Year A – 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time

A Year Without Grumbling

(Is.55:6-9; Phil.1:20-24, 27; Mt.20:1-16)

When a big family finds itself squashing into a small house, you can expect lots of grumbling.

That’s what the Goyers found when they adopted seven children. They created a family of eleven people: two parents, eight children and one grandmother with dementia. As they gradually settled in together, there was lots of emotion and plenty of noise, mess, laundry – and grumbling.

Tricia Goyer, the mother, found all this grumbling hard to take, and one day she decided: let’s aim for a year without grumbling, and she wrote about it in her book, The Grumble-Free Year.

But what is grumbling? It’s an expression of disappointment or resentment. It’s a grumpy complaint that’s not targeted anywhere specific. It’s also an attitude that can sneak up on you, so that you might not even notice that you’ve become a grumbler.

Someone once joked that on the 7th day God rested, and on the 8th day he started taking complaints, and people have been grumbling ever since. Indeed, the Israelites soon complain after escaping from Egypt, and at one point God asks Moses, ‘How long will this wicked community grumble against me?’ (Num.14:26-29).

There’s grumbling in today’s Gospel, too, in Jesus’ Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard. At 6.00 am, a landowner engages some labourers to harvest his grapes, at the standard rate of one denarius a day.  Later that day he employs more workers, offering them all a fair wage.

Then at sunset he pays them, giving them all one denarius. It’s a good day’s wage, but some start grumbling. ‘That’s unfair,’ they say. ‘We’ve worked hard all day and they’ve done very little. Why are they treated the same?’ 

In this story, the landowner is God, the vineyard is his kingdom of love, and the message is that God is surprisingly generous. That’s what the thief on the Cross discovered; he got to enter paradise by coming to Jesus at the last possible moment in his life (Lk.23:43).

But the typical response of so many is to grumble; they think they’ve been short-changed. However, as Isaiah says in our first reading today, God’s ways aren’t our ways. God doesn’t think like we do.

In our society, we tend to take a transactional view of things: if I do this, then I expect to get that. We have lots of rules to reinforce this thinking, and we often expect even God to comply. But this is not God’s way.

Nor is grumbling the solution. Grumbling makes things unpleasant, and it separates us from God, for when we grumble, we are effectively saying that we deserve more than He is giving us. But God is always looking out for us. We might not know it at the time, but with hindsight we can often see what God has been doing in our lives.

St Therese of Lisieux understood this. ‘Everything is grace,’ she said. From the beginning of life to its end, all is grace. Indeed, everything we have is a gift from God – the sky, the moon and the air we breathe. Even our darkest moments are blessings in disguise.

Using Holy Communion as an example, St Therese said, ‘No doubt, it is a great grace to receive the sacraments. When God does not permit it, it is good too! For everything is grace!’

So, what happened to the Goyer family? Tricia Goyer said it wasn’t like pushing a magic button, but hearts and attitudes did change in their grumble-free year.

They began by learning what grumbling means and becoming aware of negativity within their family. They then identified their individual grumbling styles, and memorised some key Scripture verses about God’s blessings and human grumbling.

They also focussed on how to handle disappointment, and the importance of speaking with thankfulness and gratitude, even in difficult times. And they learned that when someone grumbled repeatedly about something, sometimes all it took was rolling up their sleeves and making a change of habit.

As well, they recognised that it’s not good to repress all grumbling, because good communication involves sharing what’s deep in our hearts. For grumbling is essentially a heart issue, and no-one can change everything on their own.

The Goyer family learnt that God provides where we cannot, and that His presence is strength where we are weak and undone. They also found that God loves us amid our mess, and He transforms it into beauty.

The lessons they learned about God, faith and attitude, Tricia said, were better than she could have ever imagined. [i]

So, why not aim for a year without grumbling at your place?

[i] Tricia Goyer, The Grumble-Free Year. Nelson Books, Nashville, 2019.

Year A – 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Agony and Ecstasy

(Ecc.27:30-28.7; Rom.14:7-9; Mt.18:21-35)

One of the biggest barriers to our peace and happiness is the guilt we sometimes suffer for our past sins.

In 1972, during the Vietnam War, John Plummer was a US Army commander. In June that year, he ordered the bombing of Trang Bang village, 25 km west of Saigon. To him, this was just another raid on faceless enemies, and he’d been assured twice that no civilians were there.

The strike went as planned, as bombers dropped napalm and explosives on that village. ‘I was pleased that everything worked,’ Plummer said.

But the next morning he was horrified. On the front page of his newspaper was a photo of nine-year-old Kim Phuc running naked from her village, screaming from the pain of napalm burns.[i] ‘It knocked me to my knees,’ Plummer said.

That image haunted him for years; he could not get it out of his head. He was so wracked with guilt that it gave him endless nightmares. He could not even talk about it.

