Year A – 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time

On the Clairvoyant’s Message

 [1Kgs.3:5, 7-12; Rom.8:28-30; Mt.13:44-52]

Is the grass really greener on the other side?  Many people wonder about that. Their lives might be relatively comfortable, but they feel restless and uncertain, and they worry that they might be missing out on something.

It’s called the Grass is Greener Syndrome, and it’s driven by our doubts and our fears that our job, relationship or situation isn’t quite good enough for us.

Consider the story of the farmer who owned a small farm.  His land was stony, but he worked hard, and for a while he was happy and contented.  But then he began to feel that something was missing.  There must be more to life, he thought.

One evening a stranger arrived and asked for a night’s stay.  The farmer welcomed him; he’d been hoping for some company and excitement.

Around the fire that night, the stranger talked about diamonds and said that if he could find a diamond the size of a small fingernail, he’d never have to work again.

The next day, the stranger left, leaving the farmer unhappy and restless. As the days passed, he became more and more restless and he started neglecting his farm.  Finally, he sold it off cheaply, and began searching the country for diamonds.  He travelled far but found none. 

Meanwhile, the man who bought his farm worked hard.  One day, while out ploughing, he discovered a stone that shone in the sunlight.  It turned out to be a diamond. There were many more there, and it became one of the richest diamond mines in South Africa. [i]

Like the Prodigal Son, this farmer had squandered all he had to seek greener pastures.  The irony is that if he’d kept working, he’d have discovered those diamonds for himself. 

Many people are like this today.  They might work hard, but they don’t have the wisdom to recognise the treasures they already have or what’s important in life.

In today’s first reading, God appears to young King Solomon in a dream and says, ‘Ask me what I should give you’. 

Now, Solomon can ask for anything he likes: fabulous wealth, a long life, or even great power, but he doesn’t.  What he asks for is a heart of wisdom.  He wants to be a good leader, for his people are his treasure.

God likes this answer and he gives him a heart that’s wiser than anyone else’s.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus shares his parable of the poor workman who accidentally discovers treasure buried in a field. The excited workman sells everything he has, buys the field and the treasure is all his.

Jesus also gives us his parable of the rich merchant who searches for and finds a rare pearl.  He, too, sells everything he has to possess it.

Now, what is this treasure?  What is this pearl?   It’s the kingdom of heaven.  Many people think that God’s kingdom is somewhere up there in the sky, but it’s not a geographical place.  It’s a state of the heart.  It’s the power of God’s love working in our hearts, transforming our lives for the better.

The message from these parables is that the greatest treasure of all isn’t diamonds, pearls or money.  It’s the love of God, and it’s available to everyone, rich and poor alike, and we don’t have to go anywhere special to find it.  We can find it wherever we are in our ordinary lives. The workman found it while working; the merchant found it after a long search. 

But like young King Solomon, we need hearts of wisdom to recognise it.

Sir Douglas Bader, the British WWII flying ace, used to meet his friend Henry Longhurst regularly for drinks and conversation.  One afternoon in the 1970s, as Henry was dying of cancer, he said to Bader, ‘Old friend, there’s something I’ve always wondered’.

‘What’s that, Henry?’ Bader replied.

‘I’ve always wondered: Will the grass be greener on the other side?’

Neither man was particularly religious, and they talked for a while longer, but came to no conclusion.  Henry died that week, and Bader forgot about that conversation.

Months later, Bader was in London for a speaking engagement.  As he emerged from his taxi, there on the street was a woman, looking like a beggar.  She approached, and as Bader put his hand to his pocket, she said, ‘I don’t want your money. Are you Sir Douglas Bader?’ He said he was.

She said, “I’m a clairvoyant. I have a message from a friend of yours in the spirit world named Henry. I don’t have his last name, and I don’t know what the message means.

“He said, ‘Tell Bader: The grass is greener on the other side’.” [ii]

[i] Flor McCarthy, New Sunday and Holy Day Liturgies – Year A. Dominican Publications, Dublin. 2019:268-269.


