Year A – The Epiphany

Four Kinds of Epiphany

(Is.60:1-6; Eph.3:2-3, 5-6; Mt.2:1-12)

What does it mean when someone says ‘I’ve had an epiphany’?

It means that in a sudden flash, a veil was lifted and something profound was revealed to them. And that experience has changed the way they live.

Today, on the Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord, we celebrate the different ways in which Jesus reveals himself to the world.

We begin by remembering the Wise Men who discovered the child Jesus in Bethlehem, and worshipped him as the Messiah who has come to save us all. This is the original epiphany we celebrate at this time.

But there are other ways in which Jesus’ divine identity and mission have been revealed to us. At his Baptism, God the Father announces that Jesus is his beloved Son (Mk.1:9-11), and at Cana Jesus performs his first miracle (Jn.2:1-11). Each of these events is an epiphany.

But how does Jesus reveal himself to us today?

Let’s go back to the Middle Ages, when St Aelred of Rievaulx [i] was the wise and well-loved abbot of a Yorkshire monastery. He taught that there are four ways to experience an epiphany that could lead us closer to Jesus. [ii]

The first is when we find ourselves mystically touched by God. This is a deeply spiritual moment which can happen anytime and anywhere. We might sense God’s presence while taking in the beauty of art or nature, or recognising a fundamental truth or witnessing some profound goodness and love. Our hearts get a strong sense of God’s presence and we find ourselves drawn to him.

This happened to me once, as a boy. I’d been praying, asking God to prove his existence to me. Rather cheekily, I’d said, ‘If you really exist, then prove it to me by putting two dollars here on my bedside table.’

Now, I know that no-one should ever test God (Deut.6:16), but childishly then I did. Nothing happened for several days, and I wasn’t surprised, because I sensed that maybe I’d done something wrong. Then one day, walking home from school, a two-dollar note came fluttering towards me in the wind. [iii]

I was utterly amazed. Deep in my heart I knew that God had been listening and wanted me to know it.

A second type of epiphany occurs when we hear or read a memorable word or phrase. This, too, can happen anytime and anywhere, but that word or phrase touches us deeply and we find ourselves inspired to do something that brings us closer to God.

This is what happens to the two disciples on the Road to Emmaus. When Jesus starts reading Scripture, their spiritual hearts burn inside them (Lk.24:32).

The third kind of epiphany is when we find our faith sparked by the example of someone else’s life. We might encounter them personally, or read or hear about them, but their holy life inspires us to do something similar and this has the effect of drawing us closer to Jesus. 

This happened to St Anthony of Padua in Lisbon. When he heard about the 5 missionary martyrs of Morocco, he was inspired to become a Franciscan missionary, too, and he went on to do remarkable things in Italy and France.

St Aelred’s fourth kind of epiphany can occur when a major disaster leaves someone’s life in ruins. It’s only at this point that they discover the possibility of living differently. They’ve lost all their cherished projects, and they discover something new about themselves. 

What at first seemed like disaster turns out to be grace, and what seemed to be the end becomes the beginning, as they find themselves turning to Jesus and starting a new life filled with faith and hope.

These are St Aelred’s four kinds of epiphany, in which Jesus reveals himself to us and draws us closer to him. Have you experienced any of them?

Have you found yourself mystically touched by God, and got a strong sense of his presence?

Have you heard a word or phrase that inspires you to do something which draws you closer to Jesus?

Have you been inspired by the life of a holy person, and wanted to do something similar?

Or have you experienced a disaster that brought you closer to God?

At some stage in our spiritual journey through life, Jesus will approach us and perhaps even appear to us, calling us to him. This can happen anytime and anywhere, and he may appear in a way that makes us wonder.

But if our hearts are open to it, that epiphany will fill us with energy and delight.

And it will change the course of our life.

[i] Rievaulx is pronounced “REE-voh”

[ii] Michael Casey, Balaam’s Donkey, Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN. 2019:144.

[iii] This occurred just before Australian two-dollar notes were replaced by coins.

Year A – Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God

Mary, Mother of God

(Num.6:22-27; Gal.4:4-7; Lk.2:16-21)

Happy New Year! Today we celebrate the life and mission of Mary, the Mother of God.

There’s an old Flemish hymn that says, ‘Love gave her a thousand names,’ and Mary certainly does have many names. [i] St John Chrysostom called her Mary, Help of Christians. To sailors she’s Stella Maris, ‘Star of the Sea’. In our parish she’s Our Lady of the Rosary and Queen of Peace. She is also the Queen of Saints.

But St Therese of Lisieux said that Mary is ‘more mother than queen’, so today we welcome her as Theotokos, the Mother of God. The Council of Ephesus gave Mary this name in 431AD because she is Jesus’ mother, and Jesus is God himself.

Now, this doesn’t mean that Mary is equal to God. She is completely human, just like us. But she is closer to God than anyone in history. We know this from the miraculous way she became Jesus’ mother, and from the sinless and selfless way she lived her life.

