Year B – 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time

On Two Feet and Two Wings

(Deut.6:2-6; Heb.7:23-28; Mk.12:28-34)

People are often surprised to hear that there are 613 commandments in the first five books of the Bible (the Torah). They usually only expect ten commandments.

Long before Jesus was born, Jewish rabbis began arguing about all these laws and their meanings. They also often debated which was the most important commandment of all.

This is the question a scribe puts to Jesus in Mark’s Gospel today. Jesus replies by picking two commandments. The first is from Deuteronomy 6:5: you must love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. The second is from Leviticus 19:18: you must love your neighbour as yourself. ‘There’s no commandment greater than these,’ Jesus says.

Now, why does Jesus mention two commandments, instead of simply saying we should love God above all else? It’s because loving God and loving our neighbour are two sides of the same coin (1Jn.4:7-8).

St Basil the Great used to say that we can only love our fellow human beings because we love God first. If we don’t love God, he said, we will never be open to enemies and strangers. And the only way we can fully express our love for God is by loving our neighbours who have been created in his image and likeness.

St Catherine of Siena talks about this in her famous Dialogues. One day Our Lord said to her, ‘I want you to love me with the same love with which I love you. But you cannot do this, for I love you without being loved in return … This is why I’ve put you among your neighbours: so that you can do for them what you cannot do for me – that is, to love them without expecting any reward. And whatever you do for them I will consider done for me’ (Mt.25:40).

‘When you love me and your neighbour,’ Our Lord told her, ‘you’ll be walking with two feet, not one, and you’ll have two wings to fly to heaven.’ [i]

But who is my neighbour? Henri Nouwen says that we often answer that question by saying: ‘My neighbours are all the people I’m living with, especially the sick, the hungry, the dying, and all who are in need.

‘But that’s not what Jesus says. When Jesus tells the story of the good Samaritan (Lk.10:29-37) … he ends by asking: “Which do you think, proved himself a neighbour to the man who fell into the bandits’ hands?” 

‘The neighbour, Jesus makes clear, isn’t the poor man lying half dead on the side of the road, but the Samaritan who crossed the road to look after him.’ [ii]

Our neighbour, then, can be anyone at all, anywhere and anytime.

St Teresa of Calcutta made this clear in the story she told of a hungry Hindu family: ‘A gentleman came to our house and said: Mother Teresa, there’s a family with eight children, they haven’t eaten for so long – do something.

‘So, I took some rice and went there immediately. And I saw the children – their eyes shining with hunger … (The mother) took the rice, divided it and went out. When she came back, I asked her – where did you go, what did you do? And she gave me a very simple answer: They are hungry also.’

That Hindu family was starving, but so was another Muslim family. The hungry mother had shared her rice with them.

Mother Teresa said, ‘I didn’t bring any more rice that evening because I wanted them to enjoy the joy of sharing. But there were those children, radiating joy, sharing the joy with their mother because she had the love to give. And you see this is where love begins – at home.’ [iii]

So, how might we ourselves begin?

In his book Mere Christianity, CS Lewis says: ‘Don’t waste time bothering whether you “love” your neighbour; act as if you did. As soon as we do this,’ he says, ‘we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will soon come to love them.’ [iv]

The great theologian Karl Rahner once said something similar. A student who was going through a crisis of faith asked him for some books to read to regain his faith.

‘Forget books,’ Rahner said, ‘go out and join a group of Christians who help the poor.’

What all these good people are talking about is a pure and selfless love; a love that expects nothing in return. This is the kind of love God gives us, and the love God wants us to give our neighbour.

A pure and selfless love that expects nothing in return.

When you love both God and your neighbour, you’ll be walking with two feet, not one, and you’ll have two wings to fly to heaven.

[i] St Catherine of Siena, The Dialogue, Paulist Press, Mahweh, N.J. 1980



[iv] CS Lewis, Mere Christianity, Fontana Books, London, 1969:114

Year B – 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time

On Seeing Clearly

(Jer.31:7-9; Heb.5:1-6; Mk.10:46-52)

Our eyesight is such a precious gift; we often take it for granted. But having good eyesight doesn’t always mean we see well, for there are different kinds of blindness.

