Year B – Trinity Sunday

On the Sign of the Cross

Deut.4:32-34, 39-40; Rom.8:14-17; Mt.28:16-20

Today, on Trinity Sunday, we celebrate the mystery of our Triune God, a mystery that no-one in this life has ever really understood.

For how can one God include three Divine Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit?

Yet Scripture often refers to God’s Trinitarian presence: the merciful Father who loved us into creation, the loving Son who sacrificed everything for us, and the Holy Spirit who fills us with so much life and hope. Our finite brains struggle to grasp this sublime truth, but in our hearts we accept it because it’s fundamental to our Christian faith.

Indeed, the Trinity is so fundamental to our beliefs that it’s embedded in our most ancient gesture of prayer: The Sign of the Cross. We do this so often, however, that we sometimes forget its significance.

The Sign of the Cross - Prayer Wine Chocolate

Every time we make the Sign of the Cross, we invoke the mystery of the Holy Trinity. With our right hand, we touch our forehead, breast and left and right shoulders, and say ‘In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit’, using the words Jesus himself gave us just before he ascended to heaven (Mt.28:19).

The Sign of the Cross is as old as the Church itself. The earliest Christians often used to trace a Cross (meaning Redemption) with three fingers (the Trinity) on their foreheads. [i]

In 201AD, Tertullian wrote, ‘In all our travels and movements, in all our coming in and going out, in putting on our shoes, at the bath, at the table, in lighting our candles, in lying down, in sitting down, whatever (we do) we mark our foreheads with the sign of the Cross’. [ii]

Later, Christians added the words ‘In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit’, and they extended this sign to other parts of the body. So now, for example, we also sign our forehead, lips and heart when the Gospel is read.

There are many ways to interpret the Sign of the Cross.

Every time we sign ourselves, we publicly affirm our Baptism and we ask God to renew our baptismal graces. At the same time, we also affirm our discipleship, and remember our responsibility to get to know God (pointing to our head), to love him (heart) and to serve him all through our days (shoulders).

But it also summarises the Apostles’ Creed. When we touch our forehead, breast and shoulders, we declare that we believe in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; we say that we believe in God’s Creation and his redemption of humanity from sin and death; and we recognise the Cross as the central event of our Christian faith.

As well, an open hand is a sign of blessing, so every time we trace the shape of the Cross on ourselves, we’re asking God to bless our minds, our hearts and our bodies – our thoughts, our passions and our actions.

And as our hand moves down from our head to our heart, we’re reminded that Christ descended from heaven to earth.  And as our hand travels from our left to right shoulder, we remember that Jesus crossed from death to life, and we’re all invited to do the same.

Indeed, the five fingers of the hand we use represent the five wounds of Christ.

By definition, the Sign of the Cross is a ‘sacramental’, a sacred sign that unites us with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. In that moment it serves as a prayer, a collect, that silently gathers up all our hopes and fears and gives them to God.  It also sanctifies that particular moment or circumstance and prepares us to receive God’s grace. [iii] 

🥇 the crucifixion of jesus clipart vector in AI, SVG, EPS or PSD

The beauty of the Sign of the Cross is that it’s both quick and deeply meaningful.  The sad thing is that many people don’t recognise its importance. 

In Ancient Greek, the word ‘sphragis’ means sign and mark of ownership. Roman generals used to tattoo their initials on their soldiers’ forearms, just as shepherds brand their sheep.

In the same way, the Sign of the Cross publicly marks us as belonging to Christ, the true Shepherd. [iv]

So, whenever you feel drawn towards Jesus, make a good Sign of the Cross.  Whenever you’re anxious, struggling or in danger, make a good Sign of the Cross. And whenever you’re filled with gratitude or joy, make a good Sign of the Cross, for it’s a deeply meaningful prayer. 

And remember this: the Sign of the Cross reminds us to think beyond ourselves. 

As Ronald Knox once said, in the Sign of the Cross the first two gestures form the letter ‘I’, and the second two cross it out. [v]

[i] Ann Ball, The How-To Book of Sacramentals. Our Sunday Visitor, Huntington IN, 2005:33-34.

[ii] Tertullian, de Corona. Ch.3:165.

[iii] Ann Ball, Op cit. pp.11-13.

[iv] Bert Ghezzi, The Sign of the Cross. Loyola Press, Chicago. 2004:60.

