Year A – 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time

 The Pearl of Great Price

[1Kgs.3:5, 7-12; Rom.8:28-30; Mt.13:44-52]

In 2006, a Filipino fisherman found the world’s biggest pearl, weighing 34 kilos. It was worth around $130m. [i]

Surprisingly, he didn’t sell it. For 10 years he kept it under his bed and used it as a good luck charm. Then he lent it to his city council for use as a tourist attraction. Clearly, this fisherman’s treasure wasn’t money.

Here’s another story about treasure, from Anthony de Mello.

Just outside the village, a wise man settled down under a tree for the night. Then a villager ran up to him saying, ‘The stone! The stone! Give me the precious stone!’

‘What stone?’ asked the wise man.

‘Last night God appeared to me in a dream,’ said the villager, ‘and told me that if I went to the outskirts of the village at dusk I should find a wise man who’ll give me a precious stone that will make me rich forever.’

The wise man rummaged in his bag and pulled out a stone. ‘He probably meant this one,’ he said, and he gave it to the villager. ‘I found it on a forest path. You can have it.’

The man gazed at the stone in wonder. It was a diamond, probably the largest diamond in the world – as large as a person’s head. He took the diamond and walked away. But all night he tossed about in bed, unable to sleep. At dawn the next day he woke the wise man and gave it back to him. 

He said, ‘Give me the wealth that lets you give away this diamond so easily.’ [ii]

Now, that’s the question, isn’t it? How do these people give up such treasure so easily?

In today’s first reading, God appears to young King Solomon in a dream, and says, ‘Ask me what I should give you.’

Now, Solomon can ask for anything at all. He can choose fabulous wealth, long life, a sharp mind, or even for his enemies to disappear. But he doesn’t ask for any of these things. What he wants is a heart full of wisdom. 

Solomon wants to be a good leader, for his treasure is his people. God likes this answer and gives him a heart that’s wiser than anyone else’s in history.

In today’s Gospel there’s even more treasure. The first is in Jesus’ brief Parable of the Poor Workman. A man is ploughing a farmer’s field, when he stumbles upon some buried treasure. (That wasn’t so unusual in those days. Before the banks, people hid their valuables.) The excited workman sells everything he has to buy that field, and the treasure is all his.

The second is in Jesus’ parable about a rich merchant who finds a rare pearl and sells everything he has to possess it.

Now, what is this rare pearl, this great treasure? It’s the kingdom of God. Most people seem to think that God’s kingdom is somewhere up there, high in the sky. But God’s kingdom is not a geographical place. It’s a state of the heart. It’s the power of God’s love working in and through our hearts and lives.

It’s the most precious thing in the world.

The message from all these stories is that the greatest treasure of all isn’t diamonds or pearls or money. It’s the love of God, and it’s available to everyone, rich and poor alike. And we don’t have to go anywhere special to find it, for we can find it wherever we are. Even as we go about our daily lives.

The merchant found it after a long search. The workman found it in his day job. But like young King Solomon, we need hearts of wisdom to see and appreciate this remarkable treasure.

When we do find it, though, it will transform our lives. That’s what St Paul found on the road to Damascus. When he met Jesus, he fell off his horse and it changed his life completely. He knew he had to give up everything else to possess this great gift.  

And so it is with us. When we truly discover Jesus, our lives change, too. But to possess this treasure, we must be prepared to pay a price. That price is letting go of whatever else used to obsess us. 

‘Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also,’ Jesus tells us (Mt.6:21).  So, what is your treasure? Is it Jesus himself?

When Jesus really is your treasure, it becomes easy to give other things away. 


[ii] De Mello, Anthony. The Song of the Bird. Doubleday, NY, 1984:140-141.

Year A – 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Grandparents’ Day

(Wis.12:13, 16-19; Rom.8:26-27; Mt.12:24-43)

Today, as we celebrate World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly, we remember Saints Anne and Joachim, the parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the grandparents of Jesus.

