Year C – 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Tug of War

(Jer.1:4-5, 17-19; 1Cor.12:31-13:13; Lk.4:21-30)

I once knew a man who was a very successful businessman. He was successful because he was ruthless and always put his own interests first. ‘When I negotiate,’ he once admitted, ‘I can be as hard as a rock. It doesn’t matter who I’m dealing with.’

Yet he also considered himself a Christian. He sometimes went to church, gave to charity, and loved showing off his photos, taken with famous church leaders.

I’ve often wondered how he slept at night, for he’d surely hurt many people.

This story’s not uncommon. Many of us today find ourselves caught in a spiritual tug of war, torn between the selfish ways of our society and the call of our faith. We want to do well in this world, but we also want to be good people.

Richard Rohr says that there are always two worlds. There’s the ordinary world around us which is largely about power. And then there’s the world as it should be, or the Reign of God, which is always about love.

He says that conversion is almost entirely about moving from one world to the next and yet having to live in both worlds at once. And he points out that power without love can lead to brutality and evil. [i]

St Paul says something about this in our second reading today. The Corinthian church which he established had many talented members, but they came from very different backgrounds and often quarrelled with each other.

St Paul tells them that there’s an essential link between faith and love, for it’s pointless saying we love someone if our actions don’t match our words. Indeed, whatever we do, he says, if it’s without love, then it’s ultimately empty and worthless. And regardless of our talents, if we have no love, then we’re nothing.

Paul thinks they don’t understand love, so he describes it for them in 15 different ways, explaining what love is, and what it’s not: ‘Love is always patient and kind; it’s never jealous; it’s never boastful or conceited; it’s never rude or selfish …’ he writes.

But his key point is that love isn’t just a feeling; it’s a conscious decision. And love between two people can only last if they behave in ways that strengthen the relationship, and not weaken it.

What is love? Love is patient, love is kind. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)

These words from St Paul are some of the most beautiful ever written about love. Most of us have heard them before, especially at weddings.

But do we actually live by them? Let’s revisit verses 4-8, and see if the words apply to ourselves:

I’m always patient; I’m always kind; I’m never jealous; I don’t boast; I’m not proud; I’m never rude or selfish; I don’t get angry; I’m not resentful. I take no pleasure in other people’s sins; I always rejoice in the truth; I’m always ready to forgive, to trust, to hope and to endure whatever comes.

Do these words describe you? If not, would you like them to?

The problem for many of us is that we love the idea of love, but we also like putting ourselves and our own interests first. And we’re reluctant to change.

St Thomas Aquinas once said that love is in the mind, in the will and in the decisions we make. It’s not just a feeling.

In fact, love cannot just be a feeling. As Richard Rohr points out, Jesus commands us to love, and you can’t command feelings.

Jesus doesn’t say, love when you get healed. He doesn’t say, love when you grow up. He doesn’t say, love when you feel loving. And he doesn’t say, love when you get it together and have dealt with all your problems.

No, Jesus says love one another as I have loved you (Jn.13:34-35). The commandment for all of us is to love now and so fill the tragic gaps of every moment. [ii]

Love, therefore, is a decision, not a feeling, and as Christians it’s also our obligation.

All of this is certainly a challenge. We’re all caught up in a spiritual tug of war, pulled from one side to the other. Ultimately, though, what we’re experiencing is the struggle between heaven and hell, and we need to choose.

Huston Smith, in his book The Soul of Christianity, says that just as scripts are not plays and music is not music until it’s performed, so our Christian faith really isn’t faith until we start performing as genuine Christian disciples. [iii]

And how do we perform our Christian faith?

By making the decision to love, even when we don’t feel like it.

[i] Richard Rohr, Yes, And …, Franciscan Media, Cincinatti, 2013, p.167.

[ii] Op cit., p.15.

[iii] Huston Smith, The Soul of Christianity. HarperSanFrancisco, 2005:154.

