Year B – 1st Sunday of Advent

On Sleeping Too Long

(Is.63:16-17; 64:1,3-8; 1Cor.1:3-9; Mk.13:33-37)

In the storybook world, a few characters are great sleepers. Rip van Winkle sleeps for twenty years, Sleeping Beauty sleeps for a hundred, and in one ancient myth, the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus slumber for two centuries. [i]

But it’s not only storybook characters who forever sleep. The Jesuit spiritual writer Anthony de Mello says that most people are asleep, but just don’t know it. ‘They’re born asleep, they live asleep, they marry in their sleep, they raise children in their sleep and they die in their sleep without ever waking up.’

Why does he say this? It’s because they are spiritually unaware. Most people have been conditioned to live mechanical and predictable lives, and never really come to understand the loveliness and beauty of human existence.

‘All mystics,’ de Mello says, ‘no matter what their theology, no matter what their religion, are unanimous in one thing: that all is well. Although everything is a mess, all is well. It’s a strange paradox,’ he says, ‘but tragically, most people never get to see that all is well because they are asleep.’ [ii]

‘They’re just not aware of what’s going on. They might as well be a block of wood, or a rock or a talking, walking machine … They are puppets, jerked around by all kinds of things. Press a button and you get a reaction. You can almost predict how a person is going to react,’ he says. [iii]

Today we begin a brand-new season of Advent, when we start preparing our hearts and minds to receive Jesus, who we know is on his way.

When is he coming? St Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153), a Doctor of the Church, says that Jesus has three comings. The first two are visible, and the third is invisible. [iv]

His first coming is his birth in Bethlehem, which we celebrate at Christmas.  That’s visible, of course, but Jesus did so much more than arrive as a baby.  He also died for us on the Cross and he arose again to new life. So, at Christmas we also celebrate Jesus as the Son of God who showed how much he loves us and who shows us how to live.

Jesus’ second coming will also be visible. This will be at the end of our lives and at the end of all time. That’s when he will come in his glory and we’ll finally see him face-to-face (2Thess.1:6-7).

And in between these two times is Jesus’ third coming, which is happening right now. It’s invisible, and that’s why only some of us can see him. Everyone else is asleep.

Where might we see Jesus? In the Scriptures, in the Holy Eucharist, in the Church, in our neighbours and in the ordinary events of our daily lives.

Most people can’t see Jesus because they are spiritually unaware. They have eyes, but really can’t see. They have ears, but really can’t hear. They have yet to learn how to see beyond our material world. 

Anthony de Mello tells the story of a man who found an eagle’s egg. He put it in the nest of a barnyard hen. The eaglet hatched with the brood of chicks and he grew up with them.

All his life the eagle did what the chicks did, thinking he was a chicken. He scratched the earth for worms and insects. He clucked and cackled. He thrashed his wings and he flew a few feet into the air.

Years passed, and the eagle grew old. One day he saw a magnificent bird flying high in the cloudless sky. It glided majestically in the wind, barely using its strong golden wings.

The eagle looked up in awe. ‘Who’s that?’ he asked.

That’s the eagle, the king of the birds,’ said a hen. ‘He belongs to the sky. But we belong to the earth – we’re chickens.’

The eagle lived and died a chicken, for that’s what he thought he was. [v]

This season of Advent reminds us that too many people today are scratching around in their barnyards when they really should be rising above and flying high, like eagles.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us to watch for his return.  He says it three times.  ‘Be on your guard, stay awake, because you never know when the time will come’. 

‘Stay awake,’ he says, ‘for you don’t know when the master of the house is coming … if he comes unexpectedly, he must not find you asleep’. 

Then he adds, ‘… what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake!’

In other words, don’t miss this opportunity: wake up your spiritual selves. 

Open your eyes, open your ears and open your hearts, and start noticing the subtle signs of Jesus’ presence all around you.

Life has a remarkable depth and beauty that too many of us miss.


[ii] Anthony de Mello, Awareness – The Perils and Opportunities of Reality. Image, New York. 1992:5.

[iii] Op Cit. p.67-68.


