Year A – 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Beatitudes

(Is.8:23-9.3; 1Cor.1:1-13,17; Mt.4:12-23)

Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount has often been described as the heart of the Gospels, and central to this sermon are the Beatitudes.

These famous blessings are at the very heart of Jesus’ teaching. [i] [ii]

Pope St John Paul II once called the Beatitudes the Magna Carta of Christianity.[iii] What he meant is that these eight blessings are a pivotal guide for how we might live our best lives as disciples of Jesus Christ.

Early in the Old Testament, in the Book of Exodus, Moses climbs Mt Sinai and receives the Ten Commandments from God. These Ten Commandments are ten simple, but profoundly important, rules for how to live a safe and moral life that will both please God and help us all live in community.

In a similar way, early in the New Testament, Jesus, as ‘the new Moses’, climbs another mountain, this one overlooking the Sea of Galilee, and he introduces a new law which we call the Beatitudes. This new law isn’t meant to replace the Law of Moses. Its purpose is to perfect them and help us understand them better. As Jesus says, ‘I’ve come not to abolish the law or the prophets, but to fulfill them’ (Mt.5:17)

The essential purpose of the Ten Commandments is to teach us right from wrong, and to show us how to respect God and each other. The purpose of the Beatitudes, however, is to help us take the next step, by doing everything in love.

And living a life of love is living the life of God.

The word beatitude means ‘blessedness,’ and these eight blessings tell us what we need to do, to truly be happy. They are also a challenge, because each is exactly the opposite of what our society today expects us to believe and do.

Our world, for example, says that you’ll be happy when you chase after money. But Jesus says ‘happy are the poor in spirit.’ In other words, those who are truly blessed are those who put God before anything else; and who have the humility to admit that they can’t do anything without God’s grace, because he is ultimately in control.

Our world also says you’ll be happy when you are tough, ruthless and feared, just like in the movies. But Jesus says blessed are the kind and gentle, who refuse to get ahead by hurting others, for gentleness is a form of strength.

Our world says you’ll be happy when you really know how to party. But Jesus says, blessed are those who mourn; who recognise the emptiness of cheap thrills, and who understand that you can’t avoid pain and sacrifice when you focus on what really counts in life.

Our world says happy are those who have a taste for power, status and fame. But Jesus says happy are those who hunger and thirst for justice, who understand the importance of values and standards, and always doing the right thing.

Our world says you’ll be happy if you’re intolerant and refuse to accept or forgive the mistakes of others. But Jesus says happy are the merciful, who try to understand why people do what they do, and then give them another chance, for God’s mercy will shine on them.

Our world also says you’ll be happy if you have the right look, and it really doesn’t matter what you’re hiding underneath, because it’s appearances that count. But Jesus says happy are those who have a good, clean heart, because all our thoughts, words and actions come from there.

Our world says you’ll be happy if you trample all over others, because then you’ll get what you want. But Jesus says happy are the peacemakers; those who welcome the stranger, who pursue justice and help to spread understanding, for they shall be true sons and daughters of God.

And finally, our world says blessed are those who lie, cheat and steal, because they’ll have the last laugh. But Jesus says happy are those who take a stand for what is right, especially in the face of persecution and abuse, for they’ll be honoured on earth and rewarded in heaven.

In 2006, Pope Benedict XVI called the Beatitudes ‘Jesus’ self-portrait’, for he is ‘the true poor in spirit, the one afflicted, the meek one, the one hungering and thirsting for justice, the merciful, the pure of heart, the peacemaker. He is the one persecuted for the sake of justice.’ [iv]

The Beatitudes may be challenging, but remember this: they are an excellent guide to a good relationship with God and our neighbours.

And they are our pathway to heaven.

[i] Photo: Church of the Beatitudes, Mount of Beatitudes, Galilee.




Year A – 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Shining Light

(Is.8:23-9.3; 1Cor.1:1-13,17; Mt.4:12-23)

The first pot-plant I ever owned was a coleus blumei (aka ‘Painted Nettle’). I had it long ago, but sadly it didn’t survive.

