever smaller particles and enters the food chain. Fish eat the microplastic, and we eat the fish. Ugh!

This week the Church is celebrating Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si, which he released in 2015. He addresses it to ‘every person living on the planet’ and asks the question, ‘What kind of world do we want to leave to our children?’

It’s not just about the environment, he says. The question is deeper than that. He asks, ‘What’s the purpose of our life in this world? What’s the goal of our work and all our efforts?’ And ‘What does the earth need from us?’

Pope Francis says that unless we deal with the deeper issues of our world, all our ecological efforts won’t come to much.

The name ‘Laudato Si’ means ‘Praise be to you’, and comes from St Francis of Assisi’s Canticle of the Sun. It reminds us all that the earth is our common home, which is ‘like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us’.

Pope Francis says that too many people have forgotten that ‘we ourselves are dust of the earth (Gen.2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters’.

‘Now’, he says, ‘this earth, mistreated and abused, is lamenting, and its groans join those of all the forsaken of the world’.

He invites us all to listen to these groans and to ‘change direction’ by taking on the beauty and accepting responsibility for ‘caring for our common home’.

Pope Francis recognises that some people really do care about our planet, so not all is lost. And although others are capable of the worst, he says, they’re also capable of change, of choosing what is good, and making a new start.

Everything in our world is connected, he says, and there’s a close link between the fragility of our planet and those who are poor.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is talking with his disciples just after the Last Supper. He knows he will die soon, and that his disciples are scared. ‘Don’t be troubled or afraid,’ he says to them. ‘My peace I leave with you, my peace I give you.  A peace the world cannot give, this is my gift to you.’

The peace that Jesus offers us isn’t the same as worldly peace. Worldly peace typically is temporary, fragile and conditional. In many places, peace is simply the absence of trouble and war, and it only exists because of fear or force imposed from outside. But that’s not real peace.

Jesus’ peace is different. It comes from within. It’s free, unconditional and eternal. And it’s all-encompassing, because it’s available to all of God’s creation.

St Francis of Assisi dedicated his life to finding the peace of Christ. He found it by abandoning the worldly life, by following in Jesus’ footsteps and by discovering that all of God’s creation actually belongs to one universal family.

He learnt that, along with God and Mother Nature herself, we are all members of the same cosmic family.

St Francis wrote about this in his Canticle of the Sun in 1224, when he was almost blind and living in a small hut near Assisi. In lyrical language, he expresses his profound love for God and all his creation, including ‘Mother Earth’, ‘Brother Fire’ and ‘Sister Moon’. [ii]

Twenty years earlier, when he was in his 20s, St Francis knelt before a cross in the rundown chapel of San Damiano. He was surprised to hear that cross speak to him. ‘Francis,’ it said, ‘rebuild my house. As you see, it is all being destroyed.’ [iii]

This was a pivotal moment in his life, and in the life of our world. He devoted the rest of his days to repairing the Church, both physically and spiritually.

Today, we’re all being asked to help repair ‘our common home’. This, too, could be a pivotal moment.

Mother Earth is suffering, and so are too many of our neighbours.

What can you do to make this world a better place?




Year C – 5th Sunday of Easter

Love’s Two-Way Gift

(Acts 14:21-27; Rev.21:1-5; Jn.13:31-33a, 34-35)

In 1965, Jackie DeShannon sang, ‘What the world needs now is love, sweet love, it’s the only thing that there’s just too little of…’

But is love really all that necessary? Can’t we get by without it?

Towards the end of her life, the American actress Marilyn Monroe said to her maid, Lena: ‘Nobody’s ever going to love me now, Lena, and I don’t blame them. What am I good for? I can’t have children. I can’t cook. I’ve been divorced three times. Who would want me?’

‘Oh, lots of men would want you,’ Lena replied.

‘Yes,’ said Marilyn, ‘lots of men would want me. But who would ever love me? [i]

Sadly, she didn’t last much longer. In 1962, she took her own life.

By nature, we’re all social beings, wired to connect with others. Some of us are outgoing and need constant connection with family and friends, while others are happy to connect with just a few people. But we all need human contact; it’s built into our DNA. So where does this urge come from?

