Year A – Trinity Sunday

When Many Are One

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

Sometimes our language fails us, and we find it hard to explain things.

Take God, for example. Some scholars say that God is utterly beyond our capacity to understand or imagine, and always more than anything we can ever say about him.

And yet, some mystic-minded people do have a strong sense of God’s presence. They can achieve a one-ness with God that doesn’t need understanding or imagining or even explaining, because they actually experience him. [i]

Today is Trinity Sunday, and one question that’s often asked is how one God can possibly include three persons.

Sr Lucia, one of the three children who met Our Lady at Fatima, said that we will only really understand the Trinity when we get to heaven. However, if we pick an orange, we can remove the skin and take out the seeds which can be grown, and this leaves us with the sections we can eat.

If in a single orange, then, there are three separate things with three separate purposes, why should we be astonished to find three distinct Persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – in one God? [ii]

Now, the Bible doesn’t actually use the word ‘Trinity’, but it does recognise each of the three divine Persons. At Pentecost, for example, Jesus says to his disciples, ‘if you love me, you’ll keep my commandments, and I’ll ask the Father, and he’ll give you another Advocate (the Holy Spirit) to be with you always’ (Jn.14:15).  

As well, at Jesus’ baptism, the Father speaks from heaven and the Spirit descends on Jesus in the form of a dove (Mk.1:10-11).

So, we accept the doctrine of the Trinity. But even though we find it hard to fully express the nature of God, we can still learn something of him from the Scriptures.

Our first reading today, for example, tells us that God is ‘a God of tenderness and compassion, slow to anger, and rich in kindness and faithfulness.’ And our Gospel says that ‘God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost but may have eternal life’

Both of these readings remind us that the essence of God is love (1Jn.4:8).

This has immense implications for us in our daily lives, for God is not the cold and distant figure many people think he is.

Indeed, the Trinity is a community of perpetual love, and by reaching out to us, as he has, through the Incarnation of Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit, God is constantly trying to draw us into his loving communion.

The Canadian theologian Ron Rolheiser says we don’t need academic books to make God real in our lives, for God is a flow of relationships to be experienced in community, family, parish, friendship, and hospitality. And when we live inside these relationships, God lives inside us and we live inside God.

Rolheiser adds that the most pernicious heresies that block us from properly knowing God are not those of formal dogma, but those of a culture of individualism that invite us to believe that we are self-sufficient, that we can have community and family on our own terms, and that we can have God without dealing with each other. For God is community – and only in opening our lives in gracious hospitality will we ever understand that. [iii]

It’s significant that we’ve all been made in God’s image and likeness, because just as the Father, Son and Spirit are united in love, so we are all meant to come together in our families and communities. Each member of the family or community, like each member of the Trinity, has a different role to play and unique talents to share, but we are all brought together in holy relationship.

We see this in the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Jesus didn’t rush about as we tend to do today – he spent 90% of his life living in quiet but loving domesticity. Similarly, when Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth, she didn’t rush away soon afterwards as so many of us do. Rather, she stayed for months, and in that time they talked, they laughed, they shared and reminisced, and they sat together in quiet reflection.

And when the disciples agreed to follow Jesus, they didn’t add this to all their other responsibilities. They dropped everything else so that they could live together in close communion.

The message of the Trinity is that we are not meant to be alone. We’re all called to live in close connection with those around us – our family, friends, neighbours and co-workers.

Like God in his Trinity, we are all designed for close communion with others.

And the more loving we are, the more Godlike we become

[i] Brian Gallagher, Taking God to Heart, St Pauls, Strathfield, 2008:59.

[ii] Sr Lucia, Calls from the Message of Fatima, 2008.


Year A – Pentecost Sunday


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Year A – Ascension Sunday

Benefit of the Doubt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

St Paul of the Cross

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Year A – 6th Sunday of Easter

The DOs and DON’Ts of Jesus

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

Do you love Jesus? Yes or no?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And here are Jesus’ Dos:

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

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

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

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

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

Year A – 5th Sunday of Easter


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Year A – 4th Sunday of Easter

 Sheepdogs and Angels

(Acts 2:14a, 36-41; 1Pet.2:20b-25; Jn.10:1-10)

Have you ever seen a sheepdog trial?