Like each of us, it needed healthy doses of sunlight, but I didn’t recognise this at the time, and it slowly perished. I’ve always regretted that.

What does sunlight do for us? It banishes the darkness; it nourishes growth, it heals and it reduces our stress and anxiety. Sunlight also offers us comfort, warmth and safety. And it shows us the way.

But there’s another kind of light we also need. It’s the interior light of faith and hope that shines in our hearts and minds. This is the spiritual light that opens us up to truth, beauty and goodness, and it fills us with joy.

Not surprisingly, light is a theme that runs all through Scripture. At the beginning, at the dawn of Creation in Genesis, God commands ‘Let there be light!’ (Gen.1:3). And at the end, in the Book of Revelation, we’re told that in heaven we won’t need the sun or the moon, because God’s glory will give us all the light we need (Rev.21:23).

About 700 years before Christ, the prophet Isaiah foretold that one day, the Virgin would bear a son who would be called Emmanuel (Is.7:14). And as Matthew reminds us in today’s Gospel, Isaiah also prophesied that those living in darkness would see a great light.

Well, as history shows us, that’s exactly what happened. At midnight, when the world was at its darkest, Jesus was born (Lk.2:8), and ever since then he has continued to bless us as the Light of the World (Lk.2:30-32).

But in what way is Jesus the Light of the World? How does he light up our lives?

Well, Jesus is very much like sunlight, because he banishes the darkness (Jn.8:12), and he shows us the way (Jn.14:5-6).

Like sunlight, Jesus is also warm in the way he reaches out to everyone. He nourishes us and heals the sick and the suffering (Mt.8:3; Mk.10:46-52).

And like the sun, Jesus is pure because his entire life is focussed on only one thing: love. Love for his Father and love for all humankind (Mt.5:8).

Jesus is the Light of the World, and the world needs this light today. So many people are struggling.

The novelist Edith Wharton once wrote that there are two ways to spread light: either to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.

Jesus is that candle, and here in our church he is symbolised by the paschal candle. But the Light of Christ is not meant to stop there; it needs to spread. That’s what happens at baptism, when the flame is passed from Jesus’ paschal candle down to our own baptismal candles, which we then take into our own lives.

In other words, at our baptism, Jesus’ Spirit of love is passed down into our hearts, and our challenge is to keep that flame burning brightly all through our lives.

Next week, on 26 January, we celebrate Australia Day. This is always a wonderful opportunity for us to reflect on those saintly women and men who have done so much to mirror the light of Christ in our nation.

Think, for example, of the remarkable Mum Shirl Smith who raised 60 children. And St Mary McKillop, who spent her life supporting and educating poor children and their families. And Eileen O’Connor, possibly Australia’s next saint, the severely disabled woman who established a nursing order for the poor. And Caroline Chisholm, who helped countless immigrant families.

But what about us today? How do we let our light shine? Do we give others the hope and encouragement they need? Do we smile and listen to them, and genuinely help them? Each of us can do something to make a difference.

Let’s close with a story. A boy went with his parents to Europe for a holiday. They visited many magnificent Cathedrals, and the boy was fascinated by the way the sun shines through the beautiful stained-glass windows.

‘Who are those people in the windows?’ he asked his father. ‘Oh, those are the saints,’ the father replied.

Back at home, when the boy returned to school, his teacher asked the class, ‘Who are the saints?’

The boy eagerly replied, ‘I know! Saints are the ones the light shines through!’

How do you reflect the Light of Christ?

Year A – 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Lamb of God

(Is.49:3,5-6; 1Cor.1:1-3; Jn.1:29-34)

The Bible is full of lambs. In fact, they’re mentioned over 200 times.

There’s the paschal lamb (Lk.22:7), the sacrificial lamb (Ex.29:38), Isaiah’s lamb led to the slaughter (Is.53:7) and the triumphant lamb in Revelation (Rev.22:3).

