Year B – 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Sheep Without a Shepherd

(Jer.23:1-6; Ps.23; Eph.2:13-18; Mk.6:30-34)

Some years ago, the BBC reported that hundreds of sheep had fallen off a cliff in Eastern Turkey.

After one sheep fell off the cliff, the whole flock followed. More than 400 sheep died, but their bodies cushioned the fall of the other 1,100 that survived. [i]

The report didn’t mention the shepherds, but clearly they weren’t doing their job.

That’s what the prophet Jeremiah is complaining about in our first reading today. In ancient Israel, kings were seen as ‘shepherds’ caring for their flocks. That’s because great leaders like Abraham, Moses and David actually had been shepherds (Ex.3:11; Gen.12:16; Sam.17:34-35).

Like all rulers, Israel’s kings were expected to govern wisely, but many proved to be selfish and greedy manipulators. Jeremiah is scathing of them and calls them false shepherds. But then he offers hope because God has promised the people a ‘true king’ who will be ‘wise, practising honesty and integrity in the land’.

Who is this true king? It’s Jesus Christ, of course. He’s the ‘Good Shepherd’, a direct descendent of King David himself (Jn.10:11; Mt.1:1). And today’s psalm, The Lord is My Shepherd, tells us about Him. The twenty-third psalm is one of the best-loved passages in all Scripture.

Indeed, after the Vietnam War, many American prisoners of war were asked about the fear and darkness they had suffered, and what had kept them going. What had most sustained them, they said, was praying this psalm. [ii] 

This sacred song begins with a rich image of sheep resting by still waters in a grassy meadow. Its verses then follow a winding pathway down into a valley, and then rise up to a metaphorical mountaintop where heaven (‘the Lord’s house’) is located and we are offered hope.

Now, a shepherd has to work hard to get his sheep to lie down beside any waters. Sheep are usually anxious creatures, and they won’t rest if they’re thirsty or hungry, or worried about anything.

And so it is with us. We tend to be anxious creatures, too. Before we can truly and deeply rest, we must drink the living water (Jn.4:14; 7:37) and eat the bread of life (Jn.6:35) that Jesus freely offers us. We must accept His profound peace, for it’s a peace that the world simply cannot provide (Jn.14:27).

But here’s an important point: Jesus never forces Himself on us. He only leads by showing us the way (1Pet.2:21), and letting us choose.

When left to themselves, sheep without a shepherd will perish. They cannot look after themselves. They cannot find water, they’ll overgraze in the one spot, they cannot recognise danger and, ultimately, they’ll die. That’s what happened to those Turkish sheep.

Inside the cave in Northern Thailand

That’s also what very nearly happened to another flock in 2018, when 12 boys and the coach of the Wild Boars Soccer team in Northern Thailand were trapped in a cave 4km deep. For two weeks they were stuck in darkness and flooding rain, with no food and not enough oxygen. They simply couldn’t rescue themselves. It was only because of the remarkable goodness of a few brave shepherds that they were saved.

To remain happy, safe and healthy, all sheep – including ourselves – need a good shepherd. 

In Mark’s Gospel today, Jesus tries to take his disciples to somewhere quiet for rest, reflection and prayer.  But when He gets there, a crowd is waiting for Him. They look like ‘sheep without a shepherd,’ Jesus says.  But He doesn’t turn them away. Rather, He greets them with compassion and care, for Jesus is always welcoming.

The Bible uses the phrase ‘sheep without a shepherd’ eight times, and each time it’s always linked to aimless wandering.

When people wander, they often allow themselves to be distracted and carried along by other people and things. But this is risky for there are many unhealthy influences out there. Once trapped, it can be very hard to escape.

In 2017, when Pope Francis celebrated the 100th anniversary of Fatima, he said that we can all learn from ‘the immense ocean of God’s light’ that shone on those three young children. And he warned us of the dangers of wandering aimlessly through life. 

‘Our Lady,’ he said, ‘warned us about a way of life that is godless and profanes God in his creatures. Such a life,’ he said, ‘risks leading to hell’.[iii]

So, in the end we’re left with a choice: do we wander aimlessly through life, and risk perishing like lost sheep?

Or do we ask the Good Shepherd to guide us safely home?

[i] BBC News, 8 July 2005.

[ii] Mark Link, The Psalms for Today. Tabor Publishing, Valencia Ca. 1989:29.


Year B – 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Called to be Missionary

(Am.7:12-15; Eph.1:3-14; Mk.6:7-13)

In today’s Gospel, Jesus sends his disciples out into the world, in pairs, to heal the sick, to drive out evil spirits and to tell the world about God’s love.

But first He gives them some instructions.

‘Take nothing for the journey,’ He says, ‘except a staff.’  He wants them to travel light. This staff (a walking stick) isn’t a symbol of authority; it’s a reminder that Jesus wants them to keep going, spreading His good news.