These trials began in New Zealand in the 1860s, and today competitions are held all over the world. They test the ability of shepherds and their dogs to guide a flock of sheep through a maze of obstacles in just fifteen minutes. The way they work together is extraordinary.

Why do shepherds need sheepdogs? It’s because guiding, guarding and raising unruly sheep can be hard work.

We city-dwellers don’t often see shepherds, but they are all through the Bible. In fact, they’re mentioned over 90 times in the Old Testament, often in reference to the early kings and rulers of Israel who were meant to shepherd their people. But too often they failed at this, preferring to kill and steal instead (cf. Ezek.34).

So, God promised that one day he would shepherd the people himself, and that’s why Jesus is our Good Shepherd today.

When a flock is big, shepherds always need help. Jesus started with twelve disciples. Moses had Caleb and Joshua to help him lead his flock out of Egypt. And Paul had Timothy, Barnabas and Silas to help him in his ministry.

So, looking back into history, there have long been shepherds, and good sheepdogs, too. The Book of Job, one of the oldest books of the Bible, mentions sheepdogs in Chapter 30. And interestingly, ‘Caleb’ means faithful and even sheepdog in Hebrew.

Evelyn Underhill (1875-1941), the British spiritual writer, loved observing the natural world, and often used nature to explain mystical truths.

In 1938, after visiting a sheep dog trial in rural England, she wrote to a friend about the way shepherds and sheepdogs work together. Sheepdogs, she noted, were very active and loved running around. And although the sheep could be unpredictable, the sheepdogs controlled them well by making sure that none escaped from the fold.

But one thing really impressed her. While the sheepdogs were always ready to work hard, they spent an astonishing amount of time just sitting still, watching the shepherd. They always waited for a sign before moving an inch.

She also noticed that the sheepdogs didn’t bark or make a fuss. They had transcended their ‘mere dogginess’ and become an extension of the shepherd. Their only interest was in obeying him and waiting for his signal.

The sheepdog’s relationship with the shepherd was the centre of his life, and despite the frustrations, his tail never stopped wagging. He enjoyed working with the sheep. He was the agent of the shepherd, working to a plan that was not his own and which he could not possibly have understood; and yet that was the source of his joy. It was also the discipline with which he worked. [i]

When Jesus returned to Heaven, his mission didn’t stop. Rather, the sheep that had become his sheepdogs then became his shepherds, and they devoted their lives to searching for strays and returning them safely to his flock.

Someone who did this recently was Don Ritchie, a former insurance salesman and navy veteran. In 1964, he bought a house in Watson’s Bay, in Sydney, only 50 metres from a dangerous seaside cliff known as The Gap – a popular spot for suicides. [ii]

Ritchie soon found himself rescuing suicidal strangers from the clifftop.

In the beginning, he tried restraining them, while his wife called the police, and he even earned a bravery medal. But then he began taking a gentler approach, by approaching them with a smile and asking, ‘Is there something I can do to help you?’ Or inviting them into his home for drink. [iii]

On one occasion, he lay down on his stomach, talking to a terrified man just over the edge and threatening to jump. He gently encouraged him to return to safety.

Don Ritchie wasn’t always successful, but he came to be known as the Angel of the Gap. When he died in 2012, aged 85, his family said that he had saved some 500 people, although the official count is 160.

Perhaps Don’s greatest satisfaction, they said, was the gifts, Christmas cards and letters he received from those he’d saved, sometimes a decade or two after the attempted suicide.[iv]

Like a devoted sheepdog, for almost fifty years Don Ritchie kept one eye on the Good Shepherd and one eye on the sheep, and he made a real difference.

This, then, is our challenge: to keep our eyes fixed firmly on Jesus, listening carefully for his word, while helping his sheep when they are in trouble.

We, too, can make a difference.

[i] Carol Poston (Ed.) The Making of a Mystic: New and Selected Letters of Evelyn Underhill, HarperCollins, 1993:381.


[iii] Sydney Morning Herald, Death of the Angel of The Gap: the man who saved the suicidal from themselves, May 14, 2012,


Year A – 3rd Sunday of Easter

Caravaggio’s Supper at Emmaus

(Acts 2:14, 22-33; 1Pet.1:17-21; Lk.24:13-35)

In today’s Gospel, two grieving disciples are walking to Emmaus, 11 kilometres from Jerusalem. They are depressed and confused because Jesus Christ has died. They simply cannot comprehend it.

