Year C – 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Words from the Heart

[Ecc.:27:4-7; 1Cor.15:54-58; Lk.6:39-45]

Today, let’s focus on words, and let’s begin with a story.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-82), the famous English poet and painter, was once approached by an elderly man.

The old fellow had some sketches and drawings he wanted Rossetti to see and to say if they had any potential. Rosetti looked them over carefully, but thought they were worthless. He saw no talent in them.

But Rosetti was a kind man, so he gently told the old man that the pictures had little value and showed little talent. He was sorry, but he couldn’t lie to him.

The visitor was disappointed, but seemed to expect this response. He apologised for taking up Rossetti’s time, but asked that he just look at a few more drawings, done by a young art student.

Rossetti looked over the second lot of sketches and became very enthusiastic. ‘Oh, these are good!’ he said. ‘This young student has great talent. He should be given every encouragement as an artist. He has a great future if he will work hard and stick to it.’

Rossetti could see that this old fellow was deeply moved. ‘Who is this fine young artist?’ he asked. ‘Is it your son?’

‘No,’ he replied, sadly. ‘It was me, forty years ago. If only I’d heard your praise then, instead of discouraging words. I gave up too soon.’ [i]

This story reminds us that words can help and heal, but they can also do great harm. What we say, and even what we don’t say, can so easily build someone up, or tear them down.

When we speak, people not only hear the sounds we make, but they can also sense our attitudes and deeply-held beliefs. Whether they’re written or spoken, our words reflect who we really are. They reveal our character and our inner-most thoughts about the people and world around us.

Rudyard Kipling once described words as, ‘… the most powerful drug used by mankind. Not only do (words) infect, egotise, narcotise, and paralyse, but they also enter into and colour the minutest cells of the brain …’ [ii]

Why are words so powerful? It’s because they flow from our hearts (Lk.6:45). What we say and the way we say it reflects what’s in our hearts, and our hearts are our deepest source of strength.  

In fact, the whole universe began with God’s divine Word. As St John tells us, ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God ’ (Jn.1:1).

And now, it’s our words that are shaping the world that God has given us.

In Luke’s Gospel today, Jesus offers us three very brief parables. Firstly, he asks if the blind can lead the blind. Then he warns us about noticing a splinter in someone else’s eye, while overlooking the log in our own. And finally, he says that a healthy tree cannot produce rotten fruit.

Together, these three parables remind us that we must choose our words very carefully. We must make sure we know what we’re talking about, because it’s so easy to hurt others and to lead them astray if we ourselves are misled.

Our first reading says something similar. It tells us that just as rubbish is left behind when we shake a sieve, so our faults become obvious when we speak. And just as a fiery kiln tests the work of a potter, so our conversation is the test of our own personal quality and purity.

But the point is that all this starts with our hearts. For our words to be good, our hearts need to be well-formed. Indeed, if the well of our hearts is polluted, any water we draw from it will also be spoiled.

As children we learn from our parents and teachers, and we hope that they’re wise. As adults we keep learning, but there’s always a risk that we can be misled. There are so many unhealthy and unhelpful influences out there.

That’s why we all need God’s guidance: only Jesus offers us the way, the truth and the life (Jn.14:6).

Our words are powerful symbols of life, of culture and of everything we think and feel. They come from our hearts.

Every day, most of us speak thousands of words. That gives us plenty of scope to either help or hurt others.

So, let’s remember what Mother Teresa once said: ‘Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.’

[i] Gary L Carver, Gotta Minute? CSS Publishing Co, Lima, Ohio, 2020:147.


Year C – 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Love in a Blizzard

[Sam.26:2,7-9,12-13,22-23; 1Cor.15:45-49; Lk.6:27-38]

One thing that sets genuine Christians apart is their capacity to love enemies and strangers.

After their home in Aachen, Germany, was destroyed by Allied bombing in 1944, Elizabeth Vincken and her son Fritz, aged 12, moved to a quiet forest cabin in the Ardennes.

