Year C – 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Faith and Science

(Hab.1:2-3; 2:2-4; 2Tim.1:6-8, 13-14; Lk.17:5-10)

Is it true that faith and science are enemies?

No, that’s simply not true. Today, the Church runs countless schools and universities which teach science. It also sponsors the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the Vatican Observatory.

But let’s go back into history. Bishop Robert Barron reminds us that it was the Church that gave birth to science. The great scientific pioneers, including Kepler, Copernicus, Galileo, Newton and Descartes, all went to Church-sponsored schools and universities, and it was there that they began their journeys of scientific discovery.

These early schools and universities taught two theological truths that underpin the experimental sciences today: firstly, that the universe is not God, and secondly, that the universe he created is both orderly and rational (Ecc.42:21; Jer.33:25-26).

It’s because God’s creation is so orderly and rational that science is able to do what it does so well – conducting observations, analysis and experimentation.

Science’s foundations, then, emerged from theology, and the pioneers of science got their start from Church-sponsored schools and universities.

Now, we know that God created the universe (Gen.1). This means that he must be outside it. It also means that you cannot use the scientific method to find or study God.

When pioneer cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin returned from outer space in 1961, he said, ‘I looked and looked but I didn’t see God.’ Of course he didn’t. God is not an object inside his own creation. He’s outside it.

Similarly, my wife is an artist. If you closely study her work, you’ll find evidence of her style, her techniques and her imagination. But you’ll never find the woman herself because she exists outside her creations.

Finding our divine creator therefore requires a different approach, and that’s why science and theology use very different methods in their work. It also explains why science can never decide the question of God’s existence or describe God or what he does. That requires a very different kind of rational thought, one that doesn’t compete with the scientific approach.

And here’s another point: Scientism is not science.

Scientism says that the only knowledge worth having is scientific knowledge. Many people today say they will accept only what they can clearly see, touch and control, and therefore the only knowledge of any value comes from science. But we know that science has its limitations.

Science has done great work in fields like health and technology, but it still can’t distinguish good from bad, or right from wrong. It can’t explain love or goodness or beauty, and it can’t decide what to do with its own discoveries.

There is such a thing as objective truth. Jesus spoke about it (Jn.14:6), and there are many roads to it, including art, literature, history, philosophy, science and religion. It’s wrong to suggest that only one approach has any value.

And finally, we should acknowledge the ground-breaking work of countless Catholic scientists, including Danish Bishop Nicholas Steno who founded Geology, and German Fr Athanasius Kircher who founded Egyptology. (He also studied medicine, physics, astronomy, maths, music and linguistics). [i]

Fr Roger Boscovich’s ideas in the 1700s led to modern atomic theory. Seismology is often called the Jesuit science. Economics was founded by fourteenth-century Catholic thinkers, Jean Buridan and Nicolas Oresme. The father of modern genetics was an Augustinian friar, Gregor Mendel. Fr Georges Lemaître formulated the Big Bang theory. And finally, Sr Miriam Stimson, a Dominican nun and Chemistry professor, helped discover DNA. [ii]

Clearly, there’s a distinguished relationship between Christianity and science.

Now, some people say that the story of Galileo is proof of the Church’s supposed “war” against science. But Robert Barron says that this is only one chapter in a very long book. ‘The Galileo episode was hardly the Church’s finest moment,’ he says, ‘(but) in point of fact, John Paul II apologised for it.’ [iii]

The Galileo story was clearly a mistake, but it should not overshadow the historically positive link between science and the Christian faith.

Let’s close with a story. A young university student was travelling in the same train carriage as an elderly man who was praying the Rosary. The young man confronted him: ‘Instead of praying the Rosary, why don’t you take the time to learn and educate yourself a little more? I can send you an instructive book,’ he said.

The old man replied, ‘Please send me the book at this address,’ and he handed him his card. It read: Louis Pasteur, Paris Institute of Science.

The student was embarrassed. Pasteur was the most famous scholar of his time. He invented vaccines and pasteurisation and regularly prayed the Rosary.

Pasteur was also the man who said that a little science estranges us from God, but much science leads us back to him.


[i] https://www.loc.gov/item/ihas.200155977/

[ii] https://aleteia.org/2017/09/10/sister-miriam-the-dominican-nun-who-helped-discover-dna/

[iii] https://www.catholiceducation.org/en/science/faith-and-science/why-the-supposed-conflict-between-science-and-religion-is-tragic-nonsense.html

Year C – 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Parable of Dives and Lazarus

(Amos 6:1a,4-7; 1Tim.6:11-16; Lk.16:19-31)

How many parables are there? Surprisingly, no-one’s quite sure. One scholar says there are 33, but other sources say there are 30, or 37, or 40, or 46, or even 60.

It all depends on how you count them, whether you include various proverbs and metaphors, and whether you group together parables like The Lost Sheep and The Lost Coin.

Jesus’ parables occupy a third of the first three Gospels. He likes using them in his teaching, for he knows how much people love stories.

In Hebrew, the word for parable is mashal, which also means ‘riddle’. So, Jesus’ parables serve as riddles that make us think.

Harvey Cox says that one of the most surprising features of Jesus’ parables is that they are not about God. Rather, they are about ordinary things like weddings and banquets, family tensions, muggings, farmers sowing and reaping, and shrewd business dealings. Only one or two actually mention God.

