Year A – 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time

On Welcoming the Stranger

(2Kgs.4:8-11, 14-16; Rom.6:3-4, 8-11; Mt.10:37-42)

The way strangers are treated varies between cultures.  Some years ago in Alaska, our B&B hosts promised to collect us from the small-town airport. They didn’t, so we had to walk.  We arrived hot and thirsty, and asked if we could have a cup of tea.  The answer was no.

Compare that to our visit to India for a wedding.  We didn’t know the bride’s father, but he phoned us just as we entered our hotel, saying that he’d pay all our expenses while we were in town.  He even provided a car and driver! 

This Indian welcome taught me that that true hospitality isn’t just warm and generous; it also includes a delightful surprise.

People in Western society are generally friendly and polite towards strangers, but don’t go much beyond that.  In many other cultures, however, hospitality is a sacred duty and the host is obliged to offer the stranger food, shelter and safety.

Paul Coelho tells the story of two men crossing a desert.  They saw a Bedouin’s tent and asked him for shelter.  He didn’t know them, but welcomed them as nomads did in their culture: a camel was killed and its meat was served in a sumptuous dinner.

The next day, the guests stayed on and the Bedouin had another camel killed.  Astonished, they protested that they’d not finished eating the one killed the day before.  ‘It would be a disgrace to serve my guests old meat,’ he replied.

On the third day, the two strangers woke early and decided to resume their journey.  As the Bedouin wasn’t home, they gave his wife a hundred dinars and apologised for not waiting, but they wanted to avoid the hot sun.

After four hours’ travel, a voice called out to them.  It was the Bedouin.  As soon as he caught up with them, he threw the money to the ground. ‘I gave you such a warm welcome! Aren’t you ashamed of yourselves?’

Surprised, the strangers said the camels were surely worth far more than that, but they had little money.

‘I’m not talking about the amount,’ he said.  ‘The desert welcomes Bedouins wherever they go, and never asks anything in return. If we had to pay, how could we live?  Welcoming you to my tent is like paying back a fraction of what life has given us.’ [i]

Hospitality, then, is far more than just courtesy. Indeed, in ancient Israel, strangers were often seen as messengers of God’s blessing (Heb.13:2). 

In today’s first reading, the prophet Elisha arrives in Shuman and a lady warmly greets him.  She knows he’s a holy man, and invites him to stay whenever he’s in town.  Elisha is grateful and wants to do something in return.  When he learns that she and her husband have no sons, he prophesies that God will reward her by giving her a son.  His prophecy is fulfilled.

In Christianity, hospitality isn’t something you sometimes do.  It’s a way of life, because God can be found in everyone. That’s why Jesus says in today’s Gospel, ‘Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.’  In Matthew 25:40 he says something similar: ‘Whatever you do to the least of my brothers you do to me’. 

In other words, the way we treat the stranger is how we treat God. But is this how we live today? 

Flor McCarthy writes that winter was over, and everyone in the street rejoiced.  They drew back their curtains and opened their windows.  Fresh air, sunlight and warmth poured into their homes.  ‘Thank God for spring!  Thank God for the sunshine!’ they exclaimed.

Then a beggar man appeared.  Everyone saw him.  All down the street, the windows quickly closed, the curtains were drawn and the doors were locked.  The beggar man knocked on every door, but not one opened for him.

Forlornly, he left and went somewhere else. Then the curtains, the doors and the windows were all opened up again. The sunshine poured in, and again all the people rejoiced. [ii]

In Greek, hospitality is philoxenia (xenia means foreigner or stranger, and philo means love).  So, we’re all meant to love strangers. 

Years ago, people used to actively socialise at church dances, dinner parties, bridge nights and other such events.  This rarely happens today. We’re all so much more isolated than before. Sure, social media might be everywhere, but online communities aren’t real. 

We are actually a lonely people, and yet, we were made to love and our hearts crave meaningful relationships. 

True hospitality means recognising God’s presence in others, and nourishing that presence. 

When we are truly welcoming, the stranger is no longer a foreigner but a friend who’s always welcome.  Just like Elisha.

What shall we do about it?


[ii] Flor McCarthy, New Sunday & Holy Day Liturgies Year A.  Dominican Publications, Dublin. 2019:241.

