Year B – 2nd Sunday of Lent

On Heaven’s Edge

[Gen.22:1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18; Rom.8:31b-34; Mk.9:2-10]

‘Stop the car!’ my wife said, as we drove through the red desert of outback NSW. She got out and mysteriously vanished down a track.

I was quite bewildered then, but I understand now. She had been drawn towards a sacred space where she had an intense spiritual experience. She had found a ‘thin place’, a holy moment where the gap between heaven and earth is so thin that she briefly experienced God’s awesome presence.

This idea of ‘thin places’ comes from the ancient Celtic Christians. They had a saying that heaven and earth are only three feet apart, but in thin places that gap is much narrower. In Gaelic, they call it caol áit (‘kweel awtch’). [i]

The poet Sharlande Sledge describes it this way:
‘Thin places,’ the Celts call this space,
Both seen and unseen,
Where the door between the world
And the next is cracked open for a moment
And the light is not all on the other side.
God shaped space. Holy. [ii]

A ‘thin place’ is a time, place or event where the veil separating heaven and earth is lifted, and just for a moment a person gets a taste of God himself.

The author Mary DeMuth describes thin places as ‘snatches of holy ground, tucked into the corners of our world, where we might just catch a glimpse of eternity. They are aha moments, beautiful realizations, when the Son of God bursts through the hazy fog of our monotony and shines on us afresh…’ [iii]

My mother experienced this once, in her lounge room. For only an instant, she said, an invisible veil lifted in front of her and she found herself surrounded by hundreds of shimmering, fluttering angels. It was a moment of mystical wonder at heaven’s edge, and it filled her with immense joy. But it didn’t last.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus goes with three disciples to pray on Mount Tabor. This must have been a ‘thin place’, because Peter, James and John briefly witness Jesus talking with Moses and the prophet Elijah. They’re dazzled as the light of God’s glory shines through Jesus’ face, and his clothes are as bright as the sun. For only a moment they see Jesus as he truly is: The Son of God. 

Peter wants this moment to last forever, and suggests that they stay. But such mystical moments aren’t meant to last. Their purpose is to give us a taste of God’s awesome reality and to encourage us in our journey towards heaven.

So, Jesus and his disciples leave the mountain.

But where might we find these ‘thin places’ today? They can be anywhere. For some people, they’re in sacred places like St Peter’s in Rome, or in Bethlehem, Lourdes or Fatima. However, you really don’t have to travel far to find them.

They can also be on a beach or in a park close to home. And our experiences can be thin places, too, wherever we are. Listening to inspiring music or seeing a remarkable painting can transport us to heaven’s edge. So can sickness, grief and suffering.

I once experienced one of these mystical moments after Mass in our Cathedral, and the feeling was almost electric. But if you think about it, this shouldn’t be so surprising because everything about the Church and the Christian life aims to help us find thin places.

Consider the silence, the prayers, the music, the art, the Holy Eucharist, and of course, the Bible itself. All these things are thin places, inviting us to encounter the awesome mystery of God.

Indeed, the sacraments are thin places. Many people sense that something very special happens at baptisms, weddings and at Mass, for example, but they can’t quite explain it. That’s because God is always present at these times.

No-one can control when or where they experience such mystical encounters; they are always a gift from God. It’s God who decides how he reveals himself to us.

But we can make ourselves more open to them. We can do this by creating more space for peace, quiet and reflection in our lives; by slowing down our lives, and taking more time to pray; and most especially, by opening our hearts to Jesus, because that’s the one place where God most wants to be.

Mahatma Gandhi once said, ‘There’s an indefinable, mysterious power that pervades everything. I feel it, though I don’t see it. It’s this unseen power that makes itself felt and yet defies all proof, because it’s so unlike all that I perceive through my senses. It transcends the senses.’

Lent is the ideal time for us to think about thin places.

Let’s prepare our hearts and minds for a mystical visit from God.



[iii] Mary E DeMuth, Thin Places: A Memoir. Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI. 2010.

