Year A – 1st Sunday of Advent

The Art of Waiting

[Isa.2:1-5; Rom.13:11-14; Mt.24:37-44]

Waiting is something we all do often, but do we appreciate its benefits? Or do we resent it?

In his book, Oh the Places You’ll Go! Dr Seuss describes the ‘Waiting Place’ as ‘useless’. This is the place where we are all –

Waiting for a train to go
or a bus to come, or a plane to go
or the mail to come, or the rain to go
or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow
or waiting around for a Yes or No
or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting.

And as we wait, many of us become bored, anxious, impatient, or even angry. So, we try to avoid it as much as we can.  

But in her book When the Heart Waits, Sue Monk Kidd says that waiting is not at all useless. ‘For a world that hovers so delicately between beauty and destruction,’ she says, ‘waiting is something we can’t afford to ignore much longer.’

It’s a natural part of life, she says. Indeed, all through the Bible we can see people waiting. Noah, for example, waits for the floodwaters to recede; Jesus waits in the Garden of Gethsemane; and we are all collectively waiting for his return.

Kidd’s point is that waiting is an important part of God’s plan for us.  

She recounts the story of a retreat she attended at a Benedictine monastery, where she noticed a certain monk, sitting alone and very still. He had a ski cap pulled down over his ears, and he was enjoying the shade of a tree. 

There was such tranquil reverence in his silhouette that she stopped to look at him. He was the picture of waiting. Later, she spoke to him. ‘I saw you today sitting beneath the tree,’ she said, ‘just sitting there so still. How can you wait so patiently in the moment? I can’t seem to get used to the idea of doing nothing.’

Breaking into a grin, he replied: ‘Well, there’s the problem right there, young lady. You’ve bought into the cultural myth that when you’re waiting, you’re doing nothing.’

He placed his hands on her shoulders, looked into her eyes and said, ‘I hope you’ll hear what I’m about to tell you. I hope you’ll hear it all the way down to your toes. 

‘When you’re waiting, you’re not doing nothing. You’re doing the most important something there is. You’re allowing your soul to grow up. If you can’t be still and wait, you can’t become what God created you to be.’ [ii]

Waiting, then, is not the useless in-between time we often think it is. We may find it challenging, but that’s only because God is using it to weave blessing, beauty and wisdom into our lives. If we resist these things, we are the ones who miss out.

Today we begin the season of Advent, and Advent is essentially all about waiting – waiting for the coming of Christ into our lives at Christmas. In these four weeks we are all encouraged to take time out to reflect on our lives, to pray and seek the sacraments, and to think about all the suffering in the world around us.

Our hope is that when Jesus does come, he’ll bring with him all the peace, hope, joy and love that we and our world so desperately need.

To nourish and guide us through this time, the Church offers us a rich selection of readings every day. In today’s first reading, Isaiah shares his dream of God’s kingdom, where swords are beaten into ploughshares and spears are turned into pruning-hooks. His vision is of frightful weapons of war being reborn as instruments of nourishment and life.

In troubled times, we are all called to be peacemakers, just like Jesus. These are troubled times, of course, so our challenge is to recognise the weapons we tend to use in our own daily lives. Might this include our impatience, our anger and our harsh tongues? And how might we turn these things into instruments of peace?

In our second reading, St Paul tells us to wake up, because the night is almost over; it will be daylight soon, for God is on his way. And in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus warns us not to be unprepared, as the people were at the time of Noah. It’s time to get ourselves ready.

So, this Advent, let’s reflect on the art of waiting, and recognise that its purpose is to reshape and refine us, and prepare us for what is to follow.

Jesus Christ is coming at Christmas.

Let’s make sure our waiting is fruitful.

[i] Dr Seuss, Oh the Places You’ll Go!

[ii] Sue Monk Kidd, When the Heart Waits. HarperOne, NY. 2016.

