Year B – 2nd Sunday of Lent

The Holy Face of Jesus

(Gen.22:1-2, 9-13, 15-18; Rom.8:31-34; Mk.9:2-10)

What did Jesus really look like? Unfortunately, the Bible doesn’t tell us, and we have no 1st Century pictures of Him.

One guess is that Jesus looked ordinary (Is.53:2), and much like other Palestinian men of the time. That might explain why Judas had to point Him out in the Garden of Gethsemane (Jn.18:4-9).

Whatever Jesus’ appearance, though, we know from today’s Gospel that it changes there on Mt Tabor. For but a moment, Jesus is transfigured. His clothes become dazzlingly white, His ‘face shines like the sun’ (Mt.17:2), and the disciples briefly see Jesus as He truly is: the Son of God.

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Ever since then, people have been fascinated by Jesus’ Holy Face. Today there are so many icons, paintings and statues of Jesus; most depict Him as tall, lean and handsome, with long hair and a beard. This image was heavily influenced by the Shroud of Turin, which was discovered in France in the fourteenth century. [i]

At about that time, a Eucharistic miracle occurred in Walldurn, Germany. A priest accidentally spilled the Precious Blood during Mass, and an image of the Crucified Christ mysteriously appeared on the corporal, surrounded by eleven identical faces of Jesus wearing the crown of thorns. Pope Eugene confirmed this miracle in 1445, and it spurred great devotion to Jesus’ Holy Face. [ii]

This devotion spread further in the 1840s, when a young Carmelite nun, Sr Marie of St. Peter, in Tours, France, reported receiving messages from Jesus. Jesus encouraged her to spread devotion to His Holy Face, and said to her: ‘Those who contemplate the wounds on my face here on earth will contemplate it radiant in heaven.’

Jesus also described to Sr Marie the pain he feels when people blaspheme against His Holy Name. He called it ‘a poison arrow’ that pierces His heart. Then He gave her a prayer called The Golden Arrow, and said that anyone saying these words would pierce Him delightfully, and would help to heal the wounds that have been inflicted on Him:

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      May the most Holy, most Sacred, most Adorable,
      Most Incomprehensible and Ineffable Name of God
      Be always Praised, Blessed, Loved, Adored and Glorified,
      In Heaven, on Earth and in Hell,
      By all the Creatures of God,
      And by the Sacred Heart of Our Lord Jesus Christ,
      In the most Holy Sacrament of the Altar. 

In those days, Leon Dupont was a wealthy man living in Tours. He knew Sr Marie well and took great interest in her revelations. He dedicated his life to encouraging devotion to Jesus’ Holy Face, and when he died in 1876, his home was turned into the Oratory of the Holy Face. [iii]

Sometime later, St. Louis Martin, the father of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, visited that Oratory and enrolled his family as members. It had quite an effect, because when Thérèse joined the Carmelites, she formally adopted the name ‘Thérèse of the Child Jesus of the Holy Face.’

Jesus’ image was everything to her. It inspired her to look for his hidden face everywhere, and she wrote many prayers expressing her love for him. In her Canticle to the Holy Face (1895), Thérèse wrote, ‘Jesus, your… image is the star which guides my steps… Your sweet face is for me heaven on earth.’

She also wrote, ‘Make me resemble you, Jesus!’ on a small card and put a stamp of the Holy Face on it. She kept it in a little box pinned near her heart.

In the 1890s, photos of the Holy Shroud of Turin were first published and interest in the Holy Face of Jesus grew even more.

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At about this time, another child was born in Milan, and in time she, too, became very devoted to Jesus’ Holy Face. In 1913, she joined a convent and took the name Sr Maria Pierina de Micheli.

In 1926, she started getting visions of Christ in which He asked her to spread devotion to His Holy Face. He wanted reparation for all the insults He had suffered during His Passion, when He was slapped, spat upon and kissed by Judas, and for all the ways He is dishonoured today through neglect, sacrilege and profanity.

‘Whoever meditates upon Me, consoles Me,’ Jesus said, and He asked Sr Maria to have medals of His Holy Face made. She achieved that, and today these medals include an image from the Shroud of Turin.[iv] [v]

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The transfiguration of Jesus is not just a historical event. It’s an invitation to each of us to get to know Jesus much better, by adoring His Holy Face.

And as we do that, remember that our adoration and prayers will help to heal His terrible wounds.

[i] Edward Lucie-Smith. The Face of Jesus. Abrams, New York. 2011:14-18.





Year B – 1st Sunday of Lent

Busy, Busy

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

In 1930, the British economist John Maynard Keynes predicted that we’d all be living in a ‘leisure society’ in the 21st Century.

He thought that because of growing populations, rising incomes and modern technology, we’d all be enjoying a 15-hour working week by 2030.[i]

He was wrong, wasn’t he? Today the standard working week in many countries is 40 hours, but many of us work much longer than that. The social researcher Hugh MacKay says we’ve all become obsessed with the idea of appearing busy, and ‘busy, busy’ has become a kind of mantra in our lives. [ii]  Why?