Some people think Catholics worship Mary, but that’s simply not true. We only worship God. We do, however, venerate Mary as the Mother of God and as Jesus’ first disciple. When we venerate Mary, we honour her just as God honoured her. And when we honour Mary, we also honour God.

St Louis de Montfort said that whenever ‘we praise her, love her, honour her or give anything to her, it’s God who is praised, God who is loved and God who is glorified…’ [ii] Why? It’s because Mary owes her entire existence to God, and her whole life points to Jesus.

On the Cross, Jesus said to his disciple John, ‘Behold your mother’ (Jn.19:26-27). With these words he gave Mary to us all, and now she is our mother, too. And as our mother, she has a job to do: to bring all her children to Jesus. She does this by modelling for us how to live a life of faith and charity, and by calling us to penance and prayer.

Mary is our model of faith because when the angel Gabriel told her about God’s plan for her, she didn’t understand but still said ‘yes’. She trusted God, and her deep faith shows us how we, too, can journey into the unknown with Jesus.

Mary is also our model of charity because she willingly sacrificed everything to live a simple and humble life for God. And by giving her life to Jesus, she is helping God save the world. 

Mary teaches us that God uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things. Right now, you and I are being asked to do exactly what Mary did – to bring Jesus into the world, but in our own way and in our own circumstances.

And finally, Mary calls us to live a life of penance and prayer. This is the message of Fatima, where Mary appeared to 3 children in 1917. In the Gospels, the word repentance means changing the way we live; it means turning away from sin and turning back to God.

Mary is urging us to change, and to pray well. Each time she appeared at Fatima, she told us all to pray the Rosary, especially for world peace. The Rosary, of course, is the deeply meaningful prayer that focuses on the life of Christ, and we know that it’s powerful.

In 1945, an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Everything within 1.5 kilometres was destroyed, except for one small wooden house – a presbytery, only 8 blocks from the centre of the blast. The 8 Jesuit priests who lived there not only survived, they barely received a scratch and weren’t even affected by radiation. Some 200 scientific studies couldn’t explain what had happened.

But one of the survivors, Father Hubert Schiffer, knew the answer. He said, ‘We survived because we were living the message of Fatima. We lived and prayed the Rosary daily in that home’. [iii]

Some people think that Mary’s job ended 2,000 years ago, but that is not so.  St. John Vianney once said, ‘Only after the Last Judgment will Mary get any rest, (because) from now until then, she is much too busy with her children.’

What, then, is Mary doing? She is trying to draw us all back to Jesus.

St Teresa of Calcutta once said, ‘If you ever feel distressed during your day, call upon Our Lady and just say this simple prayer: ‘Mary, Mother of Jesus, please be a mother to me now.’

‘I must admit that this prayer has never failed me,’ she said.

So, let’s all say this prayer together:  ‘Mary, Mother of Jesus, please be a mother to me now.’

[i] Waugh, E.H. Dissonant Worlds: Roger Vandersteene Among the Cree, Wilfrid Laurier University Press: Waterloo, Ontario, 1996:257. Also see

[ii] St Louis de Montfort, Treatise on True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin, n. 225.


Year A – Christmas Day

Natalina’s Christmas Wish

(Isa.52:7-10; Heb.1:1-6; Jn.1:1-18)

What is it about Christmas? What is it that fills our hearts with such excitement and joy at this time of year?

In 1892, William Dean Howells wrote a story called ‘Christmas Every Day’. [i] 

It’s about a little girl who wishes that every day could be Christmas Day. Her wish is granted, but she soon learns an important lesson about what Christmas really means.

Jo Fiore, a great friend and fine poet, has kindly turned this story into a poem for us, and I’d like to share it with you today.


Natalina was a girl who just loved Christmas Day
She loved it so, she wished that it would never go away.
Her name meant ‘Little Christmas’ – surely that gave her the right
To ask the Christmas Fairy for a favour one starry night.

She wrote to her, ‘I have a wish, oh! Christmas Fairy, dear,
That Christmas comes every day – and not just once a year’.
So she sent her letter off, and set her mind to things
Like trimming trees and buying gifts and all that Christmas brings.

On Christmas Eve a letter came, ‘I’ll grant your wish my dear,
But you seem a little greedy, so let’s make it for a year’.
The next day Natalina woke and joined her family.
‘Merry Christmas’ they all greeted, as they gathered ‘round the tree.

There were presents going left and there were presents going right;
There were cards and bright red ribbons, there were squeals of great delight.
They dined the whole day long till their tummies cried ‘No more!’
On turkeys stuffed with cranberries, baked potatoes by the score.

Ham and raisins, nuts and puddings, cakes and sweets and at last,
They all thought they ate too much – tomorrow they would fast.
But tomorrow came, and once again, around the tree they came;
It all seemed like the day before; it all just seemed the same.