He started drinking, he left his faith and had two failed marriages. Years later he had another conversion experience, but he still couldn’t forgive himself.

Meanwhile, Kim Phuc had 17 operations on her wounds. The burning napalm had fused her chin to her chest and what was left of her left arm was stuck to her rib cage. The surgery was successful, but she was horribly scarred. She moved to Canada and in 1982 became a Christian. She also took every opportunity to speak about her experience and the need for forgiveness.

In 1992, Plummer heard that ‘the girl in the picture’ was going to speak in Washington DC. He knew he had to go; he knew he’d never find peace without speaking to her.

Standing in the crowd, he heard Kim say that she still suffered terribly from the burns, but she was not bitter. She also said, ‘Behind that picture of me, thousands and thousands of people… died. They lost parts of their bodies. Their whole lives were destroyed, and nobody took their picture.’

Then she said that if she ever met the pilot of that plane, she would say she forgives him. They cannot change the past, she said, but she hoped they could both work together to build the future.  

Hearing this, Plummer scribbled a note, saying ‘Kim, I am that man,’ and someone took it to her.

Then they met. ‘Kim saw my grief, my pain, my sorrow,’ Plummer later said. ‘I fell into her arms sobbing. All I could say was “I’m sorry, I’m sorry” over and over again.’

She also cried, saying, ‘It’s all right, I forgive you.’

They talked and prayed together for hours that day, and became friends.[ii]

Plummer said it was vital for him to meet Kim face to face, to tell her how he had agonised over her injuries. He also said that without this confession, he doubts he would ever have been able to let it go. But he did let it go. He finally forgave himself.

‘I was floating, I was free. I was finally at peace,’ he said.

In meeting Kim, John Plummer discovered the merciful eyes of Jesus. [iii]

In our first reading today, the wise man Ben Sirach says you should forgive your neighbour when he hurts you; and when you pray your own sins will be forgiven.

He asks, can someone who is angry towards someone else expect healing from the Lord? If you show no mercy towards others, how can you expect pardon for your own sins? So, remember the commandments, he says, and don’t be angry with your neighbour.

And in today’s Gospel, Jesus says we should always forgive others, not just seven times, but seventy times seven. In other words, always. We are obliged to forgive anyone who has offended us, and we must seek forgiveness from anyone we might have offended. 

Why? It’s because God is love, and we too must be loving if we want his divine life and power working within us. We must be forgiving if we want to let go of the past and live in happiness and peace.  

John Plummer became a Methodist pastor, and dedicated his life to preaching about regret, forgiveness and hope. ‘I still remember that photo,’ he said, ‘but the screams have stopped. It’s all quiet now.’

It’s not always easy to forgive or to say sorry, but we know how important it is.

If you need help, turn to Jesus. He is always there for us.

[i] That picture won a Pulitzer Prize in 1973.

[ii] Anne Gearan, Embrace Silences Decades of Nightmares for Ex-Pilot, Los Angeles Times, April 20, 1997.

[iii] Ken Barker, His Name is Mercy, Modotti Press, Ballan Vic. 2010:111-113.

Year A – 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Gentle Art of Correction

(Ezek.33:7-9; Rom.13:8-10; Mt.18:15-20)

Many years ago, a man named Frank took me under his wing. He was a tall Dutchman with a large belly and a heart to match.

It was early in my working life, and he kindly encouraged me and shared his wisdom with me. He also gave me guidance, and he challenged me by saying the things that I needed to hear.

Today, I remember Frank as my second father, but really, he was my mentor. What is a mentor? It’s an experienced person who gives guidance to a beginner. There have been many famous mentoring relationships in history – Sigmund Freud, for example, mentored Carl Jung, Steve Jobs mentored Mark Zuckerberg, and Pope St John Paul II mentored Pope Benedict XVI.

Asked about this, Pope Benedict XVI said that his pontificate was inspired by Pope John Paul II. ‘My memory of John Paul II is filled with gratitude,’ he said. ‘I couldn’t and shouldn’t try to imitate him, but I have tried to carry forward his legacy and his work the best that I could.’

The idea of mentoring oeiginally comes from the Bible. The Scriptures don’t actually use that word; however, they do record many mentoring relationships.

Moses mentored Joshua (Deut.34:9), Eli mentored Samuel (1Sam.3), Paul mentored Timothy (1 and 2 Timothy), and of course, Jesus mentored his disciples. He met with them, he shared meals with them, he gave them advice and he modelled the way.

And importantly, Jesus not only encouraged them, he also challenged them by saying the things that they needed to hear (Mt.16:23).

It’s because of this continuing chain of mentoring relationships that we have our Church today.