A mysterious stranger then joins them on their walk. It’s Jesus himself, but they don’t recognise him. As they journey together, he listens to them and interprets what has happened through the Scriptures. And when they reach Emmaus, they invite the stranger to join them for supper.

This meal is the subject of Caravaggio’s masterpiece The Supper at Emmaus, which he painted in Rome in 1601, at the age of 30.

The Supper at Emmaus (1601) by Caravaggio. National Gallery, London. Source Wikimedia Commons

Caravaggio shows Jesus sitting at table with two disciples. He takes the bread, says the blessing and breaks it, and then he gives it to them. Just as they recognize Jesus, he vanishes from their sight.

Why do they recognise him? It’s because Jesus repeats the action he performed at the Last Supper (Lk.22:19), and they are utterly astonished. It’s this emotion that Caravaggio tries to capture in this painting. [i]

Now, notice that Jesus is unusually clean-shaven and fresh-faced, while his robes hide the wounds from his crucifixion. This might explain why they didn’t recognise him.

But Caravaggio could also be saying something to us here, for how often are we unaware and unthankful when Jesus journeys with us?

Standing next to Jesus is the unshaven innkeeper, who doesn’t seem to know what’s going on.

On the right, Cleopas is so shocked to see Jesus that he flings his arms wide like a cross. The scallop shell he’s wearing indicates that he’s a pilgrim ‘on his way,’ just like us all. We’re all pilgrims in this life. [ii]

To the left is the unnamed disciple, with a torn sleeve. Could he be Cleopas’ son, Simeon? He, too, is shocked to discover Jesus. He’s gripping his chair and just about to spring to his feet.

On the table, the roast chicken symbolises Christ as the sacrificial victim. And teetering precariously on the front edge of the table is a fruit-basket. This points to the significance of Christ’s apparition, because if death is no longer absolute, then all our earthly expectations are no longer secure. [iii]

The basket itself represents the riches of Holy Scripture, and the fruits therein symbolise the nourishing teachings of the Old and New Testaments. [iv]

The fresh fruit also symbolises new life, but notice that the apple is starting to rot; this reminds us of the sin of Adam and Eve. Behind the apple is a pomegranate, split open. In Judaism, the pomegranate symbolises righteousness, as the ‘613 seeds’ are said to correspond to the 613 commandments of the Torah. But the pomegranate also symbolises the richness of the promised land (Deut. 8:8), and of the Church, where many are united as one.

Now, do you see the piece of cane sticking out from the fruit basket? It’s casting the shadow of a fish, symbolising Jesus and his ministry. It also reminds us of his call to his disciples to be ‘fishers of men.’

There’s so much for us to reflect on in this painting, but one important thing to note is that this is no ordinary table. It’s actually an altar, and what Caravaggio is depicting here is the very first Mass after Christ’s death and resurrection. Indeed, Jesus is celebrating the Holy Eucharist himself.

The grapes allude to consecrated wine and Christ’s blood spilt during his passion and crucifixion. And on the left is a trio of bread, water and a jug of wine, the three central elements of the Holy Eucharist which Jesus consecrates at every Mass.

And notice that as Jesus blesses the bread, his hand is pointing towards us. He’s inviting us to join him at the empty space in front.

Notice, too, the white prayer shawl on Cleopas’ lap, tied in a knot. This indicates his absolute commitment to the faith, and today we’re all being invited to share that same faith.

Finally, this painting reminds us that right from the very beginning, after Jesus’ resurrection, many people struggled to believe or understand what had happened – even those who personally knew Jesus. However, they did come to believe because Jesus revealed himself to them. He revealed himself to Mary Magdalene (Jn.20:14), to Peter (Lk.24:34), and to these two disciples in Emmaus, among many others. And he did so through the power of the Holy Spirit, through Scripture and through the sacraments, including the Holy Eucharist.

It’s no different today. Many people still struggle to believe or understand what happened all those years ago. But through the power of the Spirit, through Scripture and through the Holy Eucharist and all the sacraments, Jesus continues to reveal himself to us.

Our challenge is to believe and to always remain open to Jesus.

[i] John S Dixon, The Christian Year in Painting, Art/Books, London, 2018:136.

[ii] Op cit. p.137.

