Year B – 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time

On Slow-Motion Miracles

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

One of the wonders of our world surely must be the humble seed.

With enough soil, sunlight, rain and time, tiny seeds can not only feed whole families; they can also split rocks, destroy buildings and even move mountains. It’s really quite miraculous.

When we think of miracles, we usually expect instant action. But most of the time that’s not what happens. Most miracles – like seeds – actually occur quite slowly.

Consider the story of Sally Wagter. In her book, Miracle in Slow Motion, she recounts her journey from despair to joy as she raised her severely autistic son, Tim. She refused to accept the bleak future his specialists had forecast for him. Instead, she decided to help him discover his potential.

That decision was a seed that took years to grow, but what she achieved was beyond her wildest dreams. Tim grew into a musically gifted, socially confident and academically capable young man. [i]

Such miracles take time.

Consider also the story of Frank O’Dea, born in Melbourne in 1928. He wanted to become a priest, but his chronic stammer made that impossible. So, he became a brother in the Blessed Sacrament Congregation, doing sacristy work, cleaning and cooking. But he never stopped wanting to become a priest.

One day, 20 years later, he found a book on relaxation. He followed the exercises and some years later his speech had improved so much that he was allowed to study for the priesthood. He was ordained at the age of 50, but it was only in his 80s that he was fully cured.

Frank O’Dea called this a miracle in slow motion. He died in 2020, aged 92. [ii]

In Mark’s Gospel today, Jesus gives us his famous Parable of the Mustard Seed, and makes the point that in God’s hands, even the smallest of beginnings can produce great results. But we need to be patient, because little seeds can take time to grow.

Sometimes when a miracle is needed, all we have to do is provide a small beginning and God will do the rest. It might be as small as a kind word, a good deed or a brave decision in the face of darkness. Each of these seeds can start something big.

In 1949, Mother Teresa went alone into the streets of Calcutta to help the sick and dying. She had no idea what lay ahead, but her work grew into a ministry of love so big that today some 5,000 sisters are serving in 134 countries.

In 1860, St Mary McKillop went to Penola, South Australia, to babysit her cousins. It was a simple task, but she found herself starting a school and a new religious order, and within 15 years she had opened 41 schools.

We see the same thing in our own lives. Perhaps it’s facing an addiction, forgiving a hurt, righting a wrong, or doing something else that’s long overdue.

Even the smallest beginning can result in a miraculous transformation. The changes might barely be perceptible, but with time the results become obvious.

We plant the seed, but God gives the growth (1Cor.3:6).

In his book Miracles, CS Lewis says that God always works his slow magic this way. Every year, he writes, God makes wine, and does so by creating a vine that can turn water, soil and sunlight into a juice that will, under proper conditions, become wine. Once, however, Jesus short circuited that long process by making wine in earthenware jars. [iii]

Yes, God can perform instant miracles, but most of the time he prefers doing things in slow-motion. This is the way of following Christ, learning to live, to love, to accept and to forgive. God wants us involved, but he’s always there behind us, helping quietly.

Let’s close with a story about a man who had a dream. He walked into a marketplace and saw a stall with a sign, ‘Gifts of God’. He stopped, astonished, and saw an angel at the counter. ‘What are you selling?’ he asked.

‘Every gift that God gives,’ the angel replied.

‘Are they expensive?’

‘No, the gifts of God are free.’

He looked at the shelves. There were jars of joy, bottles of patience, packets of wisdom. Then he saw the gift he wanted. ‘Please give me the gift of serenity,’ he said.

The angel placed it in a small gift box. It was tiny. Smaller than the man’s heart. He asked, ‘Are you sure the gift is in there?’

‘Oh, yes,’ replied the angel. ‘At God’s stall we don’t sell ripe fruit. Only seeds that you need to grow.’



[iii] CS Lewis, Miracles. Centenary Press, London. 1947:178.

Year B – Corpus Christi Sunday

On Food for the Journey

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

Food is such an important part of life. Many years ago, when our children were small, my wife and I bought a picnic basket. It held everything we needed to sustain us on a daytrip.

Picnicking, we found, was a wonderful way for our young family to connect, to enjoy each other’s company and to explore the world.

In every culture, food plays an important role. It underpins our health and well-being; children learn at mealtimes and social eating helps build relationships. That’s why we so often form friendships and do business over coffee or a meal.

