Year B – 2nd Sunday of Lent

On Heaven’s Edge

[Gen.22:1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18; Rom.8:31b-34; Mk.9:2-10]

‘Stop the car!’ my wife said, as we drove through the red desert of outback NSW. She got out and mysteriously vanished down a track.

I was quite bewildered then, but I understand now. She had been drawn towards a sacred space where she had an intense spiritual experience. She had found a ‘thin place’, a holy moment where the gap between heaven and earth is so thin that she briefly experienced God’s awesome presence.

This idea of ‘thin places’ comes from the ancient Celtic Christians. They had a saying that heaven and earth are only three feet apart, but in thin places that gap is much narrower. In Gaelic, they call it caol áit (‘kweel awtch’). [i]

The poet Sharlande Sledge describes it this way:
‘Thin places,’ the Celts call this space,
Both seen and unseen,
Where the door between the world
And the next is cracked open for a moment
And the light is not all on the other side.
God shaped space. Holy. [ii]

A ‘thin place’ is a time, place or event where the veil separating heaven and earth is lifted, and just for a moment a person gets a taste of God himself.

The author Mary DeMuth describes thin places as ‘snatches of holy ground, tucked into the corners of our world, where we might just catch a glimpse of eternity. They are aha moments, beautiful realizations, when the Son of God bursts through the hazy fog of our monotony and shines on us afresh…’ [iii]

My mother experienced this once, in her lounge room. For only an instant, she said, an invisible veil lifted in front of her and she found herself surrounded by hundreds of shimmering, fluttering angels. It was a moment of mystical wonder at heaven’s edge, and it filled her with immense joy. But it didn’t last.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus goes with three disciples to pray on Mount Tabor. This must have been a ‘thin place’, because Peter, James and John briefly witness Jesus talking with Moses and the prophet Elijah. They’re dazzled as the light of God’s glory shines through Jesus’ face, and his clothes are as bright as the sun. For only a moment they see Jesus as he truly is: The Son of God. 

Peter wants this moment to last forever, and suggests that they stay. But such mystical moments aren’t meant to last. Their purpose is to give us a taste of God’s awesome reality and to encourage us in our journey towards heaven.

So, Jesus and his disciples leave the mountain.

But where might we find these ‘thin places’ today? They can be anywhere. For some people, they’re in sacred places like St Peter’s in Rome, or in Bethlehem, Lourdes or Fatima. However, you really don’t have to travel far to find them.

They can also be on a beach or in a park close to home. And our experiences can be thin places, too, wherever we are. Listening to inspiring music or seeing a remarkable painting can transport us to heaven’s edge. So can sickness, grief and suffering.

I once experienced one of these mystical moments after Mass in our Cathedral, and the feeling was almost electric. But if you think about it, this shouldn’t be so surprising because everything about the Church and the Christian life aims to help us find thin places.

Consider the silence, the prayers, the music, the art, the Holy Eucharist, and of course, the Bible itself. All these things are thin places, inviting us to encounter the awesome mystery of God.

Indeed, the sacraments are thin places. Many people sense that something very special happens at baptisms, weddings and at Mass, for example, but they can’t quite explain it. That’s because God is always present at these times.

No-one can control when or where they experience such mystical encounters; they are always a gift from God. It’s God who decides how he reveals himself to us.

But we can make ourselves more open to them. We can do this by creating more space for peace, quiet and reflection in our lives; by slowing down our lives, and taking more time to pray; and most especially, by opening our hearts to Jesus, because that’s the one place where God most wants to be.

Mahatma Gandhi once said, ‘There’s an indefinable, mysterious power that pervades everything. I feel it, though I don’t see it. It’s this unseen power that makes itself felt and yet defies all proof, because it’s so unlike all that I perceive through my senses. It transcends the senses.’

Lent is the ideal time for us to think about thin places.

Let’s prepare our hearts and minds for a mystical visit from God.


[i] https://tadhgtalks.me/2020/06/17/experiencing-thin-places-as-the-ancients-did/

[ii] http://www.explorefaith.org/mystery/mysteryThinPlaces.html

[iii] Mary E DeMuth, Thin Places: A Memoir. Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI. 2010.

Year B – 1st Sunday of Lent

On Our Shadow Side

[Lev.13:1-2, 44-46; 1Cor.10:31-11:1; Mk.1:40-45]

‘Man is not truly one, but truly two,’ Dr Jekyll says in The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1868).

Dr Henry Jekyll is the kind and respected scientist who conducts experiments on his shadow side. He tries to control his dark self, ‘Mr Hyde’, but he fails because he underestimates the power of evil. He wreaks havoc on London and in the end, he’s destroyed. [i]

In writing this book, Robert Louis Stevenson understands what psychologists recognise today: that everyone has a shadow side, a dark alter ego they prefer to hide from public view.

We all have personality traits we’d rather not admit to, like our weaknesses, temptations and sins. We tend to hide such things because we perceive them to be bad and we’d rather be seen as good people.

Carl Jung, the Swiss psychoanalyst, was a pioneer in this field. He said that everyone carries a shadow, and the less it’s embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. And if we don’t control this side of ourselves, it will unconsciously influence our thoughts, feelings and actions. [ii]

But how can we control our shadow? It’s by bringing these dark urges out into the light. By acknowledging them and dealing with them honestly (Lk.21:8, 28).

If we don’t do this, we risk our shadow taking control, forcing us into self-destructive behaviours, like Mr Hyde. Perhaps it’s stealing, gambling, drinking, drug-taking, pornography or violent anger. Maybe it’s greed or laziness or resentment. But we know these things are wrong, and we can end up fighting ourselves.