‘Take no bread, no bag and no money,’ He says. They mustn’t rely on their own resources. They must trust in God; He will supply what they need. Carrying little or nothing is a powerful demonstration of your trust in God.

Then Jesus says, ‘Wear sandals, but don’t take a spare tunic.’ In those days, rich people wore shoes; poorer people wore sandals. Jesus wants His disciples to dress simply, so that they can connect with the poor. 

And then, ‘If you enter a house anywhere, stay there until you leave the district.’  This means don’t be fussy about where you stay. Show you’re happy to accept whatever is offered to you, and spend some time with the locals. It takes time to know them.

Then Jesus warns them that not everyone will accept his Gospel message.  Some people simply won’t listen. If that happens, Jesus says just leave. Shake the dust off your feet (in other words: simply let go) and move on.

It’s interesting to note how similar these directions are to the instructions God gave the twelve tribes of Israel before their exodus from Egypt. God sent them to the Promised Land with no bread, only one set of clothes, wearing sandals and carrying a staff (Ex.12:11; Dt.8:2-4). Like the twelve disciples, the twelve tribes were all expected to rely on God’s providence and grace.

Now, we are Jesus’ disciples today, so these instructions are meant for us. Jesus wants us to live simply. He wants us to rely less on ourselves, and to trust more in Him. He wants us to open our hearts and to lead those who are lost on a new exodus towards Him, for He’s waiting for us with open arms.

We don’t have to be anyone special to do this. We only need faith. That’s the message from Amos in our first reading today. Amos was an ordinary shepherd who was asked by God to go and tell the Israelites that he loves them and that they must change their ways. They didn’t listen, but that doesn’t matter. As Jesus says, just shake the dust off your feet and move on.

St Teresa of Calcutta used to say that in doing God’s work, we don’t have to be successful. We just have to be faithful.

In our Second Reading, St Paul says that before the world was made, God chose us to be holy and spotless, to live through love in His presence and to be His adopted sons and daughters.

In other words, God loves us totally; He wants us close to Him. That’s the message Jesus wants us to spread.

In his book ‘The Joy of the Gospel’, Pope Francis reminds us that in our Christian faith we’re all called to be missionary. This call is reflected all through the Gospels, and it’s certainly reflected in every Mass.

When we leave Mass today, nourished and transformed by the Holy Eucharist, Jesus will be sending us out, just like the original Twelve, to take His Gospel message into the world. And He’s inviting us to do this in pairs.

Let’s close with a story.

One winter’s day a man came upon a small boy sitting and begging on a wind-swept city bridge. The boy was shivering from the cold and obviously in need of a good meal.

On seeing him, the man got very angry and said to God, ‘Lord, why don’t you do something about this boy?’

God replied, ‘I’ve already done something about him.’

This surprised the man, so he said, ‘I hope you don’t mind me saying this, but whatever you did, it doesn’t seem to be working.’

‘I agree with you,’ God replied.

‘By the way, what did you do?’ the man asked.

‘I made you,’ came the reply. [i]

[i] Flor McCarthy, New Sunday and Holy Day Liturgies, Year B. Dominican Publications, Dublin, 2017:259-260.

Year B – 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time

When I am Weak, I am Strong

(Ezek.2:2-5; 2Cor.12:7-10; Mk.6:1-6)

What is strength?

In our popular culture, strength tends to be measured by things like power, money, influence and prestige, and many people like to boast about having it.

St Paul sees strength very differently. In today’s second reading, he says ‘It’s when I am weak that I am strong.’ What does that mean?

Paul is writing to the members of the Corinthian church, who were known to boast of their worldly successes. Without giving any details, he tells them that a thorn has been torturing his flesh, and three times he begged God to remove it. But God simply replied to him, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in weakness.’

Thinking about these surprising words, Paul realised that the painful irritant that so troubled him was actually a good thing because it stopped him from feeling too proud and self-sufficient. It made him humble; it opened him up to the graces of the Holy Spirit, and it constantly reminded him of his dependence on Jesus.

In other words, God was using that unnamed thorn to make Paul a better man. That’s why he says, ‘it’s when I am weak that I’m strong.’

A good example of this is Eileen O’Connor, who was born in Melbourne in 1892. She was the oldest of four children of Irish-born parents. At the age of three, she fell out of her pram and suffered a broken spine. Thereafter, she lived a life of constant pain from what was later diagnosed as tuberculous osteomyelitis.

Several painful operations did nothing to help her, and her crooked spine made walking very difficult. She only grew to 115 cm (3 ft 7 inches) tall, and spent most of her life in a wheelchair. Because of her condition, she had very little schooling.

When Eileen was 10, her family moved to Sydney, where her father subsequently died, leaving them in dire poverty. Fr Edward McGrath, the local parish priest, helped them find accommodation. He also got to know Eileen well and was very impressed by her faith and courage.

One day Eileen told Fr McGrath of an apparition she’d had of Our Lady when she was a teenager. Mary, she said, offered her three options: to die quickly and go to heaven; to be miraculously healed and live comfortably on earth; or to offer all her torments and energies to Our Lady’s work of building up God’s kingdom.

