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.

Year C – Palm Sunday

The Shroud of Turin

(Is.50:4-7; Phil.2:6-11; Lk.22:14-23:56)

Apart from the Cross, nothing depicts the Passion of Christ more powerfully than the Shroud of Turin.

After Jesus died on the Cross, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pontius Pilate for permission to bury Jesus. Pilate agreed. He then bought a linen cloth, took Jesus down from the Cross, wrapped him in it and buried him (Lk.23:46-56). 

John’s Gospel tells us that the Shroud was left behind when Jesus rose from the dead (Jn.20:5-7). And history says it was kept by Byzantine Emperors until 1204AD. It was then taken by Crusaders to France, and in 1578 it went to Turin, where it remains today.[i]

The Shroud has been studied countless times, and it’s been described as a supernatural photo negative of Jesus lying in the tomb, taken by God probably at the moment of his Resurrection. Measuring 4.3m x 1.1m, it bears images of his front and back, as it was placed under him and then pulled over his head to cover the rest of his body.

The Shroud depicts someone who endured everything that Jesus suffered: scourging, beatings, crowning with thorns, and nails through his wrists and feet.

Close analysis shows hundreds of wounds from scourging, and it reveals that Jesus was tortured by two soldiers, using two different whips, one with pieces of metal or bone embedded into it. The entire body is covered with these wounds, particularly the back, chest and hips.

The Shroud also shows evidence of the crown of thorns, but it didn’t have a hole in the middle. It was more like a cap covering the whole head, with long thorns causing significant pain and bleeding.

The legs show even more wounds, especially on and just above the right knee, possibly caused by Jesus falling on his way to Calvary. There’s also a large 10cm x 9cm injury on his right shoulder, probably caused by the rough Cross opening up the wounds from the scourging at the pillar.

On the left of his back, there’s another large wound, revealing that the Cross had torn his flesh. And it shows that three nails were used; one through each wrist, and one nail through both feet.

Many people think that the nails pierced Jesus’ palms, but his palms couldn’t have carried his weight. Standard Roman practice was to nail the wrists instead.

There’s also a serious chest wound, near his heart, and the bloodstain shows that it was inflicted after Jesus died.

The Shroud has long been controversial. In 1988, radiocarbon testing dated the Shroud to around the Middle Ages, but since then that test has been discredited. Today, most people accept the Shroud as genuine.

How do we know? Well, for a start, science has identified that none of the fluids on it could have been artificially applied. It’s not a painting. The wounds, the blood flows and the bloodstains are just too perfect.[ii] They behave exactly like the real thing, down to the last detail, and they mirror what the Gospels tell us.

As well, it’s not just ordinary blood we see; the different fluids could only have come from someone who died a traumatic death. And the blood type AB matches the blood found in many Eucharistic miracles.[iii]

The Pietà (1584) by Simone Peterzano (c.1535–1599). Church of San Fedele, Milan.

Textile experts also say that the cloth’s weave matches another 1st Century fabric found at Masada. And 70 varieties of pollen were found on the Shroud, all from the Middle East. 38 of them came from within 80 km of Jerusalem, and 14 grow nowhere else. This confirms that the Shroud came from Palestine.

As well, the dirt found at the feet of the Shroud contains a rare form of calcium only found in caves near Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate.

The Catholic Church makes no claims about the cloth’s authenticity, but it does recognise it as a powerful symbol of Christ’s suffering. [iv]

In 1998, when St John Paul II visited Turin, he said that the Shroud is a mirror of the Gospel and a reason for deep reflection, for it helps us understand the mystery of God’s love for us. He also said that it invites us to model our lives on Jesus who sacrificed himself for us. [v]

It’s hard not to be moved by all this. The Gospels and the Shroud both reveal just how much Jesus loves us, and how much suffering he has endured for us.

They also remind us that there’s no hardship we could ever face that Jesus hasn’t already suffered – and more. He really does understand what we might be going through.

So, as Easter approaches, be sure to thank Jesus and tell him how much you love him.

