Year C – Ascension of Our Lord

10,000 Hours

(Acts.1:1-11; Heb.9:24-28, 10:19-23; Lk.24:46-53)

How long does it take to become highly skilled at something?

In his bestselling book, Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell says that you have to practise for 10,000 hours before you can truly master a skill. ‘In study after study of composers, basketball players, fiction writers, ice skaters, concert pianists (and) chess players,’ he says, ‘this number comes up again and again.’

The Beatles, for example, reached the heights of success because they spent 10,000 hours playing live music in the clubs of Hamburg, Germany, before touring England and America.

Mozart, too, put in 10,000 hours of hard practice before producing his greatest work. And as a student, Bill Gates spent 10,000 hours programming huge university computers before starting Microsoft.

10,000 hours, Gladwell says, are roughly equivalent to 10 years. That’s 2.7 hours of practice a day, every day, for 10 years to be good at something. [i]

Some people have criticised this theory, saying that it’s too simplistic and that it overlooks other important factors, like the influence of genetics, the quality of the practice and the level of encouragement the person might receive. [ii]

But Gladwell’s basic point is valid: it takes time and dedication to develop high level skills and understanding in any field.

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Ascension, the moment when Jesus farewells his disciples and returns to heaven because he has completed his earthly mission. He has taught his disciples all they need to know, and now it’s up to them to continue his work.

Jesus knows they can’t do it on their own, so he promises to send his Holy Spirit to help them (Jn.14:16). This, of course, happens at Pentecost.

But how much confidence did Jesus have in his disciples? Earlier, in Luke 18:8, he asks the question: ‘when the Son of Man returns, will he find faith on Earth?’

Jesus must have worried about this, and for good reason, because today many people have stopped learning about their Christian faith. They’re either no longer interested, or they think they know enough already.

So why should we keep learning about our faith? Here are two reasons:

Firstly, it’s because our world is in a mess; it’s full of conflict, corruption and pain.

Many people think that more money, technology, laws and even weapons will fix things. But history proves that’s not true. We cannot transform our sinful world without God. So, we need to keep learning from him.

Secondly, it’s because of all our unanswered questions. Including: what’s the meaning and purpose of life? What’s the point of suffering? How can I find peace and happiness? And how do we get to heaven?

Until we understand all these things, we need to keep learning.

Jesus said, ‘I came that they may have life, and have it to the full’ (Jn.10:10). In other words, he came to teach us how to live, how to love and how to get to heaven. But what does this mean for us personally?  

St John Paul II used to worry that too many Catholics really don’t understand their own faith. He encouraged us all to do something every day to strengthen our beliefs – to read the Bible, to learn about the saints, to pray, to go to Mass.

The important thing, he said, is to keep learning and growing.

He practised what he preached.  Every day, before going to bed, he read books or articles he’d set aside during the day. Every Tuesday he invited 5 or 6 experts in various fields – theology, philosophy, sociology, politics, culture or science – to talk and have lunch with him. He believed in lifelong learning. 

‘All men and women are entrusted with the task of crafting their own life,’ he once said. ‘In a certain sense, they are to make of it a work of art, a masterpiece.’

But it takes time and effort to create any masterpiece.

And of course, every learner needs a teacher. St Therese of Lisieux called Jesus the Teacher of teachers. She said, ‘…though I’ve never heard him speak, I know he’s within me, always guiding and inspiring me; and just when I need them, lights… break in upon me’.

So, how much time do you spend learning about your faith? At least 10,000 hours? The more you learn, of course, the more you realize how much you don’t know.

So, here’s the point: it’s not enough to say you believe in God. Even the devil believes in God (Jas.2:19).

Unless you truly understand Jesus Christ, and reflect him in your daily life, you have more learning to do (Jas.2:17).

[i] Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers: The Story of Success. Penguin Books, London. 2009:35.


