Year B – 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time

On the Bread of Life

(Ex.16:2-4, 12-15; Eph.4:17, 20-24; Jn.6:24-35)

For most people today, bread is cheap and plentiful, but it wasn’t so in biblical times.

In those days, ordinary families had to make their own bread. They had to plough and sow, seed and hoe, reap and thresh, winnow and sift, grind and sift again, knead and moisten, light the fire and then bake before they had any bread to eat. In fact, the typical housewife spent three hours each day just making enough flour to feed a family of five. [i]

So, it’s not surprising that Jesus included bread in the Lord’s Prayer. When the first Christians prayed ‘give us this day our daily bread’ (Mt.6:11), they weren’t just hoping for good harvests and sufficient flour. They also prayed for the strength to keep making their own bread each day.

In today’s Gospel, the crowds that Jesus had fed earlier are looking for him. They want more of his bread, and we can understand why: it’s easy, it’s free and it’s nourishing.

But Jesus thinks it’s time to offer them something more fulfilling. He says, ‘Don’t work for food that cannot last, but work for food that endures to eternal life, the kind of food the Son of Man is offering you’. What does he mean by that?

Jesus is basically saying that these people are following him for the wrong reason. They’re only thinking of their stomachs, just like the ancient Israelites who only followed God as long as there was plenty of food (Ex.16:1-36).

But now it’s time, Jesus says, to focus on something more profound, for we cannot live on bread alone. God created us, he wants us to join him in heaven, and Jesus will show us how to get there.

In other words, if we believe in Jesus and accept his spiritual nourishment, then eternal life will be ours.

But the crowd doesn’t understand. They ask Jesus for a sign, and he tells them that the God who fed Moses and the Israelites in the desert all those years ago is the same God who just fed the 5,000 there in Galilee. 

Then he says:  ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst’. 

Today, many people have everything they need, but they still feel empty inside. They hunger for something more, but just don’t know what it is. So, they keep searching for the latest ‘thing’.

But they’ll never be satisfied because they’re ignoring their souls. As St Augustine said, ‘You made us for yourself O God, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.’

In 2014, Pope Francis said, ‘As well as physical hunger, man also suffers from a hunger that cannot be sated with ordinary food. It’s a hunger for life, a hunger for love, a hunger for eternity. Manna is the sign … that prefigured the food that satisfies this profound hunger present in man.

‘Jesus gives us this nourishment – or rather, he himself is the living bread that gives life to the world. His body is the true food in the form of bread; his blood is the true sustenance in the form of wine. It’s not a simple form of nourishment to sate our bodies, like manna; the Body of Christ is the bread of the last times, able to give life, eternal life, because the substance of this bread is Love.’ [ii]

Jesus cares about physical hunger, but he cares even more about spiritual emptiness. That’s why he’s offering himself to us as the Bread of Life.

The fullness of life we seek is only available from Jesus, and the way to receive our fill is through the Church, through his Word and most especially through the Holy Eucharist.

At the end of World War II, while Europe was being freed from Nazi occupation, there was terrible hunger.

The allied forces grouped many starving orphans together in camps where they were fed and looked after. The children were lovingly cared for, but hardly slept at night. So, psychologists were asked to investigate. They found that the children were anxious because they feared that they’d wake up again to no food.

After that, every child was given some bread to sleep with at night. They were told to hold it and not eat it.

The results were amazing. All the children slept well. Knowing that they would wake up to food calmed their fears and made them trust they were now in good hands. [iii]

That’s what the Bread of Life does for us.

Just hold him close to your heart.

[i] Miriam Feinberg Vamosh, Food at the Time of the Bible. Palphot Ltd, Herzlia. Undated:26-27.

[ii] Pope Francis, Homily given at Holy Mass in the Square of St. John Lateran, June 20, 2014.


Year B – 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time

On Little Gestures

[2Kgs.4:42-44; Eph.4:1-6; Jn.6:1-15]

It’s amazing what little gestures can do. A gentle touch, a smile, a thank you note can really make a difference.