[iii] Sr Wendy Beckett, Sister Wendy’s 100 Best-Loved Paintings, SPCK, London. 2019:72.

[iv] Silvia Malaguzzi, Food and Feasting in Art, Getty Publications, Los Angeles, 2008:222-223.

Year A – Divine Mercy Sunday

The Image of Divine Mercy

(Acts 2:42-47; 1Pet.1:3-9; Jn.20:19-31)

We know from her diary that in 1931, Jesus appeared to St Maria Faustina Kowalska in Poland as the King of Divine Mercy. He was wearing a white garment with rays of white and red light streaming from his heart.  

He asked her to paint this image with the words: Jesus, I trust in You, inscribed underneath. ‘I want this image to be venerated,’ he said, ‘and I promise that the soul that venerates this image will not perish.’ [i]

But poor Faustina was no painter. She asked her confessor what she should do. ‘All you need,’ he said, ‘is to paint Jesus’ picture in your soul.’ But it was a real picture Jesus wanted, so she asked her superior, who gave her some canvas and paints. ‘But I don’t know how to paint!’ she cried.

It was only after relocating to Lithuania that her new spiritual director helped her find an artist, and the first Divine Mercy image was painted in 1934.

In The Seven Secrets of Divine Mercy, Vinny Flynn writes that it’s important that this picture be seen as an icon, and not as an idol. An idol takes our attention away from God, but an icon draws us towards him.

An icon is not an object of worship, however. It’s more like a window we look through with the eyes of our soul to see God.

This picture is of Jesus, but as St Paul says, Christ ‘is the image of the invisible God.’ So, this is also an image of our heavenly Father. As Pope St John Paul II writes, the Father’s invisible nature becomes visible in Christ and through Christ, and most especially visible in his mercy.[ii] For Jesus doesn’t just talk about mercy – he is mercy itself. ‘Making the Father present as love and mercy is… the fundamental touchstone of Jesus’ mission as the Messiah,’ he says. [iii]

Now, see Jesus’ right hand – he’s giving us a blessing. What is a blessing? It’s a divine and life-giving action, but it’s not only Jesus giving us this blessing; his Father is too. And because this action is ‘frozen’ in time, that blessing is unending. The Father is always giving life – all the time.

Jesus’ white garment reminds us that he is a priest. Indeed, Jesus is the only priest; he is the one great and eternal High Priest. All others share in the one priesthood of Christ. So, it’s fitting that his hand is raised in blessing, because the first function of the priest is to bless.

Look now at Jesus’ left hand. He’s touching his heart and his fingers are opening his garment. Jesus is inviting us to come into his heart and to rest there.

Like his ‘frozen’ blessing, this gesture is also permanent and unchangeable. As Jesus says in Matthew’s Gospel, ‘Come to me all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest’ (Mt.11:28). 

Now, see the rays of mercy streaming from Jesus’ heart. When St Faustina asked Jesus what they meant, he said: ‘The two rays denote Blood and Water (which) flowed from the depths of my tender mercy when my agonised heart was opened by a lance.’[iv]

The pale rays, Vinny Flynn explains, point to Jesus’ promise of ‘Living Water’ and our rebirth in the Holy Spirit through Baptism. But they also remind us of the Sacrament of Reconciliation because the cleansing of Confession is an extension of our Baptism.

The red rays represent the Holy Eucharist, the blood that is the ‘life of souls.’ In the Old Testament, before receiving the Ten Commandments on Mt Sinai, Moses sprinkles the people with the blood of the sacrifice, proclaiming it as ‘the blood of the covenant’ (Ex.24:8).

And now, pouring out his red rays upon us, Jesus is the new Moses (and the new sacrificial lamb), fulfilling on the Cross his gift of the Eucharist at the Last Supper, when he proclaims the ‘new covenant’ in his blood (Lk.22:20). [v]

The Divine Mercy image has spread widely since 2000, when St John Paul II canonised St Faustina and established Divine Mercy Sunday, to remind us to always trust in God’s merciful love.

In today’s Gospel, the disciples are hiding in the Upper Room, terrified of Jesus’ wrath. They know they were wrong to have abandoned Jesus when he most needed them during his Passion. But when Jesus arrives, he simply says, ‘Peace be with you.’ In fact, he says it twice.

There’s no anger or retribution. Only love, mercy and a blessing.