And only Natalina knew what was really happening
One day she would tell them – ‘twas SHE who changed this thing.
They’d bow and scrape and thank her and throw compliments her way.
They’d all be very happy, for each day was Christmas Day.

But as the months passed by, everyone in that town
Started to feel unhappy – and all began to frown.
They kept on buying presents until everyone was poor,
And as for buying turkeys, they weren’t there as before.

The trees in all the forests did all just disappear,
As people needed Christmas trees ev’ry day of the year.
Natalina saw what she had done, and felt so very sad.
She confessed to all around her: ‘Please forgive me – I’ve been bad!’

‘I’ll find the Christmas Fairy and I’ll beg her please, oh please!
Can she cancel Christmas for at least one thousand years?
Or maybe for a hundred years, or maybe only ten
Or maybe she could make it, like it used to be – and then

I’ll never wish for something out of pride or out of greed,
And Christmas coming once a year is truly all I need.’
The Fairy heard her mournful cry and promised to restore
Natalina’s much-loved Christmas Day to how it was before.

‘There’s one more thing’, the Fairy said, ‘I’d like to say to you,
If you’re really seeking happiness, there’s something you must do.
You must ask the Baby Jesus in your heart to come and stay,
For you’ll find his peace will make each day a happy Christmas Day!’

When you celebrate Christmas today, I want you to remember this story.  Christmas is not about the food. It’s not about the trees or the presents. It’s not even about the fun. 

Christmas is about love – it’s about giving and receiving love.  

For Christmas is about Jesus, the son of God who is love itself. Jesus came to us as a vulnerable little baby, to teach us how to live and how to love.

Jesus is the only true gift at Christmas time.

‘There’s another thing,’ the Fairy said, ‘I need to say to you,
If you really need peace and joy, there’s something you must do.
You must ask our dear Lord Jesus in your heart to come and stay,
For you’ll find his love will make each day, a happy Christmas Day!’

[i] Howell, W.D. Christmas Every Day and Other Stories Told for Children (1892).

Year A – 4th Sunday of Advent

An Open Mind

[Isa.7:10-14; Rom.1:1-7; Mt.1.18-24]

Some years ago, when one of my daughters finished University, the author and academic Nancy Underhill gave the graduates some parting advice.

Using the words of the poet E.E. Cummings, she told them to ‘avoid wallowing in comfortable-mindedness’. In other words, don’t let your mind be lazy.

If you want a good and interesting future, she said, then welcome challenges, welcome the unexpected and be open to new ideas. Having goals is great, she said, but rigid attitudes are not. We must open up our minds and lives if we want the best for ourselves.

Now, these wise words aren’t only for new graduates. They apply to us all.

In our first reading today, it’s 735BC and Ahaz has just become king of Judah. He’s only 20 years old, but already his thinking is rigid – he only listens to himself.

When his kingdom is threatened by the mighty Assyrian empire, Ahaz won’t cooperate with his neighbours in Israel and Syria. He insists on doing things his own way and he soon ends up in trouble.

So much trouble, in fact, that at one point he sacrifices his own son to the pagan gods, hoping they will rescue him. But that doesn’t work, and later, in desperation, he decides to ask the Assyrians themselves for help.

Now, the prophet Isaiah is a wise man. He warns Ahaz to avoid the Assyrians because they are dangerous, just waiting to pounce on him. He tells Ahaz to trust in God instead. But he won’t listen, and history shows that Judah ends up in chaos, enslaved by Assyria.

As Dr Underhill said, having goals is great, but closed minds really don’t help. 

Do you know someone like that?

In today’s Gospel, Joseph the carpenter also finds himself challenged, when he discovers that his wife Mary is pregnant with someone else’s child. But his response is very different to that of Ahaz.

In ancient times, Jewish marriage was a three-step process. First was the engagement, and the parents usually chose the partners.

The second step was the betrothal, when the couple became legally married, but they lived apart for 12 months.

The third step was a great wedding feast like the one Jesus attended at Cana.  Only then did the couple start living together as husband and wife.

Now, in Matthew’s Gospel, Joseph is betrothed to Mary and they’re still living apart. When Joseph learns that Mary is pregnant, he gets very upset and has to make a decision.

According to Jewish law, he has two choices. He can accuse Mary of adultery and have her stoned to death. But Joseph loves her and he doesn’t want her to be hurt or shamed. 

Or instead, he can divorce her. He thinks he might do that, without saying why. But that wouldn’t protect Mary from shame, because word would still spread. 

The only way Joseph can protect Mary’s honour is to stay married to her and to adopt her child as his own. This means he must stop thinking about himself, and it means forgetting about what others might think. Instead, he needs to focus on Mary, and this takes great strength and courage.

Thankfully, Joseph has an open mind, because when God sends an angel to talk to him, he’s prepared to listen. He agrees to be a loving husband to Mary, and a loving father to her son Jesus.

