Year A – 5th Sunday in Lent

On the Tank Man

(Ezek.37:12-14; Rom.8:8-11; Jn.11:1-45)

‘When you were younger,’ Jesus says to Peter, ‘you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you’re old … someone else will dress you and lead you where you don’t want to go’ (Jn.21:18).

I used to think these words were only for the apostle Peter, but now I know that Jesus is speaking to us all.  In our youth, we naively thought we could do whatever we wanted, but right now we know that’s really not true. The future is not our own – we’re in the hands of others.

Thomas Merton often criticised secularism and the secretive military-industrial complex that dominates society.  He once wrote that 90% of all news is a combination of pseudo-news, manufactured events and propaganda.  All this misinformation means that we live in a kind of pseudo-reality, a universal trance where people can’t see what’s really going on. [i]

He also wrote that there are powerful people in industry, politics and the media who are trying to grab our attention and harness our energies to suit themselves.  In the meantime, we’re left struggling, confused or angry and drifting away from the fundamental truth of our existence. [ii]

Merton penned these words long ago, but they’ve lost none of their relevance.  Whole nations today are struggling, confused and angry.  People cannot work, cannot congregate, and cannot even visit friends.  Why? Because a killer virus has reportedly escaped from a bioweapons research laboratory in Wuhan. [iii]

Whatever the truth of this story, it’s clear that things need to change. For too long politicians have played games with us; oligarchs have sought wealth and power rather than the common good; and media-practitioners have been manipulating too many minds.

Where will we put our faith when this pandemic is over?

Throughout history, a few notable people have had the courage, conviction and faith to take a stand against ignorance, injustice and repression. Churchill, Gandhi and Moses are good examples, but above all, so is Jesus Christ.

In 1989, the Tank Man blocked the path of a column of tanks in Tiananmen Square.  We don’t know his name, but it occurred the day after a student protest was brutally crushed.  The famous photo of him challenging such repressive might has become a powerful symbol of peaceful resistance. [iv]

What does all this mean for us?  Well, last week’s Gospel of Jesus healing the man born blind reminds us of the spiritual blindness pervading our world today.  It reminds us that when hearts are closed, suffering inevitably follows. The good news, however, is that Jesus has the power to heal both visual and spiritual blindness (Jn.9:1-41). 

In today’s Gospel, Lazarus is lying lifeless in his tomb when Jesus says, ‘Untie him, let him go free’.  Lazarus then emerges into the light, freed from death and released from his bindings to begin again. 

In a similar way, Jesus today is saying to you and me, ‘Leave your dark tomb; be free of your bondage and come into the light.  Don’t be afraid, but believe in me’.

Jesus uses the word ‘believe’ six times in today’s Gospel. He wants us to seriously believe in him, and to let go of all that binds us, especially those things that confuse and stifle our spirit and hold us back, including our fear, anxiety and anger, but also our selfish ways (Mk.8:35).

People secretly plotted against Jesus before his crucifixion, and it’s no different today.  Many still actively oppose all he stands for, and yet, it’s precisely the selfless love of Jesus Christ that the world needs right now.

The Coronavirus pandemic has exposed the emptiness of so much worldly ambition, and so we ask the obvious:  What do we really believe in? What will sustain our families and our society into the future? And what are we going to do about it?

Thomas Merton wrote this famous prayer:

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.
I don’t see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end, nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I’m following your will
doesn’t mean that I’m actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I’m doing.
I hope that I’ll never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road,
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always, though
I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.  Amen.

It’s time to recognise that our world is going nowhere without Jesus. 

Like Lazarus, and Jesus himself at Easter, it’s time to rise again to new life.

Like the Tank Man, it’s time to take a stand.

[i] Merton, T. Faith and Violence: Christian Teaching and Christian Practice. Notre Dame, IN: Indiana Univ. Press, 1968.

[ii] Merton, T. Confessions of a Guilty Bystander.  New York: Doubleday, 1966:84.