Year C – Feast of Christ the King

Christ Our King

(2Sam.5:1-3; Col.1:12-20; Lk.23:35-43)

Today we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King. This is the last Sunday of the Church’s liturgical calendar, and we end the year by reminding ourselves of who Jesus really is.

Pope Pius XI established the Feast of Christ the King in 1925, partly because of his concern about the rise of repressive dictatorships in Europe. At the time, violence and anti-Christian rhetoric were all too common, and Pius feared that too many Christians were being duped by the false prophets of fascism, communism and Nazism.

He wanted to remind us all that it is God who created us, and that in our turbulent world our only real hope for the future is Jesus Christ.

Thankfully, Hitler, Stalin and Mussolini are all now long gone. However, the world today is witnessing instead the rise of new dictatorships that are both disturbing and dangerous, and too many people are living lives that are spiritually empty and aimless.

Many today try to compensate for this emptiness with various forms of self-obsession and by subscribing to the latest political and social fads.

But in her book Strange Gods, Elizabeth Scalia says that when we’re obsessed with ourselves, all our feelings, desires and thoughts become like gods to us, and they lead us down a long winding path that seems to take us somewhere, but really only takes us down into the dungeon of ourselves.

This, she says, is why Jesus says the most important thing we can do is to love God first and then to love our neighbour. For only in this way will we be lifted from the empty depths of our inner selves and brought into the refreshing light of truth.

Today in our Gospel, Jesus is crucified on a cross in a rubbish dump called Calvary. Now, the very fact that our King and our God, Jesus Christ, would allow himself to be treated in this way should make us all stop and think. It says so much about how Jesus views his relationship with us.

In Mark’s Gospel (10:42-45) Jesus says to his disciples, ‘You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’. 

Pope Benedict XVI in his book The Joy of Knowing Christ (2009) says that this is the logic of Christianity. Jesus gave himself in love simply because God is love.

To those who don’t know him, Jesus nailed to the cross looks like an abject failure. However, we know from what follows that Jesus didn’t fail at all. He has actually proved to be the most remarkable king of all.

Not only did he rise from the dead, but he has shown us that his kingship is not about selfishness and greed, but about humility, service and love.

He has shown us that he is not a demanding, bullying king, but one who gently invites us to follow him.

And he is not imperious or remote like other kings, but rather he is a shepherd who genuinely cares for his flock. 

And significantly, he doesn’t ask us to do anything that he’s not prepared to do himself.

Jesus’ self-sacrificial love is the complete opposite of fashionable thinking today.

In his book Food for the Soul, Peter Kreeft draws our attention to the last sentence in today’s Gospel. He notes that it’s the last sentence of the last reading of the last Sunday of our liturgical year, and it’s Jesus’ answer to the good thief who was crucified next to him: ‘Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’

Kreeft says that these are the words we will be hearing from Jesus on the last day of our own lives, if we accept him as our King.

He says that if we make room for Jesus on the throne of our lives, then he will make room for us on his throne in heaven. He will share his kingship, his triumph, and his glory with us. [i]

That thief had lived a life of crime, and barely minutes before his death, he repented and opened his heart up to God. Jesus responded by offering him eternal life in paradise.

What a remarkable gift that was!

But what’s even more extraordinary is the fact that this gift is available to each of us, too.

[i] Peter Kreeft, Food for the Soul. Word on Fire, Park Ridge, IL. 2021:671-672.

Year C – 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

The End Times

(Mal.3:19-20a; 2Thess.3:7-12; Lk.21:5-19)

In all three synoptic Gospels, Jesus warns us that the world will end one day.

‘There will be great signs from heaven,’ he says. There will be fearful sights including wars and revolutions, earthquakes, plagues and famines.

If all these things are happening right now, might we be living in the end times?

People have been asking this question for the last 2,000 years, and many have tried to predict the world’s end. Indeed, one mathematician claims to have calculated that the world only has 760 years left. [i]

So far, these people have all been proved wrong, but in any case Jesus tells us not to listen to them because they are either ignorant or false teachers. For even he doesn’t know when the world will end; only his Father knows (Mt.24:36).