One answer is that our society thinks it’s important that we ‘have it all’ and that we look successful. So, we work long hours to pay for everything, and working hard has become a sign of success. But some people are now so successful that they don’t even have time for their families.

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There’s another reason why we’re so busy. Geoffrey Plant, in his book Releasing the Captive, says we often keep ourselves busy to avoid listening, for frantic busyness can be a wonderful hiding place. He says that if you stay busy for long enough, you might never have time to listen and you might never have time to look at the things and the people you’d rather not see. You also might never have to face the situations or questions you’d rather avoid. [iii]

In his book Christian Reflections, C.S. Lewis tells us how to dodge these awkward things. All we have to do, he says, is ‘…avoid silence, avoid solitude, avoid any train of thought that leads us off the beaten track. Concentrate on money, sex, status, health and (above all) on your own grievances. Keep the radio on. Live in a crowd. Use plenty of sedation. If you must read books, select them very carefully. But you’d be safer to stick to the papers. You’ll find the advertisements helpful; especially those with a sexy or snobbish appeal.’ [iv]

So, keeping ourselves distracted is a good way to side-step the truth of our lives. However, the Tibetan teacher Sogyal Rinpoche says this is a form of laziness. In his Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, he contrasts Eastern and Western types of laziness and says they’re quite different.

Western laziness, he says, ‘consists of cramming our lives with compulsive activity, so that there’s no time at all to confront the real issues.’ [v]

Is that you? Are you constantly filling time and killing time?

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Many people today are so fed up with their frenzied lives that they dream of a sea-change or a tree-change. I expect, however, that what most of us really need is a ‘me-change.’

In today’s Gospel, Jesus returns to Galilee after 40 days in the desert, and he tells his followers to ‘Repent, and believe in the Gospel’.

Now, repentance doesn’t mean being sad and miserable and feeling guilty for our sins. Repentance means changing the way we think, changing the way we feel, and changing the way we do things.

Today is the first Sunday in Lent, and in Lent we’re all called to follow Jesus into the desert. Not a physical desert, but a spiritual desert, a quiet place where we’re alone with Jesus in our hearts.

But why a desert?

Well, the desert is many things. It’s a holy place. It’s where the Jewish people found their way to God. It’s where they first discovered that God loved them, and it’s where they learnt to become faithful and loving.

The desert is also a place of silence and solitude. It’s a place of blue skies, bold colours and sharp contrasts. It’s where there are few distractions and the truth is plain to see. And importantly, it’s a place where everything slows down.

We don’t need a sea-change or a tree-change to find inner peace. Instead, let’s try a ‘me-change,’ by withdrawing with Jesus into our spiritual hearts.

Jesus wants us to step off our ‘busy, busy’ treadmills, and start spending quiet time with Him, listening to Him and learning from Him.

We don’t have to fear what we might find. Jesus was tempted in the desert, but He was also comforted by God’s angels. And when He left the desert, He was crystal clear about what he had to do.

Let’s do the same this Lent.

Let’s spend some quiet time with Jesus in the desert.

[i] John Maynard Keynes, Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren. 1930.   


[iii] Geoffrey Plant. Releasing the Captive. Garratt Publishing, Melbourne, 2011.

[iv] C.S. Lewis, The Seeing Eye, from Christian Reflections, Eerdmans Publishing, Grand Rapids, MI. 1995:167-169, 171. 

[v] Sogyal Rinpoche. Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. Ebury Publishing, London. 1992:19 

Year B – 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Jesus’ Hands

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

Leprosy was a big issue in ancient times; that’s why the Bible mentions it 68 times.

In those days, leprosy meant more than what we now call ‘Hansen’s Disease.’ It included many infectious skin disorders, and even mould and mildew on clothes. [i]

It was devastating to be caught with this condition, because under Jewish law all lepers were banished from their family and community – for life.

In today’s Gospel, a leper sees Jesus and says, ‘If you want to, you can cure me.’ His faith must have been strong because he risks being stoned for breaking the law.

‘Of course I want to!’ Jesus replies, and then He breaks the law Himself by reaching out to touch him. ‘Be cured’ Jesus says, and he is.

This simple act of touching and healing totally transforms this man’s life. He’s so excited that he tells everyone.  

But why does Jesus actually touch him? It’s because he needs more than a physical cure. He needs spiritual healing, too.

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Our hands, and our sense of touch, play a critical role in our lives. Scientists tell us that touch is the first sense we develop in the womb, and that social touching is critical to every child’s development. They also say that our fingers are more sensitive than our eyes, and that touching often communicates emotions more effectively than voice or facial expressions. [ii]

In his book, Touch: The Science of Hand, Heart and Mind, David Linden says that the experience of touch is intrinsically emotional, and this is reflected in such expressions as, ‘I’m touched by your concern’ and ‘I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings.’ We also call emotionally clumsy people ‘tactless,’ because they lack touch. [iii]

Touching, therefore, is powerful. It can say far more than mere words, and that’s why Jesus chooses to touch this man.