Year B – 1st Sunday of Lent

On Our Shadow Side

[Lev.13:1-2, 44-46; 1Cor.10:31-11:1; Mk.1:40-45]

‘Man is not truly one, but truly two,’ Dr Jekyll says in The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1868).

Dr Henry Jekyll is the kind and respected scientist who conducts experiments on his shadow side. He tries to control his dark self, ‘Mr Hyde’, but he fails because he underestimates the power of evil. He wreaks havoc on London and in the end, he’s destroyed. [i]

In writing this book, Robert Louis Stevenson understands what psychologists recognise today: that everyone has a shadow side, a dark alter ego they prefer to hide from public view.

We all have personality traits we’d rather not admit to, like our weaknesses, temptations and sins. We tend to hide such things because we perceive them to be bad and we’d rather be seen as good people.

Carl Jung, the Swiss psychoanalyst, was a pioneer in this field. He said that everyone carries a shadow, and the less it’s embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. And if we don’t control this side of ourselves, it will unconsciously influence our thoughts, feelings and actions. [ii]

But how can we control our shadow? It’s by bringing these dark urges out into the light. By acknowledging them and dealing with them honestly (Lk.21:8, 28).

If we don’t do this, we risk our shadow taking control, forcing us into self-destructive behaviours, like Mr Hyde. Perhaps it’s stealing, gambling, drinking, drug-taking, pornography or violent anger. Maybe it’s greed or laziness or resentment. But we know these things are wrong, and we can end up fighting ourselves.

Who wins, though? Is it our conscious personality or our shadow?

Today is the First Sunday of Lent, and every Lent we are given forty days to prepare our hearts and minds for the extraordinary joy of Easter. [iii]

Every year, too, on this day our Gospel reading is about temptation. This year, Mark’s Gospel tells us about Jesus going into the desert for forty days to face his temptations. There, in the bright sunlight, Satan tries to draw Jesus into the dark side (Mt.4:1-11; Lk.4:1-13). However, Jesus holds firm. Helped by the angels, he survives the desert and goes on to preach the good news of God’s kingdom.

But here’s the point: it’s only after facing and rejecting these temptations that Jesus can begin his divine mission.

It’s the same with us. If we are to live our very best lives, we, too, must learn to control these temptations.

That’s why every Lent we are encouraged to follow Jesus into the desert. Not a physical desert, but a spiritual one, a quiet place where we can be alone with Jesus in our hearts. The beauty of the desert is that it’s a place of silence and solitude, where everything slows down, where there are few distractions and where the truth is plain to see.

There in the desert, we’re invited to look honestly at ourselves, to see what needs to change. This is what repentance is all about. It means changing the way we think, feel and do things. It means filling our hearts and minds with the light of Christ, and no longer living in the dark.

To help us achieve this, the Church encourages us to fast, give alms and pray. Each of these actions is a healthy response to our shadow self.

Fasting is giving up something we tend to overdo. It’s bringing some moderation into our lives. It means giving up something that’s clearly not of God, but that too often takes his place in our lives. By cutting back we can redirect our time and energy into something much more positive.

Almsgiving is the way we respond to our self-centeredness.  It means focusing on the needs of others, rather than our own selfish desires. It means admitting that life isn’t all about me, and that other people are actually more important.

And finally, Prayer is acknowledging that God is the centre of everything. It’s recognising that the only way to achieve anything in life is with his help (Jn.15:4-5). Genuine prayer unites us to God, and it opens up our hearts, minds and lives to the amazing power of the Holy Spirit.

In his book Yes…And, the Franciscan theologian Richard Rohr says that most people focus on denying their shadow self – to keep feeling good about themselves – and their ego then enjoys a perpetual holiday.

‘It’s a massive misplacement of spiritual attention,’ he says. ‘You can (have) a totally inflated ego, while all your energy goes into denying and covering up your shadow – which then gets projected everywhere else. What you don’t transform, you will transmit.’ [iv]

All this represents unfinished business for so many of us.

This Lent, get serious. Ask Jesus to help you tackle your shadow self.

[i] R L Stevenson, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.