Year A – 4th Sunday in Lent

On a Place Called Lost

(1Sam.16:1b,6-7,10-13a; Eph.5:8-14; Jn.9:1-41)

Our world has changed.  Only weeks ago, we worried about droughts, bushfires and climate change, but now something else has swamped our attention: the Coronavirus, Covid-19.

The world has responded in fear, anxiety and confusion.  Whole countries have been locked down, routines have been suspended, financial markets have collapsed, shops have been stripped bare and sports have been cancelled. 

For those whose faith had centred on money, sport, possessions or pleasure, this is a bewildering time.  And many who believed in the ameliorating power of science and politics now wonder what went wrong.

We’re in the realm of the unknown, and many people simply feel lost. 

In her book Survivor, Christina Crawford writes: ‘Lost is a place, too’.

The Canadian writer Ron Rolheiser says that this phrase contains a deep truth, because being alone, lost and struggling for meaning is a valid place to be.

If John of the Cross was your spiritual director, Rolheiser says, and you told him that you’re going through a dark patch in life, he’d likely say that you are where you should be right now: you’re in the desert, letting the merciless sun do its work; in a dark night, undergoing an alchemy of soul; in exile, lamenting on a foreign shore so that you can better understand your homeland; in the garden, sweating the blood that needs to be sweated to live out your commitments; in the upper room, unsure of yourself, waiting for pentecost before you can set out again with any confidence; undergoing positive disintegration, having your life ripped apart so that you can rearrange it in a more life-giving way.

Rolheiser describes being lost as a biblical, mystical and necessary place to be.  It’s a place where everyone before us, including Jesus, has spent some time, for the desert spares nobody.  Dark nights eventually find us all. 

Knowing this doesn’t make it any easier to accept, but naming being lost as a valid place to be is important for us, both personally and communally.  That’s because inside that place, our souls are being shaped in ways we cannot understand, but in ways that will stretch and widen them for a deeper love and happiness in the future. [i]

So, all this isn’t new. Indeed, feeling lost in the midst of a pandemic has been felt before.  The English mystic Julian of Norwich (1342-1416) caught the Black Death at the age of 30. 

One night, as she lay on what she thought was her deathbed, she had several visions which led her to contemplate God’s love through the Passion of Christ.  She recorded her experiences in her book Revelations of Divine Love.   

She describes seeing God holding something tiny in his hand, like a hazelnut.  It seemed so fragile and insignificant that she wondered why it didn’t crumble before her eyes. But she understood that it was the entire created universe, which is as nothing compared to its Creator.  She was told: ‘God made it, God loves it, and God keeps it’.

She wrote: ‘God did not say we will not be disturbed; he did not say we will not be troubled.  But he did say that all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.  For there is a force of love moving through the universe that holds us fast and will never let us go’. [ii]

The sad thing, though, is that so many people have no sense of this.  They have no sense of the spiritual, and no awareness of God and his infinite love.  Here, perhaps the story of Jesus healing the man born blind in today’s Gospel has something to say to us.

Firstly, Jesus says this man was born blind so that God’s work may be made visible through him.  In other words, his disability gives others an opportunity to channel God’s love into him, in the same way that today’s crisis invites us to reach out in unconditional love to others in need.

Secondly, in this story physical blindness is a metaphor for spiritual blindness. The Pharisees refuse to acknowledge Jesus’ miracles.  Instead, they question and intimidate the blind man and his parents, and they throw him out of the synagogue.  The point is that Jesus has the power to heal not only blindness of the eye, but also blindness of the heart.

That’s exactly what we need right now, for spirituality is always about how we see things.  It’s not about earning or achieving some kind of merit.  But not everyone sees things rightly.  Some people simply misunderstand what they see, while others make deliberate choices that distort their perception of the world. [iii]

Yes, we may feel lost in the face of Covid-19, but when we emerge after it’s over, may we see ourselves, and those around us, with newly refreshed eyes. 

[i] Ron Rolheiser,

[ii] Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love,

[iii] Richard Rohr, Yes, And…, Franciscan Media, Cincinatti OH, 1997.

