Year A – 34th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Kingdom of God

[Ezek.34:11-12, 15-17; 1Cor.15:20-26, 28; Mt.25:31-46]

There have been some good leaders in history.

King Louis IX of France was one. He cared for the poor, acted justly and was declared a saint. King Christian X of Denmark was another. During World War II, he saved 7,500 Jews from a cruel death by smuggling them to Sweden.

But there have been some awful tyrants, too, like Hitler and Stalin who manipulated and murdered countless people. It’s because of these dreadful leaders that Pope Pius XI in 1925 established today’s Feast of Christ the King.

Pope Pius worried that too many people followed the Nazis, communists and fascists, and wanted to remind us of our need for a leader who won’t exploit the weak or poor. He also wanted us to remember that God created the world and that Christ came to show us ‘the way, the truth and the life’ (Jn.14:6).

The irony here is that Jesus didn’t want to be celebrated as a king. In John’s Gospel, when the crowds try to force him to become their king, Jesus escapes to the mountains (Jn.6:15). And when Pontius Pilate asks Jesus if he is a king, he vaguely replies, ‘It is you who say it’ (Jn.18:37).

Why did Jesus hide his kingship? It’s because he knew no-one would understand what it meant. Everyone in those days expected kings to have power, riches and authority, but Jesus came to reveal a very different kind of leadership.


By coming to us as a vulnerable child and by living an obscure life in a small town, Jesus teaches us that true kingship is reflected in things like compassion and humble service.

In his book ‘Once Upon a Gospel,’ William Bausch says that the feast of Christ the King has nothing to do with crowns, palaces or robes.  Rather, it’s all about us getting our priorities straight.

It’s about the way we live and who we choose to follow in our everyday lives. [i]

It’s important to get this right, because in today’s Gospel Jesus says that one day, we will all have to account for ourselves, and that will be when he starts separating ‘the sheep from the goats.’

The sheep are those who will inherit God’s kingdom. They are the ones who live as Jesus did: feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty; welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, caring for the sick and visiting prisoners.

The goats, however, will be those who are left behind. They’re the ones who would rather be rich or famous than help the poor. They prefer fun and glamour over caring for the weak, and they’d rather keep up with the Joneses than care for those who suffer.


This is how we’ll all be judged when our time comes: ‘Whatever you do for the least of my people, you do for me,’ Jesus says. 

When Pope Pius XI launched today’s feast day, he said that as our king, Jesus must reign in our minds, so that we firmly believe the truths about him.

He must reign in our wills, so that we obey God’s laws.

He must reign in our hearts, so that we truly love God above everything else.

And he must reign in our bodies, so that we may serve as instruments of justice in the world. [ii]

Let’s close with a story. In 1990, the American pastor Robert Sproul went to communist Eastern Europe to give some talks. He and his group were warned that the Romanian border guards were hostile to Americans and they should be prepared to be hassled and perhaps even arrested.

When they reached the Romanian border, two guards boarded their train. They couldn’t speak English, but brusquely pointed for their passports and luggage, which they wanted to check.

Then, suddenly, their boss appeared. He was a burly officer who spoke broken English. He noticed that one of the women had a paper bag. ‘What’s this?’ he said. ‘What’s in bag?’ He opened it up and pulled out a Bible. Sproul thought, ‘Uh-oh, now we’re in trouble.’

The officer began leafing through the Bible, and stopped and looked at Sproul, who was holding his American passport. ‘You no American,’ he said. He said the same thing to the others in their group. But then he smiled and said, ‘I am not Romanian.’


By now they were all quite confused, but he pointed at the Bible and said, ‘Read what it says.’ Sproul looked at it and it said, ‘Our citizenship is in heaven’ (Phil.3:20a).

The guard was a Christian. He turned to his subordinates and said: ‘Let these people alone. They’re OK. They’re Christians.’ [iii]

The world is quite a different place when we’re all citizens of God’s kingdom.