Remarkably, Eileen chose the last option.

Fr McGrath then shared with her his own dream of establishing a congregation of nurses to provide free care to the poor, the sick and the dying in their own homes.

Having deep empathy for those who suffer, Eileen loved this idea.

Together, she and Fr McGrath established a small community of nuns known as Our Lady’s Nurses of the Poor. In 1913, she moved into a rented house in Coogee which became their first convent. They called it ‘Our Lady’s Home.’ The sisters elected Eileen as their first superior, and although she was only in her twenties, they called her their ‘Little Mother.’

Eileen supervised the sisters’ work, she led them in prayer and gave them spiritual direction. She also had to manage those who tried to obstruct their work.

Sadly, Eileen’s life was cut short. She died in 1921, aged only 28.[i] [ii]

Outwardly, Eileen O’Connor was tiny, weak and frail, and easily overlooked. Yet her character was magnetic and her spirit was very strong. She proved to be a remarkable teacher and organiser who inspired many generations of nurses, and brought happiness and light to the lives of so many people. [iii]

Today she is revered as a holy woman in Australia and the Pacific, and even in the United States. 

The cause for her canonisation was opened in 2020, and now she is on her way to becoming Australia’s next saint. [iv]

When we feel strong and self-reliant, when we are boastful of our successes, we tend to shut ourselves off from people and from God. We think we don’t need them. But this is a mistake, because we are limiting ourselves. We are shutting ourselves off from extraordinary power and opportunity.

However, when we are consciously weak, broken and vulnerable, that’s when we start looking beyond ourselves and hopefully, we turn to God.

Like St Paul and Eileen O’Connor, when we open ourselves up to the strength and power of God’s Holy Spirit, that’s when He begins to work through us. And remarkable things happen.

This is what happens in the life of every saint.

So, the next time you’re feeling strong and confident, remember Jesus’ words: ‘Apart from me, you can do nothing’ (Jn.15:5).

Whatever weakness you have can turn out to be a source of very great strength.





Year B – 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Jairus and Two Daughters

(Wis.1:13-15, 2:23-24; 2Cor.8:7, 9, 13-15; Mk.5:21-43)

Today’s Gospel is crafted like a sandwich. It gives us the story of Jairus’ daughter, and in the middle of it we’re given another story about a suffering woman.

Both stories have something to teach us about our faith.

They begin with Jesus and his disciples crossing the Sea of Galilee and meeting a crowd of people on the other shore. Jairus is in that crowd. He falls to his knees and begs Jesus to save his dying daughter.

Sometimes we are like Jairus, desperately asking Jesus for help.

Notice how Jesus responds. He listens to Jairus, but He makes him wait. Jesus could have healed the girl immediately, just as He healed the Centurion’s servant in Capernaum. But He delays. Why? One reason is because Jesus wants Jairus to spend time with Him. But He also wants him to learn.

Sometimes we, too, have to wait when we pray for something, and sometimes that waiting is for a long time. Perhaps we’re praying for the wrong thing, or maybe Jesus simply wants us to develop patience and trust, and to go much, much deeper into our faith.

If Jesus always gave us quick solutions, how often would we simply return to our ordinary lives, unchanged? Clearly, Jesus wants us to grow.

Happily, from time to time while we’re waiting, He sends us encouraging signs. That’s what happens to Jairus today. As he walks with Jesus towards his house, Jairus sees Jesus heal someone else. He witnesses Jesus healing the suffering woman. Seeing that strengthens Jairus’ faith and it puts a spring in his step.

Has this ever happened to you? Have you seen or heard about someone else being helped while you were waiting for your own prayers to be answered? This is a gift, an encouraging sign meant to help us keep going. 

In today’s second story – the filling in the sandwich – we meet a woman who has been suffering for years. She knows all about waiting, and she has tried everything to solve her own problem. Now she realises that her only hope is Jesus, and this has given her profound faith.

She is convinced that all she has to do is touch Jesus, and she’ll be healed.  And that’s exactly what happens: she touches Jesus’ cloak and she’s instantly healed.

This famous story emphasises the importance of patience and trust, and it reminds us of the importance of touch.

When that woman reaches out to touch Jesus, He feels His power drain from Him. ‘Who touched me?’ He asks. The disciples think He’s just being silly, because they were all inside a bustling crowd. But being accidentally nudged is not the same as a personal, believing touch, for touch can be incredibly powerful: it can heal; it can console, and as Helen Keller discovered, it can teach, as well.

Helen Keller (1880 – 1968) caught meningitis before she was two years old, and it left her deaf and blind. The only way her teacher could communicate with her and teach her how to read, write and speak was through touch.

One day, she put Helen’s hand under the water pump, and with her finger repeatedly signed w-a-t-e-r on her palm. Through touch, she found a way to break through to Helen and unlock her brilliant mind.