Year A – 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time

On Weeds among the Wheat

[Wis.12:13, 16-19; Rom.8:26-27; Mt.13:24-43]

In Hans Christian Andersen’s tale, The Ugly Duckling, all the farm animals disliked one little duck. His mother wished he was miles away, and his siblings said, ‘Oh, how we wish the cat would catch you, you ugly thing.’ [i]

It was all a mistake, of course, because he was really a swan.  But isn’t this so common in life?  We often misunderstand; we often get things wrong. 

In 1963, in Fremantle WA, 19-year-old John Button was found guilty of murdering his girlfriend. Why? Because he had a bad stutter. The police interpreted this as nervous guilt, and Button served 5 years in prison before someone else confessed to the crime. [ii]

When we misinterpret people and situations, the results can be devastating.  They can also be far-reaching. 

As a student, Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948) liked reading the Gospels and he wondered if he’d found the answer to India’s caste system.  One day he decided to look into becoming a Christian.  He entered a church, but the usher refused to give him a seat.  He suggested that he worship with his own people instead.

Gandhi left the church and never returned. He said to himself, ‘If Christians also have caste differences, I might as well remain a Hindu’. [iii]

How do we avoid such mistakes?  Jesus talks about this today in his Parable of the Weeds.  It’s the story of a farmer who sows wheat across his field, but someone else has sown weeds there as well.  His workers ask if they should pull the weeds out.

Now, we’re all inclined to remove weeds as soon as possible, aren’t we? But this farmer says no. Why? It’s because the weeds in this story are called ‘darnel’ or ‘false wheat’.

Darnel was common in Israel. It’s a poisonous rye-grass that looks like wheat.  But as the plants grow together, the differences become clearer.  Wheat bends under its own weight while darnel keeps growing straight. By this time, however, their roots are so entangled that you can’t separate them without damaging the wheat. So, it’s better to leave them until harvest time.

This parable reminds us that whether we like it or not, we’re all living with weeds – with people and things we don’t like.  We can’t avoid it.  But we need to be patient, because we can’t always tell the difference between weeds and wheat. 

St John Vianney (1786-1859), the Curé of Ars, was a poor student in the seminary. He failed Theology, French and Latin, and, like a weed, he was told to leave. But that was a mistake, for he later received private tuition and he was ordained.  Now he’s the patron saint of all priests. 

His teachers should have been more patient with him, because what looked like a weed turned out to be very good wheat.

But this parable isn’t just about other people; it’s also about us.  We, too, have wheat and weeds mixed up inside ourselves. 

It’s significant that Jesus didn’t weed out Judas or Peter or any other disciple who disappointed him. He recognised their good qualities and he was patient with them. Thankfully, he’s also patient with us, because although we do have good qualities, we also have faults. 

In his book Weeds Among the Wheat, Thomas Green says that God leaves weeds inside us (our weaknesses), to keep us humble and to make us realise how much we need him and how helpless we are without his grace and power.  

‘The wheat of our virtues,’ he says, ‘including trust, humility and gratitude, could never come to full maturity without the weeds of our faults and failings.’ [iv] 

So, we must be patient with ourselves, and with others, just as God is patient with us. But there will be a harvest one day – at the end of our lives – and that’s when Jesus will separate the wheat from the weeds.

Here’s a final story.  Mulla Nasrudin decided to start a flower garden. He prepared the soil and he planted the seeds of many beautiful flowers.  But when they grew, his garden was filled not just with his flowers but also lots of dandelions.  He sought advice from gardeners near and far, and he tried everything to get rid of them, but to no avail.

Finally, he approached the royal gardener at the palace.  This wise old man had helped many gardeners before and he suggested several solutions, but Nasrudin had tried them all.  They sat together in silence for some time.

Then the gardener looked at Nasrudin and said, ‘Well then, I suggest you learn to live with dandelions.’ [v]

[i] Hans Christian Andersen, Hans Christian Andersen Tales, Word Cloud Classics, San Diego, 2014:161-169.



[iv] Thomas H Green, Weeds among the Wheat. Ave Maria Press, Notre Dame. 1984:145.