Like Mary, Joseph listens carefully to what God has to say and he agrees to do what God wants. Together, Mary and Joseph go on to change the course of history.

These two stories have much to teach us about life.

King Ahaz shows us what can happen when we’re selfish and refuse to change our minds. When we’re inflexible, when we refuse to listen to the voice of wisdom, and when we ignore God, disaster can follow.

Joseph, however, shows us what can happen when we’re selfless and loving and open to new challenges. Like Mary at the Annunciation, Joseph trusted God and allowed himself to be led. He became an excellent husband and father, and now – even after all these years – he’s the patron saint of all fathers and of the universal Church.

And finally, both stories teach us that we aren’t meant to control everything. Indeed, it’s foolish to try because some things are meant to be controlled by God. 

Our challenge, then, is to keep our hearts, minds and ears open – listening to the saints, and to the quiet voice of God.

Year A – 3rd Sunday of Advent


(Isa.35:1-6a; Jas.5:7-10; Mt.11:2-11)

2023 marks the 10th anniversary of the death of Nelson Mandela, the great reformer who led a peaceful revolution in South Africa. He was 95.

He got his name ‘Nelson’ from a school teacher, because his original name, Rolihlahla, means ‘troublemaker’. That name would have been appropriate, however, for he was born to be a revolutionary. He hated apartheid and joined the opposition African National Congress in 1944. That’s when he began organising protests and other forms of civil disobedience.

Mandela at that time believed that the only way to win freedom was through violence, and in 1961 he established the ANC’s military wing. He read widely about other revolutionary figures and planned to start a war. But he was quickly arrested and gaoled for 27 years on Robben Island, near Capetown – a bitterly cold place in winter.

In today’s Gospel, John the Baptist is also languishing in prison, but this one’s baking hot. He’s in Herod’s desert fortress at Machaerus, 15km east of the Dead Sea. Like Mandela, John is also a revolutionary and he’s fearless about criticising the Roman and Jewish leaders of his day. He’s angry about the Roman oppression of his country, Judea, and he detests the hypocrisy of the Jewish leaders. He’s convinced that God is coming to establish his kingdom on earth, and he tells everyone to get ready. 

Like most Jews, John expected the Messiah to be a great warrior, leading an army to rescue God’s people. But now, chained to a prison wall, he’s not so sure. From what he has heard, Jesus hasn’t behaved like a warrior at all, and he wonders if Jesus will come to save him.

So, he sends two of his followers to ask Jesus if he really is the Messiah or whether they should expect someone else.

There are some close parallels between Nelson Mandela and John the Baptist. Both were natural leaders. Both were prophets, filled with fire and conviction, and both gave hope to millions of people.

Mandela helped to bring freedom to an oppressed people, and John the Baptist prepared the way for an even greater kind of freedom, through Jesus Christ.

When Jesus answers John’s question about whether he’s the Messiah, he doesn’t even mention armies or vengeance. Instead, he tells John’s messengers to ‘Go back to him and tell him what they hear and see: the blind see again, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor’.

His message is that only the love of God can give people the life they seek.

Now, Jesus fears that John might not like his reply, so he adds, ‘Happy are those who do not lose faith in me’.

We don’t know how John responded, but we do know that Nelson Mandela didn’t lose faith. While in gaol, he did what so many of us need to do – he opened himself up to God and he allowed himself to be changed from within. 

Indeed, over many years a Catholic bishop became his pastor and close friend.

Like John the Baptist, Mandela came to understand that the only way to lasting peace is through love, forgiveness and reconciliation; not through violence and war.

In a world that so often glorifies violence, this was revolutionary.

And so is living as a genuine Christian. Like Nelson Mandela and John the Baptist, following Jesus today means turning away from the anger, hostility and intolerance of our world. It means rejecting the shallow and selfish obsessions of our society.

And it means recognising that the only way to the peace and joy our hearts yearn for is through the love of God and our neighbour, just as Jesus teaches us.

For many of us this is quite a challenge, because it can be hard to break free from our worldly ways.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor who was gaoled and murdered by the Nazis, once said that Advent is like a prison cell ‘in which one waits and hopes, and … is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside.’

Many of us recognise this. We know we need help, and that’s why Advent is such a great gift to us.

Advent is the season of new beginnings. It’s the ideal time for us to invite God into our lives, asking him to release us from whatever imprisons us, and to help us live a life of peace and love.

Now, that’s revolutionary.

Year A – 2nd Sunday of Advent

The Pointing Hand

(Is.11:1-10; Rom.15:4-9; Mt.3:1-12)

The symbol of the hand with a pointing finger has long been used to direct our attention, perhaps to get us to buy or to notice something.

This pointing hand is called the manicule, and in the days of snail-mail various versions of it were often stamped on redirected letters. We’re less likely to see it these days, except perhaps in the mouse cursor of some software programs.