Who wins, though? Is it our conscious personality or our shadow?

Today is the First Sunday of Lent, and every Lent we are given forty days to prepare our hearts and minds for the extraordinary joy of Easter. [iii]

Every year, too, on this day our Gospel reading is about temptation. This year, Mark’s Gospel tells us about Jesus going into the desert for forty days to face his temptations. There, in the bright sunlight, Satan tries to draw Jesus into the dark side (Mt.4:1-11; Lk.4:1-13). However, Jesus holds firm. Helped by the angels, he survives the desert and goes on to preach the good news of God’s kingdom.

But here’s the point: it’s only after facing and rejecting these temptations that Jesus can begin his divine mission.

It’s the same with us. If we are to live our very best lives, we, too, must learn to control these temptations.

That’s why every Lent we are encouraged to follow Jesus into the desert. Not a physical desert, but a spiritual one, a quiet place where we can be alone with Jesus in our hearts. The beauty of the desert is that it’s a place of silence and solitude, where everything slows down, where there are few distractions and where the truth is plain to see.

There in the desert, we’re invited to look honestly at ourselves, to see what needs to change. This is what repentance is all about. It means changing the way we think, feel and do things. It means filling our hearts and minds with the light of Christ, and no longer living in the dark.

To help us achieve this, the Church encourages us to fast, give alms and pray. Each of these actions is a healthy response to our shadow self.

Fasting is giving up something we tend to overdo. It’s bringing some moderation into our lives. It means giving up something that’s clearly not of God, but that too often takes his place in our lives. By cutting back we can redirect our time and energy into something much more positive.

Almsgiving is the way we respond to our self-centeredness.  It means focusing on the needs of others, rather than our own selfish desires. It means admitting that life isn’t all about me, and that other people are actually more important.

And finally, Prayer is acknowledging that God is the centre of everything. It’s recognising that the only way to achieve anything in life is with his help (Jn.15:4-5). Genuine prayer unites us to God, and it opens up our hearts, minds and lives to the amazing power of the Holy Spirit.

In his book Yes…And, the Franciscan theologian Richard Rohr says that most people focus on denying their shadow self – to keep feeling good about themselves – and their ego then enjoys a perpetual holiday.

‘It’s a massive misplacement of spiritual attention,’ he says. ‘You can (have) a totally inflated ego, while all your energy goes into denying and covering up your shadow – which then gets projected everywhere else. What you don’t transform, you will transmit.’ [iv]

All this represents unfinished business for so many of us.

This Lent, get serious. Ask Jesus to help you tackle your shadow self.


[i] R L Stevenson, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. https://www.gutenberg.org/files/43/43-h/43-h.htm

[ii] https://academyofideas.com/2015/12/carl-jung-and-the-shadow-the-hidden-power-of-our-dark-side/

[iii] Lent is 46 days if we include the Sundays.

[iv] Richard Rohr, Yes…And. Franciscan Media, Cincinatti OH. 2013:255.

Year B – 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time

On Our Healing Hands

[Lev.13:1-2, 44-46; 1Cor.10:31-11:1; Mk.1:40-45]

How did Helen Keller (1880-1938) learn to speak, read and write, when she was blind and deaf? How did she become a famous lecturer, author and campaigner for people with disabilities when she could neither see nor hear?

It was through the loving hands of her teacher, Anne Sullivan. Anne began teaching Helen by ‘fingerspelling’: tracing words such as ‘d-o-l-l’ onto the palm of her hand, when she was seven.

At first Helen couldn’t connect the letters she felt with the objects she held. Then one day Anne put Helen’s hand under running water. On the palm of her other hand, she spelt ‘w-a-t-e-r’ and Helen understood immediately. Excitedly, she then touched the earth and wanted to know its letter name, too. By nightfall she had learned 30 words. [i]

Our hands, and our sense of touch, play an important part in our lives. Scientists tell us that touch is the first sense we develop in the womb, and that social touching is critical to every child’s development. As well, they say that our fingers are more sensitive than our eyes, and touching often communicates emotions more effectively than voice or facial expressions. [ii]

As the American doctor and poet Spencer Michael Free (1856-1938) wrote:

‘Tis the human touch in this world that counts.
The touch of your hand and mine
Mean far more to the fainting heart,
Than shelter or bread or wine.
For shelter is gone when the night is o’er,
And bread lasts only a day,
But the touch of a hand and the sound of a voice
Sing on in the soul always. [iii]

Jesus understood the power and importance of healing hands. He touched the eyes of the blind (Mk.7:32-35), the ears of the deaf (Mk.7:31-37), and the hand of a young girl who had died (Mt.9:25), and he healed them all.

He also touches a leper in Mark’s Gospel today.

In ancient Israel, anyone with leprosy or any other skin complaint was considered highly contagious and ritually unclean. They were banished by law from their family and community. But this leper is desperate. He risks being stoned to death for approaching Jesus. And Jesus breaks the law, too, by touching him.

‘Be cured!’ Jesus says, and the man is cured. He can now return to normal life. He’s so excited that he tells everyone.

But why does Jesus touch him? It’s because he needs more than a physical cure. He needs spiritual healing, too. He needs to feel whole again.

Have you ever noticed that every sacrament involves touching? In Baptism we trace the sign of the cross on the forehead. In Confirmation we do the same, but using the Oil of Chrism. In the Holy Eucharist we touch the body of Christ with our hands and our tongues. In Reconciliation, the priest places his hand on or close to the penitent’s head. In Matrimony, the couple hold hands during their vows and they exchange rings. In the Anointing of the Sick, the head and hands are anointed with oil. And in Holy Orders, the bishop places his hands on the ordinand’s head.