[v] Bishop Robert Barron, Lenten Reflection

Year B – Pentecost Sunday

On Our Leaky Vessels

(Acts 2:1-11; Gal.5:16-25; Jn.15:26-27; 16:12-15)

Whenever we’re anxious or distressed, we need the Spirit of Peace.

Whenever we’re sad and life seems too hard, we need the Spirit of Joy.

And whenever we’re in darkness and doubt, we need the Spirit of Light.

Today we celebrate the power of the Holy Spirit, the power that Jesus poured into his disciples at Pentecost.

On that day, the disciples were hiding in fear in the Upper Room, when a great noise like a mighty wind rushed in and a tongue of fire appeared above each of them.

Suddenly, they were transformed. The once-fearful disciples emerged as courageous Apostles, and started telling the crowds in the street the truth about Jesus Christ. 3,000 people became Christians that day, and the Church was born.

Some people think that Pentecost is a standalone event, but it actually marks the end of the fifty days of Easter. As Joan Chittister writes, ‘… only here in this time, between the bursting open of the tomb and, fifty days later, the overflowing of the Holy Spirit, does the full awareness of what it is to live in Christ, with Christ, and through Christ finally dawn.’ [i]

So, what do we know about the Holy Spirit? Well, with God the Father and God the Son, the Spirit is one of the three persons of the Trinity. All three are co-equal and of the same essence, and like the Father, the Holy Spirit is invisible, but he’s also a person. He’s not just an influence or an impersonal force.

How do we know the Spirit is a person? It’s because of the way he’s presented in the Bible (e.g., Jn.6:63; Rom.8:11; 1Jn.5:6; Jn.16:7-8). The Holy Spirit thinks, feels, has a mind, and does things that only a person can do.

Now, it’s important to remember that the Spirit the Apostles receive at Pentecost is the same Spirit that created the world (Gen.1:1-2); that transformed Adam from a pile of dust into a human being (Gen.2:7); that guided Moses through the desert (Num.11:16-17); and that raised Jesus from the dead.

And it’s the same Spirit we receive at our Baptism and Confirmation.

The Holy Spirit is a powerful, energising force, and in Scripture he has several names, including Spirit of God, Spirit of Jesus, and the Spirit of Truth. Jesus also calls him ‘another Comforter’, a ‘Counsellor’, ‘Advocate’ or ‘Paraclete’.

But what is a Paraclete?

The Jesuit poet and priest Gerard Manley Hopkins explains it this way:

‘A Paraclete,’ he says, ‘is often translated as comforter, but a Paraclete does more than comfort. The word is Greek, and there’s no one English word for it. Comforter is not enough. A Paraclete is one who comforts, cheers, encourages, persuades, exhorts, stirs up, urges forward and who calls on; … what clapping of hands is to a speaker, what a trumpet is to the soldier, that a Paraclete is to the soul … A Paraclete is one who calls us on to good.’ [ii]

William Barclay says that the Holy Spirit’s purpose is to fill a person with the power and courage they need to triumphantly cope with life.

In Greek, he says, the root word for this power is du-namis, from which we get the English word dynamite, which is an explosive force. The Holy Spirit, therefore, is not passive. He’s an active force of explosive power that encourages and empowers. [iii]

This is the Spirit we receive at our Baptism. We must cherish, nurture and protect the gifts he gives us.

The evangelist Dwight L. Moody, however, often talked about our need to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Someone once asked him, ‘If we were filled with the Holy Spirit at Baptism, why do we need to be refilled so often?’

‘Because we leak,’ Moody replied.

‘The fact is,’ he said, ‘we are leaky vessels and we have to keep right under the fountain all the time to keep full of Christ, and so have a fresh supply.’

Why? Because we so often close our hearts to God. We reject his gifts, we ignore our responsibilities, we fail to grow in holiness – and we sin.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. We do have a choice.

These are the Holy Spirit’s gifts: love, forgiveness, kindness, goodness, gentleness, peace, and joy. These are exactly what we need right now, and they’re always available to us.

So, let’s seal our leaky vessels by regularly praying this prayer:

Come Holy Spirit. Fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Amen.

Or this one:

Come Holy Spirit. Fill my heart with love and my mind with light. Amen.

[i] Joan Chittister, The Liturgical Year, Thomas Nelson, 2009.

