Year A – Pentecost Sunday

On the House of the Soul

(Acts 2:1-11; 1Cor.12:3b-7, 12-13; Jn.20:19-23)

Houses and homes often appear in Scripture. St Paul speaks of the temporary tents we occupy here on earth (2Cor.5:1), and Jesus says it’s a wise man who builds his house on rock (Mt.7:24). 

St Teresa of Avila also refers to houses or homes in her spiritual writings.  She describes the soul as an interior castle with many rooms, and she speaks of her own spiritual life ‘becoming solid like a house’. [i]

In her book The House of the Soul (1930), the English mystic Evelyn Underhill (1875-1941) continues this tradition.  She says that the soul lives in a two-storey house. [ii]

In this two-storey house, the ground floor represents our ordinary physical lives and day-to-day concerns, while the upper floor represents our spiritual selves.  Upstairs is where we’re invited to meet and spend time with God, and learn his deepest truths about ourselves.

But many people, Underhill says, only live downstairs and rarely or perhaps never visit their upper room.  They don’t see the extraordinary views from their upstairs windows, and they miss out on the great joys stored up there. 

And there are others, she says, who only live upstairs and refuse to go down below. They prefer to remain aloof, avoiding the practical and earthy side of human life.

But these two floors are connected; they work together and support each other.  The upper rooms are entirely supported by the lower ones, and the lower rooms are protected from the elements by those above.

The ideal, she says, is for every mature soul to occupy their entire house.  They’ll make the best use of both floors, by letting both the natural and the supernatural flow freely through their lives. 

The truth is, you really can’t live a complete life by ignoring one floor of the house of your soul.

In today’s first reading, the disciples are once again hiding in their Upper Room, the same place they locked themselves in after Jesus’ death. They don’t know what to do with themselves. They’ve all tasted the mystery of Jesus, but they don’t know how to integrate that remarkable experience into their ordinary lives. 

They’re stuck in the upper room of their souls and just don’t know how to live downstairs. 

Then suddenly, a noise like a mighty wind fills the house. 

Tongues of fire rest above each of the apostles, and they’re all filled with the Holy Spirit.  Instantly, their lives are transformed and they start living their lives with energy and purpose.

Outside, it’s festival season as thousands of people crowd the streets of Jerusalem for the Feast of Shavuot (known as Pentecost in Greek).  They’re celebrating both the end of the summer harvest, and God’s gift of the Torah to Moses on Mount Sinai.

This is the perfect time for the Apostles to start their new ministry.  Filled with the Holy Spirit, they go down into the streets and they boldly tell everyone about Jesus Christ.  Despite all the different languages, everyone in the crowd can understand them and 3,000 people become Christians that day. 

The Christian Church is off to a great start.  (This is why Pentecost is often called ‘the Church’s birthday’).

Jesus had promised his Apostles he would send them his Holy Spirit, and at Pentecost he does exactly that.  They’re all filled with the gifts of the Spirit. [iii]

In his book, Meeting God in the Upper Room, Peter Vaghi reminds us that the original Upper Room (the Cenacle) is the place where many significant things happened:  The Last Supper, the Washing of the Feet, the Institution of the Priesthood and the first Holy Eucharist.  It’s also the place where the Church was born and Jesus healed Thomas’ doubts.

It’s a real place, Vaghi says, but it’s also so much more than a historical location. That’s because inside each of us is our own ‘upper room’ where we experience the living presence of God.  Wherever we are, whenever we take the time to find and speak and listen to God, we can experience his life-giving, sacramental and transformative presence.

In 2014, Pope Francis said, ‘How much love and goodness has flowed from the Upper Room!  How much charity has gone forth from here, like a river from its source, beginning as a stream and then expanding and becoming a great torrent. All the saints drew from this source…’ [iv]

In the house of our soul, each of us needs to spend time in our own personal upper room, discovering Jesus and receiving his Holy Spirit.

It’s the place where extraordinary things begin.


[ii] Evelyn Underhill, The House of the Soul.  Methuen & Co, London. 1933.

[iii] Isaiah 11:2-3 lists seven gifts of the Spirit: wisdom, understanding, right judgement, courage, knowledge, reverence, and fear of the Lord (which really means wonder and awe).