Scripture tells us that God is love (1Jn.4:16), and that we’re all made in God’s image and likeness (Gen.1:26-27). So, love is at the very heart of our human identity. God made each of us to love, and to be loved in return.

As parents and grandparents, we know how important it is for children to be loved and nurtured. From the moment of birth, children crave human touch, and the more they receive, the more neural pathways are created in their brain. These pathways manage the child’s emotional, psychological and physical growth. They shape the kind of adult they’ll grow into.

But when a child is neglected, when nappies aren’t changed, when smiles are ignored and when there’s no affection or touch, then fewer brain connections develop and growth is restricted. [ii]

In 1989, when communism collapsed in Romania, it was discovered that thousands of children had been raised in loveless institutions. Their physical, emotional, cognitive and social development was severely stunted. [iii]

But a lack of love doesn’t just affect children. In 2020, when my dear old Dad’s nursing home went into Covid lockdown, all visitors were banned. He was effectively blind and deaf, and relied heavily on regular family visits. But when the visits stopped, he lost his will to live and within weeks he perished.

In John’s Gospel today, Jesus and his disciples have just finished their Last Supper. Jesus knows he’s leaving soon, but he’s worried about his disciples, so he gives them a parting gift. He says, ‘I give you a new commandment; love one another just as I have loved you’.

Jesus understands our need to be loved. He knows how important it is. But what kind of love is he talking about?

In his book The Four Loves, CS Lewis describes four kinds of love. They all appear in the Bible, and in Greek, each has a different name. [iv]

Storge (Stor-jay) is family love, the affection parents have for their children (e.g., Rom.12:9-10). Philia is friendship or brotherly love (Heb.13:1), and Eros is romantic love (Song 1:2-4).

But the kind of love Jesus is talking about is Agape – the highest, most profound kind of love. It’s the unconditional and sacrificial love that Jesus demonstrates when he washes his disciples’ feet, when he feeds the hungry, when he heals the sick and the blind, and especially when he sacrifices himself on the Cross.

St John uses the word agape when he says that ‘God is love’ (1Jn.4:8). Jesus uses it, too, when he says, ‘Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down his life for his friends’ (Jn 15:13).

We’re all meant to love each other with agape, just as Jesus loves us.

For our health and wellbeing, we know that we all need to receive love. But psychologists have also discovered that we have a parallel need to give love.

They’ve found that when we express our love and care for someone else, it’s not only the other person who benefits; we benefit, too. How? By feeling happier.

Actively loving others makes us happier. And studies have shown that even small acts of kindness can generate just as much happiness as lofty acts. [v]

So, this week, let’s test this theory. Let’s perform a random act of kindness on a stranger, and see if it makes you feel happier. The science says it will.

And so does Jesus.

That’s why he wants us to love each other, just as he loves us.

[i] Flor McCarthy, New Sunday and Holy Day Liturgies – Year C, Dominican Publications, Dublin. 2012:136.



[iv] C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves. HarperCollins Religious, London, 2012.


Year C – 4th Sunday of Easter

To Be a Good Shepherd

(Acts 13:14,43-52; Rev.7:9,14-17; Jn.10:27-30)

Sheep have been grazing in the Holy Land for a very long time. Historians tell us that sheep were first domesticated in the Middle East some 8,000 years ago, so it’s not surprising that the Bible mentions sheep over 500 times. [i]

Abel was the very first shepherd (Gen.4:3-4), and many other great biblical figures were shepherds, too, including Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Amos and King David. Even God is often referred to as ‘the Shepherd’ who cares for his flock (Gen.49:24; Is.40:11; Ps.23).

Today, on Good Shepherd Sunday, Jesus tells us that he’s the Good Shepherd who does three things for his sheep: he knows them well, he protects them from harm, and he leads them to everlasting life.[ii]

Many people love the thought of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, leading his people to greener pastures. But that’s as far as it goes. They don’t actually follow him, and they don’t consider that they’re meant to be good shepherds, too. After all, that’s partly what Jesus means when he tells Peter to ‘Feed my lambs, tend my sheep’ (Jn.21:15).