Now, Jesus has remarkable hands. As an artisan, His hands are strong and precise, but they’re also calloused and weather-beaten. They are powerful, because they give life to the dead (Lk.7:11-15). They are gentle, for they wash His disciples’ feet (Jn.13:1-17). And they are cruelly tortured, when He is nailed to the Cross.

Jesus often uses His hands to heal people, including Peter’s mother-in-law (Mk.1:30-31), a 12-year-old girl (Mt.9:25), a blind man (Mk.8:22-26) and a deaf person (Mk.7:31-37), among others.

And some people find themselves healed when they touch Jesus (Lk.6:18-19), like the woman who touches His prayer shawl. ‘Who touched me?’ Jesus asks, as He feels the energy drain from Him (Lk.8:43-48). He clearly understands what hands can do.

There’s a powerful touch in Jesus’ Parable of the Prodigal Son, too. When the wayward son returns home, the father is so filled with compassion that he runs to his son, hugs him closely and kisses him (Lk.15:20).

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Pope Francis did something similar in Italy, in 2013, when he embraced and kissed a severely disfigured man. That man was Vinicio Riva, who suffered from a genetic disease called neurofibromatosis. Many were shocked, but Vinicio was so moved by being touched by the Pope that he described it as ‘paradise.’ He said it felt like his heart was leaving his body.

Vinicio wasn’t cured, but he was healed, for his life was utterly transformed. [iv]

St Teresa of Calcutta also used her gentle touch to transform the lives of others. Every day she channelled Jesus’ love through her hands when she cared for the poor and sick in the streets of Calcutta.

St Catherine of Siena did the same in the 14th Century. One of her patients was an unhappy woman with leprosy who abused her constantly. But by gently caring for her with her hands, St Catherine won her over and the woman died in her arms. [v]

Today, Jesus has no hands but ours, and He wants us to use them to transform the lives of others.

Many people today are reluctant to touch others because of risks associated with the pandemic and the abuse crisis. However, let’s not forget that the Gospels refer to ‘hands,’ ‘touch’ and ‘fingers’ almost 200 times, and healthy touching is important for our personal wellbeing.

It also remains a powerful way to express love and demonstrate our wholesome connection with others.

There are many healthy ways we can use our hands: like offering someone a warm handshake, giving them a hug or a pat on the back, writing them a letter, giving them a gift, or offering a helping hand.

What can you do to touch someone’s life in a meaningful way?

[i] Gillen, Alan L. The Genesis of Germs. Master Books, Forest Green, AR. 2007:143 


[iii] Linden, David J. Touch: The Science of Hand, Heart and Mind. Penguin Books, New York. 2016:3. 



Year B – 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Power of Healing

(Job 7:1-4, 6-7; 1Cor.9:16-19, 22-23; Mk.1:29-39)

Today’s first reading is about Job, a good man with a big family who has it all. But he loses everything: his family, his wealth, his health.  He becomes so miserable he thinks he’ll never be happy again.

Job’s story reminds us that suffering is universal. Everyone suffers in some way. Everyone. It’s just the nature, timing and depth of the suffering that varies.

What can we do about it?

In Mark’s Gospel today, Peter’s mother-in-law is in Capernaum and she has a fever. There were swamps nearby, so she might have had malaria. But Jesus is in town and Peter asks Him to heal her. He does, but after she’s healed, she doesn’t sit around. She gets up and looks after Jesus and the other guests. 

Word then spreads, and most of the town arrives at Peter’s door. They all want help and healing, too. Early the next day, Jesus goes somewhere quiet to pray. But his disciples soon track him down because even more people want His help.

Instead of rushing back, though, Jesus says, ‘Let’s go elsewhere, to the neighbouring towns, so that I can preach there too, for that’s why I came.’

Now, this surprises some people. Why didn’t Jesus go back? Isn’t His mission to help people?

Yes, Jesus’ mission is to help people. But Jesus does more than cure people. He heals them, too. There’s a difference.

In 1997, the American writer Ram Dass had a massive stroke, and it taught him the difference between a cure and healing. He once wrote, ‘While cures aim at returning our bodies to what they were in the past, healing uses what is present to move us more deeply into soul awareness, and in some cases physical improvement. Although I’ve not been cured of the physical effects of my stroke, I’ve certainly undergone profound healings of body and mind.’

‘In other words,’ he says, ‘healing, which refers to the soul, can happen without cure, which refers to the body. In fact, it’s often in the uncured sickness that the healing begins.’ [i]

What he’s saying is that cures seek to fix a specific problem, like a headache. Cures work from outside in, trying to eliminate the physical presence of that problem. But that’s all they do. They don’t address the causes. 

Your headache might be gone, but the cause is still there. Other issues may also be present.

That’s where healing comes in.

Healing works from the inside out, and it begins with the soul. It works with everything inside us: our hearts, our minds, our bodies; transforming us, making us whole and helping us to function more effectively.