[ii] Gerard Manley Hopkins, Sermon on the Paraclete, Liverpool, 1882.

[iii] William Barclay, New Testament Words. Westminster Press, Philadelphia, 1964:216-221.

Year B – Ascension of the Lord

On Saying Goodbye

(Acts 1:1-11; Eph.4:1-13; Mk.16:15-20)

Some people hate saying goodbye. Changing jobs, moving house or farewelling a loved one simply means sorrow to them.

What many don’t realise, however, is that whenever we say ‘goodbye’ we’re actually invoking God. Why? Because ‘goodbye’ is a 16th Century contraction of the expression ‘God be with you’. Similarly, ‘adieu’ means ‘go with God’. [i]

Many also forget that every goodbye marks a new beginning. As Mitch Albom writes in his book The Five People You Meet in Heaven, ‘… all endings are also beginnings. We just don’t know it at the time.’ [ii]

In our first reading today, Jesus farewells his disciples; it’s time to return to his Father. His Ascension to heaven marks an end and a beginning, both for Jesus and for his disciples. 

Certainly, it’s the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry. After three years teaching his followers and planting the seeds of his Father’s kingdom all over Palestine, it’s time to move on.

And so it’s a new beginning. By leaving this world, Jesus is no longer confined to a specific place and time. From heaven, he can rule the world and make himself available to everyone, everywhere, all the time. How? By working through the Church, through the sacraments (especially the Holy Eucharist) and by penetrating deep into our hearts and minds.

For the disciples, it’s the end of their three-year traineeship, and the beginning of a new life as Jesus commissions them to proclaim his Gospel all around the world.

But as Jesus ascends heavenward, the disciples stand there, staring into the sky. They don’t know where to begin. Then two angels appear, saying: ‘why are you standing there, looking at the sky?’ In other words: what are you waiting for? Get going. There’s work to do.

So, they leave the mountain and head for the city.

Now, Jesus’ Ascension marks a new beginning for us, too, because we are his disciples today. Jesus is calling us to rise above our ordinary lives, to lift up our hearts, minds and lives so that we might continue his unfinished work.

Bishop Robert Barron says that if Caesar, Lincoln, Roosevelt and Churchill were still striding the world stage, no-one else would have the courage to enter the game. That’s why Jesus leaves, he says, so that we might act in his name and in accord with his spirit.

Barron also says that it’s those people who are most focused on the things of heaven who do the most good here below: Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day, St John Paul II. And he adds that those who pray most intently are most effective in doing such work.

But leaving one life for another can be a wrenching experience. I remember leaving home at the age of 17, and weeping that very first night. I had no idea what lay ahead of me. I had no idea how I would make a living. But I knew I had to leave home.

Jesus understands all this. That’s why on several occasions he tries to reassure his disciples: ‘It’s better for you that I go away. You will be sad now, but your sadness will turn to joy’ (Jn.16:20). ‘If I don’t go away, you will be unable to receive my spirit’ (Jn.16:7). And ‘Don’t cling to me. I must ascend’ (Jn.20:17).

In Matthew’s Gospel, just before Jesus tells his disciples to go and teach all nations, Matthew says that ‘some hesitated’. Why did they hesitate? Were they fearful? Did they doubt their own abilities?

They needn’t have, because in our second reading St Paul says that Jesus gives each person the gifts they need to do his work. In 1 Corinthians he lists some of these special graces: the gift of tongues, strong faith, healing, miracles, wisdom, knowledge and discernment (1Cor.12:8-10,28-30).

So, how do we transition from a sad goodbye to a new beginning?

Perhaps we can learn from Arthur Ashe (1943-96), the legendary American tennis champion. He had a heart attack at the age of 36. In 1983, during heart surgery, he was given HIV-infected blood. Sadly, it destroyed his tennis career, but it also opened the door to an important new life as an advocate for HIV/AIDS sufferers.

Arthur Ashe once said: ‘Happiness keeps you sweet; trials keep you strong; sorrows keep you human; failure keeps you humble and success keeps you glowing, but only faith keeps you going.’

And how might we begin our new life?

He said: ‘Start where you are, use what you have, and do what you can.’ [iii]

God will do the rest.