Cox’s point is that Jesus wants us to look closely at this world we live in, and not somewhere else, for it’s in the here and now – all around us in the most ordinary things of life – that we find God’s divine presence. [i]

Image result for lazarus and the rich man images

Parables always work at two levels. There’s the literal level with a very simple story, and then there’s a deeper level offering us profound lessons about life.

Today’s parable is The Rich Man and Lazarus. We don’t know the rich man’s name, but some call him Dives, which simply means ‘rich man’ in Latin. I’ll use that name for him today.

This Lazarus isn’t the brother of Martha and Mary. Lazarus was a common name back then; it means ‘God has helped’. Interestingly, this Lazarus is the only character that Jesus actually gives a name in any of his parables.

The first half of this story is set on earth. The rich man is enjoying life with fine food and clothes in his very expensive home, but he totally ignores poor Lazarus, who is sick and starving and waiting just outside his gate. 

The story then switches to the afterlife as both men die. Their roles are reversed, and Dives finds himself trapped in hell, while Lazarus is delighted to find himself with Abraham in heaven. (And we recall Jesus’ promise that the last will be first, and the first will be last [Mt.20:16]).

We soon discover that Dives actually knew Lazarus all along, because he uses his name to demand a cooling drink. But he still hasn’t learnt anything, because he treats Lazarus dismissively, like a slave.

On the surface, this story is simple: Dives should have done something to help Lazarus.  But like all parables, this one offers us plenty of food for thought.

Firstly, it reminds us that human suffering is everywhere, and it asks us to reflect on our own response to it. Dives had every comfort, while Lazarus suffered in misery, and we are reminded of Jesus’ words: ‘Whatever you do to the least of my people you do to me’ (Mt.25:40).

St Teresa of Kolkata built her life on these words. Whenever she found someone abandoned and suffering, she always saw them as ‘Jesus in disguise’.

Lazarus, covered in sores and licked by street dogs, was Jesus in disguise.

How do we respond to such suffering? There’s so much hardship and pain in our world today. Every family, community, school and workplace has people who struggle. They might need friendship, encouragement or some kind of practical support, but they are all Jesus Christ himself.

And secondly, this parable warns us that hell is real. Jesus often talks about hell in the Gospels (e.g., Mk.9:43, 48; Mt.10:28; 13:42; 25:30, 41). In fact, he talks more often about hell than about heaven.

Today, he’s telling us to choose, because once we cross over that threshold into eternal life, it will be too late to change our minds.

Dives wanted to escape from hell but knew he couldn’t. As Abraham says to him, ‘…between us and you a great gulf has been fixed, to stop anyone, if he wanted to, crossing from our side to yours, and from your side to ours.’

Dives then asks if his brothers can be warned not to make the same mistake. But Abraham says, ‘if they won’t listen to Moses or the prophets, they won’t be convinced even if someone should rise from the dead.’

He’s right, isn’t he? Jesus himself rose from the dead, and yet so many people today refuse to listen to him.

So often with parables, the real story begins when the storyteller ends.

What’s your response to the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus?


[i] Harvey Cox, When Jesus Came to Harvard: Making Moral Choices Today (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 2004), 155, 159. Quoted in Richard Rohr’s Daily Reflection, the Parables of Jesus, August 2022.

Year C – 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Parable of the Dishonest Steward

(Am.8:4-7; 1Tim.2:1-8; Lk.16:1-13)

Do you remember Aesop’s fables? Aesop was a legendary storyteller in Ancient Greece. No-one’s quite sure whether he was a former slave or actually more than one person, but hundreds of stories are ascribed to him, and each offers a lesson in morality. Here’s one:

The birds and the beasts were at war with each other, and the bat tried to belong to both sides. When the birds were winning, the bat told everyone that he was a bird. And when the beasts were winning, he said he was one of them.

At the peace conference after the war, the birds and the beasts called the bat a hypocrite. As punishment, they banished the bats, and ever since then bats have always hidden themselves in the daytime and only fly at night [i]

The moral to this story is that you cannot commit to two opposing priorities at once. Or as Jesus tells us, you cannot serve two masters.

This is what Jesus is saying in his Parable of the Dishonest Steward in today’s Gospel. A landowner sacks his steward (his estate manager) for handling his property dishonestly. We don’t know what he did wrong, but it’s clear that he not only served his employer; he also looked after himself, and was caught.

In those days, stewards had the right to charge a commission on every transaction they handled for their employer.  But just before leaving his job, the steward decides to call in his master’s debtors. He offers to reduce their debts, probably by deleting his commission from their contracts. 

5 Types of Employee Theft and How to Prevent Them | i-Sight

He’s taking a loss, but he’s also securing his own future by earning goodwill. The customers are delighted to have their debts reduced, and his former master is pleased to see his customers so happy. He praises the steward for being shrewd.

After getting caught doing something wrong, the steward is finally doing something right.

Many people find this story puzzling; they think Jesus is praising dishonest behaviour, but he’s not. Like all parables, this one is meant to surprise us and make us think.

To begin with, this story encourages us to be wise in the way we use our resources, because when our time is up, we cannot take anything with us. In other words, we must use whatever we have to help those who are struggling. 

In this parable, the steward’s time is up and he’s using what’s left of his important position to help those in need. He does something significant.