And in today’s Gospel, when John the Baptist sees Jesus, he cries out: ‘Behold the Lamb of God … !’

What does he mean by that? And what’s the significance of all these lambs?

To answer that, we need to go back into history. In ancient times, many cultures believed they were too unworthy to approach God, and the only way to worship him was by sacrificing something valuable, like sheep, bulls and goats.

Now, when the ancient Israelites were enslaved in Egypt, God heard their cry for freedom and asked Moses to arrange for their release. But Pharaoh refused, so God sent ten plagues to soften his resistance. In the last plague, the Angel of Death took the firstborn of every Egyptian family.

But just before that, God instructed every Jewish family to sacrifice a lamb and to use a hyssop branch to smear its blood on their door posts. This was to help the Angel of Death to identify and bypass Jewish homes.

After that, Pharaoh relented and allowed them to leave (Ex.12:1-31). Ever since then, at Passover, the Jewish people have been celebrating their escape from slavery in Egypt. Those sacrificed lambs meant new life for them. [i]

Now, John’s Gospel often mentions the Passover. Indeed, it begins with John the Baptist in today’s Gospel calling Jesus ‘the Lamb of God’, and it ends with Jesus being crucified at the same time as the priests slaughter the lambs in the Temple.

John’s Gospel makes the point that Jesus is the fulfilment of the Old Testament Passover lamb. By sacrificing himself on the Cross, Jesus has become the new Passover Lamb and he has inaugurated a new exodus, by opening the door to eternal life for his disciples.

Because of this, animal sacrifice is no longer necessary, and the old Passover has been replaced by a new Passover, the Holy Eucharist, which means thanksgiving.

There are many parallels between the old and new Passover lambs.

In the Old Testament, for example, lamb’s blood saved the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. But now the blood of Jesus saves us from slavery to sin. Jesus’ sacrifice has opened the door to new life for us.

Also, when God gave Moses his rules for the Passover, he insisted that no bones may be broken when the lambs were sacrificed (Ex.12:46). When Jesus was nailed to the Cross, the soldiers came to break his legs, but he was already dead, so they speared him instead (Jn.19:31-34).

As John writes in his Gospel, ‘These things happened so that scripture would be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken”’ (Jn.19:36).

Further, as Jesus hung on the Cross, John tells us that ‘a sponge full of vinegar was put on a hyssop stick and held to his mouth’ (Jn.19:29). This reminds us of the hyssop used to smear blood on the Israelites’ doorposts.

And as Brant Pitre writes in his book Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist, in the 1st Century A.D., the Passover lambs in the Temple were not only sacrificed, they were crucified. After sacrificing the lamb, thin staves of wood were driven through the lamb’s shoulders in order to hang it, and then it was skewered from head to tail, so that it was effectively crucified. It was then roasted.

Pitre says that Jesus would have witnessed thousands of Passover lambs being crucified in the Jerusalem Temple, so it’s not surprising that he likened his own suffering and death to that of a Passover lamb.

And finally, Pitre notes that at the time of Jesus, rabbis always saw each Passover celebration as a way to actively participate in the first exodus. So, Passover was not only a sacrifice; it was also a memorial or remembrance (Ex.12:14) by which the Jewish people both remembered and made present the event itself.[ii]

Now, all this is reflected in Jesus’ new Passover, the Last Supper. ‘Do this in memory of me,’ (1Cor.11:25) Jesus says, and we’ve been repeating this ever since, at every Mass. Jesus has placed his body and blood at the centre of this new Passover, and we eat it, just as the original Passover lambs were eaten by those who made the sacrifice.

That’s why Jesus is the Lamb of God.

By his sacrifice, Jesus leads us on a new exodus, from death to eternal life in heaven.


[ii] Brant Pitre, Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist, Crown Publishing, NY. 2016 (eBook).