We also become family by sharing a meal at a table.

The ancient Greeks used to give a meal to those who were about to start a journey. They called this custom the ephodion.

In Latin, they called this viaticus,[i] and the early Romans believed that a dying person’s last meal gave them strength to cross the River Styx, which separated the land of the living from the underworld. [ii]

Jesus understood all this. He knew that communities are formed around a table, and that breaking bread and sharing a cup help people to grow and connect. That’s why he gave us the Holy Eucharist, and said, ‘Take and eat. Take and drink. Do this in memory of me.’

Jesus had promised that he’d remain with us always, even to the end of the world (Mt.28:20). And the most effective way of doing this was through his greatest sacrament, the Eucharistic meal.

At the Last Supper, when Jesus and his disciples celebrated Passover, they sat at a table in the Upper Room. Jesus took the bread and broke it, just as they broke his body on the Cross. Then he gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body. Take it and eat it, and remember that I’m with you, always.’

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

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

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

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

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

As well, keep in mind that in the Jewish culture, to remember is to make present that which is remembered. So, when Jesus says, ‘do this in memory of me,’ he means that he’s making himself present to us in a very real way.

Jesus often spoke about his Eucharistic presence. In John’s Gospel, for example, he says, ‘I’m the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever, and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world’ (Jn.6:51). 

And to St Augustine, Jesus once said: ‘Believe and eat me, and you’ll be changed into me’. [iv]

Richard Leonard says that when we receive the bread, blessed and broken, into our hands, and when we receive the cup, poured out and shared, we say ‘Amen’. By this word we agree to become just like Jesus himself: blessed, broken, poured out and shared in love with others. [v]

Our ‘Amen’ therefore means that we agree to go out into the world, to heal, to forgive and to help others, by doing just as Jesus did.

This isn’t always easy. That’s why we’ve been given the Holy Eucharist. That’s why we need the Holy Eucharist. Every time we go to Communion, we draw from Jesus the strength we need to live as he taught us to (Jn.6:53).

The early Christians used to call the body and blood of Christ ‘Food for the Journey’. And in 325AD the Church recommended that Holy Communion be given to the dying as ‘food for the journey’ – Viaticum.

Today, we are fortunate that this remarkable gift is so often available to us, and not just at the end of our lives.

We all need it.

Our troubled world needs it, too.

[i] The Latin word viaticus means ‘of or pertaining to a road or journey’.


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

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

[v] Richard Leonard, Preaching to the Converted. Paulist Press, New York. 2006:180-181.

Year B – Trinity Sunday

On the Sign of the Cross

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

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

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

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

Indeed, the Trinity is so fundamental to our beliefs that it’s embedded in our most ancient gesture of prayer: The Sign of the Cross. We do this so often, however, that we sometimes forget its significance.

The Sign of the Cross - Prayer Wine Chocolate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Indeed, the five fingers of the hand we use represent the five wounds of Christ.

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

🥇 the crucifixion of jesus clipart vector in AI, SVG, EPS or PSD

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

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

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

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

And remember this: the Sign of the Cross reminds us to think beyond ourselves. 

As Ronald Knox once said, in the Sign of the Cross the first two gestures form the letter ‘I’, and the second two cross it out. [v]

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

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

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

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

[v] Bishop Robert Barron, Lenten Reflection

Year B – Pentecost Sunday

On Powerful Gifts in Leaky Vessels

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

Whenever we’re anxious or distressed, we need the Spirit of Peace.

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, what do we know about the Holy Spirit? Well, with God the Father and God the Son, the Spirit is one of the three persons of the Trinity. All three are co-equal and of the same essence, and like the Father, the Holy Spirit is invisible, but he’s also a person. He’s not just an influence or an impersonal force.

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

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

And it’s the same Spirit we receive at our Baptism and Confirmation.

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

But what is a Paraclete?

The Jesuit poet and priest Gerard Manley Hopkins explains it this way:

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

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

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

This is the Spirit we receive at our Baptism. We must cherish, nurture and protect the gifts he gives us.

The evangelist Dwight L. Moody, however, often talked about our need to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Someone once asked him, ‘If we were filled with the Holy Spirit at Baptism, why do we need to be refilled so often?’