Year A – 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time

On a Little Chinese Girl

(Jer.20:10-13; Rom.5:12-15; Mt.10:26-33)

Archbishop Fulton Sheen (1895-1979) was a popular theologian on TV and radio. Shortly before his death, he was asked, ‘Bishop Sheen, you’ve inspired millions of people all over the world. Who inspired you?’

He replied that it wasn’t a Pope, a Bishop, or even a priest or a nun. It was a little Chinese girl, eleven years of age. He explained that when the Communists took over China in 1949, they imprisoned a priest in his own rectory near his church.

After they locked him up, the priest was horrified to look out his window and see the Communists enter the church and break into the tabernacle. In a hateful act, they threw the ciborium onto the floor and all the consecrated hosts spilled out. The priest knew exactly how many hosts there were: thirty-two.

When the Communists left, they seemed not to notice a small girl praying at the back of the church.  She saw it all.

That night the little girl returned to the church.  Slipping past the guard at the priest’s house, she entered the church and there she made a holy hour of prayer, an act of love to make up for that act of hatred.  Then she went into the sanctuary, knelt down, bent over and with her tongue she received Jesus in Holy Communion.  In those days, laypeople weren’t allowed to touch the sacred host with their hands.

She returned every night to pray for an hour and to receive Jesus in Holy Communion on her tongue.  On the thirty-second night, after consuming the last host, she accidentally made a noise and woke the sleeping guard. He caught her and beat her to death with the butt of his rifle.  The priest saw this heroic act of martyrdom from his window and was grief-stricken.

Archbishop Sheen said he was so inspired by this story that he promised God he’d make a holy hour of prayer before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament every day of his life.  He thought that if that little Chinese girl could risk her life every day to express her love for Jesus, then at the very least he should do the same.

If that little child could give witness to the world concerning the Real Presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, then he should do it, too.

From that moment on, he said, he would not be afraid to speak out about the love of Jesus. That little girl had showed him what true courage really is; how faith could overcome all fear, and how true love for Jesus in the Eucharist must transcend life itself. [i]

In every place, and in every age, the world needs authentic witnesses who will attest to the truth of Jesus Christ.

That’s what Jesus is talking about in Matthew’s Gospel today.  He’s preparing his twelve disciples for their mission and he warns them that some people will reject their message about God and his love. You’ll be scorned and threatened, he says, but you must speak out boldly anyway.

Matthew wrote his Gospel in about 85AD, a time when the early Church was heavily persecuted.  It seems that things haven’t much changed, because Christianity is still under pressure today.  Christians are the most persecuted religious group in the world.[ii]  Last year, over 260 million Christians in 70 countries were persecuted for their faith. 2,983 were killed, 3,711 were arrested and 9,488 Christian churches and buildings were damaged or destroyed. [iii]

In Australia and many other Western nations, we’re fortunate that opposition to Christianity isn’t quite so obvious, but it still exists.  We see it in our politics and in the media.  And it’s even in our families, where there’s often a subtle or even a not-so subtle rejection of our faith (Ps.68:7-9).  Jesus faced the same thing in his own family (Mt.13:57; Jn.7.5; Mk.3:21).

All through history, many remarkable people have had the courage to witness to their Christian faith.  Some were public figures like Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King and Archbishop Fulton Sheen himself. Others were ordinary citizens, like this little Chinese girl.  It’s because of them that we know about Jesus today. 

To live any kind of meaningful life requires courage.  But to live a Christian life today calls for a special kind of courage.  Three times in today’s Gospel, Jesus says ‘do not be afraid’. In fact, that phrase is repeated 366 times in the Bible. [iv]

Fear is something we all have to cope with.  It’s a barrier we all must overcome if we are to accomplish anything in life. 

And how might we do that?   By trusting God.  It’s not enough just to believe in God.  We must trust him, too.  We must really put our faith in him. 

Jesus tells us that God knows every detail of our lives, and he promises to protect us. Yes, others can be hurtful, but they cannot touch our souls (Mt.10:28).

So, have courage.  Trust in our loving God. 

And inspire others to do the same.




[iv] Flor McCarthy, New Sunday & Holy Day Liturgies, Year A. Dominican Publications, Dublin, 2019:234

Year A – Corpus Christi

On Baking Bread and Breaking Bread

(Deut.8:2-3, 14-16; 1Cor.10:16-17; Jn.6:51-58)

Home-baking has become very popular lately.  Lots of people are now baking wholesome loaves of golden goodness at home.

