Year C – Christmas Day

A Very Grinchy Christmas

(Is.62:1-5; Acts 13:16-17, 22-25; Mt.1:18-25)

Merry Christmas! Today is such a special day. So many people are smiling and feeling good inside.

But what is Christmas all about? This is a good time to ask ourselves: What is Christmas all about?

When we look around our city, it’s easy to think that Christmas is all about gifts and Santa and fairy lights. 

That’s what the Grinch thought. He hated Christmas. Have you seen the movie How the Grinch Stole Christmas? [i] The Grinch is a green, hairy and cranky beast who lives on a rubbish dump called Mt. Crumpit, outside the town of Whoville. 

Every Who down in Whoville liked Christmas a lot …
But the Grinch, who lived … just north of Whoville, did not!
The Grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season!
Now, please don’t ask why. No one quite knows the reason.

One night the Grinch decides to stop Christmas from coming to Whoville.  He steals everyone’s Christmas gifts and things. He packs his sled up … 

… with their presents! The ribbons! The wrappings!
The tags! And the tinsel! The trimmings! The trappings!
Three thousand feet up! Up the side of Mt. Crumpit,
He rode with his load to the tiptop to dump it!

The Grinch laughs, and he expects everyone to be miserable when they wake up. But then he hears a sound …

It started in low. Then it started to grow.
But the sound wasn’t sad! Why, this sound sounded merry!
It couldn’t be so! But it was merry! Very!
He stared down at Whoville! The Grinch popped his eyes!
Then he shook! What he saw was a shocking surprise!
Every Who down in Whoville, the tall and the small,
Was singing! Without any presents at all!
He hadn’t stopped Christmas from coming! It came!
Somehow or other, it came just the same! …

‘It came without ribbons! It came without tags!’
‘It came without packages, boxes or bags!’
And he puzzled three hours, till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before!
‘Maybe Christmas,’ he thought, ‘doesn’t come from a store.’
‘Maybe Christmas … perhaps … means a little bit more!’

The Grinch feels all toasty inside and his heart starts to melt. He realises that the people of Whoville still care about Christmas, even without their Christmas things. Before, his heart was two times smaller. Now it’s three times bigger! 

He decides to return all their Christmas things, and they have a happy Christmas after all. [ii]

Now, what about you? What does Christmas mean to you? Is it the presents, the ribbons, the colourful wrappings? Is it the tags, the tinsel, the trimmings and trappings?

Or does Christmas mean more than that?

Dr Seuss’ story of the Grinch has an important message for us. Christmas isn’t about the trimmings and the trappings. It’s not about the presents. These things are nice, but they’re not important.

As the Grinch says, many of those things will just end up on the rubbish dump, anyway.

Christmas is all about Jesus, the Son of God who is the source of all love. When Jesus was born, he didn’t need all the trimmings or trappings. All he had was Mary and Joseph, and they were really poor. But they were happy.

Remember that this Christmas. To be happy, all you need is your loving family, your friends – and Jesus. 

So, make sure you invite Jesus into your home and hearts this Christmas Day. 

And please ask him to stay,
for much more than a day.

Indeed, why not invite him to stay forever!


[ii] Dr Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas. HarperCollins Children’s Books, London, 2010.

Year C – 4th Sunday of Advent

Weak, Lost and Broken

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

In 2017, at the end of an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, a bomb exploded, killing 22 people and injuring 120.

Who was the first responder on the scene? It was a homeless man, Stephen Jones. He’d been sleeping outside when the bomb went off. But when he heard people screaming, he rushed in to help. He’d had no medical experience, but he soon found himself pulling nails out of arms and faces. [i]

Sometimes God works through the most unlikely people.

Today, if something important needs doing, most of us want someone well qualified to do it. But God is different. Throughout history, he has consistently chosen weak, lost and broken people to do his work.

Abraham, for example, was already old when God asked him to be the father of many nations (Gen.17:1-2). Moses was a murderer and had a bad stutter, but God still asked him to lead the Israelites out of Egypt (Ex.2:12; 4:10).

St Paul had cruelly persecuted Christians (Acts 8:3); St Camillus de Lellis (1550-1614) was a gambler;[ii] and Matthew Talbot (1856-1925) was a drunk. Yet God still used them all to achieve great things.

Why does God choose such unlikely people? It’s because everyone is in some way weak, lost or broken. No-one is perfect.

But that doesn’t matter, because no-one has to be especially well-qualified, or holy, to do God’s work. With God, all things are possible (Mt.19:26).

God knows our flaws (Ps.103:14), but he believes in us. We often think we’re unworthy, but God knows better.

Very often, it’s our weaknesses that initially draw us to God, when we recognise that we’re struggling. But when we do turn to God, and agree to co-operate with him, he turns our weakness into strength (Heb.11:32-34).

In Manchester, Stephen Jones’ weakness was his homelessness. But it became a strength, for he was in the right place at the right time to help the victims. St Paul understands this. That’s why he says, ‘I take pleasure in my weaknesses, for when I’m weak, then I am strong’ (2Cor.12:10).