As human beings, even when we’re baptised, we all live in flawed ‘earthen vessels’ (2Cor.4:7). We’re all subject to sin, suffering, disease and death. The only way to overcome these burdens is through the mercy of God.

Jesus is always with us, and most especially when we’re sick and suffering. He stands with us, offering us His peace and love, His strength and healing. But before we can receive these blessings, we need to open up our hearts to accept them.

There in Capernaum, Peter’s mother-in-law did open up her heart to Jesus, and she’s not only cured – she’s healed. We know this from the way she jumps up and starts caring for her guests. Now she’s living life to the full.

That’s what Jesus wants for us. Lives focussed not so much on ourselves, but on those around us. That’s true healing. It’s personal transformation, and sometimes it comes without a cure.

That’s why Jesus doesn’t rush back to that town. He goes to spread the good news to others, so that they too might be healed and then live lives of loving service to others.

Martin Luther King Jr, the civil rights campaigner, understood this. Rather like Job in our first reading, he suffered greatly through his life.

He once said, ‘As my sufferings mounted, I soon realized that there were two ways in which I could respond to my situation – either to react with bitterness or to seek to transform the suffering into a creative force. I decided to follow the latter course.’ [ii] In other words, he decided to allow himself to heal from the inside out.

That’s what Jesus wants us to do.

We don’t have to be bitter about our illness or suffering. We don’t have to be miserable like Job. We all have the choice to accept Christ’s healing touch, to allow ourselves to be creatively transformed, from the inside out. 

And like Peter’s mother, when we are transformed we must share that healing with others.

[i] Ram Dass, quoted in Bausch, W.J. Touching the Heart: Tales for the Human Journey. Twenty-Third Publications, New London CT. 2007:255.

[ii] Martin Luther King.

Year B – 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time

When Nasty Things Seem Very Attractive

(Deut.18:15-20; 1Cor.7:32-35; Mk.1:21-28)

In Mark’s Gospel today, Jesus begins His public life by preaching in the synagogue in Capernaum. 

While He’s preaching, a man possessed by a demon calls out, ‘What do you want with us Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come here to destroy us?’ Jesus then reveals His power and authority by commanding the demon to leave that poor man. The demon obeys and that distressed man gets his life back.

It’s significant that before starting His public ministry, Jesus is baptised and then spends 40 days in the desert, praying, fasting and fighting off the devil. He knows that Satan will be tempting and taunting Him and His followers, so He prepares Himself.

Indeed, the Gospels tell us that Jesus goes on to cast out demons at least 12 times (e.g. Mt.9:32-33; Lk.8:2; Mk1:39), and He gives His disciples ‘power over unclean spirits’ (Mk.3:15; Lk.10:1,17-20).

Today, the devil is still wreaking havoc. We can see this in all the conflict, violence and confusion currently spreading around the world, in the disintegration of marriage and the family, and in the constant attacks on the Church. [i]

We can also see it in the number of people being lured into occult beliefs and practices, like crystal gazing, tarot reading, ghost hunting, seances, witchcraft and magic.


Many people think these activities are simply harmless fun, but dabbling in the occult is dangerous, because it exposes people to dark, malign forces, for which they are not prepared. Pope Francis calls them ‘bad spirits.’ [ii]

The word ‘occult’ means hidden or secret, and the basic purpose of these paranormal practices is to explore the spiritual realm without God. But when you bypass God, you risk falling into the ‘dominion of darkness’ (Col.1:13), which is hell itself.

The Apostles knew this. That’s why St Peter says, ‘Discipline yourselves; stay alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour’ (1Pet.5:8-9). And St. Paul warns that those involved in sorcery ‘will not inherit the kingdom of God’ (Gal.5:19-21).

The Church has always condemned occult practices, because Satan is not a mythical creature. He is real, and he is very good at making nasty things seem very attractive. But what is essentially evil can never produce good; it can only end in a dark, tormented despair. Why? It’s because Satan’s goal is to undermine God’s plan by destroying our souls. [iii]


In 1973, William Peter Blatty wrote ‘The Exorcist’, which has been described as the ‘scariest movie ever made.’ It’s the story of a 12-year-old girl, Regan, who is possessed by the devil. Her mother desperately searches for help and Catholic priests ultimately come to her rescue.

Regan’s possession began when she started playing on a Ouija board, and she found herself talking to a mysterious spirit who turned out to be a demon. 

When asked about this book, Blatty said that his research and experiences while writing it convinced him that demonic possession is real. He once spent 10 days absorbed by a Ouija game, and became convinced that he was communicating with some kind of spirit. After that, strange poltergeist-type things started to happen, like his phone receiver jumping off its hook and his typewriter producing gibberish.

Blatty said that while 97-98% of reported cases of possession can be explained by fraud or mental disturbance, there remains 2-3% that can’t. ‘Concerning these,’ he said, ‘I have made a prudent judgment that a bodyless, intelligent, non-human entity has somehow managed to take possession of a human being.’ Blatty became a devout practising Catholic. [iv]

Demonic power is always about luring, scattering and destroying, while God always seeks to unite, heal and strengthen.

