Year A – Pentecost Sunday


(Acts 2:1-11; 1Cor.12:3b-7, 12-13; Jn.20:19-23)

Pentecost Sunday marks the end of our Easter season. [i] It’s also the day we celebrate the Holy Spirit entering into our world, filling hearts and transforming lives with power and purpose.

Most people today associate the Holy Spirit with fire. This is a good image, because fire warms, cleanses and enlightens, and we all need these things. As Christians, we like people to be filled with ‘the fire of the Spirit.’

But fire isn’t the Bible’s only image for the Holy Spirit. At Jesus’ baptism, the Spirit appears as a descending dove (Lk.3:22). At Jesus’ transfiguration, he’s a shining cloud (Mt.17.5). In Acts, he’s likened to a rushing wind (2:1-4). [ii] And in John’s Gospel, he’s called a river of living water (7:37-39).

Each of these images is dynamic: flowing water, descending dove, blazing fire, and rushing wind.

But as the Franciscan theologian Richard Rohr points out, the reality for many Christians is that the Holy Spirit is only an afterthought. We don’t really ‘have the Spirit’ at all. We simply go through the motions, formally believing, but without any fire. There’s little conviction and not much service.

That’s why the Gospels clearly distinguish between two baptisms, he says. There’s the baptism with water that most of us are used to, and there’s the baptism ‘with the Holy Spirit and fire’ (Mt.3:11), the one that really matters.

The water baptism that many of us received as children demands little conviction or understanding, Rohr says. But until that water baptism becomes real, until we know Jesus, and we can rely on Jesus, call upon Jesus, share Jesus and love Jesus, then we’re just going along for the ride.

We can recognize people who have had a second baptism in the Spirit, he says. They tend to be loving and exciting. They want to serve others, and not just be served themselves. They forgive life for not being perfect. They forgive themselves for not being perfect, and they forgive their neighbours.

We often pray, ‘Come, Holy Spirit,’ Rohr says, but the truth is that the gifts of the Spirit have already been given to us, because if you’ve been baptised, the Holy Spirit has already come. The only difference is the degree to which we know it, draw upon it, and consciously believe it.

So, if there’s never any movement, energy, excitement, deep love, service, forgiveness, or surrender in your life, you can be sure that you don’t have the Spirit. If you’re just going through the motions without any deep convictions, then you don’t have the Spirit.

In that case, he says, you’d be wise to fan into flame the gift you’ve already received. [iii]

This is important, because we are all born into this world spiritually empty, and deep down, we all thirst for God’s divine presence (Col.2:13). And if we don’t have the Spirit, then we all end up trying to satisfy that thirst with something other than Jesus Christ. 

To satisfy his thirst, Bill Wilson (1895-1971) turned to alcohol. He’d had a very successful career on Wall Street, and for a while he enjoyed drinking, but by 1929 he’d become a hopeless drunk. In 1934, he checked himself into rehab, and took the advice of a friend who said, ‘admit you are licked; get honest with yourself (and) pray… even as an experiment.’ [iv]

Feeling hopeless and helpless, he fell to his knees and cried out ‘God help me!’

‘Suddenly,’ he later said, ‘the room lit up with a great white light. I was caught up into an ecstasy which there are no words to describe. It seemed… that a wind not of air but of spirit was blowing. And then it burst upon me that I was a free man.’

Like St Paul on the road to Damascus, Bill Wilson had a religious epiphany and never drank again. But more than that, he went on to co-found Alcoholics Anonymous, which has since saved countless lives and families.

In 1961, the famous psychologist Carl Jung wrote to Wilson about an alcoholic he had tried to treat in psychotherapy. Jung wrote that his craving for alcohol was the low-level equivalent of the spiritual thirst we all have for wholeness, for union with God. [v]

Of course, drinking alcohol is only one of the many ways that people try to fill their spiritual emptiness. But as Bill Wilson discovered for himself, only the Spirit of Jesus Christ can raise us from death to life.

Only Jesus can satisfy the deep thirst with which we are all born (Ps.23:3).

[i] The name Pentecost comes from the Greek expression for ‘the 50th day’, which in the ancient Old Testament referred to the 50th day after Passover.