[i] Bausch, W.J. Once Upon a Gospel.  Twenty-Third Publications, New London, CT. 2011:315.

[ii] Pope Pius XI, Quas Primas, 1925


Year A – 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Beehive

(Prov.31:10-13,19-20,30-31; 1Thess.5:1-6; Mt.25:14-30)

Religious symbols are common in Church art and architecture. There’s the Cross, of course, and wheat, grapes, flames, lambs, lions and even pelicans. But have you noticed any bees?

In Rome, bees can be found decorating many buildings, paintings, candlesticks, vestments and even a papal coat of arms. Indeed, real bee hives have long been kept on the roof of Notre-Dame in Paris. Why?

Well, bees provide wax for the Paschal candle and they symbolise purity and hard work. They are also known for being vigilant and fiercely protective of their queen. But bees also symbolise wisdom, for they collect nectar from many flowers and transform it into delicious golden honey, which adds sweetness and light to the lives of so many.

And importantly, as St John Chrysostom once said, the bee is more honoured than other animals, not because she labours, but because she labours for others. This idea of selfless labour is at the heart of Jesus’ Parable of the Talents in today’s Gospel.

A man plans to go away, but before going he leaves his money in the hands of his three servants. (In ancient times, a talent was a measurement of gold or silver.)

The first servant uses his talents well, as does the second. They both double their investment, but the third man simply buries his talent in a hole. When the owner returns, he praises and rewards the first two. But he’s unhappy with the third man because he has been unproductive, and he confiscates his talent.

The lesson for us here is that you must use whatever gifts God has given you, otherwise you will lose them.

Bishop Robert Barron says that we should think of these talents as everything we have ever received from God – our life, our breath, our strength, our abilities and all our many blessings.  And because they come from God, they are meant to become gifts for others. But if you cling to them, as the third servant did, your talents will not grow. They will simply wither away and die.

So, how does God want us to use our gifts? Jesus has already shown us how: by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the lonely, guiding the lost, helping the homeless and comforting the afflicted.

Helping whoever needs help.

The point is that when God gave us our human hearts, he did not expect us to use them selfishly. We know from experience that when we turn inward and hoard all our blessings for ourselves, we end up feeling miserable. Sure, we might feel good for a while, and on the surface we might seem fine, but the reality is that the more we hoard, the emptier we feel inside.

The message from today’s Gospel is that we are not really living unless we use what we have to benefit others.

St John Paul II was fond of saying that ‘Man finds himself only by making himself a sincere gift to others.’ [i] In other words, the more you give yourself away, the more God will give you and the happier and more blessed you will be.

This is how bees live: they use what little they have, and work without rest for the common good. They are also prepared to sacrifice themselves for the good of the hive.

Someone who lived like this was Antonio Stradivarius, who was born in Cremona, Italy in 1644. He loved music and wanted to be a musician, but he had such a high and squeaky voice that he couldn’t join a choir.

Antonio had a talent for wood-carving, however. When he was 22, he was apprenticed to Nicholas Amati, a well-known violin maker. Under his master’s training, Antonio developed his carving skills and his hobby became his craft.

He opened his own violin shop when he was 36, and worked patiently and faithfully. By the time he died in 1737, aged 93, he had built over 1,500 violins. Today, his instruments are the most expensive and sought after violins in the world.

Stradivarius was not a singer, a music player or a teacher of music. However, he used the talent God gave him to make a real difference in the lives of others. It made him feel good inside, and his legacy truly lives on today.

It was St Ambrose of Milan who likened the Church to a beehive. In a beehive, he noticed, all the bees spend their lives working together tirelessly for the common good of the hive. [ii]

This is how Jesus wants us to live.

[i] Gaudium et Spes (n.24).


Year A – 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Lamp of Love

[Wis.6:12-16; 1Thess.4:13-17; Mt.25:1-13]

‘A wise person,’ someone once said, ‘has a big heart, a curious brain and open ears.’

