Year B – Holy Family Sunday

Families to Remember

[Gen.15:1-6,21:1-3; Heb.11:8,11-12,17-19; Lk.2:22-40]

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family.

Pope Leo XIII established this feast day in 1893 to remind us that God came to live among us, not as a proud and mighty ruler, but as a humble member of an ordinary family – the family of Mary and Joseph. And today this Holy Family is offered to us as a model for how to live our own lives.

Through the centuries, many families have strived to live holy lives. Think of St. Monica and her son St. Augustine, and St. Dominic de Guzmán and his family. His mother Joan and brother Mánes have both been beatified.

And in 2015, Louis and Zélie Martin, who had nine children including St. Thérèse of Lisieux, became the first married couple to be canonised together. Another of their children, Léonie, is now also being considered for sainthood.

There are many others, of course, but today I’d like to talk about the Ulma family, who were beatified by Pope Francis in September 2023.

Wiktoria and Józef Ulma were married in 1935, when she was 23 and he was 35. They had six children before she turned 30, and lived in a modest wooden cottage on a small farm outside Markowa, in southern Poland.

Wiktoria was a quiet and intelligent woman, and a loving wife and mother who loved reading and learning.

Józef was outgoing and inventive. He grew fruit and vegetables for the local village, and kept silkworms and bees. He had an impressive family library and loved photography. He even built his own camera, using it to record the life of his family.

His photos reveal a large family happily engaged in daily life: farming, baking, eating, playing, learning to read and write and helping with the chores.

In 1939, four years after the Ulmas married, Poland was invaded and by 1942 the Nazis began hunting for any Jews living outside the Warsaw ghetto.

It was then that a Jewish family, a woman named Ryfka, her two daughters and a granddaughter, approached the Ulmas for help.

Józef prepared a dugout to hide them out in the fields, and Wiktoria secretly supplied them with food and water. But the visitors were discovered later that year and shot.

Chaim Goldman, a local Jewish cattle seller then asked the Ulmas to hide his two daughters and the entire Szall family with their four sons.

They, too, were welcomed and for the next two years the Ulmas hid all eight people in their attic. They prepared kosher food for them and they all prayed together. Then in 1944 someone betrayed them.

At 4.00 am on 24 March 1944, the house was raided and seventeen people were marched outside in panic and tears. The Jewish guests were shot first, and then one by one the Ulmas were brutally executed, beginning with Józef and Wiktoria, who was pregnant. As she died, she went into premature labour.

All seven children were martyred: Stanisława (8), Barbara (7), Władysław (6), Franciszek (4), Antoni (3), Maria (2), and the unnamed boy (8 months). [i] [ii]

Before leaving, the Nazis looted the house, but left Józef’s photos behind. Today they are on display in the Ulma Family Museum in Markowa, Poland.

Also on display is their bible, in which Jozef or Wiktoria had clearly underlined two verses of the parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk.10:33-34) and pencilled tak (yes) in the margin. Just like the original Good Samaritan, the Ulmas responded in humble and compassionate love to anyone who asked for their help, despite any risks.

‘Whoever loses their life for My sake will find it,’ Jesus promised (Mt.10:39).

When Pope Francis beatified the whole Ulma family, including their unborn child, he said, ‘May this Polish family, which represents a ray of light in the darkness of the Second World War, be for all of us a model to imitate in the zeal for goodness and service to those in need.’

Every year at this time, the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph is presented to us as the ideal model for family life. They all agreed to serve as instruments of God’s saving love in our world.

Since then, many other families like the Ulmas have tried to do the same. Today we honour these good people who actively and heroically modelled the Christian virtues of faith, hope and love, even in the face of danger.

May we be just as brave. [iii] [iv] [v]

[i] At the beatification, Cardinal Semeraro said the partially born child had received the baptism by blood of those killed in hatred of the faith. ‘Without saying a word,’ he said, ‘the little Blessed cries out to the modern world to welcome, love, and protect life, especially that of the defenseless and marginalized, from the moment of conception until natural death.’