[v] Anthony de Mello, The Song of the Bird, Image, New York. 1984:96.

Year A – 34th Sunday in Ordinary Time

On Two Princes and a King

[Ezek.34:11-12, 15-17; 1Cor.15:20-26, 28; Mt.25:31-46]

Today, on the Feast of Christ the King, we’ve all been invited to reflect on our lives so far. To help us do this, I have two princely stories for you.

The first is Niccolò Machiavelli’s book The Prince (1532). It’s his guidebook for ambitious people, using everything he’d learnt working as an Italian diplomat.

This story is basically all about power: how to get it and how to keep it. If you’re an aspiring prince, Machiavelli says, be prepared to use all sorts of tricks like secrecy, deception and force to get what you want out of life. You might even have to do something evil from time to time.

Sure, faith and virtuous living are good things, he says, but they can limit you. So, it’s better to separate politics from religion; it’s better to separate private and public morality. After all, naked ambition is an art in itself.

‘A wise prince,’ he says, ‘must build a foundation on what is his own, and not on what belongs to others.’ And he adds, ‘it’s better to be feared than loved’. [i]

Machiavelli’s book is 500 years old, but lots of people still like his ideas. Shakespeare used them to create villains like Iago and Lady Macbeth. And more recently, we’ve seen similar characters like Lord Varys in Game of Thrones and Tony Soprano in The Sopranos.

Today, many politicians and other people use these techniques to get what they want out of life. Are you among them?

The second story is Oscar Wilde’s tale of The Happy Prince (1888). This prince lived a very sheltered, but happy life. When he died, the people erected a statue of him in the town square. This statue was gilded with leaves of gold, it had sapphires for eyes and a large red ruby on the handle of its sword.

One cold evening, a little swallow flying south stopped to rest under that statue. As he rested, some water droplets fell on him. He looked up and saw the prince crying.

‘Why are you crying?’ the swallow asked.

‘When I was alive, I saw no suffering,’ said the prince. ‘But from here I can see lots of unhappiness in the world. I’d like to help, but I can’t because I’m stuck to this pedestal. I need a messenger. Can you help me?’

‘But I have to go to Egypt,’ the swallow replied.

‘Please stay this night with me,’ the prince said.

‘Very well, then. What can I do for you?’ asked the swallow.

‘Nearby, there’s a mother nursing a sick child,’ the prince said. ‘She can’t afford a doctor. Take the ruby from my sword and give it to her.’

The swallow took the ruby and gave it to the woman. She was overjoyed. The doctor came, the child recovered and the swallow returned to the statue.

The next day, the prince asked him to stay another night. He also asked the swallow to give one of his sapphires to a little match girl down the road. She’d sold no matches that day, and was afraid she’d be beaten when she got home. Again, the swallow did as he was asked.

As he ran these errands of mercy, the swallow became aware of all the poverty and suffering in the town. He liked helping the prince. Each day he stripped gold leaves off the statue and gave them to the poor and needy.

Finally, one morning, the little swallow was found dead below the prince’s statue. The statue itself was completely bare, stripped of all its ornaments. The Happy Prince had given away all he had to help others. [ii]

Pope Pius XI established the Feast of Christ the King in 1925, at a time of enormous political upheaval, when tyrants like Hitler and Stalin were leading whole nations astray. Pope Pius wanted to remind everyone that it’s God who created our world, and that Jesus is our only sure hope for the future.

Today, things aren’t much better; the world still has its tyrants. So, this is a good time for us to reflect on our lives so far.

Are we drawn to the style of Machiavelli’s manipulative prince, who does whatever it takes to get what he wants? Or are we more like the Happy Prince, who sacrifices himself for others?

At the Last Judgment, when our turn comes, we’ll be reminded that Jesus had clearly asked us to feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty, to welcome the stranger, to clothe the naked, to care for the sick, to visit prisoners …

And we’ll remember that whatever we did in love and compassion for others, we did for Jesus himself.

On that day, can you honestly say to Jesus, ‘Yes, I did all I could’?

[i] Nicolo Macchiavelli, The Prince.