So, how do we protect ourselves? By staying very close to Jesus and avoiding any temptations that will only lead to trouble.

Let’s close with a story. There’s an ancient legend which says that the devil, Master of Disguise, tried to get into heaven by pretending to be the Risen Christ. He took with him his demons disguised as angels of light, and had them cry out the traditional first part of the welcome psalm (Ps.24): ‘Lift up your heads, O ye gates of heaven, and lift up your doors, and the King of Glory shall enter!’

The real angels looked down on what they thought was their King returning in triumph from the dead. So, they in turn shouted back with joy the refrain: ‘Who is this King of Glory?’ The devil then made a fatal mistake. He opened his arms and spread his palms and declared, ‘I am!’

The angels immediately slammed the gate of heaven and refused to let the imposter in. They saw right away that there were no nail marks in his palms.

The imposter had no wounds of love, and had not paid the price. [v]





[v] William J Bausch, A World of Stories, Twenty Third Publications, New London CT, 2010:275.

Year B – 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Tipping Point

(Jon.3:1-5, 10; 1Cor.7:29-31; Mk.1:14-20)

In today’s Gospel, Jesus invites us to do what His first disciples did: to drop what we’re doing and follow Him. Jesus wants us to help Him spread His message about God’s love.

Now, in our distracted and hard-hearted world some might wonder, what’s the point? How can we possibly make any difference? The early Church did manage to convert the Roman Empire, but can we do it again? Modern society is a tough place.

In his book The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, Malcolm Gladwell compares the spread of ideas, products and behaviours with viruses. Initially only a few people are affected, but then at some point the idea or disease can spread like wildfire.

He gives the example of Hush Puppies. These shoes were launched in 1958, but only became popular in the mid-1990s. That’s when sales jumped from 30,000 to 430,000 pairs in one year. The next year, 2 million pairs were sold. 

Gladwell says the company didn’t cause the epidemic. Rather, it was caused by two very influential ‘hipsters’ in Manhattan who bought these shoes and started a trend.

Gladwell says that when social trends and viruses reach their threshold of critical mass, their ‘tipping point,’ they explode upon a society and their spread cannot be stopped. [i] 

The American author Fr William Bausch gives us an example of this, and makes the point that just one extra person can make a big difference.

The Japanese Snow Monkey has been studied in the wild for decades. In 1952, on the Japanese island of Koshima, scientists started giving these monkeys sweet potatoes to eat. The monkeys loved the sweet potatoes, but they didn’t like the taste of the dirt into which they were dropped.

One day a young monkey named Imo learned to wash her sweet potatoes in a stream. She taught her mother to do this, and her friends as well. Her friends then taught their mothers. Between 1952 and 1958 all the young monkeys learned to wash the dirt off their sweet potatoes. But only the adults who copied their children learned how to do this. All the other adults just kept eating dirty sweet potatoes.

By the autumn of 1958, 99 monkeys on Koshima Island had learned to wash their food. Then, one morning, something remarkable happened. The 100th monkey learned to wash its sweet potatoes, and by that evening almost every monkey in the tribe started to do the very same thing. 

Somehow, the extra energy of the 100th monkey created a breakthrough. 

But the most amazing thing is that this new behaviour wasn’t confined to that one tribe on Koshima. The scientists found that monkeys on other Japanese islands then started to wash their sweet potatoes as well. The practice had suddenly jumped over the sea.

William Bausch’s message is that when you reach the tipping point of a certain critical number of participants, a new awareness, a new behaviour can spread like wildfire. We don’t always understand how these things work, but the dynamic is real. [ii]

That’s what we saw with Covid. It only became a pandemic when the tipping point threshold was crossed, and it only took a few people to get there. 

So, what things help ideas or behaviours spread like wildfire? Malcolm Gladwell says that the initial group should be small, with less than 150 people.  And three types of people are important. Firstly, the ‘connectors,’ who are people with a wide social network. Secondly, the ‘salesmen,’ who have a gift for persuasion and a knack for ‘selling’ ideas. And finally, the ‘mavens,’ who are great information collectors and who like passing it on to others.

The American social marketing expert Seth Godin was once asked how to make something ‘go viral.’ He said that the best thing is not to try to make that happen. The best thing, he said, is to focus on just one person. To make an impact on just one person. ‘Even better,’ he said, ‘make it so they can’t sleep at night unless they choose to make a difference for one other person. The rest will take care of itself.’ [iii]

The lesson for us here today is that spreading Jesus Christ’s message isn’t as hard as we might think. All we have to do is play our part, and God will do the rest.

Too often we only think in terms of the physical world in which we live. But each of us also inhabits a spiritual world, and that’s the place where mysteries and miracles occur.

Sometimes it takes just one more person to make all the difference.

[i] Gladwell, Malcolm. The Tipping Point. Little, Brown Books, London: 2000.

[ii] Bausch, W. A World of Stories. 23rd Publications, New London CT. 2010:246-247


Year B – 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Still, Small Voice of God

[Sam.3:3-10, 19; 1Cor.6:13-15, 17-20; Jn.1:35-42]

Do you have interior conversations with God?