Year B – Christmas Day

The Parable of the Birds

(Isa.62:1-5; Acts 13:16-17, 22-25; Mt.1:18-25)

Merry Christmas! With joyful hearts, today we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem – a remarkable event that changed the history of the world.

But why did the Son of God choose to live as one of us? Why did he do it?

Let me answer that question through a story – The Parable of the Birds, by the American writer, Louis Cassels (1922-74).

‘Once upon a time, there was a man who looked upon Christmas as a lot of humbug. He wasn’t a scrooge. He was a kind and decent person, generous to his family and honest in his dealings with others.

But he did not believe all that stuff about God becoming a man, which the churches proclaim at Christmas. It just didn’t make sense to him, and he was too honest to pretend otherwise.


‘I’m truly sorry to distress you,’ he said to his wife, ‘but I’m not going with you to church this Christmas.’ He said he would feel like a hypocrite and he’d much rather stay at home. So, he stayed and his family went to the midnight service.

Shortly after they drove away in the car, snow began to fall. He went to the window to have a look and saw it was getting heavy. Then he went back to his fireside chair to read his newspaper. Minutes later, he was startled by a thudding sound. Then he heard another thump and thud. He thought someone must have been throwing snowballs against his window.

But when he opened his front door to investigate, he found a flock of birds huddling miserably in the snow. They’d been caught in the storm and had tried to seek shelter by flying through his lounge-room window. Well, he couldn’t let the poor creatures lie there and freeze, so he remembered the barn where his children stabled their pony. That would provide a warm shelter, if he could direct the birds to it.

He quickly put on a coat and boots and then tramped through the deepening snow to the barn. He opened the doors wide and turned on a light, but the birds did not come in. He thought that food would entice them. So, he hurried back to the house, fetched breadcrumbs and sprinkled them on the snow. He made a trail to the brightly lit, wide-open doorway of the stable. But the birds ignored the breadcrumbs and continued to flap around helplessly in the snow.

He tried catching them. And he tried shooing them into the barn by walking around them and waving his arms. Instead, they scattered in every direction, except into the warm, lighted barn.


Then he realized they were afraid of him. To them, he reasoned, I am a strange and terrifying creature. If only I could think of a way to get them to trust me — that I am not trying to hurt them but to help them. But how?

Any move he made just frightened and confused them. They just wouldn’t follow. They would not be led or shooed, because they feared him.

‘If only I could be a bird,’ he thought to himself, ‘and mingle with them and speak their language. Then I could tell them not to be afraid. Then I could show them the way to the safe warm barn. But I would have to be one of them so they could see and hear and understand.’

Just then, the church bells began to ring. The sound reached his ears above the sounds of the wind. And he stood there listening to the bells pealing the glad tidings of Christmas. And then he sank to his knees in the snow.

‘Now I understand,’ he whispered. ‘Now I see why you had to do it.’ [i]

[i] Louis Cassels,  The Parable of the Birds as told in Greg Johnson, The 25 Days of Christmas,  pp.30-31. (Abridged).

Year B – 4th Sunday in Advent

Mary’s Fiat

(2Sam.7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16; Rom.16:25-27; Lk.1:26-38)

We often hear about ‘Mary’s Fiat,’ but what does it mean? And what does it mean for us today?

‘Fiat’ is Latin for ‘Let it be done,’ which is Mary’s response to the Archangel Gabriel in today’s Gospel. At the Annunciation, Gabriel asks Mary if she would agree to be the mother of God. ‘Let it be done to me,’ she replies.

Mary could have said no, but she doesn’t. With the most remarkable faith, wisdom and humility, she says ‘yes’ and she turns her life over to God.