[ii] Oscar Wilde, The Young King and Other Stories, Penguin Books, Essex, 2000

Year A – 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

On the Law of the Gift

(Prov.31:10-13,19-20,30-31; 1Thess.5:1-6; Mt.25:14-30)

Isn’t it nice when we get back more than we give?

Pope St John Paul II often talked about this. It’s called the Law of the Gift, and it says that the more you give away, the more you’ll receive in return and the happier you’ll be.

Jeff Goins gives us an example of this in his book Wrecked: When a Broken World Slams into your Comfortable Life. When some friends visited him from out of town, he decided to spend his last ten dollars buying them coffee.

‘After that,’ he writes, ‘everywhere I looked people were offering us meals, giving me stuff out of the blue, and anonymously leaving money in places where I would find it.’

‘The strangest incident,’ he explains, ‘was when I found a random envelope pinned to a public message board with my name on it. Inside the envelope was a ten-dollar bill. Later that night, my friends and I went out to dinner. Without offering, someone picked up the bill. So, I did the only logical thing I could think of: I left the waitress a ten-dollar tip.’ [i]

That’s the Law of the Gift, which says that the more you share what you have, the more blessed you will be.

To understand this law, we need to recognise that God himself is a gift. Why? It’s because God is love (1Jn.4:8), and his whole existence is giving. Indeed, Jesus himself said, ‘I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly’ (Jn.10:10). Of course, living abundantly is living generously.

The only reason we exist is because of God’s generous love, and everything we have is a gift from him. But we’re not meant to hold onto gifts. They’re meant to be given. So, the Law of the Gift says that whatever you’ve received must be given away, and in return you’ll receive even more – thirty, sixty, a hundredfold (Mk.4:8). [ii]

Jesus taught this law in many different ways.  In his Multiplication of the Loaves and the Fishes (Mt.14:13-21), the disciples only have five loaves and two fish to offer, but end up with 12 baskets of leftovers.

Jesus also teaches us this law in the Eucharist. We bring a few tiny gifts up to Jesus – a little bread, some wine, and a drop of water – and they come back to us as the Body and Blood of Jesus himself. And when we receive him, he feeds the deepest hunger in our hearts. [iii]

And in Jesus’ Parable of the Talents in today’s Gospel, a man is planning to go away and he leaves his money with three servants. In those days, a talent was a measure of gold or silver.

The first two servants use their talents well, and double their investment. But the third man simply buries his talent in a hole. The owner praises and rewards the first two, but he’s not happy with the third man. He confiscates his talent.

The message for us today is that if you’ve received any talents, you must use them, otherwise you will lose them.

But what are these talents? Bishop Robert Barron says we should think of them as everything we’ve ever received from God – our life, our breath, our strength, our abilities and all our many blessings.

Pope Francis adds that these talents also include the Gospel, our Baptism, prayer, forgiveness and the sacrament of Jesus’ sacrificed Body and Blood.

All these things are loving gifts from God. If we share them with others, they will grow. But if we selfishly hold on to them, as the third servant did, they don’t grow. They just wither away and die.

Do you remember Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (1843)? At the beginning when Scrooge is hoarding all his gifts, he feels sick, miserable and empty inside. But when he starts giving things away, his heart fills with love and he begins to feel happy.

That’s the Law of the Gift. It’s a paradox: the more you give away, the more you receive.

But all this is counter-cultural, because most people don’t think this way. Most people actually do the opposite: they hold tightly onto God’s gifts.  But this isn’t the way things work in the spiritual life. If you want the divine life, then give it away. If you want love, give loads of love. If you want to be happy, then make someone else happy by living the Law of the Gift.

This isn’t just about donating to charity. It’s about adopting a whole new attitude towards the people around you. Instead of wondering what they can do for you, ask instead what you can do for them. How can you really help them?

Whatever you give away in a spirit of love is guaranteed to come back to you.  It might not return immediately, but it will come back to you in some way. 

Your life will become fuller and more complete, and you’ll be much happier.

[i] Jeff Goins, Wrecked: When a Broken World Slams into your Comfortable Life. Moody Publishers, Chicago. 2012:56.


