Year C – 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Fire of Love

[Jer.38:4-6; 8-10; Heb.12:1-4; 8-19; Lk.12:49-53]

Four hours’ drive north of Sydney is Mount Wingen. It’s often called ‘Burning Mountain’ because deep inside it is the world’s oldest fire.

Wingen is an Aboriginal word meaning ‘fire’, and that fire has been burning 30 metres underground, for over 6,000 years. [i]

Fire occurs naturally wherever the right amounts of fuel, oxygen and heat are combined. As long as these three elements are present, fire will keep burning. But if you take any element away, it will die. (At Mount Wingen, the fuel burnt is coal.)

A blazing fire is a remarkable thing. It can purify metals like gold and silver, it can protect by destroying vermin and disease, and it provides light and warmth. But of course, it needs to be handled carefully.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus talks about bringing fire to the earth. ‘How I wish it were blazing already!’ he says. But this isn’t any ordinary fire. What Jesus is talking about is spiritual fire.

The Bible often uses the image of fire to represent God. In the Old Testament, God appears as a consuming fire (Dt.4:24), a burning bush (Ex.3:2-3), and a pillar of fire (Ex.13:21). And at Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descends on the disciples as tongues of fire (Acts 2:3).

Like earthly fire, spiritual fire also has three elements. It needs the Holy Spirit’s spark to ignite it, our loving hearts to fuel it, and God’s graces to fan the flames into life. But if you remove any of these elements, spiritual fire will die, too.

Spiritual fire changes whatever it touches. It heals and it reconciles, it provides light and warmth, and peace and comfort. And in the sacraments, spiritual fire transforms ordinary gifts into the very presence of Jesus Christ.

It’s not surprising, then, that fire plays an important role in our liturgical worship. Our Paschal candle and our baptismal and altar candles all reflect the fire and light of Christ’s love.

This spiritual fire is a gift, and we receive it at our baptism. It comes in the form of a spark from the Holy Spirit (Lk.3:16), when we receive the graces of faith, hope and love.

For too many, however, this fire lies dormant. It’s not blazing, because we’ve not yet added the fuel of our loving hearts. Our hearts are somewhere else.

During the cold winters of 16th century Spain, St John of the Cross spent many hours contemplating the mystery of fire. He noticed that the process of a person drawing closer to God is very much like a log burning in a fire. [ii]

At first, a log will crackle and pop as it begins to burn. That’s because impurities like moisture and sap (which won’t burn), are being expelled from the wood. The fire gradually drives these impurities out, leaving the log dry.

Then, the fire starts burning that log until the entire piece of wood is engulfed in flames. The log itself is transformed: it becomes the fire, glowing and releasing heat and light.

The purpose of our spiritual lives is to prepare our souls to receive the fire of God’s love.  And just as a dry log burns much more easily than a wet one, so a soul will more easily absorb the fire of God’s love if it has been prepared by the Holy Spirit.

Each of us, then, needs to be purged of our sins, distractions and impurities, before we can be fully immersed in God’s spiritual fire.

Most of us, however, tend to crackle and pop as we struggle against this process. Letting go of our unhealthy attachments can be hard.

But when we do stop resisting God’s divine flame, our hardened hearts start to dissolve in love. His holy flame then reaches deep inside us, transforming us. We become the fire of his love, reflecting light and heat that, in turn, helps to transform others. [iii]

6,000 years ago, the fire in Mount Wingen started to burn. It has never ever stopped because there’s been a constant supply of fuel, oxygen and heat.

2,000 years ago, the fire of Christ started spreading all over the world. But in too many places today, that fire has died. Why? It’s because too many of us have withdrawn its fuel: the love of our hearts. We’re too distracted.

Spiritual fire transforms lives. Its heat keeps us warm; its light helps us see in the darkness. It empowers us to do remarkable things, and it fills us with comfort and peace. We need all these things.

Spiritual fire is our love united with God’s love.

Let’s ask Jesus to help us set the world on fire once again.




Year C – 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Heeding the Signs

(Wis.18:6-9; Heb.11:1-2; 8-19; Lk.12:32-48)

Life began as normal in Pompeii on August 24, 79AD. Children played, parents went to market and the rich soaked in thermal baths.