‘Because we leak,’ Moody replied.

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

Why? Because we so often close our hearts to God. We reject his gifts, we ignore our responsibilities, we fail to grow in holiness – and we sin.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. We do have a choice.

These are the Holy Spirit’s gifts: love, forgiveness, kindness, goodness, gentleness, peace, and joy. These are exactly what we need right now, and they’re always available to us.

So, let’s seal our leaky vessels by regularly praying this prayer:

Come Holy Spirit. Fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Amen.

Or this one:

Come Holy Spirit. Fill my heart with love and my mind with light. Amen.

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

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

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

Year B – Ascension of the Lord

On Saying Goodbye

(Acts 1:1-11; Eph.4:1-13; Mk.16:15-20)

Some people hate saying goodbye. Changing jobs, moving house or farewelling a loved one simply means sorrow to them.

What many don’t realise, however, is that whenever we say ‘goodbye’ we’re actually invoking God. Why? Because ‘goodbye’ is a 16th Century contraction of the expression ‘God be with you’. Similarly, ‘adieu’ means ‘go with God’. [i]

Many also forget that every goodbye marks a new beginning. As Mitch Albom writes in his book The Five People You Meet in Heaven, ‘… all endings are also beginnings. We just don’t know it at the time.’ [ii]

In our first reading today, Jesus farewells his disciples; it’s time to return to his Father. His Ascension to heaven marks an end and a beginning, both for Jesus and for his disciples. 

Certainly, it’s the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry. After three years teaching his followers and planting the seeds of his Father’s kingdom all over Palestine, it’s time to move on.

And so it’s a new beginning. By leaving this world, Jesus is no longer confined to a specific place and time. From heaven, he can rule the world and make himself available to everyone, everywhere, all the time. How? By working through the Church, through the sacraments (especially the Holy Eucharist) and by penetrating deep into our hearts and minds.

For the disciples, it’s the end of their three-year traineeship, and the beginning of a new life as Jesus commissions them to proclaim his Gospel all around the world.

But as Jesus ascends heavenward, the disciples stand there, staring into the sky. They don’t know where to begin. Then two angels appear, saying: ‘why are you standing there, looking at the sky?’ In other words: what are you waiting for? Get going. There’s work to do.

So, they leave the mountain and head for the city.

Now, Jesus’ Ascension marks a new beginning for us, too, because we are his disciples today. Jesus is calling us to rise above our ordinary lives, to lift up our hearts, minds and lives so that we might continue his unfinished work.

Bishop Robert Barron says that if Caesar, Lincoln, Roosevelt and Churchill were still striding the world stage, no-one else would have the courage to enter the game. That’s why Jesus leaves, he says, so that we might act in his name and in accord with his spirit.

Barron also says that it’s those people who are most focused on the things of heaven who do the most good here below: Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day, St John Paul II. And he adds that those who pray most intently are most effective in doing such work.

But leaving one life for another can be a wrenching experience. I remember leaving home at the age of 17, and weeping that very first night. I had no idea what lay ahead of me. I had no idea how I would make a living. But I knew I had to leave home.

Jesus understands all this. That’s why on several occasions he tries to reassure his disciples: ‘It’s better for you that I go away. You will be sad now, but your sadness will turn to joy’ (Jn.16:20). ‘If I don’t go away, you will be unable to receive my spirit’ (Jn.16:7). And ‘Don’t cling to me. I must ascend’ (Jn.20:17).

In Matthew’s Gospel, just before Jesus tells his disciples to go and teach all nations, Matthew says that ‘some hesitated’. Why did they hesitate? Were they fearful? Did they doubt their own abilities?

They needn’t have, because in our second reading St Paul says that Jesus gives each person the gifts they need to do his work. In 1 Corinthians he lists some of these special graces: the gift of tongues, strong faith, healing, miracles, wisdom, knowledge and discernment (1Cor.12:8-10,28-30).

So, how do we transition from a sad goodbye to a new beginning?

Perhaps we can learn from Arthur Ashe (1943-96), the legendary American tennis champion. He had a heart attack at the age of 36. In 1983, during heart surgery, he was given HIV-infected blood. Sadly, it destroyed his tennis career, but it also opened the door to an important new life as an advocate for HIV/AIDS sufferers.