St Teresa of Calcutta did. After she died in 1997, it was revealed that she had several private interactions with Jesus, particularly in 1946-47, while she was still teaching with the Sisters of Loreto in Calcutta.

On one occasion at Holy Communion, she heard Jesus say, ‘I want Indian nuns, victims of my love, who would be Mary and Martha, who would be so united to me as to radiate my love on souls.’

On another occasion in 1947, Jesus asked, ‘Would you refuse to do this for me? I cannot go alone to the poor people; you carry me with you into them.’

Mother Teresa responded to Jesus’ pleas by establishing a new congregation, the Missionaries of Charity, and doing extraordinary work in the slums of India.

Over the years, many saints and laypeople have had such locutions, including St Teresa of Avila and St John of the Cross. My dear father was another. Such experiences can serve to transform a person’s life in the most remarkable ways.

Now, consider the faith experience of the popular British musician and actor, Sting. He could well have been speaking for many Catholics today when he once said, ‘I was brought up as a Catholic and went to church every week and took the sacraments. (But) it never really touched the core of my being.’ [i]

That’s so disappointing, because God is always speaking to us, and not just in the Bible. He speaks to us through His creation (Ps.19:1) and through art and music. He speaks to us through the events of our lives and through the wisdom of our family and friends (1 Cor. 12:8-10). He speaks to us through the Mass and other Sacraments, and whenever we pray or meditate (Prov.8:34). And sometimes he speaks to us through our dreams (Mt.1:20; Acts 2:17).

Many people hear God’s voice not with their ear, but with their heart. It comes to them from deep within. Like an echo, it calls them, urging and encouraging them. But like a whisper, God’s ‘still, small voice’ (1Kgs.19:12) can be hard to recognise, so we need to train ourselves to listen carefully.

Today, Samuel (in our first reading) and Andrew (in the Gospel) are doing ordinary, everyday things when God speaks to them. Samuel is sleeping, while Andrew is just standing around. We should remember that, for God can approach us anytime. 

God also approaches Samuel and Andrew quietly, but he isn’t always quiet.  Sometimes there’s great drama. Sometimes there’s illness, tragedy or pain that draws us to Him. 

The ways each of us connects with God may be different, but it’s important to note that the initiative always comes from God. Jesus made this clear when He said to his disciples, ‘You didn’t choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit…’ (Jn.15:16).

In today’s Gospel, Jesus asks Andrew, ‘What are you looking for?’ Henri Nouwen once wrote that too many people miss this important question. They miss it because they’re listening to all the competing voices in our world that are working hard to distract us.

‘Many voices ask for our attention,’ he says. ‘There’s a voice that says, “Prove you’re a good person.” Another voice says, “You’d better be ashamed of yourself.”  There’s also a voice that says, “Nobody really cares about you,” and one that says, “Be sure to become successful, popular and powerful”.’

But underneath all these noisy voices, Nouwen says, there’s a still, small voice that says, ‘You are my beloved, my favour rests on you.’ That’s the voice we most need to hear. To hear that voice, however, requires special effort; it requires solitude, silence and a strong determination to listen.

‘That’s what prayer is,’ Henri Nouwen says. ‘It’s listening to the voice that calls us my Beloved.’ [ii] 

Prayer is the main way God communicates with us, for prayer is essentially a conversation. But as in any good relationship, such conversation should never be a monologue. Rather, it’s meant to be a two-way flow of heart-felt thoughts, words and love, and it begins with God’s invitation to us, to ‘be still and know that I am God’ (Ps.46:10).

As St Catherine Labouré, of Miraculous Medal fame, once said, ‘If you listen to (God), he will speak to you also, because with the good Lord, it is necessary to speak and to listen.

He will always speak to you if you go to him simply and sincerely.’ [iii]


[ii] Nouwen, Henri. Bread for the Journey. Darton, Longman and Todd, London. 1996:21.


Year B – The Epiphany

The Light of the Stars

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

‘I am the light of the world,’ Jesus says (Jn.8:12).

Perhaps this explains why so many people in every age have been drawn to the light of the stars.

Ancient civilisations like the Egyptians, Babylonians and Aztecs, for example, were convinced that the sun, moon and stars had much to teach us about life. Their astronomers studied the skies, searched for patterns and signs, and told stories that shaped the lives of entire cultures. [i]

The Wise Men of the East were among these people. They searched the stars for the secrets they held, and even travelled long distances to find the answers.

That’s what we see in Matthew’s Gospel today. The Magi discover a bright new star and follow it all the way to Jerusalem, where they are directed to Bethlehem. And there they find the infant Jesus. They worship Him and give Him their precious gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, and then they return home with the finest gift of all: eternal life as faithful children of God.