Anne and Joachim aren’t mentioned in the Bible, but we know of them from other writings.[i] Joachim was a wealthy and generous man, and Anne was the daughter of a Levite priest. For years they prayed for a child of their own, then one day an angel told them that God had heard their prayers. To their great delight, Mary was born in their home. They adored her.

Anne and Joachim were very good parents. When Mary was little, they offered her to God, and they let her spend time in the Temple, learning about God and serving him with the other girls. They loved Mary and gave her a strong faith, teaching her to pray and to listen carefully for God’s quiet voice.

Anne and Joachim helped prepare Mary’s heart, so that when the Archangel Gabriel asked if she would be the mother of God, she was ready to say yes. 

When we think about Jesus being raised as a boy, we usually think of his parents, Mary and Joseph. But we should remember his grandparents as well. They were a big influence in Jesus’ life, because it was Anne and Joachim who chose Joseph to be Mary’s husband. And it was their good parenting (and God’s merciful grace) that taught Mary to be a wonderful mother.

There’s an old Latin saying, Verbum sonat; exemplum tonat (‘words make a noise, but example thunders’). Through the ages, many grandparents have done wonderful things caring for children.

St Macrina the Elder (270-340AD) was a Christian woman who lived in Pontus, Turkey. This was in the days when violent persecution by the Romans was common, and for years Macrina was forced to hide in a forest with her family. After her husband died, she raised their son as a single parent, and when he got married she helped raise his children.

St Macrina did a great job because many of her family became saints.  Her son was St Basil, his wife was St Emmelia, and four of her grandchildren also became saints: St Basil the Great, St Gregory of Nyssa, St Peter of Sebaste and St Macrina the Younger. [ii]

Because Macrina was holy, her family became holy, too.

More recently, other grandparents have also done wonderful things.

U.S. Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were both raised by their grandparents. Obama said his debt to his grandparents was beyond measure, and Clinton said his grandparents gave him his love of learning.

Oprah Winfrey was raised by her grandma on a farm. She taught her to read, and Oprah says her grandma gave her the foundations for her success in life.

Other famous people raised by grandparents include Louis Armstrong, Eric Clapton and Pierce Brosnan.  Here in Australia, the singer David Campbell was also raised by his grandmother.

Today in Australia, it’s estimated that over 30,000 children live with their grandparents, and another 850,000 children are minded by their grandparents each week.[iii]  In Spain, half of all grandparents look after children every day, and in cities like Shanghai, 90% of youngsters are looked after by at least one grandparent.

In 2013, Pope Francis called grandparents a ‘treasure’. He said that they ‘transmit history, doctrine and the faith, and they give them to us as an inheritance.’ [iv]  

Pope Francis also told the story of a family with a mother, father, many children and a grandfather who got food all over his face when he ate. The father bought a small table and set it off to the side so the grandfather could eat, make a mess and not disturb the rest of the family.

One day, the Pope said, the father came home and found one of his sons playing with a piece of wood. ‘What are you making?’ asked the father. ‘A table,’ the son replied. ‘Why?’ the father asked.

‘It’s for you, Dad, for when you’re old like grandpa.’

We don’t always appreciate our grandparents, but in so many ways they help make our world a better place. Through their love and kindness, they share wisdom and pass on the faith and values that are so important to our society.  They help set young people on the right path through life.

The American writer Louisa May Alcott once wrote, ‘A house needs a grandma in it’.  Someone else said, ‘A grandpa has silver in his hair and gold in his heart.’

Today, let’s show our love and gratitude for our grandparents.





Year A – 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Parable of the Sower

(Is.55:10-11; Rom.8:18-23; Mt.13:1-23)

‘Faith is a free gift from God.’ I expect we’ve all heard that before.

As a child I thought that’s marvelous; it means that everyone has faith, for surely no-one would reject a free gift!