But what is wisdom? Essentially, it’s intelligence combined with deep understanding. It’s also something that takes a lifetime to acquire, because it only comes with age, experience and maturity.

Wisdom is greatly prized all around the world. Why? Because it provides a lamp for our steps. That’s especially important in this age of information overload, because wisdom helps us see the big picture. It helps us to understand what really matters, and then to make sound choices and decisions.

The Bible often speaks of wisdom, and describes it as ‘better than gold’ (Prov.16:16). It also distinguishes between worldly wisdom and Godly wisdom (Jas.3:13-18; 1Cor.3:19).

Worldly wisdom sees things from the human perspective (Mt.16:23). It exalts the self above others, it tends to be opinionated and it can lead to selfishness, jealousy and pride.

Godly wisdom is different, however. It lets us see things from God’s point of view. It’s marked by humility, mercy and love, and it’s peace-loving, gentle and sincere. And because God is the source and cause of all things, Godly wisdom reflects truth.

Our world is full of ideologies and sayings that often sound like great wisdom. They might help some people, however they tend to lead us away from God. As the Book of Proverbs says, ‘There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death’ (Prov.14:12).

Jesus’ Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids, in Matthew’s Gospel today, is essentially about wisdom. But let’s begin with some background to the story.

In ancient Hebrew tradition, when a couple married, they didn’t go on honeymoon; they stayed at home. The bride and her bridesmaids waited at the bride’s home for the groom and his entourage to arrive, and he typically arrived in the evening, after sunset. Then they all went off singing and dancing to his home for a big wedding celebration.

In this parable, the groom is delayed for some reason and he and his friends arrive very late at the bride’s home. By this time, all ten bridesmaids have fallen asleep and their lamps have gone out.

This isn’t a problem for the five wise bridesmaids, because they are well prepared with extra oil. They wake up, they refill their lamps and they’re ready to go.

The other five bridesmaids, however, have been wasting their time. They aren’t prepared and have run out of oil. They set off to buy some and by the time they return they’ve missed the celebrations.

The parable then ends with the warning: ‘Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.’

This parable is essentially about Christ’s Second Coming, which St Paul in our second reading reminds us is sure to happen one day. Jesus is the bridegroom, and we are the waiting bridesmaids.

The roots of this theme of Jesus as the bridegroom can be found in the Old Testament. You may recall that in Isaiah, God is called the bridegroom of Israel (Is.54:5-8), and this image is reflected in Solomon’s Song of Songs. As well, in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus refers to himself as ‘the bridegroom’ (Mt.9:35).

What this story presents is two very different attitudes towards the coming of Christ. For those who are wise, this event is much too important to miss and they make sure they are ready.

But for those who are foolish, Jesus’ coming really isn’t of much concern. Their casual approach, however, means that they miss out on the festivities.

The question for us today, then, is this: are we to be counted among the wise or the foolish?

The lamps Jesus speaks of in this parable are lamps of love. Are we wise enough to keep our lamps burning brightly for when Jesus arrives? Or are we too distracted by other things? ‘Everyone will know that you are my disciples by the love you have for one another,’ Jesus says in John 13:35.

Wise disciples of Jesus will tend their lamps with special care. But how do we keep our lamps of love burning? Through a continuous input of small drops of oil.

And what are these drops of oil? They are the small things we do with great love for others each day: little words of kindness, thoughtful gestures of service and simply being a healing presence.

These are the drops of wisdom that feed the lamp of love in our hearts.

Year A – 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time

Sharing in His Fatherhood

[Mal.1:14-2.2,8-10; 1Thess.2:7-9,13; Mt.23:1-12]

In today’s Gospel, Jesus says, ‘Call no-one on earth your father, for you have one Father, the one in heaven.’

Why then do Catholics call priests ‘Father’?

We are sometimes criticised for this, but that reflects a misunderstanding of what Jesus is saying to us. Let me explain.