Year A – 3rd Sunday in Lent

On Dottie and the Invisibles

(Ex.17:3-7; Rom.5:1-2,5-8; Jn.4:5-42)

In Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Professor Dumbledore says, ‘I don’t need a cloak to become invisible’. [i]  He’s right!  Consider the story of the company CEO who sat for the final exam of his business strategy class.  He spent many hours preparing for it.

“The teacher handed out the exam,” he said. “It was on one piece of paper which surprised me, because I figured it would be longer than that.  Once everyone had their paper, the teacher said, ‘Go ahead and turn it over.’  Both sides were blank.”

The teacher then said, ‘I’ve taught you everything I can about business in the last ten weeks, but the most important message, the most important question is this:  What’s the name of the lady who cleans this building?’

‘It was the only test I ever failed,’ he said, ‘and I got the “B” I deserved.  Her name was Dottie, and I didn’t know Dottie.  I’d seen her, but I’d never taken the time to ask her name. I’ve tried to know every Dottie I’ve worked with ever since.’ [ii]

Ralph Ellison, in his book The Invisible Man (1952), writes: ‘I am an invisible man … I am a man of substance; of flesh and bone (but) I am invisible simply because people refuse to see me…’ [iii] 

Why won’t they see him?  It’s because he’s black.  They refuse to acknowledge his existence because of his colour.

There are lots of invisible people today.  People who, for various reasons, we don’t see or we simply won’t see.  The poor, the lost, the homeless, the elderly, the different – they’re all so easily ignored.  We turn our heads away. 

Do you sometimes feel invisible?

In his book I and Thou (1923), the philosopher Martin Buber says that there are two ways to relate to people. We can either see them as objects and things, or we can treat them as human beings worthy of respect. [iv]

In his memoirs, Buber explains how this idea came to him.  During WWI, he was a professor at a German university.  One day he was interrupted by a student who’d been called up to serve in the army.  The student was a pacifist and he asked Buber what he should do.  Should he serve his country and kill against his conscience, or should he say he’s a conscientious objector and let someone else be killed in his place?

Buber was busy and he became irritated.  He told the student to go away and make up his own mind. The student did go away, but he committed suicide.

Buber was horrified.  He suffered guilt for the rest of his life.  He had treated this young man as a thing, as an unwelcome interruption, rather than as someone special who God had created in his own image.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is at Jacob’s Well, in the Samaritan town of Sychar, 63 kilometres north of Jerusalem.  There he meets a woman.  According to the culture of the time, she’s invisible.  She would have been treated as an object because Jews hated Samaritans.  And the local women would have shunned her because of the scandal of her multiple husbands. 

So, she keeps her head down.  She goes to the well at the hottest time of the day, when no-one’s likely to be there.  But then Jesus arrives. 

Rabbis aren’t allowed to talk with women in public.  But Jesus won’t snub anyone, and this woman deserves love and respect.  He knows her past; he knows she’s unhappy, and he wants to help. 

So, he talks to her.  At first, it’s about water, but Jesus knows she needs more than that.  She’s lost, and she has been looking to men to satisfy her soul.  Her real thirst is for the spiritual refreshment of the Holy Spirit.  So, Jesus offers her the living water of his mercy and love.

This is the longest conversation Jesus has with anyone in the Gospels, and it transforms her life.  Initially, she dismissively refers to Jesus as a ‘Jew’.  But then she calls him ‘sir’, then ‘prophet’, then ‘messiah’, and finally the ‘Saviour of the world’.  Then she excitedly runs to tell everyone in her village.

This progression from hostility to respect, acceptance and awe, reflects the process of conversion for so many of us.

According to Eastern tradition, this woman is St Photina and she’s the first evangelist in John’s Gospel. She travelled far and wide, telling everyone that Jesus knew all about her, and that his living water gave her brand new life. [v]

This Lent, let’s go to the well, too, and ask Jesus for some of that living water

… and for the grace to never again treat anyone as invisible.

[i] In 1998, this book was released in the United States as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.