Today, the fourth Sunday in July, is the First World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly. Pope Francis has instituted this special celebration in this Amoris Laetitia Year of the Family, to highlight the importance of the elderly in our lives. It’s so close to the Feast of Saints Anne and Joachim, Jesus’ grandparents (26 July).

The theme chosen for this celebration, ‘I am with you always’ (Mt.28:20), expresses just how close Jesus is to all older people, and how important it is for families to stay connected to their elders.

Many families today have several generations and other close relationships living under the same roof. This is a social reality that’s nicely reflected in John Everett Millais’ painting Christ in the House of His Parents (1849-50). [i]

This masterpiece portrays an extended Holy Family working together in Joseph’s workshop, where he’s making a door. Young Jesus has hurt his hand, and Joseph and Mary are gently comforting him while his grandmother Anne is trying to remove the offending nail.

On the right, Jesus’ cousin John (in camel-hair shorts) is kindly carrying a bowl of water to bathe Jesus’ wound. And on the left, a helpful but unnamed young man is assisting Joseph. Is he a future disciple?

This painting is full of gestures of love. It’s also replete with Christian symbols. The wound on Jesus’ hand and the drop of blood on his foot prefigure his crucifixion, as does the wood stacked up against the walls. The tools represent the instruments of Jesus’ passion. [ii] John’s bowl of water points to his future as the Baptist, while the carpenter’s triangle at the rear represents the Holy Trinity. The dove perched on Jacob’s Ladder symbolises peace and love, and the Holy Spirit that fills their home.

The workbench represents an altar, and the door symbolises Jesus’ emerging role as our doorway to heaven (Jn.10:9). The blood stain on the door recalls the ancient Israelites in Egypt who smeared lamb’s blood on their doorposts (Ex.12:24). And the sheep gathered outside are the flock awaiting the Good Shepherd. [iii] [iv]

There was an uproar when this painting was first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1850. The reviews were scathing and Charles Dickens was particularly outraged. Never before had the Holy Family been portrayed as poor, hardworking souls in such gritty surrounds. And it was unusual for Jesus’ grandmother and others to be presented as so integral to their family.

Today, however, we can relate to the earnest simplicity of Jesus, Mary and Joseph working at home with their extended family. Each person clearly is highly valued and has something important to do, and central to it all is Jesus himself.

For indeed, in a happy and holy family everything centres on Jesus.

At the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia in 2015, Pope Francis said: ‘Like happiness, holiness is always tied to little gestures. “Whoever gives you a cup of water in my name will not go unrewarded,” says Jesus (Mk.9:41).

‘These little gestures are those we learn at home, in the family; they get lost amid all the other things we do, yet they do make each day different. They are the quiet things done by mothers and grandmothers, by fathers and grandfathers, by children, by brothers and sisters. They are little signs of tenderness, affection and compassion. Like the warm supper we look forward to at night, the early lunch awaiting someone who gets up early to go to work.

‘Homely gestures. Like a blessing before we go to bed, or a hug after we return from a hard day’s work. Love is shown by little things, by attention to small daily signs which make us feel at home. Faith grows when it is lived and shaped by love. That’s why our families, our homes, are true domestic churches. They are the right place for faith to become life, and for life to grow into faith.’ [v]

The American writer Louisa May Alcott once wrote, ‘A house needs a grandma in it’.  And someone else said, ‘A grandpa has silver in his hair and gold in his heart’. But we’re not always good at showing our appreciation.

The little, loving gestures that Pope Francis refers to come from Gentleness, which is one of the fruits of the Spirit that Paul writes about in Galatians 5:22. Gentleness is a mark of strength, and a quality that God would like to cultivate in our lives.

It’s also a quality that can make a real difference to those who feel overlooked and unloved in our busy world.

Today, let’s do something gentle – perhaps a small but kind gesture – to honour our elders and make them feel special.

Let’s make sure they feel loved and appreciated.

[i] Sir John Everett Millais, Christ in the House of His Parents, 1849-50: Oil on Canvas, 86.4 x 139.7 cm. Tate Collection, London. (Public Domain, Wikipedia).