As Jesus says, ‘I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves so that when it’s gone, you’ll be welcomed into eternal dwellings.’ This is similar to Jesus’ teaching in his Sermon on the Mount where he tells us to store up our treasure in heaven (Mt.6:19-21).

This parable reminds us that there are two worlds: our earthly, day-to-day life, and the kingdom of God. So many people today focus only on the first, and they completely ignore the second.

They invest enormous amounts of time and energy into ensuring their worldly success and comfort, but they spend almost no time at all on preparing their souls for eternal life.

They might call themselves Christian, but in truth they are slaves to their worldly obsessions. This is why Jesus reminds us, ‘no servant can serve two masters… You cannot serve both God and money.’

If we seriously care about our souls and allow God to be our master, then we’ll use what we have to please him. Like the steward in today’s parable, we’ll do what we can to help others, and in the process we’ll store up treasure in heaven.

As Jewish rabbis used to say: ‘The rich help the poor in this world, but the poor help the rich in the world to come’. [ii]

Let’s close with the story of Cardinal Wolsey (1475-1530). He was a great achiever who rose from humble beginnings to be Lord Chancellor of England, one of the most powerful positions in the country. He owed it all to his lord and master, King Henry VIII, to whom he was completely loyal.

In the end, however, he fell out of favour with Henry, and he finished up back where he started. At the end of his life, he uttered these memorable words: ‘Would that I had served my God but half as well as I served my king.’ [iii]

Wolsey’s mistake was that he gave absolute priority to serving King Henry. We can learn from him.

There are two worlds, but only one will last forever.


[i] https://read.gov/aesop/061.html

[ii] Geoff Plant, Welcoming the Outsider, Garratt Publishing, Melbourne, 2009:176.

[iii] Flor McCarthy, New Sunday and Holy Day Liturgies, Year C, Dominican Publications, Dublin, 2018:328-329.

Year C – 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Lost Sheep

(Ex.32:7-11,13-14; 1Tim.1:12-17; Lk.15:1-32)

Someone once asked me, ‘Isn’t it wrong for Jesus to leave 99 sheep, to search for just one? Shouldn’t he have stayed with the 99?’

John Pilch offers us one answer in his book, The Cultural World of Jesus. He says that in Jesus’ day, even one sheep was valuable because each family only had about 40 sheep. So, if there were 100 sheep, there must have been more than one flock, and more than one shepherd. The 99 therefore were not left unattended. [i]

St Teresa of Kolkata gives us another answer. For her, the lost sheep were the desperately poor people she rescued from the most awful of situations. Like the old woman she once found, dumped in a garbage bin.

Some people criticised her for her work. They said she should not have worried about a few lost sheep. Instead, she should have cared for the rest of the flock – ‘the 99’. One man, for example, said she should have taught hungry people how to fish, rather than just giving a few people something to eat.

But Mother Teresa said that’s not what God wanted her to do. She said, ‘The people I serve are helpless. They cannot stand. They cannot hold the rod. They are the lepers, the dying, the mentally ill. When they’re strong enough, someone else can teach them how to fish’.

One by one, over almost 50 years, she rescued many thousands of lost sheep.  Other shepherds, she said, could look after the rest of the flock.

In Luke’s Gospel today, Jesus reminds us that many people are lost – they’re wounded, broken and fearful. Jesus wants to bring them his love and healing. 

He gives us three parables, each presenting God the Father in a different way. 

Image result for The Lost sheep images

First, he’s the humble and caring shepherd who drops everything to find his lost sheep. Then he’s the sensible woman who carefully searches for her lost coin. And finally he’s the gentle, loving Father who waits patiently for his wayward son to return home. 

The Pharisees thought that looking for a lost sheep was a complete waste of time. But Jesus makes it clear that every lost sheep – every person, no matter how poor, pitiful or sinful – is a treasure.

God doesn’t limit his mercy to only a special few.  God is always patient, always loving and always forgiving. He wants us all to come home to him, regardless of the shape we’re in.

The Pharisees also used to say that heaven will rejoice when one sinner is obliterated. But Jesus doesn’t agree. In his first two parables today, he says the shepherd and the woman rejoice when they find their lost sheep and coin. In his third parable, the father has a great feast for his returning son.

in other words, God celebrates when we return to him.

Adolfo Quezada, in his book Radical Love, writes about Jesus’ extraordinary compassion for the lost, and he reminds us that we should all be filled with that same radical love.

He says that it’s not simply a matter of us deciding ‘what’s the loving thing to do?’ when someone needs help. Rather, each of us needs to be so filled with God’s love that we instinctively know what to do.

He says that when we’re united with God in prayer, our faith will inspire our actions, and our work will naturally be filled with love.

Quezada says that radical love demands that we use our gifts to reach out to those who suffer. We must allow the power of love to work through us to soothe their wounds, to mend their broken hearts and to give them a sense of belonging. [ii]

Let’s close with a story. In rural Ireland, Flor McCarthy went for a walk one day. Near a worker’s hut, he heard a sheep cry. He looked for the animal and found it stuck in a deep, muddy ditch.

He couldn’t let it die, so he tried to save it without falling into the hole himself. He found a spade inside the hut, and used it to cut steps into the bank of peat. He reached the sheep and slowly pulled it out.