In today’s first reading, the prophet Malachi confirms that one day the world will end and all the ‘arrogant and the evil-doers of the world will be burnt up like stubble.’ What he means is that there’s no joy ahead for those who choose the way of sin and darkness.

Those who choose the way of light, however, can expect ‘the sun of righteousness to shine with its healing rays.’

In other words, if your faith is genuine, you need not fear because the Lord will come to ‘rule the world with justice and the people with fairness’ (Ps.97:9).

In our second reading, St Paul says that it’s wrong to sit idly by, watching and waiting for all this to happen. Instead, we should be setting a good example for others by living honest and humble lives, and working steadily to earn the bread we eat. Our work might not be easy, but it is a necessary and noble part of life, and an important pathway to heaven.

And in Luke’s Gospel today, after talking about the end of the world, Jesus warns that we Christians can expect to be persecuted for following him.

Now, the Church has always endured some form of persecution, but it’s much worse today. More Christians were martyred in the Twentieth Century than in all the previous 1900 years combined, and sadly, the numbers keep rising. [ii]

In many parts of the world, churches are regularly damaged and destroyed, and priests, religious and students are kidnapped and murdered. Laws have also been introduced to suppress Christian values and beliefs, and some professions, like doctors and nurses, are being forced to do things that contradict their faith.

Subtly and not-so-subtly, we’re all being encouraged to reject Jesus.

The Japanese writer Shusaku Endo was raised by a devout Christian mother and baptised at the age of eleven. He grew up a Christian in pre-war Japan, where Christians were less than 1% of the population. He felt an acute sense of alienation as his classmates bullied him because of his ‘western’ religion.

After the war, he went to France, hoping to find spiritual soulmates. But once again he faced persecution, this time because of his race. He became the target of racial abuse.

Rejected at home and abroad, Endo suffered a deep crisis of faith. He decided to visit Palestine to study the life of Jesus. There he made a profound discovery: that Jesus was also rejected. There was no room for him in the inn when he was born. His neighbours ran him out of town. His family questioned his sanity. One of his closest friends betrayed him, while the others abandoned him. And his countrymen traded his life for that of a terrorist.

All this came as a surprise to Endo. He had thought that Christianity was a triumphant faith, but he discovered instead that Jesus was the Suffering Servant. Endo could see in the weak, the broken and the rejected, the Jesus who was also rejected by his own, and tortured and condemned to death.

He learnt that Jesus could understand the rejection that he himself had experienced, and knowing that gave him great strength. [iii]

It’s not easy being a faithful Christian these days, and that’s precisely why Jesus wants us to know that the world will not last forever.

He’s not trying to make us fearful, because fear is the enemy of love, and God is the source of all love. Rather, Jesus is promising us that something much better is coming for those who follow him. ‘Your endurance will win you your lives,’ he says.

The point is that God is ultimately in control, and it’s foolish to ever think we can ‘go it alone’.

Knowing that our troubled world won’t last forever actually gives us hope. It gives focus to our labours, and it encourages us to prepare for the life to come.

There’s a much better life ahead for those who truly love Jesus (Jn.10:10; 1Jn.2:25).


[ii] Peter Kreeft, Food for the Soul, Cycle C. Word on Fire, Park Ridge, IL. 2021:644.

[iii] Flor McCarthy, New Sunday and Holy Day Liturgies, Year C. Dominican Publications, Dublin. 2012:374-375.

Year C – 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

As It Is In Heaven

(2Macc.7:1-2, 9-14; 2Thess.2:16-3:5; Lk.20:27-38)

Some say that there are two kinds of people in this world – those who believe in heaven, and those who don’t.

Jesus, of course leads the first group, but in Biblical times, the Sadducees belonged to the second. They were a small Jewish group who refused to believe in an afterlife.

