Year C – 1st Sunday of Advent

An Often-Neglected Gift

(Jer.33:14-16; Thess.3:12-4:2; Lk.21:25-28, 34-36)

Every year, in the weeks before Christmas, most of us spend time thinking about gifts – gifts for the people we love and care for.

Every year, however, there’s one gift that too many of us neglect in the run-up to Christmas. It’s the Season of Advent. It only lasts for four Sundays, it starts today, and it really is a gift to each of us from Jesus and his Church.

Advent is a remarkable gift. It marks the beginning of a brand-new liturgical year, and the start of a fresh new journey as we set out once again to follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ.

As we travel together over the next twelve months, we’ll be reliving Jesus’ story, from his birth and early life, to his public ministry, his passion, death and resurrection, and his Ascension into heaven. And along the way, we’ll be listening to his teachings, we’ll be hearing the personal messages he has for us, and we’ll be his witnesses as he sends his Holy Spirit into the world.

Starting a new journey can be a wonderful thing, but to gain the most benefit we must fully engage our hearts and minds, and allow ourselves to embrace new stories and new ways of living.

The Jewish philosopher Martin Buber used to say that all journeys have secret destinations of which the traveller is unaware. But before we can reach these secret destinations, we must let go of our old ways of seeing and be prepared to do new things.

Have you heard the folktale of a woman named Bilfina? The Three Wise Men and their camels pass by her house while she is busy cleaning inside. They invite her to join with them as they journey to Jesus in Bethlehem.

          Bilfina, the housewife, scrubbing her pane
          Saw three old sages ride down the lane,
          Saw three grey travellers pass by her door –
          Gaspar, Balthazar and Melchior.

          ‘Where journey you, sirs?’ she asked of them.
          Balthazar answered, ‘To Bethlehem,
          For we have news of a marvelous thing,
          Born in a stable is Christ the King’.

          ‘Give Him my welcome!’ she said,
          Then Gaspar smiled,
          ‘Come with us, mistress, to greet the child’.
          ‘Oh, happily, happily would I fare, she said
          Were my dusting done and I’d polished the stair.’
          ….. Old Melchior leaned on his saddle horn,
          ‘Then send but a gift to the small Newborn.’

          ‘Oh, gladly, gladly, I’d send him one,
          Were the kitchen swept
          and my weaving done.

          As soon as I’ve baked my bread,
          I’ll fetch him a pillow for his head,
          And a blanket too,’ Bilfina said.

          ‘When the rooms are aired and the linen dry,
          I’ll look at the Babe,’ she said,                                             
          ….. But the three rode by.

          She worked for a day, and a night and a day,
          Then gifts in her hands, she went on her way.
          But she never found where the Christ child lay.

          And she still wanders at Christmastide,
          ….. Houseless, whose house was all her pride.
          Whose heart was tardy, whose gifts were late;

          ….. She wanders and knocks at every gate.      
          Crying, ‘Good people, the bells begin!
          Put off your toiling and let love in!’

Yes, put off your toiling and let love in. 


Some of us are so busy; we’re so stuck in our day-to-day routines, that we often miss the important things when they come our way. And then, when we do notice them, sometimes it’s too late.

Today, the gift of Advent is being offered to you personally. Accept it. Slow down a while, and perhaps even stop altogether. Take time to listen, to reflect, to pray and to trust Jesus, for he’s reaching out to you right now.

It is important for us to prepare our hearts and homes for the coming of Jesus at Christmas. But it’s also essential that we prepare our souls for when he comes again – at the end of our lives and at the end of all time.  Let’s not make Bilfina’s mistake. Let’s journey to Jesus before it’s too late.

So, put off your toiling, and let love in.

Put off your toiling, and let joy and wisdom in.

Put off your toiling, and accept the wonderful gift of Advent.

Year B – 34th Sunday in Ordinary Time

On the Cristeros

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

Today we mark the end of our liturgical year by celebrating the Feast of Christ the King.