[i] Ian Wilson, The Shroud of Turin: The Burial Cloth of Christ? 1979.


[iii] Ron Tesoriero, My Human Heart. Published by Ron Tesoriero, Kincumber, 2021:227-235.



Year C – 5th Sunday in Lent

All Things New Again

(Is.43:16-21; Phil.3:8-14; Jn.8:1-11)

Is it possible to let go of the past and start again?

Let’s consider the story of Corrie Ten Boom. During WWII, in the Netherlands, she and her family hid Jews in their home. But the Nazis caught them and sent them to a concentration camp where they suffered terribly. Only Corrie survived the ordeal.

After the war, she travelled Europe, telling others about her faith. In 1947, while speaking about forgiveness in a church in Munich, she noticed a bald man near the door. She froze. He was the cruellest of the guards from that concentration camp.

After her talk, he came up to shake her hand. ‘Thanks for your message,’ he said, ‘It’s wonderful to know that all our sins are at the bottom of the sea!’

Corrie ten Boom (1892-1983) - Find a Grave Memorial

She had been talking about forgiveness, but she despised this man. She couldn’t shake his hand or forgive him.

Then she realized he couldn’t have recognised her; that camp had thousands of prisoners.

‘You mentioned Ravensbruck,’ he said, his hand still extended. ‘I was a guard there. I’m ashamed to admit it … But since then, I’ve come to know Jesus. It’s been hard to forgive myself for all the cruel things I did, but I know God has forgiven me. And please, I’d like to hear you say that God has forgiven me.’

In her book, The Hiding Place, she wrote: ‘I stood there, I whose sins had been forgiven again and again, and couldn’t forgive. It was only for a few seconds that he stood there with his hand held out, but it seemed like hours as I wrestled with the hardest thing I’d ever had to do. For I had to do it. I knew that. It was as simple and as horrible as that. And still I stood there with coldness clutching my heart. And so, woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out towards me.’

‘And as I did, an incredible thing happened. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, and sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes. “I forgive you, brother,” I cried. “With all my heart!”’

‘For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the prisoner. I’d never known God’s love so intensely as I did then,’ she wrote. [i]

In that moment, Corrie’s life changed. She’d learnt to forgive; she’d learnt how to let go and start again. But his life changed, too. He’d carried the most terrible guilt, but he confessed and was forgiven, and he could also start again.

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In today’s first reading from Isaiah, God says, ‘See, I’m doing a new thing…’ In so many different ways, God gives new life to broken people.

All through Scripture we see God releasing people from impossible situations, making things new again. He frees the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, he heals the blind (Mk.8:22-26), the lame (Mt.9:2-8) and the deaf (Mk.7:31-37). He brings Lazarus and Jairus’ daughter back to life (Jn.11:1-44; Mt.9:18-26).

And in today’s Gospel, Jesus gives new life to a desperately troubled woman. Jesus is in the temple when some Scribes and Pharisees drag her over, saying, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in a terrible act of sin. The Law of Moses says she should be punished by stoning. What do you say?’

Now, these men aren’t interested in this woman; they only want to trap Jesus. But Jesus doesn’t answer. He simply looks at them, knowing what they’re up to. Then he says that the person who’s without sin should throw the first stone.

They must have felt ashamed, because one by one they leave, leaving Jesus alone with her. He forgives the woman and says, ‘Go, and from now on don’t sin anymore.’

She must truly have been overjoyed, because she, too, is given new life.

Today, so many people feel trapped by sadness, disappointment, guilt and fear. They feel stuck and can’t move forward.

But they forget that as Christians, we are the Resurrection people, and the Resurrection wasn’t a once-off event. It’s also not just at the end of our lives.

Resurrection happens every day, as God works his mercy, forgiveness and healing in us in all sorts of different ways.

‘See, I am doing new things,’ God says, ‘can you not see it?’

God is always doing new things: shining his light into dark places, giving us hope and new life. But we need to open our eyes and hearts to see.