Then at lunchtime, Mt Vesuvius erupted, spewing out huge amounts of hot ash, molten rock and poisonous gas. The city was destroyed and some 16,000 people perished.

The sad thing is that they had all been warned. They knew this was an active volcano, for it had erupted 16 years earlier and they were still repairing the damage. The earth had been rumbling and shaking for days, and there was plenty of smoke. But they chose to ignore these signs. [i]

Signs are important. They warn us of danger and help us prepare for what’s coming. They’re also everywhere: on beaches, roads and train stations. Traffic lights turn orange before going red, and many products have ‘use-by’ dates.

It’s risky to ignore signs; they’re there for a reason.

Out in the Judean Desert, John the Baptist warned everyone to ‘prepare the way of the Lord’ (Mk.1:3). Many took him seriously, but some, like the Rich Man in last week’s gospel, didn’t. He was too busy with his treasure to think about anything else, and he found himself totally unprepared for his sudden death.

In Luke’s Gospel today, Jesus repeats this warning for us. ‘Stand ready,’ he says, ‘for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect’.

Many people think they don’t have to worry about this, because they won’t be around when Jesus returns. But Peter Kreeft, in his book Food for the Soul, says that’s wrong. ‘You certainly will (be around),’ he says, ‘because you will die, and your death is the end of the world for you, the end of your world, and that’s when you’ll meet Christ.’

‘If that sounds scary,’ he adds, ‘it shouldn’t, because Jesus begins his sermon today with the words Fear not, little flock. We are his flock, his sheep; he is the good shepherd, and he takes care of us.’ [ii] But we must prepare ourselves.

One person who reads the signs is the American actor Denzel Washington. In a recent interview, he spoke about his Christian faith and the warning signs we’re seeing in our world today.

‘This is spiritual warfare,’ he said. ‘If you don’t have a spiritual anchor you’ll be easily blown (away) by the wind.’ [iii]

At a graduation ceremony in Louisiana, he said that when he was 20, he was visiting his mother’s beauty shop, when a woman he didn’t know looked into his eyes and asked for a pen.

‘I have a prophecy,’ she said, writing down the details. She told him, ‘Boy, you are going to travel the world and speak to millions of people.’

Washington said that her words never left him. ‘I have travelled the world and spoken to millions of people,’ he said, ‘but that’s not the most important thing.’

‘I’ve been protected. I’ve been directed. I’ve been corrected,’ he said. ‘I’ve kept God in my life and he’s kept me humble. I didn’t always stick with him, but he’s always stuck with me… If you think you want to do what you think I’ve done, then do what I’ve done. Stick with God.’

‘Put. God. First,’ he said. ‘Put God first in everything you do. Everything you think you see in me, everything I’ve accomplished, everything you think I have… is by the grace of God. Understand that. It’s a gift.’

And he warns: ‘Success will never be enough in life, because you’ll never see a U-Haul behind a hearse. I don’t care how much money you make; you can’t take it with you. The Egyptians tried it. They got robbed… It’s not how much you have, it’s what you do with what you have.’ [iv]

‘I’m in the service business now,’ he adds. ‘I’m here to serve God, here to serve my family.’ [v]

Denzel Washington is like the servant in today’s Gospel, waiting for his master to return home from a marriage feast. His lamp is lit; he’s ready for action; and when his master arrives, he knows he’ll be rewarded for his faithfulness.

This is what Jesus is asking of us now: to be ready for him and to do whatever God wants of us at any time. Our attitude before that moment will be critical to the way we respond to him.

So, let’s open our eyes, hearts and minds and get ourselves ready.

Just like Mt Vesuvius, there are lots of warning signs around our world today. Let’s not be caught unprepared.


[ii] Peter Kreeft, Food for the Soul, Word on Fire, Park Ridge, IL. 2021:529-530.


[iv] Denzel Washington, Dillard University, Louisiana, 7 May 2015.


