Year A – 1st Sunday of Advent

On A Fresh Start

[Isa.2:1-5; Rom.13:11-14; Mt.24:37-44]

Would you like a fresh start?  Would you like a chance to begin again, avoiding the mistakes and the pain of the past?  

Consider the story of the great Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-81). At the age of 27 he was jailed for his politics, and eight months later he and his fellow prisoners were taken outside to be shot.

Before the execution, they were given a cross to kiss and a chance for confession.  They were then lined up, the soldiers took aim and a drum roll sounded.  And suddenly, out of the blue, a messenger from the Tsar rode in on a horse with a pardon.  

Miraculously, they were all given a second chance at life. In a letter to his brother, Dostoevsky later described how he had changed: ‘When I look back on my past and think how much time I wasted on nothing, how much time has been lost in futilities, errors, laziness, incapacity to live; how little I appreciated it, how many times I sinned against my heart and soul – then my heart bleeds.  Life is a gift, life is happiness, every minute can be an eternity of happiness’. [i]

His priorities changed completely when he faced his own mortality (Prov.4:25-27).

Someone else who needed a fresh start was Dublin-born Matthew Talbot (1856-1925).  He started drinking at the age of 12, and 16 years later he was a chronic alcoholic, broke and deeply in debt.

One night in 1884 he faced the truth that he could no longer afford to drink.  He went home and promised his mother that he would ‘take the pledge’.  He kept that promise, and dedicated the rest of his life to prayer and charitable works.  He’s now being considered for sainthood. [ii]

At some point in our lives every one of us needs a second chance.  But we don’t need a firing squad or a chronic hangover to force the process.

Today is the first Sunday of Advent and the start of a brand new liturgical year.  Advent is always a time for renewal and new birth, and so this is an ideal opportunity for each of us to pause for a while, to think about our lives and to consider how we might do things better.

In our second reading today, St Paul says, ‘Wake up! The time has come!’  None of us is getting any younger, and we know that one day we’ll all be held accountable.  So now is a good time to start afresh.

Ask yourself: am I a better person now than I was 12 months ago? Can I honestly say that I am improving as a person with the passing of each Christmas?  And is my relationship with Jesus growing?  Or am I stagnating?

The truth is that every one of us can do better. 

Martin Luther King Jr said that the first step in any journey must be taken in faith.  ‘You don’t have to see the whole staircase,’ he said, ‘just take the first step’. 

As we take that first step, our faith doesn’t have to be strong (Lk.17:6; Mt.17:20).  Real faith grows when we stand honestly and humbly before God as we really are, sharing with him what we think and how we feel. 

And as we go through the process of change (for a new start always involves change), it’s worth remembering that God always has our best interests at heart (Is.43:18-19; Jn.10:10).  And he will help us if we let him (Phil.4:13). That’s important to remember as we face our failures and let some things go (we know what needs to go).

In 2018, Pope Francis said that Advent has three dimensions: the past, the present and the future, and we would be wise to reflect on each of them. 

Jesus was born in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago.  Why did he do that, and what does that truth mean for us today? 

Jesus will also return sometime in the future – at the end of the world, and at the end of our own lives.  Are we ready for him?

And finally, Jesus comes to us each day, in the present, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. [iii]  He is present in the Church (1Cor.12:12-14), in the Eucharist (Mt.26:26-27) and in the faces of everyone we meet (Mt.25:40). 

When we prayerfully reflect on these three dimensions of Jesus Christ, we are actually opening the door to a new beginning for ourselves (2Cor.5:17). 

If Advent is only a time for us to buy gifts and to plan our Christmas holidays and parties, then we’ve missed the point.  

There’s really only one gift of any importance at Christmas, and that gift is Jesus.

Jesus is the key to a fresh start. The only fresh start that really matters.




Year C – Christ the King

On He Who Must Not Be Named

(2Sam.5:1-3; Col.1:12-20; Lk.23:35-43)

In JK Rowling’s popular Harry Potter books, Harry’s arch-enemy is so feared that it’s considered dangerous to even speak his name.  Most of the characters refer to him as ‘You-Know-Who’ or ‘He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named’.