Helen Keller was only 19 months old when she became deaf and blind. But she still learned to read, write and speak, and she lived a full life.

One day, when a friend returned from a long walk in the woods, Helen asked her what she had seen. Her friend replied, ‘Nothing in particular.’

Helen couldn’t believe it. ‘How is this possible,’ she asked herself, ‘when I who cannot hear or see, find hundreds of interesting things through mere touch? I feel the delicate shape and design of a leaf. I pass my hands lovingly over the rough bark of a pine tree. Occasionally, I place my hand quietly on a small tree, and if I’m lucky, I’ll feel the quiver of a bird in full song.’

‘The greatest calamity that can befall people,’ Keller said, ‘is not that they should be born blind, but that they should have eyes, yet fail to see.’ [i]

Set of 2 eye chart printables. Instant download PDF JPG prints. Be Thou My  Vision. I was Blind but Now I See. Christian wall art. Home decor in 2021 |  Be thou

In Mark’s Gospel today, Bartimaeus is a blind beggar, sitting on the roadside in Jericho, some three hours’ walk from Jerusalem. He may have had conjunctivitis, for it was common in those days.

Jesus of Nazareth walks by with his disciples, and Bartimaeus calls out, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me!’ The crowd tries to keep him quiet, but Bartimaeus keeps calling out. And then, when he’s invited to approach, he throws off his cloak, he jumps up and goes to Jesus to be healed.

Now, some points in this famous story are worth noting.

Firstly, Bartimaeus lives in darkness, yet he can see the truth, unlike the crowd that tries to keep him quiet. Today, something similar is happening in our own world. There’s a large crowd out there, still trying to keep Christians quiet; still trying to separate us from Jesus. Like Bartimaeus, we must ignore them and stay faithful.

Secondly, Bartimaeus’ cloak is a powerful symbol. It’s all he owns.  He sleeps in it; he uses it to collect coins and he uses it to protect himself. And yet, he leaves it behind. That takes great faith, because he might not find it again.

Compare that to the story of the rich young man who was too scared to leave his possessions to follow Jesus (Mk.10:17-31). Bartimaeus trusted Jesus; the rich young man did not.

And did you notice how Jesus calls Bartimaeus? He doesn’t do it directly. He gets his disciples to call him. That’s an important detail, because Jesus often works through his disciples. Today, we are his disciples. Do we allow Jesus to work through us?

And finally, did you notice how Jesus responds to Bartimaeus? He doesn’t toss a few coins at him, which many of us might do. Rather, Jesus asks, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’

John 14:6 Eye Chart, Bible Verse on Canvas – Honeycomb Proverbs

That’s the same question Jesus asked James and John in last week’s Gospel. Jesus doesn’t guess what’s in our hearts. He wants us to talk with him personally, to share our deepest hopes and fears with him.

Bartimaeus answers that question by saying, ‘I want to see’. Jesus then says, ‘Go your way; your faith has saved you.’ But Bartimaeus doesn’t go his own way. Instead, he follows Jesus. He becomes a disciple.

Of all the people Jesus helps in the Gospels, Bartimaeus is one of the very few we actually know by name. We should remember him, because at every Mass we say ‘Kyrie eleison’ – ‘Lord have mercy on me’. These are Bartimaeus’ words.

Like Bartimaeus, there are times when we, too, are weak and helpless and simply cannot see what we need to see. Yet, where it counts, Bartimaeus actually sees more clearly than anyone else.

The great gift of faith is that it allows us to see things that even healthy eyes often miss.

As a young man living in Spain, St Josemaria Escriva knew that God was calling him to do something special, but he couldn’t see what it was. However, he was inspired by Bartimaeus’ story, and for years he prayed Bartimaeus’ prayer: ‘Lord, that I might see!’

God heard his prayer and gave him a clear spiritual vision. St Josemaria went on to accomplish many great things in his lifetime.