But later I learnt that some people don’t have any faith at all. So, I wondered if God only offers his free gift to some people. But Scripture tells us that isn’t true (Rom.12:3; Acts 14:27).

Since then, I’ve learnt that while faith really is a free gift, some people don’t like accepting any gifts.

I was once at the Sydney Opera House with four spare tickets to a show. I simply couldn’t give them away. The people looked at me with suspicion. One Christmas, I also gave someone a nice gift, but when she went home, she left that gift behind, unopened. She clearly didn’t want it.

Why won’t some people accept gifts?  The reasons can be complex, but among them is pride; it takes some humility to accept a gift. Some people also have a poor self-image; they don’t think they’re worthy of any gifts. As well, accepting a gift can mean making ourselves vulnerable to the giver, and some people don’t want to do that.

So, there are two sides to gift-giving. There’s the giving, and then there’s the receiving.

In Jesus’ Parable of the Sower, a farmer lavishly scatters his precious seeds wherever he goes. Some seed falls on the pathway and is eaten by the birds. Some falls on rocky ground and starts to grow, but soon withers in the hot sun. Some seed lands in the thorns, where it’s choked. And some seed falls on good rich soil, where it produces an abundant harvest of fruit.

Living in a rural society, Jesus enjoyed talking about farming, and like all his parables, this one can be read in various ways. One way is to focus on the different elements of the story, like the seed, the sower, the soil and the harvest.

The seed symbolises the Gospel, the Good News, which is Christ himself. It’s the story of God’s love for us, which is not only abundant and free, but also good and nourishing. If we accept this seed and nurture its growth, it will surely produce a great harvest of fruit in us.

The sower is God himself, who lavishly spreads his message of eternal love everywhere, through Jesus Christ and all his creation. It’s available to everyone, regardless of who we are. It’s simply there for the taking.

The soil is our human hearts. But are our hearts ready to receive such a gift? Are our hearts filled with rich, deep soil? Or are they too shallow and too cluttered with rocks, weeds and thorns to grow anything? If we don’t clear away the rubbish and develop some deep soil, God’s seed will never take root in us.

And finally, there’s the harvest. This parable promises that the effort of nurturing the seed of faith in ourselves will be more than worth it, for the return will be thirty, sixty or even a hundredfold.

But before there can be any harvest, we must first welcome that seed of faith.

It was St Augustine who said that faith is not something we merit, for it’s always a free gift from God. And it was St Paul who said that it’s God who gives the growth, because faith is impossible without the grace by which we’re taught to know Christ (1Cor.3:7).

Fortunately, God doesn’t give up. As Isaiah says in our first reading, God’s Word will ultimately be fruitful.

Like the gentle rains that soften the earth and make it rich and fertile, so Jesus is constantly working in our daily lives, trying to break up the hard ground of our hearts. He’s encouraging us to clear away the obstacles that choke our growth, preparing us for a rich harvest.  

Let’s close with a story. In 1973, some archaeologists found seeds from an extinct Judean date palm buried under rubble at the ancient fortress of Masada, in Israel. Those seeds were around 2,000 years old, and that tree had been extinct since 500A.D.

The seeds were lovingly planted and in 2005 a date palm emerged from the soil. They called it ‘Methuselah.’ [i]

The message for us today is this: It’s never too late. The seed of God’s Word, dropped into the human heart, never dies.

As Emily Dickinson once wrote,

‘A word is dead when it is said, some say.

I say it just begins to live that day.’ [ii]



Year A – 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Two Kinds of Life

(Zech.9:9-10; Rom.8:9, 11-13; Mt.11:25-30)

The Ancient Greeks recognised two different kinds of life: biological life (they called it ‘bios’) and spiritual life (‘zoe’). Both words were used in the New Testament when it was first written in Greek.

But in English Bibles, these two words were simply translated as ‘life,’ and their differences were lost.