However, there is one place where a pointing hand can still be found: in paintings of St John the Baptist.

As one of the foremost figures in Scripture (Lk.7:28), John the Baptist often appears in Christian art. He’s been portrayed as a boy; as a desert recluse; as the baptiser by the River Jordan; and as the victim of a cruel execution.

In so many of these artworks, he appears with an unruly mop of hair, holding a reed-cross, wearing camel-skin with a leather belt – and with a pointing hand.

The image of John the Baptist in camel-skin comes from today’s Gospel. By mentioning this detail, Matthew is linking John with the great prophet Elijah, who wore similar clothing (2Kgs.1:8).

The Jewish people long believed that Elijah would return from heaven one day to prepare the way for the Messiah. By emphasising the camel-skin, Matthew is effectively saying that John the Baptist is the new Elijah who has come to tell us that the Messiah is on his way.  

In other words, John’s mission is to point us all to Christ, and this is how we see him in so many paintings – pointing towards a Bible, a lamb or to an image of Jesus himself.

In Leonardo da Vinci’s last painting, St John the Baptist, he’s pointing up towards heaven, reminding us of our need for eternal salvation. He also appears as a beacon of light against a very dark background, reminding us of Jesus’ description of John as ‘a lamp that burned and gave light’ (Jn.5:35).[i]

In his commentary on this description, Pope Francis said that John the Baptist is the lamp pointing towards the light and bearing witness to the light. But he’s not the light itself, for that is Jesus Christ.

He also said that John is ‘the voice’; the ‘voice crying in the wilderness.’ But he is not the Word itself. He is only the voice bearing witness to the Word and pointing to the Word, the Word of God. [ii]

John’s entire life is focussed on only one thing: serving as a messenger, preparing the way for the Messiah. This is his sole purpose, and it explains why his parents, Elizabeth and Zechariah, waited so long for him to be born.

In God’s divine plan, John could not have arrived any earlier. He had to wait until the time was right for Jesus’ birth, because their lives were inextricably linked. Indeed, when Jesus begins his public ministry, he uses John’s words: ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!’ (Mt.3:1). 

John’s message is simple and still very relevant today: it’s time for us to change the way we live, to turn away from sin, because Christ is coming. And he encourages everyone to accept the cleansing bath of baptism as a sign of their repentance (Lk.3:10-14, 18). 

When Jesus arrives at the Jordan River seeking his own baptism, John recognises him at once, saying, ‘Look, there’s the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world’ (Jn.1:29). He baptises Jesus and thereafter encourages all his disciples to follow Jesus instead (Jn.1:35-37). 

This Advent, let’s reflect on John the Baptist, the strikingly bold saint who shows us that it’s okay to be different, especially if we are serious about eternal life. He also teaches us to be alert for signs of the coming of Jesus into our day-to-day lives.

Did you know that John’s right arm is now kept in the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta in Siena, and his finger is kept in the famous Duomo in Florence? [iii]

Why do they keep these things? It’s because John the Baptist’s pointing hand is the model for us all to follow.

Pope Francis once said that if you want to make a picture of this great saint, all you need to paint is the image of a pointing finger.

John the Baptist’s whole life pointed towards Jesus Christ.

Does yours?

Correggio, Madonna and Child with the Infant John the Baptist (1518) 
Michiel Coxie, St John the Baptist in a Rocky Landscape (c16th
 Titian, St John the Baptist (1540)
Carlo Crivelli, St John the Baptist (1435-95) – pointing to the sign ‘Behold the Lamb of God’
Matthias Grunewald & Niclaus of Haguenau, Isenheim Altarpiece (1512–16) 

[i] Leonardo da Vinci, St John the Baptist, Oil on wood (walnut), 56 x 73cm, Paris, Musée du Louvre, c.1513-1516.

[ii] Pope Francis, Homily, 16 December, 2016.


Year A – 1st Sunday of Advent

The Art of Waiting

[Isa.2:1-5; Rom.13:11-14; Mt.24:37-44]

Waiting is something we all do often, but do we appreciate its benefits? Or do we resent it?

In his book, Oh the Places You’ll Go! Dr Seuss describes the ‘Waiting Place’ as ‘useless’. This is the place where we are all –

Waiting for a train to go
or a bus to come, or a plane to go
or the mail to come, or the rain to go
or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow
or waiting around for a Yes or No
or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting.

And as we wait, many of us become bored, anxious, impatient, or even angry. So, we try to avoid it as much as we can.  

But in her book When the Heart Waits, Sue Monk Kidd says that waiting is not at all useless. ‘For a world that hovers so delicately between beauty and destruction,’ she says, ‘waiting is something we can’t afford to ignore much longer.’

It’s a natural part of life, she says. Indeed, all through the Bible we can see people waiting. Noah, for example, waits for the floodwaters to recede; Jesus waits in the Garden of Gethsemane; and we are all collectively waiting for his return.