[ii] Both the Hebrew word ruach (used in the Old Testament) and the Greek word pneuma (used in the New Testament) can be translated as “wind” or “spirit” (or “breath”), depending on the context.

[iii] Richard Rohr, Daily Meditations 5 June 2022,

[iv] John W Stevens, Bill W. of Alcoholics Anonymous Dies, New York Times, January 26 1971.,to%20do%20anything%2C%20anything!%E2%80%9D


Year A – Ascension of the Lord

Benefit of the Doubt

(Acts 1:1-11; Eph.1:17-23; Mt.28:16-20)

In today’s Gospel, just before Jesus returns home to heaven, he gives his disciples their Great Commission: ‘Go and make disciples of all nations,’ he says, ‘baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.’

This is Jesus’ last command before going home to his Father, and as we know, they do go on to baptise countless new disciples.

There are three words in this reading, however, that many people tend to miss. After reporting that the disciples worshipped Jesus, Matthew adds: ‘but some doubted.’

I love the honesty of the Scriptures: Matthew could so easily have ignored the disciples’ doubts. He could have stressed how ‘committed’ they were to Jesus; but instead, he tells the truth: the disciples didn’t always understand. They loved Jesus, but some still had doubts.

This isn’t surprising, because many biblical saints lived with doubt.

Moses, for example, had doubts when God called him to lead his people out of Egypt. ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?’ he asked. ‘What if they don’t believe me or listen to me?’ (Ex.3:11, 4:1). But God reassured him, and Moses went on to lead his people to the Promised Land.

The original doubting Thomas, too, couldn’t believe that Jesus was alive after his crucifixion (Jn.20:24-29). John the Baptist wondered if Jesus really was the Messiah (Mt.11:1-15). And Peter started sinking while walking on water . ‘Why did you doubt?’ Jesus asked (Mt.14:31).

Like so many of us, these saints tried to do their best, but they often struggled to understand. Jesus didn’t begrudge any of this, though. He was patient with them.

What all this tells us is that doubt is a natural part of life, especially when something extraordinary happens.

It also tells us that doubt is a natural part of faith. Indeed, it’s an essential part of faith, especially if we want to keep our faith honest and alive.

So, what is doubt? It’s a feeling of uncertainty, perhaps even confusion, that leads us to question things. But asking questions is no bad thing, because it invites us to discover what’s really happening.

It also helps clarify what we truly believe, and the answers we get then become the foundations of our faith. They help make that faith our own. 

But if we stop asking questions, if we no longer work through our doubts, then we stop learning and simply end up borrowing someone else’s beliefs. But that’s not faith; that’s just ideology. 

In a New York Times article, Julia Baird writes that if we don’t accept both the commonality and importance of doubt, then we won’t allow for the possibility of mistakes or misjudgments. And she quotes the philosopher Bertrand Russell, who said that the whole problem with the world is that ‘the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.’ [i]

In other words, it’s only the foolish who refuse to doubt.

Some people’s spiritual doubts don’t last long. Thomas the Apostle only waited eight days to see for himself that Jesus really was alive (Jn.20:25).  

St Paul of the Cross

But for others, such doubts can be far more challenging. After many years of spiritual joy, St Paul of the Cross (1694-1775) found himself plunged into a deep sense of spiritual darkness that lasted for 45 years. It was so painful that he described it as sharing in the Passion of Christ, especially the feeling of being abandoned by God.

That long darkness, however, was followed by five years of sweet consolation, when he received visions of the Virgin Mary, St Michael and the Christ Child. He also often experienced spiritual ecstasies, finding himself entirely absorbed by God.

But through it all, it was his faith that kept him going. St Paul of the Cross never let his struggles discourage him. He knew that they wouldn’t last forever, and that they would win spiritual graces for others who needed help.

So, if you find yourself struggling spiritually, there are some things you can do.

Firstly, talk about it with someone, perhaps a suitable friend or spiritual director, or even a saint who appeals to you (Gal.6:2), and search for answers.

Secondly, if you can’t easily find the answers, then ask Jesus for help (Mk.9:23-25). Remember that in Matthew, Jesus says, ‘Ask and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you’ (Mt.7:7-8).

Thirdly, be patient, for it’s in the waiting that we learn (Jas.5:8).