Love, and our Christian faith, are both communicated by touch. Our life of faith today has been literally handed on to us by successive generations over 2,000 years, all the way back to the sacred touch Jesus gave his apostles, and the mystical touch God gave Mary when she bore Jesus.

Every day St Teresa of Calcutta used her hands to express Jesus’ love for the sick and poor. She once said, ‘We have drugs for people with diseases such as leprosy. But these drugs don’t treat the main problem, the disease of being unwanted. That’s what my sisters hope to provide.’

‘An alcoholic in Australia told me,’ she said, ‘that when he is walking along the street, he hears the footsteps of everyone coming towards him or passing him becoming faster. The feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty of all.’

A loving touch, however, can change all that. In the Parable of the Prodigal Son, when the wayward son returns home, his father runs to him, throws his arms around him and kisses him (Lk.15:20). They both feel whole again.

In the 14th Century, St Catherine of Siena tried to help an unhappy woman who had leprosy. The woman abused her constantly, but by gently caring for her with her hands, St Catherine won her over and the woman died in her arms. [iv]

Today, Jesus has no hands but ours, and he wants us to use them to heal hurts and help change lives. We can do this in so many ways; perhaps by writing a nice note, or by simply giving a wave or a hug, or by offering someone a helping hand.

We all have healing hands. How might you use yours to help someone?


[i] https://www.afb.org/about-afb/history/helen-keller/biography-and-chronology/biography

[ii] https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/201303/the-power-touch  

[iii] https://allpoetry.com/poem/8579885-The-Human-Touch-by-Spencer-Michael-Free

[iv] http://catholicism.org/saint-catherine-of-siena.html   

Year B – 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time

On Digging for Gold

[Job 7:1-4, 6-7; 1Cor.9:16-19, 22-23; Mk.1:29-39]

What’s the best-selling book of all time? According to the Guinness Book of Records, it’s the Bible. So far, over 5 billion copies have been sold, and it’s been translated into 349 languages. [i]

As an old hymn says: God has given us a book full of stories, made for his people of old. / It begins with the tale of a garden, and ends with the city of gold. [ii]

But what’s the world’s dustiest book? It’s probably also the Bible, because few people today actually seem to read it. [iii]

When asked to explain why, some people say it’s because it’s out of date, or they’re too busy, or they simply don’t understand the Bible. And yet, lots of people today are searching for meaning and purpose in their lives. They’re looking for answers to the big questions of life.

It’s for this reason that Pope Francis has been encouraging us all to get to know the Holy Scriptures so much better. In 2019 he declared the 3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time each year to be the Sunday of the Word of God. In Australia, this day clashes with Australia Day, so it has been moved to the first Sunday in February. [iv]

Pope Francis said that the purpose of this celebration is to help us to ‘better appreciate the inexhaustible riches contained in that constant dialogue between the Lord and his people’. However, he said, it’s not to be seen as a yearly event, but a year-long event, for we urgently need to grow in our knowledge and love of the Scriptures and of the risen Lord himself. [v]

Now, some people are turned off by the size of the Bible. But remember that it’s not one single book; it’s actually a small library of books, and you don’t have to read them all. It includes all kinds of literature, from history, prophecy, poetry, law, wisdom, letters and parables, to the greatest stories of all time. It has inspired saints; it has led to miracles and it has given hope and meaning to countless people across the world.

Some people have also found the language in the Bible difficult to follow, but this was never meant to be. These books were written over a period of about 1,000 years by simple people, like fishermen, tentmakers and shepherds, who wanted to record their personal experience of God’s active involvement in the world. They never intended their language to be mysterious, but cultures do change over time.

Thankfully, there are now many different translations, dictionaries, commentaries and maps available to help us understand what it’s all about.

But Richard Rohr, the Franciscan theologian, gives us a warning.

He says that for all its inspiration, all its marvellous one-liners, and all the lives it has changed, there’s still a problem with the Bible, and that’s because some people misuse it. History shows us that some people have used Scripture to justify things like genocide, slavery and the burning of heretics.

Rohr says that when we put the Bible in the hands of egocentric, unloving or power-hungry people, or those who’ve never learned how to read spiritually inspired literature, it’s almost always a disaster. Only converted people can be trusted with spiritual writings, he says. [vi]

So, to properly understand the Bible, it’s important that we read it with the mind of Christ (Rom.12:2; 1Cor.2:16). We need to use Scripture in the same way that Jesus did, by approaching it prayerfully and seeing everything through his lens of mercy, justice, love and forgiveness.

The Bible was never meant to hurt or harm. It was never meant to help one group exercise power over another. The Scriptures were meant to be refreshing and life-giving, to encourage wholeness and love, and to bring us all closer to God and each other.

With that in mind, let’s close with a story.

The Beta Hunt gold mine in Kambalda, Western Australia, has been working for almost 50 years. After all this time, many thought that it must be nearing the end of its useful life.

But in recent years, miners there have discovered two of the biggest gold specimens in recorded history. One rock contained 65 kg of gold, and another had 60 kg of gold. The combined value was nearly $7 million. [vii]

Despite its age, that mine clearly has plenty of life left in it.

This is just like the word of God. People have been mining it for centuries, but it still hasn’t given up all its treasures.

So, today, let’s all do the same. Let’s dust off our Bibles and start digging for some real spiritual gold.


[i] https://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/best-selling-book-of-non-fiction

[ii] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aiU4FtPJLvw

[iii] https://www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/frequency-of-reading-scripture/#religious-tradition

[iv] https://mediablog.catholic.org.au/sunday-of-the-word-of-god-set-for-february/

[v] http://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/motu_proprio/documents/papa-francesco-motu-proprio-20190930_aperuit-illis.html

[vi] Richard Rohr, What Do We Do with the Bible? CAC, Albuquerque, NM. 2018.