[iv] Peter J Vaghi, Meeting God in the Upper Room. Servant, Franciscan Media, Cincinatti OH. 2017 (eBook).

Year A – Ascension Sunday

On Liminal Space

(Acts 1:1-11; Eph.1:17-23; Mt.28:16-20)

Last week I spoke about our comfort zones, where we often erect invisible barriers to stop ourselves from doing new things.  Why do we do that?  It’s usually because of fear.

But here’s the point: if we want to live life to the full, then we must be open to new things.   

When we step outside our comfort zones, what do we enter?  We go through a kind of doorway or threshold into something new. We step into a new beginning.

We enter into liminal space. 

Liminal space is an in-between place.  It occurs when we leave our comfort zones and we find a gap between what we’ve just left behind and where we’re heading. Dawn and dusk are both liminal spaces; they sit between night and day.  We know what’s behind us, but we don’t quite know what’s ahead. 

The word ‘liminal’ comes from the Latin ‘limen’, which means ‘threshold’ or a beginning place. [i]

When you’re off to a new school, or when you get married, move house, find a new job or retire, you’re entering into liminal space.  When you’re new to your parish, you’re in liminal space. You’re in-between because the future is unclear.

Liminal spaces involve waiting and being patient. This makes some people nervous.  They’d rather go back to where they used to be.  But liminal spaces are the places where we grow and develop and change.

Just before Jesus says goodbye to his disciples and ascends into heaven, he tells them to ‘Go and make disciples of all nations’ (Mt.28:19). 

This frightens them, for it’s unfamiliar territory.  It’s liminal space.  But Jesus tells them to wait, to be patient and to stay in Jerusalem (Lk.24:49).  They do wait, of course.  But they’re so scared that they lock themselves in the Upper Room (Jn.20:19).  Jesus knows this.  That’s why he promises to send his Holy Spirit to help them (Jn.14:16).

Now, Jesus’ Ascension into heaven marks a new beginning for him.  With his earthly mission over, he has a new ministry in heaven.  Because he is no longer confined by space and time, he becomes available to everyone, everywhere, all at once, including through the sacraments.

But for Jesus, liminal space is not an issue.  That’s because he’s united with the Holy Spirit in the Trinity.  So, he starts his new mission right away. 

For the disciples, Jesus’ Ascension is also a new beginning.  But they don’t know how to start.  They’re trapped in no-man’s land.  It’s only when they receive Jesus’ Holy Spirit at Pentecost that they receive the courage they need to go out and baptise all nations.

The Franciscan theologian Richard Rohr describes liminal space as the place ‘where we’re betwixt and between the familiar and the completely unknown … Our old world is left behind, but we’re not yet sure of the new existence’.

‘However,’ he says, ‘that’s a good space where genuine newness can begin … This is the sacred space where the old world is able to fall apart, and a bigger world is revealed’ to us.

He describes this threshold as ‘God’s waiting room’, where we’re taught openness and patience.  He says ‘these liminal spaces are everywhere and they’re inevitable, as each one ushers in a new chapter of our lives and holds varying degrees of disruption’. [ii]

So, what about you?  Are you facing a new beginning?  Are you caught in liminal space?  And does it scare you?

We can learn from Jesus’ disciples.  They waited, and the Holy Spirit came to release them from being ‘in-between’.  The Spirit gave them the power they needed to begin again.

According to Bishop Robert Barron, the Holy Spirit is the fuel of the Church. It’s the energy and the life-force of the body of Christ, and the only way to get that Holy Spirit is by asking for it.

Jesus promised that his Father would never refuse anyone who asks for the Holy Spirit (Lk.11:13).  ‘So ask!’ he says, ‘and ask again!’

Robert Barron also says that every liturgy is a begging for the Holy Spirit. He quotes Fr. Ted Hesburgh of Notre Dame University, who once said that the one prayer that’s always appropriate, whether you’re experiencing success or failure, whether you’re confident or afraid, whether you’re young or old, is, ‘Come, Holy Spirit’. 