Walking home, he thought about this experience. He stopped thinking about the trouble the sheep had caused, and started feeling joy for the life he’d saved.

He also thought about the sheep’s cry, for without it, he would never have known it was trapped. And he thought, it’s not only sheep that fall into holes. People do, too. But they’re not as smart as sheep, because they’re often too ashamed to cry or ask for help. [iii]

Yes, we’re all called to rescue lost sheep.

But let’s remember: those most in need of our help don’t always cry or ask for help.


[i] John J Pilch, The Cultural World of Jesus, Cycle C, The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN, 1997:136-137.

[ii] Adolfo Quezada, Radical Love, Paulist Press, NY, 2010.

[iii] Flor McCarthy, New Sunday and Holy Day Liturgies, Cycle C, Dominican Publications, Dublin, 2018:321-322.

Year C – 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Shining Armour

(Wis.9:13-18; Phlm.9-10, 12-17; Lk.14:25-33)

‘Love your enemies,’ Jesus says, ‘and bless those who persecute you.’ So why today is he telling us to hate our family?

It’s because Jesus’ language, Aramaic, didn’t have a word for prefer. The Jesuit author Brendan Byrne says that in Aramaic, if you preferred one thing over another, you’d say you ‘loved’ one thing, but ‘hated’ the other. But this doesn’t mean ‘hate’ as we mean it today. It means putting God first and loving other things less.

Bill Bausch says that this is an example of ancient, non-literal Jewish talk, the kind of exaggeration a first-century Jew would use to press a deeper point. It’s similar to something else Jesus says: ‘If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. If your eye is a source of scandal, pluck it out’ (Mt.18:8-9). [i]

So, Jesus isn’t speaking literally. Rather, he’s giving us a wake-up call.

What, then, is Jesus saying? He’s reminding us that we must always put God first. And he’s warning us that putting God first has practical implications for our daily lives.

This is what Margaret Middleton learnt in 16th Century England. She was born into a Church of England family in York, and at 15 she married a butcher, John Clitherow. She took his surname and three years later, perhaps influenced by her brother-in-law who became a Catholic priest, she became a Catholic.

York-Margaret-Clitherow-6577

Margaret Clitherow took her faith seriously; it influenced every aspect of her life. She loved her husband and was keen to be a good wife and mother, but she always put God first.

This meant that she had to break the law, because it was illegal then to be Catholic in England. With her husband’s support, she hid priests in her home and she allowed them to say Mass there. She taught herself to read and write, and she ran a small school for children, including her own, where she taught the Catholic faith.

She was often gaoled in York Castle for not attending mandatory Anglican church services, and she prayed at the nearby gallows where Catholic martyrs died. She was deeply moved by those who willingly suffered and died for their faith.  

In 1586 the secret hiding places in her home were discovered, and she was arrested. To protect her children, Margaret refused to speak to her accusers, and at the age of 33 she was punished by being crushed to death.

Margaret Clitherow’s daughter Anne was gaoled for four years for refusing to attend a Church of England service, and she later became a nun in Belgium. Margaret’s sons Henry and William also became priests. [ii] [iii]

They all put God first, and accepted the harsh consequences.

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Consider also the story of Robert Mansfield in Alan Paton’s book, Cry, the Beloved Country. He was the white headmaster of a white school in South Africa who took his cricket and hockey teams to play against black schools.

When the Education Department stopped that, he resigned in protest.  Shortly afterwards, Emmanuel Nene, a leader in the black community, came to meet him. He said, ‘I’ve come to meet a man who resigns his job because he doesn’t wish to obey an order that will prevent children from playing with one another.’

Mansfield said, ‘I resigned because I think it’s time to go out and fight everything that separates people from one another. Do I look like a knight in shining armour?’

‘Yes, you look like a knight in shining armour,’ Nene replied. ‘But you are going to get wounded. Do you know that?’

‘I expect that may happen,’ Mansfield replied.

‘Well,’ said Nene, ‘you expect correctly. People don’t like what you are doing, but I’m thinking of joining you in the battle.’

‘You’re going to wear the shining armour, too?’ Mansfield asked.

‘Yes, and I’m going to get wounded, too. Not only by the government, but also by my own people as well.’

‘Aren’t you worried about the wounds?’ Mansfield asked.

‘Don’t worry about the wounds,’ said Nene. ‘When I get up there, which is my intention, the Big Judge will say to me, “Where are your wounds?” and if I say, “I haven’t any”, he’ll say “Was there nothing to fight for?” I couldn’t face that question.’ [iv]

Putting God first isn’t easy these days. There’s so much pressure on us to do anything but that.

But when you get to heaven and God asks to see your wounds, what will you show him?

And what will you say you fought for?


[i] William J Bausch, Once Upon a Gospel, Twenty-Third Publications, New London, CT. 2011:259.

[ii] https://www.bbc.co.uk/northyorkshire/content/articles/2008/10/08/saint_margaret_clitherow_feature.shtml#

[iii] https://www.historyhit.com/st-margaret-clitherow-executed-for-her-faith/

[iv] Alan Paton, Cry, the Beloved Country. Vintage Books, London, 1987.

Year C – 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Humble Pie

(Sir.3:17-20, 28-29; Heb.12:18-19, 22-24; Lk.14:1, 7-14)

In Medieval England, the Church used to collect leftover meat from the tables of the rich, and they gave it to the poor.

