Year C – 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Humble Pie

(Sir.3:17-20, 28-29; Heb.12:18-19, 22-24; Lk.14:1, 7-14)

In Medieval England, the Church used to collect leftover meat from the tables of the rich, and they gave it to the poor.

These leftovers were usually deer or beef innards, called numbles. These numbles were chopped or minced, and then wrapped in pastry and cooked. The result was numble pie, which later became umble pie. The rich ate the tasty venison, while the poor ate umble pie. [i] [ii]

The nature of this dish has changed over the years, and today we speak of eating humble pie, where we accept that we were wrong about something.

Humble pie is what Jesus serves up at the Pharisee’s banquet in today’s Gospel. He has been invited to this feast, and as it starts, he notices the guests scrambling for the best seats at the table, near the most important people. 

Jesus is appalled, and tells them so. Don’t go grabbing a seat that’s not yours, he says. You risk embarrassment if the host asks you to move. It’s better to wait until you’re asked to sit, because then you might be offered a good spot. 

And he adds, ‘Anyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.’ 

In Biblical times, the Pharisees hated humble pie, because pride was everything to them. They worked hard to receive public honour and to avoid being shamed.

Today, things aren’t much different, because pride is still very popular. Lots of people simply love drawing attention to themselves. They like getting praise and recognition because it makes them feel good.

But they forget that pride claims that everything is perfect, when it can’t be. Humility, however, means seeing ourselves as we really are, and always being open to receive any further improvement or correction.

When we’re proud, we’re effectively saying that we don’t need to change, and we close ourselves off. But when we acknowledge our weaknesses, we open ourselves up to receive God’s abundant graces. As St Peter says, ‘God resists the proud, but he gives grace to the humble’ (1Pet.5:5-6).

All through the Bible, we see God showering his graces on people who were genuinely honest about themselves. Moses, for example, was ‘very humble, more than anyone else on earth’ (Num.12:3), and yet God still called him to lead his people to the Promised Land.

King Solomon was rich and powerful, but he didn’t let that go to his head. He knew that everything came from God (2Chron.6:13; 1Kgs.8:54).

When the Wise Men arrived bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, the first thing they did was to drop onto their knees to worship Jesus (Mt.2:11).

St Paul saw himself as the least of the apostles (1Cor.15:9) and the chief of sinners (1Tim.1:15), but he still became one of the greatest saints.

And St John the Baptist thought he wasn’t worthy to undo the strap of Jesus’ sandals (Jn.1:27). And yet Jesus said he was one of the greatest human beings ever to walk the face of the Earth (Mt.11:11).

All these people were happy to eat humble pie. They knew that ‘Where there’s humility, there’s wisdom’ (Prov.11:2).

So, what’s the recipe for humble pie?

The crust is made from dust and ashes, which is where we come from (and where we’re going to). The filling is a blend of equal parts of self-awareness, kindness, self-restraint and a desire to learn. And it’s all served with a fine sprinkling of love.

Humility is the first test of a truly great person, because it means understanding who you really are, including your own strengths and weaknesses. It means knowing where you fit into the scheme of things. It means respecting others and treating them as more important than you are.

St. Augustine once said, ‘If you ask me what’s most essential in the Christian faith, I’d say: first, humility; second, humility, and third, humility.’

Let’s close with a story from the great Polish Rabbi Simcha Bunim. He taught that everyone should have two pockets. In one pocket they should have a piece of paper saying: ‘I am only dust and ashes.’ When they’re feeling too proud, they should reach into this pocket, take out this paper and read it.

In the other pocket they should have another piece of paper saying: ‘For my sake the world was created.’ When they’re feeling lowly and disheartened, they should reach into this pocket, take out this paper and read it.

For we are each the joining of two worlds.

We are fashioned from clay, but our spirit is the breath of God. [iii]



[iii] Martin Buber, Tales of The Hasidim Later Masters. Schoken Books, NY, 1948:249-50.