When we recognise our own weaknesses, we discover that it’s only by God’s grace that we can do anything at all. And if we’re honest, we know we can’t boast because any glory really belongs to God (2Cor.4:7).

In Luke’s Gospel today, Mary is pregnant with Jesus, and goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth in the hill country outside Jerusalem. Elizabeth is pregnant, too, with John the Baptist.

Neither of these women is a likely candidate for the job God has for them. Even Mary thinks she’s unsuitable (Lk.1:34), for how can she possibly raise the son of God when she’s not yet married? She’s a poor, illiterate teenager living a hard life in an obscure town. She spends most of her time carrying water, collecting wood, preparing food and washing.

Her cousin Elizabeth is also an unlikely choice (Lk.1:43). She’s childless and elderly, and lives modestly in a tiny village. But God wants her to be the mother of the greatest of the prophets, John the Baptist.

The point about these two women is that they didn’t do what so many of us tend to do. They didn’t say no to God; they didn’t tell him to find someone more suitable. Despite their fears, Mary and Elizabeth both said yes and their lives were transformed.

In 1978, in Rome, during the elections for a new pope to replace John Paul I, a young Polish cardinal, Karol Wojtyla, seemed to be winning. He was worried and he turned to his mentor, Cardinal Wyszynski of Warsaw.

Wyszynski reminded him of the story of St Peter in the novel Quo Vadis, where Peter was escaping from danger in Rome and Jesus challenged him to stay.

‘Accept it’, Wyszynski said.

At the end of the ballot, Karol Wojtyla was asked, ‘Do you accept?’  He replied, ‘In the obedience of faith before Christ my Lord, abandoning myself to the Mother of Christ and Church, and conscious of the great difficulties, I accept’.[iii]

That nervous young cardinal became Pope St John Paul II.

A simple ‘yes’ really can change the world.

Every saint who has ever lived has been very human, just like us. [iv] They were all at some stage weak, lost or broken. But they found themselves drawn towards God’s love and they chose to co-operate with him.

God isn’t put off by our flaws. He says to us, as he said to St Paul: ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’ (2Cor.12:9).

In these last few days before Christmas, as we wait for Jesus to arrive, what is God asking you to do?



[iii] George Wiegel, Witness to Hope, HarperCollins NY, 1999:253-254.


Year C – 3rd Sunday of Advent

Blessed Charles de Foucauld

(Zeph.3:14-18; Phil.4:4-7; Lk.3:10-18)

In last week’s Gospel, John the Baptist told everyone to get ready, because the Messiah is coming. In today’s Gospel, the people ask John, ‘Master, what should we do?’ 

Yes, what should we do? For Jesus Christ really is coming.

To answer that question, let’s consider the story of Blessed Charles de Foucauld. [i]

Charles was born in 1858 into an aristocratic family in France. But like so many other people, his life didn’t start off too well.

When he was six, Charles’ parents died and his grandfather raised him. But he became vain and selfish and so overweight that his friends called him ‘Piggy’. His grandfather got him into the army, but they found him troublesome.

Charles later inherited his grandfather’s fortune, but he squandered it on wine, women and gambling. He once said, ‘I sleep late, I eat a lot and I think little’.

One day however, aged 28, something inside him changed. There in the North African desert where he served in the army, he saw how the Muslims worship. It made him think that there must be something more to life. He left the army, disguised himself as a Jew and went to Morocco to learn Arabic and Hebrew.

One evening, alone in a church, he prayed, ‘My God, if you exist let me know’. God did let him know, through his cousin, Marie. She talked with him for hours, gave him books to read and encouraged him to see her parish priest in Paris.

Charles found this priest in his confessional. He said, ‘Father, I have no faith. I’ve come to ask you to teach me’. The priest replied, ‘Kneel down. Confess to God. You will believe.’ 

Charles replied, ‘But I didn’t come for that’.

The priest insisted, ‘Confess!’ So, Charles confessed his many sins and he was forgiven. The priest then told him to go to communion, and he did. There at the altar, Charles saw the light he was looking for. He recognised God. 

Later on, he said that as soon as he believed in God, he knew that he couldn’t do anything else except live for him.

Charles then joined a Trappist monastery in Syria, and later he went to Nazareth where he lived as a hermit in a small tool shed and worked as a gardener. But all the while he wanted to live among the poor.

In 1901, at the age of 43, he was ordained a priest and sent back to the Sahara Desert in Algeria. There he lived as a hermit, not far from the semi-nomadic Tuareg people.  He came to love them, sharing their life and hardships and he wrote books about them and their language.

He helped them grow crops in the desert. He fed the hungry; he helped the poor and the sick. He also bought the freedom of slaves and he worked hard to protect them from mistreatment. The locals called him ‘the holy one’. 

However, in 1916, during WW1, some Muslims fighting the French threatened to kill Charles if he didn’t renounce his faith. He refused, and they shot him. [ii] He died, aged 58.

So, what can we learn from Blessed Charles de Foucauld?