Year A – The Epiphany

Four Kinds of Epiphany

(Is.60:1-6; Eph.3:2-3, 5-6; Mt.2:1-12)

What does it mean when someone says ‘I’ve had an epiphany’?

It means that in a sudden flash, a veil was lifted and something profound was revealed to them. And that experience has changed the way they live.

Today, on the Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord, we celebrate the different ways in which Jesus reveals himself to the world.

We begin by remembering the Wise Men who discovered the child Jesus in Bethlehem, and worshipped him as the Messiah who has come to save us all. This is the original epiphany we celebrate at this time.

But there are other ways in which Jesus’ divine identity and mission have been revealed to us. At his Baptism, God the Father announces that Jesus is his beloved Son (Mk.1:9-11), and at Cana Jesus performs his first miracle (Jn.2:1-11). Each of these events is an epiphany.

But how does Jesus reveal himself to us today?

Let’s go back to the Middle Ages, when St Aelred of Rievaulx [i] was the wise and well-loved abbot of a Yorkshire monastery. He taught that there are four ways to experience an epiphany that could lead us closer to Jesus. [ii]

The first is when we find ourselves mystically touched by God. This is a deeply spiritual moment which can happen anytime and anywhere. We might sense God’s presence while taking in the beauty of art or nature, or recognising a fundamental truth or witnessing some profound goodness and love. Our hearts get a strong sense of God’s presence and we find ourselves drawn to him.

This happened to me once, as a boy. I’d been praying, asking God to prove his existence to me. Rather cheekily, I’d said, ‘If you really exist, then prove it to me by putting two dollars here on my bedside table.’

Now, I know that no-one should ever test God (Deut.6:16), but childishly then I did. Nothing happened for several days, and I wasn’t surprised, because I sensed that maybe I’d done something wrong. Then one day, walking home from school, a two-dollar note came fluttering towards me in the wind. [iii]

I was utterly amazed. Deep in my heart I knew that God had been listening and wanted me to know it.

A second type of epiphany occurs when we hear or read a memorable word or phrase. This, too, can happen anytime and anywhere, but that word or phrase touches us deeply and we find ourselves inspired to do something that brings us closer to God.

This is what happens to the two disciples on the Road to Emmaus. When Jesus starts reading Scripture, their spiritual hearts burn inside them (Lk.24:32).

The third kind of epiphany is when we find our faith sparked by the example of someone else’s life. We might encounter them personally, or read or hear about them, but their holy life inspires us to do something similar and this has the effect of drawing us closer to Jesus. 

This happened to St Anthony of Padua in Lisbon. When he heard about the 5 missionary martyrs of Morocco, he was inspired to become a Franciscan missionary, too, and he went on to do remarkable things in Italy and France.

St Aelred’s fourth kind of epiphany can occur when a major disaster leaves someone’s life in ruins. It’s only at this point that they discover the possibility of living differently. They’ve lost all their cherished projects, and they discover something new about themselves. 

What at first seemed like disaster turns out to be grace, and what seemed to be the end becomes the beginning, as they find themselves turning to Jesus and starting a new life filled with faith and hope.

These are St Aelred’s four kinds of epiphany, in which Jesus reveals himself to us and draws us closer to him. Have you experienced any of them?

Have you found yourself mystically touched by God, and got a strong sense of his presence?

Have you heard a word or phrase that inspires you to do something which draws you closer to Jesus?

Have you been inspired by the life of a holy person, and wanted to do something similar?

Or have you experienced a disaster that brought you closer to God?

At some stage in our spiritual journey through life, Jesus will approach us and perhaps even appear to us, calling us to him. This can happen anytime and anywhere, and he may appear in a way that makes us wonder.

But if our hearts are open to it, that epiphany will fill us with energy and delight.

And it will change the course of our life.

[i] Rievaulx is pronounced “REE-voh”

[ii] Michael Casey, Balaam’s Donkey, Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN. 2019:144.

[iii] This occurred just before Australian two-dollar notes were replaced by coins.