Year B – 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time

On Sabbath Rest

(Jer.23:1-6; Ps.23; Eph.2:13-18; Mk.6:30-34)

Perhaps one unexpected benefit of the current Covid pandemic is the way it’s making us rethink our use of time.

Before the restrictions, many of us lived very busy lives. We packed far more into our days than we needed to.

Why do we do this to ourselves when we don’t like stress or anxiety? Why do we ignore the doctors who tell us to slow down? We know that without rest, our bodies can’t recharge themselves and we risk getting sick.

Long ago, before they had machines, underground miners used horses and donkeys to pull coal-wagons. 

A visitor to a coalfield once asked why so many of these animals were grazing outside the coal-pits. The answer was that they work underground six days a week and every Sunday they’re brought to the surface. If they didn’t come outside periodically, they’d go blind.

Why don’t we schedule such breaks? Without them, we risk becoming blind, too – blind to what’s important in life: our families, our friends, our health and our souls.

In Mark’s Gospel today, Jesus tries to take his disciples to a quiet place for rest, reflection and prayer. They must have been disappointed to find a crowd waiting for them, but Jesus doesn’t turn them away.

The 3rd Commandment is important to Jesus: ‘Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy’ (Ex.20:8). [i] But he’s not rigid about its observance like the Pharisees. They won’t lift a finger on the Sabbath, but Jesus always puts others first. Whenever he can, however, he takes time out to connect with his Father.

Resting on the Sabbath was, and is, fundamental to the Jewish people. When God rescued them from Egypt after 400 years of slavery, he commanded them to take a day off every week. They were not to live as slaves any more.

This was unlike most ancient societies, where the wealthy worked as little as possible and the peasants worked constantly, except during religious festivals.

By the first century, however, the idea of the Sabbath had spread right across the Roman Empire, and people started giving themselves a day off.

The Jewish historian Josephus wrote: ‘The masses have long since shown a keen desire to adopt our religious observances; and there is not one city, Greek or barbarian, nor a single nation, to which our custom of abstaining from work on the seventh day has not spread.’

The idea of the Sabbath caught on, not just because people were religious, but because it was the sensible thing to do.

In 1928, the economist John Maynard Keynes predicted that technological advances would reduce the working week to 15 hours within 100 years. Clearly, he was wrong because people today seem to work as hard as ever, and our electronic devices encourage us to work even harder.

The theologian Walter Brueggemann says that people who remember and keep the Sabbath find that they are less driven, less coerced, less frantic to meet deadlines, and free to be, rather than to do.

Instead of compromising productivity, he says, the Sabbath can increase it. But to use it for that purpose misses the point. The Sabbath is designed not only to make us more efficient and fruitful in our work, but more fundamentally to challenge our obsession with efficiency and with productivity. [ii]

On this point, William Barclay says there are two dangers in life. Firstly, there’s the danger of too much activity. We can’t work without rest; and we can’t live the Christian life unless we spend time with God. The whole trouble of our lives, he says, may be that we don’t let God speak to us, because we don’t know how to be still and listen. We give God no time to recharge us with spiritual energy and strength, because we never wait upon him.

The second danger, he says, is too much withdrawal. Devotion that does not issue in action is not real devotion. Prayer that does not result in work is not real prayer. We must never seek God’s fellowship in order to avoid human fellowship, but in order to fit ourselves better for it.

The rhythm of the Christian life, then, is the alternate meeting with God in the secret place and then serving one another in the marketplace. [iii]

It’s interesting to note that of the Ten Commandments, the command to keep holy the Sabbath day comes before any mention of murder, property and sex.

Clearly, God thinks it’s a major priority for us to take time out each week. We should spend at least one seventh of our lives doing something other than work. Otherwise, we risk burning ourselves out and forgetting our life’s purpose.

They say that if you can’t rest from something, then you must be a slave to it.

Is it time to start scheduling regular rest breaks?

[i] This is the 3rd Commandment in the Augustinian system of numbering the Ten Commandments. It’s the 4th Commandment in the Philonic and Talmudic systems. The Catholic Church accepts all three approaches.


[iii] William Barclay, The Gospel of Mark. Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville KY, 2001:179.