Year C – 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Butterfly

(Isa.66:18-21; Heb.12:5-7; 11-13; Lk.13:22-30)

You don’t have to go far to find suffering. It’s everywhere. There’s sickness, floods, drought and war. There are broken relationships, the death of loved ones and seeing our plans fail.

In one way or another, we all suffer, and no one likes that. Some people learn from it and move on, while others become angry and bitter. And many people wonder, why doesn’t God protect us from all this pain?

The first thing to say is that God doesn’t make us suffer. He’s not punishing us, because God is love. God does, however, let suffering happen, and one reason for this is because he wants us to learn about life and to come closer to him.

This is what the author of the Letter to the Hebrews is saying to the early Christians in our second reading today. They found life very hard, and he’s encouraging them to accept this as part of their training in discipleship. Like all good parents, God is trying to teach them.

In her book Nudging Conversions, Carrie Gress identifies three kinds of suffering. The first she calls Suffering from Self, because it’s caused by sin. This suffering comes from our bad, self-destructive habits and being separated from God. This is like hell, she says, because sin is always accompanied by pain. We can see this in broken relationships, in our wounded children and in our addictions.

Regardless of our intentions, she says, sin is going to hurt. And God lets this pain happen as a warning that something isn’t right. So, if our conscience fails, this pain might remind us that it’s time to change our behaviour.

The second kind she calls Suffering for Self, and she compares it to purgatory. It occurs when the soul starts turning to God, and the pain comes largely from atoning for our sins. The reason for it is simple, she says: we must repair whatever we’ve broken, while also growing deeper in holiness.

She quotes St Paul’s words: ‘We rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope’ (Rom.5:3-4). This type of suffering is important in our journey towards spiritual maturity.

The third kind she calls Suffering for Others. It’s close to heaven, she says, for it comes from genuinely loving and sacrificing ourselves for others. This is how Jesus loves. [i]

Victor Frankl (1905–97) was imprisoned in Nazi concentration camps during World War II. His mother, father, brother and pregnant wife were all murdered there, and he was stripped of everything he had, including his human dignity.

But there was one thing the Nazis couldn’t take from him: that was his ability to choose how he responded to all this trauma. Frankl made the conscious decision to stay in control of all his responses.

He had learnt a valuable lesson: that those who have a strong sense of meaning and purpose in life can survive for much longer than those who lose their way.

In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI wrote: ‘We can try to limit suffering, to fight against it, but we cannot eliminate it. It is when we attempt to avoid suffering by withdrawing from anything that might involve hurt, when we try to spare ourselves the effort and pain of pursuing truth, love, and goodness, that we drift into a life of emptiness, in which there may be almost no pain, but the dark sensation of meaninglessness and abandonment is all the greater.

‘It is not by sidestepping or fleeing from suffering that we are healed,’ he said, ‘but rather by our capacity for accepting it, maturing through it and finding meaning through union with Christ, who suffered with infinite love.’ [ii]

Jesus suffered every kind of pain imaginable. He was rejected by almost everyone; he suffered emotionally, psychologically, physically and spiritually. And yet he still rose in glory. Clearly, Jesus is the model for us to follow, for he offers us hope.

Let’s close with the story of the butterfly. Butterflies begin life tightly wrapped up in a cocoon. Then, when the time comes, they struggle to escape. Some people think it’s nice to relieve their suffering, by helping them get out. But that’s a mistake.

When butterflies wriggle and struggle out of their cocoon, their movements release a chemical that’s pumped into their wings. This fluid strengthens their muscles and helps their wings expand. [iii]

If butterflies don’t struggle like this, they quickly die.

Suffering is a mystery that can be hard to bear, but it’s also a natural part of life.

Let’s ask Jesus to help us understand, and to help us through.

[i] Carrie Gress, Nudging Conversions. Beacon Publishing, NY, 2015 (eBook).

[ii] Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi, 37


Year C – 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Fire of Love

[Jer.38:4-6; 8-10; Heb.12:1-4; 8-19; Lk.12:49-53]

Four hours’ drive north of Sydney is Mount Wingen. It’s often called ‘Burning Mountain’ because deep inside it is the world’s oldest fire.