It suits the storyline for these novels to include an adversary who is so fearful that he cannot be named.  It reinforces the chasm between good and evil.  

In our society there’s someone else that many people are reluctant to name.  It’s not a businessman or sportsman.  It’s not even a politician.  It’s Jesus Christ.

Certainly, many will use Jesus’ name as a curse or expletive.  And many will use the name of God in all sorts of reckless ways (Ex.20:7). [i]  But few, it seems, are prepared to talk about Jesus Christ as a topic of normal conversation. 

The strange thing is that many of those who dare not speak Jesus’ name actually call themselves Christian.

A survey conducted last year in the United States revealed that although most Americans (70%) identify as Christian, more than three quarters do not have spiritual or religious conversations.  Even among regular churchgoers, only a small fraction (13%) regularly talk about their faith.[ii]  The situation seems to be even worse in Australia, the UK and other Western countries.

As Christians, we have a responsibility to share our faith with others – using both words and actions (Mt.28:19-20; Mk.16:15).  Sherry Weddell tells us why in her book Forming Intentional Disciples.  She says it’s difficult to think about things you’ve never heard anyone else talk about. [iii]  

She tells the story of Sara, a young woman who experienced God’s presence so powerfully one day that she decided to become a Christian.  She joined a faith formation program and was received into the Church at Easter 2010.

About six weeks into that program, she thought she was missing something because they weren’t talking much about getting to know God or Jesus.  She didn’t understand who Jesus was, and assumed it was because of her non-Christian background. 

So she asked some Catholic friends to talk with her about him, one-on-one.  All but one of them got visibly upset and wanted to know why she was asking. 

Most did talk with her, but they didn’t like being asked. [iv]

Weddell says that Sara had discovered the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ culture that pervades so many parishes.  In this culture, you don’t ask anyone about their faith or interior life, or their experience of Christ, and you certainly don’t share your own faith experience with anyone else. 

Why are we so reluctant to talk about Jesus?  There may be many reasons.  Perhaps it’s driven by the fear of being judged or answering inadequately.  Maybe it’s a response to the growing secularisation of our society and the decline in religious fluency.  Or maybe it’s because of the clergy abuse crisis. 

Whatever the reason, Fr Gregory Jensen, an Orthodox priest, says that the more he follows discussions, debates and disagreements about the Church, or concerns about the failings of the bishops and clergy, the more he’s become convinced that it’s all simply a distraction. It’s an excuse, he says, for not helping each other and those outside the Church to fall in love with Jesus Christ.  For how easy it is to talk about everything else except Jesus. [v]

St John Henry Newman said that to holy people, the very name of Jesus is a name to feed upon, a name to transport.  His name can raise the dead and transfigure and beautify the living.

For there’s power in Jesus’ name.  It brings peace and forgiveness, love and hope – everything our hearts could wish for.  As Christians we should be proud that we carry the name of Christ.  There’s no greater honour than this, for it’s the name above all other names (Phil.2:9-11).

And when do we use Jesus’ name, we should remember that we actually invoke his presence. So we must use it responsibly.

Today is the Feast of Christ the King.  This is the day when we celebrate Jesus Christ as King of the Universe and Saviour of the World.  Today’s message about Jesus is the culmination of everything the Church has said and done over the past liturgical year.

As Christians, we’re not meant to just go through the motions or simply learn about our faith.  We’re supposed to absorb the Word of God so deeply into our lives that everything we say and do reflects our love for Jesus.

Christianity is a missionary faith.  We are meant to share it, bringing the joy of Jesus to others (Mt.4:19; Acts 8:4; Rom.1:16).  But if Christians won’t talk about Jesus, who will (Mt.9:37)?

So, do you talk about Jesus?  Do you share your love for him with family and friends?

If yes, well done!  Keep going! 

If no, then it’s time to start.

[i] Hugh Mackay, Beyond Belief.  McMillan, Sydney. 2016:177-179.


[iii] Sherry A Weddell, Forming Intentional Disciples.  Our Sunday Visitor, Huntington IN. 2012:141.