[vii] https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-09-10/rich-gold-seam-half-a-kilometre-deep-in-kambalda/10219576

Year B – 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time

On Breaking the Chains

[Deut.18:15-20; 1Cor.7:32-35; Mk.1:21-28]

Today in Mark’s gospel, Jesus begins his public life in Capernaum by preaching in the synagogue, and it’s clear that he’s engaged in a war against the cosmic forces of evil.

While Jesus is preaching, a man possessed by an ‘unclean spirit’, a demon, calls out, ‘What do you want with us Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come here to destroy us?’ Jesus commands the demon to leave that man’s body. The demon obeys, and the poor distressed man finally gets his life back.

Some people are fascinated by the demonic. C.S. Lewis once wrote that some people make two mistakes when it comes to demons:  they either ignore them, thinking they don’t exist, or they give them too much attention. [i]

What Lewis means is that denying the existence of demons is unwise. It’s like pretending that terrorists don’t exist, and that means you won’t be alert when you need to be.  

But he’s also saying that giving them too much attention is also unwise, because it can distract you from healthier and more important things in life.

Whatever the source, though, there are dark forces lurking about in our lives.  There are forces of evil both inside and outside us that can control our life. They can make us sick and miserable and sometimes they make us behave badly.  We see this in people trapped by things like crime, addictions, guilt, toxic relationships and fear.

Some people think they can fix such situations by themselves. They believe they have the capacity to think themselves into psychological and spiritual freedom. But very often that’s impossible.

Consider, for example, the story of Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), the Austrian psychoanalyst who researched the subconscious mind.  He tried to develop a method to free people from the dark urges and desires that control their conscious lives. 

Freud believed that we can all think ourselves into good health.  But despite all his knowledge and research, he couldn’t stop himself from smoking cigars and he died of mouth cancer. He simply didn’t have the power to control himself.

That’s so often the case.  Many people want to change their lives; they want to break free from something, and they even know what they need to do. But all too often they’re powerless to do so.  That’s where we need the grace of God (Eph.6:10-18).

The Bible is full of people who found themselves in situations they couldn’t control. Moses, Paul, the Woman at the Well, Bartimaeus, Zacchaeus the tax collector and the Ten Lepers were all trapped by something awful and they needed God’s help to escape.

The Apostle Peter was in an impossible situation when Herod locked him up in Jerusalem. He was chained by the wrist to two guards, he had another two guards at his cell door, and he was destined for trial and execution. But one night as he slept, an angel silently arrived, removed his chains and quietly led him through unlocked gates out into the street (Acts 12:1-17). God had set Peter free to begin again.

In the 1700’s, the life of the slave trader John Newton was a complete mess.  One day as he sailed through a violent storm, he was sure he was going to die.  He cried out, ‘Lord have mercy on us!’ and at that point his life changed.  The storm abated, he went on to become a priest and he encouraged William Wilberforce to campaign against slavery. 

Newton wrote the hymn Amazing Grace.  In the third stanza, he says:

Through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come; / ‘Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far, and Grace will lead me home. [ii]

That’s what we need to remember.  We all face dangers, toils and snares in our lives, and too often we’re powerless to overcome them.  It’s grace that has brought us safe this far, and it’s grace that will lead us home.

In one of her Letters, St. Catherine of Siena wrote: ‘It’s necessary that we see and know, in truth, with the light of faith, that God is supreme and eternal Love, and he wants nothing else but our well-being’.[iii]

That’s what Mark is saying in today’s Gospel. He’s telling us that Jesus’ mission is to free people like us from enslavement to sin and evil, in whatever form it might take.  He wants us to live life to the full (Jn.10:10).   

The truth is that none of us has the power to control our own lives. We all need God’s grace to lead us safely home (Heb.4:16).

So, if you want to break the chains that bind you, admit your weakness and ask Jesus for his help.


[i] Lewis, C.S. The Screwtape Letters. Harper Collins, London. 1996:ix

[ii] http://www.constitution.org/col/amazing_grace.htm

[iii] St Catherine of Siena. The Letters, Vol. 3, Bologna 1999:206 Ep. 13

Year B – 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

On Holy Interruptions

[Jon.3:1-5, 10; 1Cor.7:29-31; Mk.1:14-20]

Some people simply hate interruptions. In the movie Darkest Hour (2017), there’s a scene where Winston Churchill shouts at someone: ‘Will you stop interrupting me while I’m interrupting you!’ [i]

We all get interrupted. The phone rings, a child cries or someone calls out our name, and we’re obliged to stop what we’re doing. It can be frustrating.

One day in 1797, the English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge fell asleep and dreamt of a new poem, including all the verses. When he woke up, he started writing it down quickly, but there was a knock on the door. An hour later, he returned to his poem, but only vaguely remembered the lines. He did his best, though, [ii] and the result was the poem Kubla Khan. [iii]

The spiritual writer Melannie Svoboda suggests three reasons why we don’t like such intrusions. Firstly, they force us to change what we’re doing, and some people don’t like change. Secondly, they infringe upon our sense of freedom and control, and we don’t like being reminded of what little control we have in our lives. And thirdly, they involve some form of sacrifice, and self-sacrifice isn’t always easy to do. [iv]

But interruptions can also be good things. They can help us become more patient, they teach us to let go, they remind us that life isn’t only about ‘me’, and they can be pleasant when we like the interrupter.

There are many interruptions in Scripture. During the Wedding at Cana, for instance, Mary asks Jesus to get more wine (Jn.2:1-12). And while Jesus is teaching in Capernaum, a sick man is brought in through the roof for healing (Mk.2:1-12).