Today, many people continue to look for signs of God’s presence in the cosmos, and one place they find such stars is in the famous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

The story is well known. The Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to Juan Diego, an Aztec peasant, on Tepeyac hill near present-day Mexico City in the winter of 1531. She asked him to get his bishop to build a church there. The bishop asked for a sign, so Juan Diego returned to that hilltop and found roses blooming in winter. Collecting them in his tilma (a loose cloak), he took them to the bishop. On arrival, his tilma miraculously bore a striking portrait of Our Lady.

Today, almost 500 years later, that cactus-fibre tilma is on display in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, on that same hill. It depicts Mary as a mestizo woman in traditional clothing, surrounded by the rays of the sun, standing on a crescent moon, and pregnant, just as she is described in Revelation 12:1-2.

In the 1990s, Juan Hernandez Illescas, a Mexican astronomer, used computer technology to closely study the stars on Our Lady’s mantle. What he found attests to the miraculous origin of this image.

Illescas identified that the configuration of 46 stars on Mary’s blue-green mantle is neither random nor simply decorative, for they exactly mirror the 15 constellations that were visible over Mexico that night in December 1531.

Significantly, the stars on this image are inverted (north should be south and vice versa), indicating that we see them not as someone standing on earth, but from the perspective of someone above, as though God Himself were hovering over his own creation.

Because Mary’s mantle is wrapped around her, ten of these constellations are visible, while five others are at her back and obscured. Illescas identified that if her garment were to be opened out to its fullness, we would see all 15 constellations at once. These are the five unseen constellations (underlined in yellow in the figure below):

Corona Borealis (‘Northern Crown’), which appears at Mary’s head, forming a crown of stars (Rev.12:1).

Virgo (‘Virgin’), near her heart, indicating her purity (Lk.1:28).

Leo (‘Lion’), at her pregnant belly, reminding us that she is carrying the Lion of Judah, Jesus Himself (Gen.49:9-12; Rev.5:3-7).

Gemini (‘The Twins’) over Mary’s lap, which has often been called the ‘Seat of Wisdom’ since the 11th Century.

And Orion (‘Warrior/Hunter’), over the angel below. Some say this represents the great warrior, St Michael the Archangel.

Mary appeared to Juan Diego before dawn on 22 December, the winter solstice and longest night of the year in that part of the world. [ii] Thereafter, the days grew longer. In other words, Mary brought with her ‘the dawn from on high,’ Jesus Christ, to the local people, signalling an end to the darkness of paganism. Within 10 years, almost the entire population of Mexico converted to Christianity. [iii]

The name Guadalupe is of Arabic origin, and means ‘river channel’ or ‘that which leads the water.’ Like the bright Star of Bethlehem, Mary is the channel that always leads us to her beloved Son, ‘the Living Water’ (Jn.4:14). [iv]

It’s not surprising that so many people are fascinated by the stars.

In 2014, Pope Francis said that the journey of the Magi symbolises the destiny of every person. Our life is a journey, he said, illuminated by the lights which brighten our way, to find the fullness of truth and love which we recognize in Jesus, the Light of the World.

[i] Maryboy, NC & Begay, D., Sharing the Skies, Rio Nuevo Publishers, Tucson AZ, 2010.

[ii] The date 22 December is according to our modern calendar. According to the Julian Calendar of the time, it was 12 December.



Year B – Holy Family Sunday

Families to Remember

[Gen.15:1-6,21:1-3; Heb.11:8,11-12,17-19; Lk.2:22-40]

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family.

Pope Leo XIII established this feast day in 1893 to remind us that God came to live among us, not as a proud and mighty ruler, but as a humble member of an ordinary family – the family of Mary and Joseph. And today this Holy Family is offered to us as a model for how to live our own lives.

Through the centuries, many families have strived to live holy lives. Think of St. Monica and her son St. Augustine, and St. Dominic de Guzmán and his family. His mother Joan and brother Mánes have both been beatified.

And in 2015, Louis and Zélie Martin, who had nine children including St. Thérèse of Lisieux, became the first married couple to be canonised together. Another of their children, Léonie, is now also being considered for sainthood.

There are many others, of course, but today I’d like to talk about the Ulma family, who were beatified by Pope Francis in September 2023.

Wiktoria and Józef Ulma were married in 1935, when she was 23 and he was 35. They had six children before she turned 30, and lived in a modest wooden cottage on a small farm outside Markowa, in southern Poland.

Wiktoria was a quiet and intelligent woman, and a loving wife and mother who loved reading and learning.

Józef was outgoing and inventive. He grew fruit and vegetables for the local village, and kept silkworms and bees. He had an impressive family library and loved photography. He even built his own camera, using it to record the life of his family.

His photos reveal a large family happily engaged in daily life: farming, baking, eating, playing, learning to read and write and helping with the chores.

In 1939, four years after the Ulmas married, Poland was invaded and by 1942 the Nazis began hunting for any Jews living outside the Warsaw ghetto.

It was then that a Jewish family, a woman named Ryfka, her two daughters and a granddaughter, approached the Ulmas for help.

Józef prepared a dugout to hide them out in the fields, and Wiktoria secretly supplied them with food and water. But the visitors were discovered later that year and shot.