As Christians, we share this duty to guide others, especially when we see them doing the wrong thing. This is important, because none of us is perfect; we all need to learn. Unfortunately, however, many of us prefer to turn a blind eye; we try to avoid getting involved.

But remember that in Genesis, when God asks Cain, ‘Where is your brother Abel?’ Cain answers, ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ (Gen.4:9).

In his reply, God says, in effect, that yes, you are your brother’s keeper. In fact, you are all brothers and sisters and this means you are responsible for everything you do and say to each other. You are a family.’ [i]

Indeed, we are a family because by our baptism we all share the same heavenly Father, the same mother Mary and the same brother Jesus.

That’s why in today’s Gospel Jesus says, ‘If your brother does something wrong, go and have it out with him.’ That’s also why in our first reading, God sends Ezekiel to watch over his people. His job is to protect them by speaking up if they do anything wrong or if they put themselves in danger.

We know this isn’t always easy to do. Fear and pride often stop us from giving or receiving advice. But that’s why St Paul in our second reading reminds us to always respect others, to always love our neighbours as ourselves, for we have a responsibility to them.

In his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela talks about his long years of imprisonment on Robben Island. He tells how one day he was called to the main office. General Steyn was visiting and wanted to know if the prisoners had any complaints. The prisoners had chosen Mandela as their spokesman. Badenhorst, the prison commander, was also present. He was feared and hated by the prisoners.

In a calm but forceful and truthful manner, Mandela listed the prisoners’ complaints. But he did so without bitterness or recrimination. The general listened carefully. It really was a damning indictment of Badenhorst’s regime.

The next day, Badenhorst went to Mandela and said, ‘I’m leaving the island. I just want to wish you people good luck.’ That remark stunned Mandela. He thought about it for a long time afterwards. Badenhorst had been the cruellest of the prison commanders, but this incident showed that he had another side to his nature.

Mandela wrote: ‘It goes to show that even the most seemingly cold-blooded have a core of decency, and that if their hearts are touched, they are capable of changing.’ [ii]

The Scriptures often exhort us to look out for our wayward brothers and sisters (e.g., Jas.5:19; Gal.6:1; Col.3:16; Lev.19:17). This is a responsibility we all share because we want the best for them.

It takes courage, sensitivity and love to speak the truth to others.

If you find this hard to do, just ask Jesus for his help.

[i] Peter Kreeft, Food for the Soul, Year A. Word on Fire, Park Ridge, IL. 2022:653.

[ii] Flor McCarthy, New Sunday and Holy Day Liturgies, Year A. Dominican Publications, Dublin, 2019:304-305.

Year A – 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Take up Your Cross

(Jer.20:7-9; Rom.12:1-2; Mt.16:21-27)

If you look, you’ll see the Cross of Christ most everywhere – in churches, in schools, in jewellery, in art and in people’s homes.

There are crucifixes and plain crosses of all shapes, sizes and colours, in gold, silver, wood, paint and paper. There’s the Celtic Cross, Jerusalem Cross, Cross of St Damian, Latin Cross, Maltese Cross, Cross of St Andrew and the Coptic Ankh. They’re everywhere: on walls, clothing, TV, online, in books, and in people’s hearts, minds and lives.

In our Gospel today, Jesus tells his disciples to take up their Cross and follow him. But what does that mean? What does it mean to take up your Cross and follow Jesus?

Christians have been trying to work that out for 2,000 years.

It can be confusing, because there are countless ways to understand what the Cross means, just as there are lots of ways to show what it looks like.

Ron Rolheiser says that the Cross of Christ is like a carefully cut diamond. Every time you turn it in the light you get a different sparkle. The Cross means many things, he says, but its depths can never be fully fathomed for there’s always more meaning to be found.

He also says that it’s not surprising that the Cross is the most universally-cherished symbol on earth, because the Cross is the deepest word that can ever be said about love. [i]

How then might we understand it? The surest way to begin is by going back to the original Cross, and the agony which led to the death of Christ. 

Jesus’ suffering shows us that real love doesn’t come cheap. It costs dearly. His Cross reminds us that if we want serious, faithful and life-giving love in our lives, then we must be prepared to pay a price, and that price is suffering.

Anyone who has ever raised a family knows that love and sacrifice always go together. 

Anyone who has ever supported a friend or relative through addiction or depression knows how hard it can be.

Anyone who has ever cared for an elderly parent, or a sick or disabled child knows how hard it can be to keep going.

Anyone who has lost a wife, a husband or a child knows what it’s like to suffer such loss and yet have to keep going each day.

And anyone who has carried a deep hurt knows how hard it can be to turn the other cheek and to remain a loving person.

The Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky once described love as ‘that harsh and dreadful thing.’ T.S. Eliot said that love costs ‘not less than everything.’ 