Today, Jesus is asking us the same question: ‘What do you want me to do for you?’

Tell him that you really want to see.

[i] Flor McCarthy, New Sunday and Holy Day Liturgies, Year B. Dominican Publications, Dublin, 2017, p.346-347.

Year B – 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

On Second Fiddle 

[Is.53:10-11; Heb.4:4-16; Mk.10:35-45]

In his book Tuesdays with Morrie, Mitch Albom tells the story of a university basketball game. Their team is doing well, and the students are chanting, ‘We’re number one! We’re number one!’ 

But Professor Morrie is sitting nearby and he’s puzzled. He stands up and yells, ‘What’s wrong with being number two?’ The students look at him and stop chanting. [i]

Yes, what is wrong with being number two? So many people today think the only place to be is out in front, in first place. Anywhere else, they think, isn’t good enough. Yet, the great American conductor Leonard Bernstein was once asked, ‘What’s the hardest instrument to play?’ He replied, ‘Second fiddle’.

‘I can always get plenty of first violinists,’ he said, ‘but to find one who plays second violin with as much enthusiasm … now that’s a problem. And yet if no-one plays second, we have no harmony.’ [ii]

Now I’m no musician, but I do know that we can’t all play first violin. In an orchestra, the first violin plays the melody, the tune that everyone listens for and enjoys. But the second fiddle plays the harmony. That’s the supporting role that compliments the first violin, making it look and sound good. But to get that result, the second fiddler has to work hard, doing lots of fancy finger work.

In the end, the first violin usually gets the credit, and the second often goes unnoticed. But the second violinist nonetheless has a vital role to play.

The success of so much in life depends on the skills and commitment of those who labour quietly in the background. Yes, sometimes there’s little recognition, but there is joy to be had from seeing things succeed, from helping others shine and knowing that we’ve played our part well.

One fine example of this is St John the Baptist, the forerunner who spent his life preparing the world for the coming of Jesus (Mk.1:1-8). John was the greatest preacher in the land, and he had many followers. But when Jesus arrived, he chose to play second fiddle and got out of the way (Jn.3:30). Yet Jesus said, ‘Among those born of women, none is greater than John’ (Lk.7:28). 

John’s greatness was in emptying himself in the service of others. That’s exactly what Jesus did, too (Phil.2:5-11).

In Mark’s gospel today, the apostles James and John ask Jesus if they can sit on his left and right when he comes into his glory in heaven. In other words, they want to share in his greatness by having honours and privileges given to them. But Jesus replies, ‘You don’t know what you’re asking for.’

He then asks if they can drink the cup that he must drink. They say yes, but really, they don’t understand.

In Scripture, the word ‘cup’ often refers to suffering, especially the suffering that comes from being punished for one’s sins (Ps.75.8; Jer.25:15; Is.51:17). Jesus came to drink this cup on behalf of everyone. He immersed himself in the suffering we all deserve for our sins (Mt.26:39). He calls this immersion his ‘baptism’, because after dying on the Cross he returns to new life.

Then Jesus says, ‘anyone who wants to become great among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be slave to all’. And he explains this by saying that he came not to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mk.10:43-45).

In my younger days, I used to think that life was all about making it to the top, becoming number one. But then I started noticing that we can often achieve good things much more effectively when we’re NOT number one. How? By being a positive influence. I also discovered that without the burdens of leadership, supporting roles can often be much more satisfying.

If you think about it, life is much like an orchestra. Like musical instruments, we all have our parts to play, at different times and in various ways. And the music we create is dynamic: sometimes there’s great drama, with crashing cymbals and drums, and sometimes there are quiet interludes, cushioned on sweet violins and flutes.

There are also times, like the harp and bassoon, when no-one notices us, and like the viola, when what we do is so very repetitive. But we’re all designed to work together to support and enrich the main tune, which is where joy and love are to be found – for everyone.

In the orchestra of life, some people insist on being the conductor. But they forget that he can’t make a sound, and he must always turn his back on the crowd.