God does amazing things when we open ourselves up to him.

As St Paul says, ‘No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him’ (1Cor.2:9).

[1] Corrie Ten Boom, The Hiding Place, Random House, NY, 1998.

Year C – 4th Sunday in Lent

The Hound of Heaven

(Jos.5:9-12; 2Cor.5:17-21; Lk.15:1-3, 11-32)

What hope is there when we really mess up our lives?

Francis Thompson (1859-1907) certainly messed up his life. He was born in Preston, England into a well-to-do Catholic family.

When he was 11, his father sent him to a seminary, to train for the priesthood. But he was lazy and failed at that, so his father sent him to medical school. But he failed there, too. Then his mother died and he had a nervous breakdown, and after that he became addicted to opium.

Francis feared his father’s anger, and tried to escape by joining the army, but they wouldn’t accept him. So, he fled to the slums of London where he lived on the streets and sold matches to feed himself.

Francis seemed to fail at everything he tried. But there’s one thing he truly did love: writing. He wrote poetry on whatever scraps of paper he could find, and his hunger and suffering sharpened his poetic insights.

After some years of homelessness, he became suicidal and one day a prostitute found him collapsed on a street. She rescued him and gave him a place to stay.

This was a turning point in his life.

In 1888, he sent a grimy and tattered manuscript to a Catholic periodical. The publishers – a married couple – were impressed by his work. They took him in and cared for him, and in 1893 they published his first book, simply called Poems. It included his masterpiece; a poem called The Hound of Heaven. [i]

In 182 lines, it tells the story of a man who tries to escape from God because he’s frightened that he’ll lose his freedom. It begins:


I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;

I fled Him, down the arches of the years;

I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways

Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears

I hid from Him …

Like so many others, Francis had made a mess of his life, and in his guilt and fear, he fled from his family. But in this poem, he realises that it’s actually God he’s been running from. And he discovers that God is very much like a faithful hound chasing after a hare: searching relentlessly and never stopping until he actually finds it.

After years of pain and suffering, Francis had learnt that whenever and wherever he tried to hide, God’s love and mercy was always there, searching for him.

He had run into the slums of London, into hunger, dirt, addiction and disease, but still the hound of heaven was there, pursuing him with all ‘deliberate speed’.

Through his father, God had sent Francis some money via a London library. Through a prostitute, God rescued him from the streets and gave him a home.

Through a generous couple, God helped Francis publish his first book and gave him even more care. And later, when he moved to a Franciscan monastery in the south of England, he was helped to overcome his addiction.

To be prodigal is to be recklessly wasteful. Francis Thompson had squandered the blessings of his early life, and fell into darkness and misery, just like the younger son in Jesus’ Parable of the Prodigal Son. And just like the Prodigal Son in today’s Gospel, Francis found unconditional love and forgiveness.

So many people today think of God as someone or something distant, perhaps like a mountain waiting to be discovered by intrepid religious searchers.

But that’s not God at all. He is so much more like Francis’ Hound of Heaven, tirelessly searching for the lost and the frightened, always eager to embrace them with his love.

He’s so much more like the father in Jesus’ famous parable, anxiously awaiting his child, and celebrating mightily when he arrives.

The Apostle Peter once asked Jesus how many times he should forgive someone who sins against him. Seven times should be enough, Peter thought. But Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.’

This is how much God loves us, even when we’ve really messed up our lives.

In the end, Francis Thompson did find happiness. He published three books of poetry and several other stories and essays, but his health was always fragile. He died of tuberculosis in 1907, aged only 47. [iii] [iv]

This Lent, let’s remember that God is the Hound of Heaven, tirelessly searching for us, and always offering his grace and love, regardless of our mistakes.

(For a modern adaptation of this poem, go to:




Year C – 3rd Sunday in Lent

The Fig Tree

(Ex.3:1-8, 13-15; 1Cor.10:1-6, 10-12; Lk.13:1-9)

Have you ever noticed how often trees feature in the Bible? Apart from God and his people, trees appear more often in Scripture than any other form of life.