Thereafter, Mary keeps saying ‘yes’ to whatever God asks of her. She agrees to travel to Bethlehem, despite her pregnancy. She agrees to stay in a smelly stable. She agrees to let dirty shepherds see her baby. She agrees to Jesus’ public ministry, and she stands by Him as He hangs on the Cross.

Through her fiat, Mary actively co-operates with God in His plan of salvation for us all. And despite the hardships, she discovers wonder, joy and purpose along the way.

Now, Mary isn’t the only one to say yes to God. St Joseph does, too, even though he has every reason to say no. He’s upset by Mary’s pregnancy, and plans to divorce her. But then Gabriel appears to him in a dream, saying ‘Joseph, son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home’ (Mt.1:18-25). He, too, agrees to co-operate with God.

Saying yes to God often occurs in the Bible: Noah agrees to build the ark. Esther agrees to save her people, and the disciples agree to follow Jesus. And since then, many others have said yes to God, too, like the great American jazz musician, Dave Brubeck (1920-2012). He was raised as a Presbyterian by a Christian Scientist mother who attended a Methodist Church, but he was not baptised and for years he found himself searching for God.

In the 1970s he was asked to compose the music for the new English Mass translation. At first he said no, explaining that he was not Catholic, he’d never been to Mass and he knew nothing at all about it. But he was asked again and again, and eventually he agreed to try.

He finished the project in 1979 to great applause, but someone noticed that he had left out the Our Father. ‘What’s the Our Father?’ Brubeck asked. He didn’t understand that it’s the Lord’s Prayer.

‘Well, nobody told me to write it, so I didn’t,’ Brubeck said. ‘I’m finished with the Mass; I’m going to the Bahamas with my family (for) a vacation.’

While in the Bahamas, Brubeck had a dream in which he heard the entire orchestral and choral setting for the Lord’s Prayer. He heard it so vividly that he got up right away and wrote it all down.

This event not only completed the Mass setting,[i] it also changed his life. Brubeck became convinced that he was being called to join the Catholic Church, and in 1981 he was baptised.

He went on to produce many other fine works, including his reflection, In Praise of Mary. In 1987 he was asked to write the music for St John Paul II’s visit to San Francisco. He was initially reluctant, but again the music came to him in a dream. [ii] He later described it as the best thing he had ever written.

Like Mary and Joseph, Dave Brubeck initially didn’t understand what God was asking him to do. He responded slowly at first, but he came to trust God and he allowed Him to shape his life. And in his own way, Brubeck changed the world, just like Mary and Joseph. 

This is Mary’s fiat: saying yes to God in faith, trust and love, even when we don’t understand.

How do you respond when God asks you to get involved?

Let’s close with an old Navajo tale about a warrior searching for God. Seeing God on a mountaintop, the scout rode up and dismounted. He took three arrows and held them high above his head, then he placed them at God’s feet. But God waved him away.

The scout returned to his horse, took his woven blanket, held it high above his head, and laid it at God’s feet. But God waved him away.

Then the scout took his most precious possession; he led his horse to God, and he placed the reins in God’s hands. But God waved him away.

Then the scout extended his arms towards God and dropped to his knees. God looked at the scout and smiled.

The warrior realised that he could not negotiate a relationship with God on his terms. He must surrender everything. [iii] [iv]

That is Mary’s fiat.

[i] He called it To Hope! A Celebration.



[iv] Mary Amore (Ed.), Every Day With Mary, Our Sunday Visitor, Huntington, IN. 2017:80.

Year B – 3rd Sunday in Advent

Colouring Our World

(Isa.61:1-2a, 10-11; 1Thess.5:16-24; Jn.1:6-8, 19-28)

At Christmas we often see red and green colours everywhere. In Advent the Church traditionally wears purple, and today, on Gaudete Sunday, we wear rose-coloured vestments.

What do all these hues mean? Are they simply decorations or are they something more than that?