These leftovers were usually deer or beef innards, called numbles. These numbles were chopped or minced, and then wrapped in pastry and cooked. The result was numble pie, which later became umble pie. The rich ate the tasty venison, while the poor ate umble pie. [i] [ii]

The nature of this dish has changed over the years, and today we speak of eating humble pie, where we accept that we were wrong about something.

Humble pie is what Jesus serves up at the Pharisee’s banquet in today’s Gospel. He has been invited to this feast, and as it starts, he notices the guests scrambling for the best seats at the table, near the most important people. 

Jesus is appalled, and tells them so. Don’t go grabbing a seat that’s not yours, he says. You risk embarrassment if the host asks you to move. It’s better to wait until you’re asked to sit, because then you might be offered a good spot. 

And he adds, ‘Anyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.’ 

In Biblical times, the Pharisees hated humble pie, because pride was everything to them. They worked hard to receive public honour and to avoid being shamed.

Today, things aren’t much different, because pride is still very popular. Lots of people simply love drawing attention to themselves. They like getting praise and recognition because it makes them feel good.

But they forget that pride claims that everything is perfect, when it can’t be. Humility, however, means seeing ourselves as we really are, and always being open to receive any further improvement or correction.

When we’re proud, we’re effectively saying that we don’t need to change, and we close ourselves off. But when we acknowledge our weaknesses, we open ourselves up to receive God’s abundant graces. As St Peter says, ‘God resists the proud, but he gives grace to the humble’ (1Pet.5:5-6).

All through the Bible, we see God showering his graces on people who were genuinely honest about themselves. Moses, for example, was ‘very humble, more than anyone else on earth’ (Num.12:3), and yet God still called him to lead his people to the Promised Land.

King Solomon was rich and powerful, but he didn’t let that go to his head. He knew that everything came from God (2Chron.6:13; 1Kgs.8:54).

When the Wise Men arrived bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, the first thing they did was to drop onto their knees to worship Jesus (Mt.2:11).

St Paul saw himself as the least of the apostles (1Cor.15:9) and the chief of sinners (1Tim.1:15), but he still became one of the greatest saints.

And St John the Baptist thought he wasn’t worthy to undo the strap of Jesus’ sandals (Jn.1:27). And yet Jesus said he was one of the greatest human beings ever to walk the face of the Earth (Mt.11:11).

All these people were happy to eat humble pie. They knew that ‘Where there’s humility, there’s wisdom’ (Prov.11:2).

So, what’s the recipe for humble pie?

The crust is made from dust and ashes, which is where we come from (and where we’re going to). The filling is a blend of equal parts of self-awareness, kindness, self-restraint and a desire to learn. And it’s all served with a fine sprinkling of love.

Humility is the first test of a truly great person, because it means understanding who you really are, including your own strengths and weaknesses. It means knowing where you fit into the scheme of things. It means respecting others and treating them as more important than you are.

St. Augustine once said, ‘If you ask me what’s most essential in the Christian faith, I’d say: first, humility; second, humility, and third, humility.’

Let’s close with a story from the great Polish Rabbi Simcha Bunim. He taught that everyone should have two pockets. In one pocket they should have a piece of paper saying: ‘I am only dust and ashes.’ When they’re feeling too proud, they should reach into this pocket, take out this paper and read it.

In the other pocket they should have another piece of paper saying: ‘For my sake the world was created.’ When they’re feeling lowly and disheartened, they should reach into this pocket, take out this paper and read it.

For we are each the joining of two worlds.

We are fashioned from clay, but our spirit is the breath of God. [iii]


[i] https://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/food-and-drink/what-does-humble-pie-taste-like-1.3484273

[ii] https://www.etymonline.com/word/humble%20pie

[iii] Martin Buber, Tales of The Hasidim Later Masters. Schoken Books, NY, 1948:249-50. https://www.templeisaiah.com/pdf/1481327848_sermon_pdf_2016_Rabbi_Joel_Nickerson_Yom_Kippur_Sermon_Two_Pockets_.pdf

Year C – 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Butterfly

(Isa.66:18-21; Heb.12:5-7; 11-13; Lk.13:22-30)

You don’t have to go far to find suffering. It’s everywhere. There’s sickness, floods, drought and war. There are broken relationships, the death of loved ones and seeing our plans fail.

In one way or another, we all suffer, and no one likes that. Some people learn from it and move on, while others become angry and bitter. And many people wonder, why doesn’t God protect us from all this pain?

The first thing to say is that God doesn’t make us suffer. He’s not punishing us, because God is love. God does, however, let suffering happen, and one reason for this is because he wants us to learn about life and to come closer to him.

This is what the author of the Letter to the Hebrews is saying to the early Christians in our second reading today. They found life very hard, and he’s encouraging them to accept this as part of their training in discipleship. Like all good parents, God is trying to teach them.

In her book Nudging Conversions, Carrie Gress identifies three kinds of suffering. The first she calls Suffering from Self, because it’s caused by sin. This suffering comes from our bad, self-destructive habits and being separated from God. This is like hell, she says, because sin is always accompanied by pain. We can see this in broken relationships, in our wounded children and in our addictions.

Regardless of our intentions, she says, sin is going to hurt. And God lets this pain happen as a warning that something isn’t right. So, if our conscience fails, this pain might remind us that it’s time to change our behaviour.