There’s the Tree of Knowledge at the start (Gen.1:11-12) and the Tree of Life at the end (Rev.2:22). A tree stands near running waters in Psalm 1 (Ps.1:3), and the Wise Men’s frankincense and myrrh come from trees (Mt.2:11).

There’s an almond tree (Ecc.12:5), apple tree (Song.2:3), chestnut and fir (Ez.31:8), and a cedar and myrtle (Is.41:19). Zacchaeus climbs a sycamore (Lk.19:4) and Jesus talks about mustard trees (Lk.17:6).

1,374 Fig Tree Cliparts, Stock Vector and Royalty Free Fig Tree  Illustrations

In fact, every major figure in Scripture is connected in some way with trees. Noah receives an olive branch (Gen.8:11), Abraham sits under the Oaks of Mamre (Gen.18:1), Moses finds a burning bush (Ex.3:2-5), Joseph is a carpenter (Mt.13:55) and Jesus even dies on a tree.

Why are there so many?

Well, trees are a natural part of life, and the Bible reflects real life. But trees also mirror Jesus. Like Jesus, they’re a strong, natural and beautiful part of life. They offer us shelter, nourishment and protection. They clear the air, reduce our stress and anxiety, and have healing powers.

Research has also found that trees help reduce crime and make us more generous and trusting. [i]

But trees also teach us things. They teach us the importance of living in the light, of having strong roots and of getting good nourishment.

And they teach us to be fruitful. That’s what Jesus is talking about in his famous Parable of the Fig Tree, in today’s Gospel.

In ancient times, Palestinian fig trees were valuable. They bore fruit ten months of the year, and their fruit was very popular. In Jesus’ story, the gardener has spent years nurturing that tree, encouraging it to mature and grow fruit, but it has produced nothing for three years.

The vineyard owner has lost patience and wants it gone. However, the gardener wants to give it another chance. He promises to fertilise it and care for it, and if it’s still unfruitful after another year, then he’ll let it go.

In his book, The Cultural World of Jesus, John Pilch says that the vineyard in this story actually represents the people of Israel, and the fig tree represents Israel’s leaders, the Scribes and Pharisees. The vineyard owner is God, and he’s unhappy that these leaders have been unproductive for much too long. He thinks they’ve effectively been stealing from the people, and should go. [ii]

Jesus, however, is the gardener, and he wants to give them another chance. That’s why this story is often called the Parable of the Second Chance. But it’s not just about ancient Israel; it’s also about us, today.

Indeed, how many of us live unfruitful lives?

The stories at the start of this passage, about people being killed in two tragic incidents, remind us that our lives are fragile and we really aren’t in control. As Solomon wrote, ‘time and chance happen to everyone’ (Ecc.9:11).

So, here’s the point: we need to become more fruitful before it’s too late.

Every Lent gives us an opportunity to nourish our spiritual trees and to produce more fruit. Yes, God is patient, but we don’t have all the time in the world.  For some people, this will be their last Lent, and therefore their last chance to put things right.

Now, what type of fruit does God want us to produce? I’d like to suggest that there are three kinds of fruit he’d like to see from us.

Firstly, there are the Fruits of the Spirit that St Paul talks about: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal.5:22-23). Do you produce all these fruits? Do they reflect your life today?

Secondly, there’s the Fruit of Good Works, which St Paul also talks about (Col.1:10). What good works are you now doing for others? What should you be doing for others?

And finally, there are the Fruits of Praise. It is important that we love our neighbour, but we must love God as well (Heb.13:15; Mt.22:34-40). Do we spend time getting to know God? And how do we express our love for him?

God loves us totally, but true love is never a one-way street. God’s love for us can only become complete when we love him in return.

So, this Lent, let’s remember the trees.

We are all branches of Jesus’ tree. What fruits will you be producing this year? (Jn.15:4-6; Rom.11:17–18).


