Year C – 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time

Anyone, Anywhere, Anytime

[Wis.11:22-12:2; 2Thess.1:11-2:2; Lk.19:1-10]

Being ridiculed and excluded can be very painful. This is what Zacchaeus finds in Luke’s Gospel today.

As a tax collector for the Romans, Zacchaeus has become rich, but the people of Jericho hate him. They think he’s a worthless cheat.

Not surprisingly, he is unhappy. He feels lost and sorely in need of a fresh start.

Zacchaeus has heard that Jesus is coming to town, and hopes to get a glimpse of him. But Zacchaeus is a short man in a big crowd, so he climbs a tree to get a better view.

Jesus sees him up there, and says, ‘Come down. Hurry because I must stay at your house today.’ Instantly, Zacchaeus’ life changes. His curiosity is replaced by an intense sense of repentance and conversion.

They haven’t met before, but Jesus knows Zacchaeus well (just as he knows each of us), and he gives him all the hope and joy he’s looking for. Zacchaeus then commits himself to giving away half his fortune to the poor, and generously repaying anyone he has wronged.

Thanks to Jesus, he is now a new man with a new life, and tradition tells us that Zacchaeus went on to become the first bishop of Caesarea.

There are three things to note from this story.

Firstly, although everyone else rejects Zacchaeus, Jesus still loves him. Jesus never rejects anyone, and neither should we.

Secondly, this story demonstrates that Jesus can call on anyone, anywhere and anytime – even nobodies perched high up in a tree. Is he calling you?

And finally, Jesus uses Zacchaeus as his instrument to serve that community. We know this because he generously commits to helping the poor.

In other words, God often works through the most unlikely people.

Now, someone else who suffered ridicule and exclusion was St Martin de Porres. His feast day is next week, on 3 November.

Martin was born in Lima, Peru, to a Spanish nobleman and a former black slave. His father soon abandoned him, leaving him to live in poverty with his mother and sister.

Martin only had two years of schooling, and was often mocked for his colour, but this didn’t stop him growing into a kind and caring man. He discovered Jesus through his mother, and from the age of ten he prayed for hours every day.

When he was twelve, Martin served as an apprentice and learnt basic hair-cutting and simple medical procedures.

At fifteen, he tried to join the Dominicans, but mixed-race people weren’t welcome back then, so instead he became a servant boy at a nearby convent. There, he cooked, cleaned and laboured in the fields.

Ten years later, he was invited to become a Dominican brother. He was overjoyed, but remained humble. He ate and dressed simply, slept little and worked hard. But even there, he found himself mocked by cruel jokes.

At 34, he was given responsibility for the infirmary and he spent the rest of his life doing remarkable things, healing both the rich and the poor.

Many miracles are attributed to Martin. He often appeared miraculously at the bedside of sick people, and he was sometimes seen in two places at once. He was a great fundraiser, using the money to feed and shelter hundreds of families. He established orchards and taught people how to farm, and he established an orphanage and school that still operate today. He also once bought a slave to set him free.

Martin died in 1639, aged 59. Thousands attended his funeral, and he was canonised by Pope St John XXIII in 1962.

Just like Zacchaeus, there are three things to note from this story. Firstly, although others rejected Martin, Jesus still held him close to his heart. Jesus never rejects anyone, and neither should we.

Secondly, this story reminds us that Jesus can call on anyone, anywhere and anytime – even nobodies on the margins of society. Is he calling you?

And finally, Jesus used Martin to serve that community. We know this because of his extraordinary achievements.

In other words, God often works through the most unlikely people.

Zacchaeus and Martin had much in common. They were both ‘nobodies’, rejected by their communities. But they both had faith, and allowed Jesus to work through them. Because of that, they both lived lives of great purpose, meaning and joy, and today they continue to inspire millions of people.

Zacchaeus came to Jesus much later in life than Martin, but that is never an issue.

Whenever anyone opens up their heart and life to God, the rewards are always the same (Mt.20:1-16).

Year C – 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Jesus Prayer

(Sir.35:12-14, 6-18; 2Tim.4:6-8, 16-18; Lk.18:9-14)

‘Pray constantly,’ St Paul tells the Thessalonians (1Thess.5:17).