They didn’t know that the Germans had been planning a major offensive through there, and in December they found themselves surrounded by winter blizzards and booming guns.

On Christmas Eve, Elizabeth heard a knock on the door. She opened it nervously to find three American soldiers, one bleeding badly. She spoke no English; they spoke no German, but she knew they were lost, frozen and hungry, so she invited them in. She risked the death penalty doing this.

The Friends of Fritz Vincken | Unsolved Mysteries Wiki | Fandom

She asked Fritz to rub their frozen feet to restore their circulation.

Elizabeth and one of the Americans could speak French, so they talked, and the wounded man fell asleep. Elizabeth told Fritz to fetch six potatoes and their only chicken to start preparing a Christmas meal.

A little later, as she tore a bedsheet to bandage the soldier’s wounded leg, she heard another knock on the door. This time, there were four German soldiers. She quickly stepped outside to greet them. They, too, had lost their regiment. They were freezing and hoped to stay overnight.

‘Of course,’ Elizabeth replied, ‘you can also have a meal and eat until the pot is empty. But we have three other guests you might not consider friends. But this is Christmas Eve, and there’ll be no shooting here.’

The German corporal asked if the others were Americans. She replied, ‘Listen, you could be my sons, and so could they. A boy with a gunshot wound, fighting for his life, and his two friends, lost like you and just as hungry and exhausted. This one night, this Christmas night, let’s forget about killing.’

The corporal stared at her.

Elizabeth then clapped her hands and told the Germans to leave their weapons outside. She also confiscated the Americans’ guns. Then she sat them all around the table, and whispered to Fritz to get more potatoes.

‘These boys are hungry,’ she said, ‘and a starving man is an angry one.’

One of the Germans spoke English and had studied medicine. He attended to the wounded American, and explained that the cold prevented infection. He also said he’ll need food and rest for his blood loss.

The men started to relax. The Germans produced a bottle of red wine and a loaf of bread to share. Elizabeth said grace, and Fritz noticed that all the men had tears in their eyes. For one night, they were no longer soldiers. They were all young men, lost and far from home, taken in by a kind woman.

The next morning, as they prepared to leave, Elizabeth gave them chicken soup and used two poles and her best table cloth to make a stretcher for the wounded man. The German corporal gave the Americans a map and compass, and showed them how to return to their unit, avoiding the German army.

Elizabeth returned their weapons, saying, ‘Be careful, boys. I want you to get home where you belong.’ The Germans and Americans shook hands, and disappeared into the forest.

Back inside, Fritz watched his mother open the family Bible at the Christmas story. Her finger traced the last words of Matthew 2:12: ‘…they left for their own country by another way.’ [i]

In 1995, this story featured on the TV show Unsolved Mysteries. Fritz had migrated to Hawaii, and managed to reconnect with one of the American soldiers, Ralph Blank. Together they shared the same meal Elizabeth had made for them fifty years earlier. ‘Your mother saved my life,’ Ralph said. [ii]

In today’s Gospel, Jesus gives us, his disciples, a new law: you must love your enemies, even when they hate and curse you and treat you badly.

Jesus expects us to mirror the kindness and compassion of his Father, and he promises that whatever we give away will be returned to us with interest.

Of course, loving our enemies isn’t always easy. In her book 51 Ways to Love Your Enemies, Lynn Davis says that you don’t have to like someone to love them. She suggests many practical ways to follow Jesus’ command, including by being civil, polite and truthful, avoiding conflict, controlling your tongue, forgiving, encouraging and supporting them, learning from them, interceding for them and keeping the peace. [iii]

But here’s the point: It’s not only our enemies who benefit from such kindness.

We do, too, because hatred poisons the hater, just as it destroys the hated.



[iii] Lynn R Davis, 51 Ways to Love Your Enemies,

Year C – 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Photographer

 (Jer.17:5-8; 1Cor.15:12, 16-20; Lk.6:17, 20-26)

Sometimes, the things we ignore or neglect turn out to be precious.