And finally: don’t forget Jesus’ promise to us: ‘I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.’

[i] Julia Baird, Doubt as a Sign of Faith, New York Times, Sept 25, 2014.

Year A – 6th Sunday of Easter

The DOs and DON’Ts of Jesus

(Acts 8:5-8, 14-17; 1Pet.3:15-18; Jn.14:15-21)

Do you love Jesus? Yes or no?

If you say that you love Jesus, then how deep is that love? Do you simply have warm feelings for him, or is it something much deeper than that? 

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is talking to his disciples. The Last Supper is over, and he has just washed their feet. Jesus knows he will soon be crucified, so he gives them some final, parting advice.

‘If you love me,’ he says, ‘you will keep my commandments.’

But which commandments are these? He can’t mean the Ten Commandments, because he refers to ‘my commandments.’ So, what are they?

What Jesus is talking about here is all the wisdom he has given us through his many teachings. Perhaps his two best-known commandments are these from Matthew’s Gospel: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul and all your mind. And, You shall love your neighbour as yourself (Mt.22:37-39).

As Jesus tells us, these are the two greatest commandments and the foundation of all the others. But what are his other commandments?

The Irish writer Flor McCarthy has put together a collection of Jesus’ commandments in the form of ‘Dos and Don’ts.’ These are not only helpful, he says, but they are necessary – especially if we are serious about living a good Christian life. Let’s begin with Jesus’ Don’ts:

  • Don’t return evil for evil. Nothing is achieved by retaliation, except to pile darkness upon darkness (Mt.5:38-42).
  • Don’t judge your neighbour. No one knows all the facts in any particular case except God. Therefore, always leave judgement to God (Mt.7:1-2).
  • Don’t condemn your neighbour. This follows from the last. If you should not pass judgement on your neighbour, then you shouldn’t pass sentence on him, either (Mt.7:1).
  • Don’t worry about food, and drink, and clothes, as if these were the most important things in life. Make it your first concern to live a life worthy of a son or a daughter of God, and all the rest will fall into place (Mt.6:25,33).
  • Don’t store up treasures for yourselves here on earth: money, property, goods, and so on. These are like dust in the eyes of God, dust to be blown away in the first winds of judgement (Mt.6:19-20).
  • Don’t look back once you have put your hand to the plough, that is, once you have decided to follow my way. And once you have made what you are sure is a right decision in life, go forward trusting in God (Lk.9:62). And
  • Don’t give up hope when times are rough. Keep on trusting in me and in the Father. Remember that you are worth more than a thousand sparrows (Mt.10:31).

And here are Jesus’ Dos:

  • Let the light of your goodness shine before people. The light you shed around you will help others find their way, and the Father will be glorified (Mt.5:16).
  • Love your enemies. Being kind to those you don’t like, or who may have been unkind to you, is hard. But if you do this, you will be the salt of the earth (Mt.5:43-45).
  • Give generously. The measure you give to others will be the measure you will receive from God (Lk.6:38).
  • Forgive those who sin against you. Then you have nothing to fear in regard to your own sins. God has already forgiven them (Mt.6:14).
  • Clean the inside of cup and dish, and the outside will become clean, too (Mt.23:26).
  • See that your minds and hearts are clean. Then all your thoughts, words and deeds will also be clean, like water coming from an unpolluted well (Mt.15:17-20).
  • Take my body and eat it. Take this cup and drink my blood. Do this in memory of me. In the Eucharistic Banquet you will find the nourishment you need to live as my disciples (Lk.22:19).
  • And love one another, the way I have loved you. Then all will know that you are disciples of mine (Jn.13:35).

Flor McCarthy says these Dos and Don’ts aren’t really commandments; they’re more like guidelines for how we should live. ‘What we are really dealing with,’ he says, ‘is a new spirit, new values and attitudes towards God, towards our neighbour and towards life.’ [I]

Loving Jesus isn’t just a nice thing to do. It’s actually a way of life that has profound meaning and purpose. Jesus’ teachings give shape and direction to the Christian life, and they are essential guideposts to our final destination – heaven.

So, as Jesus says, if you truly love him, then follow his guidelines.