Touch became Helen Keller’s lifeline to the world, just as it’s an important link between ourselves and those we love.

And touch is an important element in our relationship with Jesus, too. You might not have thought about it much, but every time you come forward for the Holy Eucharist, you stretch out your hands to receive Jesus Himself.

Are you aware of this? Do you feel Jesus’ personal touch when you receive Him at Communion? And does Jesus feel your loving touch in return?

Or is it all just a mindless gesture?

There is so much wisdom embedded in our two sandwiched Gospel stories today. Jairus’ prayer was answered, but he had to wait. And while he waited he received an encouraging sign that strengthened his faith.

The suffering woman had to wait, too, and that waiting convinced her that the only answer to her prayers was Jesus Himself.  

And both stories demonstrate the importance of a loving touch. Jesus reaches out to touch Jairus’ daughter, and she is healed. The suffering woman reaches out to touch Jesus, and she too is healed.

When we reach out to receive the Holy Eucharist today, let’s remember that we’ll be touching Jesus Himself.

Let’s do so with deep reverence, faith, and love.

Year B – 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Surviving the Storm

(Job 38:1, 8-11; 2Cor.5:14-17; Mk.4:35-41)

Many people love the sea; they’re fascinated by its colour, its power and its life, while others fear it. They’re scared of its sharks, shipwrecks and unstable nature. 

In Biblical times, people found the sea frightening. They thought it was dangerous and believed that only God can tame it. Indeed, God does tame it in Genesis 1:6-10.

In Exodus, God also divides the Red Sea (14:21-22). And in Revelation, we’re told there will be ‘no more sea’ when God’s peace finally descends on a ‘new earth and new heaven’ (Rev.21:1).

This is the background to Mark’s Gospel today. Jesus is tired, having taught and healed all day in Galilee. As He takes His disciples across the Sea of Galilee to the land of the Gentiles, a storm erupts. Big waves lash their little boat, and the men are terrified. They turn to Jesus and find Him asleep: ‘Master, don’t you care?’ they ask.

Jesus wakes up and replies, ‘Why are you so frightened? Why do you have no faith?’ He then calms the storm.

Year B - 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time 1

We all face storms in our lives. Sometimes it’s merely bad weather; and sometimes it’s personal storms, like financial, health or relationship troubles, or the turmoil of anxiety and depression.

For many people, this is the only time they turn to God. The rest of the time they ignore Him. However, there’s a problem with this approach, for if we don’t connect with God when all is calm, we’re unlikely to find Him when we’re in trouble. We’re much more likely to panic.

Many people today also think that if God truly is with them, if He genuinely cares about them, then there’d be no storms at all. And if a storm does arrive, they think that simply proves that God either isn’t there or He just doesn’t love them.

Today’s Gospel tells us that this thinking is wrong, for Jesus is present when the storm hits His disciples. Indeed, His presence doesn’t stop the storm; it just helps the disciples to know that He’s in it with them.

We know that difficulties are a natural part of life. Even Jesus’ life was never trouble-free, and He warns us that anyone following Him can expect to face ‘tribulation, distress and suffering’ (Jn.16.33).

But He also promises to help us. ‘I will not leave you as orphans,’ Jesus says, ‘I will come to you’ (Jn.14:18).

In Deuteronomy, too, we read: ‘Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified … for the Lord your God goes with you; He will never leave you’ (31:6).

So, we remember that God is always with us. But what else can we do to weather these unpleasant storms?

In his book Captured Fire, Joseph Krempa says that today’s readings offer us some useful guidelines.

Our first reading from the Book of Job, for example, reminds us that all storms have limits; they always pass, however intense they may be. The Lord knows the limits of our tolerance, Krempa says. Any storm, the Lord says as in Job, ‘thus far shall you come and no further.’

And as we wait out the storm, Krempa tells us that it’s important that we keep praying. And even if our prayer sometimes seems ineffective, we need to keep our hand on the tiller because our prayer life will give us the stability we need in any turbulence.

Krempa also says that during a storm is not the time to change direction. We should not make any serious life-changing decisions during times of deep anxiety or loss, he says. The storm is not the time to make a major career change, to write a difficult letter or to rearrange our finances. Such changes can be made when calm returns and we can think clearly.

And finally, he points out that in our second reading, St Paul encourages us to see things through the eyes of Christ, for storms have great power to transform the landscape. Through the storms of life, things might seem to be breaking apart, but through the eyes of faith we can see that they are actually breaking open, that things are changing for the better.

For personal tragedy can lead us to a new life with God; physical loss can be a moment of spiritual gain, and illness can lead to spiritual renewal. [i]

Being buffeted by the storms of life isn’t pleasant, but remember this: you are never alone. God is always with you, even if you think He’s sleeping.

So keep up your prayers, and be aware that storms can not only bring us closer to God, they also often create pathways to something new.

[i] S Joseph Krempa, Captured Fire Cycle B, St Paul’s, New York. 2016:106-107.