But Jesus never considers anyone an annoyance or an intrusion. Every encounter with every person is always important to him.

And sometimes Jesus interrupts others. In today’s gospel, he approaches four fishermen while they’re working. This turns out to be a major interruption for them, because they suddenly leave everything behind to follow Jesus. And not only are their lives changed, but as we know, the whole world is changed, too.

These stories remind us that every now and then, when we least expect it, God interrupts what we’re doing. He might put an idea in our head, or he might speak through someone, or something really inconvenient might happen to us.

But the point is that God loves us, and he’s more involved in our lives than we might think. He’s constantly trying to change us and shape us (Jer.29:11; Prov.19:21), and he’s trying to use us to channel his grace into the world (Jer.29:11; Jn.15:5).

The German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer says that we must allow ourselves to be interrupted by God, for he’ll be constantly crossing our paths and cancelling our plans by sending us people who claim our attention. However, we may pass them by, preoccupied with our more important tasks, he says, for it’s a strange fact that Christians often consider their work so important and urgent that they’ll allow nothing to disturb them. They think they’re doing God a service, but actually they’re avoiding God’s ‘crooked yet straight path’. [v]

Henri Nouwen used to complain that his work was constantly being interrupted, until he realised that the interruptions were his work. He said that the unpleasant things, the hard moments and the unexpected setbacks carry more potential than we usually realise. [vi]

So, let’s close with a story.  An elderly monk once lived a solitary life in the hills of Italy. He never left his monastery, and he prayed every day that someday he might see the face of God.

One day, his superior asked him to go into the village for supplies. He resisted, saying that he’d never left the monastery. Yet he went, though he was determined to only get the supplies on the list and then return to seek the face of God.

As he approached the village gates, a blind man said: ‘Pardon the interruption, but can you help me?’

‘Oh no,’ said the monk, ‘ask another’. He then went on his way, purchasing the first item on his list when a hungry boy said: ‘Pardon the interruption, but can you help me?’

‘Oh no,’ said the monk, ‘ask another’.

As he came to the last item on his list, an elderly woman in obvious disarray said: ‘Pardon the interruption, but can you help me?’

‘Oh no,’ said the monk, ‘ask another’. He returned to the monastery and said to his superior: ‘I got the supplies, but I never want to go into the village again.’

‘Why?’ asked the superior.

“Well, every time I tried to do something someone said: ‘Pardon the interruption, but can you help me?’ I’ll never see the face of God that way.” [vii]


[i] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=da_rGzwkls8

[ii] https://adlapidemessays.com/the-man-from-porlock/

[iii] https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/43991/kubla-khan

[iv] https://www.melanniesvobodasnd.org/interruptions-can-be-blessings-in-disguise/

[v] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together. HarperOne, NY, 1954:99. https://static1.squarespace.com/static/518c65fee4b0887d9a39138d/t/5827e7aab3db2b0f3d311bf5/1479010229503/Life+Together_Eng.pdf

[vi] Henri Nouwen, Turn My Mourning into Dancing. Thomas Nelson, Nashville. 2001:11

[vii] Frank Freitas, Are We There Yet? Catholic Register Books, Toronto. https://www.catholicregister.org/arewethereyet (Abridged).

Year B – 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

On Discerning God’s Quiet Voice

[Sam.3:3-10, 19; 1Cor.6:13-15, 17-20; Jn.1:35-42]

One day in Milan, St Augustine heard a child sing: ‘Take it and read. Take it and read’. He wondered, was this God talking to me? He opened a Bible and his eyes fell upon these words: ‘…put on the Lord Jesus Christ… spend no more thought on nature’s appetites’ (Rom.13:13-14). In an instant, his heart flooded with light; it was a message from God. His life changed and he went on to become a great theologian, bishop and writer. [i]

Last week I explained how God speaks to us in different ways, including through Scripture, art, music and nature. But how can we be sure it’s God’s voice we hear and not something else?

Here are some basic principles we should remember when we’re discerning God’s quiet voice in our lives.

Firstly, God is spirit, so he doesn’t have a voice like ours. However, he’s also omnipotent, which means he can communicate with us in many ways, including through images, ideas, events, other people and even through our own thoughts. We just need to keep our eyes, ears and hearts open for him.

Secondly, God is always speaking to us. He’s always expressing his love for us, encouraging us and inviting us to come closer to him, for he is love itself (1Jn.4:8). So, any still and prayerful time we spend listening for his quiet voice has the potential to be fruitful.

Thirdly, the Letter to the Hebrews tells us that Jesus is the ‘exact representation of God’s nature’ (Heb.1:3). So, if we want to understand how God thinks and what he’s saying to us, then we need to get to know Jesus and his teachings (Jas.4:8). Indeed, the more time we spend with Jesus, the easier it will be to identify his voice (Mt.17:5; Jn.10:27).

Next, God is truth (Jn.1:14) and he’s always consistent (Lk.21:33). So, one good way to check if you’re hearing God’s voice is to see if the message you receive aligns with Scripture and the teachings of the Church. [ii] God will never say anything or ask us to do anything that contradicts his Word (1Jn.4:1).

And finally, St Ignatius of Loyola tells us that God’s voice can be identified by two signs: peace and joy, because God wants us to be happy (Jn.10:10). So, if a message makes you feel anxious, sad or angry, it’s not from God (1Cor.14:33). As St. Francis de Sales once said, ‘No thoughts which cause us disquiet and agitation come from God who is the Prince of Peace. They are, rather, temptations of the enemy, and therefore we must reject them and take no notice of them’.