Year C – 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time


(Ecc.1:2; 2:21-23; Col.3:1-5, 9-11; Lk.12:13-21)

Do you remember the American entertainer Liberace? It was he who coined the term ‘Laughing all the way to the bank.’

For a while Liberace was the world’s highest paid performer. At his height, he spent five million dollars a year, a huge sum in those days. When he died in 1987, he left behind eight warehouses full of things that couldn’t fit into any of his five fully furnished homes. [i]

Surely this is greed: craving something you like, when you really don’t need it.

In the movie Wall Street, Gordon Gekko says that greed is good. ‘Greed works,’ he says. ‘Greed clarifies, it cuts through and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit…’ [ii]

Someone once argued that without greed, we’d all still be living in caves. But greed is also one of the seven deadly sins. It consumes people. It clouds our vision, it destroys our sense of peace and gratitude, it corrupts our behaviour and it causes conflict and division.

Greed is about getting more of what you want, in a world where there’s never enough for everyone. Whether it’s money, power, possessions, pleasure or anything else you think is good, greed is about getting it all for yourself.

In today’s gospel, Jesus is talking to a large crowd, when a man calls out: ‘Master, tell my brother to give me a share of our inheritance’. He’s been fighting over money, but Jesus doesn’t want to get involved.

Instead, he starts teaching the crowd about greed, and he tells the parable of a rich man who’s had a great harvest. He’s planning to build bigger barns to store his new wealth, and then spend it all on a life of pleasure.

Today, many would admire this man’s success. Yet, Jesus calls him a fool. Why?

Firstly, he’s only concerned about himself. He uses the words I or my eleven times, and not once mentions God or anyone else.

God doesn’t bless us with riches so that we can be selfish. The fact is that everything comes from God, and he expects us to use whatever we have wisely, to benefit others as well as ourselves (Eph.4:28).

Secondly, his barns are full, but his heart is empty. The only thing he cares about is money and the pleasure it gives him. His success, and the comfort it brings, is blinding him to his spiritual poverty (Rev.3:17).

And finally, he’s forgotten about time. He dies soon afterwards and has nothing to show for his life before God (Dt.16:16-17).

When we think about it, this parable really isn’t about money. It’s about our values and the way we live our lives. Being wealthy isn’t wrong, but what is wrong is not using our blessings to help others.

Let’s close with a story. A countryman once knocked on a monastery door. When the monk at the door opened it, he gave him a big bunch of grapes saying ‘Brother, these are the finest grapes in my vineyard. They are my gift to you.’

‘Thank you!’ the monk replied. ‘I’ll take them to the abbot. He’ll love them.’

‘No, they’re for you,’ the countryman said. For whenever I knock on this door, you always open it. When I needed help in the drought, you gave me bread and wine every day.’

The monk admired the grapes all morning, and then he gave them to the abbot, for he’d always encouraged him with wise words.

The abbot was delighted, but another brother was sick. ‘I’ll give him the grapes,’ he decided. ‘Perhaps they’ll give him joy.’

But the sick man didn’t keep the grapes for long. ‘The cook has always looked after me,’ he said. ‘I’m sure he’ll enjoy these.’

The cook was amazed by these perfect grapes. ‘No-one would appreciate them more than the sexton,’ he thought. ‘He’s such a holy man.’

The sexton then gave the grapes to the youngest novice, so that he might appreciate the wonder of God’s creation.

But when the novice received them, he remembered his first visit to the monastery, and the kind monk who had welcomed him at the door. It was that welcome that inspired him to join this community.

And so, that evening, he took the grapes to the monk at the gates. ‘Eat them and enjoy them,’ he said, ‘for you spend most of your time here alone, and these grapes will make you happy.’

That monk finally understood that this gift was meant for him. He relished those grapes, before falling into a pleasant sleep. [iii]

This, then, is our choice: either the joy of sharing, or the dead-end of greed.

[i] William Bausch, Once Upon a Gospel, Twenty-third Publications, New London, CT.2011:229.


[iii] (abridged)

Year C – 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Lord’s Prayer

(Gen.18:20-32; Col.2:12-14; Lk.11:1-13)

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is still on his ‘Great Journey’ to Jerusalem, which takes up a third of Luke’s Gospel. A central theme through these ten chapters is discipleship, so it provides lots of useful advice for anyone who is serious about following Jesus.