Let’s begin with colour itself. Colour is what we see when light bounces off an object, and each wavelength of light produces a different shade. Warm colours like red, orange and yellow have longer wavelengths and tend to reflect energy and excitement. And cool colours like blue, green and violet have shorter wavelengths and tend to evince feelings of harmony and peace.

This helps explain why colours have meaning in every culture. It’s also why Cezanne said that colour is where the brain meets the universe, and Kandinsky said that colour is a power which directly influences the soul.

In the 12th Century, the Church adopted certain colours to reinforce the theology of its liturgical seasons. So now we usually see purple in Advent and Lent, symbolising royalty, penance and waiting.

But today, on Gaudete Sunday we see rose-pink vestments. Why? It’s because Gaudete means ‘rejoice,’ and today we rejoice because we’re halfway through Advent and Jesus is coming. 

In the Church’s Ordinary Time, green symbolises life, growth and rebirth (Ps.1:3). On Good Friday, Palm Sunday, Pentecost and the feast days of martyrs, red symbolises passion and sacrifice. And at Christmas, Easter and other special days, white symbolises joy, purity of soul and the Resurrection of Christ.

It’s not surprising that the Church uses these colours, because the Bible is full of them and each one means something in our journey of faith. This is especially true of the three primary colours of red, yellow and blue.

The Hebrew word oudem, for example, means ‘red clay,’ and it symbolises humanity and sacrificial offerings for one’s sins (Lev.17:11). It’s also the root word for the name of Adam (Gen.2:7), and it reflects Christ’s crucifixion on the Cross (Col.1:20).

Yellow is charuts in Hebrew; it points to gold, the precious metal that represents the sovereignty of God. Solomon’s Temple was covered in gold (1Kgs.6), and the New Jerusalem is described as a city of gold (Rev.21:18). Jesus also receives a gift of gold at his birth (Mt.2:11).

And in Hebrew, blue is tekelet, a rare and mystical shade that represents the sea, sky and heavens (Ex.24:10) and the Word of God. It also points to the healing power of God (Lk.8:40-48).

All these wonderful colours are manifestations of light, and significantly, it’s through colour that most people perceive our world. Indeed, colour is one of the languages God uses to communicate with us. It’s how He makes His creation known to us.

In today’s Gospel, John the Baptist talks about light. However, this light is not a thing, but a person. It’s Jesus himself. ‘I am the light of the world,’ Jesus says. ‘Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life’ (Jn.8:12).

Over the years, many writers have been drawn to this idea of Jesus as light. St Augustine often referred to God as the ‘light of my heart,’ and said that to find the truth, the soul needs to be enlightened by a heavenly light. [i]

In the Middle Ages, many artists were also fascinated by light and since then we’ve seen remarkable works of art emerge, including the most incredible stained-glass windows. The common message here is that through His divine light, Jesus colours our world and gives it purpose and meaning.

Let’s close with a story from Kelly Grovier’s book The Art of Colour. After decades of study, he writes, he has concluded that colour isn’t simply the language in which painters and sculptors speak. Rather, it’s a hidden knowledge and an essential truth.

It all started, he said, when he learned of how Giotto’s misshapen bones were found beneath Florence Cathedral. It wasn’t DNA that revealed his remains; it was the colours he’d used in his art. The bones not only reflected the tortured posture of a painter who had spent his life doing contortions reaching high frescoes, as Giotto had done; they also contained high levels of arsenic, lead and other minerals – the main ingredients used in Giotto’s paintings.

In the alchemy of death, Giotto had become his own painting.

It then struck Grovier that pigments are not just intellectual concepts. They are made of grit and grime. They have weight and texture. They pulse through our veins and seep deep into our bones. 

They are also capable of resurrection and they tell secrets from the grave. [ii]

Just like Jesus Christ Himself.


[ii] Kelly Grovier, The Art of Colour, Yale University Press, New Haven CT, 2023, pp.9, 15-16.

Year B – 2nd Sunday in Advent


(Is.40:1-5, 9-11; 2Pet.3:8-14; Mk.1:1-8)

Sometimes we just need to turn around.