This is what Jesus is talking about when he asks us to carry our Cross and follow him. He wants us to do what he did – to love others, to really love them, even when it hurts.

St Teresa of Calcutta is a classic example of someone who loved until it hurt.  She sacrificed everything so that she could lovingly care for dirty, diseased and dying people in the streets of India, and she did it for fifty years. It can’t have been easy, but she did it because Jesus asked her to.

Jesus is asking us to do the same. Not in Calcutta, but wherever we live. He wants us to genuinely, seriously, love others – even if it hurts to do so.

That’s the key message of the Cross. If you want real love in your life, if you want to be a good parent, or a good friend, or to have a good marriage or to keep some other commitment you have made, then you must be prepared to suffer and sometimes die to yourself. There is no other way.

Our society doesn’t think like this. It doesn’t like hearing this. Lots of people would rather walk away, and they do. But Jesus says that if you try to hang on to your life, you’ll lose it. And he adds that if you give up your life for his sake, then you’ll save it.

That’s why St Francis of Assisi said, ‘it’s in giving that you receive, and it’s in dying that you are born to eternal life.’

This is fundamental to our Christian faith. 

There are crosses everywhere, but the Cross itself is so much more than a piece of jewellery, a work of art or a Church decoration. It’s a reminder of Jesus’ tremendous love for us and his call for us to love others, just as he did, even if it really hurts.

This is what it means to take up your Cross and follow Jesus.


Year A – 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time

Strange Gods

[Isa.22:19-23; Rom.11:33-36; Mt.16:13-19]

Do you remember the First Commandment? That’s the one which says, ‘You shall have no other gods before me’.

It tells us that God should always come first in our lives. Why? It’s because we owe our lives to Him. We all come from God, and right now we’re all on our way back towards God.

But many people forget this, or they choose to ignore it because they think the Ten Commandments are much too restrictive for our modern world.

GK Chesterton thought differently. He saw in the Ten Commandments not a world full of no, but of yes, and he argued for their beauty. ‘The curtness of the Ten Commandments is evidence,’ he wrote, ‘not of the gloom and narrowness of a religion, but… of its liberality and humanity because most things are permitted.’

In her book Strange Gods, Elizabeth Scalia writes: ‘We are so conditioned to think of religion as a bunch of rules that Chesterton’s words almost seem absurd. (But the truth is that) there’s nothing wider than God’s mercy or deeper than His love, if we agree to bend to Him rather than towards our own inclinations.’ [i]

So, who or what do you bend to in your life?

Sadly, most people barely give God a thought. They prefer the false gods of money, power, politics, pleasure and even themselves.

But ‘when we’re obsessed with ourselves,’ Scalia writes, ‘all our feelings, desires and thoughts become like gods to us. They lead us down a long winding path that seems to take us somewhere, but really they only take us down into the dungeon of ourselves. [ii]

In today’s Gospel, Jesus and his disciples are in Caesarea Philippi, near a very large cave at the foot of Mount Hermon. In ancient times this cave was considered the gateway to the dark underworld of Hades. It had a shrine where the Greeks used nasty rituals to worship Pan, the half-goat, half-man god of animals, nature and fright (hence the word ‘panic’).  

Nearby was a temple where the Romans worshipped Emperor Augustus.

Jesus has been with his disciples for perhaps two years now, but He wonders if they really know him. So, in the shadow of these false gods He asks them, ‘Who do people say the Son of Man is?’

They answer: ‘John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’

Then He asks, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter replies, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’

Jesus is delighted by this answer. But He knows that Peter’s faith hasn’t come from Him alone, so He makes the point that it’s a gift from God. Indeed, faith always starts with God, not with us. It begins with God opening himself up to us and inviting us to share in His divine life.

But invitations are either accepted or rejected, so today we must decide for ourselves: do we choose a life of faith? Do we accept Jesus as the Son of God?

In his book Mere Christianity, CS Lewis says that it would be wrong for anyone to say that they accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but not as God himself.

‘That’s the one thing we must not say,’ he says, ‘because a man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher.’ Rather, ‘he would either be a lunatic – (like) the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse.’

‘You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call him Lord and God. But let’s not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.’ [iii]

When Jesus asked his disciples, ‘Who do you say that I am?’ they were surrounded by the false gods of ancient times.

Today, surrounded by the false gods of our own time, Jesus is asking us the very same question.

Who is Jesus to you?  

How you answer that will shape the way you live your life, both today and tomorrow.

It will also determine how you spend your eternity. 

[i] Scalia, E. Strange Gods: Unmasking the Idols in Everyday Life. Notre Dame, Indiana: Ave Maria Press. 2013:118.

[ii] Op cit. p.23.

[iii] Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity. Fontana Books, London, 1969:52-53.