Kidd’s point is that waiting is an important part of God’s plan for us.  

She recounts the story of a retreat she attended at a Benedictine monastery, where she noticed a certain monk, sitting alone and very still. He had a ski cap pulled down over his ears, and he was enjoying the shade of a tree. 

There was such tranquil reverence in his silhouette that she stopped to look at him. He was the picture of waiting. Later, she spoke to him. ‘I saw you today sitting beneath the tree,’ she said, ‘just sitting there so still. How can you wait so patiently in the moment? I can’t seem to get used to the idea of doing nothing.’

Breaking into a grin, he replied: ‘Well, there’s the problem right there, young lady. You’ve bought into the cultural myth that when you’re waiting, you’re doing nothing.’

He placed his hands on her shoulders, looked into her eyes and said, ‘I hope you’ll hear what I’m about to tell you. I hope you’ll hear it all the way down to your toes. 

‘When you’re waiting, you’re not doing nothing. You’re doing the most important something there is. You’re allowing your soul to grow up. If you can’t be still and wait, you can’t become what God created you to be.’ [ii]

Waiting, then, is not the useless in-between time we often think it is. We may find it challenging, but that’s only because God is using it to weave blessing, beauty and wisdom into our lives. If we resist these things, we are the ones who miss out.

Today we begin the season of Advent, and Advent is essentially all about waiting – waiting for the coming of Christ into our lives at Christmas. In these four weeks we are all encouraged to take time out to reflect on our lives, to pray and seek the sacraments, and to think about all the suffering in the world around us.

Our hope is that when Jesus does come, he’ll bring with him all the peace, hope, joy and love that we and our world so desperately need.

To nourish and guide us through this time, the Church offers us a rich selection of readings every day. In today’s first reading, Isaiah shares his dream of God’s kingdom, where swords are beaten into ploughshares and spears are turned into pruning-hooks. His vision is of frightful weapons of war being reborn as instruments of nourishment and life.

In troubled times, we are all called to be peacemakers, just like Jesus. These are troubled times, of course, so our challenge is to recognise the weapons we tend to use in our own daily lives. Might this include our impatience, our anger and our harsh tongues? And how might we turn these things into instruments of peace?

In our second reading, St Paul tells us to wake up, because the night is almost over; it will be daylight soon, for God is on his way. And in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus warns us not to be unprepared, as the people were at the time of Noah. It’s time to get ourselves ready.

So, this Advent, let’s reflect on the art of waiting, and recognise that its purpose is to reshape and refine us, and prepare us for what is to follow.

Jesus Christ is coming at Christmas.

Let’s make sure our waiting is fruitful.

[i] Dr Seuss, Oh the Places You’ll Go!

[ii] Sue Monk Kidd, When the Heart Waits. HarperOne, NY. 2016.

Year C – Feast of Christ the King

Christ Our King

(2Sam.5:1-3; Col.1:12-20; Lk.23:35-43)

Today we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King. This is the last Sunday of the Church’s liturgical calendar, and we end the year by reminding ourselves of who Jesus really is.

Pope Pius XI established the Feast of Christ the King in 1925, partly because of his concern about the rise of repressive dictatorships in Europe. At the time, violence and anti-Christian rhetoric were all too common, and Pius feared that too many Christians were being duped by the false prophets of fascism, communism and Nazism.

He wanted to remind us all that it is God who created us, and that in our turbulent world our only real hope for the future is Jesus Christ.

Thankfully, Hitler, Stalin and Mussolini are all now long gone. However, the world today is witnessing instead the rise of new dictatorships that are both disturbing and dangerous, and too many people are living lives that are spiritually empty and aimless.

Many today try to compensate for this emptiness with various forms of self-obsession and by subscribing to the latest political and social fads.

But in her book Strange Gods, Elizabeth Scalia says that when we’re obsessed with ourselves, all our feelings, desires and thoughts become like gods to us, and they lead us down a long winding path that seems to take us somewhere, but really only takes us down into the dungeon of ourselves.

This, she says, is why Jesus says the most important thing we can do is to love God first and then to love our neighbour. For only in this way will we be lifted from the empty depths of our inner selves and brought into the refreshing light of truth.

Today in our Gospel, Jesus is crucified on a cross in a rubbish dump called Calvary. Now, the very fact that our King and our God, Jesus Christ, would allow himself to be treated in this way should make us all stop and think. It says so much about how Jesus views his relationship with us.

In Mark’s Gospel (10:42-45) Jesus says to his disciples, ‘You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’. 

Pope Benedict XVI in his book The Joy of Knowing Christ (2009) says that this is the logic of Christianity. Jesus gave himself in love simply because God is love.

To those who don’t know him, Jesus nailed to the cross looks like an abject failure. However, we know from what follows that Jesus didn’t fail at all. He has actually proved to be the most remarkable king of all.