Year C – 6th Sunday of Easter

Mother Earth, Brother Son 

(Acts 15:1-2, 22-29; Rev.21:10-14, 22-23; Jn.14:23-29)

I love fish and chips! Or at least, I used to. I’m not quite so sure anymore, after learning about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. It’s an island of plastic rubbish the size of Texas, floating in the north Pacific.

We all know that plastic is everywhere: in our homes, cars, clothes, in packaging, toys and water bottles. There are even microbeads of plastic in some toothpastes and skin cleansers. Some of it goes down our drains, but much of it ends up in our waterways and oceans. [i]

Sadly, plastic doesn’t go away. It just breaks down into ever smaller particles and enters the food chain. Fish eat the microplastic, and we eat the fish. Ugh!

This week the Church is celebrating Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si, which he released in 2015. He addresses it to ‘every person living on the planet’ and asks the question, ‘What kind of world do we want to leave to our children?’

It’s not just about the environment, he says. The question is deeper than that. He asks, ‘What’s the purpose of our life in this world? What’s the goal of our work and all our efforts?’ And ‘What does the earth need from us?’

Pope Francis says that unless we deal with the deeper issues of our world, all our ecological efforts won’t come to much.

The name ‘Laudato Si’ means ‘Praise be to you’, and comes from St Francis of Assisi’s Canticle of the Sun. It reminds us all that the earth is our common home, which is ‘like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us’.

Pope Francis says that too many people have forgotten that ‘we ourselves are dust of the earth (Gen.2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters’.

‘Now’, he says, ‘this earth, mistreated and abused, is lamenting, and its groans join those of all the forsaken of the world’.

He invites us all to listen to these groans and to ‘change direction’ by taking on the beauty and accepting responsibility for ‘caring for our common home’.

Pope Francis recognises that some people really do care about our planet, so not all is lost. And although others are capable of the worst, he says, they’re also capable of change, of choosing what is good, and making a new start.

Everything in our world is connected, he says, and there’s a close link between the fragility of our planet and those who are poor.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is talking with his disciples just after the Last Supper. He knows he will die soon, and that his disciples are scared. ‘Don’t be troubled or afraid,’ he says to them. ‘My peace I leave with you, my peace I give you.  A peace the world cannot give, this is my gift to you.’

The peace that Jesus offers us isn’t the same as worldly peace. Worldly peace typically is temporary, fragile and conditional. In many places, peace is simply the absence of trouble and war, and it only exists because of fear or force imposed from outside. But that’s not real peace.

Jesus’ peace is different. It comes from within. It’s free, unconditional and eternal. And it’s all-encompassing, because it’s available to all of God’s creation.

St Francis of Assisi dedicated his life to finding the peace of Christ. He found it by abandoning the worldly life, by following in Jesus’ footsteps and by discovering that all of God’s creation actually belongs to one universal family.

He learnt that, along with God and Mother Nature herself, we are all members of the same cosmic family.

St Francis wrote about this in his Canticle of the Sun in 1224, when he was almost blind and living in a small hut near Assisi. In lyrical language, he expresses his profound love for God and all his creation, including ‘Mother Earth’, ‘Brother Fire’ and ‘Sister Moon’. [ii]

Twenty years earlier, when he was in his 20s, St Francis knelt before a cross in the rundown chapel of San Damiano. He was surprised to hear that cross speak to him. ‘Francis,’ it said, ‘rebuild my house. As you see, it is all being destroyed.’ [iii]

This was a pivotal moment in his life, and in the life of our world. He devoted the rest of his days to repairing the Church, both physically and spiritually.

Today, we’re all being asked to help repair ‘our common home’. This, too, could be a pivotal moment.

Mother Earth is suffering, and so are too many of our neighbours.

What can you do to make this world a better place?




Year C – 5th Sunday of Easter

Love’s Two-Way Gift

(Acts 14:21-27; Rev.21:1-5; Jn.13:31-33a, 34-35)

In 1965, Jackie DeShannon sang, ‘What the world needs now is love, sweet love, it’s the only thing that there’s just too little of…’

But is love really all that necessary? Can’t we get by without it?