Year A – 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Model of Perseverance

[Isa.56:1, 6-7; Rom.11:13-15, 29-32; Mt.15:21-28]

Irving Stone (1903-89) was a popular American author. He wrote historical novels about many famous people, including Michelangelo, Vincent van Gogh, Sigmund Freud and Charles Darwin.

Stone once explained that he was drawn to writing about people who dreamed of achieving something, and then worked for it. But as they did so, they were typically beaten over the head, knocked down, vilified and for years got nowhere.

When they were knocked down, though, they always stood up again.

You couldn’t destroy these people, he said, and eventually they did accomplish something of what they set out to do.

In other words, they persevered. They simply refused to give up.

Winston Churchill was like that. At school he was a poor student, repeating one class three times. One school report even said ‘this boy will never amount to anything,’ and his father feared that he’d never earn a living for himself.

Churchill twice failed his university entrance exam, and he lost the first time he stood for Parliament. However, his determination was unshakable, and he went on to become one of the greatest leaders in history, beating the Nazis in WWII.

Speaking to Oxford University students one day after the war, Churchill simply said, ‘Never give up!’ That was his mantra.

That is also the approach of the Canaanite woman in today’s Gospel. She is determined to help her sick daughter, and begs Jesus for help. But he says no – three times – because he has other priorities. The apostles also try to send her away, but she keeps insisting on Jesus’ help.

In the end, Jesus is so impressed by her perseverance that he says, ‘Woman, you have great faith. Your wish is granted.’ And the child is healed.

The message for us today is clear: keep praying to Jesus, even when things seem hopeless.

The classic example of this is St Monica, the mother of St Augustine. She was born in Thagaste, in modern-day Algeria, and raised as a Christian, but she was given in marriage to a pagan named Patricius.

Monica found Patricius to be a hot-tempered womaniser and a drinker, and it distressed her. But she was patient and every day she prayed for him.

Monica’s mother-in-law moved in with them, and she turned out to be a gossipy and cantankerous woman. Again, Monica suffered, but she prayed for her, too.

Patricius refused to let any of their three children be baptised. Augustine was the oldest, and Monica was disturbed to see him growing up like his father: rebellious, inclined to immoral living, and resistant to her Christian faith. She often cried, but kept praying anyway.

Many years later, when Augustine was 17, Patricius converted and was baptised. He died soon afterwards. His mother also converted to Christianity, but Monica’s problems weren’t over because Augustine continued to live an immoral life. He also adopted heretical beliefs, and for a while she banished him from home.

Then one night in a vision she learned that Augustine would one day return to the faith. That encouraged Monica to stay close and to keep praying for him.

Augustine subsequently escaped to Rome and then to Milan, where he taught. Monica was heartbroken, but she followed him. In Milan, St Ambrose became her spiritual director and he advised her to be patient and to keep praying.

Then one day as Augustine walked through a garden, he heard a child say, ‘Take and read.’ He randomly opened a Bible and his eyes fell on the words, ‘Put on the Lord Jesus Christ’ (Rom.13:13-14).

This moment changed his life. His eyes and heart opened, and to Monica’s great delight he was baptised at the age of 33. But she died soon afterwards.

St Monica’s prayers really were answered, though, because Augustine was ordained a priest at 36, a bishop at 41, and today he is one of the Church’s greatest saints. It’s all because his mother believed in him and prayed constantly for him, even when all seemed hopeless.

Today St Monica is a universal model of patience and perseverance. She is also the patron saint of grieving mothers, difficult marriages and the conversion of relatives.

In his Confessions, St. Augustine wrote, ‘Our task (as Christians) is to make daily progress towards God. Our pilgrimage on earth is a school in which God is the only teacher, and it demands good students, not ones who play truant.’ [i]

Our challenge in this school of life is to graduate with honors.

We will if we stay faithful to Jesus and keep praying , even when things seem hopeless.

[i] St Augustine, Confessions. Penguin, London, 1961. (Most of what we know about St Monica comes from this book).

Year A – 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Camera, Action

(1Kgs.19:9a,11-13a; Rom.9:1-5; Mt.14:22-33)

Have you heard the story of the photographer who took no photos?

That photographer was Jeff Cavins. He used to dream of capturing images of beauty and truth in a way that reflected his faith, so he decided to become a photographer.

He bought dozens of photography magazines and began learning all he could about cameras, camera techniques, the history of photography and the lives of great photographers. He also joined a photography club and mingled with professional photographers, sharing all he had learned.

After five months, his wife asked him, ‘Why don’t you buy a camera?’

‘Yes!’ he thought, but first he had to choose a good one. So, he bought more magazines, read the reviews and finally bought a camera and other gear. After setting it all up at home, his wife asked him, ‘Why don’t you take a picture?’