The second kind she calls Suffering for Self, and she compares it to purgatory. It occurs when the soul starts turning to God, and the pain comes largely from atoning for our sins. The reason for it is simple, she says: we must repair whatever we’ve broken, while also growing deeper in holiness.

She quotes St Paul’s words: ‘We rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope’ (Rom.5:3-4). This type of suffering is important in our journey towards spiritual maturity.

The third kind she calls Suffering for Others. It’s close to heaven, she says, for it comes from genuinely loving and sacrificing ourselves for others. This is how Jesus loves. [i]

Victor Frankl (1905–97) was imprisoned in Nazi concentration camps during World War II. His mother, father, brother and pregnant wife were all murdered there, and he was stripped of everything he had, including his human dignity.

But there was one thing the Nazis couldn’t take from him: that was his ability to choose how he responded to all this trauma. Frankl made the conscious decision to stay in control of all his responses.

He had learnt a valuable lesson: that those who have a strong sense of meaning and purpose in life can survive for much longer than those who lose their way.

In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI wrote: ‘We can try to limit suffering, to fight against it, but we cannot eliminate it. It is when we attempt to avoid suffering by withdrawing from anything that might involve hurt, when we try to spare ourselves the effort and pain of pursuing truth, love, and goodness, that we drift into a life of emptiness, in which there may be almost no pain, but the dark sensation of meaninglessness and abandonment is all the greater.

‘It is not by sidestepping or fleeing from suffering that we are healed,’ he said, ‘but rather by our capacity for accepting it, maturing through it and finding meaning through union with Christ, who suffered with infinite love.’ [ii]

Jesus suffered every kind of pain imaginable. He was rejected by almost everyone; he suffered emotionally, psychologically, physically and spiritually. And yet he still rose in glory. Clearly, Jesus is the model for us to follow, for he offers us hope.

Let’s close with the story of the butterfly. Butterflies begin life tightly wrapped up in a cocoon. Then, when the time comes, they struggle to escape. Some people think it’s nice to relieve their suffering, by helping them get out. But that’s a mistake.

When butterflies wriggle and struggle out of their cocoon, their movements release a chemical that’s pumped into their wings. This fluid strengthens their muscles and helps their wings expand. [iii]

If butterflies don’t struggle like this, they quickly die.

Suffering is a mystery that can be hard to bear, but it’s also a natural part of life.

Let’s ask Jesus to help us understand, and to help us through.


[i] Carrie Gress, Nudging Conversions. Beacon Publishing, NY, 2015 (eBook).

[ii] Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi, 37

[iii] https://rockpaperscissorsinc.com/what-we-can-learn-from-a-butterflys-struggle-to-escape-its-chrysalis/

Year C – 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Fire of Love

[Jer.38:4-6; 8-10; Heb.12:1-4; 8-19; Lk.12:49-53]

Four hours’ drive north of Sydney is Mount Wingen. It’s often called ‘Burning Mountain’ because deep inside it is the world’s oldest fire.

Wingen is an Aboriginal word meaning ‘fire’, and that fire has been burning 30 metres underground, for over 6,000 years. [i]

Fire occurs naturally wherever the right amounts of fuel, oxygen and heat are combined. As long as these three elements are present, fire will keep burning. But if you take any element away, it will die. (At Mount Wingen, the fuel burnt is coal.)

A blazing fire is a remarkable thing. It can purify metals like gold and silver, it can protect by destroying vermin and disease, and it provides light and warmth. But of course, it needs to be handled carefully.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus talks about bringing fire to the earth. ‘How I wish it were blazing already!’ he says. But this isn’t any ordinary fire. What Jesus is talking about is spiritual fire.

The Bible often uses the image of fire to represent God. In the Old Testament, God appears as a consuming fire (Dt.4:24), a burning bush (Ex.3:2-3), and a pillar of fire (Ex.13:21). And at Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descends on the disciples as tongues of fire (Acts 2:3).

Like earthly fire, spiritual fire also has three elements. It needs the Holy Spirit’s spark to ignite it, our loving hearts to fuel it, and God’s graces to fan the flames into life. But if you remove any of these elements, spiritual fire will die, too.

Spiritual fire changes whatever it touches. It heals and it reconciles, it provides light and warmth, and peace and comfort. And in the sacraments, spiritual fire transforms ordinary gifts into the very presence of Jesus Christ.

It’s not surprising, then, that fire plays an important role in our liturgical worship. Our Paschal candle and our baptismal and altar candles all reflect the fire and light of Christ’s love.

This spiritual fire is a gift, and we receive it at our baptism. It comes in the form of a spark from the Holy Spirit (Lk.3:16), when we receive the graces of faith, hope and love.

For too many, however, this fire lies dormant. It’s not blazing, because we’ve not yet added the fuel of our loving hearts. Our hearts are somewhere else.

During the cold winters of 16th century Spain, St John of the Cross spent many hours contemplating the mystery of fire. He noticed that the process of a person drawing closer to God is very much like a log burning in a fire. [ii]

At first, a log will crackle and pop as it begins to burn. That’s because impurities like moisture and sap (which won’t burn), are being expelled from the wood. The fire gradually drives these impurities out, leaving the log dry.