Pope Pius XI established this celebration in 1925, at a time when the world was in deep trouble. WWI was over, but Nazism, Communism and Fascism were on the rise, and Pope Pius wanted to warn the world. He wanted to remind us all that life comes only from God and that it’s a mistake to put our faith in politics. 

In that same year, 1925, Blessed Miguel Pro was ordained a Jesuit priest in Belgium. He was Mexican, but he had to study for the priesthood in Europe because Mexico had become very dangerous for the Church.

Blessed Miguel Agustín Pro

The Mexican government had been persecuting Christians for 100 years, but things got much worse in 1926 when President Plutarco Calles tried to destroy the Church completely. He closed all Catholic schools, confiscated all church property, banned any teaching or public expression of the faith and he exiled or executed huge numbers of priests and nuns.

When the archbishop of Mexico City complained, his house and the chapel of Our Lady of Guadalupe were bombed. Priests and bishops then went into hiding and all public worship stopped for three years.

Fr Miguel Pro returned to Mexico that year, but he had to go ‘underground’, serving the people in secret. In 1927 he was arrested and falsely accused of bombing and attempted assassination. On November 23 that year, without any trial, he was sent for execution. [i]

As he walked from his cell to the firing squad, he blessed the soldiers, knelt and prayed quietly. Then he faced his executioners with a crucifix in one hand and a rosary in the other, and held out his arms like Christ on the Cross. 

‘May God have mercy on you! May God bless you!’ he cried out boldly. ‘Lord, you know I’m innocent! With all my heart I forgive my enemies!’

Then he shouted ‘Viva Cristo Rey!’

Long live Christ the King.

And he died in a hail of bullets. [ii]

President Calles had photos of Fr Miguel’s execution published in all the newspapers, expecting this to scare off any opposition. But it had the opposite effect.

Some 40,000 people attended his funeral procession, while another 20,000 waited at the cemetery. 

Calles had said that after a year without the sacraments, the people would surely forget about their faith. But he was wrong, because they started to rebel. 

For Greater Glory movie review (2012) | Roger Ebert

Have you seen the movie For Greater Glory (2012)? It tells the story of the Cristero (‘soldier for Christ’) Rebellion in Mexico (1926-29). It shows how ordinary people believed that there’s no greater glory than to give one’s life for Jesus Christ. Some chose to fight back non-violently, through economic boycotts or civil disobedience, while others chose armed resistance.

One story in that movie is that of José Sánchez del Rio, a boy who was canonised by Pope Francis in 2016. He was only 14 when the Cristero War broke out. When his brothers joined the resistance, he wanted to offer his life for Christ, too. So, he became the flagbearer for his rebel troop. 

In one battle, the leader of the Cristeros lost his horse and José gave him his own. But he was captured by government troops, and they tried to get him to renounce his faith. They said, ‘If you shout, “Death to Christ the King” we’ll spare you’. But José refused. He said, ‘I’ll never give in. Viva Cristo Rey!’

20th Century Martyrs: Tell Christ the King I shall be with him soon (Jose  Sanchez del Rio)

So, they tortured him violently. A month before his 15th birthday, he was forced to march to the cemetery on cruelly bloodied feet. Just before they shot him, he called out, ‘Viva Cristo Rey!’ 

Long live Christ the King.

Now, why did Pope Pius XI want us to celebrate Christ the King?  It’s because our world has been working steadily to banish him. We can see it in the media, in our politics, and in the culture of our society. There’s long been a concerted campaign to banish Jesus Christ from our world, and it continues today.

Our world is full of fear, violence and greed, and vested interests are working hard to control the way we think, speak and live.

Jesus, however, represents something very different. He represents justice, peace and hope. He represents truth, love and mercy – all the things we need to thrive and be happy.

The Feast of Christ the King has nothing to do with crowns, palaces or robes. Rather, it’s about getting our priorities straight. It’s about the way we live, the decisions we make and who we follow in our day-to-day lives. [iii]

Jesus Christ is our king.