Year A – 2nd Sunday in Lent

On Restoring Our Divinity

(Gen.12:1-4a; 2Tim.1:8b-10; Mt.17:1-9)

In last week’s Gospel, Jesus revealed his humanity by being tired, hungry and tempted in the desert.  Today we see another side of him, as God’s light shines through Jesus while he’s praying on Mount Tabor.  We see him as he truly is: The Son of God.

Together, these two stories show us that Jesus has two natures: he’s both human and divine. He’s true God and true man. We acknowledge this truth every time we say the Creed.  But what does this mean for us?

On the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome is Michelangelo’s painting of two hands reaching out to each other.  It depicts the moment when God created Adam in his own image and likeness (Gen.1:27).  But as we know, Adam tarnished that divine image at the Fall, when he and Eve chose to turn away from God in the Garden of Eden (Gen.3).  Mankind has been struggling with sin and suffering ever since.

God has not abandoned us, however.  He’s still determined to share his divine life with us. That’s why he sent his Son to live among us, and that’s why his Holy Spirit is still with us (Jn.3:16; Jn.14:16).  As St Athanasius put it, ‘God became human, so that humans might become like God’. [i]

So, there’s another way to read Michelangelo’s famous painting. It represents God the Father continually reaching out to Adam (and to us) as he tries to restore the divinity embedded in our all-too-human selves.  Through Jesus Christ, our heavenly Father is constantly trying to draw us back into his divine life (2Pet.1:3-4).

St Paul says that we are called to be imitators of God, as his beloved children (Eph.5:1).  We all came from God, and by the grace of baptism we have been formally received into God’s family as his adopted daughters and sons.  This means that we really are God’s children, for we have been deified and made holy. 

Now, this is important, because it means that this is where we begin our journey of faith.  We don’t have to do anything to make ourselves worthy, for we already are worthy.  God has already accepted us.

Our challenge as Christians, then, is simply to reflect our holiness, our inherent divinity, in our daily lives.  But how can we do this?  Today, I’d like to suggest three ways.

Firstly, there are as many approaches to holiness as there are saints.  But as Bishop Robert Barron points out, one particular approach is represented by the design of rose windows in medieval Gothic cathedrals.  These windows are symbols of the well-ordered soul.  

At the centre of every rose window is an image of Christ, and all around him in harmonious patterns are hundreds of medallions, each depicting a saint or a scene from scripture.

The message from these windows is that when your life is centred on Christ, all the energies, aspirations and powers of the soul fall into a beautiful and satisfying pattern.  And by implication, whenever something other than Christ, (such as money, sex, success or adulation) fills the centre, then the soul falls into disharmony (cf.Mt.6:33).

So, when we consciously acknowledge Jesus as the centre of our lives, something like wholeness or holiness will follow. [ii]

Another way to restore our divine dignity, our holiness, is through the Holy Eucharist.  We become what we consume.  In the Eucharist, just before the bread and wine are consecrated, the priest or deacon pours a little water into the wine and he quietly prays, ‘By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity’. 

The water symbolises our humanity and the wine symbolises God’s divinity. When the water and wine are combined, they transform each other.  They become inseparable.  In the same way, whenever we receive Communion, we receive Jesus’ Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity.  When we take him into ourselves, our human nature becomes mixed with his divine nature and another transformation takes place.

And finally, did you notice that Jesus’ transfiguration occurs while he’s praying?  He starts radiating the glory of God.  Something very similar happened to Moses when he prayed on Mt Sinai (Ex.34:29-35).  The point is that if we pray well, then we too can expect a profound transformation, both inside and out.

We can never actually become God, of course.  We can never be God’s ontological equal, for his essence will always be infinitely greater than anything we could ever aspire to.  But God does want us to become godly, taking on his values, his attitudes and his character. [iii]  He wants us to ‘partake of his divine nature’, as St Peter says (2Pet.1:4).

This process is known as divinisation or theosis, and far too many of us ignore it.  God is constantly calling us to share in his divine life. [iv]

He’s calling us to be better people.

[i] St Athanasius, On the Incarnation, 54, 3: p.25, 192B

[ii] Robert Barron, You’re Holier Than You Know.

[iii] Rick Warren,

[iv] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1.