He’s telling us all to be good shepherds to each other.

In his novel Lazarus, Morris West tells the story of Leo XIV, a fictional pope who’s presented as a cold and distant character. One day, he’s recovering in hospital after heart bypass surgery, when a nurse challenges him: ‘You are the supreme shepherd,’ she says, ‘but you don’t see the sheep, only a vast carpet of woolly backs stretching to the horizon’. [iii]

Are we like that? Do we even notice the sheep around us? The truth is that many people today are vulnerable, and need ongoing support, guidance and protection, just like sheep. They need a shepherd.

Sheep farmers say that if you simply leave sheep grazing in a paddock and ignore their other needs, they’ll gradually become weak and sick. But when a shepherd really cares for each animal, the whole flock will prosper.

It’s the same with people: when they’re ignored, they suffer. Jesus knew this; he had real compassion for crowds that ‘looked like sheep without a shepherd’. That’s why he taught them and told his disciples to feed them (Mk.6:30-44).

What, then, are the marks of a good shepherd?

Firstly, good shepherds are kind and humble (Phil.2:7). Their first priority is their sheep. They make sure that they’re always safe, well-nourished and well-cared for (Mt.20:28).

Secondly, good shepherds are good listeners (Jas.1:19). They always listen patiently for the cry of their sheep and respond when they need help.

Thirdly, good shepherds are trusted. Their sheep know them, and their shepherd knows them by name. The flock will always follow their shepherd because they know his voice and trust his actions (Jn.20:4).

And finally, good shepherds do all this for love, not money. As Jesus tells us, a hired hand will run when the wolf appears, because he’s not committed to his job. But good shepherds are prepared to sacrifice everything for their sheep  (Jn.10:12-13).

St. Oscar Romero - CARFLEO

Oscar Romero (1917-80) was born in El Salvador, in Central America, into a family of ten children. His father wanted him to be a carpenter, but he became a priest and for many years he quietly served his parish community.

In 1977, while the Salvadoran government was brutally repressing its people, Oscar Romero became the archbishop. Weeks later, a close friend was assassinated, and this normally quiet man changed. He decided to take a stand.

Through his regular radio broadcasts and from the pulpit, Oscar publicly criticised the government, he defended the rights of the poor and he demanded political change. He also urged the army to stop killing people.

But he was accused of meddling in politics, and in 1980 he was shot dead while celebrating Mass.

Pope Francis canonised him in 2018.

Like Jesus Christ, St Oscar Romero was not a hired hand; he didn’t labour for money. He was driven by love. 

He didn’t just think or talk about the people’s suffering. Rather, he listened to them and took action. He became a good shepherd, just like Martin Luther King and so many other good men and women who have risked everything to help others.[iv]

Good Shepherd Sunday reminds us that Jesus is the Good Shepherd who leads, loves and protects us.

But today is also the World Day of Prayer for Vocations, which reminds us that we’re all meant to be good shepherds, looking out for each other.

So many people around us need our love and protection.

[i] Title Image: Shepherd with Sheep, by Cornelis Albert van Assendelft, 1900-45, Dutch painting, oil on canvas.

[ii] This parable of the Good Shepherd is the only parable in John’s Gospel.

[iii] Morris West, Lazarus, Cornerstone, London, 1991:279.


Year C – 3rd Sunday of Easter

Learning from St Peter

(Acts 5:27-32,40-41; Rev.5:11-14; Jn.21:1-19)

Many people really love St Peter. They’re drawn to him because he’s so human, just like us. But what do we know about him?

Sadly, little is known of Peter’s early life, except that he was born Simon Bar-Jonah (‘Son of Jonah’) in Bethsaida, a village northeast of and near the Sea of Galilee (Jn.1:44). In Aramaic, his name was Symeon (Simon is Greek), and like his father and brother Andrew, he was a commercial fisherman. They worked the Sea of Galilee together with the sons of Zebedee, John and James, who also became disciples of Jesus (Mt.4:21-22).

Being a fisherman, Simon was physically strong. Most artists portray him as sturdy and thick-set with curly hair and a beard. [i] And like most Galileans, he spoke Aramaic and probably some Greek, but he was no scholar because he had no formal education (Acts 4:13).