Arthur Ashe once said: ‘Happiness keeps you sweet; trials keep you strong; sorrows keep you human; failure keeps you humble and success keeps you glowing, but only faith keeps you going.’

And how might we begin our new life?

He said: ‘Start where you are, use what you have, and do what you can.’ [iii]

God will do the rest.

[i] Merrill Perlman, Of God and Goodbyes, Columbia Journalism Review, July 11, 2016,in%20shorthand%2C%20and%20partly%20by

[ii] Mitch Albom, The Five People You Meet in Heaven. Sphere, London, 2003.

[iii] Arthur Ashe, Days of Grace: A Memoir. Ballantine Books: NY, 1994.

Year B – 6th Sunday of Easter

On Agape Love

(Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48; 1Jn.4:7-10; Jn.15:9-17)

We all need love, don’t we? So many of us dream about it, write about it, sing about it, read about it, talk about it, work for it and cry over it.

Many years ago, teaching English, my most popular lesson was on the language of love. The students were so fascinated by the words we use for love that they didn’t want to go home.

This desire for love is deeply embedded in us all. We’re all made to love, and we all need to be loved. We can see this in our families and friends. If they feel unloved, we know they’re unhappy. If we feel unloved, we are unhappy.

Where does love come from? St John the Evangelist tells us: it comes from God. Love isn’t something God does, however. He is actually love itself (1Jn.4:7-8). And because we’re all made in God’s image and likeness, we, too, are meant to live lives of love. Not sometimes, but always.

Church tradition tells us that St John was still preaching well into his 90s. When he was too frail to walk, he was carried into church, and every week he gave the same sermon: ‘My dear children, love one another’. That’s all he said.

One day, someone asked him, ‘Master, why do you always say this?’ John replied: ‘Because that’s the Lord’s command. And if that’s all we do, it’s enough.’ [i]

This command to love is in John’s Gospel today, and it immediately follows Jesus’ Parable of the Vine and Branches, which we heard last week. Clearly, love is the fruit Jesus wants us all to produce.

But what kind of love does he mean? The Bible mentions four different kinds and in Greek, each has a different name. [ii] Storge (‘Storjay’) is family love. Eros is sensual and passionate love, and Philia is close friendship or brotherly love.

Agape (‘Aga-pay’), however, is the supreme kind of love and the one Jesus calls us to. It’s holy love. It’s the way Jesus loves his Father, and the way God loves us all.  John uses the word ‘agape’ when he says that ‘God is love’ (1Jn.4:8).

Agape love is selfless, like Jesus humbly washing the feet of his disciples (Jn.13:1-17).

It’s unconditional, like the way that nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God (Rom.8:38-39).

It’s merciful, like the way the Father warmly welcomes his Prodigal Son, despite all his foolishness (Lk.15:11-32).

And it’s sacrificial, like the way Jesus accepts a painful death on the Cross instead of abandoning us.

Agape love is serious love. St Teresa of Calcutta understood it well. She saw the face of Jesus in everyone she met, and she cared deeply for the sick and dying in the streets of Calcutta. It was hard work, but by staying close to Jesus she always received the graces she needed to keep going.

During World War One, a soldier asked his commanding officer for permission to go into ‘No Man’s Land’ to rescue a badly wounded friend.

‘You can go,’ said the officer, ‘but it’s not worth it. He’s probably dead already and you’re risking your life.’ 

The soldier did go, and somehow managed to retrieve his friend. They both tumbled back into their trench. Watching this, the officer said to the soldier, ‘I told you it wasn’t worth it. Your friend is dead, and you’re badly wounded’.

‘But it was worth it, sir,’ the soldier said.

‘How do you mean, “worth it”? Your friend is dead,’ the officer said.

‘Yes, sir,’ the soldier replied, ‘but it was worth it, because when I got to him, he was alive, and he said to me, ‘Jim, I knew you’d come.’”

Agape is selfless, unconditional, merciful and sacrificial love. It seeks nothing in return.

This weekend, as we celebrate Mothers’ Day, we are deeply grateful to our wonderful mothers, not only for giving us life, but also for giving us so much Agape love. Let’s close with Rudyard Kipling’s short poem Mother o’ Mine (1891):

If I were hanged on the highest hill,
Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!
I know whose love would follow me still,
Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!
If I were drowned in the deepest sea,
Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!
I know whose tears would come down to me,
Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!
If I were damned of body and soul,
I know whose prayers would make me whole,
Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!