Years ago in Prague, my wife and I discovered an amazing puppet shop, full of colourful marionettes of all shapes and sizes, hanging on strings and sitting on shelves.

In one corner, under a chair, I spied a statue, looking dusty and unloved. This was no puppet; it was a very unusual Madonna and child. ‘I’d forgotten about her,’ the shopkeeper said, ‘She’s been there for years.’

We happily brought her home, and now she belongs to our very special Madonna collection.

Yes, what people overlook or reject in life can often be valuable. That’s a message we can take home from Luke’s Gospel today.

Jesus is giving his Sermon on the Plain to a large crowd near the Sea of Galilee. They’ve all suffered in some way, and they’re looking for hope. So, Jesus tells them that certain things our world doesn’t care about, including poverty, hunger and tears, are actually God’s greatest concerns.

He says, ‘Blessed are you who are poor, blessed are you who are hungry, blessed are you who weep, and blessed are you when people hate you…’ These people are blessed because God loves them, and one day they will inherit God’s kingdom.

But the reverse is also true. The things that our world madly craves, like fortune, food, fun and fame, are of little interest to God. That’s why Jesus says, ‘Woe to you rich, woe to you who have your fill, woe to you who laugh, and woe to you when the world loves you.’

His point is that selfish indulgence has no place in heaven.

But how can poverty, hunger or tears possibly be a good thing?

Rolleicord Twin Lens Reflex Film Camera Image High Quality image 1

Megan McKenna tells the story of a photographer taking photos of human catastrophes for a new book. In the 1980s, this photographer was in Ecuador, which had been hit by torrential rain, landslides and starvation. Several relief organisations flew in plane-loads of food, including corn, milk, rice and fruit.

He set himself up with his camera on a main street, crowded with people looking tired, sick and hungry. They’d lost their homes and possessions; some had lost relatives and even whole families.

He noticed one young girl, aged nine or ten. She was thin and straggly, hair matted and clothes torn. She was waiting in line with hundreds of others for food.

As she waited patiently in line, she was also looking out for three younger children, huddled under a large bush to avoid the hot sun. Two boys, aged five and seven, and a girl aged three. The young girl’s attention was divided between watching them and keeping her place in the queue as it snaked towards the food trucks.

The line seemed endless as the food started running out, and the aid workers became anxious. The young girl didn’t notice, however. She just watched her charges from a distance. Then after many hours in the sun, she finally made it to the front of the line. But all she received was a banana.

One banana.

Julie Anne Smyth - Digital painting Banana

Her reaction stunned the photographer. First her face lit up in a beautiful smile. She took the banana and bowed to the aid worker. Then she ran to the children under the bushes and very carefully peeled it, splitting it evenly into three pieces and placing one piece into the palm of each child. Together they bowed their heads and said a blessing. Then they slowly chewed their banana pieces, while she sucked on the peel. 

The photographer wept uncontrollably, and forgot about his camera and why he was there. He began to question not only himself and what he was doing, but also everything he took for granted and his assumptions about the world. He watched the girl and later said that in that moment he saw the face of God, shining.

He’d been given a glimpse of the kingdom of heaven through a poor street child who was rich in love, generosity and beauty, in spite of her poverty and hunger, and in spite of the politics of greed, profit and human indifference.

He never did take a picture of that girl, or the other children. But her face and smile are etched forever in his memory and soul. [i]

‘Woe to you who are rich, woe to you who have your fill, woe to you who laugh, and woe to you when the world loves you,’ Jesus says.

Why? It’s because God isn’t interested in these things.

God’s first priority is the poor and hungry, and those who weep and suffer from hate.

[i] Megan McKenna, Luke: The Book of Blessings and Woes. New City Press, New York.2009:90-91.