He’d been a photographer for a year now, but still hadn’t taken a picture. Then the photography club asked him to give a speech and to judge their best images. And someone else asked him to photograph their daughter’s wedding.

Suddenly, Cavins realised that he didn’t know the first thing about photography. He had been a fan, but not a true follower.

He writes about this in his book, The Activated Disciple, and says that it’s just the same with the Christian faith. Many people call themselves Christian, and might be fans of Jesus, but they’re not followers because they don’t actually practise their faith.

There’s a big difference between a fan and a follower, he says. You might be a fan of the Faith, watching and listening to Catholic radio and TV and even having Catholic bumper stickers. But it’s not the same as living the faith, for as St James tells us, ‘Faith without works is dead’ (Jas.2:17).

Cavins says that knowing all about theology, doctrine and Church history is not the point of Christian life. Such knowledge is good, but if we don’t actually use it, we will never really understand it.

So, what is the goal of the Christian faith? It’s to develop a close, personal relationship with Jesus Christ. It’s walking with Jesus, becoming like him and joining him in his mission in our modern world. [i]

That is the essence of the Christian life.

But if we don’t have such a relationship with Jesus, how might we start? One good place to start is in today’s readings.

In our first reading, the prophet Elijah is hiding in a cave on Mt Horeb. He’s scared because Jezebel, the wife of King Ahab, wants to kill him. He asks God what he should do, and waits for an answer. Then some strange things happen: there’s a mighty windstorm, an earthquake, and a fire. But God isn’t in any of these things.

Then in the silence Elijah hears a gentle whisper; he realises that it’s God telling him to go to Syria. From this, Elijah learns that the true God is not the God of mayhem or destruction, but the God of love, because love speaks in whispers.

For us today, this means that if you want to talk with Jesus, then make space for silence in your life. (And note that the words ‘silent’ and ‘listen’ share the same letters.) 

In our second reading, St Paul says that to inherit eternal life, your faith must be genuine. You must love Jesus and believe in him, and this must be reflected in all your words and actions.

And in our Gospel, Peter starts walking on water towards Jesus, but then he starts to sink. ‘Man of little faith!’ Jesus says, ‘Why did you doubt?’ Peter learns that to keep going, he must keep his eyes fixed firmly on Jesus.

It’s the same with us: we all have to deal with nasty storms, tough decisions, great temptations and sad times. To walk through these things safely, we must keep our eyes firmly fixed on Jesus.

So, try to picture these special moments: Elijah in his cave, listening carefully for God’s quiet voice. Paul telling the Romans that all their words and actions must reflect their faith and love for Jesus. And, Peter walking through storms with his eyes fixed firmly on the Son of God.

These are all good ways to start developing our personal relationship with Jesus.

You don’t need a camera to be a good Christian.

But you do need to become an image of Jesus, reflecting him in all you do.

[i] Jeff Cavins, The Activated Disciple. Ascension, West Chester, PA. Ch.1.

Year A – Transfiguration of the Lord

Message from the Mountain

[Dan.7:9-10,13-14; 2Pet.1:16-19; Mt.17:1-9]

The Holy Land is quite a hilly place, so it’s not surprising that the Bible mentions hills and mountains more than 500 times.

Indeed, mountains play an important role in the unfolding story of God’s love for us. Moses, for example, receives the Ten Commandments on Mt Sinai. Elijah defeats the prophets of Baal on Mt Carmel, and Solomon’s Temple is built on Mt Moriah.

Mountains are also where people go to pray and find safety; they are where God reveals himself to people, and they feature prominently in Jesus’ life.

Jesus is tempted on a desert mountain. He preaches on the Mount of Beatitudes. He prays on Mt Olivet and is crucified on Mt Calvary. And in today’s Gospel, Jesus visits Mt Tabor with his disciples.

There, for just a moment, Peter, James and John see who Jesus really is: the Son of God. His face shines like the sun, and his clothes are as white as light.

Fulton J Sheen says that this luminescence isn’t because of a light shining on Jesus. Rather, it’s because of his divine beauty shining from within him. [i]

The disciples see Jesus talking with Moses and Elijah. But why is he talking with them rather than someone else? It’s because Moses and Elijah are the greatest of the Old Testament saints.

Moses is the lawgiver who gave God’s law to his people. His appearance today tells us that God’s laws are central to Jesus’ mission, for ‘he came not to abolish the law, but to fulfil it’ (Mt.5:17).

Elijah is the greatest of the Old Testament prophets, and a prophet’s job is to remind the people how God wants them to live. His appearance today reminds us that this is Jesus’ job, too: to show us how to live.

Together, these three ‘spoke of his departure, which he was to accomplish at Jerusalem.’ The Old Testament has always anticipated the Messiah’s coming and suffering on the Cross, and this meeting highlights the fact that Jesus’ mission began with these two great saints.