Then, the fire starts burning that log until the entire piece of wood is engulfed in flames. The log itself is transformed: it becomes the fire, glowing and releasing heat and light.

The purpose of our spiritual lives is to prepare our souls to receive the fire of God’s love.  And just as a dry log burns much more easily than a wet one, so a soul will more easily absorb the fire of God’s love if it has been prepared by the Holy Spirit.

Each of us, then, needs to be purged of our sins, distractions and impurities, before we can be fully immersed in God’s spiritual fire.

Most of us, however, tend to crackle and pop as we struggle against this process. Letting go of our unhealthy attachments can be hard.

But when we do stop resisting God’s divine flame, our hardened hearts start to dissolve in love. His holy flame then reaches deep inside us, transforming us. We become the fire of his love, reflecting light and heat that, in turn, helps to transform others. [iii]

6,000 years ago, the fire in Mount Wingen started to burn. It has never ever stopped because there’s been a constant supply of fuel, oxygen and heat.

2,000 years ago, the fire of Christ started spreading all over the world. But in too many places today, that fire has died. Why? It’s because too many of us have withdrawn its fuel: the love of our hearts. We’re too distracted.

Spiritual fire transforms lives. Its heat keeps us warm; its light helps us see in the darkness. It empowers us to do remarkable things, and it fills us with comfort and peace. We need all these things.

Spiritual fire is our love united with God’s love.

Let’s ask Jesus to help us set the world on fire once again.


[i] https://www.yourweather.co.uk/news/trending/world-s-oldest-fire-has-mysteriously-been-burning-for-6-000-years-australia-mount-wingen.html

[ii] https://explorethefaith.com/living-flame-love/#summary

[iii] https://www.ewtn.com/catholicism/library/living-flame-of-love-12524

Year C – 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Heeding the Signs

(Wis.18:6-9; Heb.11:1-2; 8-19; Lk.12:32-48)

Life began as normal in Pompeii on August 24, 79AD. Children played, parents went to market and the rich soaked in thermal baths.

Then at lunchtime, Mt Vesuvius erupted, spewing out huge amounts of hot ash, molten rock and poisonous gas. The city was destroyed and some 16,000 people perished.

The sad thing is that they had all been warned. They knew this was an active volcano, for it had erupted 16 years earlier and they were still repairing the damage. The earth had been rumbling and shaking for days, and there was plenty of smoke. But they chose to ignore these signs. [i]

Signs are important. They warn us of danger and help us prepare for what’s coming. They’re also everywhere: on beaches, roads and train stations. Traffic lights turn orange before going red, and many products have ‘use-by’ dates.

It’s risky to ignore signs; they’re there for a reason.

Out in the Judean Desert, John the Baptist warned everyone to ‘prepare the way of the Lord’ (Mk.1:3). Many took him seriously, but some, like the Rich Man in last week’s gospel, didn’t. He was too busy with his treasure to think about anything else, and he found himself totally unprepared for his sudden death.

In Luke’s Gospel today, Jesus repeats this warning for us. ‘Stand ready,’ he says, ‘for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect’.

Many people think they don’t have to worry about this, because they won’t be around when Jesus returns. But Peter Kreeft, in his book Food for the Soul, says that’s wrong. ‘You certainly will (be around),’ he says, ‘because you will die, and your death is the end of the world for you, the end of your world, and that’s when you’ll meet Christ.’

‘If that sounds scary,’ he adds, ‘it shouldn’t, because Jesus begins his sermon today with the words Fear not, little flock. We are his flock, his sheep; he is the good shepherd, and he takes care of us.’ [ii] But we must prepare ourselves.

One person who reads the signs is the American actor Denzel Washington. In a recent interview, he spoke about his Christian faith and the warning signs we’re seeing in our world today.

‘This is spiritual warfare,’ he said. ‘If you don’t have a spiritual anchor you’ll be easily blown (away) by the wind.’ [iii]

At a graduation ceremony in Louisiana, he said that when he was 20, he was visiting his mother’s beauty shop, when a woman he didn’t know looked into his eyes and asked for a pen.

‘I have a prophecy,’ she said, writing down the details. She told him, ‘Boy, you are going to travel the world and speak to millions of people.’

Washington said that her words never left him. ‘I have travelled the world and spoken to millions of people,’ he said, ‘but that’s not the most important thing.’

‘I’ve been protected. I’ve been directed. I’ve been corrected,’ he said. ‘I’ve kept God in my life and he’s kept me humble. I didn’t always stick with him, but he’s always stuck with me… If you think you want to do what you think I’ve done, then do what I’ve done. Stick with God.’

‘Put. God. First,’ he said. ‘Put God first in everything you do. Everything you think you see in me, everything I’ve accomplished, everything you think I have… is by the grace of God. Understand that. It’s a gift.’

And he warns: ‘Success will never be enough in life, because you’ll never see a U-Haul behind a hearse. I don’t care how much money you make; you can’t take it with you. The Egyptians tried it. They got robbed… It’s not how much you have, it’s what you do with what you have.’ [iv]

‘I’m in the service business now,’ he adds. ‘I’m here to serve God, here to serve my family.’ [v]

Denzel Washington is like the servant in today’s Gospel, waiting for his master to return home from a marriage feast. His lamp is lit; he’s ready for action; and when his master arrives, he knows he’ll be rewarded for his faithfulness.