[v] Op cit. p.142.

Year C – 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

On Passing the Dragon

(Mal.3:19-20a; 2Thess.3:7-12; Lk.21:5-19)

‘Absolutely terrifying.’ That’s how one person described the recent bushfires in NSW and Queensland. Tragically, these fires have destroyed many lives, homes and communities.

Most of us hope and expect to live steady-as-she-goes lives, but sometimes we find ourselves facing unexpected, and occasionally frightening, turmoil. 

When this happens, life can be a rollercoaster, perhaps like Indiana Jones’ ride in the movie The Temple of Doom, where he swoops at breakneck speed through a mine in a mine-cart, escaping menacing villains. [i]

And the obstacles we face are a bit like the dangers he braves in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Inside an ancient Peruvian temple, he runs the gauntlet of flying arrows, collapsing walls, cavernous drops and a crushing ball of stone. [ii] 

He survives these tests, of course, but sometimes we wonder if we will.  We look for signs and sometimes we fear the worst.  And others go even further.  Fed by unending media reports about the destruction of our planet, some people have become fixated on visions of the apocalypse.  They even try to predict the end of the world. 

So, how should we respond?  

In Luke’s Gospel today, Jesus gives us some advice.  He says that we can expect to live in troubled times.  Some of these troubles will be natural disasters, such as earthquakes, famines, plagues – and even wildfires.  But, whatever happens, he says, don’t lose faith and don’t be afraid (Mk.4:39-40).

Jesus also says there will be problems caused by people trampling on the rights and lives of others. There will be wars and revolutions, cruelty and injustice.  But whatever happens, don’t lose faith and don’t be afraid.

And many will be persecuted for their beliefs, whether political or religious.  Some will be jailed, churches will be burnt, missionaries will be killed and many will not be able to speak openly, even in their own families. 

But again, whatever happens, Jesus says don’t lose faith and don’t be afraid, for it’s not the end of the world. 

And don’t listen to false prophets who say ‘the time is near’, Jesus says, because they’ll be wrong.  Not even he knows when this will be; only his Father knows (Mt.24:36; 1Thess.5:2-4).  

In his book Bread for the Journey (1996), Henri Nouwen says that in the face of all the world’s calamities, the attitude of spiritually mature people should be to stand erect and to hold our heads high.  Our everyday lives might be full of doomsday thinking and feeling, but we must resist this temptation and stand confidently in the world, never losing our spiritual ground and always being aware that ‘the sky and earth will pass away’, but the words of Jesus will never pass away. [iii]

‘Jesus reminds us,’ Nouwen says, ‘that we don’t belong to this world.  We have been sent into this world to be living witnesses of God’s unconditional love, calling all people to look beyond the passing structures of our temporary existence to the eternal life promised to us.’ [iv]

In other words, don’t dwell too much on worldly things, for they will all pass away.  The earth is not our real home.  Focus instead on the only things that ultimately really matter: love, compassion, forgiveness and understanding. These things are eternal.  They make a difference.  They’re the only things we take with us into the next life.

And whatever happens, don’t lose faith and don’t be afraid (Josh.1:9). 

St Augustine said that fear is the enemy of love.  As Christians, Jesus has promised us everlasting life in heaven.  All we have to do is to embrace his way of life and live in confidence that no matter what happens, we’ll always remain secure in God’s warmth and love.

But in the meantime, we can expect troubles and unpleasant surprises. 

Perhaps he had the lively imagination of Indiana Jones, but referring to the Book of Revelation, St Cyril of Jerusalem (c.313-386 AD) wrote, ‘A dragon lies in ambush for the traveller; take care he does not bite you and inject you with his poison of unbelief. … In your journey to the Father of Souls, your way lies past that dragon. How shall you pass him? You must have your feet stoutly with the gospel of peace so that, even if he does bite you, he may not hurt you.’ [v]

So, hold firm. 

Don’t lose faith. 

And don’t be afraid (1Cor.16:13). 



[iii] Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey. Darton Longman and Todd, London. 1996:293.

[iv] Ibid. p.284.