Both Simon and Andrew were followers of John the Baptist. Once, when Simon was aged about 40, he and Andrew visited John in Bethany. Jesus was there. Andrew introduced his brother to him, saying, ‘We’ve found the Messiah!’ Jesus looked at him and said, ‘You are Simon, son of John. You will be called Cephas’ (Jn.1:35-42). Cephas is the Aramaic word for Peter, which means rock.

In other words, even before they had met, Jesus had plans for Peter.

By this time, Peter was married (Mk.1:30), had children, and lived in Capernaum with his family and mother-in-law. [ii]

Soon after they met, Jesus visited Peter at home and cured his mother-in-law of a fever (Mk.1:29-31). Jesus often stayed there, and with James and John, Peter became one of Jesus’ closest friends. In fact, Peter, James and John were privileged to witness many events no-one else ever saw, including Jesus’ Transfiguration, his Agony in the Garden, and his resurrection of a young girl, the daughter of Jairus.

The gospels tell us that Peter was impulsive, headstrong and outspoken (Jn.18:10), and he often blundered. For example, by keeping children away from Jesus (Mk.10:13), by refusing to let Jesus wash his feet (Jn.13:8), by denying Jesus three times (Lk.22:33-34), and by cutting off Malchus’ ear in the Garden of Gethsemane (Jn.18:10).

So, why did Jesus choose Peter as the rock on which to build his church (Mt.16:18)? Wasn’t he more of a stumbling stone?

Well, Peter was human, just like us. But he had enough intelligence and humility to recognise his own failings (Lk.5:8), and he tried to fix them. Jesus also knew that Peter had a good heart and a strong faith.

Indeed, Peter had left everything to follow Jesus. He was the first disciple to recognise Jesus as the Messiah (Mt.16:16), and because of his trust in Jesus he even walked on water (Mt.14:22).

And in today’s Gospel, Peter is the first disciple to dive into the water when they recognise Jesus at Tabgha. Soon afterwards, they’re all enjoying breakfast on that pebbly beach. Then, Jesus takes Peter aside and asks him three times, ‘Do you love me?’ Each time Peter replies, ‘Yes, Lord’.

Here, Jesus is giving Peter a chance to undo the three times he denied him. 

But Jesus also does something else. He repeatedly says to Peter, if you really love me, then ‘feed my lambs’ and ‘take care of my sheep’.  In other words, he’s telling Peter to lead his universal Church.

We know that Peter takes this command seriously, because in today’s first reading he confronts the Sanhedrin, the powerful Temple leaders who crucified Jesus. Earlier, Peter had been terrified of these people; that’s why he denied knowing Jesus three times.  But now he’s filled with the power of the Holy Spirit and he stands up to them.

Jesus believed in Peter, and gave him the time he needed to grow into a gifted preacher and a strong leader who converted thousands of people.

After Jesus’ Ascension, Peter worked for about ten years in and around Jerusalem and Antioch, and for his last 25 years he served as the first bishop of Rome.

However, the emperor Nero hated Christians, and in c.67AD he had Peter crucified upside down. He was buried on Vatican Hill where St Peter’s Basilica now stands. [iii]

St Peter was an ordinary, humble and imperfect man who became one of the greatest saints, and today he is a model for our own lives.

When Peter heard his call, he dropped everything to follow Jesus. He came to love and trust Jesus completely, even when he didn’t understand him. And although Peter did make mistakes, with Jesus’ love and forgiveness he learnt to do better.

St Peter teaches us that you don’t have to be perfect to be a saint.

You only have to be faithful, loving and loyal to Jesus.

[i] D H Farmer (Ed.), Butler’s Lives of the Saints. The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, 1997, 229.


[iii] Stephen J Binz, St Peter – Flawed, Forgiven and Faithful, Loyola Press, Chicago, 2015.

Year C – Easter Sunday

The Hill of Crosses

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

Christ is risen! Alleluia! Happy Easter, everyone!

In Northern Lithuania, two and a half hours’ drive from Vilnius, the capital, there’s a place called the Hill of Crosses. It’s a small hill in the middle of green farmland, densely covered with countless thousands of crosses of all shapes and sizes.