Year C – 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Answering Prayers

(Neh.8:2-6, 8-10; 1Cor.12:12-30; Lk.1:1-4; 4:14-21)

In today’s Gospel, Luke addresses his words to someone named Theophilus. In Greek, Theophilus means ‘one who loves God’. But we’re all people who love God, so Luke is also addressing his Gospel to us.

Luke says that he has worked hard to double-check everything he’s heard about Jesus, so we can be sure that his Gospel is accurate.

Then he tells us about Jesus’ first public appearance after his baptism. Jesus is back home in Nazareth ‘with the power of the Spirit in him’. It’s the Sabbath, and he’s in the synagogue when someone hands him a scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Jesus selects a passage about the coming of the Messiah, and as he reads it, it’s clear that he’s reading about himself. 

Using Isaiah’s words, Jesus spells out the mission he’s about to begin. He says that his Father has sent him to bring good news to the poor; to proclaim liberty to captives; to help the blind to see; and to free the oppressed.

This is good news for anyone who’s suffering, because Jesus is offering real hope, healing and liberation. But this isn’t just about other people; it’s also about us, because we’re all to some extent poor, or enslaved, or blind, or oppressed. We all need hope, healing and liberation. 

Now, some people think that all God has to do from here is to wave his magic wand and give us all the miracles we need. But that’s generally not how he works. Most of the time, God works through ordinary men and women, just like us.

When we open ourselves up to God, his Holy Spirit starts working in us, gently guiding our hearts, minds and wills, and influencing our thoughts and actions. God uses us to help other people, often when we’re unaware.

Some years ago, a priest working as a hospital chaplain made a mistake and entered the wrong room. An old woman was lying on the bed, and he started talking to her. But she didn’t respond; she just glared at him. Eventually, he realised his mistake, apologised and left.

A little later, he received a note asking him to return. That lady couldn’t speak, so he asked her many questions until he came to the one she responded to: ‘Do you want to be baptised?’

He baptised her right away, and promised to return. But a few hours later, he received another note saying that she’d died.

That chaplain had not entered the wrong room. The Holy Spirit had sent him there to answer that lady’s prayer. [i]

Here’s another story. Jim Caviezel, who portrayed Jesus in Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion of the Christ (2004), was very nervous at the start of his acting career.

In 1997, he drove up to the house of Terrance Malick, the film director, to talk about an acting role. He was terrified. Before going inside, he sat in his car and prayed the Rosary, asking God for courage.

As he walked to the front door, he noticed that he was still holding his Rosary beads. He considered returning them to his car, but something told him to keep them.

A little maid answered the doorbell, and on her neck was a miraculous medal.

Without thinking, he held out his Rosary and said, ‘This is for you, ma’am.’ She was startled and said, ‘Why did you do that?’ She started to cry.

He replied, ‘I don’t know.’

‘My God!’ she said, ‘the woman who gave me this medal – the miraculous medal of the Virgin Mary – also gave me a rosary she got from Mother Teresa. But I lost it, and I prayed that God would send me another. Then you walk in.’

As she cried, and Caviezel felt shell-shocked, the director appeared. ‘Honey, what’s wrong?’ he asked. This was no maid, Caviezel realised. It was Malick’s wife. 

The Holy Spirit had answered their prayers: Mrs Malick received a new Rosary and Caviezel got his first major acting role, in the movie The Thin Red Line. [ii]

In our second reading today, St Paul tells us that as Christian disciples, we are all members of the Body of Christ. This idea of the Body of Christ isn’t just a nice metaphor; it’s how God works in the world today.

It’s through us, as the members of the Body of Christ, that God answers prayers today, offering hope, healing and liberation to all who need it (Jn.14:12).

But he can’t do it without our help. As St Teresa of Avila reminds us, ‘Christ has no body now but yours, no hands but yours, no eyes but yours …’

What is the Holy Spirit asking of you today?

[i] Diane Laux, Illustrations of the Holy Spirit, Liguorian, December 2016.