[v] Cyril, S. The Works of Saint Cyril of Jerusalem (Vol. 1), The Catholic University of America Press, Washington DC. 1969.

Year C – 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

On Life After Death

(2Macc.7:1-2, 9-14; 2Thess.2:16-3:5; Lk.20:27-38)

Is there life after death (Job 14:14)?  And what happens when we get there?

The ancient Aztecs, Vikings and Egyptians believed in an afterlife.  Some Native American tribes also believed in a happy hunting ground, and many eastern religions believe in reincarnation.

But our secular society doesn’t accept any afterlife, at least not officially.  It assumes that there’s no God and no spirit world, and many people claim to be atheists. 

Yet the popular culture seems obsessed with vampires, zombies and ghosts, and heroes with supernatural powers.  And surveys reveal that most people do have mystical experiences, when they sense that there’s ‘Something More’ to life than what they can actually see. [i]

It seems that searching for the supernatural is a very human thing to do (Jer.29:13).

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is in the Temple in Jerusalem preaching about the resurrection of the dead, when some Sadducees decide to challenge him.

Now, who were the Sadducees?  They were a powerful sect of Jewish priests and merchants who didn’t believe in angels, spirits or resurrection (Acts 23:8).  They only accepted as truth the Torah, the first five books of the Bible.

They put a hypothetical question to Jesus. ‘Teacher’, they say, ‘Moses told us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no child, then his brother must marry her and raise up children for his brother’.

To explain, this practice of a man marrying his brother’s widow comes from the Torah (Gen.38:8; Deut.25:5-6). It’s called the Levirate Law of Marriage, and its purpose was to ensure that a widow is looked after and that the first husband’s name continues to live on after him.

The Sadducees’ question is this:  whose wife would a woman be if she marries each of seven brothers, one after the other, after each one dies?

The point they’re trying to make is that God’s Law, as given to Moses, cannot be broken, and that God would never create something that contradicted his own Law. So, he could not have created an afterlife, because it would simply undermine the sanctity of marriage.

Jesus answers them in two ways. Firstly, he says that marriage is an earthly institution blessed by God, and it doesn’t exist in heaven.

Then he says that Moses learnt about the resurrection before he received the Law from God. He learnt this when he first encountered God in the Burning Bush, when God said to him ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob’ (Ex.3:4-6).

What Jesus means is that because God is the God of the living, and because God is also the God of the patriarchs, then the patriarchs – Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – must still be alive.  For God is a ‘living’ God and only the living can experience something that lives.  The patriarchs, therefore, are still alive and they’re now in heaven.

What, then, does Jesus say about heaven? 

He gives few details in this passage, but he does say that in heaven there’s no more death or decay, but only eternal life.  This means that there’ll be no more suffering or pain (Rev.21:4).

He also says that life in heaven is different to life here on earth (‘life is changed, not ended’), and marriage won’t be needed.  However, this doesn’t mean we’ll be separated from our families and friends.  Rather, our relationships will be different, and the fellowship of marriage will be replaced by the depth and diversity of new life in the presence of God. 

Our eternal lives won’t be reduced to some level below that of marriage, though.  Rather, we’ll find ourselves living a much fuller and closer life with God himself and with all of God’s family, and the emotional intimacy and affection we now restrict to just one spouse will be shared with everyone in heaven. [ii]

All this points to the model of the Trinity, which reveals to us that the essence of divine life is perfect loving communion.  Here on earth we experience this in a very special way through the Holy Eucharist, and in heaven we’ll experience it by living in perfect loving intimacy with God and all his angels and saints.

This is why Jesus tells us that the greatest commandment of all is to love God and our neighbour, with all our hearts, all our souls and all our minds (Mt.22:34-40). 

This is our challenge.  Jesus wants us to prepare for eternal life by learning to love God and each other, before we get there.

CS Lewis said that in this life we write the title page of what we will be in eternity.  

But my own father likes to put it this way:  our life here on earth is basically the qualifying round for our next life.

So, what do you think? Is there life after death? 

And are you ready for it?

[i] William Bausch, The Story Revealed. Twenty Third Publications, New London, CT. 2013:144-145.