Year B – 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Like a Mustard Seed

(Ezek.17:22-24; 2Cor.5:6-10; Mk.4:26-34)

In Mark’s Gospel today, Jesus says the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed. What does He mean by that?

Let’s begin by explaining the Kingdom of God, a phrase that is used 122 times in the New Testament.

In his book Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict XVI says that the Kingdom of God isn’t a particular place or a thing, but a way of living that has three dimensions.

Firstly, the Kingdom of God is a person. It’s Jesus Christ himself, and Jesus, of course, is God’s presence among us. He represents both truth and the way we should live if we seek the best for ourselves.

Secondly, the Kingdom of God is inside us. It becomes real when we welcome Jesus into our hearts. It also becomes real when we allow Him to rule over our lives, and when we choose to live as He does.

And thirdly, the Kingdom of God is the Church. Despite all its faults and limitations, it’s through the Church that Jesus continues his mission and ministry in our world today.

How, then, is God’s kingdom like a mustard seed?

In the Gospel, Jesus says it’s ‘… like a mustard seed which … is the smallest of all the seeds … yet once it’s sown it grows into the biggest shrub of them all and puts out big branches so that the birds of the air can shelter in its shade.’ 

Now, we know that Jesus isn’t speaking literally here, because the mustard seed isn’t the smallest of seeds. What Jesus is using here is an expression that was common in ancient times. But what does He mean?

In her book Everyday God, Paula Gooder says the mustard plant sometimes behaves like a weed. It can spread like wildfire and grow into a very large shrub where birds love to build their nests.

This is just like the Church. It has grown very large and just as birds like to nest in a tree, so many people flock to the Church as a great source of nourishment, rest and shelter.

But there’s another way of looking at today’s Gospel. The seed also represents our own efforts, and God’s grace is the action of the sun and rain on that seed. As St Paul says, it’s God who gives the growth. He makes seeds grow. 

Sometimes all we have to do is provide a small beginning and God will do the rest.  Even a kind word or a good deed can start something big.

In 1860, for example, St Mary McKillop went to look after her young cousins in Penola, South Australia, and soon started a school and a new religious order, the Josephites. Their ministry spread rapidly, and today they work in Australia, New Zealand, East Timor, Ireland, Scotland and South America.

In 1949 Mother Teresa of Calcutta went alone into the streets of Calcutta to help the sick and dying, and so began what is now an enormous ministry of love across the world, with thousands of priests, nuns and laypeople helping the poor in 90 countries.

And in 1976, Muhammad Yunus began the world’s first microcredit bank in Bangladesh, providing tiny business loans to entrepreneurs trapped by poverty. He began with a very small seed – by lending just $27 to a group of 42 women to start a business making bamboo stools. Since then, his Grameen Bank has spread to 59 countries and it has helped over 300 million people.

Clearly, a tiny seed can start something good, but it can also stop something bad.

In the early 400s, a humble monk named Telemachus travelled to Rome, and found himself in the crowds going to the Coliseum. Sitting there in the stadium, he was appalled to see gladiators killing each other.

He called out, ‘In the name of Jesus, Stop!’ But no one seemed to hear. He jumped over the wall into the arena and again called out, ‘In the name of Jesus, Stop!’ The people laughed, and the gladiators turned on him.

They killed St Telemachus and at that moment everyone was shocked. In silence they all went home.

That same day the Emperor Honorius banned violent games right across the Roman Empire.

There’s nothing ordinary about all this. This is how the Kingdom of God grows.

Each of us can start something great, or end something awful.

Sometimes we don’t even know we’re doing it, but all it takes is a small act of love, done in the name of Jesus.

And God then gives the growth.

Year B – Corpus Christi Sunday

The Food of Life

(Ex.24:3-8; Heb. 9:11-15; Mk.14:12-16, 22-26)

Where do people tend to gather at your place?

I’ve often asked this question, and the most common answer is that people tend to gather near food – around the table, in the kitchen or near the barbecue.

Why? It’s because people love food and food preparation seems to be at the heart of every home. Food also serves as a kind of magnet, keeping body and soul together, and bringing people together, too.

Indeed, we create a family whenever we share a meal at table. We also create a community when disparate people come together for a feast.  

Some people see food as little more than a solution for hunger. But it does so much more than that.

Food can be nourishing, of course, and it can keep us healthy. But it can also spread joy, and it’s a wonderful way to say ‘I love you.’

Food is also comforting in times of fear and uncertainty; it calms people down and cheers people up. It can be healing, too: a nice hot soup is reviving when you’re sick. And don’t we often seal deals over a meal?

In every culture, food is deeply meaningful, because it always involves heart, effort and sacrifice. It’s also important, because it shapes community and gives us identity.

Food has also been described as God’s love made edible.

Jesus understands all this. He knows that families and communities are formed around a table, and that breaking bread and sharing a cup can help people grow and connect with each other.