Year B – 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time

On a Friend for the Journey

(Am.7:12-15; Eph.1:3-14; Mk.6:7-13)

In today’s Gospel, Jesus sends his disciples out into Galilee, to preach, to heal and to spread the love of God. But first he gives them some instructions.

‘Take nothing for the journey but a staff,’ he says. In other words, travel light.  And ‘Take no bread, no bag and no money.’ So, trust in God. He’ll supply all you need.

Then he says, ‘Wear sandals, but don’t take a spare tunic’. Back then, rich people wore shoes, but poor people wore sandals. So, dressing simply will help you connect with ordinary people. 

And then he says, ‘If you enter a house, stay there until you leave the district’. This means don’t be fussy. Accept what’s offered to you, and spend time getting to know the locals.

Interestingly, these instructions are very similar to the ones God gave the twelve tribes of Israel before they left Egypt. God sent them to the Promised Land with no bread, only one set of clothes, wearing sandals and carrying a staff (Ex.12:11; Dt.8:2-4). And like the twelve disciples, the twelve tribes were all expected to rely on God’s grace and providence.

Today, we are Jesus’ disciples, so these instructions are meant for us.  Jesus wants us to share our faith by going out into the world, preaching, teaching and healing in whatever way we can. And to be authentic, we should live simply and modestly, just as he did, relying less on ourselves and trusting more in God’s grace and providence. He’ll give us what we need.

Of course, we don’t have to be anyone special to do this. We only need faith and a willingness to try.

Now, it’s significant that Jesus sends his disciples out in twos. This is a pattern throughout Scripture. Had you noticed? In the Old Testament, Moses and Aaron, Nathan and David, and Jeremiah and Baruch all pair up to do God’s work.

In the New Testament, too, Jesus never sends his disciples to do something alone. For example, he sends two disciples to fetch a colt before he enters Jerusalem (Lk.19:29-30).  He sends Peter and John to prepare for the Passover (Lk.22:8).

John the Baptist sends two disciples to see Jesus (Mt.11:2). St Paul works with Barnabas (Acts 9:27), and he sends Timothy and Erastus to Macedonia (Acts 19:22). And two disciples walk together on the road to Emmaus. 

Almost nowhere in the Gospels and in the Acts of the Apostles do we see disciples working alone. Why?

Perhaps it’s because ‘two are better than one’ (Ecc.4:9).  Certainly, two people can be more effective than one. And when beginners work together, they can encourage and support and learn from each other.

St Gregory the Great said that the disciples were sent out in pairs so that they could demonstrate the two greatest commandments: to love God and each other.  

Certainly, it is much easier to communicate Christian love when you have a companion. 

Many years ago, a man was asked by his young daughter to explain why he believed in God. This seems like such a simple question, but at the time he couldn’t answer. Deep in his heart he loved God, but there was a problem: he rarely talked about his beliefs.

For years he’d used his eyes and his ears to absorb the faith, and what he learned he stored in his heart. But he almost never used his mouth to share or express what he’d learned. So, when his daughter asked him about his beliefs, he couldn’t find the right words. He was embarrassed.

That man was me. That experience taught me that as Christians we’re not meant to be ‘Lone Rangers’. Genuine Christianity means real connections with other people, where we share what’s in our hearts, our minds and our lives.

Have you found your voice? Can you express in words what you feel in your heart? Can you articulate your faith to others?

If you can’t, find someone to share your faith with. Perhaps a friend or a spiritual director. Practice talking to them about your faith experience, your doubts, your fears and your joys.

To really grow in faith, we need to talk about it. Learning to talk about our faith helps to give shape to our ideas, and it reinforces the learning.

Whenever we do this, it becomes much easier to do what Jesus wants us to do – to go out and share his good news.

Jesus said, ‘Whenever two or three are gathered in my name, I’m there with them’ (Mt.18:20).

So, go find yourself a faith friend and learn to talk about what you believe.

Year B – 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time

On Holy Indifference

(Ezek.2:2-5; 2Cor.12:7-10; Mk.6:1-6)

How do you respond to rejection? Do you get angry and upset?