God has spoken through Moses and through Elijah, and now he’s speaking through Jesus Christ, so listen to him!

The disciples are amazed by this experience, and Peter wants it to last forever. So, he suggests that they erect three tents – one each for Jesus, Moses and Elijah.

But such mystical moments aren’t meant to last; we’re all meant to return to ordinary life, and that’s what happens here. Jesus leads his disciples back down into the valley.

Through the ages, people have long associated mountains with the spiritual life. Perhaps it’s because mountains are ‘close to heaven,’ and ideal places for quiet prayer and reflection. But they also have something to teach us.

Firstly, it’s significant that today’s story begins with Jesus and his disciples going up to pray. Something always happens when we pray. Sometimes the effects are subtle and internal (we are changed from within), and sometimes they’re more obvious and external, like Jesus’ Transfiguration. But the point is that something always happens when we pray.

Secondly, some people think they can never be as good as the Biblical saints, but today’s story reminds us just how human the saints are. Peter, James and John go up with Jesus to pray. Do they pray? No, they fall asleep. And when Peter wakes up, he makes a silly suggestion about tents. We should feel encouraged, because God always uses flawed people to do his work. Indeed, we are all flawed, so we should feel quite at home among the saints.

And thirdly, the Transfiguration of Jesus reminds us that this world is not our final home. Like these disciples, we are all journeying towards heaven, our true home. And along the way, these mountains serve as a gift to us. They speak of beauty, vision and challenge, and they symbolise our ascent towards our spiritual home (Ps.24:3-4).

But we’re not meant to stay on the mountain forever. As someone once wrote, rivers do not drink their own water; trees do not eat their own fruit. The sun does not shine on itself, and flowers do not spread fragrance for themselves.

In other words, living for others is a rule of nature. We are all born to help each other, no matter how difficult that might be. And while life is good when you are happy, it’s much better when others are happy because of you. 

That’s why Jesus leads his disciples off that mountain and back down into the valley.

There, a desperately sick boy is waiting for them, and Jesus heals him.

[i] Fulton J Sheen, Life of Christ, Image Books, NY, 2008:213.

Year A – 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time

 The Pearl of Great Price

[1Kgs.3:5, 7-12; Rom.8:28-30; Mt.13:44-52]

In 2006, a Filipino fisherman found the world’s biggest pearl, weighing 34 kilos. It was worth around $130m. [i]

Surprisingly, he didn’t sell it. For 10 years he kept it under his bed and used it as a good luck charm. Then he lent it to his city council for use as a tourist attraction. Clearly, this fisherman’s treasure wasn’t money.

Here’s another story about treasure, from Anthony de Mello.

Just outside the village, a wise man settled down under a tree for the night. Then a villager ran up to him saying, ‘The stone! The stone! Give me the precious stone!’

‘What stone?’ asked the wise man.

‘Last night God appeared to me in a dream,’ said the villager, ‘and told me that if I went to the outskirts of the village at dusk I should find a wise man who’ll give me a precious stone that will make me rich forever.’

The wise man rummaged in his bag and pulled out a stone. ‘He probably meant this one,’ he said, and he gave it to the villager. ‘I found it on a forest path. You can have it.’

The man gazed at the stone in wonder. It was a diamond, probably the largest diamond in the world – as large as a person’s head. He took the diamond and walked away. But all night he tossed about in bed, unable to sleep. At dawn the next day he woke the wise man and gave it back to him. 

He said, ‘Give me the wealth that lets you give away this diamond so easily.’ [ii]

Now, that’s the question, isn’t it? How do these people give up such treasure so easily?

In today’s first reading, God appears to young King Solomon in a dream, and says, ‘Ask me what I should give you.’

Now, Solomon can ask for anything at all. He can choose fabulous wealth, long life, a sharp mind, or even for his enemies to disappear. But he doesn’t ask for any of these things. What he wants is a heart full of wisdom. 

Solomon wants to be a good leader, for his treasure is his people. God likes this answer and gives him a heart that’s wiser than anyone else’s in history.

In today’s Gospel there’s even more treasure. The first is in Jesus’ brief Parable of the Poor Workman. A man is ploughing a farmer’s field, when he stumbles upon some buried treasure. (That wasn’t so unusual in those days. Before the banks, people hid their valuables.) The excited workman sells everything he has to buy that field, and the treasure is all his.

The second is in Jesus’ parable about a rich merchant who finds a rare pearl and sells everything he has to possess it.

Now, what is this rare pearl, this great treasure? It’s the kingdom of God. Most people seem to think that God’s kingdom is somewhere up there, high in the sky. But God’s kingdom is not a geographical place. It’s a state of the heart. It’s the power of God’s love working in and through our hearts and lives.

It’s the most precious thing in the world.