Well, firstly, he was fascinated by the ‘hidden life’ of Christ; the 30 years when Jesus lived quietly with his family and worked hard as an artisan. Jesus ate simply, dressed simply and lived simply, and he was gentle and loving towards everyone. Charles copied this way of life.

Secondly, Charles said that if we want to think, talk, act and pray like Jesus, then we should keep reading the Gospels, because that will teach us how.

And thirdly, Charles saw a profound link between Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist and his presence in the poor. When Jesus said, ‘This is my body … this is my blood’, he wasn’t just talking about the Eucharist. He was also talking about the people around him. Realising this changed Charles’ life.

In 1916, he wrote that nothing in the Gospels had transformed his life more than these words: ‘Whatever you do for the least of my brothers, you do for me’ (Mt.25:40).

In May 2022, Pope Francis will be canonising Charles de Foucauld.[iii]

This Advent, if you’re wondering how to prepare yourself for the coming of Jesus, remember the story of St Charles de Foucauld.

He knew that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life (Jn.14:6). So, he was determined to live, talk, think, act and pray just like Jesus. 

He even chose to die like Jesus, sacrificing himself for the people he loved.


[ii] Maolshealachlann O’Ceallaigh, Inspiration from the Saints, Angelico Press, NY, 2018, 30-32.


Year C – 2nd Sunday of Advent

William Holman Hunt’s Light of the World

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

Today, on the second Sunday of Advent, let’s explore the famous painting, The Light of the World, by the British artist William Holman Hunt (1827-1910).

He painted three versions of this work. The last one, completed in 1904, is now in St Paul’s Cathedral, London. [i] [ii]


This picture is set in an orchard at night, and a man wearing a crown and holding a lantern is knocking on a door, waiting for it to open. It’s Jesus Christ, of course, and he wants to enter. But the door is firmly shut and it’s overgrown with weeds.

This door represents our hearts and minds, which are obstinately closed, and the weeds symbolise our sins. The door has no handle, no keyhole, no external lock. It can only be opened from within, but the weeds and rusty hinges tell us that it’s rarely, if ever, opened.

Look at Jesus’ face: he is kind and gentle, and his eyes are looking directly at you, wherever you are. But there’s also a hint of sadness, as he waits patiently for a reply. And notice his hands: they’ve been pierced by nails.

There are three light sources in this picture. Behind Jesus, moonlight is shining through the trees and promising the dawn of a new day. It reminds us of St Paul’s words: ‘The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armour of light’ (Rom.13:12).

Light is also shining from Jesus’ halo, signifying his holiness and presence as the Light of Truth. And the bright lantern symbolises the Light of Christ, who shows us the way (Jn.8:12). As the psalmist says, ‘Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path’ (Ps.119:105).

But do you see the holes atop the lantern? The six-pointed stars and the crescent moons symbolise Judaism and Islam, and tell us that Jesus is the light for all nations. He’s knocking on everyone’s door.

The chain affixing the lantern to Jesus’ wrist symbolises his commitment to his Church and to each of us personally.

Jesus is wearing a long white robe, and he has a clasp on his cloak, like the breastplate of a Jewish Temple high priest. Every year the high priest performed a sacrifice for the people’s sins. This clasp has a cross on it, demonstrating the link between Judaism and Christianity.

Now, Jesus’ cloak and the door have similar colours. This reminds us that Jesus is also a doorway; he’s the gateway to peace and eternal life (Jn.10.7).

On Jesus’ head are two crowns: one of thorns, the other of gold. The thorns symbolise his passion, death and resurrection, and the gold his heavenly glory. But notice the thorns: they are beginning to bud and blossom. They remind us that new life flows from Christ’s sacrifice, and hope can always be found, even in the darkest of places.

Behind Jesus is a tangle of trees. They point to Adam and Eve’s Original Sin, and the tree on which Jesus died. But they also symbolise our own family trees, which are waiting to be lit up and filled with divine life.

Above the door is a bat, blind and flitting about in the darkness. It symbolises worldly ignorance, ruin and neglect. And the decaying fruit on the ground represents life wasted without Jesus.

The title of this painting comes from Jesus’ words: ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life’ (Jn.8:12).

And the words on the lower frame come from Revelation 3:20: ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If any man hear my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and sup with him and he with me’.

After this painting was completed in 1904, it was taken on a world tour, attracting huge crowds. In Australia, some 80% of the population reportedly saw it, at the rate of 100 people every minute. [iii] [iv] [v]

When the first version of this painting was sent for repairs, the restorers removed the frame and found the words ‘Don’t pass me by, Lord’ written underneath in Latin. [vi]

And when the newest version was sent to be cleaned, they found a message under its frame, too. The artist had written: ‘Forgive me, Lord Jesus, that I kept you waiting so long!’ [vii]

Are we, too, making Jesus wait too long?

Notice Jesus’ feet. It looks like he’s starting to turn and walk away. Could he be giving up?

One day, even Jesus will stop waiting for us.

[i] William Holman Hunt (1827-1910), The Light of the World (c.1900-04), Oil on canvas, St Paul’s, London.






[vii] Gary L Carver, Gotta Minute? CSS Publishing Co, Lima OH. 2020:231.