That’s why all through Scripture we see Jesus sharing meals with all sorts of people, including social outcasts. He eats with tax collectors and sinners (Mt.9:10–11); with the Pharisees and lawyers (Lk.7:36–50), and with lepers (Mk.14:3). He receives a disreputable woman at a men’s dinner (Lk. 7:36–39), and he invites himself to the house of Zacchaeus, the ‘sinner’ (Lk.19:1–10).

Jesus is often criticised for this, and some say he eats too much (Lk.7:34). But Jesus knows that food is more than just food. It’s an effective way to bring people together, to nourish and heal them, and to create family and community.

That’s why He gave us the Holy Eucharist at the Last Supper. There in the Upper Room, as Jesus and His disciples celebrated the Passover, He took the bread and broke it, just as they broke His body on the Cross.

Then He gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body. Take it and eat it, and remember that I’m with you, always.’

Then He took the cup filled with wine, blessed it and said, ‘Take this and drink it. This is my blood spilled for you on Calvary so that your sins may be forgiven.’

In the New Testament, the word body (soma in Greek) refers to the whole person, and not just to their flesh or physical body. And in Hebrew, there’s no specific word for body. A living being isn’t considered a person within a body; the body and the person are one and the same.

In other words, when Jesus offers us his body, he’s actually offering us his whole being, his very personhood.

Likewise, in Jewish thought, blood was believed to be the very life of a living being. So, when Jesus offers us his blood, he’s inviting us to ‘consume’ his very life. [i]

When we receive the Eucharist, then, we consume Jesus Himself. He becomes part of us and we become alive in him. We are truly receiving Jesus’ actual being and life, and not just engaging in some symbolic re-enactment.

The Curé of Ars, St John Vianney used to say that it’s not only our bodies that need food – our souls do, too.

‘But where is this food?’ he asked.

This was his answer: ‘When God wished to give food to our soul to sustain it in this pilgrimage through life, he looked over all creation and found nothing worthy of it. Then he fell back on himself and resolved to give himself.’

The Eucharist, then, is God’s most precious gift to us. It’s God’s family meal.

It’s not just a sign or a symbol. It’s Jesus Christ himself – true God, true man, sacramentally present to us in the form of bread and wine that is, after consecration, transformed into his body and blood.

Many years ago, Jesus appeared to St Augustine, and said: ‘Believe and eat me, and you’ll be changed into me.’ [ii]

That’s what this is all about.

[i] Dominic Grassi & Joe Paprocki, Living the Mass. Loyola Press, Chicago, 2011:148-149.

[ii] Cardinal Saliege, Spiritual Writings. St Pauls Publications, Bucks. 1966:57. 

Year B – 10th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Fullness of Mercy

(Gen.3:9-15; 2Cor.4:13-5:1; Mk.3:20-35)

In 1981, as he was driven through the crowd in St. Peter’s Square, Pope St John Paul II was shot and wounded by a Turkish gunman, Mehmet Ali Ağca.

Bullets struck his body and left hand, and narrowly missed his heart.

Ağca was arrested, and the Pope was rushed off to hospital. But before losing consciousness, John Paul said that he forgave the shooter.

In 2005, he wrote, ‘I was suffering – there was reason to fear, but I had a sort of strange confidence [that I would survive].’ And from his hospital bed, he asked the world to ‘pray for my brother… whom I have sincerely forgiven.’

Just after Christmas in 1983, John Paul visited Ağca in prison. They spoke privately in a corner of his cell, and Ağca kissed John Paul’s hand. 

As John Paul rose to leave, he gave Ağca a silver and mother-of-pearl rosary. Many were astounded to learn that Ağca was not handcuffed and that his cell door was left ajar. The Pope had asked a photographer to capture the event to show the world that forgiveness and mercy are possible in our fallen world.

In his book, Memory and Identity, John Paul wrote ‘Ali Ağca had probably sensed that over and above his own power, over and above the power of shooting and killing, there was a higher power. He then began to look for it. I hope and pray that he found it.’

Ağca reportedly became a Catholic in 2007.

John Paul lobbied the Italian president to pardon the prisoner, and he was freed in 2000. He was then deported to Turkey, where he served another 10-year sentence and was released three years later.

Ağca has repeatedly expressed remorse for shooting the Pope.

In Psalm 129 today, the psalmist declares that ‘With the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption.’ That’s how St John Paul II lived his life. He tried to model Jesus in all he did.

He was inspired by Jesus’ unfailing mercy and compassion in the Scriptures: how He comforts the distressed and heals the sick, the blind and the deaf; how He brings the dead back to life and forgives the woman caught in adultery; and how He even forgives those who crucify Him.

For with the Lord there really is fullness of mercy and redemption.

In our first reading today, Adam and Eve have disobeyed God by eating the forbidden fruit. God knows this, but He doesn’t seek revenge. Instead, He asks them, ‘Where are you?’ In other words, ‘Where are your hearts now? Where are you in relation to me, to others and to yourself?’