May we, too, truly live lives of Agape love.

[i] St Jerome, Commentary on the Letter to the Galatians, 6:10.

[ii] C.S. Lewis explains these terms in his book The Four Loves, Harcourt, Brace: New York, 1960

Year B – 5th Sunday of Easter

On the Great Vine

(Acts 9:26-31; 1Jn.3:18-24; Jn.15:1-8)

In 1768, two years before Captain Cook found Australia, the English landscape architect Capability Brown planted a grapevine at Hampton Court Palace in London. [i]

Today, 253 years later, the Great Vine (as it’s known) is the oldest and largest grapevine in the world. It measures 4 metres around its base, its longest arm is 36.5 metres long and it’s still producing plenty of good fruit. Why? Because it’s lovingly trained, trimmed and nourished every year.

That’s the metaphor Jesus uses in John’s Gospel today. He’s speaking to his disciples just after the Last Supper, and he knows it’s his last chance to teach them, for soon he’ll be crucified.

Jesus warns his disciples that great trials are coming, but they must stay strong in the faith. ‘I am the vine, God is the vinedresser and you are the branches,’ he says.

Through our Baptism, each of us is joined to Jesus. We become branches of his vine, but we need to stay connected to him and keep drawing nourishment from him if we are to grow and thrive.

This is what happens to Paul in today’s first reading. After persecuting the Church, he receives the Holy Spirit at his conversion (Acts 9:10-21) and he becomes an incredibly powerful and fruitful branch of Jesus’ vine.   

As Christians, we, too, are expected to bear fruit. After all, that’s what grapevines are supposed to do. But if a branch produces nothing, there’s a problem. It’s either dead, diseased, or poorly connected to the vine, and the vinedresser needs to cut it off.

Indeed, even if a branch is healthy and bears good fruit, sometimes it still needs to be carefully trimmed to make it stronger and more productive.

This is an important lesson for us. Jesus is saying that even if we are good Christians, God will still cut us back occasionally to help us become stronger and more fruitful.

In other words, we need to see our hardships through the eyes of faith. Our sufferings and trials may be painful, but God is using them to shape us and help us become better people (Heb.12:4-11).

And here’s another insight. Richard Leonard says that we might claim to be Christians and go to church every Sunday, but if the fruit we produce is bitter or poisonous; if we are unforgiving, unjust and uncaring, then we cannot claim to be on the vine of Christ’s love.

If this is the case, he says, then we desperately need the gentle hand of the vinedresser, who only wants to see us produce the yield he knows we are capable of achieving.

But here’s the point: God won’t judge us simply by our words or by the public face we put on. He’ll judge us by our acts of kindness, compassion and love. [ii] For ‘it’s by their fruits you shall know them’ Jesus says (Mt.7:16).

So, what are these fruits? Paul tells us: they are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal.5:22). These are the fruits we can expect to produce if we stay connected to Jesus.

And how might we stay connected? By truly loving God and each other; by being actively involved in the life of his Church, and by making time for daily prayer and reflection.

La Dolce Vita (Cineriz, 1960). Italian 4 - Foglio (53" X 77.25").. | Lot  #86314 | Heritage Auctions

Let’s close with the story of Frederico Fellini’s classic movie, La Dolce Vita (1960).

The film opens with a helicopter carrying a statue of Jesus across Rome, followed by a second helicopter carrying a writer named Marcello. Marcello was raised as a country boy, but wants a ‘sweet life’ full of excitement, so he moves to the big city.

There, he finds himself seduced by the seven deadly sins, and he becomes disconnected from his roots. He loses his faith and all his hopes fade into emptiness.

As the film ends, there’s a powerful scene where Marcello is alone on the beach, looking down at a large dead fish washed up on the shore. Cut off from the sea and its source of life, that fish has died.

Fellini ends the movie there, leaving us to make the connection between the dead, decaying fish and the empty, faithless and cut-off Marcello.

12 Fillini ideas | film stills, juliet of the spirits, film

Some people today are like that fish on the shore; they are like Marcello who has lost his faith. They are branches that have separated from Jesus’ great vine, thinking they can go it alone.[iii]

But as Jesus tells us, ‘Whoever remains in me, and I in him, bears fruit in plenty. But cut off from me you can do nothing.