Wingen is an Aboriginal word meaning ‘fire’, and that fire has been burning 30 metres underground, for over 6,000 years. [i]

Fire occurs naturally wherever the right amounts of fuel, oxygen and heat are combined. As long as these three elements are present, fire will keep burning. But if you take any element away, it will die. (At Mount Wingen, the fuel burnt is coal.)

A blazing fire is a remarkable thing. It can purify metals like gold and silver, it can protect by destroying vermin and disease, and it provides light and warmth. But of course, it needs to be handled carefully.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus talks about bringing fire to the earth. ‘How I wish it were blazing already!’ he says. But this isn’t any ordinary fire. What Jesus is talking about is spiritual fire.

The Bible often uses the image of fire to represent God. In the Old Testament, God appears as a consuming fire (Dt.4:24), a burning bush (Ex.3:2-3), and a pillar of fire (Ex.13:21). And at Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descends on the disciples as tongues of fire (Acts 2:3).

Like earthly fire, spiritual fire also has three elements. It needs the Holy Spirit’s spark to ignite it, our loving hearts to fuel it, and God’s graces to fan the flames into life. But if you remove any of these elements, spiritual fire will die, too.

Spiritual fire changes whatever it touches. It heals and it reconciles, it provides light and warmth, and peace and comfort. And in the sacraments, spiritual fire transforms ordinary gifts into the very presence of Jesus Christ.

It’s not surprising, then, that fire plays an important role in our liturgical worship. Our Paschal candle and our baptismal and altar candles all reflect the fire and light of Christ’s love.

This spiritual fire is a gift, and we receive it at our baptism. It comes in the form of a spark from the Holy Spirit (Lk.3:16), when we receive the graces of faith, hope and love.

For too many, however, this fire lies dormant. It’s not blazing, because we’ve not yet added the fuel of our loving hearts. Our hearts are somewhere else.

During the cold winters of 16th century Spain, St John of the Cross spent many hours contemplating the mystery of fire. He noticed that the process of a person drawing closer to God is very much like a log burning in a fire. [ii]

At first, a log will crackle and pop as it begins to burn. That’s because impurities like moisture and sap (which won’t burn), are being expelled from the wood. The fire gradually drives these impurities out, leaving the log dry.

Then, the fire starts burning that log until the entire piece of wood is engulfed in flames. The log itself is transformed: it becomes the fire, glowing and releasing heat and light.

The purpose of our spiritual lives is to prepare our souls to receive the fire of God’s love.  And just as a dry log burns much more easily than a wet one, so a soul will more easily absorb the fire of God’s love if it has been prepared by the Holy Spirit.

Each of us, then, needs to be purged of our sins, distractions and impurities, before we can be fully immersed in God’s spiritual fire.

Most of us, however, tend to crackle and pop as we struggle against this process. Letting go of our unhealthy attachments can be hard.

But when we do stop resisting God’s divine flame, our hardened hearts start to dissolve in love. His holy flame then reaches deep inside us, transforming us. We become the fire of his love, reflecting light and heat that, in turn, helps to transform others. [iii]

6,000 years ago, the fire in Mount Wingen started to burn. It has never ever stopped because there’s been a constant supply of fuel, oxygen and heat.

2,000 years ago, the fire of Christ started spreading all over the world. But in too many places today, that fire has died. Why? It’s because too many of us have withdrawn its fuel: the love of our hearts. We’re too distracted.

Spiritual fire transforms lives. Its heat keeps us warm; its light helps us see in the darkness. It empowers us to do remarkable things, and it fills us with comfort and peace. We need all these things.

Spiritual fire is our love united with God’s love.

Let’s ask Jesus to help us set the world on fire once again.




Year C – 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Heeding the Signs

(Wis.18:6-9; Heb.11:1-2; 8-19; Lk.12:32-48)

Life began as normal in Pompeii on August 24, 79AD. Children played, parents went to market and the rich soaked in thermal baths.