[i] Merrill Perlman, Of God and Goodbyes, Columbia Journalism Review, July 11, 2016,in%20shorthand%2C%20and%20partly%20by

[ii] Mitch Albom, The Five People You Meet in Heaven. Sphere, London, 2003.

[iii] Arthur Ashe, Days of Grace: A Memoir. Ballantine Books: NY, 1994.

Year B – 6th Sunday of Easter

On Agape Love

(Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48; 1Jn.4:7-10; Jn.15:9-17)

We all need love, don’t we? So many of us dream about it, write about it, sing about it, read about it, talk about it, work for it and cry over it.

Many years ago, teaching English, my most popular lesson was on the language of love. The students were so fascinated by the words we use for love that they didn’t want to go home.

This desire for love is deeply embedded in us all. We’re all made to love, and we all need to be loved. We can see this in our families and friends. If they feel unloved, we know they’re unhappy. If we feel unloved, we are unhappy.

Where does love come from? St John the Evangelist tells us: it comes from God. Love isn’t something God does, however. He is actually love itself (1Jn.4:7-8). And because we’re all made in God’s image and likeness, we, too, are meant to live lives of love. Not sometimes, but always.

Church tradition tells us that St John was still preaching well into his 90s. When he was too frail to walk, he was carried into church, and every week he gave the same sermon: ‘My dear children, love one another’. That’s all he said.

One day, someone asked him, ‘Master, why do you always say this?’ John replied: ‘Because that’s the Lord’s command. And if that’s all we do, it’s enough.’ [i]

This command to love is in John’s Gospel today, and it immediately follows Jesus’ Parable of the Vine and Branches, which we heard last week. Clearly, love is the fruit Jesus wants us all to produce.

But what kind of love does he mean? The Bible mentions four different kinds and in Greek, each has a different name. [ii] Storge (‘Storjay’) is family love. Eros is sensual and passionate love, and Philia is close friendship or brotherly love.

Agape (‘Aga-pay’), however, is the supreme kind of love and the one Jesus calls us to. It’s holy love. It’s the way Jesus loves his Father, and the way God loves us all.  John uses the word ‘agape’ when he says that ‘God is love’ (1Jn.4:8).

Agape love is selfless, like Jesus humbly washing the feet of his disciples (Jn.13:1-17).

It’s unconditional, like the way that nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God (Rom.8:38-39).

It’s merciful, like the way the Father warmly welcomes his Prodigal Son, despite all his foolishness (Lk.15:11-32).

And it’s sacrificial, like the way Jesus accepts a painful death on the Cross instead of abandoning us.

Agape love is serious love. St Teresa of Calcutta understood it well. She saw the face of Jesus in everyone she met, and she cared deeply for the sick and dying in the streets of Calcutta. It was hard work, but by staying close to Jesus she always received the graces she needed to keep going.

During World War One, a soldier asked his commanding officer for permission to go into ‘No Man’s Land’ to rescue a badly wounded friend.

‘You can go,’ said the officer, ‘but it’s not worth it. He’s probably dead already and you’re risking your life.’ 

The soldier did go, and somehow managed to retrieve his friend. They both tumbled back into their trench. Watching this, the officer said to the soldier, ‘I told you it wasn’t worth it. Your friend is dead, and you’re badly wounded’.

‘But it was worth it, sir,’ the soldier said.

‘How do you mean, “worth it”? Your friend is dead,’ the officer said.

‘Yes, sir,’ the soldier replied, ‘but it was worth it, because when I got to him, he was alive, and he said to me, ‘Jim, I knew you’d come.’”

Agape is selfless, unconditional, merciful and sacrificial love. It seeks nothing in return.

This weekend, as we celebrate Mothers’ Day, we are deeply grateful to our wonderful mothers, not only for giving us life, but also for giving us so much Agape love. Let’s close with Rudyard Kipling’s short poem Mother o’ Mine (1891):

If I were hanged on the highest hill,
Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!
I know whose love would follow me still,
Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!
If I were drowned in the deepest sea,
Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!
I know whose tears would come down to me,
Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!
If I were damned of body and soul,
I know whose prayers would make me whole,
Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!

May we, too, truly live lives of Agape love.

[i] St Jerome, Commentary on the Letter to the Galatians, 6:10.