‘This,’ he says, ‘is the fundamental prayer of the church’. [iii]

So, if you’re out of your comfort zone.  If you’re struggling in some liminal space somewhere – between what used to be and what isn’t here just yet – then ask the Holy Spirit for his help.  Pray ‘Come, Holy Spirit!’ 

Ask Our Father to send his Holy Spirit to help you. 

That’s how to begin again.

[i] Richard Rohr, ‘Yes, And …’ Franciscan Media, Cincinatti OH. 2013:175.



Year A – 6th Sunday of Easter

On Our Comfort Zones

(Acts 8:5-8, 14-17; 1Pet.3:15-18; Jn.14:15-21)

In 2018, scientists at Yale University found that when monkeys face a test with obvious results, parts of their brains basically shut down.  It was only when they faced the unpredictable, when they left their comfort zones, that their brains lit up and they started learning. [i] 

It’s the same with us. Inside our comfort zones, invisible barriers stop us from doing or learning anything new.  And our brains switch off.  It’s like being in a cocoon, a cage or a shell – we’re separated from the real world.  However:

If caterpillars don’t leave cocoons, butterflies cannot fly. 
If birds don’t leave their cages, they cannot taste the sky.
If crabs don’t leave their shells, they cannot grow; they die.

We’re not meant to be locked away.  We’re meant to live life to the full! 

Shonda Rhimes is the creator of the TV show Grey’s Anatomy.  In a 2015 interview about her autobiography, The Year of Yes, [ii] she said, ‘My sister said to me, “You never say yes to anything”.  By that she meant I never accepted any invitations… I never go anywhere.  I never do anything.  All I did was go to work and come home.  And she was right.  My life had gotten really small.

‘Once I realised that she was right,’ she said, ‘I was going to say yes to all the things that scared me, that made me nervous …  Anything that took me out of my comfort zone I was going to do it, if asked to do it.’ [iii]

That was quite a challenge.  But as Christians, the important thing isn’t saying ‘yes’ to just anything, but saying ‘yes’ to God – because the aim is to create a better world.

In 2005, at the start of his pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI said, ‘Christ did not promise an easy life. Those who desire comforts have dialled the wrong number.  Rather, he shows us the way to great things, to the good (and) towards an authentic human life’. [iv]

In other words, God is inviting us to achieve greatness, to live extraordinary lives, by stepping outside our comfort zones and helping Jesus with his work.

In John’s gospel today, Jesus is in the Upper Room in Jerusalem, talking to his disciples.  He knows they’re worried.  For three years he has led them and loved them.  They feel safe with him, but it’s time for Jesus to go, and it’s time for them to take up his mission.  This means they must leave their comfort zones, but they’re scared.  So, Jesus makes three promises: 

Firstly, he promises to send his Holy Spirit to be with them.  His Spirit will give his disciples all the strength and inspiration they need to continue his work. Of course, we are Jesus’ disciples today, so he’s speaking to us, too.

Secondly, Jesus promises, ‘I’ll not leave you orphans: I will come to you’. Here, he’s referring to his Resurrection, when he will return on Easter Sunday.  He’s also referring to the way that he is always present to us in the Holy Eucharist, offering us his strength and love and the promise of eternal life.

And thirdly, Jesus promises his disciples that if we keep his commandments, he and his Father will reveal themselves to us. 

What he means is that if we love Jesus and live the way he wants us to, then the Father, Son and Holy Spirit will make their home in us.  They’ll help us see things in new ways, and they’ll make their presence in our lives clear to us. 

Now, these are remarkable promises, but they mean we must be prepared to change, to live our lives in new and better ways.

Someone once said that life begins outside our comfort zone.  If that’s true, then living inside our comfort zone really isn’t living at all. 

In 2005, Pope Benedict XVI said: ‘If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed. Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation.

‘And so,’ he continued, ‘today I say to you, don’t be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything. When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ – and you will find true life. [v]

God created the birds, but he didn’t make the cages.  It’s people who make cages, and too many of us choose to live in them. 

It’s time to set ourselves free. 

Let’s accept this challenge, and live as Jesus wants us to.






Year A – 5th Sunday of Easter

On Wasted Time

[Acts 6:1-7; 1Pet.2:4-9; Jn.14:1-12]

If time is life, why do we waste so much of it? 