But how can anyone pray constantly? That’s the question a young homeless man asks in the spiritual classic, The Way of a Pilgrim, written by an anonymous Russian author.

It’s the 1800s, and this young man hears St Paul’s words in an Orthodox church. He’s puzzled: how can anyone possibly pray non-stop?

He decides to go on pilgrimage to find an answer. He asks many people along the way, and eventually stops at a monastery, where an old monk agrees to help him understand what St Paul means.

He begins by teaching him the Jesus Prayer: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner’.

‘Go to your room and say it 1,000 times,’ the monk says. When he does this, the monk says, ‘Now, pray it 10,000 times.’

He teaches the pilgrim to slowly pray the first part, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God’ while breathing in, and then to say ‘have mercy on me, a sinner’ while breathing out. He instructs him to do this all day.

Later, the monk dies and the pilgrim resumes his journey, slowly chanting this prayer by inhaling and exhaling the words. Sometimes he stresses a different word, or he shortens the prayer down to ‘Lord Jesus, have mercy on me’, or simply ‘Jesus, have mercy’.

All the while he’s using this breathing technique, humbly confessing his sinfulness and expressing his longing for God. In the process, he moves from praying the words aloud to praying them silently, and gradually, his whole being becomes the prayer. The words become embedded in his heart, mind and body, and their presence becomes as natural and constant as breathing itself.

‘Now I walk and say the Jesus Prayer without ceasing,’ the pilgrim says, ‘and it’s more precious and sweet to me than anything else in the world.’ [i]

The Jesus Prayer is a prayer of the heart. It’s similar to an Eastern mantra in that it’s short and it’s prayed over and over again, sometimes using knots or beads on a prayer rope.

But the difference is that non-Christian mantras are often meaningless and aim to empty the mind.

The words of the Jesus Prayer, however, are Biblical and deeply meaningful, and aim to fill the heart, mind and soul with Jesus himself.

The strength of this prayer comes from Jesus’ holy name, which is powerful in itself (Phil.2:9; Rom.10:13). Whenever we use Jesus’ name, we invoke his presence and he brings with him peace and forgiveness, love and hope.

Indeed, you cannot separate the name and person of Jesus.

This prayer began with the 3rd Century monks of the Egyptian desert. They took the words ‘Lord have mercy on me’ from the psalms and from the story of Jesus healing the blind beggar in Jericho (Mk.10:47).

The essence of this prayer, however, can be found in today’s Gospel, in Jesus’ Parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector.

Two men are praying in the Temple. The Pharisee stands where everyone can see him. Looking up to heaven, he loudly thanks God that he’s not like everyone else, and especially not like that Tax Collector, for he’s a virtuous man who fasts and is generous with his money.

That’s not genuine prayer, however. That’s self-promotion.

The Tax Collector then stands at the back of the Temple. He’s ashamed of his life and can’t lift up his eyes (Ez.9:6). He prays quietly, saying ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ He is lowly and humble, and honest about his mistakes. He knows he needs help, so he prays, seeking God’s love and forgiveness.

In the 1930s, Jesus promised St. Faustina Kowalska that he will ‘pour out a whole ocean of graces’ to those who approach the fountain of His mercy. [ii] This is what he does for the Tax Collector. He’ll do the same for us if we take this prayer to heart.


Today, the Jesus Prayer is especially popular in the Eastern Church, and increasingly so in the West. It’s said to be the most widely used prayer after the Our Father and the Hail Mary. [iii]

And it’s effective. A 1998 study found that practising the Jesus Prayer for ten minutes a day for 30 days, sitting quietly, offers many benefits. This includes increasing one’s perception of closeness to God, and decreasing levels of hostility, depression and anxiety. [iv]

The Jesus Prayer is easy to remember, and easy to pray, anywhere and anytime. It also comes with a whole ocean of God’s graces. [v]

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Now, say this 1,000 times.

[i] Helen Bacovcin (trans.), The Way of the Pilgrim. Doubleday, NY, 1992. 