Like second fiddle, the conductor’s job is to make others shine.

That’s something we can all do, anytime, wherever we are.

[i] Mitch Albom, Tuesdays with Morrie. Hatchette Australia, Sydney, 2008:136.

[ii] Mark Buchanan, Your God is Too Safe. Multnomah Books, Colorado Springs, 2001:213.

Year B – 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time

On Letting Go

(Wis.7:7-11; Heb.4:12-13; Mk.10:17-30)

In the movie ‘Up in the Air’ (2009), George Clooney’s character is teaching a class of students. He asks them:

‘… How much does your life weigh? Imagine … you’re carrying a backpack. I want you to feel the straps on your shoulders … Now pack it with all the stuff you have in your life. Start with the little things. The things on shelves and in drawers, the knick-knacks, the collectibles. Feel the weight as it adds up. Then start adding larger stuff, clothes, table-top appliances, lamps, linens, your TV.

‘The backpack should be getting pretty heavy now. And you go bigger. Your couch, bed, your kitchen table. Stuff it all in there. Your car, get it in there. Your home, whether it’s a studio apartment or a two-bedroom house. I want you to stuff it all into that backpack. Now try to walk. It’s kind of hard, isn’t it? This is what we do to ourselves on a daily basis. We weigh ourselves down until we can’t even move. And make no mistake, moving is living…’ [i]

What he’s talking about here is letting go. Many people today would love to let go of all their burdens, their fears, their obsessions, their disappointments – everything that weighs them down. So, what stops them?

Bill Bausch tells the story of an old monk who’d been teaching a young disciple. After some time, he tells the disciple he’s ready to go out on his own. The young disciple then goes into the wilderness and lives in a simple hut near the river. Every night, happy as a lark, he puts out his simple tunic, his only possession, to dry. One morning he finds it’s been shredded by rats. So, he begs a second tunic from the villagers, but the rats destroy that too. He decides to get a cat. 

But now he must beg food not only for himself but also milk for the cat. To get around that, he buys a cow. Now he needs food for the cow. So he works the land around his hut and it takes all his time to grow the crops to feed the cow. He hires workers and marries a wife who keeps the household running smoothly. Pretty soon he’s one of the wealthiest people in the village. 

Several years later his teacher returns to find a mansion where the hut had been. ‘What’s the meaning of this?’ he asks. The disciple replies, ‘Holy Father, there was no other way for me to keep my tunic.’ [ii]

Bausch says this is the perfect parable for us. We all have to keep up appearances, maintain our status and have what everyone else has. And while we’re rationalising the way we live, he says no-one ever suspects that Jesus is looking at us with love, saying we can do better than that, for we’re not everyone else.

In today’s Gospel, a rich young man asks Jesus, ‘Master, what must I do to earn eternal life?’ Jesus reminds him of the Commandments, but he replies that he already obeys them. So, Jesus says, ‘Go and sell everything you own and give the money to the poor, and you’ll have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me’.

But the young man just can’t let go of his attachments, and he walks away, sad.

Why is he sad? It’s because he’s been given a taste of heaven, but rejected it. He’s been given a glimpse of an exciting new world, but he’s too scared to let go of the old one.

Some people think this story means they must discard everything they own.  But not every disciple is asked to do that. Martha and Mary, you might remember, entertained Jesus in their own home.

Jesus isn’t asking us to live in poverty. He’s not expecting his disciples to be destitute. But he is calling us to live a life of simplicity and freedom. That means letting go of anything that holds us back, anything that separates us from God, such as money, status, our inflated self-importance or our unhealthy relationships. [iii]

Bill Bausch says that Jesus is looking on us with love, but it’s not the simpering, gushy love of greeting cards or insipid hymns. 

Rather, it’s a tough love that reminds us that, good people that we are, we can do better, we must do better.

Too many of us today are drifting aimlessly through life.  And yet, deep down, we’re all hungering for meaning and purpose. We’re all yearning for the transcendent beauty of God.

Right now, Jesus is inviting us to follow him. What’s holding us back?