Many of us worry about wasting what little time we have.  We worry about being too idle or too disorganised, or spending too much time doing meaningless things.  What can we do about it?

Years ago, my father told me that if you want to avoid wasting time, then find yourself a good purpose.  A good purpose, he said, is like a compass – it gives direction to your life.  It gives you reason to get up each day, and it helps you set your priorities. 

I’ve since learnt that for our purpose to be meaningful, it should not focus on material things (such joys are always short-lived).  And importantly, our purpose shouldn’t be selfish; it’s not about our own pleasure. Good purpose is about pursuing something beyond ourselves, giving joy to others (Prov.19:21).

The BBC journalist, Malcolm Muggeridge (1903-90), lived a full and famous life, yet he called his autobiography ‘Chronicles of Wasted Time’.  Why?  It’s because he was slow to discover the true meaning and purpose of his life. [i]

He had long been an atheist, but his life changed when he met Mother Teresa in India in 1968.  He made a TV program about her, called Something Beautiful for God.  It was this program that introduced Mother Teresa to the world and made her famous.    Each morning he went to Mass with her and saw how she drew extraordinary strength and love from the Holy Eucharist.

Muggeridge and his wife Kitty joined the Church in 1982.   It was the most profound moment in his life, he said.  He felt ‘… a sense of homecoming, of picking up the threads of a lost life, of responding to a bell that has long been ringing, of finding a place at a table that has long been left vacant’. [ii]

Someone else who wasted too much of his life was Matthew Talbot (1856-1925).  Born into a family struggling with poverty and alcoholism, he soon became an alcoholic himself.  One night in 1884, he found himself totally penniless and unable to buy a drink.  He went home and promised his mother he’d ‘take the pledge’.  He never drank again.

‘I was terribly fond of drink,’ he said, ‘but God gave me the grace to give it up; it was a great struggle for me’. He returned to the Church and became very devout in the practice of his faith, spending long hours in prayer and study.

He also devoted his life to helping others, despite his own poverty.  

In his later years, he used whatever he had (even selling his own coat) to pay for church flowers, to help an elderly lady and to support the missions in Nigeria and China. He supported several convents, an orphanage and the preservation of holy shrines in Palestine.  His donations were typically anonymous. [iii]

Matt Talbot was ashamed of the years he had wasted, but his newfound purpose gave meaning and structure to his life, and great joy to others.

In John’s Gospel today, Jesus is at the Last Supper talking to his disciples.  It’s the night before he dies and his disciples are worried.  They know he’s leaving.  But Jesus says, ‘Don’t let your hearts be troubled … trust in me … I’m going on ahead to prepare a place for you in heaven’.

Here, Jesus is saying two things to us:  Firstly, we must stop wasting time on our selfish desires.  It’s time to trust Jesus and his plans for us.

Secondly, we must recognise that our earthly life is only temporary, for our real home is in heaven.  Deep down, we know that’s true, don’t we?  We know our time is limited, and that’s why we worry about wasting it.

And Jesus says something else we need to hear: that he’s the way, the truth and the life. 

He’s the way, because it’s through Jesus that God helps us discover meaning and purpose in our lives.

He’s the truth, because it’s through Jesus that God reveals himself to us. 

And he’s the life, because Jesus shows us how we should live.

If we’re serious about making the best use of our time, then we must find meaningful purpose for ourselves – good purpose that gives joy to others.  The challenge may seem daunting, but remember that Jesus will help us find it, and the Holy Spirit will help us achieve it.

So, what’s your good purpose in life?

Let me close with a short poem by GK Chesterton.  It’s called Evening:

‘Here ends another day,
during which I have had eyes, ears, hands
and a great world around me.
Tomorrow begins another day.
Why am I allowed two?’ [iv]


[ii] Muggeridge, M. Confessions of a 20th-Century Pilgrim, San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988:13.