Adam and Eve feel ashamed and try to dodge responsibility for what they’ve done, but God doesn’t seek to punish them. Rather, He turns to the evil serpent and promises that one day it will face justice.

For with the Lord there is fullness of mercy and redemption.

In today’s second reading, Paul is talking to the Corinthians. He assures them that their troubles and struggles are only temporary, and that they can look forward to the glory that awaits them in heaven if they stay strong in their faith.

For with the Lord there is fullness of mercy and redemption.

And in Mark’s Gospel today, evil is once again causing division and confusion in the world. Jesus has just chosen his twelve disciples and returns home to Nazareth. While he’s preaching, a crowd gathers.

Among them are members of Jesus’ family, but they think He’s lost His mind. And the scribes who are present are deliberately misinterpreting what He’s been saying. But Jesus is not discouraged. He calls the people to a new community, a new family that is not defined by nation or blood. And He says that anyone who hears and does the will of God is His brother, sister or mother.

For with the Lord there really is fullness of mercy and redemption.

The message for us today is that in our turbulent world, it’s so important to remain steadfast in living the life Jesus calls us to live.

Thankfully, if we make mistakes, our God is consistently full of mercy and redemption.

But at the same time, like St John Paul II, it’s also important that we extend that mercy to others, even if they don’t deserve it.

So, when next you pray the Lord’s Prayer and say the words ‘… forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,’ ask yourself: who am I forgiving today? 

Year B – Trinity Sunday

A Good Sign of the Cross

(Deut.4:32-34, 39-40; Rom.8:14-17; Mt.28:16-20)

Today, on Trinity Sunday, we celebrate the mystery of our Triune God, a mystery that no-one in this life has ever fully understood.

For how can one God include three Divine Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit?

And yet, Scripture often refers to God’s Trinitarian presence: the merciful Father who created us, the loving Son who sacrificed everything for us, and the Holy Spirit who fills us with so much life and hope. Our finite brains struggle to grasp this truth, yet in our hearts we accept it because it’s fundamental to our Christian faith.

Indeed, the Trinity is so fundamental to our beliefs that it’s embedded in our most ancient gesture of prayer: The Sign of the Cross. We make this sign so often, however, that we tend to forget its significance. So, today let’s reflect on this common practice of ours to reveal something of what it means.

Every time we make the Sign of the Cross, we invoke the mystery of the Holy Trinity. With our right hand, we touch our forehead, breast and left and right shoulders, and say ‘In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit’, using the words Jesus himself gave us just before ascending to heaven (Mt.28:19).

The Sign of the Cross is as old as the Church itself. The earliest Christians often used to trace a Cross (meaning Redemption) with three fingers (the Trinity) on their foreheads. [i]

In 201AD, Tertullian wrote, In all our travels and movements, in all our coming in and going out, in putting on our shoes, at the bath, at the table, in lighting our candles, in lying down, in sitting down, whatever (we do) we mark our foreheads with the sign of the cross’. [ii]

Later, Christians added the words ‘In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit’, and they extended this sign to other parts of the body. So now for example we also sign our forehead, lips and heart when the Gospel is read.

There are many ways to interpret the Sign of the Cross.

Every time we sign ourselves, we publicly affirm our Baptism and we ask God to renew our baptismal graces. At the same time, we also affirm our discipleship, and remember our responsibility to get to know God (pointing to our head), to love him (heart) and to serve him all through our days (shoulders).

But it also summarises the Apostles’ Creed. When we touch our forehead, breast and shoulders, we declare that we believe in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; we say that we believe in God’s Creation and his redemption of humanity from sin and death; and we recognise the Cross as the central event of our Christian faith.

As well, an open hand is a sign of blessing, so every time we trace the shape of the Cross on ourselves, we’re asking God to bless our minds, our hearts and our bodies – our thoughts, our passions and our actions.

And as our hand moves down from our head to our heart, we’re reminded that Christ descended from heaven to earth.  And as it travels across from left to right shoulder, we recall that Jesus Himself crossed from death to life, and we’re all invited to do the same.

By definition, the Sign of the Cross is a ‘sacramental’, a sacred sign that unites us with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. In that moment it serves as a prayer, a collect, that silently gathers up all our hopes and fears and gives them to God.  It also sanctifies that particular moment in our lives, and it prepares us to receive God’s grace. [iii] 

The beauty of the Sign of the Cross is that it’s both quick and deeply meaningful.  The sad thing is that too many people don’t recognise its importance. 

In Ancient Greek, the word ‘sphragis’ means sign and mark of ownership.  Roman generals used to tattoo their initials on their soldiers’ forearms, just as shepherds brand their sheep.

In the same way, the Sign of the Cross publicly marks us as belonging to Christ, the true Shepherd. [iv]

So, whenever you feel drawn towards Jesus, make a good Sign of the Cross.  Whenever you’re anxious, struggling or in danger, make a good Sign of the Cross. And whenever you’re filled with gratitude or joy, make a good Sign of the Cross, for it’s a deeply meaningful prayer. 