In Matthew 23, Jesus is in the Temple shortly before his Crucifixion. He is talking to the people, and warns them about the Scribes and Pharisees. These Jewish leaders know their Bible, he says, but they’re hypocrites. They like to be admired, and they love fancy titles, especially being called ‘Master’ and ‘Teacher’ and ‘Father.’ But don’t be like them, Jesus says.

Jesus is not saying never, ever, call anyone your ‘father’ or ‘teacher.’ He’s not speaking literally, because your teacher is still your teacher, and your father is still your father. But he is reminding us that everything comes from God; that God is the first of all fathers, and that Christ himself is the first of all teachers. 

The Scribes and Pharisees, however, think they’re the ultimate authority on everything. Don’t be like that, Jesus says. Be humble, because everything comes from God. Then he adds, ‘Anyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and anyone who humbles himself will be exalted.’

Why, then, do we call our priests ‘Father’?

Well, firstly, it’s a sign of respect. In Acts 7:2, Stephen refers to ‘our father Abraham’. Jesus also calls Abraham ‘father’ (Jn.8:56), and Paul speaks of ‘our father Isaac’ (Rom.9:10). They respect Abraham and Isaac as the earliest fathers of the faith.

Secondly, priests are our spiritual fathers. Paul tells the Corinthians, ‘(You are) my beloved children …For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the Gospel’ (1Cor.4:15). He also tells Timothy (2Tim.2:1), Titus (Tit.1:4), Onesimus (Phil.10) and the Galatians (Gal.4:19) that he is their spiritual father.

And thirdly, calling someone ‘Father’ highlights the special responsibility God has given him. In the Book of Job, Job calls himself ‘…a father to the poor’ (Job 29:16). In Genesis, Joseph tells his brothers, ‘God has made me a father to Pharaoh …and ruler over Egypt’ (Gen.45:8). 

In a similar way, God has given his priests a special responsibility to look after his people, with the care and humility that you’d expect from a good father.

But there are other fathers for us to consider.

The French artist Paul Cézanne (1839-1906) is often called the ‘Father of Modern Painting.’ For 35 years he lived in obscurity, producing masterpieces that he gave away to neighbours. He loved his work so much that he didn’t worry about recognition; nor did he think he’d ever become famous.

Cézanne owes his fame to a Paris dealer who discovered his paintings and organised his first exhibition. The world was amazed to discover this new master, and Cézanne was amazed by the attention he received. He arrived at the art gallery leaning on his son’s arm, and couldn’t contain his surprise when he saw his paintings displayed. He turned to his son and said, ‘Look, they’ve framed them!’[I] 

Matisse called Cézanne ‘the father of us all,’ and Picasso claimed him as ‘my one and only master.’ [ii] But Cezanne always remained humble. (Interestingly, in 2011 his painting ‘The Card Players’ was sold for $274 million.) [iii]

Cezanne was the ‘Father of Modern Painting.’ Why? Because God gave him a share in his own creative fatherhood.

Another father for us to consider is St Martin de Porres. Today (5th November) is his feast day. Martin was born in 1579, in Lima, Peru, into very humble circumstances. When his mother, a former slave-girl, sent him to the market, he often returned empty-handed because he’d given the food to the poor.

At 15, he joined the Dominicans, but he never became a priest. Instead, he spent his life caring for the sick, the poor, the homeless and the dying, and he came to be known as ‘the Father of Charity’ and ‘Father of the Poor.’

Why was St Martin called this? It’s because God had given him a share of his own compassionate Fatherhood, just as God had given Cezanne a share of his creative Fatherhood.

In the same way, God gives his priests a share in his spiritual Fatherhood, and that’s why we call them ‘Father.’ But God is always the original father, the original teacher, and the original master, for everything comes from God.

As for us today, if you have received any special titles, responsibilities or blessings, don’t let them go to your head.

As Jesus says, everything comes from God. 

[i] Anthony de Mello, Taking Flight. New York: Image Books, 1990:111-112.