All through Scripture God calls people to do special things, and every calling is different. Abraham was 75 years old (Gen.22:11-13), but Jeremiah wasn’t even born (Jer.1:5) when God called them. Isaiah was of noble birth (Is.6:8), but Amos was a poor shepherd (Am.7:15). And yet they all became great prophets.

In today’s first reading, Samuel is a boy, and he’s sleeping in the temple at Shiloh. Someone whispers ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ in his ear and he thinks it’s the old priest Eli, but it’s not. It’s God calling. Samuel starts listening and he grows up to become a priest, prophet and judge. 

And in today’s Gospel, John the Baptist points Jesus out to Andrew and his friend, saying ‘Behold the Lamb of God’. They follow Jesus and become his first disciples. But note that God doesn’t speak directly to Andrew. He uses John the Baptist to invite them to follow Jesus. 

God often does that. He often speaks to us through someone else. But are we listening?

Let’s close with this story from Max Lucado:

Once there was a man who dared God to speak. Burn the bush like you did for Moses, God. And I will follow you. Collapse the walls like you did for Joshua, God. And I will fight. Still the waves like you did on Galilee, God. And I will listen.

And the man sat by a bush, near a wall, close to the sea and waited for God to speak.

And God heard the man, so God answered. He sent fire, not for the bush, but for the church. He brought down a wall, not of brick, but of sin. He stilled the storm, not of the sea, but of the soul.

And God waited for the man to respond. And he waited…and waited.

But because the man was looking at bushes, not hearts; bricks, not lives, seas and not souls, he decided that God had done nothing.

Finally, he looked to God and asked, ‘Have you lost your power?’

And God looked at him and said, ‘Have you lost your hearing?’ [iii]


[i] St Augustine, Confessions. Penguin Books, London, 1961:177-178. http://faculty.gordon.edu/hu/bi/ted_hildebrandt/SpiritualFormation/Texts/Augustine_Confessions.pdf

[ii] St. Joan of Arc once said, ‘All I know about Christ and His Church is that they’re the same thing, and we shouldn’t complicate the matter’.

[iii] Max Lucado, A Gentle Thunder. W Publishing Group, Nashville, 1995. https://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0849911389/chrispsinspirati

Year B – Baptism of the Lord

On God’s Quiet Voice

[Is.55:1-11; 1Jn.5:1-9; Mk.1:7-11]

Today we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus. This event marks a turning point in Jesus’ story: the end of his hidden life, and the start of his public ministry.

How do we know it’s significant? It’s because of what happens when Jesus emerges from the water: the heavens open, the Holy Spirit descends on him like a dove, and he hears a voice: ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.’

In the Jewish tradition, this heavenly voice is known as the bat kol, which literally means ‘the daughter of a sound’, or ‘the echo of a voice’. In Latin, it’s the ‘vox dei’, the divine voice that proclaims God’s will or judgement.

This bat kol is often heard in the Scriptures (Heb.1:1). It’s heard at Jesus’ Transfiguration (Mt.17:5), and just before Jesus enters into his passion (Jn.12:28). Paul hears it on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:4; 22:7, 9; 26:14). Peter hears it in Joppa (Acts 10:13, 15).

And Elijah hears it in his cave on Mt Horeb, where he faces a strong wind, an earthquake and a fire. But God’s voice isn’t in the wind, the earthquake or the fire. It’s only later, when everything is quiet, that Elijah hears God’s ‘still, small voice’ (1Kgs.19:11-13).

The Hebrew for the voice Elijah hears literally translates into English as a ‘sound of thinnest silence’. So, the ‘daughter of a sound’, the ‘sound of thinnest silence’, and a ‘still, small voice’ are all ways to express something that’s beyond the boundaries of ordinary speech. [i]

Today, God still speaks to us, and not just in the Bible. He speaks to us through his creation (Ps.19:1). He speaks through art, music, the events of our lives and through the wisdom of our family and friends (1 Cor. 12:8-10). He speaks to us whenever we pray or meditate (Prov.8:34), and sometimes he speaks to us through our dreams (Mt.1:20; Acts 2:17).

Some people therefore hear God’s voice not with their ear, but with their heart. It comes to them from deep within. Like an echo, it calls them, urges them and encourages them. But like a whisper, it can be hard to hear.

Richard Rohr writes that in their path to wholeness, both the Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung and the Jewish Auschwitz victim Etty Hillesum learned to trust in and listen to the voice of God in their deepest selves.

Many people, however, are reluctant to do this. They aren’t willing to submit to such ‘indirect, subversive, and intuitive knowing’.

Rohr says such people prefer external law and behaviour to achieve their spiritual purposes, because it feels more ‘objective and solid’. To them, intuitive truth feels too much like our own thoughts and feelings, and they’re not willing to call this ‘God’, even when that voice prompts them towards compassion instead of hatred, forgiveness instead of resentment, generosity instead of stinginess and bigness instead of pettiness. [ii]

‘But think about it,’ Rohr says. ‘If the incarnation is true, then of course God speaks to us through our own thoughts! When accusers called Joan of Arc the victim of her own imagination, she replied: “How else would God speak to me?”’

Rohr says this inner voice is experienced in our deepest and usually hidden selves, where most of us do not go. It speaks at a level ‘beneath’ our rational consciousness; in a place where only the humble – or the trained – know how to go.

He quotes Carl Jung, who late in his life wrote, ‘In my case, Pilgrim’s Progress consisted in my having to climb down a thousand ladders until I could reach out my hand to the little clod of earth that I am’. Jung knew that any authentic God experience takes a lot of humble, honest and patient seeking.