Year C – 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity

(Ex.17:8-13; 2Tim.3:14-4:2; Lk.18:1-8)

Being cast adrift can be a scary experience.

That’s what we see in Alfonso Cuarón’s movie Gravity. It won seven Oscars in 2014. [i]

Sandra Bullock stars as a young astronaut, Dr Ryan Stone, on her first space mission. George Clooney is her commander, a veteran astronaut on his last space expedition.

Disaster strikes while they’re investigating the Hubble Space Telescope. Their space shuttle is destroyed, they lose contact with the world and they start floating hopelessly into space. It’s a frightening thought.

The film is set in outer space, but the real story is about the inner life of this young woman. Her drifting through space serves as a metaphor for human life, for so many people today do seem to be drifting aimlessly through life. 

Dr Stone discovers to her horror that science cannot answer the most basic questions about life, and this movie asks the question: when science and technology fail, what’s left to sustain us?

Image result for Gravity movie images

At one point, she thinks she’s going to die. She cannot contact mission control, but keeps talking into her microphone anyway, asking, ‘Who’ll pray for my soul? Will you say a prayer for me? I’d say one myself, but I’ve never been taught how to’.

She discovers that we all need a faith and hope that’s grounded in solid truth, a truth that exists beyond us. And she learns that prayer is our only real lifeline to that truth and hope. (This point explains the film’s tagline: Don’t Let Go.)

There’s a similar message for us in today’s reading from Exodus. The Israelites are under attack, and as they try to defend themselves, Moses is praying on a hilltop. His hands are held high and he’s looking up towards heaven (for that’s how the ancients prayed).

As long as Moses keeps his arms up in constant prayer, the Israelites are safe; but when he lowers them, the enemy gains ground. 

The message is simple: Keep praying! Don’t let go! 

Like Sandra Bullock’s character in Gravity, there are times when we all feel we’ve been cast adrift. We feel lost, fearful and uncertain of where we’re going. That’s why Jesus in today’s Gospel reminds us of the source of our hope. Pray constantly, he says. Never lose heart.

Don’t let go!

But what is prayer? Basically, it’s communicating with God, and there are many ways to do this: in words, in song and even in silence. We can also pray by reading Scripture and by participating in the liturgy, most especially the Holy Eucharist.

Some of us have yet to find God, so prayer is also our search for him. We can look for God in our hearts and minds or listen for his quiet voice. We can seek him in art, music and literature, or sense him in the people, events and world around us. All these are forms of prayer.  

But once we’ve found God, prayer is then reaching out to him, inviting him into our lives, allowing him to change us from within. 

After that, prayer is staying connected with God, sharing in his divine nature and living as he wants us to.

St John Vianney described prayer as union with God. Prayer, he said, is like two candles – one for God and one for the soul – that have slowly melted into each other and become inseparable.

Ultimately, however, prayer is love. It’s our heartfelt search for the source of all life and love. And when we find God, when we absorb all he has to offer, then we become a source of new life and love for others. God then works through us, offering others a new beginning.

But this is only possible if we accept that there’s more to life than what we see.

Like Dr Stone in Gravity, we must learn that there truly is a deeper, spiritual world beyond the limits of space and time, for God is the source of all truth and meaning; the home of all love. And that’s where we belong. 

There’s a moment in Gravity where Dr Stone starts to understand. She’s floating in space in a foetal position, and then emerges with new life. This image is reinforced in the final scene where she emerges from the sea to begin afresh, in the same way that we rise to new life from the waters of baptism.

Our challenge then, is to maintain our link to the source of all life.

Fashion Rosary Black Red Bead Guadalupe & Jesus Cross 28" Rosary Necklace  HR 600 KKRD |

October is the month of the Holy Rosary, which reminds us of the ancient prayer that focuses so beautifully on the life of Jesus Christ.

St Therese of Lisieux saw the Rosary as a long chain linking heaven and earth, with one end in our hands, and the other in the hands of Jesus and Mary.

Like all prayer, the Rosary is an important lifeline to the truth of our existence.

Whatever you do, don’t let go!