And remember this: the Sign of the Cross reminds us to think beyond ourselves. As Ronald Knox once said, in the Sign of the Cross the first two gestures form the letter ‘I’. The second two cross it out. [v]

[i] Ann Ball, The How-To Book of Sacramentals. Our Sunday Visitor, Huntington IN, 2005:33-34.

[ii] Tertullian, de Corona. Ch.3:165.

[iii] Ann Ball, Op cit. pp.11-13.

[iv] Bert Ghezzi, The Sign of the Cross. Loyola Press, Chicago. 2004:60.

[v] Bishop Robert Barron, Lenten Reflection

Year B – Pentecost Sunday

The Power of the Spirit

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

Whenever we’re anxious or distressed, we need the Spirit of Peace. Whenever we’re sad and life seems too hard, we need the Spirit of Joy.

And whenever we’re in darkness and doubt, we need the Spirit of Light.

Today we celebrate the power of the Holy Spirit, the power that Jesus poured into his disciples at Pentecost.

On that day, the disciples were hiding in fear in the Upper Room, when a great noise like a mighty wind rushed through and tongues of fire appeared above them.

They were suddenly transformed. The once-fearful disciples emerged as courageous Apostles, telling the crowds in the street the truth about Jesus. 3,000 people became Christians that day, and the Church was born.

Some people think of Pentecost as a single, standalone event, but it actually marks the end of the fifty days of Easter. As Joan Chittister writes, ‘… only here in this time, between the bursting open of the tomb and, fifty days later, the overflowing of the Holy Spirit, does the full awareness of what it is to live in Christ, with Christ, and through Christ finally dawn.’ [i]

So, who is this Holy Spirit? With God the Father and God the Son, the Holy Spirit completes the Trinity. All three are co-equal and of the same essence, and like the Father, the Holy Spirit is invisible. But He’s also a person, and not just an influence or an impersonal force.

How do we know the Spirit is a person? It’s because the Bible presents Him that way (e.g., Jn.6:63; Rom.8:11; 1Jn.5:6; Jn.16:7-8). It makes it clear that the Holy Spirit thinks, feels, has a mind, and does things only a person can do.

Now, the Spirit the Apostles receive at Pentecost is the same Spirit that created the world (Gen.1:1-2); that transformed Adam from dust into a human being (Gen.2:7); that guided Moses through the desert (Num.11:16-17); and that raised Jesus from the dead.

Importantly, it’s also the very same Spirit we receive at our Baptism and Confirmation.

The Holy Spirit is a powerful, energising force, and in Scripture He is given several names, including Spirit of God, Spirit of Jesus, and the Spirit of Truth. Jesus also calls him ‘another Comforter’, a ‘Counsellor’, ‘Advocate’ or ‘Paraclete’.

But what is a Paraclete? The Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins says that a Paraclete ‘is often translated as comforter, but a Paraclete does more than comfort.

‘The word is Greek, and there’s no one English word for it. Comforter is not enough. A Paraclete is one who comforts, cheers, encourages, persuades, exhorts, stirs up, urges forward and who calls on… what clapping of hands is to a speaker, what a trumpet is to the soldier, that a Paraclete is to the soul… A Paraclete is one who calls us on to good.’ [ii]

William Barclay says that the Holy Spirit’s purpose is to fill a person with the power and courage they need to triumphantly cope with life.

In Greek, he says, the root word for this power is du-namis, from which we get the English word dynamite, which is an explosive force. The Holy Spirit, therefore, is not passive. He’s an active force of explosive power that encourages and empowers. [iii]

That’s the same Spirit we receive at our Baptism! And we receive a ‘top-up’ every time we receive the sacraments.

The great evangelist Dwight L. Moody was once asked, ‘If we were filled with the Holy Spirit at Baptism, why do we need to be refilled so often?’

‘Because we leak,’ Moody replied.

‘The fact is,’ he said, ‘we are leaky vessels and we have to keep right under the fountain all the time to keep full of Christ, and so have a fresh supply.’

Sadly, too many of us are not really all that open to God. We say we are, but we often let our precious Spirit leak away. We don’t take His gifts seriously, we are happy to overlook our responsibilities, we fail to grow in holiness and we even choose to sin.

And yet, when we genuinely welcome the Holy Spirit into our hearts, our lives are uplifted and we find ourselves blessed with love, forgiveness, kindness, goodness, gentleness, peace, and joy (Gal.5:22-23).

Aren’t these exactly the things we all want and need?

So, together, let’s say this little prayer:

Come Holy Spirit. Fill my heart with your love, fill my mind with your light.

[i] Joan Chittister, The Liturgical Year, Thomas Nelson, 2009.

[ii] Gerard Manley Hopkins, Sermon on the Paraclete, Liverpool, 1882.

[iii] William Barclay, New Testament Words. Westminster Press, Philadelphia, 1964:216-221.