This is where embracing the Christ Mystery becomes utterly practical, Rohr says. Without the mediation of Christ, we’re tempted to exaggerate the distance and distinction between God and humanity. But because of the incarnation, the supernatural is forever embedded in the natural, making the very distinction false. ‘How good is that?’ he asks.

That’s why mystics like Hillesum, Jung, Augustine, Teresa of Ávila, Merton and others link the discovery of their own souls with the discovery of God. It takes a long time to trust and allow such a process. But when it comes, Rohr says, it will feel like a calm and humble ability to quietly trust yourself and trust God at the same time. ‘Isn’t that what we all want?’ [iii]

Our challenge, then, is to develop our sacred listening skills; to learn how to hear, trust and respond to God’s quiet voice deep in our hearts.

When Jesus heard his Father’s voice at his Baptism, his life changed.

When we hear God’s voice, our life will change, too.


[i] Marcus J. Borg, Days of Awe and Wonder: How to Be a Christian in the 21st Century, Harper Collins, NY. 2017:228

[ii] Ron Rolheiser proposes 5 principles for discerning the true voice of God. See https://www.franciscanmedia.org/minute-meditations/hearing-the-voice-of-god

[iii] Richard Rohr, Daily Reflection, 27 May 2019. https://cac.org/god-speaks-2019-05-27/ Accessed 7/01/21.

Year B – The Epiphany of the Lord

On the Holy Name

[Is.60:1-6; Eph.3:2-3, 5-6; Mt.2:1-12]

Today we celebrate the Epiphany, the day when the Magi discovered the Christ-child in Bethlehem. This marks the end of our 12 days of Christmas with all its joy and celebration.

Many people simply love Christmas. But as the guests leave, the gifts are put away and life returns to normal, some people are left with a sense of emptiness and loss.

This reminds me of the young student who went to his rabbi with a problem. He said, ‘When I study, and when I join others to celebrate the great feasts of our faith, I feel surrounded by light. I feel joyful and alive. But when it’s all over, it all disappears. Everything inside me dies.’

The old rabbi thought for a while, and replied, ‘It’s exactly the same feeling a person gets when walking through the woods at night, when the breeze is cool, and the scent in the air is intoxicating. If another person joins that traveller with a lantern, they can walk safely and joyfully together. But if they come to a crossroads, and the one with a lantern departs, then the first must grope his way alone. That is, unless he carries a light within him.’ [i]

In other words, we all need a light for our journey.

The Magi had a star to guide them. But now that Christmas is over, what light can we follow?

In the Church’s liturgical calendar, today is not only the Epiphany; it’s also the Feast of the Holy Name. [ii] This is a happy conjunction of events, because the holy name of Jesus is itself a bright star for us us to safely follow.

Jesus’ holy name came not from Mary or Joseph, but from God himself (Lk.1:31; Mt.1:21), and he received it in the Temple, eight days after his birth.

In the Old Testament, there’s an intimate connection between God’s name and his power. In the New Testament, Jesus’ name is mentioned 999 times, [iii] and it’s often invoked in miracles like the healing of the sick. Indeed, Jesus emphasises the power of his name when he says, ‘If you ask the Father anything in my name, he will give it to you’ (Jn.16:23).

It’s not surprising, then, that Paul says, ‘At the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth, and under the earth…’ (Phil.2:10).

St Bernardine of Siena (1380-1444) was a Franciscan missionary in Italy. He dearly loved Jesus’ holy name. He often preached about it and carried a banner displaying a monogram of Jesus’ name, surrounded by sunrays.

Today, this image is known as a Christogram, and it bears the letters ‘IHS’, representing the first three letters of the Greek name of Jesus: iota-eta-sigma (ΙΗΣ). [iv]

‘IHS’ is sometimes said to mean Iesus Hominum Salvator (‘Jesus, Saviour of men’, in Latin) or In Hoc Signo, which is short for ‘In hoc signo vinces’, meaning ‘in this sign you will conquer’.

St Bernardine used to hold this sign up high whenever he blessed the sick, and many miracles were performed in Jesus’ name. He also said that we should always have this sign on our doors to remind us of God’s many blessings. [v]

In one of his homilies, St Bernardine said that the sweet name of Jesus gives us holy thoughts, it fills the soul with noble sentiments, it strengthens virtue, it leads to good works, and it nourishes pure affections. He also said that all spiritual food leaves the soul dry if it doesn’t contain the penetrating oil of Jesus’ name.

When you take your pen, he said, write the name Jesus. If you write books, include Jesus’ name in them … (because) Jesus is honey in our mouth, a light in our eyes, a flame in our heart … and the cure for all diseases of the soul.

The English hymnist Charles Wesley also recognised the mystical power of Jesus’ holy name. In one of his many hymns, he wrote:

Jesus! the name that charms our fears,
  That bids our sorrows cease;
’Tis music in the sinner’s ears,
  ’Tis life, and health, and peace. [vi]

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Jesus is the one name that contains everything, including God and man and the whole economy of creation and salvation. To pray ‘Jesus’, it adds, is to invoke him and to call him within us, for Jesus’ name is the only name that contains the presence it signifies. [vii]

And it’s a name that means ‘God saves’ (Mt.1:21). [viii]

So, as we start afresh in 2021, remember that everyone needs a guiding star.

Remember the holy name of Jesus, for he’s the light of the world shining in the darkness.

And always keep his sweet name deep in your heart and soft on your lips.


[i] Flor McCarthy, New Sunday and Holy Day Liturgies, Year B. Dominican Publications, Dublin. 2017:53.

[ii] The Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus was established by the Franciscans in 1530, and extended to the Universal Church in 1721.