Towards the end of her life, the American actress Marilyn Monroe said to her maid, Lena: ‘Nobody’s ever going to love me now, Lena, and I don’t blame them. What am I good for? I can’t have children. I can’t cook. I’ve been divorced three times. Who would want me?’

‘Oh, lots of men would want you,’ Lena replied.

‘Yes,’ said Marilyn, ‘lots of men would want me. But who would ever love me? [i]

Sadly, she didn’t last much longer. In 1962, she took her own life.

By nature, we’re all social beings, wired to connect with others. Some of us are outgoing and need constant connection with family and friends, while others are happy to connect with just a few people. But we all need human contact; it’s built into our DNA. So where does this urge come from?

Scripture tells us that God is love (1Jn.4:16), and that we’re all made in God’s image and likeness (Gen.1:26-27). So, love is at the very heart of our human identity. God made each of us to love, and to be loved in return.

As parents and grandparents, we know how important it is for children to be loved and nurtured. From the moment of birth, children crave human touch, and the more they receive, the more neural pathways are created in their brain. These pathways manage the child’s emotional, psychological and physical growth. They shape the kind of adult they’ll grow into.

But when a child is neglected, when nappies aren’t changed, when smiles are ignored and when there’s no affection or touch, then fewer brain connections develop and growth is restricted. [ii]

In 1989, when communism collapsed in Romania, it was discovered that thousands of children had been raised in loveless institutions. Their physical, emotional, cognitive and social development was severely stunted. [iii]

But a lack of love doesn’t just affect children. In 2020, when my dear old Dad’s nursing home went into Covid lockdown, all visitors were banned. He was effectively blind and deaf, and relied heavily on regular family visits. But when the visits stopped, he lost his will to live and within weeks he perished.

In John’s Gospel today, Jesus and his disciples have just finished their Last Supper. Jesus knows he’s leaving soon, but he’s worried about his disciples, so he gives them a parting gift. He says, ‘I give you a new commandment; love one another just as I have loved you’.

Jesus understands our need to be loved. He knows how important it is. But what kind of love is he talking about?

In his book The Four Loves, CS Lewis describes four kinds of love. They all appear in the Bible, and in Greek, each has a different name. [iv]

Storge (Stor-jay) is family love, the affection parents have for their children (e.g., Rom.12:9-10). Philia is friendship or brotherly love (Heb.13:1), and Eros is romantic love (Song 1:2-4).

But the kind of love Jesus is talking about is Agape – the highest, most profound kind of love. It’s the unconditional and sacrificial love that Jesus demonstrates when he washes his disciples’ feet, when he feeds the hungry, when he heals the sick and the blind, and especially when he sacrifices himself on the Cross.

St John uses the word agape when he says that ‘God is love’ (1Jn.4:8). Jesus uses it, too, when he says, ‘Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down his life for his friends’ (Jn 15:13).

We’re all meant to love each other with agape, just as Jesus loves us.

For our health and wellbeing, we know that we all need to receive love. But psychologists have also discovered that we have a parallel need to give love.

They’ve found that when we express our love and care for someone else, it’s not only the other person who benefits; we benefit, too. How? By feeling happier.

Actively loving others makes us happier. And studies have shown that even small acts of kindness can generate just as much happiness as lofty acts. [v]

So, this week, let’s test this theory. Let’s perform a random act of kindness on a stranger, and see if it makes you feel happier. The science says it will.

And so does Jesus.

That’s why he wants us to love each other, just as he loves us.

[i] Flor McCarthy, New Sunday and Holy Day Liturgies – Year C, Dominican Publications, Dublin. 2012:136.



[iv] C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves. HarperCollins Religious, London, 2012.


Year C – 4th Sunday of Easter

To Be a Good Shepherd

(Acts 13:14,43-52; Rev.7:9,14-17; Jn.10:27-30)

Sheep have been grazing in the Holy Land for a very long time. Historians tell us that sheep were first domesticated in the Middle East some 8,000 years ago, so it’s not surprising that the Bible mentions sheep over 500 times. [i]

Abel was the very first shepherd (Gen.4:3-4), and many other great biblical figures were shepherds, too, including Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Amos and King David. Even God is often referred to as ‘the Shepherd’ who cares for his flock (Gen.49:24; Is.40:11; Ps.23).