[i] Flor McCarthy, New Sunday & Holy Day Liturgies, Year A – Dominican Publications, Dublin, 2013:141-142.

Year A – 5th Sunday of Easter


(Acts 6:1-7; 1Pet.2:4-9; Jn.14:1-12)

In the early days of the Church, the apostles couldn’t meet the demand for preaching, prayer, care for the poor and breaking bread.

So, as today’s first reading tells us, they appointed seven good men to help them. According to Tradition, these were the very first deacons and among them was St Stephen, the first Christian martyr. He was stoned to death in 36AD because he was just too good at preaching.

In the following 20 years, the diaconate became well established. We know this because St Paul wrote to Timothy in c.57AD about the character of the ideal deacon. Deacons, he said, need to be chaste, not double-tongued, not given to too much wine, and not driven by profit (1Tim.3:8-13).

Deacons soon became prominent in the Church. They served as bishops’ assistants and ambassadors, and looked after the temporal goods of the Church. They also took the Gospel and Holy Eucharist to where the bishops couldn’t go, and many deacons themselves became bishops and popes.

Over the years, however, the priesthood grew in prominence and the diaconate declined. By the fifth century, deacons no longer worked for bishops; they assisted priests instead. And eventually, in the Latin Church, the diaconate became a mere stepping stone to the priesthood. Even now, a man must become a transitional deacon before his priestly ordination.

After 800AD, permanent deacons were rare, however Pope Gregory VII (1020-1085) was a deacon, and so was St Francis of Assisi (1181-1226).

In the 16th Century, the Council of Trent (1545-63) decided to restore the permanent diaconate, but didn’t follow it up. In the 1800s, some German theologians recommended that the diaconate be restored to promote the servanthood of the church. (The word ‘deacon’ comes from the Greek diakonos, which means servant.)

And during WWII, when thousands of priests were imprisoned in Dachau in Nazi Germany, they too discussed how the Church might more effectively serve the world after the war. They also proposed the return of deacons as ministers of charity, and in 1963 Vatican II resolved to reintroduce the order.

The first of the new deacons were ordained in the 1970s, and today there are some 47,000 worldwide, compared to about 380,000 priests. The United States has about 18,000 deacons, while Australia has around 200.

We only have 6 deacons in our diocese today, however another ordination is expected very soon and we also have several men discerning their call.

Along with bishops and priests, deacons are ordained members of the clergy. Their role can be summed up by the term Diakonia, because the deacon is called to serve the Church in the name of Jesus Christ who said ‘I am among you as one who serves’ (Lk.22:27). In other words, Jesus himself was a deacon.

St John Paul II once wrote: ‘By the standards of this world, servanthood is despised, but in the wisdom and providence of God, it is the mystery through which Christ redeems the world.’ [i]

How, then, do deacons serve? Through the three core ministries of Liturgy, Word and Charity. In the Liturgy, deacons assist bishops and priests at Mass and in other ceremonies. They conduct baptisms, weddings, funerals and benediction, and take Viaticum to the dying.

In the ministry of the Word, they proclaim the Gospel, and preach and teach.

And in the ministry of Charity, they do many different things, including pastoral counselling, spiritual direction, supporting the sick and dying, military and hospital chaplaincy, working with young people, families and the homeless, parish administration, prison ministry and so on.

In 100AD, St Ignatius of Antioch said that it would be impossible to have a church without bishops, priests and deacons, because their role is nothing less than to continue the ministry of Jesus Christ.[ii]

Deacons contribute significantly to the life of the Church because of their community connections. Through their families, careers and real-world life experiences, they are aware of local needs and they are well-placed to take Jesus Christ to the margins. This is why deacons often work in social justice and outreach.

In 3rd Century Rome, St Lawrence the deacon distributed alms to the poor, but Emperor Valerian did not approve. He had Pope Sixtus II beheaded and demanded that Lawrence deliver the church’s treasure to the state within three days. Lawrence then gathered the poor of the city and presented them as the treasure of the Church. As punishment, he was roasted on a gridiron.

Thankfully things usually aren’t quite so desperate these days.

But with their humble hearts and filled with sacramental grace, deacons make a meaningful difference to our world today.

[i] Pope John Paul II, Dives in Misericordia, 1980.