It’s a rewarding thing to do as our world descends into fear and uncertainty.  Breadmaking soothes the nerves and it engages all the senses.  It also only requires four basic ingredients: flour, water, salt and yeast. Indeed, few things in life are as comforting as a fine loaf of freshly baked bread.

This wholesome new trend reminds us that the simple things are often the most satisfying. The home baker can’t take all the credit, though, because the soil, sun and rain – and the farmer, miller and merchant – all contribute to each loaf. 

Bread, then, is so much more than just food. It’s the fruit of the earth and a gift from God, because none of this would be possible without him. [i]  Indeed, the Bible mentions bread almost 500 times.

In today’s first reading, Moses reminds the Israelites that man does not live on bread alone.  It’s God who fed them manna in the desert, and it’s God who provides for all their needs. [ii]

This manna satisfies physical hunger only briefly, and must be eaten again.  But the living bread Jesus offers in John’s Gospel today satisfies his disciples’ deepest desires forever.  ‘I’m the living bread come down from heaven,’ he says, ‘the bread that gives eternal life’.

Then he adds, ‘Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you’.  These words have startled some people, but Anthony Oelrich in his book Feeding on the Bread of Life says that Jesus is using them deliberately, to confront us with the dramatic absoluteness of his claim. [iii]

In the Hebrew culture ‘flesh and blood’ refers to the whole person.  So, Jesus is inviting his followers to unite themselves with him by taking into themselves all that he is and does and says.

Approaching Jesus in the Bread of Life, Oelrich says, means being ready to consume the whole of his teaching, life, passion and death.  It means a whole new way of living:  no longer living our own lives, but living the life of Christ in us, changing us and transforming us into his very self. 

And in describing the bread he offers as ‘my flesh for the life of the world’, Jesus is alluding to his death, in which he will sacrifice his human life so that we might share in his divine life.

In 2018, Pope Francis said that this bread of life, this sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ, is given to us freely at the table of the Eucharist.  Every time we take part in Holy Mass, he says, we anticipate heaven on earth, because from the Eucharistic food we learn what eternal life is. It’s to live for the Lord: ‘He who eats me will live because of me’ (Jn.6:57).

It’s not about material food, but about a living and life-giving bread which communicates the very life of God. By nourishing ourselves with this food, he says, we can enter into full harmony with the living Christ, who transforms us and prepares us for Heaven. [iv]

Now, every loaf of bread contains grains that have been harvested, gathered together and ground into flour.  St Paul in our second reading uses this image to symbolise our unity in Christ, in which even the smallest of grains play an important role.

But the Eucharist isn’t just where we celebrate our union with Christ. Henri Nouwen says that the Eucharist also creates this unity. By eating from the same bread and drinking from the same cup, we become the body of Christ present in the world.  And just as Christ becomes really present to us in the breaking of the bread, so we become really present to one another as brothers and sisters of Christ, members of the same body. [v]

However, this breaking of the bread is not just so that it may be shared. Jesus was ‘broken’ on the Cross before he could become our food. And while we do receive all his humanity and divinity in the Eucharistic bread, he actually comes to us broken and humbled.

We, who are broken and humbled by the challenges of our own lives, are nourished and strengthened through the brokenness of the Bread of Life.

Yes, bread is so much more than just food. The celebration of the Eucharist is at the heart of the life of the Church, and because we all share in the one Eucharistic bread, it’s the sign and the source of our unity.

But remember this: we can’t truly be united with Jesus without being united with each other. 

That’s because Christ’s body is the Church, and whatever I do to his body, his people, I do to him (Mt.25:40-45). [vi]

[i] This truth is beautifully reflected in our Offertory prayer at Mass: ‘Blessed are you, Lord of all creation, for through your goodness we have received the bread we offer you, fruit of the earth and work of human hands, it will become for us the bread of life’.

[ii] Dr Laurie Woods (Australian Catholic University) says the name ‘manna’ probably comes from the question in Hebrew, ‘What is it?’ (‘Manu’). It’s mentioned in Num.11:7 as being like coriander seed that the Israelites ground and baked into cakes. Because it seemed to fall with the dew at night and was gathered in the morning, they called it ‘bread from heaven’.

[iii] Anthony Oelrich, Feeding on the Bread of Life. Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN. 2014:68.


[v] Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey. Darton Longman & Todd, London, 1996:314.