We shouldn’t be surprised, because Jesus is Divine Mercy itself.

Today, we are all called to focus on the incredible goodness of God, who is always loving us, always blessing us, and always inviting us into his heart.

When we firmly fix our eyes on Jesus, through God’s grace we are gradually transformed into the image and likeness of what we see.

We become living reflections of our loving God [vi]

[i] St Faustina Maria Kowalska, Diary of Divine Mercy, Marian Press, Stockbridge MA, 2007. n.47, 48.

[ii] Pope St John Paul II, Dives in Misericordia (Rich in Mercy), 1980, n.2.

[iii] Op cit. n.3.

[iv] St Faustina Maria Kowalska, Diary of Divine Mercy, Marian Press, Stockbridge MA, 2007. n.299.

[v] Vinny Flynn, 7 Secrets of Divine Mercy, Ignatius Press, Fort Collins, CO, 2015:65-89.

[vi] Op cit. p.209.

Year A – Easter Sunday

The Scent of Liberation

(Acts 10:34, 37-43; Col.3:1-4; Jn.20:1-9)

In Matthew’s Gospel, when Jesus meets Judas in the Garden of Gethsemane, he kisses him on the cheek and asks, ‘Friend, why are you here?’ (Mt.26:50)

Today, we might ask ourselves the same question: Friend, why are you here? What brings you here this Easter?

For most people, what brings us here is Jesus’ story. It’s the story that has intrigued and inspired countless millions over the millennia. It’s the story of love, both human and divine, and the victory of good over evil. And it’s the story of love’s triumph over sin and death, as Jesus clears our pathway to eternal life.

In one way or another, we’ve all struggled with life. We’ve all suffered pain, disappointment and death of some kind. And yet, the wonderful thing about Jesus is that by his Cross and resurrection he has conquered these things. He has broken their power over us. He has shown us that God is alive and well, and that he truly cares for us.

But if Jesus really has conquered sin and death, then why are so many people, including good Christians, still struggling with them?

Two theologians, C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) of Britain and Anders Nygren (1890-1978) of Sweden, asked themselves this same question many years ago. They both noticed important parallels between life in New Testament times and the situation of ordinary people during the Second World War. And it occurred to them that the victory Jesus won over sin through his death and resurrection is very much like a country being liberated from Nazi control.

In the 1940s, the Nazis were a foreign occupying power and a sinister and menacing presence in many countries. People feared them and suffered under them, and for years they could do nothing about them.

This is very much like people today living under the oppressive weight of sin and death.

But then comes the electrifying news: there has been a far-off battle, and somehow it has turned the tide of the war. A new phase has developed, and the occupying power is in disarray. Its backbone has been broken. In the course of time, the Nazis will be driven out of every corner of Europe. But in the meantime, they are still present in the occupied country.

In one sense, the situation has not changed, but in another, more important sense, the situation has changed totally. People can smell victory and liberation in the air, and this results in a huge psychological change.

The Nazis might still be around, and the people might still be suffering under their rule, but deep down the people are getting excited. They have a real sense that something good is on its way. They have hope.

A similar story is told of a man who had been held prisoner in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp in Singapore. In 1945, there was an astonishing change in the camp’s atmosphere when one of the prisoners (who owned a short-wave radio) heard about the collapse of the Japanese war effort.

Although everyone in the camp was still locked up, they knew that their enemy had been beaten. It would only be a matter of time before they were released. And those prisoners began to laugh and cry, as if they were already free.

The Second World War ended in Europe about a year after bridgeheads were established in Normandy in June 1944. But in those final twelve months, the course of the war had changed and so had the hearts and minds of the captive people.

And so it is with us today. In one sense, victory has not yet come; but in another sense, it already has.

Because of Jesus, sin and death no longer have the final word. They no longer have power over our eternal souls. However, this doesn’t mean that they have disappeared, because for now death is still a natural part of life, and there’s still so much sin around.

But remember this: Jesus’ resurrection points to God’s total victory over all evil, sin and death. Their backbone has been broken; they’re on the run, and that means we can now live in the light of the coming victory.

We know that the long night of their oppression will one day end. [i] It’s only a matter of time.

So, let’s give thanks and celebrate!

Christ is risen!


[i] Alister E McGrath, In the Light of Victory, in Arnold, Augustine et al, Bread and Wine, Plough Publishing House, NY, 2003, 271-275.