Today’s reading reminds us that prayer is essential for any Christian.  Many of us know this, but we’re often too busy or too distracted to pray well. It can be a struggle.

Jesus was a busy man, but he always made time for quiet prayer. His relationship with his Father depended on it, and he encouraged his disciples to do the same.

The truth is, you cannot do your best work without God. That’s why we all need to withdraw regularly to somewhere quiet, to receive his divine nourishment and inspiration.

In Luke’s Gospel, when the disciples ask Jesus how to pray, he teaches them the ‘Our Father’. This Lucan version is shorter than the one we use today, which comes from Matthew (Mt.6:9-13). We use Matthew’s version because it’s more complete, but there’s nothing unusual in there being two versions. As a teacher, Jesus often repeated his lessons and sometimes used different words.

Matthew’s version has seven petitions, and St John Paul II once said that ‘Everything that can and must be said to the Father is contained in those seven requests…’ 

In other words, the essence of any prayer we might pray can be found in one of the seven petitions in the Lord’s Prayer.

In ancient times, the number seven symbolised perfection, and some say that’s why there are seven virtues, seven sacraments, seven gifts of the Spirit and seven petitions in this prayer. Perhaps that’s also why St. Thomas Aquinas called it ‘the perfect prayer’.

Luke’s version doesn’t have seven petitions, though. It only has five. They are:
  1. Hallowed be Your Name,
  2. Your kingdom come,
  3. Give us each day our daily bread,
  4. Forgive us as we forgive others, and
  5. Lead us not into temptation.

    Matthew’s version has two more:

  6. Thy will be done, and
  7. Deliver us from evil.

Now, let’s look briefly at Matthew’s ‘Our Father’. The first 3 petitions are all about God:

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name (here, we pray that God’s name will be made holy in us and in the world); thy kingdom come (here we pray for the coming of God’s kingdom of love, truth, peace and justice); and thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven (here we pray that we will all faithfully do what God wants us to do).

The other 4 petitions are about ourselves:

Give us this day our daily bread (here, we pray for our material needs and for spiritual nourishment); and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us (here, we ask God to forgive our sins, and for the grace to forgive those who have offended us); and lead us not into temptation (here we pray that God will help us avoid sin); but deliver us from evil (finally, we ask God to free us from all physical and moral evil). [i]

This prayer is simple but has such depth that many saints, including St Francis of Assisi, St Teresa of Avila and St Augustine, wrote about it.

St John Paul II also said that this prayer is so simple that even a child can learn it, yet there’s such depth that a whole life can be spent meditating on its meaning. Indeed, the second century theologian Tertullian said that it’s a summary of the whole Gospel.

And have you noticed that this prayer is written in plural terms? It never mentions ‘me’ or ‘my’; it only refers to ‘us’ and ‘our’. So, this is a prayer we pray for others, as well as for ourselves. [ii]

Finally, in her book Everyday Epiphanies, Melannie Svoboda notes that the traditional English translation of this prayer has 56 words, and 40 of these only have one syllable, e.g., ‘thy will be done on earth’. She suggests that Jesus is trying to tell us something here: that he likes our prayers to be short and simple. [iii]

So, the next time you find a moment to reflect and pray, say the ‘Our Father’ and be aware that the words come from Jesus himself.

And remember that the Father you pray to is not only Jesus’ Father; he’s yours, too.

[i] It’s worth noting that the doxology ‘For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory’, was not part of Jesus’ original prayer. It’s a brief hymn of praise from 1 Chronicles 29:11 that was added by Protestants for occasions of public worship.

[ii] Flor McCarthy, New Sunday & Holy Day Liturgies, Year C, Dominican Press, Dublin, 2018:277.

[iii] Melannie Svoboda, Everyday Epiphanies. Twenty-Third Publications, New London, CT. 2013:7-8.

Year C – 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Martha and Mary

(Gen.18:1-10a; Col.1:24-28; Lk.10:38-42)

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is still on his ‘Great Journey’ to Jerusalem, and he drops in to see his friends Martha and Mary at their home in the village of Bethany.