Not only did he rise from the dead, but he has shown us that his kingship is not about selfishness and greed, but about humility, service and love.

He has shown us that he is not a demanding, bullying king, but one who gently invites us to follow him.

And he is not imperious or remote like other kings, but rather he is a shepherd who genuinely cares for his flock. 

And significantly, he doesn’t ask us to do anything that he’s not prepared to do himself.

Jesus’ self-sacrificial love is the complete opposite of fashionable thinking today.

In his book Food for the Soul, Peter Kreeft draws our attention to the last sentence in today’s Gospel. He notes that it’s the last sentence of the last reading of the last Sunday of our liturgical year, and it’s Jesus’ answer to the good thief who was crucified next to him: ‘Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’

Kreeft says that these are the words we will be hearing from Jesus on the last day of our own lives, if we accept him as our King.

He says that if we make room for Jesus on the throne of our lives, then he will make room for us on his throne in heaven. He will share his kingship, his triumph, and his glory with us. [i]

That thief had lived a life of crime, and barely minutes before his death, he repented and opened his heart up to God. Jesus responded by offering him eternal life in paradise.

What a remarkable gift that was!

But what’s even more extraordinary is the fact that this gift is available to each of us, too.

[i] Peter Kreeft, Food for the Soul. Word on Fire, Park Ridge, IL. 2021:671-672.

Year C – 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

The End Times

(Mal.3:19-20a; 2Thess.3:7-12; Lk.21:5-19)

In all three synoptic Gospels, Jesus warns us that the world will end one day.

‘There will be great signs from heaven,’ he says. There will be fearful sights including wars and revolutions, earthquakes, plagues and famines.

If all these things are happening right now, might we be living in the end times?

People have been asking this question for the last 2,000 years, and many have tried to predict the world’s end. Indeed, one mathematician claims to have calculated that the world only has 760 years left. [i]

So far, these people have all been proved wrong, but in any case Jesus tells us not to listen to them because they are either ignorant or false teachers. For even he doesn’t know when the world will end; only his Father knows (Mt.24:36).

In today’s first reading, the prophet Malachi confirms that one day the world will end and all the ‘arrogant and the evil-doers of the world will be burnt up like stubble.’ What he means is that there’s no joy ahead for those who choose the way of sin and darkness.

Those who choose the way of light, however, can expect ‘the sun of righteousness to shine with its healing rays.’

In other words, if your faith is genuine, you need not fear because the Lord will come to ‘rule the world with justice and the people with fairness’ (Ps.97:9).

In our second reading, St Paul says that it’s wrong to sit idly by, watching and waiting for all this to happen. Instead, we should be setting a good example for others by living honest and humble lives, and working steadily to earn the bread we eat. Our work might not be easy, but it is a necessary and noble part of life, and an important pathway to heaven.

And in Luke’s Gospel today, after talking about the end of the world, Jesus warns that we Christians can expect to be persecuted for following him.

Now, the Church has always endured some form of persecution, but it’s much worse today. More Christians were martyred in the Twentieth Century than in all the previous 1900 years combined, and sadly, the numbers keep rising. [ii]

In many parts of the world, churches are regularly damaged and destroyed, and priests, religious and students are kidnapped and murdered. Laws have also been introduced to suppress Christian values and beliefs, and some professions, like doctors and nurses, are being forced to do things that contradict their faith.

Subtly and not-so-subtly, we’re all being encouraged to reject Jesus.

The Japanese writer Shusaku Endo was raised by a devout Christian mother and baptised at the age of eleven. He grew up a Christian in pre-war Japan, where Christians were less than 1% of the population. He felt an acute sense of alienation as his classmates bullied him because of his ‘western’ religion.

After the war, he went to France, hoping to find spiritual soulmates. But once again he faced persecution, this time because of his race. He became the target of racial abuse.

Rejected at home and abroad, Endo suffered a deep crisis of faith. He decided to visit Palestine to study the life of Jesus. There he made a profound discovery: that Jesus was also rejected. There was no room for him in the inn when he was born. His neighbours ran him out of town. His family questioned his sanity. One of his closest friends betrayed him, while the others abandoned him. And his countrymen traded his life for that of a terrorist.

All this came as a surprise to Endo. He had thought that Christianity was a triumphant faith, but he discovered instead that Jesus was the Suffering Servant. Endo could see in the weak, the broken and the rejected, the Jesus who was also rejected by his own, and tortured and condemned to death.

He learnt that Jesus could understand the rejection that he himself had experienced, and knowing that gave him great strength. [iii]

It’s not easy being a faithful Christian these days, and that’s precisely why Jesus wants us to know that the world will not last forever.

He’s not trying to make us fearful, because fear is the enemy of love, and God is the source of all love. Rather, Jesus is promising us that something much better is coming for those who follow him. ‘Your endurance will win you your lives,’ he says.

The point is that God is ultimately in control, and it’s foolish to ever think we can ‘go it alone’.