[iii] Lent is 46 days if we include the Sundays.

[iv] Richard Rohr, Yes…And. Franciscan Media, Cincinatti OH. 2013:255.

Year B – 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time

On Our Healing Hands

[Lev.13:1-2, 44-46; 1Cor.10:31-11:1; Mk.1:40-45]

How did Helen Keller (1880-1938) learn to speak, read and write, when she was blind and deaf? How did she become a famous lecturer, author and campaigner for people with disabilities when she could neither see nor hear?

It was through the loving hands of her teacher, Anne Sullivan. Anne began teaching Helen by ‘fingerspelling’: tracing words such as ‘d-o-l-l’ onto the palm of her hand, when she was seven.

At first Helen couldn’t connect the letters she felt with the objects she held. Then one day Anne put Helen’s hand under running water. On the palm of her other hand, she spelt ‘w-a-t-e-r’ and Helen understood immediately. Excitedly, she then touched the earth and wanted to know its letter name, too. By nightfall she had learned 30 words. [i]

Our hands, and our sense of touch, play an important part in our lives. Scientists tell us that touch is the first sense we develop in the womb, and that social touching is critical to every child’s development. As well, they say that our fingers are more sensitive than our eyes, and touching often communicates emotions more effectively than voice or facial expressions. [ii]

As the American doctor and poet Spencer Michael Free (1856-1938) wrote:

‘Tis the human touch in this world that counts.
The touch of your hand and mine
Mean far more to the fainting heart,
Than shelter or bread or wine.
For shelter is gone when the night is o’er,
And bread lasts only a day,
But the touch of a hand and the sound of a voice
Sing on in the soul always. [iii]

Jesus understood the power and importance of healing hands. He touched the eyes of the blind (Mk.7:32-35), the ears of the deaf (Mk.7:31-37), and the hand of a young girl who had died (Mt.9:25), and he healed them all.

He also touches a leper in Mark’s Gospel today.

In ancient Israel, anyone with leprosy or any other skin complaint was considered highly contagious and ritually unclean. They were banished by law from their family and community. But this leper is desperate. He risks being stoned to death for approaching Jesus. And Jesus breaks the law, too, by touching him.

‘Be cured!’ Jesus says, and the man is cured. He can now return to normal life. He’s so excited that he tells everyone.

But why does Jesus touch him? It’s because he needs more than a physical cure. He needs spiritual healing, too. He needs to feel whole again.

Have you ever noticed that every sacrament involves touching? In Baptism we trace the sign of the cross on the forehead. In Confirmation we do the same, but using the Oil of Chrism. In the Holy Eucharist we touch the body of Christ with our hands and our tongues. In Reconciliation, the priest places his hand on or close to the penitent’s head. In Matrimony, the couple hold hands during their vows and they exchange rings. In the Anointing of the Sick, the head and hands are anointed with oil. And in Holy Orders, the bishop places his hands on the ordinand’s head.

Love, and our Christian faith, are both communicated by touch. Our life of faith today has been literally handed on to us by successive generations over 2,000 years, all the way back to the sacred touch Jesus gave his apostles, and the mystical touch God gave Mary when she bore Jesus.

Every day St Teresa of Calcutta used her hands to express Jesus’ love for the sick and poor. She once said, ‘We have drugs for people with diseases such as leprosy. But these drugs don’t treat the main problem, the disease of being unwanted. That’s what my sisters hope to provide.’

‘An alcoholic in Australia told me,’ she said, ‘that when he is walking along the street, he hears the footsteps of everyone coming towards him or passing him becoming faster. The feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty of all.’

A loving touch, however, can change all that. In the Parable of the Prodigal Son, when the wayward son returns home, his father runs to him, throws his arms around him and kisses him (Lk.15:20). They both feel whole again.

In the 14th Century, St Catherine of Siena tried to help an unhappy woman who had leprosy. The woman abused her constantly, but by gently caring for her with her hands, St Catherine won her over and the woman died in her arms. [iv]

Today, Jesus has no hands but ours, and he wants us to use them to heal hurts and help change lives. We can do this in so many ways; perhaps by writing a nice note, or by simply giving a wave or a hug, or by offering someone a helping hand.