Today, on Good Shepherd Sunday, Jesus tells us that he’s the Good Shepherd who does three things for his sheep: he knows them well, he protects them from harm, and he leads them to everlasting life.[ii]

Many people love the thought of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, leading his people to greener pastures. But that’s as far as it goes. They don’t actually follow him, and they don’t consider that they’re meant to be good shepherds, too. After all, that’s partly what Jesus means when he tells Peter to ‘Feed my lambs, tend my sheep’ (Jn.21:15).

He’s telling us all to be good shepherds to each other.

In his novel Lazarus, Morris West tells the story of Leo XIV, a fictional pope who’s presented as a cold and distant character. One day, he’s recovering in hospital after heart bypass surgery, when a nurse challenges him: ‘You are the supreme shepherd,’ she says, ‘but you don’t see the sheep, only a vast carpet of woolly backs stretching to the horizon’. [iii]

Are we like that? Do we even notice the sheep around us? The truth is that many people today are vulnerable, and need ongoing support, guidance and protection, just like sheep. They need a shepherd.

Sheep farmers say that if you simply leave sheep grazing in a paddock and ignore their other needs, they’ll gradually become weak and sick. But when a shepherd really cares for each animal, the whole flock will prosper.

It’s the same with people: when they’re ignored, they suffer. Jesus knew this; he had real compassion for crowds that ‘looked like sheep without a shepherd’. That’s why he taught them and told his disciples to feed them (Mk.6:30-44).

What, then, are the marks of a good shepherd?

Firstly, good shepherds are kind and humble (Phil.2:7). Their first priority is their sheep. They make sure that they’re always safe, well-nourished and well-cared for (Mt.20:28).

Secondly, good shepherds are good listeners (Jas.1:19). They always listen patiently for the cry of their sheep and respond when they need help.

Thirdly, good shepherds are trusted. Their sheep know them, and their shepherd knows them by name. The flock will always follow their shepherd because they know his voice and trust his actions (Jn.20:4).

And finally, good shepherds do all this for love, not money. As Jesus tells us, a hired hand will run when the wolf appears, because he’s not committed to his job. But good shepherds are prepared to sacrifice everything for their sheep  (Jn.10:12-13).

St. Oscar Romero - CARFLEO

Oscar Romero (1917-80) was born in El Salvador, in Central America, into a family of ten children. His father wanted him to be a carpenter, but he became a priest and for many years he quietly served his parish community.

In 1977, while the Salvadoran government was brutally repressing its people, Oscar Romero became the archbishop. Weeks later, a close friend was assassinated, and this normally quiet man changed. He decided to take a stand.

Through his regular radio broadcasts and from the pulpit, Oscar publicly criticised the government, he defended the rights of the poor and he demanded political change. He also urged the army to stop killing people.

But he was accused of meddling in politics, and in 1980 he was shot dead while celebrating Mass.

Pope Francis canonised him in 2018.

Like Jesus Christ, St Oscar Romero was not a hired hand; he didn’t labour for money. He was driven by love. 

He didn’t just think or talk about the people’s suffering. Rather, he listened to them and took action. He became a good shepherd, just like Martin Luther King and so many other good men and women who have risked everything to help others.[iv]

Good Shepherd Sunday reminds us that Jesus is the Good Shepherd who leads, loves and protects us.

But today is also the World Day of Prayer for Vocations, which reminds us that we’re all meant to be good shepherds, looking out for each other.

So many people around us need our love and protection.

[i] Title Image: Shepherd with Sheep, by Cornelis Albert van Assendelft, 1900-45, Dutch painting, oil on canvas.

[ii] This parable of the Good Shepherd is the only parable in John’s Gospel.

[iii] Morris West, Lazarus, Cornerstone, London, 1991:279.