‘Anyone who does not remain in me is like a branch that is thrown away – he withers.’


[ii] Richard Leonard SJ, Preaching to the Converted. Paulist Press, NY. 2006:170-171.

[iii] William J Bausch, Once Upon a Gospel. Twenty-Third Publications, New London CT. 2011:134.

Year B – 4th Sunday of Easter

On the Shepherd and His Donkey

(Acts 4:8-12; 1Jn.3:1-2; Jn.10:11-18)

Today, on Good Shepherd Sunday, we celebrate our divine Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ.

What’s the mark of a good shepherd? It’s that he truly loves his sheep. He cares for his whole flock, and each individual sheep, even when it’s dangerous to do so. 

This is very different to the hired hand. As Jesus himself tells us, a hired hand only works for the money, and he’ll abandon his flock when a wolf appears. But the Good Shepherd has no greater priority. His flock is his life.

We all know how faithful our Good Shepherd is, don’t we? He is the One who rode into Jerusalem on a donkey and died for his flock soon afterwards.

Now, there’s another good man with a donkey we should remember, because today is also Anzac Day. Every Anzac Day, of course, we remember with deep gratitude all the servicemen and women who sacrificed their lives for our country. [i]

This other man with a donkey is the legendary Private John Simpson. [ii]

John Simpson was born in England in 1892, into a poor family of 8 children. When he was young, he helped support his family by working as a donkey-lad during the school holidays. In those days, children paid a penny for a donkey-ride, and Simpson used to walk with the animals and look after them.

In 1909, at the age of 17, Simpson joined the British Merchant Navy. When his vessel reached Australia, he jumped ship and went to work in the cane fields of Queensland, and the gold mines of Western Australia.

Then, in 1914, soon after WWI began, he joined the Australian Army’s 3rd Field Ambulance as a stretcher-bearer.

As soon as he and the other Anzacs landed in Gallipoli in 1915, they were attacked. And just as a shepherd carries wounded sheep on his back, Simpson quickly started carrying injured soldiers back to the beach.

The next morning, he found a donkey. He called it ‘Murphy’, and for the next 24 days Simpson and his donkey shared the burden of carrying wounded soldiers to safety. They worked day and night, rescuing over 300 men, ignoring the bullets and shrapnel all around them.

Then, on 19 May 1915, aged just 22, John Simpson was shot in the back and died. [iii]

Simpson was a cheerful young man. He often sang and whistled as he worked, and he carried his pet possum in his slouch hat wherever he went.

He never fired a single shot, though; he never killed an enemy soldier, and all who knew him said he was a good man ‘to have beside you when the whips were cracking’.

Mustering the Troops: Amazing colourised photos of Gallipoli

Neither John Simpson, nor his donkey, ever received a military award. Yet they surely represent the pinnacle of heroic goodness and noble sacrifice. [iv]

Jesus tells us that there’s no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (Jn.15:13). Why does he say this? It’s because genuine love, freely and unconditionally given, invariably involves some form of sacrifice. 

The deeper the love, the greater the potential sacrifice.

Like the Good Shepherd who laid down his life for his sheep, John Simpson set aside his self-interest and his personal comfort to look after the needs of others. And just like a good shepherd, he carried lost, wounded and frightened men to safety.

Today, we are reminded that many people around us still need the love and protection of a good shepherd. There are lots of wolves prowling around in our world today, and many people are vulnerable.

That’s why today is also the World Day of Prayer for Vocations, when we are all asked to pray for our modern-day priestly shepherds, and to consider whether we, too, might be called to shepherd others.

So, here’s the question: are you being called to serve as a good shepherd, by being kind, compassionate and merciful to others, just like Jesus?

Are you being called to help rescue the lost, the wounded and the frightened, just like Private John Simpson?

And are you being called to the priesthood, diaconate or religious life?

Whatever our calling, each of us can surely do something meaningful to help those who struggle. What might that be?

Jesus has set the example.  Now it’s our turn.

[i] Anzac Day is the solemn day of remembrance of all the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps soldiers who fought and died for their country. Each year it occurs on 25 April, the anniversary of the Gallipoli Campaign, their first engagement in World War One.