Long live Christ the King.

Viva Cristo Rey! [iv]



[iii] Bausch, W.J. Once Upon a Gospel.  Twenty-Third Publications, New London, CT. 2011:315.


Year B – 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

On the Prepper’s Handbook

(Dan.12:1-3; Heb.10:11-14,18; Mk.13:24-32)

Today they’re known as preppers, or survivalists, and they’re preparing for the end of the world.

Whether it’s an asteroid strike, nuclear war, climate chaos or some other disaster, they’re all convinced that global catastrophe is coming, and they’re determined to survive. They’re readying themselves by installing underground bunkers and stockpiling food, ammunition and other supplies, and their plan is to ‘ride out the storm’ until life returns to normal.

None of this is new, of course. Ever since Jesus first warned that the world will end one day, countless people have been trying to anticipate the event.

The Mystical Nativity - Wikipedia

In 1501, the Renaissance painter Botticelli was convinced that he lived in the end times, and he hid lots of messages about the world’s end in his painting Mystic Nativity. [i]

In 1524, when the German mathematician Johannes Stöffler predicted a massive worldwide flood, one man built a three-storey ark. [ii]

And in 1910, some people were sure that the poisonous tail of Halley’s Comet would destroy the world as it flew past. [iii]

So far, they’ve all been wrong.

As Christians, we know that our earthly lives are temporary, and we accept that the world will end one day. Jesus confirms this in Mark’s Gospel today. But he also says that even he doesn’t know the day or the hour when the world will end; only his Father knows. So why are these people trying to guess what even the Son of God doesn’t know?

In Luke 21:8, Jesus says, ‘Watch out that you’re not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming… “The time is near”.’ Don’t follow them, he says.

And St Paul says there’s no point waiting for the end because Jesus will only return ‘like a thief in the night’ – when we least expect it (1Thess.5:2). So, there’s no point guessing when that might be. It’s wiser to listen to what Jesus is trying to tell us.

In today’s Gospel, he assures us that, like a good shepherd, he will one day return to gather up the elect – the scattered people of God – into one community. And he says, ‘The sun will be darkened (and) the moon will lose its light…’

Now, it’s the sun that gives us our years, and it’s the moon that gives us our months. So, without the sun and the moon, time as we know it will end.  But that doesn’t mean the end of everything. Rather, Jesus is talking about a new beginning, and a new creation.

Fig Leaves Pictures | Download Free Images on Unsplash

He then points to a sprouting fig leaf, which in winter marks the start of a new season. In the same way, these cosmic events will signal the start of a new heaven and a new earth, and the fulfilment of God’s plans for us.  

Now, this is what we should be preparing for. As Christians, our challenge isn’t just to get ready for the next emergency; it’s to prepare for eternal life. And the way to do that isn’t by installing bunkers, but by opening our hearts, strengthening our faith and gathering as much grace as we can, while we can.

It’s also by focusing on those around us, and not just on ourselves.

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says that at the end of time, when the Son of Man comes in his glory, he’ll be separating the sheep from the goats (Mt.25:31-46). The sheep, of course, are those who cared for ‘the least of his brothers and sisters’, by giving them something to eat, something to drink and something to wear when they needed it. The goats are those who were too selfish to bother.

Our goal is to be counted among the sheep, not the goats.

So, here’s the point: Everything we need to prepare for eternal life can be found in the Gospel, for it’s the ultimate handbook for Christian preppers.

The Gospel is full of inspiring stories and practical advice which together present the great story of Jesus Christ, who not only shows us the way to heaven, but through his Holy Spirit also helps us get there.

But to achieve this, we must stop being so passive. We must take our faith actively in hand and develop it. We must get to know Jesus Christ personally and do all we can to follow him.

The time for passive Christianity is over.

So many of today’s doomsday preppers focus on fear. But St Augustine tells us that fear is the enemy of love, and ultimately, love is what we seek.

The place to find it is in Jesus Christ, because God is love itself (1Jn.4:8).