Year A – Palm Sunday

The Ragman

[Is.50:4-7; Phil.2:6-11; Mt.27:11-54]

As we enter Holy Week, we are all invited to witness the most remarkable events that have ever occurred in history. Today, let’s prepare ourselves by reflecting quietly on Walter Wangerin Jr’s famous story of The Ragman. [i]

What does it say to you?


Early one Friday morning I noticed a young man, handsome and strong, walking through the back streets of the city, pulling an old cart filled with bright, new clothes. He called out, ‘Rags! Rags! New rags for old! I take your tired rags!’

The air was foul in these dark streets, but as he called out, the air seemed to become cleaner. ‘Rags! New rags for old! I take your tired rags!’

He was tall and muscular, with intelligent eyes. I wondered what he was doing and I followed him. There was a woman sitting outside her house, crying into a handkerchief. She was miserable, heartbroken. Her body may have been alive, but her soul wanted to die.

The Ragman stopped his cart. Quietly he walked over to her, stepping around tin cans and old rubbish. ‘Give me your rag,’ he said gently, ‘and I’ll give you another’. The woman saw his compassionate eyes and stopped crying. The Ragman took her handkerchief and replaced it with a clean new cloth. As she looked at it, the Ragman slowly kissed her forehead and returned to his cart.

As he pulled his cart again, the Ragman did something strange: he put her old handkerchief to his face and he began to weep, just as she did. But she’d stopped crying and now she had a look of wonder on her face. ‘That’s amazing’, I thought.

‘Rags! Rags! New rags for old!’ said the Ragman, weeping.

A girl was sitting on the kerbside, her head wrapped in a bandage. She was bleeding. The weeping Ragman stopped and took a beautiful yellow hat from his cart. ‘Give me your rag,’ he said softly. He took her bandage and put it on himself. The girl’s head healed, while the Ragman’s head started to bleed. He put the hat on the girl’s head, and returned to his cart.

‘Rags! I take old rags!’ cried the sobbing, bleeding Ragman. ‘New rags for old!’ He was moving faster now. He stopped in front of a man leaning against a telephone pole. ‘Are you going to work?’ he asked.  

The man shook his head. The Ragman asked, ‘Do you have a job?’

‘Are you crazy?’ he replied, and he showed the Ragman his missing right arm.

‘Give me your jacket,’ said the Ragman, ‘and I’ll give you mine.’ The one-armed man took off his jacket, and so did the Ragman. When the other man put on the Ragman’s jacket he had two good arms, but the Ragman only had one. ‘Go to work’ said the Ragman, and he returned to his cart.

Then he saw an old drunk lying sick and unconscious under a blanket. He took the blanket and wrapped it around himself, and left new clothes for the drunk.

Now I had to run to keep up with the Ragman. He was weeping and bleeding and he struggled to pull his cart with one arm. He was old and sick, drunk and stumbling, and yet he moved quickly through the streets.

It hurt to see his sorrow, and yet I needed to see where he was going. The old Ragman finally came to a garbage dump. He climbed to the top of a small hill made from the rubbish of a thousand lives, and he cleared a little space.

With a deep sigh, he made a bed from the contents of his cart and he lay down on it, pillowing his head on a handkerchief and a jacket, covering his old bones with a blanket. His eyes wept; his bandage bled. And then he died.

Oh, how I cried to witness that death! I sat down in an old, abandoned car, mourning and weeping because I’d come to love that Ragman. I’d watched him work wonders and change lives so profoundly that it didn’t seem fair that he was gone.

I fell asleep, and I slept all through Friday night and all through Saturday. On Sunday morning, I was awakened by a blinding light. As I blinked and opened my eyes, I saw the greatest wonder of all.

There was the Ragman, carefully folding the blanket. He had a scar on his forehead, but he was healthy, with no sign of sorrow or old age, and all his rags shined bright and clean.

I got out of the car, trembling from what I’d seen. With my head down, I walked up to him and told him my name with shame. I said, ‘Please take my tired old rags and make me new again.’

And he did. He took the tired old rags of my existence and he replaced them with the new clothes of a life spent following Him.

The Ragman.

The Christ.

[i] Walter Wangerin, The Ragman, in Ragman and Other Cries of Faith. Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 2004 (abridged).