[ii] John Simpson was born John Kirkpatrick, in South Shields, England. He joined the Merchant Navy under his original name. But having jumped ship when his ship arrived in Newcastle, Australia, he thought it wiser to use his mother’s name Simpson when he joined the army.



Year B – 3rd Sunday of Easter

On Telling our Story

(Acts 3:13-15, 17-19; 1Jn.2:1-5; Lk.24:35-48)

Ever since the first cavemen sat around log fires, people have loved stories.

Stories are powerful. They help us understand who we are and where we come from. They help build strong families and communities. They can teach and inspire, and they can heal.

After the Rwandan genocide, many therapists went to Rwanda to help damaged and abused souls. They took with them many new techniques, but it was only old-fashioned storytelling that seemed to heal their wounds. As the Rwandan men and women sat together and told of their sons and daughters and the horrors they endured, healing and forgiveness took place. [i]

Why do stories resonate so deeply? It’s because we’re all made in God’s image. Our heavenly Father is the greatest storyteller of all. Our world is his story; we are his characters. And his Scriptures are filled with legendary tales about famous men and women and God’s remarkable love for us.

Jesus, the Word himself, is certainly a storyteller. He uses parables to reveal things ‘hidden since the creation of the world’ (Mt.13:35). And he clearly understands the power of story to convey profound suffering, love and wisdom.

Our reading from Luke’s Gospel today immediately follows Jesus’ walk to Emmaus. After the two disciples recognise Jesus in the breaking of the bread, they rush back to Jerusalem to tell everyone.

While they’re telling their story, Jesus enters the room and says ‘Peace be with you.’ They’re all stunned; he must be a ghost! But Jesus shows them his wounds, and he explains that his passion, death and resurrection were all part of God’s plan. Everything written about him in the Scriptures, he says, had to be fulfilled.

‘You’re my witnesses,’ Jesus says, ‘you must tell the world.’ We find the same message is in Isaiah 42:8-10 and Acts 1:8. Jesus wants his witnesses to spread the news.

Why? It’s because Jesus’ presence is always a blessing to be shared. The world needs him.

In Luke 12:49, Jesus says, ‘I have come to bring fire to the earth.’ That’s exactly what happens after his resurrection. Christianity spreads like wildfire because of the convincing testimony of his witnesses. His disciples had a story to tell and they told it, even when it was dangerous to do so.

Today, it’s our turn. If Jesus has touched our hearts and lives in some way, we have a responsibility to tell others (1Pet.3:15-16).

How, then, might we do this, especially in this challenging, secular age?

A good way to start is quietly. In subtle ways let others notice that we follow Jesus. Let them see our Christian symbols – the ones we wear and carry, and those we display in our homes. Let them witness us praying and going to Church. Let them know about our Christian values and our happiness because Jesus loves us.

Then, when the time is right, share your story. In your own way and in your own words, let others know about your journey to conversion. How did you discover Jesus? Did he help you through a tough time? Did he answer a prayer? Did you learn a valuable lesson? How does Jesus speak to you? And what difference does he make in your life?

Your story doesn’t have to be dramatic, like St Paul’s journey to Damascus. It might even be simple, like St Therese of Lisieux’s.

But we all have a story to tell. And after sharing your story, leave the results to God. He’ll take care of what follows. As St Teresa of Calcutta used to say, our duty is not to be successful; it’s only to be faithful.

Pope St Paul VI once wrote: ‘Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it’s because they are witnesses.’ [ii]

Today, we are Jesus’ witnesses, and each of us has a story to tell.

Let’s close with a story.

Centuries ago, a rich sultan in Baghdad gave a banquet in honour of his son’s birth. Every guest brought expensive gifts, except a young sage who came empty-handed. He explained to the sultan, ‘Today the young prince will receive many precious gifts, jewels and rare coins. My gift is different. From the time he’s old enough to listen until his manhood, I’ll come to the palace every day and tell him stories of our Arabian heroes. When he becomes our ruler, he’ll be just and honest.

The young sage kept his word. When the prince was at last made sultan, he became famous for his wisdom and honour.

To this day, an inscription on a scroll in Baghdad reads, ‘It was because of the seed sown by the stories.’ [iii]


[ii] Evangelii Nuntiandi n.41

[iii] William J Bausch, Touching the Heart. Twenty-Third Publications, New London CT. 2007:8.