So when we hear Jesus saying, ‘I came that they may have life, and have it to the full,’ (Jn.10:10), most of us aren’t aware that Jesus originally said, ‘I came that they may have zoe, and have it to the full.’

There’s a big difference between bios and zoe. We are all naturally born with physical life – bios, but it doesn’t last. Bios naturally degrades over time, and eventually dies.

The spiritual life of zoe, however, is eternal, but we are not born with it; it’s something we have to cultivate. Zoe begins with our baptism, and it grows in our hearts.

In his book Mere Christianity, CS Lewis says that the movement from earthly biological life to eternal spiritual life is what Christianity is all about. [i] But such change doesn’t just happen; we have to work at it.

In our second reading today, St Paul contrasts the worldly life with the life of the Spirit, and says that if you live according to the world (bios), you will die. But if you live by the Spirit (zoe), you will remain fully alive.

Someone who learnt this lesson well was Walter Csizek. Born in Pennsylvania in 1904 to Polish parents, he was a delinquent child, often picking fights, skipping school and roaming with street gangs. His father became so worried about him that he once took him to a police station and asked them to lock him up.

When he was thirteen, Csizek surprised everyone by announcing that he wanted to be a priest. His family wouldn’t believe it, but he did join the seminary and later, when Pope Pius XI called for priests for the Russian mission, he volunteered to go.

He went to Rome to learn Russian and finish his studies, and in 1937 he was ordained. However, he wasn’t allowed to enter Russia, so he served in Poland instead.

In 1939, when Germany and Russia invaded Poland, Csizek slipped quietly into Russia to see if he could minister there. He found work in lumber camps in the Ural Mountains, but in 1941 he was arrested as a ‘Vatican spy’.

For five years he was imprisoned, tortured and interrogated in Moscow, and then sentenced to 15 years’ slave labour in Siberia.

Despite the wretched conditions, he supported the other prisoners where he could, and he helped them discover the extraordinary strength and joy that comes from the Holy Eucharist.

They took great risks celebrating the Mass, sometimes in remote forests where they worked or in their barracks where they pretended to play cards. Small drops of wine were smuggled in and tiny pieces of bread were saved from their meagre rations. They had to look out for informers, but the Bread of Life was always a great source of comfort to them.

As CS Lewis said, the journey from earthly biological life to eternal spiritual life is what Christianity is all about. In essence, this is the story of Walter Csizek. By being forced to let go of the worldly comforts of bios, he discovered the eternal strength and joy of zoe.

Reflecting on his experience, Csizek said that through these ordeals, God was ‘bending himself’ to him and pursuing him. God had led him to an understanding of life and his love that only those who have experienced it can fathom. He had stripped away many of the physical and religious consolations that people rely on, and had left him with a few simple truths to guide him. And yet what a profound difference they made; what strength and courage they gave him. And he thought the reason God had brought him safely home was so that he could share this understanding with others.[ii] 

Csizek was released in 1955, but forbidden to leave Russia. So, he worked as a mechanic and served openly as a priest until the KGB stopped him.

In the meantime, he managed to contact his family and in 1963 he was exchanged for a Soviet spy and returned home.

Many people tend to think that God is with them when life is good, and that he has abandoned them when things get tough.

But as Walter Csizek learnt, God is with us constantly, and he’s always encouraging us to live the only kind of life that lasts: zoe.

Our only long-term hope is the life of the Spirit. 

[i] CS Lewis, Mere Christianity, Fontana Books, London. 1969:135.

[ii] Walter Csizek, He Leadeth Me, Ignatius Press, Fan Francisco, 1973:15.

Year A – 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time

A Benedictine Welcome

(2Kgs.4:8-11, 14-16; Rom.6:3-4, 8-11; Mt.10:37-42)

In the 5th Century, the Roman Empire was attacked by the Goths, Huns and Vandals, and eventually collapsed into chaos.