[iii] Holy Bible, New Revised Standard Version. https://www.christianbiblereference.org/faq_WordCount.htm

[iv] https://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=6318

[v] https://sacredheartfla.org/seasonal/feast-days-solemnities/the-feast-of-the-holy-name-of-jesus/

[vi] https://www.hymnal.net/en/hymn/h/163

[vii] C.C.C. # 2666

[viii] Many people think the name ‘Christ’ is Jesus’ surname, but it’s not. It’s a title that comes from the Greek word ‘christos’. It means ‘messiah’ in Hebrew, and ‘the anointed one of God’ in English.

Year B – Holy Family Sunday

On God’s Shadow

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

Each year, on the Feast of the Holy Family, we are invited to reflect on the life of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.

In the Scriptures, and in the Church’s tradition, it’s Jesus, and to a lesser extent Mary, who get all the attention, while Joseph is always hidden in the background. Today, let’s consider St Joseph. What kind of man was he, and what can we learn from him?

We actually know very little about this man, although there are a few clues. Joseph isn’t quoted at all in Scripture, and he doesn’t appear in Mark’s Gospel. However, he is mentioned in Matthew and Luke, and John refers to him only briefly (Jn.6:41-51).

As a pious Jew, Joseph would have worked 6 days a week. He’s usually described as a carpenter, but in the Greek, Matthew calls him a tekton (Mt.13:55). A tekton works in physical construction and repair, so he’s more likely an artisan, stonemason or builder, working with whatever materials were available, including stone, wood, metal, cement and clay.

Joseph lived in Nazareth, about an hour’s walk from Sepphoris, the wealthy Jewish city that was King Herod’s capital in Galilee. He could well have worked there.[i]

And like most craftsmen in the area, Joseph probably learned some Greek and perhaps Latin to serve his customers. As a native of Nazareth, he spoke Aramaic and as a faithful Jew he would have known some Hebrew.

Matthew tells us that Joseph was a descendent of King David, so he had royal blood (Mt.1:1-16). However, he wasn’t rich, for we know that he could only afford a pair of turtledoves to offer as sacrifice in the Temple (Mt.2:24).          

Artists have often portrayed Joseph as an old man, but the mystic Maria Agreda says he was 33 when he was betrothed to Mary. In the culture of the time, bridal couples lived apart for the first twelve months after betrothal. It was during this time that Mary became pregnant by the Holy Spirit. [ii]

Joseph was distressed to learn of Mary’s pregnancy, and he planned to divorce her quietly to spare her any shame. But an angel appeared to him in a dream, saying ‘Joseph, son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home’ (Mt.1:18-25).

Joseph realized that these puzzling events were part of God’s plan, and although he really didn’t understand, he agreed to cooperate. Like Mary at the Annunciation, he trusted God and he allowed himself to be led.

It was quite an honour for Joseph to have been chosen to protect, provide for, and to raise the Son of God. It was also an honour to have been chosen as the husband of the Mother of God.

And he didn’t disappoint. He protected his family during Herod’s ‘Slaughter of the Innocents’. He provided for his family when they escaped to Egypt, and he escorted them back to Nazareth. All that took courage, because there were lions, leopards and bandits about in those days – as well as Herod’s henchmen.

Michael Casey, in his book Balaam’s Donkey, says that people typically get their image of God the Father from their childhood experiences of their own father. Casey suggests that Jesus must have drawn from his own everyday experiences of Joseph to describe his understanding of his divine Father. [iii]

In other words, there’s a great similarity between the loving hearts of Joseph and God the Father.

In his book, Behold the Man, Harold Burke-Sivers compares Joseph with Adam, the first man. Although both are silent, he says, the implications of their silence will have lasting effects on humanity.

In the Garden of Eden, Adam stood by and did nothing while Satan lured Eve away from God the Father, destroying her heart and unleashing sin into this world. Adam was a failure as a ‘husband’, and mankind has lived with the effects of Original Sin ever since.

Joseph, however, was different. He trusted God, and he valiantly served, protected and defended Mary and Jesus in his role as head of the Holy Family.[iv] He is the epitome of fatherhood, and the very model of the ideal husband.

150 years ago, in 1870, Pope Pius IX declared St Joseph the patron saint of the Universal Church. To mark this anniversary, Pope Francis has recently proclaimed 2021 the Year of St Joseph.

Pope Francis describes Joseph as a beloved, tender and loving father, an obedient and accepting father, and a working and courageous father. And he describes Joseph’s fatherhood of Jesus as the earthly shadow of our heavenly Father. [v]

In Hebrew, the name ‘Joseph’ means ‘he increases’. St Bernard of Clairvaux taught that Joseph was rightly named, because God ‘increased’ the gifts and graces in the world through St Joseph. [vi]

In the Year of St Joseph, may we, too, live like God’s earthly shadows.


[i] https://www.mikemasonbooks.com/sepphoris-chapter-10-of-jesus-his-story-in-stone/#:~:text=No%20doubt%20Joseph%20did%20have,of%20carpentry%20projects%2C%20including%20construction

[ii] http://www.saintsbooks.net/books/Ven.%20Mary%20of%20Agreda%20-%20The%20Admirable%20Life%20of%20the%20Glorious%20Patriarch%20Saint%20Joseph.pdf

[iii] Michael Casey, Balaam’s Donkey. Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN., 2019:240-241.

[iv] Harold Burke-Sivers, Behold the Man. Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 2015:162-164.

[v] https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2020-12/pope-francis-proclaims-year-of-st-joseph.html

[vi] St Bernard of Clairvaux, The Sermons of St Bernard, Hom. 2 Super Missus Est. https://archive.org/stream/sermonsofstberna00bernuoft/sermonsofstberna00bernuoft_djvu.txt