Year C – 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time

 A Leap in Small Steps

[Is.6:1-8; 1Cor.15:1-11; Lk.5:1-11]

Today is Word of God Sunday. Pope Francis instituted this celebration in 2019, to highlight the 10th Anniversary of Verbum Domini – Pope Benedict’s landmark document on ‘The Word of God’.

It also marks the 1600th anniversary of the death of St Jerome, who first translated the Bible from Greek into Latin. [i]

Of course, the Bible is important every day. But in instituting this celebration, Pope Francis is encouraging us all to promote the Sacred Scriptures and to help others appreciate their extraordinary riches.

The Bible, of course, is not just a storybook. It’s a constant dialogue between God and his people, as relevant today as ever. It’s the door that leads us into the life of Christ, offering a profound sense of meaning and purpose. It’s full of wisdom, detailing God’s extraordinary love for us, and it teaches us how to live the life that really does lead to heaven.

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But to get the most out of God’s Word, we must read it prayerfully, with loving hearts and open minds.

Let’s look, for example, at our reading from Luke’s Gospel today. To some, this is just a story about fishing, but it’s really about how we enter the spiritual life. For those of us who wonder why it takes so long for some people to accept Jesus, this passage can be especially helpful.

Jesus is teaching on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, and Peter and his friends are nearby, listening to Jesus while cleaning their fishing nets. But Jesus needs a better platform to teach from, so he approaches Peter, seeking to use his boat.

Peter, however, is reluctant; he’s tired and hardly knows Jesus. But Jesus did cure his mother-in-law, so he agrees, and Jesus borrows his boat.

Sometime later, Jesus asks Peter to go fishing once again. But now Peter is really hesitant. He’s been fishing all day and caught nothing, but he does respect Jesus, so he agrees, reluctantly. He goes out into the deep, drops his nets and catches so many fish that he’s astonished.

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Peter is in awe of Jesus, and thinks, ‘I don’t deserve this’. He starts to feel unworthy and says, ‘Go away from me Lord, for I’m a sinful man’.

The boat almost sinks and the men are scared. But Jesus reassures them, and when they return to shore Jesus calls them to become his disciples. ‘From now on’, he says, ‘you’ll be fishers of men’.

This story mirrors life for so many of us, for it reveals how Christian conversion can be a slow, gradual process involving several steps.

It begins by us simply observing, watching what’s happening from a distance – just like Peter. Then it involves listening to what’s being said, and allowing it to move our hearts.  After that, it involves gradually accepting small commitments within our comfort zone, helping here and there.

Then we’re amazed when the call becomes specific and deeply personal, and something powerful happens inside us. We start to feel unworthy, even sinful, and perhaps even scared. But then we’re reassured. And that’s followed by acceptance, and finally, a deep and personal commitment to Jesus.

These are the steps we all typically go through in the process of conversion, as we gradually enter the life of Jesus Christ. For some people, this process can take a lifetime. The actor John Wayne, for example, converted on his deathbed.

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But even the greatest saints, like St Paul and St Francis of Assisi, went through a process of conversion. For St Paul it was remarkably quick, but for St Francis it took years.

St Francis was initially a likeable but spoilt young man who enjoyed partying. But then he recognised the emptiness of his life and started to feel guilty. This encouraged him to open up his heart and mind, and gradually, step-by-step, he came to discover and welcome Jesus into his life.

The leap from where we are today to where God wants us to be may be huge; that’s why Jesus takes us through the journey in small steps. Thankfully, God is patient and loving, and encourages us to grow gradually.

Importantly, he’s given us the Scriptures to guide us on our way.

St Thomas Aquinas once said that our love for God is ultimately not love for a Creator, Judge or Father; it’s love for a friend. We develop our relationship with God the same way we develop other human friendships. It takes time and a series of adjustments as our love grows and our commitment becomes deeper.

We can see all this in the Bible; it’s God’s love letter to us.

The way to read it is prayerfully, with loving hearts and open minds.