Jesus knows them well. He has often stayed in Bethany because it’s only 3 km east of Jerusalem, where he goes three times a year for the big Jewish festivals. This visit is different, however, for it’s his last.

We don’t know if the disciples are there, because they’re not mentioned. But their presence could explain why Martha is so busy. In any case, she’s a great hostess, and she warmly welcomes Jesus.

As Jesus settles in, Martha returns to the kitchen and Mary sits at his feet, like a student sitting before a rabbi. Then Martha starts complaining. She needs Mary’s help and tells Jesus to send her. But Jesus replies: ‘Martha, Martha, you fret about so many things … it’s Mary who has chosen the better part…’

Through the centuries, people have reacted to this story in many different ways.

The British author Rudyard Kipling, for instance, considered it unfair to Martha. He thought it allowed ‘spiritual’ people like Mary to be lazy and to avoid doing their fair share of work.

In his poem, The Sons of Martha, Kipling wrote: ‘They have cast their burden upon the Lord, and – the Lord he lays it on Martha’s Sons.’ [i]

Others, however, have sided with Mary, recognising that it is important to periodically sit quietly with Jesus, recharging our spiritual batteries. John Newton, the former slave trader who wrote Amazing Grace, wrote this in his hymn Martha and Mary:

How oft are we like Martha vexed,
Encumbered, hurried, and perplexed!
While trifles so engross our thought,
The one thing needful is forgot.

Others have suggested that we don’t need to take sides, because Martha and Mary symbolise two different, but equally important approaches to discipleship.

Here, Martha is the faithful and active servant, sacrificing herself for others. She is like St Peter the Apostle and St Teresa of Avila, who were both practical, action-oriented people and sometimes quite outspoken.

And Mary represents the prayerful, contemplative life. She is like St John the Apostle and St John of the Cross, who were both calm, loving and deeply reflective people. [ii]

But Ron Rolheiser offers us another approach to this story. He says that Martha and Mary could represent two distinct stages of life.

Here, busy Martha represents younger people who are actively building their careers, raising a family and creating a home. They don’t have much time for quiet reflection.

And Mary represents those of us who have more time on their hands, like empty-nesters and retirees, who have time for a more contemplative life. [iii]

And then there are those like Origen, the early Church father, who said that you don’t have to choose between Martha and Mary at all, because they represent the two sides of a faithful Christian life. As Origen used to say, ‘Action and contemplation do not exist one without the other.’ They go hand-in-hand.

If you think about it, most of us do possess both qualities. Indeed, Jesus loved these two sisters equally, so perhaps we can learn from both of them.

Martha highlights for us the importance of offering hospitality and loving service to others, and most especially to God. She also demonstrates that it’s quite OK to be honest with Jesus, to let him know what we really think, for her faith is strong.

Certainly, Jesus would have been impressed by Martha, because she is one of the few people in Scripture to clearly articulate her faith in him (Jn.11:25-27). Indeed, her confession of faith is as strong as St Peter’s (Mt.16:16).

Mary, on the other hand, reminds us of the importance of making time for regular spiritual nourishment, even in the face of difficulty. Mary knows what a blessing Jesus’ presence is, and she revels in it. That blessing fills her with a peace and contentment that will always bear much fruit.

When we nurture Jesus’ presence in us, we too are choosing the better part.

Finally, have you noticed that in Luke’s Gospel, the parable of the Good Samaritan immediately precedes this story? That parable is all about loving service. And directly afterwards, Jesus teaches his disciples how to pray.

This surely is a clue in itself. We’re all meant to be both Martha and Mary: Actively loving our neighbour and treasuring God’s presence in prayer.

All at once.

[i] Rudyard Kipling, The Sons of Martha

[ii] Carol Lee Flinders, Enduring Grace, HarperCollins eBooks, p.173,

[iii] Ron Rolheiser, Daily Meditation: Failure and the Second Half of Life, October 17, 2004.