[vi] Peter Kreeft, Ask Peter Kreeft. Sophia Institute Press, Manchester NH, 2019:94.

Year A – Trinity Sunday

On Rublev’s Trinity

(Ex.34:4-6, 8-9; 2Cor.13:11-13; Jn.3:16-18)

Today I’d like to explore the nature of the Holy Trinity through Rublev’s Trinity, the famous icon painted by the Russian monk Andrei Rublev in 1410.  It’s kept in the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. [i]

It depicts a scene from Genesis, in which three angels visit Abraham at the Oak of Mamre, to tell him about the birth of Isaac (Gen.18:1-8).  They’re sitting around Abraham’s table, enjoying his hospitality.

These visitors aren’t just angels, however.  They’re the three persons of the Trinity.  From left to right, they are God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.  They’re sitting in a balanced triangle, none more important than the other.  Each holds a staff pointing towards both heaven and earth, indicating their shared authority. Their wings and haloes indicate their holiness.

Now, notice their faces: they look like matching triplets. And notice their similar garments. Blue is the colour of heaven, while gold represents their royalty. 

Click image for a larger version

But each person is also wearing something different.  The Holy Spirit, on the right, has a green cloak.  Green is the colour of new life, and in the Nicene Creed we describe the Holy Spirit as the ‘Lord, the Giver of Life’.   

Jesus, in the centre, has a dark red robe.  This earthy colour points to his incarnation as an ordinary man, and it represents the blood of his crucifixion.

On the left, God the Father is wearing a translucent cloak.  This symbolises his eternal glory, but also the fact that we can’t see him in this life.

Abraham’s rectangular table represents our world of time and space.  But it’s also a communion table, like our altar, with a chalice on it.  Jesus is pointing to it with two fingers, representing his two natures – human and divine.  He’s also pointing to the Holy Spirit who fills Jesus’ disciples with love.

Now look at the way they’re sitting.  They’re all angled towards each other. Jesus and the Holy Spirit are both looking at the Father, while the Father looks back at them.  They’re peaceful, united and totally in love.

Behind Jesus is a tree which represents the Oak of Mamre, where this story takes place.  It reminds us of the Tree of Life in Revelation 22:2, which produces twelve different kinds of fruit and has leaves which are perfect for healing. 

It also points to the wood of the Cross on which Jesus died for us.

Behind the Father is a house, symbolising divine hospitality.  In John 14:2, Jesus says his Father’s house has many rooms which he will prepare for us when our time comes.

Now, look carefully.  The inner line of the body and legs of the Father and the Spirit forms the shape of a Eucharistic cup, and Jesus is inside it.

You can also see that the outline of their bodies makes a circle, which represents the Eucharistic host, the consecrated Body of Christ we receive at Holy Communion, which is God himself (Mt.26:26-28).  It also represents their holy communion, their perfect union as one Trinitarian God, united in love.   

But why does God take the form of three persons?  Richard Rohr says that for God to be good, God can be one.  For God to be loving, God has to be two because love is a relationship.  But for God to be supreme joy and happiness, God has to be three.  That’s because lovers do not know full happiness until they both delight in the same thing. [ii]

Put another way, the Father is the lover, the Son is the beloved, and the Holy Spirit is the fruit of that love.  And they want us to join them.  Look at the Holy Spirit’s hand.  He’s pointing to the space at the front, and inviting us to join their divine communion. 

At the front of the table, do you see that little rectangle?  There was once a mirror there, which served as an invitation to us to enter into this divine circle.  Whoever saw this icon could see themselves reflected in it. [iii]

In Byzantine art, the viewer always forms part of the icon, so there are at least four figures in this picture.  And we directly face Jesus, because he’s the only person of the Trinity we can really know in this life. 

Indeed, whenever we come forward for the Holy Eucharist, we’re received into the divine communion of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

In our increasingly fragmented world, where tension and conflict between people and nations are growing, it’s important to remember that we’ve all been created in God’s image.

God lives in loving communion, and right now he’s calling us to wholeness.

He’s inviting us to join his circle of perfect, selfless love. [iv]

How will you respond?

[i] I took this photo myself in 2018, when I visited the gallery in Moscow.  The icon is much larger than I expected.

[ii] Richard Rohr, Yes, And … Franciscan Media, Cincinatti OH. 2013:100.

[iii] Richard Rohr, The Divine Dance. Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, London.  2016:30-31.

[iv] For further insights, go to