[i] Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity, Warner Bros. Entertainment, 2013.

Year C – 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Thank God for the Fleas

(Kgs.5:14-17; 2Tim.2:8-13; Lk.17:11-19)

How important is gratitude? Do we really need to say thank you?

Most of us probably know someone who rarely or never says thank you. Perhaps they’re angry or resentful about something, or they simply take things for granted, but being ungrateful tends to have consequences.

For example, ungrateful people often make poor life decisions. Why? It’s because negative thinking tends to cloud our judgement.[i] And have you noticed that ungrateful people are never happy? That’s because gratitude is the key to happiness. You cannot be happy if you’re never grateful.

So, what is gratitude? It’s appreciating what we have. It’s saying thanks for the good things that happen to us. Gratitude helps us feel connected with the world and with each other. It helps us see the world in fresh ways. It makes it easier for us to feel good, to overcome stress and adversity, and to be healthy. [ii]

In today’s Gospel, ten lepers approach Jesus. They’ve heard all about him and they’re hoping for a cure. In Greek, they cry ‘Eleison!’ (This is our cry, too, when we say ‘Lord have mercy’ at the start of every Mass.)

‘Go, show yourselves to the priests,’ Jesus says, and on the way all ten of them are healed; such is the strength of their faith. But only one, a Samaritan, returns to say thank you. Only he is humble enough to appreciate the gift he’s received. He throws himself thankfully at Jesus’ feet, and as he does so, he receives an even greater gift: his heart and soul are filled with divine grace.

He is both physically healed and spiritually transformed.

In this Gospel, Jesus is saying that we should all be grateful for our blessings. So, we ask ourselves: are we truly grateful, like the Samaritan? Or do we choose to be like the other nine, taking but giving nothing in return?

Through his letters, St Paul often talks about being thankful. In fact, he does so 46 times (e.g., Col.1:3-8,15; 1Tim.2:1). ‘Give thanks in all circumstances’ (1Thess.5:18), he says. Give thanks to God and to each other, always and everywhere. Give thanks for our existence, for the world we live in, for the food we eat and the air we breathe. Give thanks for our family and friends, and for our peace and prosperity.

Life might not be perfect, but we’re all blessed in so many ways.

In her book, The Hiding Place, Corrie Ten Boom explains how she learnt to be grateful, even in the most awful of places.

In 1944, in the Netherlands, she and her family were arrested by the Nazis for secretly sheltering Jews in their home. They were sent to Ravensbruck concentration camp, a truly cruel and miserable place.

Arriving at Barracks 28, they were horrified to find the straw mattresses soaked with urine, the sewers backed up and their beds swarming with biting fleas. How could they live in such a place?

Corrie’s sister Betsie had a Bible, and in it she came across St Paul’s instruction: ‘Give thanks in all circumstances.’ They talked and wondered about this, and decided to make a list of all their blessings.

They were thankful they were together. They thanked God they had a Bible. They even thanked God for the crowds of prisoners, that more people could hear God’s word through them. And then, Betsie thanked God for the fleas.

‘The fleas!’ Corrie said. This was too much. ‘There’s no way even God can make me grateful for a flea,’ she thought.

But it turned out that Betsie was right. The fleas were a nuisance, but they were also a blessing. The women were able to have Bible studies in the barracks with a great deal of freedom, never bothered by supervisors coming in and harassing them. The fleas actually kept the guards away.

God used those fleas to protect dozens of women from harassment and abuse. They were left free to support each other and to hear the comforting and life-giving word of God. [iii]

We all have things that irritate us, things that at first appear to be annoying, painful or even unnecessary. But as Corrie Ten Boom found, God often uses such things for our protection and blessing.

St Therese of Lisieux learnt the same lesson: ‘Everything is a blessing’, she said. Everything.

So, we must always be thankful, even when times are tough and unpleasant. We might not be aware of it, but God is always looking after us.

Very often, it’s only when we look back that we realise what God has done for us.



[iii] Corrie ten Boom, The Hiding Place, Hodder and Stoughton, London, 2015:184-192.