We all have healing hands. How might you use yours to help someone?





Year B – 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time

On Digging for Gold

[Job 7:1-4, 6-7; 1Cor.9:16-19, 22-23; Mk.1:29-39]

What’s the best-selling book of all time? According to the Guinness Book of Records, it’s the Bible. So far, over 5 billion copies have been sold, and it’s been translated into 349 languages. [i]

As an old hymn says: God has given us a book full of stories, made for his people of old. / It begins with the tale of a garden, and ends with the city of gold. [ii]

But what’s the world’s dustiest book? It’s probably also the Bible, because few people today actually seem to read it. [iii]

When asked to explain why, some people say it’s because it’s out of date, or they’re too busy, or they simply don’t understand the Bible. And yet, lots of people today are searching for meaning and purpose in their lives. They’re looking for answers to the big questions of life.

It’s for this reason that Pope Francis has been encouraging us all to get to know the Holy Scriptures so much better. In 2019 he declared the 3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time each year to be the Sunday of the Word of God. In Australia, this day clashes with Australia Day, so it has been moved to the first Sunday in February. [iv]

Pope Francis said that the purpose of this celebration is to help us to ‘better appreciate the inexhaustible riches contained in that constant dialogue between the Lord and his people’. However, he said, it’s not to be seen as a yearly event, but a year-long event, for we urgently need to grow in our knowledge and love of the Scriptures and of the risen Lord himself. [v]

Now, some people are turned off by the size of the Bible. But remember that it’s not one single book; it’s actually a small library of books, and you don’t have to read them all. It includes all kinds of literature, from history, prophecy, poetry, law, wisdom, letters and parables, to the greatest stories of all time. It has inspired saints; it has led to miracles and it has given hope and meaning to countless people across the world.

Some people have also found the language in the Bible difficult to follow, but this was never meant to be. These books were written over a period of about 1,000 years by simple people, like fishermen, tentmakers and shepherds, who wanted to record their personal experience of God’s active involvement in the world. They never intended their language to be mysterious, but cultures do change over time.

Thankfully, there are now many different translations, dictionaries, commentaries and maps available to help us understand what it’s all about.

But Richard Rohr, the Franciscan theologian, gives us a warning.

He says that for all its inspiration, all its marvellous one-liners, and all the lives it has changed, there’s still a problem with the Bible, and that’s because some people misuse it. History shows us that some people have used Scripture to justify things like genocide, slavery and the burning of heretics.

Rohr says that when we put the Bible in the hands of egocentric, unloving or power-hungry people, or those who’ve never learned how to read spiritually inspired literature, it’s almost always a disaster. Only converted people can be trusted with spiritual writings, he says. [vi]

So, to properly understand the Bible, it’s important that we read it with the mind of Christ (Rom.12:2; 1Cor.2:16). We need to use Scripture in the same way that Jesus did, by approaching it prayerfully and seeing everything through his lens of mercy, justice, love and forgiveness.

The Bible was never meant to hurt or harm. It was never meant to help one group exercise power over another. The Scriptures were meant to be refreshing and life-giving, to encourage wholeness and love, and to bring us all closer to God and each other.

With that in mind, let’s close with a story.

The Beta Hunt gold mine in Kambalda, Western Australia, has been working for almost 50 years. After all this time, many thought that it must be nearing the end of its useful life.

But in recent years, miners there have discovered two of the biggest gold specimens in recorded history. One rock contained 65 kg of gold, and another had 60 kg of gold. The combined value was nearly $7 million. [vii]

Despite its age, that mine clearly has plenty of life left in it.

This is just like the word of God. People have been mining it for centuries, but it still hasn’t given up all its treasures.

So, today, let’s all do the same. Let’s dust off our Bibles and start digging for some real spiritual gold.






[vi] Richard Rohr, What Do We Do with the Bible? CAC, Albuquerque, NM. 2018.