Knowing that our troubled world won’t last forever actually gives us hope. It gives focus to our labours, and it encourages us to prepare for the life to come.

There’s a much better life ahead for those who truly love Jesus (Jn.10:10; 1Jn.2:25).


[ii] Peter Kreeft, Food for the Soul, Cycle C. Word on Fire, Park Ridge, IL. 2021:644.

[iii] Flor McCarthy, New Sunday and Holy Day Liturgies, Year C. Dominican Publications, Dublin. 2012:374-375.

Year C – 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

As It Is In Heaven

(2Macc.7:1-2, 9-14; 2Thess.2:16-3:5; Lk.20:27-38)

Some say that there are two kinds of people in this world – those who believe in heaven, and those who don’t.

Jesus, of course leads the first group, but in Biblical times, the Sadducees belonged to the second. They were a small Jewish group who refused to believe in an afterlife.

In today’s Gospel, when some Sadducees see Jesus in the Temple, they challenge him with a hypothetical question: whose wife would a woman be if she marries each of seven brothers, one after the other, after each one dies? [i]

They believe that God’s Law, as given to Moses, cannot be broken, and that God would never create anything that contradicted his own Law. So, by their reasoning, God could not have created an afterlife, because it would simply undermine the sanctity of marriage.

Jesus gives them two answers. Firstly, he says that marriage is an earthly institution blessed by God, and it doesn’t exist in heaven.

And secondly, he says that Moses learnt about the resurrection before he received the Law from God. That was when he first encountered God in the Burning Bush, and God said to him ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob’ (Ex.3:4-6).

Jesus’ point is that because God is the God of the living, and God of the patriarchs, then the patriarchs – Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – must still be alive. For God is a ‘living’ God and only the living can experience something that lives. The patriarchs, therefore, are still alive and heaven is real.

We affirm this belief for ourselves every time we recite the Creed and say ‘I believe in the… resurrection of the body and life everlasting.’

So what do we know about heaven? Not too much, unfortunately. That’s probably because, as St Paul says, the nature of heaven is beyond our human comprehension. ‘No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him’ he says (1 Cor 2:9).

However, we do know some things. For example, life in heaven is different to life here on earth, because there’s no more death or decay, or suffering or pain (Rev.21:4), and heaven is a place of eternal rest and peace (Heb.4:9).

And as Jesus says today, there’s no marriage, but this doesn’t mean that we’ll lose our family and friends. Rather, our relationships will be different as everything will centre around a close communion with God, who is love itself.

You might remember that shortly before he was crucified, Jesus sensed his disciples’ fear and said to them, ‘Don’t let your hearts be troubled… trust in me… I’m going on ahead to prepare a place for you… There are many dwelling places in my Father’s house’ (Jn.14:1-3). 

Jesus has prepared a home for all his disciples in heaven, but this is more than just somewhere to live. It’s actually our real home (Heb.13:14), our permanent home, unlike our temporary dwellings here on earth. And this home will be the fulfilment of our deepest desires, for as St Augustine wrote: ‘You made us for yourself O Lord, and our hearts remain restless until they rest in you.’ [ii]

Some people wonder if heaven might be boring. They fear that it might be just a wispy, ethereal place where people sit on clouds, chanting or playing harps all day long. But remember that in his first letter, St John says that we ‘shall see God as he is’ (1Jn.3:2).

This is significant, because God is the foundation of all wisdom, knowledge and understanding, and the source of all being. He is our Creator, and seeing him will give us the greatest possible happiness. We’ll find ourselves both excited and fulfilled by the extraordinary sights, and insights, that God will reveal to us.

In his book The Imitation of Christ, Thomas á Kempis wrote, ‘Happy is the person who always keeps the hour of death in mind, and daily prepares for it.’

So how might we prepare for it?

Richard Rohr says the simplest way to answer that question is by asking what’s happening in heaven. And what is happening in heaven is communion, unity and family. ‘Lord, your will be done on earth as it is happening in heaven.’

Rohr makes the point that God’s love in heaven is all about perfect union, and union and communion are what God is trying to achieve here on earth. ‘God is not creating religion and righteousness,’ he says. ‘God is creating unity.’

That’s why Jesus’ basic rules for the kingdom are about forgiveness, reconciliation, healing and communication.

‘Those who are capable of union and communion are capable of God,’ he says. [iii]

So, that’s how we prepare for heaven.

[i] To explain, this practice of a man marrying his brother’s widow comes from the Torah (Deut.25:5-6). It’s called the Levirate Law of Marriage (From the Latin word ‘levir’, meaning brother or brother-in-law), and its purpose was to ensure that widows are looked after and that the first husband’s name lived on after him.

[ii] St Augustine, Confessions, Penguin Books, London, 1961:21

[iii] Richard Rohr, What the Mystics know. Crossroad Publishing, NY. 2015:99.