[ii] John J Pilch, The Cultural World of Jesus, Cycle C. The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, 1997:56-57.

Year C – 2nd Sunday of Lent

The Face of Christ

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

What does Jesus look like? The Gospels really don’t tell us. Perhaps the closest we get to a description of Jesus is in Matthew 26:48, when Judas kisses him so that the soldiers can find him in the crowd. This suggests that he looks like most other Jewish men in Palestine. 

In his book The Face of Jesus, Edward Lucie-Smith says that 2nd Century theologians like Justin Martyr thought Jesus was physically quite ordinary. But later on, St Augustine and St Jerome described Jesus as beautiful in face and body. St Augustine said he was ‘beautiful as a child, beautiful on earth, beautiful in heaven’.

Today, most people think of Jesus as handsome, bearded and long-haired, an image strongly influenced by the Shroud of Turin. Over the years, however, Jesus has been portrayed in countless ways, and his image (especially his face) has been called the most important image in Western Art since 312AD. [i]

Image result for face of jesus

St Jerome once said, ‘The face is the mirror of the mind’. We say so much through our faces, even when we’re silent. Perhaps that’s why God says ‘Seek my face’ (Ps.27:8).

Why, then, did God say to Moses on Mount Sinai, ‘You cannot see my face; for no one shall see my face and live’ (Ex.33:20)?

It’s because God is spirit (Jn.4:24) and has no body (Num.23:19). But as St Paul tells us, the son is the image of the invisible God (Col.1:15). So now we can see God the Father in the human face of his son, Jesus. 

In today’s Gospel, Peter, James and John witness Jesus’ transfiguration atop Mt Tabor. For just a moment, Jesus’ clothes become dazzlingly white; his face shines like the sun, and they can see who he really is – both human and divine.

Since then, many people have sought to know Jesus by contemplating his face. When St Therese of Lisieux became a Carmelite nun in 1889, she adopted the name ‘Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face’.

Jesus’ image was everything to Therese. 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) she 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.

Her sister Celine said, ‘Just as the picture of a loved one serves to bring the whole person before us, so in the Holy Face of Christ Therese beheld the entire humanity of Jesus… Her devotion was the burning inspiration of (her) life.’ [ii]

Today, most people really aren’t much interested in Jesus’ Holy Face. The only face they really care about is their own; and some people don’t even like the one they’ve been given. They’d rather spend a fortune changing it.

As Shakespeare said in Hamlet, ‘God has given you one face, and you make yourself another’. [iii]

Indeed, Thomas Merton once wrote that our lives are shaped by what we live for. We become what we desire. [iv] And what did Merton desire? He answers that question in his book, The Sign of Jonas. He said: ‘I have one desire, the desire for solitude, to be lost in the secret of God’s face.’

This must be our desire, too, if we really want to be ourselves, because we’re all made in the image and likeness of God (Gen.1:27). And if you think about it, contemplating the face of Christ is actually contemplating our own identity and destiny.

In Mere Christianity, CS Lewis says that the only way to find our real selves, and to be our real selves, is in Jesus. He says we cannot fully be ourselves without Jesus because that’s where we come from.

And he adds that we’re all meant to be different, reflecting different facets of Jesus himself.

But the more I resist Jesus, he says, the more I become dominated by my own natural urges and the influences of the world around me, and we all end up the same.

He asks, ‘Have you ever noticed how monotonously alike all the great tyrants and conquerors have been, and how gloriously different all the saints are?’

When you focus only on yourself, in the end you’ll only find hatred, loneliness, despair, ruin and decay.

But if you focus on Christ, you’ll find him and everything else your heart is looking for. [v]

In other words, when you lovingly search the face of Christ, what you eventually find is yourself.

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


[iii] William Shakespeare. Hamlet. Act 3, Scene 1.

[iv] Thomas Merton, Choosing to Love the World: On Contemplation. Sounds True, Boulder CO. 2008:127.

[v] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity. Touchstone, New York, 1996:190-191 (adapted).