Then at lunchtime, Mt Vesuvius erupted, spewing out huge amounts of hot ash, molten rock and poisonous gas. The city was destroyed and some 16,000 people perished.

The sad thing is that they had all been warned. They knew this was an active volcano, for it had erupted 16 years earlier and they were still repairing the damage. The earth had been rumbling and shaking for days, and there was plenty of smoke. But they chose to ignore these signs. [i]

Signs are important. They warn us of danger and help us prepare for what’s coming. They’re also everywhere: on beaches, roads and train stations. Traffic lights turn orange before going red, and many products have ‘use-by’ dates.

It’s risky to ignore signs; they’re there for a reason.

Out in the Judean Desert, John the Baptist warned everyone to ‘prepare the way of the Lord’ (Mk.1:3). Many took him seriously, but some, like the Rich Man in last week’s gospel, didn’t. He was too busy with his treasure to think about anything else, and he found himself totally unprepared for his sudden death.

In Luke’s Gospel today, Jesus repeats this warning for us. ‘Stand ready,’ he says, ‘for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect’.

Many people think they don’t have to worry about this, because they won’t be around when Jesus returns. But Peter Kreeft, in his book Food for the Soul, says that’s wrong. ‘You certainly will (be around),’ he says, ‘because you will die, and your death is the end of the world for you, the end of your world, and that’s when you’ll meet Christ.’

‘If that sounds scary,’ he adds, ‘it shouldn’t, because Jesus begins his sermon today with the words Fear not, little flock. We are his flock, his sheep; he is the good shepherd, and he takes care of us.’ [ii] But we must prepare ourselves.

One person who reads the signs is the American actor Denzel Washington. In a recent interview, he spoke about his Christian faith and the warning signs we’re seeing in our world today.

‘This is spiritual warfare,’ he said. ‘If you don’t have a spiritual anchor you’ll be easily blown (away) by the wind.’ [iii]

At a graduation ceremony in Louisiana, he said that when he was 20, he was visiting his mother’s beauty shop, when a woman he didn’t know looked into his eyes and asked for a pen.

‘I have a prophecy,’ she said, writing down the details. She told him, ‘Boy, you are going to travel the world and speak to millions of people.’

Washington said that her words never left him. ‘I have travelled the world and spoken to millions of people,’ he said, ‘but that’s not the most important thing.’

‘I’ve been protected. I’ve been directed. I’ve been corrected,’ he said. ‘I’ve kept God in my life and he’s kept me humble. I didn’t always stick with him, but he’s always stuck with me… If you think you want to do what you think I’ve done, then do what I’ve done. Stick with God.’

‘Put. God. First,’ he said. ‘Put God first in everything you do. Everything you think you see in me, everything I’ve accomplished, everything you think I have… is by the grace of God. Understand that. It’s a gift.’

And he warns: ‘Success will never be enough in life, because you’ll never see a U-Haul behind a hearse. I don’t care how much money you make; you can’t take it with you. The Egyptians tried it. They got robbed… It’s not how much you have, it’s what you do with what you have.’ [iv]

‘I’m in the service business now,’ he adds. ‘I’m here to serve God, here to serve my family.’ [v]

Denzel Washington is like the servant in today’s Gospel, waiting for his master to return home from a marriage feast. His lamp is lit; he’s ready for action; and when his master arrives, he knows he’ll be rewarded for his faithfulness.

This is what Jesus is asking of us now: to be ready for him and to do whatever God wants of us at any time. Our attitude before that moment will be critical to the way we respond to him.

So, let’s open our eyes, hearts and minds and get ourselves ready.

Just like Mt Vesuvius, there are lots of warning signs around our world today. Let’s not be caught unprepared.


[ii] Peter Kreeft, Food for the Soul, Word on Fire, Park Ridge, IL. 2021:529-530.


[iv] Denzel Washington, Dillard University, Louisiana, 7 May 2015.