Year A – 4th Sunday of Easter

On Good Shepherds

(Acts 2:14a, 36-41; 1Pet.2:20b-25; Jn.10:1-10)

In his novella The Good Shepherd, Gunnar Gunnarsson tells the story of Benedikt, a simple man who risks his life to round up other people’s lost sheep in the highlands of Iceland. [i]

He does this every year, in the dead of winter, accompanied by his faithful dog Leo and his companion sheep, Gnarly.  Like a Holy Trinity, they venture out into the Icelandic wilderness, searching for sheep before it’s too late.  ‘They shouldn’t die of exposure or starve to death up in the mountains,’ he says, ‘solely because nobody could be bothered, or dared, to search them out and bring them to safety.’  Benedikt is a saintly man on a holy mission. 

Throughout history, many saints began life as shepherds.  Great biblical figures like Abraham, Abel, Moses and David were all shepherds.  So were St Patrick of Ireland, St Peter Chanel, St Bernadette of Lourdes, and Sts Francisco and Jacinta Marto of Fatima, among many others. [ii]

What is it, then, about shepherding that prepares a person for sainthood?  Is it the earthy humility?  Is it the time it allows for solitude and prayerful contemplation?  Or does the experience of guiding, protecting, nourishing and healing an ovine flock help form a person for pastoral service?

The pre-eminent shepherd, however, the one who sets the standard for us all to follow, is Jesus Christ himself.  In one of his seven ‘I am’ statements in John’s Gospel, Jesus clearly tells us, ‘I am the good shepherd’ (Jn.10:11). 

Why does he call himself that?  It’s because he risks his life for his sheep.

Jesus says there’s a big difference between a shepherd and a hired hand (Jn.10:12-13).  A hired hand doesn’t own his flock; he has other priorities.  When the wolf comes, he runs away leaving the flock untended and vulnerable.

The Good Shepherd, however, has no greater priority.  His flock is his life. He loves his sheep and he’ll never leave them for fear or temptation.  That’s why Jesus lays down his life on the Cross.  He simply cannot abandon his people. 

Jesus knows his flock intimately.  He knows our names and our needs.  He knows our words before we say them.  He knows every hair on our heads (Ps.139:1-24; Lk.12:7).  ‘My sheep hear my voice,’ he says, ‘I know them and they follow me’ (Jn.10:27). 

The mark of a good shepherd is that he will always tend to the whole flock, while caring for each sheep.  The more compassion he has for each individual, the healthier and happier the flock will be. 

But Jesus warns that there are thieves and brigands about who masquerade as shepherds, killing, stealing and enriching themselves at the expense of others (cf. Ezek.34). 

That’s why, as St Peter says in our second reading today, Jesus left an example for us all to follow.  He wants us all to serve as good shepherds over the people and things entrusted to us.  Whether at home, at school, at work or elsewhere, we’re all called to reflect the love of Christ by guiding, protecting, nourishing and healing those for whom we have responsibility.

Many good shepherds have followed Jesus’ example in recent times.  Sister Dorothy Stang, the ‘Angel of the Amazon’, spent years working with the indigenous tribes of Brazil, teaching them how to confront illegal loggers, ranchers and local authorities who threatened their rainforest and their families.  She was murdered in 2005, at the age of 73. [iii]

The Filipino journalist and veterinarian Gerardo Ortega worked hard to protect ancient tribal lands on the island of Palawan.  Through his radio program, he criticised the destructive practices of the mining companies.  In 2011, just before launching his Ten Million Signature campaign, he was assassinated. [iv]

And in 1977, the quietly-spoken pastor Oscar Romero was installed as Archbishop in El Salvador.  After witnessing the assassination of a close friend, he began challenging the brutality of the country’s regime. He fought for the rights of his people and he loudly condemned the government’s policies.  In 1980, he was shot while celebrating Mass.  Enormous crowds attended his funeral.

Like Jesus Christ, these saintly people were not hired hands seeking personal gain.  They were driven by love to serve as good shepherds of their people. 

Genuine love, freely and unconditionally given, invariably involves some form of sacrifice.  The deeper the love, the greater the sacrifice. That’s why Jesus says there’s no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (Jn.15:13).

So, we are all called to be good shepherds: kind, forgiving, compassionate and merciful, just like Jesus.

And today, on this World Day of Prayer for Vocations, we remember that many people still need the love and protection of a good shepherd.

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

[i] Gunnar Gunnarsson, The Good Shepherd. Bjartur, Reykjavik, 2016.