Year C – 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time

So Many Questions

(Deut.30:10-14; Col.1:15-20; Lk.10:25-37)

Have you ever noticed how often Jesus asks questions? Across the four Gospels, he asks 307 of them.

His first recorded words are a question: ‘Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?’ (Lk.2:49). And in Matthew, his last words on the Cross are a question, too: ‘My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?’ (Mt.27:46).

Jesus even replies to questions with questions, and rarely gives straight answers. In his book Jesus is the Question, Martin Copenhaver says that of the 183 questions Jesus is asked, he only answers 8 directly. [i] Why?

Some might argue that it’s a cultural trait, because Jesus was Jewish, and some Jewish people seem to like answering questions with questions.

But there may be other reasons. Bill Bausch says that in Biblical times, less than 1% of the population could read and write, so storytelling was widely used to convey thought and wisdom. [ii] As a storyteller, Jesus often uses parables to raise questions and to get his disciples thinking.

This is good teaching technique. Effective teachers often encourage students to find their own answers, instead of spoon-feeding them. After all, wisdom can only be learned, not taught.

But questions can also persuade. Courtroom lawyers, for instance, ask witnesses a series of questions to build an argument, and then use that argument to persuade the jury.

And questions can bring people together, especially when they start exploring topics of interest and listen respectfully to each other. [iii]

We know that as the Son of God, Jesus does have the answers. But he didn’t come to indoctrinate or control us. He came to teach and liberate us. So, he uses questions to challenge our assumptions and to encourage us to think in new ways.

That’s what he does in today’s gospel. A lawyer wants to embarrass Jesus, and asks him a loaded question: ‘Master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus knows what he’s up to, and decides to deflect the challenge. But he also wants to help this man learn, so he replies with a question: ‘What is written in the Law?’

The lawyer says, ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind, and your neighbour as yourself.’

That’s right, Jesus says. ‘Do this, and life is yours,’ he adds.

This lawyer realises that he’s failed to embarrass Jesus, so he tries to justify himself by asking another question. ‘And who is my neighbour?’ he asks.

Jesus wants this man to understand that his head and his heart are not aligned. So, he tells him the story of The Good Samaritan: A traveller is badly beaten up. Two Jewish religious leaders come upon him, but refuse to help because they don’t want to break their strict rules about ritual purity. Then a Samaritan comes along, and rescues the poor victim.

Now, this lawyer has long believed that Jewish leaders can do no wrong, and that Samaritans can do nothing right. Rabbinic law also insists that only Israelites can be considered as neighbours.

But Jesus knows this thinking is wrong, so he asks the lawyer: which of these three was a neighbour to the wounded man? The lawyer replies, ‘The one who had mercy on him.’

It must have pained him to say this. The Jewish people hated the Samaritans, and here he is admitting that the Jewish leaders were selfish and the Samaritan was a hero.

By asking these questions, Jesus has helped this man to think in new ways. It’s the start of new life.

In his play, The Rock (1934), T.S. Eliot writes:

O my soul, be prepared for the coming of the Stranger,
Be prepared for him who knows how to ask questions.

Jesus is the one who asks questions, but he’s not really a stranger. He knows each of us intimately (Lk.12:7). If you take the time to listen carefully, you might notice that Jesus is always asking questions, like: ‘Who do you say that I am?’ (Mk.8:29); ‘What do you think?’ (Mt.18:12); and ‘What are you looking for?’ (Jn.1:38).

Jesus doesn’t always give us the answers, at least not right away, because wisdom can only be learned, not taught. But the answers are there to be found.

So, why does Jesus prefer questions? It’s because answers tend to close things down.

Questions, however, open things up. They can lead to new life.

What question is Jesus asking you now?

[i] Martin B Copenhaver, Jesus is the Question. United Methodist Publishing House, Nashville, 2014, eBook.

[ii] William J Bausch, From No to Yes. Clear Faith Publishing, San Marco, FL. 2018:163.

[iii] Alison Brooks & Leslie John, The Surprising Power of Questions. May-June 2018, Harvard Business Review,

[iv] TS Eliot, The Rock. Harcourt, Brace & Co, NY, 1934:31.