In today’s gospel, Jesus returns home to Nazareth. It’s early in his public ministry, and he’s gained quite a reputation across Galilee for preaching and healing. But his hometown neighbours can’t accept it. They refuse to see him as anything but a lowly workman. So, Jesus quietly leaves town again.

In 1917, something similar happened to the three shepherd children of Fatima (Francisco, Jacinta and Lucia). The local mayor refused to believe that they’d met the Virgin Mary. He bullied them and demanded that they admit their lies.

And in 1858, in Lourdes, young Bernadette Soubirous was also threatened. The police and the local priest thought she was lying, too, because ‘Mary would never choose to visit a poor peasant girl like her’.

How did these children respond? They stood firm, and learnt to show holy indifference. Now, what does that mean?

St Vincent de Paul (1581-1660) explained holy indifference by describing the donkey. This animal, he said, is indifferent about carrying one thing or another. It doesn’t care whether it’s guided by a rich or a poor man, or whether it’s in a fine house or a wretched stable. For the donkey, it’s all the same.

So, holy indifference means accepting whatever comes our way without complaining. Why would we do that? It’s because we trust God, and we know that ultimately, our only purpose in life is to do his will. [i]

After meeting Our Lady in Fatima, young Francisco caught the deadly Spanish ‘Flu.  And Bernadette of Lourdes contracted tuberculosis. They both suffered greatly, but neither complained. They accepted their sickness as God’s will. 

That’s holy indifference.

Have you seen Michelangelo’s Pietà? It’s in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Michelangelo completed this sculpture in 1499, when he was only 24. It depicts the Blessed Virgin Mary cradling Jesus’ body, just moments after he was taken down from the Cross. 

Now, as a grieving mother, you might expect Mary to be crying and holding Jesus’ body tightly. But look closely: this is a good example of holy indifference.

See Mary’s face. Is she filled with sorrow, grief and tears? No. She’s very much at peace.

Now see her hand on the left. Is she touching Jesus? No. There’s cloth between her hand and his body. She’s detached from his lifeless form.

And her other hand? It’s not touching his body, either. Mary’s hand is open and she’s gently presenting the Body of Christ to us as a gift, as a sacrifice for our salvation. This image is deeply Eucharistic.

Now look at Jesus’ body. It seems to be sliding off Mary’s lap. Why? It’s because she’s letting him go.

This sculpture is a beautiful representation of holy indifference. To some, it may seem outrageous, for how could a mother let her son go? But remember: there’s a bigger story going on here. Jesus’ death isn’t the end. It’s actually the beginning of new life – a better life – for Jesus, for Mary and for us all. 

Mary is at peace because she knows that her own immediate needs aren’t as important as God’s bigger plan for all humanity.

She also knows that it’s not outrage or grief that heals our wounds. What truly heals us is our faith, our trust that God’s goodness will prevail over darkness. So Mary responds to suffering and sin not out of her anxiety and fear, but out of her absolutely serene trust in God. [ii]  

That’s holy indifference.

Sure, it’s not easy to detach ourselves from all that happens around us, for we are involved and we do care. But with practice, and inspired by Mary and the saints, holy indifference helps us to rise above the pain. It helps us become more patient, relaxed and joyful, and ultimately it will lead us to sainthood. 

St Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556), in his Spiritual Exercises (#23), said that the goal of life is to live with God forever. God gave us life, and when we respond with love to all that happens to us, we allow his life to flow into us without limit.

St Ignatius also said that all things in this life are gifts from God, given to help us know and love him more easily. But these gifts must not become the centre of our lives. If they do, they’ll displace God and stop us reaching our goal. So, we must be prepared to let go.

By detaching ourselves from the things of this world, including the pain and the emotion, we can more readily attach ourselves to the things of God.

That’s holy indifference.  

[i] Louis Abelly, The Life of the Venerable Servant of God Vincent de Paul. New City Press, New York. 1993. Book 3, p.49.

[ii] Loretta Ross-Gotta, Letters from the Holy Ground. Sheed & Ward, Franklin, Wisconsin, 2000:41