When we follow the Gospel and that last day comes, we’ll find that there’s nothing else left for us to do.

For we’ll already be well prepared.

[i] Sandro Botticelli, Mystic Nativity, c.1501, oil on canvas, National Gallery, London.



Year B – 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

On the Widow’s Mite

(1Kgs.17:10-16; Heb.9:24-28; Mk.12:38-44)

I once knew a man, a politician, who liked to promote himself. Every week he’d always arrive late for Mass with his large family in tow. Making a grand entrance, he’d walk to the front of the church, look around, and sit down.

It wasn’t long before other churchgoers asked themselves: was he honouring God or himself? Was he looking for faith or votes?

Something similar happens in Mark’s Gospel today. Jesus warns his followers to beware of the scribes in the Temple. These men like to strut around in fine clothes, greeting people and taking the best seats in the synagogue. They like to parade their wealth and importance.

But Mark then contrasts this life of pride and selfishness with another story, about a poor widow. She quietly donates to the Temple two tiny copper coins, each smaller than a fingertip. (These coins are often called Mites today, but in ancient Israel they were known as Lepta). [i]


Two mites were enough to buy two sparrows (Mt.10:29).

It’s not much, but Jesus says her gift is the greatest of all because it’s all she had. This is a real sacrifice, compared to the wealthy who only give from their surplus.

This widow’s tale is the last story from Jesus’ public ministry in Mark’s Gospel, before he begins his passion. It’s significant, because it summarises all Jesus has been trying to teach us about following him.

This widow represents Christ himself, because soon afterwards Jesus does the very same thing. He gives up everything he has – his whole life – for the people he loves: you and me. So, this widow is an icon of Christ, a living image of Jesus himself. 

Her two coins represent the two greatest commandments: to love God and to love our neighbour, with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind.  This is the selfless sacrifice we’re all called to make.

But can we do it? Can we let go of our worldly attachments and open ourselves up to the life of Jesus Christ? 

Someone once said that if we want God’s kingdom to come, then we need to let go of our own personal kingdoms.

Let me tell you of three people who did just that.

The first is St Elizabeth of Hungary. She was a princess, born in 1207 to the King of Hungary. At the age of 14 she married a German count and they had three children. She was wealthy, but she insisted on living a simple, humble life, just like Jesus and St Francis of Assisi.

She gave food to the poor. She built hospitals and worked in them. She helped a leper colony, and when she ran out of money, she sold her jewellery and gowns and dressed as a commoner. She gave up everything to help others and, at the age of 24, she died. [ii]

The second person who learnt to let go is an American, Tom Monaghan, born in 1937. His father died when he was four. His mother was so poor that she put him and his brother into a foster home. When he was 23, he bought a pizzeria and called it Domino’s. He grew the business, became enormously rich and lived a lavish lifestyle.

Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

Then, one day he read C.S. Lewis’ book Mere Christianity. One chapter, especially, changed his life. It was Chapter 8, which is all about pride. In 1998 he sold Domino’s Pizza for $1 billion and he decided to devote his life and fortune to helping the Church.

Since then, he has built many schools, a cathedral in Nicaragua, Ave Maria University in Florida and the Thomas More Law Center in Michigan. He has established radio stations and newspapers and many other charities and projects supporting Catholic education and values. [iii]

Monaghan says his goal is to help as many people as possible to get to heaven.

The third person who learnt to let go is Margaret, an ordinary woman I met some years ago. She, too, is a widow. She’s not rich, either, but she is utterly devoted to sponsoring poor African children. Every time she has a spare $20, she sends it to the Missions in Africa. So far, she has sponsored dozens of children. That’s her life’s work. She is like the poor widow in today’s Gospel.

We all have something to offer, even if it’s only a widow’s mite.

We’re not meant to live our lives for ourselves. We’re all meant to live for others, in a spirit of great generosity and love.

Doing whatever we can.

[i] Each Lepton was worth 1/64 of a denarius, which was the daily wage of a common worker.