Chaim Goldman, a local Jewish cattle seller then asked the Ulmas to hide his two daughters and the entire Szall family with their four sons.

They, too, were welcomed and for the next two years the Ulmas hid all eight people in their attic. They prepared kosher food for them and they all prayed together. Then in 1944 someone betrayed them.

At 4.00 am on 24 March 1944, the house was raided and seventeen people were marched outside in panic and tears. The Jewish guests were shot first, and then one by one the Ulmas were brutally executed, beginning with Józef and Wiktoria, who was pregnant. As she died, she went into premature labour.

All seven children were martyred: Stanisława (8), Barbara (7), Władysław (6), Franciszek (4), Antoni (3), Maria (2), and the unnamed boy (8 months). [i] [ii]

Before leaving, the Nazis looted the house, but left Józef’s photos behind. Today they are on display in the Ulma Family Museum in Markowa, Poland.

Also on display is their bible, in which Jozef or Wiktoria had clearly underlined two verses of the parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk.10:33-34) and pencilled tak (yes) in the margin. Just like the original Good Samaritan, the Ulmas responded in humble and compassionate love to anyone who asked for their help, despite any risks.

‘Whoever loses their life for My sake will find it,’ Jesus promised (Mt.10:39).

When Pope Francis beatified the whole Ulma family, including their unborn child, he said, ‘May this Polish family, which represents a ray of light in the darkness of the Second World War, be for all of us a model to imitate in the zeal for goodness and service to those in need.’

Every year at this time, the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph is presented to us as the ideal model for family life. They all agreed to serve as instruments of God’s saving love in our world.

Since then, many other families like the Ulmas have tried to do the same. Today we honour these good people who actively and heroically modelled the Christian virtues of faith, hope and love, even in the face of danger.

May we be just as brave. [iii] [iv] [v]

[i] At the beatification, Cardinal Semeraro said the partially born child had received the baptism by blood of those killed in hatred of the faith. ‘Without saying a word,’ he said, ‘the little Blessed cries out to the modern world to welcome, love, and protect life, especially that of the defenseless and marginalized, from the moment of conception until natural death.’





Year B – Christmas Day

The Parable of the Birds

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

Merry Christmas! With joyful hearts, today we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem – a remarkable event that changed the history of the world.

But why did the Son of God choose to live as one of us? Why did he do it?

Let me answer that question through a story – The Parable of the Birds, by the American writer, Louis Cassels (1922-74).

‘Once upon a time, there was a man who looked upon Christmas as a lot of humbug. He wasn’t a scrooge. He was a kind and decent person, generous to his family and honest in his dealings with others.

But he did not believe all that stuff about God becoming a man, which the churches proclaim at Christmas. It just didn’t make sense to him, and he was too honest to pretend otherwise.


‘I’m truly sorry to distress you,’ he said to his wife, ‘but I’m not going with you to church this Christmas.’ He said he would feel like a hypocrite and he’d much rather stay at home. So, he stayed and his family went to the midnight service.

Shortly after they drove away in the car, snow began to fall. He went to the window to have a look and saw it was getting heavy. Then he went back to his fireside chair to read his newspaper. Minutes later, he was startled by a thudding sound. Then he heard another thump and thud. He thought someone must have been throwing snowballs against his window.

But when he opened his front door to investigate, he found a flock of birds huddling miserably in the snow. They’d been caught in the storm and had tried to seek shelter by flying through his lounge-room window. Well, he couldn’t let the poor creatures lie there and freeze, so he remembered the barn where his children stabled their pony. That would provide a warm shelter, if he could direct the birds to it.

He quickly put on a coat and boots and then tramped through the deepening snow to the barn. He opened the doors wide and turned on a light, but the birds did not come in. He thought that food would entice them. So, he hurried back to the house, fetched breadcrumbs and sprinkled them on the snow. He made a trail to the brightly lit, wide-open doorway of the stable. But the birds ignored the breadcrumbs and continued to flap around helplessly in the snow.

He tried catching them. And he tried shooing them into the barn by walking around them and waving his arms. Instead, they scattered in every direction, except into the warm, lighted barn.


Then he realized they were afraid of him. To them, he reasoned, I am a strange and terrifying creature. If only I could think of a way to get them to trust me — that I am not trying to hurt them but to help them. But how?

Any move he made just frightened and confused them. They just wouldn’t follow. They would not be led or shooed, because they feared him.

‘If only I could be a bird,’ he thought to himself, ‘and mingle with them and speak their language. Then I could tell them not to be afraid. Then I could show them the way to the safe warm barn. But I would have to be one of them so they could see and hear and understand.’

Just then, the church bells began to ring. The sound reached his ears above the sounds of the wind. And he stood there listening to the bells pealing the glad tidings of Christmas. And then he sank to his knees in the snow.

‘Now I understand,’ he whispered. ‘Now I see why you had to do it.’ [i]

[i] Louis Cassels,  The Parable of the Birds as told in Greg Johnson, The 25 Days of Christmas,  pp.30-31. (Abridged).