Year C – 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Heart of Discipleship

(Is.66:10-14; Gal.6:14-18; Lk.10:1-12; 17-20)

In Luke’s Gospel last week, Jesus began his Great Journey to Jerusalem. Today he sends 72 disciples out ahead to evangelise all the villages and towns he intends to visit.

But why does he choose 72? Why not just the original 12?

In Biblical times, people believed there were 72 countries in the world. They calculated that by counting all the descendants of Noah’s three sons: Shem, Ham and Japeth. They were the only survivors of the flood, and therefore the ancestors of all humanity. So, the number 72 came to represent all nations.

By using this number, Luke makes the point that Jesus is sending his followers not only to Israel, but also to the whole world.[i] Jesus has commissioned them to go tell everyone about God’s love and to establish new faith communities.


However, as he says, ‘the harvest is rich, but the labourers are few’. This explains why Jesus doesn’t simply rely on the Twelve to do this work. He needs all his followers to help spread the Good News.

Today, there’s still so much work to be done, because millions of people still don’t know about God’s love.

In the 1960s, after Vatican II had a good, fresh look at the work of the Church around the world, 16 documents were published. James Mallon, in his book Divine Renovation, says that all these documents can be summarised in two phrases: the universal call to holiness, and the universal call to mission. [ii]

In other words, it’s not only priests, deacons and religious who are called to holiness and mission. Because of our baptism, every Christian is called to be holy and to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ.

But how might we do this today? Especially when so many of us feel unqualified to talk about Jesus? 

The thing to remember is that God is love. All you need to promote Jesus is to have a heart full of love, and enough passion to share that joy with others.

You don’t have to be anyone special to do this, because Jesus encourages us all to live in simplicity and innocence, just like children (Mt.18:3).

And remember, too, that although Jesus only had five loaves and two fish, he still managed to feed over 5,000 people (Lk.9:10-17). In other words, start with what you have, and God will give you whatever else you need.

Flor McCarthy tells the story of a knight who was about to set out on a long journey. He tried to foresee all the problems and dangers he might face, and prepared for them.

He took a sword and a suit of armour in case he met an enemy. He took a jar of ointment to guard against sunburn. He took an axe to chop wood for a fire. He took a tent and several blankets. He took pots and pans for cooking. And he took a sackful of oats for his horse.

Thus, heavily laden, he set out.

However, he hadn’t gone far when he came to a rickety old bridge straddling a deep gorge. He was only halfway across, when the bridge collapsed under him. He fell into the gorge and died. [iii]

This helps explain why Jesus tells us to travel light when he sends us out into the world. He urges us to trust in God and only take the most basic of essentials, because God will take care of his workers.

DISCIPLESHIP MINISTRY – First Baptist Church of Highland Park

Today, when we leave Mass, nourished and transformed by the Eucharist, Jesus will be sending us out, just like his 72 missionaries. He’s commissioning us all to take his love and Gospel message into our families and into every community to which we belong.

For some, this might seem quite a challenge, but we can learn from St. Thérèse of Lisieux.

Thérèse was a simple nun who never performed any great works, but she still became a great saint. She clearly understood that what matters in the Christian life is not great deeds, but great love. She knew that anyone can achieve the heights of holiness simply by doing the smallest things well for the love of God.

She lived in a convent community that was sometimes challenging, but she wrote, ‘All is well when one seeks only the will of Jesus’.

St. Thérèse reminds us that it’s love that makes us good disciples, and it’s the little things that keep our Christian community growing and moving forward.

For love is the heart and challenge of discipleship.

And that is our calling.

[i] William J Bausch, Once Upon a Gospel, Twenty-Third Publications, New London CT, 2011:198.

[ii] James Mallon, Divine Renovation, Garratt Publishing, Melbourne, 2014:28.

[iii] Flor McCarthy, New Sunday and Holy Day Liturgies – Year C, Dominican Publications, Dublin, 2018:256-257.

Year C – 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Five Simple Lessons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May this be our great journey, too.


Year C – The Body and Blood of Christ

The Power of a Good Meal

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

What does food do for us?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Year C – Trinity Sunday

A Constant Flow of Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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