For hundreds of years, this hill has symbolised the deep Christian faith and independent spirit of the Lithuanian people. Every day, people go there to pray and reflect, and to add new crosses.

Among these crosses, there’s a statue of Jesus sitting under a roof, praying quietly. His sad face represents the millions of Christians who for years could only worship in secret under Soviet Russia.

The Soviets hated this hill; they bulldozed it and burnt the crosses many times. But despite the risks, the people kept returning. In 1973, after again bulldozing it, soldiers started guarding this hill, but still the locals returned late at night to plant new crosses. [i]

Special place: Some of the sights of The Hill of Crosses.

Today as we celebrate the joy of Easter, we are reminded that millions of people around the world cannot express their religious faith freely. They cannot do what we’re now doing: celebrating Jesus’ Resurrection and promise of eternal life.

In too many places, people are told what to think and believe, and they’re punished if they disobey. From 1944 to 1953, over 500,000 Lithuanians were sent to suffer and die in the gulags of Siberia. [ii]

Happily, Lithuania regained its independence in 1990, and today the Hill of Crosses is a beacon for peace and a memorial to all who died for their faith. In 1993, St John Paul II celebrated Mass here, and gave thanks for the courage of the Lithuanian people. 

Sadly, however, it’s now Ukraine that’s suffering under the boot of Russian repression.

Malcolm Muggeridge (1903-90), the British author and TV personality, visited the Soviet Union in the 1930s, at the height of Stalin’s reign of terror. Working as a journalist, he felt deeply for the ordinary people in their suffering, particularly in Ukraine where ten million were cruelly starved to death in an artificial famine. [iii]

On Easter Sunday in 1933, he visited a church in Kyiv and was amazed. ‘What a congregation that was,’ he wrote, ‘packed in tight, squeezed together like sardines in a tin.

‘I myself was pressed against a stone pillar, and scarcely able to breathe. So many grey, hungry faces, all luminous like an El Greco painting, and all singing. How they sang, about how there was no help except in Christ, nowhere to turn, except to him; nothing, nothing that could possibly bring any comfort except Jesus himself.

‘I could have touched him then,’ Muggeridge wrote. ‘Jesus was so near – not up at the altar, where the bearded priests were, but among the people. He was one of the grey faces, the greyest and most luminous of all.’

Muggeridge said it was strange that the place where he found himself closest to Christ was the place where for fifty years the Christian faith had been ruthlessly suppressed; where the printing of the Gospels was forbidden, and where Christ was mocked by all the organs of the all-powerful state, just as the Roman soldiers mocked him 2,000 years before.

‘Yet, on reflection,’ he said, ‘it’s not so strange. The situation provided the perfect circumstances for the Christian faith to bloom anew; so (much) like the circumstances in which it first bloomed at the beginning of the Christian era.’ [iv]

2,000 years ago, the cross was the terrifying symbol of Roman domination, and the threat of crucifixion kept rebels under control. But on Calvary, that very first Hill of Crosses, Jesus embraced that awful symbol and accepted that shocking death, and transformed them into the doorway to freedom and eternal life.

Today, the Hill of Crosses is a powerful symbol of hope. It represents the unquenchable thirst of ordinary people for truth and love, and it reminds tyrants that their day of reckoning is coming, because our loving God has demonstrated his awesome power.

Christ is risen! Alleluia!

Hill of Crosses

As to Malcolm Muggeridge, he had long been a cynical atheist. But he changed after witnessing the brutality of communism and the profound faith of ordinary Ukrainians. He went on to discover Mother Teresa in Calcutta and he made her famous. And in 1982 he became a Catholic.

Today, there’s a war underway, but it’s not just in Ukraine. It’s a worldwide spiritual battle between truth and lies, between light and darkness, and between goodness and evil.

As life unfolds, remember the truth and beauty of the Hill of Crosses.

Christ is Risen! Alleluia!




[iv] Flor McCarthy, New Sunday and Holy Day Liturgies, Year C. Dominican Publications, Dublin. 2018:109-110.