Year C – The Epiphany of Our Lord

Star of Wonder

[Is.60:1-6; Eph.3:2-3, 5-6; Mt.2:1-12]

The stars at night have always been fascinating. In every age and every culture, astronomers have studied the stars closely, trying to reveal their secrets.

One thing these stargazers learnt is that the North Star is always in the same place, day and night. It’s not the brightest star, but its location never changes, so it became an important guidepost for sailors, pilgrims and other travellers.

Even runaway slaves in America followed the North Star in their flight to freedom in the 1800s. They called their escape route the Underground Railroad, and they memorised what they had to do in a song, Follow the Drinking Gourd.[i]

Vincent van Gogh, The Starry Night – Smarthistory

So, it’s not surprising that for many people, the stars came to symbolise hope, inspiration and new life.

There’s a star in Matthew’s Gospel today, but it’s not the North Star. It’s the Star of Bethlehem and it comes from the east. It, too, is a symbol of hope, inspiration and new life.

The Magi are widely believed to have been astrologers from around Persia, for they knew that this star signalled something important. That’s why they loaded up their camels and followed it for 1,000 kilometres or so, until they found baby Jesus, the ‘bright morning star’, swaddled in a manger (Rev.22:16).

There in Bethlehem, these Wise Men worshipped Jesus, they gave him their precious gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, and then they returned home.


For most people, this is where the story ends. But there’s much more to it than that, because as Bishop Robert Barron tells us, this story really spells out for us what it means to search for God in our world today.

Let’s look at the story once again.

In the beginning, the Magi constantly study the sky, looking for signs of God’s purpose and meaning. And so it is with us: we must always be spiritually alert, looking for signs of what God is doing around us in our daily lives.

Then, once they find that star, the Magi decide to follow it, despite the long journey and all its discomforts.

Sometimes people today know what God wants them to do, but they do nothing about it. Perhaps it’s fear or laziness stopping them, but the Magi teach us to take action when God calls.

Next, when the Magi speak to Herod about the birth of a new King, he becomes sneaky and tries to use them to destroy the child. When we walk the path God sets for us, we too should expect opposition, because our world does not value Jesus at all. It’s always working to undermine him.

Then, the Wise Men arrive in Bethlehem and give Jesus their precious gifts. When we come to Christ, we, too, should open up the very best of ourselves and offer it to him. And remember this: our gifts of trust, love and worship are far more valuable to Jesus than gold, frankincense and myrrh.

And finally, the Magi return to their home country by another route. As Fulton Sheen once commented: of course they did, for no one comes to Christ and goes back the same way they came! [ii]

These Magi are called Wise Men for good reason: they can see what others, including King Herod and the Jewish leaders, cannot. They know that something mystical is happening, and they do something about it. They leave home and discover the source of all wisdom and joy. 

Today, we have GPS and other technology to guide us in our travels, but they won’t get us far in our spiritual journey.

Like the Wise Men, we need to follow the one star that really does represent hope, inspiration and new life. That star is Jesus Christ.

Sadly, many of us get distracted and miss Jesus’ divine light, just as we might miss the soft light of the North Star. But when we look, we find that Jesus is always there: a constant beacon guiding us through the twists and turns of daily life; a lighthouse drawing us safely towards eternal salvation.

Let’s close with a story. Charles Blondin (1824-97) was a French acrobat who famously crossed Niagara Falls on a tightrope some 300 times. In all, it’s said that he walked 10,000 miles on tightropes, and sometimes he even took a bike or a wheelbarrow with him. How did he achieve this? What was his secret?

Blondin had very good balance and lots of self-confidence, but he also always placed a large silver star at either end of his tightrope. Every time he crossed over, he fixed his eyes firmly on that star. He knew where he was going. [iii] [iv]

We, too, need to fix our eyes firmly on the bright morning star, Jesus Christ.

Jesus will guide us safely to where we’re going.


[ii] Bishop Robert Barron, Online Commentary on Matthew 2:1-12, 2021, adapted.