Year B – 2nd Sunday of Easter

On a Drop in the Ocean

(Acts 4:32-35; 1Jn.5:1-6; Jn.20:19-31)

We often hear about God’s grace and mercy. But what do these two words – mercy and grace – actually mean?

In his book From Superficial to Significant, David Chadwick answers this question in a story about his son. He once asked the boy to do something, but he refused: ‘I won’t do it!’ Chadwick asked him again, but he still wouldn’t budge, so he sent him to his room.

Later, Chadwick went to talk with him. The boy looked up tearfully and begged not to be punished. He didn’t want to receive what he knew he deserved.

Chadwick’s heart was deeply moved by his son’s contrition. He didn’t punish him. Instead, he hugged him and asked if he knew what he’d done wrong. The boy nodded yes, and asked for forgiveness.

Seeing God's Grace and a Judge's Mercy in Real-Time – Ministry Village at  Olive

Chadwick forgave his son. That was mercy: he didn’t give him what he deserved.

But he also took his son out for ice cream. That was grace, because he gave him what he didn’t deserve. [i]

Max Lucado has a shorter explanation for mercy and grace. Mercy, he says, gave the Prodigal Son a second chance. But grace gave him a feast (Lk.15:11-32).

In John’s Gospel today, the fearful disciples are in the Upper Room, fully aware that only two days before they had betrayed and abandoned Jesus. Then Jesus enters the room saying, ‘Peace be with you’. They are stunned, so he says it again, ‘Peace be with you.’

There’s no blame or retribution; only mercy and love.

Then Jesus gives them a remarkable grace. He says, ‘As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.’ Instead of punishing his disciples, Jesus commissions them to share his merciful love with all the world. ‘Receive the Holy Spirit,’ he says. ‘Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.’

With these words, Jesus gives his disciples the power to forgive sins. He creates a way for everyone – everyone, including you and me – to leave our sins behind and start afresh.

Saint Faustina

In 1931, Jesus appeared to a humble nun, Sr Maria Faustina Kowalska, in Poland. He was concerned that too many people are unaware of God’s loving heart, and in several visits until her death in 1938, he revealed to her the secrets of his Divine Mercy.

Jesus said that he will pour out a whole ocean of graces upon those souls who approach him for mercy.

The soul that goes to Confession and receives Holy Communion, he said, will receive complete forgiveness of sins and punishment. And this mercy is available even to the greatest sinners.

Jesus also asked for an image to be painted of him wearing white with rays of red and white coming from his heart. And he said that that he wanted the Sunday after Easter to be celebrated as the Feast of his Divine Mercy. [ii]

Lent and Easter Icons: Divine Mercy Icon | Monastery Icons

In the year 2000, Pope St John Paul II canonised Sr Faustina and established this special feast day, which we celebrate today. On that day he said: ‘Today my joy is truly great in presenting the life and witness of Sr Faustina to the whole Church as a gift of God for our time. By divine providence, the life of this humble daughter of Poland was completely linked with the history of the twentieth century … In fact, it was between the First and Second World Wars that Christ entrusted his message of mercy to her.

‘Those who were witnesses and participants in the events of those years and the horrible sufferings they caused for millions of people will know well how necessary was this message of mercy,’ he said. [iii]

Mother Angelica, the Poor Clare nun who founded the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), had a good explanation for God’s divine mercy.

She loved going to the beach, and although she wore leg braces, she liked getting close to the surf. One day, on a beach in California, a large wave came in and wet her shoes. Then she heard a voice, saying: ‘Angelica, that drop represents all your sins, all your imperfections and all your frailties. Throw it in the ocean’.

Mother Angelica Inspirational Plaque Confirmation Gift | Etsy

She threw it back, and then she heard the Lord say: ‘The ocean is my mercy. If you looked for that drop, would you ever find it?’

‘No, Lord,’ she replied.

Mother Angelica often told people that their sins are like that drop in the ocean.

‘Every day, every minute of the day,’ she said, ‘throw your drop in the ocean of his mercy. Then, don’t worry, just try harder.’

[i] David Chadwick, From Superficial to Significant. Harvest House Publishers, Eugene Oregon, 2017.