What’s stopping you?

Can you let it go?


[ii] William J Bausch, Once Upon a Gospel. Twenty-Third Publications, New London CT. 2011:283.

[iii] James Martin, Jesus – A Pilgrimage. HarperCollins, NY. 2014:270-271, 306.

Year B – 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time

On the Language of Love

(Gen.2:18-24; Heb.2:9-11; Mk.10:2-16)

There’s nothing quite like falling in love, is there? It feels so exhilarating, so exciting, so extraordinary.

When two people fall in love, not only do their hearts light up.  Scientists say their hormones fire up, too, as a neurochemical cocktail of adrenaline and dopamine rushes from their brains. The effect is like cocaine, they say, and the lovers feel euphoric. [i] It’s as if nothing can possibly go wrong.

Falling in love feels like the most wonderful thing in the world. But those feelings don’t last, do they?

The author Gary Chapman says that the average romantic obsession lasts for just two years. After that, he says, the hormones start settling down and the lovers find themselves gradually returning to earth and normal life. 

When lovers start seeing things as they really are, their differences become more obvious and they tend to drift apart. That’s when they find themselves in danger of falling out of love and they either withdraw from each other (and maybe split up), or they start the hard work of learning how to love each other in new ways.

Over the years I’ve sometimes been surprised to see couples who love each other break up, and I’ve wondered why. In his book The 5 Love Languages, Gary Chapman provides one good answer. He says there are five main ways to express our love for someone, and he calls these ‘love languages’.  Everyone enjoys them all to some degree, but each of us has a primary love language, a preferred way in which we tend to give and receive love. 

The first of these is Words of Affirmation. For some people, words are the most powerful way of communicating their love and affection. They do this through thoughtful statements of appreciation, encouragement and kindness. 

For others, Quality Time is more important. This love language is all about giving your partner your undivided time and attention. It’s not just ‘hanging around’; it means being actively and genuinely present to them in meaningful ways.

The third love language is Gifts. For some people, gifts are the very best way to express love, and receiving gifts is their preferred way to be loved.

The fourth love language is Acts of Service. Some people believe that actions speak louder than words, and they like to express their love and affection by doing things for others. They might do a chore, solve a problem or cook a meal for them, and they simply love it when they receive a kind service in return.

And finally, the fifth love language is Physical Touch. For some people, nothing speaks more deeply or beautifully of love than a warm, gentle touch. They like to express their affection by giving a hug or holding hands or sitting close by.

But of course, we need to be careful. Not everyone likes to be touched. Not everyone appreciates a gift or a well-crafted word. 

For a relationship to be successful, we need to know our partner’s primary love language. If I emphasise romantic words when my wife prefers gifts, I could be wasting my time. I might think I’m being loving while she’s feeling neglected. This is why relationships sometimes break up; the partners haven’t learnt how to express their love in the most meaningful and effective way.

So how do we discover someone’s love language? One way is to ask them. But Chapman also says that we should observe the way they express their love to others. And we should analyse what they often complain about and what they ask for. [ii]

But here’s the point: genuine love requires serious thought and effort.

In our first reading today from the Book of Genesis, God is presented as a potter using his hands to create wild beasts and birds from clay. He also creates man in his own image and likeness, and he fills man’s heart with the fire of his love.

This reading reminds us that we were all made to love and to be loved, because God is love itself (1Jn.4:8; 16). And Jesus affirms this fact in Mark’s gospel today, where he talks about the importance of marriage.

But our second reading from the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us that loving others makes us vulnerable to suffering. That’s exactly what happens to Jesus when he opens up his heart to us. He exposes himself to suffering, and he finds himself nailed to the Cross.  However, it’s through his unshakeable commitment to love, and the inevitable suffering, that he is made perfect.

And so it is with us. Loving someone else takes courage and commitment, and it makes us vulnerable.

But it’s only through love that we grow to full maturity. 

And it’s only through love that we’ll ever get to heaven.


[ii] Gary Chapman, The Five Love Languages. Northfield Publishing, Chicago. 2010.