[ii] KJV Study Bible, 2nd Edition. Thomas Nelson, Nashville. 1988:1588

Year C – 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time

On Fixing our Eyes on the Prize

[Wis.11:22-12:2; 2Thess.1:11-2:2; Lk.19:1-10]

St Martin de Porres (1579-1639) really should have vanished without trace long ago.  In the eyes of the world he was a nobody, and that’s how he was treated: he was ridiculed, abused and excluded.  Why?  Because he was poor and black. 

Yet, here we are today, four centuries later, celebrating his life on his feast day in a church that proudly bears his name.

Why do we celebrate this son of a former slave who was born so far away in Lima, Peru?  It’s because he has something remarkable to teach us.  St Martin’s relationship with God so transformed his broken life that he went on to transform the lives of countless others.

St Martin’s father abandoned him in his infancy because of his colour, leaving him to live in poverty with his mother and sister.  He often went hungry, he only had two years of schooling and he was regularly bullied in the streets. 

When he was 12 he was apprenticed to a barber who taught him the basics of medicine and healing, as barbers did back then.  And at 15 he joined the Dominicans as a servant boy, but his training was ignored.  He spent most of his time cleaning and laboring in the kitchen and in the fields.  He never complained, though.  He was always patient and cheerful.

Eventually his gifts were recognized, however.  At 24 he was invited to become a Dominican brother, and 10 years later he was given responsibility for the monastery’s infirmary where he worked for the rest of his life, healing the sick and helping the poor.  He helped everyone, regardless of their race or social status.  It made no difference whether they were archbishops, monks or slaves.

St Martin went on to do remarkable things: fundraising, feeding and sheltering hundreds of people and animals, planting orchards, teaching people how to farm and establishing a school and an orphanage for street children that are still operating today.

In today’s Gospel, Luke gives us the story of Zacchaeus, the unpopular tax collector.  Unlike Martin, Zacchaeus was rich, but like Martin he was rejected by his own community.

St Martin and Zacchaeus also shared something else:  both kept their eyes firmly fixed on Jesus (Heb.3:1; 12:2).  St Martin did this by spending his nights in prayer and contemplation before a Crucifix.  Zacchaeus did this by climbing a tree to get a clearer view of Jesus as he passed through Jericho.

By firmly fixing their eyes on Jesus, both men found their lives transformed.  St Martin found himself filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, and able to perform miracles (Acts 1:8); while Zacchaeus found joy, acceptance and forgiveness, and a brand new way of life (Ps.16:11).

The message for us today is that as long as we keep our eyes firmly fixed on Jesus, then we’ll find ourselves living happy, meaningful and purposeful lives, even in the most difficult of circumstances.

We see this in Matthew’s Gospel, when the disciples cross the Sea of Galilee during a storm one night.  Peter discovers that as long as he keeps his eyes firmly focussed on Jesus, he can actually walk on water.  But as soon as he’s distracted, he starts sinking (Mt.14:22-32).

That’s the risk we face.  There are so many temptations and distractions out there.  When we turn away from Jesus and focus instead on our grudges or illusions or worldly obsessions, then we’ll find ourselves troubled and even overwhelmed. 

Archbishop Fulton Sheen used to talk about the red lamp near the tabernacle in our churches that signals the presence of Our Lord (Jn.8:12). When we’re near the light, he said, we bask in its glow and we enjoy its comforting warmth.  But if we walk away from that light, the shadows grow longer and the darkness grows.

And so it is with us.  When we lose a sense of God’s presence, or when we refuse to acknowledge his existence, the shadows lengthen, the darkness envelops us, and the storms become more terrifying.

God didn’t want St Martin to vanish because he has something important to teach every generation:  that God’s grace can transform our deepest sorrows into the greatest love and happiness, as long as we keep our eyes firmly fixed on Jesus. 

As St. Augustine put it, ‘In my deepest wound, I saw your glory and it dazzled me’.

St Martin de Porres kept his eyes firmly fixed on the only prize that really matters in this life (Phil.3:13-14).

We must do the same.