Year C – 1st Sunday in Lent

Forty Days, Forty Ways

[Deut.26:4-10; Rom.10:8-13; Lk.4:1-13]

How often is the number 40 mentioned in the Bible? Over 150 times. This is significant, because numbers are never used randomly in Scripture. They always mean something.

Some say that ‘40’ is Biblical code for ‘a very long time’, but if you look carefully, you can see that it’s very often connected with stories of trial or hardship before something new begins.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus fasts and prays in the desert for 40 days and nights before starting his public ministry. But we also know that he later ascends to heaven 40 days after his resurrection (Acts 1:3). 

And going back into Biblical history, Noah’s flood lasts for 40 days (Gen.7:17). The Israelites wander in the desert for 40 years (Dt.8:2-5). And Moses waits for 40 days and nights on Mt Sinai for the Ten Commandments (Ex.34:28).

Each time, this waiting always precedes a new beginning.

After Noah’s flood, a new civilisation begins. After crossing the desert, the Israelites start a new life in the Promised Land. Moses’ Ten Commandments mark God’s new Covenant with all mankind. Jesus’ public ministry marks the beginning of a new way of life for everyone. And his Ascension opens the way for the Holy Spirit to descend on his disciples (Jn.16:7).

Today is the first Sunday of Lent, and Lent, of course, is the season of 40 days before we celebrate Easter.

Just as we spent 40 weeks in our mother’s womb before our birth, so now we’re being invited to spend these 40 days preparing for something very new.

Deep down, we all seek a life that’s rich in meaning, purpose and love. We all want to live our best lives. Lent is a good opportunity to work towards that by making time for quiet reflection, by working through our flaws and fears, and by opening ourselves up to the freshness of Jesus Christ. 

But for all that to happen, we must first lose our distractions, and that’s why we’re all encouraged to spend some time in the desert, just as Jesus did.

In the early Church, many religious men and women literally went into a desert for a while. These days, the desert is more likely to be a quiet, spiritual place where we go to reflect. But our focus remains the same.

Traditionally, the focus of Lent has always been on the three ‘pillars’ of fasting, almsgiving and prayer (Mt.6:1-6,16-18). These are excellent ways for us to look beyond ourselves and to strengthen our relationship with Jesus Christ.

But these words may be too vague for some people today. Perhaps that’s why they’ve found past Lents unfruitful. Here, Marcellino D’Ambrosio’s book Forty Days, Forty Ways: A new Look at Lent, could be helpful. [i]

In it, he offers us forty practical suggestions for things to do in Lent, including Lenten resolutions, fasting and prayer, learning, works of mercy and refocusing our priorities. Some people have found this book very helpful.

But if you Google ‘40 ideas for Lent’, you’ll find many other creative things to do, as well. One suggestion, called ‘40 Items in 40 Days’, challenges us to find one thing each day that we really don’t need, and to either give it away or throw it away. Clearing our cupboards helps us clear our minds, and by detaching ourselves from ‘things’, we can much better attach ourselves to God. [ii]

But here’s another suggestion: Commit to a daily time of quiet prayer, but don’t do all the talking. Simply listen to God instead, and one good place to do this is at Eucharistic adoration.

And why not cut back on luxuries, and give the savings to the poor? Or start and end each day free of electronic media? (Focus on people, not pixels.)

Or read or listen to a saint’s story each day. Or write a letter of thanks to someone who has changed your life. [iii]

There are many family activities as well, like everyone one day wearing purple, the colour of penitence. Or working together to design a meatless menu for Fridays.

Or discussing the story of the Last Supper at dinnertime.

Or each day, everyone praying for the same intention, or performing a random act of kindness, or doing something special for the people of Ukraine.

Or even baking pretzels with your family. Did you know that the original pretzel shape mirrored the crossed arms of a child in prayer? [iv]

There are so many interesting things we can learn and do in Lent.

Let’s use these 40 days to prepare ourselves for something very special – a deeper and more loving relationship with Jesus.