It was at this turbulent time that St Benedict of Nursia (480-547) founded his monasteries in Italy, the first in Subiaco. They were havens of peace and stability, and people from many different backgrounds wanted to join, including peasants, pagans, monks and even royalty. Despite the risks, Benedict always welcomed them.

In his biography of St Benedict, Pope Gregory the Great tells the story of one monk when Benedict was the abbot. This monk had been a Goth, perhaps a soldier or a servant, but it seems he was used to punishment. One day while clearing some thornbushes, he panicked. The blade of his scythe had flown off into the lake and disappeared. He thought he’d be punished.


Hearing about this, Benedict went to see the monk, but he wasn’t angry. He fixed the tool and returned it to him. ‘Here you are,’ he said, ‘now, go back to work. There’s no need to worry.’ [i]

Benedict’s hospitality has long been famous. But what inspired it? It was Holy Scripture.

‘You shall love the stranger, for you were once strangers in the land of Egypt,’ the Old Testament says (Deut.10:19). The Bible is full of examples of generous hospitality. In Genesis, God welcomes Adam into the Garden of Eden. Abraham welcomes three visitors at the oaks of Mamre (Gen.18:1-10). Elijah is welcomed by the widow of Zarepath (1Kgs.17-18).

And in today’s first reading, a woman warmly welcomes the prophet Elisha to the town of Shunem. In ancient times, strangers were often seen as messengers of God’s blessing (Heb.13:2). This woman knows Elisha is a holy man, and she invites him to stay whenever he’s in town.

Elisha is grateful and wants to repay her kindness. When he learns she has no son, he prophesies that God will reward her with one, and his prophecy is fulfilled.

In the New Testament, too, during his public ministry, Jesus often relies on the hospitality of strangers for his food and stay. He also teaches at mealtimes, and often uses the language of hospitality to describe God and his kingdom.

In Matthew’s Gospel Jesus says, ‘I was hungry and you gave me food, thirsty and you gave me a drink, a stranger and you invited me in, naked and you clothed me… Truly, whatever you did for the least of my brothers and sisters you did for me’ (Mt.25:35-40).

And in today’s Gospel, Jesus says to his disciples, ‘Anyone who welcomes you, welcomes me; and those who welcome me welcome the one who sent me… And even a cup of cold water will not go unrewarded.’

Hospitality, then, is central to the Christian life. St Benedict knew this, and that’s why he always insisted that his monks welcome all strangers and guests as if they are Christ himself. [ii]

In the Greek New Testament, the word for ‘hospitality’ is philoxenia, love for the stranger. Its opposite is xenophobia, hatred of the stranger.[iii] We know from history that xenophobia can lead to serious trouble and conflict, which we certainly don’t need. Philoxenia, however, can turn strangers into friends. That, we do need.

Let’s close with a story from Oscar Wilde. He was quite a celebrity when he was sent to gaol, and he found the experience humiliating.


As he was led by two policemen from prison to court, a noisy, hostile crowd had gathered outside. But then a friend of his appeared and made a simple gesture of friendship and respect that silenced the crowd. As Wilde passed by, handcuffed and with bowed head, this man raised his hat to him. It was a very small thing, but it meant a great deal to Wilde at the time.

Reflecting on that simple gesture, Wilde wrote in his letter de Profundis, ‘Men have gone to heaven for smaller things than that. I don’t know if my friend is even aware that I saw his action. It’s not something I can give formal thanks for, but I store it in the treasure house of my heart. I keep it there as a secret debt that I can never possibly repay.

‘…the memory of that lowly silent act of love has unsealed for me all the wells of pity, made the deserts blossom like a rose, and brought me out of the bitterness of lonely exile into harmony with the wounded, broken and great heart of the world.’ [iv]

That simple act of raising a hat made a huge difference to one miserable man.

Even the smallest of kind gestures can change someone’s life.

[i] Pope Gregory 1, The Life of Our Most Holy Father St Benedict, Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, p.13.