[v] Geoffrey Plant, Ascending the Mountain. John Garratt Publishing: Melbourne. 2010:160.

Year A – 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time

On Soils and Souls

(Is.55:10-11; Rom.8:18-23; Mt.13:1-23)

Max Lucado, the American pastor and writer, says he sometimes gives money away at the end of a sermon – not to pay people, but to make a point. He offers a small, but free gift of cash.  All anyone has to do is take it.

The response is predictable, he says.  There’s usually a pause, some shuffling of feet. A wife elbows her husband, and he shakes his head. A teen starts to stand and then remembers her reputation. A child starts walking down the aisle, but his mother pulls him back.  And finally, a brave (or impoverished) soul stands up and says, ‘I’ll take it!’ and the money is given.

‘Why didn’t you take my offer?’ he asks. Some say they were too embarrassed.  Others thought there might be a catch, or their wallets were already full. [i]

There are other reasons, too.  Like pride, because it takes some humility to accept a gift.  As well, a gift can imply the need for change, and some people just don’t like change.  And accepting a gift can mean opening up to the giver, and some people won’t open up to anyone.

So, there are two sides to gift-giving: there’s the giving and then there’s the receiving. Jesus talks about this today in his Parable of the Sower.

A farmer lavishly scatters his precious seeds wherever he goes.  Some seed falls on the pathway and is eaten by the birds.  Some falls on rocky ground and starts growing, but soon withers in the hot sun.  Some lands in the thorns, where it’s choked.  And some seed falls on rich soil, where it produces a great harvest of fruit.

Now, who is the sower?  It’s God himself, and the seed he’s sowing is his divine love.  He’s spreading it everywhere, all the time, through his creation and through the work of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.  It’s available to everyone, regardless of who we are.  And it’s not only free, but it’s also good and nourishing.

But it all depends on the soil.  And what is that soil?  It’s our hearts.  Are our hearts ready to accept this seed, this gift of God’s love?  Are our hearts deep and rich, like good soil?  Or are they hard and unyielding, like a roadway?

Are our hearts perhaps like rocky ground with shallow soil, where seeds struggle to put down roots?  Pope Francis says this rocky ground represents the person with a superficial heart, who receives Jesus and who wants to pray and love, but only when it suits him.  Such hearts will never bear fruit, he says.

Or are our hearts more like thorny ground, covered with brambles that choke the good plants?  Pope Francis says these brambles represent our worldly fixations, our desire for wealth and power. These things suffocate God’s growth in us.  We must get rid of these vices, he says, otherwise the seed of God’s love will never grow and blossom in us. [ii]

Now, note that no-one is forced to accept these divine seeds.  No-one has to accept God’s love. We’re all free to make our own choices. Love always respects freedom. [iii]

But God doesn’t give up.  As Isaiah says in today’s first reading, God’s word ultimately will be fruitful.  Like the rains that soften the earth and make it rich and fertile, so Jesus is constantly working in our lives, trying to break up the hard ground of our hearts.  He’s encouraging us to clear away the obstacles that choke our growth, preparing us for a rich harvest of love.  

Max Lucado says that after giving away his free cash, he makes the point that God’s grace is available to everyone, but only a few accept it.  Many people would rather sit and wait, and only a few choose to stand and trust.

That’s usually the end of it, he says, but on one occasion he later met a woman who had accepted his gift.

He asked her if she still had that money. ‘No,’ she replied.

‘Did you spend it?’

‘No, I gave it away,’ she said. ‘When I returned to my seat a youngster asked me if he could have it, and I said, sure, it was a gift to me; it’s a gift to you.’

Lucado thought that was wonderful.  As simply as she had received, she gave. As easily as it came, it went.

The boy didn’t beg, and she didn’t struggle. How could she, who had been given a gift, not give a gift in return?

Her heart was good, rich soil and already that small seed had produced fruit.

How would you describe the soil of your heart?

[i] Max Lucado, In the Grip of Grace, Word Publishing, 1996:109-110.