This is what Jesus is asking of us now: to be ready for him and to do whatever God wants of us at any time. Our attitude before that moment will be critical to the way we respond to him.

So, let’s open our eyes, hearts and minds and get ourselves ready.

Just like Mt Vesuvius, there are lots of warning signs around our world today. Let’s not be caught unprepared.


[i] https://www.history.co.uk/article/the-eruption-of-mount-vesuvius-in-79-ad-and-the-destruction-of-pompeii

[ii] Peter Kreeft, Food for the Soul, Word on Fire, Park Ridge, IL. 2021:529-530.

[iii] https://www1.cbn.com/cbnnews/entertainment/2021/december/this-is-spiritual-warfare-denzel-washington-declares-his-faith-warns-of-selfies-and-self-love-in-the-last-days

[iv] Denzel Washington, Dillard University, Louisiana, 7 May 2015. https://speakola.com/grad/denzel-washington-everything-i-have-is-by-the-grace-of-god-full-2015

[v] https://www.christiantimes.com/news/denzel-washington-to-pastor-t-d-jakes-im-here-to-serve-god-here-to-serve-my-family.html

Year C – 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Greed

(Ecc.1:2; 2:21-23; Col.3:1-5, 9-11; Lk.12:13-21)

Do you remember the American entertainer Liberace? It was he who coined the term ‘Laughing all the way to the bank.’

For a while Liberace was the world’s highest paid performer. At his height, he spent five million dollars a year, a huge sum in those days. When he died in 1987, he left behind eight warehouses full of things that couldn’t fit into any of his five fully furnished homes. [i]

Surely this is greed: craving something you like, when you really don’t need it.

In the movie Wall Street, Gordon Gekko says that greed is good. ‘Greed works,’ he says. ‘Greed clarifies, it cuts through and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit…’ [ii]

Someone once argued that without greed, we’d all still be living in caves. But greed is also one of the seven deadly sins. It consumes people. It clouds our vision, it destroys our sense of peace and gratitude, it corrupts our behaviour and it causes conflict and division.

Greed is about getting more of what you want, in a world where there’s never enough for everyone. Whether it’s money, power, possessions, pleasure or anything else you think is good, greed is about getting it all for yourself.

In today’s gospel, Jesus is talking to a large crowd, when a man calls out: ‘Master, tell my brother to give me a share of our inheritance’. He’s been fighting over money, but Jesus doesn’t want to get involved.

Instead, he starts teaching the crowd about greed, and he tells the parable of a rich man who’s had a great harvest. He’s planning to build bigger barns to store his new wealth, and then spend it all on a life of pleasure.

Today, many would admire this man’s success. Yet, Jesus calls him a fool. Why?

Firstly, he’s only concerned about himself. He uses the words I or my eleven times, and not once mentions God or anyone else.

God doesn’t bless us with riches so that we can be selfish. The fact is that everything comes from God, and he expects us to use whatever we have wisely, to benefit others as well as ourselves (Eph.4:28).

Secondly, his barns are full, but his heart is empty. The only thing he cares about is money and the pleasure it gives him. His success, and the comfort it brings, is blinding him to his spiritual poverty (Rev.3:17).

And finally, he’s forgotten about time. He dies soon afterwards and has nothing to show for his life before God (Dt.16:16-17).

When we think about it, this parable really isn’t about money. It’s about our values and the way we live our lives. Being wealthy isn’t wrong, but what is wrong is not using our blessings to help others.

Let’s close with a story. A countryman once knocked on a monastery door. When the monk at the door opened it, he gave him a big bunch of grapes saying ‘Brother, these are the finest grapes in my vineyard. They are my gift to you.’

‘Thank you!’ the monk replied. ‘I’ll take them to the abbot. He’ll love them.’

‘No, they’re for you,’ the countryman said. For whenever I knock on this door, you always open it. When I needed help in the drought, you gave me bread and wine every day.’

The monk admired the grapes all morning, and then he gave them to the abbot, for he’d always encouraged him with wise words.

The abbot was delighted, but another brother was sick. ‘I’ll give him the grapes,’ he decided. ‘Perhaps they’ll give him joy.’

But the sick man didn’t keep the grapes for long. ‘The cook has always looked after me,’ he said. ‘I’m sure he’ll enjoy these.’

The cook was amazed by these perfect grapes. ‘No-one would appreciate them more than the sexton,’ he thought. ‘He’s such a holy man.’

The sexton then gave the grapes to the youngest novice, so that he might appreciate the wonder of God’s creation.

But when the novice received them, he remembered his first visit to the monastery, and the kind monk who had welcomed him at the door. It was that welcome that inspired him to join this community.

And so, that evening, he took the grapes to the monk at the gates. ‘Eat them and enjoy them,’ he said, ‘for you spend most of your time here alone, and these grapes will make you happy.’

That monk finally understood that this gift was meant for him. He relished those grapes, before falling into a pleasant sleep. [iii]

This, then, is our choice: either the joy of sharing, or the dead-end of greed.


[i] William Bausch, Once Upon a Gospel, Twenty-third Publications, New London, CT.2011:229.

[ii] https://www.americanrhetoric.com/MovieSpeeches/moviespeechwallstreet.html

[iii] https://academictips.org/blogs/the-circle-of-joy/ (abridged)