[iii] Weigel, G. City of Saints: A Pilgrimage to John Paul II’s Krakow. Image, NY.  2015:292.

Year A – 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

On the Hourglass

[Wis.6:12-16; 1Thess.4:13-17; Mt.25:1-13]

Something is missing. Researchers have recently found that the number of ‘likes’ on social media for lies and fake information has trebled in the last 2-3 years.

It seems that people are increasingly happy to ‘like’ sheer nonsense, either because it’s popular, or it fits with their personal opinions (or both). Influential leaders have also found that they only have to ‘put it out there’ and their followers will swallow it whole. [i]

How can this be, when our society is reportedly more educated and better informed today than at any other time in history?

In 1948, General Omar Bradley (who led the US 12th Army in WWII) gave a speech that still resonates today. He said: ‘… humanity is in danger of being trapped in this world by its moral adolescence. Our knowledge of science has clearly outstripped our capacity to control it. We have many men of science; too few men of God. We have grasped the mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon on the Mount. Man is stumbling blindly through a spiritual darkness while toying with the precarious secrets of life and death. The world has achieved brilliance without wisdom, power without conscience. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing than we know about living.’ [ii]

Yes, something is missing in our world today. Could it be wisdom?

Wisdom is intelligence combined with deep understanding. It’s something that grows with maturity, experience and age, and it helps us make sound choices and good decisions.  Scripture describes it as being better than gold (Prov.16:16).

The Bible often speaks of wisdom, but it also distinguishes between its worldly and Godly forms (Jas.3:13-18; 1Cor.3:19).

Godly wisdom is characterised by humility, mercy and love. It is peace-loving, gentle, impartial and sincere. It also allows us to see things from God’s perspective, because God is the source and cause of all things. It therefore reflects truth.

Worldly wisdom, however, tends to be self-centred and opinionated. It exalts the self above others, and can lead to jealousy, pride and selfishness. It sees things from the human perspective (Mt.16:23).

Our world is full of ideologies and sayings that sound like great wisdom. They might benefit some, but ultimately, they lead us away from God. As the Book of Proverbs tells us, ‘there’s a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death’ (Prov.14:12).

In Matthew’s Gospel today, Jesus gives us his Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids. In ancient Hebrew tradition, the bride and her bridesmaids wait at the bride’s home for the groom to arrive. He typically arrives in the evening, when it’s dark, and then they go singing and dancing to his home for the wedding celebration.

In this story, the groom is delayed and arrives very late. Five wise bridesmaids are well-prepared, with their lamps ready to go. But the other five have been wasting their time and don’t have any oil. So, they get left behind.

The parable ends with the warning: ‘Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour’.

This parable is essentially about Christ’s Second Coming, which St Paul in our second reading reminds us is sure to happen one day.

The question for us today is whether we have the wisdom to prepare for this significant event, or whether we’ll be left behind because we’ve been too distracted by other things.

Let me close with a story.

There was once a little girl who lived near a beach. She loved her grandpa very much and she enjoyed seeing him. He collected hourglasses and she loved turning them upside down and watching the sand sift through the glass bulbs.

‘Why do you keep them?’ she asked.

‘They remind me that time is the most precious thing in the world,’ he replied.

As Christmas approached, she asked her mother why she hadn’t seen her Grandpa for weeks. She said that he was in hospital and might die.

The little girl wasn’t sure what death meant, so her mother explained that life is like one of Grandpa’s hourglasses, and that he had very little time left.

One morning her mother announced that they would visit Grandpa that day. She asked the girl to make a special Christmas present for him. She did.

When they got to the hospital, the little girl gave her Grandpa a beautiful gift. He unwrapped it slowly, looked inside and smiled. He understood immediately.

She had filled the box with sand. [iii]

So, remember this: time is running out.

True wisdom can take a lifetime to acquire.

[i] Dr Laurie Woods, Australian Catholic University, Weekly Lectionary Commentary, 32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A.

[ii] General Omar Bradley (1893-1981). These words are from his 1948 Armistice Day address in Boston.

[iii] Jay Cormier, Table Talk, Year A. New City Press, New York. 2010:212-213.