In today’s Gospel, when some Sadducees see Jesus in the Temple, they challenge him with a hypothetical question: whose wife would a woman be if she marries each of seven brothers, one after the other, after each one dies? [i]

They believe that God’s Law, as given to Moses, cannot be broken, and that God would never create anything that contradicted his own Law. So, by their reasoning, God could not have created an afterlife, because it would simply undermine the sanctity of marriage.

Jesus gives them two answers. Firstly, he says that marriage is an earthly institution blessed by God, and it doesn’t exist in heaven.

And secondly, he says that Moses learnt about the resurrection before he received the Law from God. That was when he first encountered God in the Burning Bush, and God said to him ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob’ (Ex.3:4-6).

Jesus’ point is that because God is the God of the living, and God of the patriarchs, then the patriarchs – Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – must still be alive. For God is a ‘living’ God and only the living can experience something that lives. The patriarchs, therefore, are still alive and heaven is real.

We affirm this belief for ourselves every time we recite the Creed and say ‘I believe in the… resurrection of the body and life everlasting.’

So what do we know about heaven? Not too much, unfortunately. That’s probably because, as St Paul says, the nature of heaven is beyond our human comprehension. ‘No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him’ he says (1 Cor 2:9).

However, we do know some things. For example, life in heaven is different to life here on earth, because there’s no more death or decay, or suffering or pain (Rev.21:4), and heaven is a place of eternal rest and peace (Heb.4:9).

And as Jesus says today, there’s no marriage, but this doesn’t mean that we’ll lose our family and friends. Rather, our relationships will be different as everything will centre around a close communion with God, who is love itself.

You might remember that shortly before he was crucified, Jesus sensed his disciples’ fear and said to them, ‘Don’t let your hearts be troubled… trust in me… I’m going on ahead to prepare a place for you… There are many dwelling places in my Father’s house’ (Jn.14:1-3). 

Jesus has prepared a home for all his disciples in heaven, but this is more than just somewhere to live. It’s actually our real home (Heb.13:14), our permanent home, unlike our temporary dwellings here on earth. And this home will be the fulfilment of our deepest desires, for as St Augustine wrote: ‘You made us for yourself O Lord, and our hearts remain restless until they rest in you.’ [ii]

Some people wonder if heaven might be boring. They fear that it might be just a wispy, ethereal place where people sit on clouds, chanting or playing harps all day long. But remember that in his first letter, St John says that we ‘shall see God as he is’ (1Jn.3:2).

This is significant, because God is the foundation of all wisdom, knowledge and understanding, and the source of all being. He is our Creator, and seeing him will give us the greatest possible happiness. We’ll find ourselves both excited and fulfilled by the extraordinary sights, and insights, that God will reveal to us.

In his book The Imitation of Christ, Thomas á Kempis wrote, ‘Happy is the person who always keeps the hour of death in mind, and daily prepares for it.’

So how might we prepare for it?

Richard Rohr says the simplest way to answer that question is by asking what’s happening in heaven. And what is happening in heaven is communion, unity and family. ‘Lord, your will be done on earth as it is happening in heaven.’

Rohr makes the point that God’s love in heaven is all about perfect union, and union and communion are what God is trying to achieve here on earth. ‘God is not creating religion and righteousness,’ he says. ‘God is creating unity.’

That’s why Jesus’ basic rules for the kingdom are about forgiveness, reconciliation, healing and communication.

‘Those who are capable of union and communion are capable of God,’ he says. [iii]

So, that’s how we prepare for heaven.

[i] To explain, this practice of a man marrying his brother’s widow comes from the Torah (Deut.25:5-6). It’s called the Levirate Law of Marriage (From the Latin word ‘levir’, meaning brother or brother-in-law), and its purpose was to ensure that widows are looked after and that the first husband’s name lived on after him.

[ii] St Augustine, Confessions, Penguin Books, London, 1961:21

[iii] Richard Rohr, What the Mystics know. Crossroad Publishing, NY. 2015:99.