In his book Run with Horses, Eugene Petersen says he was once in his backyard with his lawnmower tipped on its side. He was trying to remove the blade to sharpen it. He attached his biggest wrench to the nut but couldn’t budge it. Then he slipped a long pipe over the wrench handle to give himself leverage, and he leaned on that – still unsuccessfully.

Next, he banged on the pipe with a rock. By this time, he was getting emotionally involved with his lawnmower. Then his neighbour arrived and said he once had a lawnmower like that, and the threads on the bolt probably went the other way. So, Petersen turned it the other way and, sure enough, the nut moved easily. [i]

How often have you struggled and wondered if there’s a better way? It can take humility and courage to change direction.

In today’s Gospel, John the Baptist is in the desert, calling on all to repent and prepare for the coming of Christ. Hordes of people arrive. John knows they are living lives of sin, and that deep down they want to be good people. ‘Repent!’ he says.

Now, many people dislike that word. They think it’s old-fashioned and means hanging our heads in shame. But the Greek word for ‘repentance’ (metanoeo) simply means change – changing the way you think; changing the way you do things.

Some people resist change; they are scared of the unknown. But others embrace change because they see the benefits. They know it helps us grow and learn; they know change can make things better.

And they know that Jesus is coming.

As St Peter says in our second reading, the day of the Lord will come upon us like a thief, when we least expect it. And when that day comes, it’s important that God finds us ready for him, ‘without spot or blemish, and at peace.’ Why? It’s because we’ll all be held accountable for the way we’ve lived our lives.

Are you ready to meet God face to face?

Many of us are not. Fortunately, God is patient. As Peter says, for God, ‘one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years is like one day.’ But as Jesus says in Luke 13:5, this task is still urgent, for unless you repent (and change the way you live), you will all perish. 


How then might we change? True repentance always starts with humility: humbly accepting that we’re on the wrong track and that we need to turn back to God. This means breaking free of anything that blocks us from God; anything that entraps our minds and saps our spiritual energy.

We must open our hearts to Jesus, and allow him to change us from within. If you find this hard, then pray to Jesus: ask Him for his help.

Let’s close with a story from Michael Kelley. I was once walking along a road, in no particular direction. I simply followed the friendliness of the path – was there sunshine? Were there potholes? Which way is more inviting? I walked on at my leisure, and then a voice behind me said, ‘Turn…’


I didn’t want to turn around. I wanted to choose the way I should go. Still, the voice made me wonder, so I glanced over my shoulder but saw only darkness. Why would I turn? Why would I choose a different way when I could walk on, using my senses to guide me?

But the voice became more insistent. ‘Turn…’

I looked over my shoulder again to see the speaker, but again only found darkness. It was maddening. Where’s the logic in turning to what I cannot see? So, I stayed on the clear path.


‘Turn to what?’ I answered in frustration, ‘There’s only darkness behind.’ But I couldn’t escape the voice. There was a sense of urgency there, but also kindness. I’d rarely heard such a voice. It was the voice I would use with my own children when I knew something they didn’t. So, I began to turn, but only slightly, and to my dismay, the light shifted.

As I turned, what was behind was no longer shrouded in darkness. Light began to shine slightly. I turned back to the way I was going. Things were still light there. I could still see the way; I could still choose which way to go. But then, glancing back in the opposite direction, I could see more. Bit by bit, I indeed turned. As I did, I saw more and more.

So, I walked the new way, towards the voice. And as I walked, there was more and more light, but it only came with each further step … [ii]

[i] Eugene H Peterson Run with the Horses, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove IL, 2019.

[ii] (abridged)

Year B – 1st Sunday of Advent

Staring Out a Window

(Is.63:16-17; 64:1,3-8; 1Cor.1:3-9; Mk.13:33-37)

When did you last stare out a window, thinking about nothing in particular?