[ii] Pope Francis, Angelus Address: On the Parable of the Sower, St Peter’s Square, 16 July 2017

[iii] Pope Benedict XVI, Angelus Address, Castel Gondolfo, 10 July 2011

Year A – 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time

On a Higher Calling

(Zech.9:9-10; Rom.8:9, 11-13; Mt.11:25-30)

Have you heard the story of Ann Russell Miller?  She and her husband Richard were fabulously wealthy socialites who loved yachting in the Mediterranean, skiing in Austria and living in a mansion in San Francisco.

They were also devout Christians, and they vowed that when one of them died, the other would dedicate their life to God.  In 1984, Richard died of cancer and that left Ann with 10 children and 18 grandchildren.  But she kept her promise. 

In 1989, on her 60th birthday, she held a huge and lavish party for 800 friends in the Hilton Hotel ballroom.  She told them that the first two-thirds of her life had been devoted to the world, and the last third would be devoted to her soul.[i]

She also said to a friend, ‘I can do more for you by praying than any other way.’ She then gave everything away and joined a Carmelite monastery in Des Plaines, Illinois. 

Today she’s known as Sister Mary Joseph of the Trinity, and she lives a life of poverty, chastity and obedience behind cloister walls.  She wears a plain brown habit; she sleeps on a thin mattress on wooden planks and she eats simple vegetarian meals.  Her days are filled with prayer, making rosary beads and weeding the vegetable garden. Many thought she’d give up, but she hasn’t. [ii]

In a worldly sense, Ann Russell Miller had it all.  But there’s one thing she really craved, and that was her relationship with God.  To truly satisfy that craving, she knew she had to let everything else go.  

To those who live their lives for pleasure, power and material gain, what Ann did was radically counter-cultural. 

The prophet Zechariah, in our first reading today, also does something counter-cultural.  He prophesies that the people of Israel will get a new king.  But this won’t be a typical king, pursuing privilege and power.  Rather, he’ll be meek, humble and modest in his ways. 

We know who that is, of course.  It’s Jesus, and in Matthew’s Gospel today he tells us that God reveals the secrets of his divine kingdom not to the wealthy, or to the wise or important, but to those who live simply and with open hearts. 

St Francis de Sales (1567-1622) was a bit like Ann Russell Miller.  He was born into a noble family in France. His father wanted him to become a magistrate, so he studied law.  But he gave it all away to become a priest.  

He became Bishop of Geneva and a great writer. He established an order of nuns and he invented a sign language to help him teach a deaf person about Jesus.

But what makes St Francis truly remarkable is his emphasis on ordinary people.  At the time, the holy life wasn’t for lay people; it was only for priests and monks and nuns.  He changed all that by giving spiritual direction to ordinary citizens.  His most famous book, Introduction to the Devout Life, was written in 1608 specifically for lay people. [iii]

St Francis once wrote to a woman who was struggling with life.  He wrote: ‘Soon we shall be in eternity and then we’ll see how insignificant our worldly preoccupations were and how little it matters whether some things were done or not.  However, right now we rush about as if they were all-important.’  

‘When we were little children,’ he wrote, ‘we used to gather pieces of broken tile, little sticks and mud with which to build houses and other tiny buildings, and if someone knocked them over, how heartbroken we were!’

‘But now we understand that these things really didn’t amount to much.  One day it will be like this for us in heaven, when we shall see that some of the things we clung to on earth were only childish attachments.’

‘Do faithfully all you must do,’ he said, ‘but be aware that what matters most is your salvation and the fulfillment of that salvation through true devotion’. 

St Paul says something similar in today’s second reading.   He contrasts the worldly life with the life of the spirit, and says that if you live your life according to the world you will die.  

But if you live by the spirit, you will remain fully alive. 

Each of us has a higher calling (Jn.15:16; 2Pet.1:10-11), but something so often seems to get in the way.  There’s always something stopping us from getting closer to God. 

Ann Russell Miller knew that, and so did St Francis de Sales. That’s why they gave everything else away.

What do you need to let go?