[ii] C.S. Lewis explains these terms in his book The Four Loves, Harcourt, Brace: New York, 1960

Year B – 5th Sunday of Easter

On the Great Vine

(Acts 9:26-31; 1Jn.3:18-24; Jn.15:1-8)

In 1768, two years before Captain Cook found Australia, the English landscape architect Capability Brown planted a grapevine at Hampton Court Palace in London. [i]

Today, 253 years later, the Great Vine (as it’s known) is the oldest and largest grapevine in the world. It measures 4 metres around its base, its longest arm is 36.5 metres long and it’s still producing plenty of good fruit. Why? Because it’s lovingly trained, trimmed and nourished every year.

That’s the metaphor Jesus uses in John’s Gospel today. He’s speaking to his disciples just after the Last Supper, and he knows it’s his last chance to teach them, for soon he’ll be crucified.

Jesus warns his disciples that great trials are coming, but they must stay strong in the faith. ‘I am the vine, God is the vinedresser and you are the branches,’ he says.

Through our Baptism, each of us is joined to Jesus. We become branches of his vine, but we need to stay connected to him and keep drawing nourishment from him if we are to grow and thrive.

This is what happens to Paul in today’s first reading. After persecuting the Church, he receives the Holy Spirit at his conversion (Acts 9:10-21) and he becomes an incredibly powerful and fruitful branch of Jesus’ vine.   

As Christians, we, too, are expected to bear fruit. After all, that’s what grapevines are supposed to do. But if a branch produces nothing, there’s a problem. It’s either dead, diseased, or poorly connected to the vine, and the vinedresser needs to cut it off.

Indeed, even if a branch is healthy and bears good fruit, sometimes it still needs to be carefully trimmed to make it stronger and more productive.

This is an important lesson for us. Jesus is saying that even if we are good Christians, God will still cut us back occasionally to help us become stronger and more fruitful.

In other words, we need to see our hardships through the eyes of faith. Our sufferings and trials may be painful, but God is using them to shape us and help us become better people (Heb.12:4-11).

And here’s another insight. Richard Leonard says that we might claim to be Christians and go to church every Sunday, but if the fruit we produce is bitter or poisonous; if we are unforgiving, unjust and uncaring, then we cannot claim to be on the vine of Christ’s love.

If this is the case, he says, then we desperately need the gentle hand of the vinedresser, who only wants to see us produce the yield he knows we are capable of achieving.

But here’s the point: God won’t judge us simply by our words or by the public face we put on. He’ll judge us by our acts of kindness, compassion and love. [ii] For ‘it’s by their fruits you shall know them’ Jesus says (Mt.7:16).

So, what are these fruits? Paul tells us: they are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal.5:22). These are the fruits we can expect to produce if we stay connected to Jesus.

And how might we stay connected? By truly loving God and each other; by being actively involved in the life of his Church, and by making time for daily prayer and reflection.

La Dolce Vita (Cineriz, 1960). Italian 4 - Foglio (53" X 77.25").. | Lot  #86314 | Heritage Auctions

Let’s close with the story of Frederico Fellini’s classic movie, La Dolce Vita (1960).

The film opens with a helicopter carrying a statue of Jesus across Rome, followed by a second helicopter carrying a writer named Marcello. Marcello was raised as a country boy, but wants a ‘sweet life’ full of excitement, so he moves to the big city.

There, he finds himself seduced by the seven deadly sins, and he becomes disconnected from his roots. He loses his faith and all his hopes fade into emptiness.

As the film ends, there’s a powerful scene where Marcello is alone on the beach, looking down at a large dead fish washed up on the shore. Cut off from the sea and its source of life, that fish has died.

Fellini ends the movie there, leaving us to make the connection between the dead, decaying fish and the empty, faithless and cut-off Marcello.

12 Fillini ideas | film stills, juliet of the spirits, film

Some people today are like that fish on the shore; they are like Marcello who has lost his faith. They are branches that have separated from Jesus’ great vine, thinking they can go it alone.[iii]

But as Jesus tells us, ‘Whoever remains in me, and I in him, bears fruit in plenty. But cut off from me you can do nothing.

‘Anyone who does not remain in me is like a branch that is thrown away – he withers.’


[ii] Richard Leonard SJ, Preaching to the Converted. Paulist Press, NY. 2006:170-171.

[iii] William J Bausch, Once Upon a Gospel. Twenty-Third Publications, New London CT. 2011:134.