These days, most people seem to regard daydreaming as a waste of time. They think it’s better to be working, studying, or doing something productive, because staring out a window is just a sign of boredom and distraction.

Yet, in his book The School of Life, Alain de Botton says the point of staring out a window is not to find out what’s going on outside. Rather, it’s to discover what’s in our own minds.

It’s easy to imagine we know what we think, what we feel and what’s going on in our heads, he says. But that’s actually rare, because so much of ourselves remains unused and unexplored. However, if we do it right, staring out a window can help us get to know our deeper selves.[i]

Indeed, some of our greatest insights and most creative ideas only come when we stop trying to force our minds. And importantly, some of our best prayers only flow when we let our hearts and minds wander. [ii]

In the coming weeks, staring out a window may prove to be very useful as we enter another season of Advent and prepare to farewell the year 2023. 

The British author Oliver Burkeman describes himself as ‘a recovering productivity addict.’ In his book Four Thousand Weeks, he says that the average human lifespan is just that: about 4,000 weeks. That’s if we make it to 80. If we only live to 70, then it’s roughly 3,600 weeks. And if we live as long as Queen Elizabeth II, then we’ll get about 5,000 weeks.

His point is that the average human life span is ‘absurdly, terrifyingly, insultingly short.’ This may come as an icy blast of reality, he says, but it shouldn’t make us anxious. Rather, it should be cause for relief because it means we can let go of some things that were always impossible, anyway.

The day will never arrive, he says, when you finally have everything under control. When the flood of emails has been contained, when your to-do lists have stopped growing, when you’re meeting all your obligations at work and at home … None of this is ever going to happen, he says.

And that’s good news, because it means we can let go of all that, and focus instead on what is possible – and what is important. [iii]

In today’s Gospel Jesus warns us, ‘Be on your guard, stay awake, because you never know when the time will come … You don’t know when the master of the house is coming.’

That master is Jesus, of course. He’s coming at Christmas, he’s coming at the end of our lives, he’s coming at the end of all time (2Thess.1:6-7) – and we need to be prepared (Mt.25:31-46).

But as Richard Rohr tells us, Jesus is also already here. We’re just not aware of it. How do we know? It’s because God’s love keeps us alive with every breath we take. And each breath means that God is choosing to give us life. In this sense, we have nothing to attain or even learn, however we do need to unlearn some things.

To recognise God’s loving presence in our lives, he says, we must accept that human culture is in a mass hypnotic trance. We are sleep-walkers. All great religious teachers have recognized that we humans do not naturally see; we have to be taught how to see. As Jesus says, ‘If your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light’ (Lk.11:34).

The purpose of religion, then, is to teach us how to see and be present to reality. That’s why Jesus today tells us to ‘be awake’ and ‘stay watchful.’

And this is where staring out the window (or at an image of Christ), becomes so important, for prayer is not primarily saying words or thinking thoughts. Rather, it’s a stance. It’s a way of living in the Presence, living in awareness of the Presence, and even of enjoying the Presence. For the contemplative is not just aware of God’s Loving Presence, but trusts, allows and delights in it.

When we allow the Holy Spirit to gently flow in and through us, we begin to see what is, to see who we are, and to see what is happening. 

What is – is love. It is God, who is love itself, giving away God every moment as the reality of our life. 

Who we are is love, too, because we are created in God’s image. 

And What is happening is God living in us, with us, and through us as love. [iv]

So, this Advent, take time to stare out a window. And ask yourself: do I really have 4,000 weeks?

[i] Alain de Botton, The School of Life, Penguin, London, 2020, pp.120-121.

[ii] Describing the human mind, Plato said that our ideas are like birds fluttering around in the aviary of our brains. But before we can get these birds to settle, we need to make time for purpose-free calm.

[iii] Oliver Burkeman, Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals, Penguin, London, 2022.

[iv] Richard Rohr, Daily Meditations: A Contemplative Heart – Be Awake, 23 August 2023.