The message from all these stories is that the greatest treasure of all isn’t diamonds or pearls or money. It’s the love of God, and it’s available to everyone, rich and poor alike. And we don’t have to go anywhere special to find it, for we can find it wherever we are. Even as we go about our daily lives.

The merchant found it after a long search. The workman found it in his day job. But like young King Solomon, we need hearts of wisdom to see and appreciate this remarkable treasure.

When we do find it, though, it will transform our lives. That’s what St Paul found on the road to Damascus. When he met Jesus, he fell off his horse and it changed his life completely. He knew he had to give up everything else to possess this great gift.  

And so it is with us. When we truly discover Jesus, our lives change, too. But to possess this treasure, we must be prepared to pay a price. That price is letting go of whatever else used to obsess us. 

‘Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also,’ Jesus tells us (Mt.6:21).  So, what is your treasure? Is it Jesus himself?

When Jesus really is your treasure, it becomes easy to give other things away. 


[ii] De Mello, Anthony. The Song of the Bird. Doubleday, NY, 1984:140-141.

Year A – 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Grandparents’ Day

(Wis.12:13, 16-19; Rom.8:26-27; Mt.12:24-43)

Today, as we celebrate World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly, we remember Saints Anne and Joachim, the parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the grandparents of Jesus.

Anne and Joachim aren’t mentioned in the Bible, but we know of them from other writings.[i] Joachim was a wealthy and generous man, and Anne was the daughter of a Levite priest. For years they prayed for a child of their own, then one day an angel told them that God had heard their prayers. To their great delight, Mary was born in their home. They adored her.

Anne and Joachim were very good parents. When Mary was little, they offered her to God, and they let her spend time in the Temple, learning about God and serving him with the other girls. They loved Mary and gave her a strong faith, teaching her to pray and to listen carefully for God’s quiet voice.

Anne and Joachim helped prepare Mary’s heart, so that when the Archangel Gabriel asked if she would be the mother of God, she was ready to say yes. 

When we think about Jesus being raised as a boy, we usually think of his parents, Mary and Joseph. But we should remember his grandparents as well. They were a big influence in Jesus’ life, because it was Anne and Joachim who chose Joseph to be Mary’s husband. And it was their good parenting (and God’s merciful grace) that taught Mary to be a wonderful mother.

There’s an old Latin saying, Verbum sonat; exemplum tonat (‘words make a noise, but example thunders’). Through the ages, many grandparents have done wonderful things caring for children.

St Macrina the Elder (270-340AD) was a Christian woman who lived in Pontus, Turkey. This was in the days when violent persecution by the Romans was common, and for years Macrina was forced to hide in a forest with her family. After her husband died, she raised their son as a single parent, and when he got married she helped raise his children.

St Macrina did a great job because many of her family became saints.  Her son was St Basil, his wife was St Emmelia, and four of her grandchildren also became saints: St Basil the Great, St Gregory of Nyssa, St Peter of Sebaste and St Macrina the Younger. [ii]

Because Macrina was holy, her family became holy, too.

More recently, other grandparents have also done wonderful things.

U.S. Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were both raised by their grandparents. Obama said his debt to his grandparents was beyond measure, and Clinton said his grandparents gave him his love of learning.

Oprah Winfrey was raised by her grandma on a farm. She taught her to read, and Oprah says her grandma gave her the foundations for her success in life.

Other famous people raised by grandparents include Louis Armstrong, Eric Clapton and Pierce Brosnan.  Here in Australia, the singer David Campbell was also raised by his grandmother.

Today in Australia, it’s estimated that over 30,000 children live with their grandparents, and another 850,000 children are minded by their grandparents each week.[iii]  In Spain, half of all grandparents look after children every day, and in cities like Shanghai, 90% of youngsters are looked after by at least one grandparent.

In 2013, Pope Francis called grandparents a ‘treasure’. He said that they ‘transmit history, doctrine and the faith, and they give them to us as an inheritance.’ [iv]  

Pope Francis also told the story of a family with a mother, father, many children and a grandfather who got food all over his face when he ate. The father bought a small table and set it off to the side so the grandfather could eat, make a mess and not disturb the rest of the family.

One day, the Pope said, the father came home and found one of his sons playing with a piece of wood. ‘What are you making?’ asked the father. ‘A table,’ the son replied. ‘Why?’ the father asked.

‘It’s for you, Dad, for when you’re old like grandpa.’

We don’t always appreciate our grandparents, but in so many ways they help make our world a better place. Through their love and kindness, they share wisdom and pass on the faith and values that are so important to our society.  They help set young people on the right path through life.

The American writer Louisa May Alcott once wrote, ‘A house needs a grandma in it’.  Someone else said, ‘A grandpa has silver in his hair and gold in his heart.’

Today, let’s show our love and gratitude for our grandparents.