Year C – 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Faith and Science

(Hab.1:2-3; 2:2-4; 2Tim.1:6-8, 13-14; Lk.17:5-10)

Is it true that faith and science are enemies?

No, that’s simply not true. Today, the Church runs countless schools and universities which teach science. It also sponsors the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the Vatican Observatory.

But let’s go back into history. Bishop Robert Barron reminds us that it was the Church that gave birth to science. The great scientific pioneers, including Kepler, Copernicus, Galileo, Newton and Descartes, all went to Church-sponsored schools and universities, and it was there that they began their journeys of scientific discovery.

These early schools and universities taught two theological truths that underpin the experimental sciences today: firstly, that the universe is not God, and secondly, that the universe he created is both orderly and rational (Ecc.42:21; Jer.33:25-26).

It’s because God’s creation is so orderly and rational that science is able to do what it does so well – conducting observations, analysis and experimentation.

Science’s foundations, then, emerged from theology, and the pioneers of science got their start from Church-sponsored schools and universities.

Now, we know that God created the universe (Gen.1). This means that he must be outside it. It also means that you cannot use the scientific method to find or study God.

When pioneer cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin returned from outer space in 1961, he said, ‘I looked and looked but I didn’t see God.’ Of course he didn’t. God is not an object inside his own creation. He’s outside it.

Similarly, my wife is an artist. If you closely study her work, you’ll find evidence of her style, her techniques and her imagination. But you’ll never find the woman herself because she exists outside her creations.

Finding our divine creator therefore requires a different approach, and that’s why science and theology use very different methods in their work. It also explains why science can never decide the question of God’s existence or describe God or what he does. That requires a very different kind of rational thought, one that doesn’t compete with the scientific approach.

And here’s another point: Scientism is not science.

Scientism says that the only knowledge worth having is scientific knowledge. Many people today say they will accept only what they can clearly see, touch and control, and therefore the only knowledge of any value comes from science. But we know that science has its limitations.

Science has done great work in fields like health and technology, but it still can’t distinguish good from bad, or right from wrong. It can’t explain love or goodness or beauty, and it can’t decide what to do with its own discoveries.

There is such a thing as objective truth. Jesus spoke about it (Jn.14:6), and there are many roads to it, including art, literature, history, philosophy, science and religion. It’s wrong to suggest that only one approach has any value.

And finally, we should acknowledge the ground-breaking work of countless Catholic scientists, including Danish Bishop Nicholas Steno who founded Geology, and German Fr Athanasius Kircher who founded Egyptology. (He also studied medicine, physics, astronomy, maths, music and linguistics). [i]

Fr Roger Boscovich’s ideas in the 1700s led to modern atomic theory. Seismology is often called the Jesuit science. Economics was founded by fourteenth-century Catholic thinkers, Jean Buridan and Nicolas Oresme. The father of modern genetics was an Augustinian friar, Gregor Mendel. Fr Georges Lemaître formulated the Big Bang theory. And finally, Sr Miriam Stimson, a Dominican nun and Chemistry professor, helped discover DNA. [ii]

Clearly, there’s a distinguished relationship between Christianity and science.

Now, some people say that the story of Galileo is proof of the Church’s supposed “war” against science. But Robert Barron says that this is only one chapter in a very long book. ‘The Galileo episode was hardly the Church’s finest moment,’ he says, ‘(but) in point of fact, John Paul II apologised for it.’ [iii]

The Galileo story was clearly a mistake, but it should not overshadow the historically positive link between science and the Christian faith.

Let’s close with a story. A young university student was travelling in the same train carriage as an elderly man who was praying the Rosary. The young man confronted him: ‘Instead of praying the Rosary, why don’t you take the time to learn and educate yourself a little more? I can send you an instructive book,’ he said.

The old man replied, ‘Please send me the book at this address,’ and he handed him his card. It read: Louis Pasteur, Paris Institute of Science.

The student was embarrassed. Pasteur was the most famous scholar of his time. He invented vaccines and pasteurisation and regularly prayed the Rosary.

Pasteur was also the man who said that a little science estranges us from God, but much science leads us back to him.