Year C – Palm Sunday

The Shroud of Turin

(Is.50:4-7; Phil.2:6-11; Lk.22:14-23:56)

Apart from the Cross, nothing depicts the Passion of Christ more powerfully than the Shroud of Turin.

After Jesus died on the Cross, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pontius Pilate for permission to bury Jesus. Pilate agreed. He then bought a linen cloth, took Jesus down from the Cross, wrapped him in it and buried him (Lk.23:46-56). 

John’s Gospel tells us that the Shroud was left behind when Jesus rose from the dead (Jn.20:5-7). And history says it was kept by Byzantine Emperors until 1204AD. It was then taken by Crusaders to France, and in 1578 it went to Turin, where it remains today.[i]

The Shroud has been studied countless times, and it’s been described as a supernatural photo negative of Jesus lying in the tomb, taken by God probably at the moment of his Resurrection. Measuring 4.3m x 1.1m, it bears images of his front and back, as it was placed under him and then pulled over his head to cover the rest of his body.

The Shroud depicts someone who endured everything that Jesus suffered: scourging, beatings, crowning with thorns, and nails through his wrists and feet.

Close analysis shows hundreds of wounds from scourging, and it reveals that Jesus was tortured by two soldiers, using two different whips, one with pieces of metal or bone embedded into it. The entire body is covered with these wounds, particularly the back, chest and hips.

The Shroud also shows evidence of the crown of thorns, but it didn’t have a hole in the middle. It was more like a cap covering the whole head, with long thorns causing significant pain and bleeding.

The legs show even more wounds, especially on and just above the right knee, possibly caused by Jesus falling on his way to Calvary. There’s also a large 10cm x 9cm injury on his right shoulder, probably caused by the rough Cross opening up the wounds from the scourging at the pillar.

On the left of his back, there’s another large wound, revealing that the Cross had torn his flesh. And it shows that three nails were used; one through each wrist, and one nail through both feet.

Many people think that the nails pierced Jesus’ palms, but his palms couldn’t have carried his weight. Standard Roman practice was to nail the wrists instead.

There’s also a serious chest wound, near his heart, and the bloodstain shows that it was inflicted after Jesus died.

The Shroud has long been controversial. In 1988, radiocarbon testing dated the Shroud to around the Middle Ages, but since then that test has been discredited. Today, most people accept the Shroud as genuine.

How do we know? Well, for a start, science has identified that none of the fluids on it could have been artificially applied. It’s not a painting. The wounds, the blood flows and the bloodstains are just too perfect.[ii] They behave exactly like the real thing, down to the last detail, and they mirror what the Gospels tell us.

As well, it’s not just ordinary blood we see; the different fluids could only have come from someone who died a traumatic death. And the blood type AB matches the blood found in many Eucharistic miracles.[iii]

The Pietà (1584) by Simone Peterzano (c.1535–1599). Church of San Fedele, Milan.

Textile experts also say that the cloth’s weave matches another 1st Century fabric found at Masada. And 70 varieties of pollen were found on the Shroud, all from the Middle East. 38 of them came from within 80 km of Jerusalem, and 14 grow nowhere else. This confirms that the Shroud came from Palestine.

As well, the dirt found at the feet of the Shroud contains a rare form of calcium only found in caves near Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate.

The Catholic Church makes no claims about the cloth’s authenticity, but it does recognise it as a powerful symbol of Christ’s suffering. [iv]

In 1998, when St John Paul II visited Turin, he said that the Shroud is a mirror of the Gospel and a reason for deep reflection, for it helps us understand the mystery of God’s love for us. He also said that it invites us to model our lives on Jesus who sacrificed himself for us. [v]

It’s hard not to be moved by all this. The Gospels and the Shroud both reveal just how much Jesus loves us, and how much suffering he has endured for us.

They also remind us that there’s no hardship we could ever face that Jesus hasn’t already suffered – and more. He really does understand what we might be going through.

So, as Easter approaches, be sure to thank Jesus and tell him how much you love him.

[i] Ian Wilson, The Shroud of Turin: The Burial Cloth of Christ? 1979.


[iii] Ron Tesoriero, My Human Heart. Published by Ron Tesoriero, Kincumber, 2021:227-235.



Year C – 5th Sunday in Lent

All Things New Again

(Is.43:16-21; Phil.3:8-14; Jn.8:1-11)

Is it possible to let go of the past and start again?

Let’s consider the story of Corrie Ten Boom. During WWII, in the Netherlands, she and her family hid Jews in their home. But the Nazis caught them and sent them to a concentration camp where they suffered terribly. Only Corrie survived the ordeal.

After the war, she travelled Europe, telling others about her faith. In 1947, while speaking about forgiveness in a church in Munich, she noticed a bald man near the door. She froze. He was the cruellest of the guards from that concentration camp.

After her talk, he came up to shake her hand. ‘Thanks for your message,’ he said, ‘It’s wonderful to know that all our sins are at the bottom of the sea!’

Corrie ten Boom (1892-1983) - Find a Grave Memorial

She had been talking about forgiveness, but she despised this man. She couldn’t shake his hand or forgive him.

Then she realized he couldn’t have recognised her; that camp had thousands of prisoners.

‘You mentioned Ravensbruck,’ he said, his hand still extended. ‘I was a guard there. I’m ashamed to admit it … But since then, I’ve come to know Jesus. It’s been hard to forgive myself for all the cruel things I did, but I know God has forgiven me. And please, I’d like to hear you say that God has forgiven me.’

In her book, The Hiding Place, she wrote: ‘I stood there, I whose sins had been forgiven again and again, and couldn’t forgive. It was only for a few seconds that he stood there with his hand held out, but it seemed like hours as I wrestled with the hardest thing I’d ever had to do. For I had to do it. I knew that. It was as simple and as horrible as that. And still I stood there with coldness clutching my heart. And so, woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out towards me.’

‘And as I did, an incredible thing happened. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, and sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes. “I forgive you, brother,” I cried. “With all my heart!”’

‘For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the prisoner. I’d never known God’s love so intensely as I did then,’ she wrote. [i]

In that moment, Corrie’s life changed. She’d learnt to forgive; she’d learnt how to let go and start again. But his life changed, too. He’d carried the most terrible guilt, but he confessed and was forgiven, and he could also start again.

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In today’s first reading from Isaiah, God says, ‘See, I’m doing a new thing…’ In so many different ways, God gives new life to broken people.

All through Scripture we see God releasing people from impossible situations, making things new again. He frees the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, he heals the blind (Mk.8:22-26), the lame (Mt.9:2-8) and the deaf (Mk.7:31-37). He brings Lazarus and Jairus’ daughter back to life (Jn.11:1-44; Mt.9:18-26).

And in today’s Gospel, Jesus gives new life to a desperately troubled woman. Jesus is in the temple when some Scribes and Pharisees drag her over, saying, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in a terrible act of sin. The Law of Moses says she should be punished by stoning. What do you say?’

Now, these men aren’t interested in this woman; they only want to trap Jesus. But Jesus doesn’t answer. He simply looks at them, knowing what they’re up to. Then he says that the person who’s without sin should throw the first stone.

They must have felt ashamed, because one by one they leave, leaving Jesus alone with her. He forgives the woman and says, ‘Go, and from now on don’t sin anymore.’

She must truly have been overjoyed, because she, too, is given new life.

Today, so many people feel trapped by sadness, disappointment, guilt and fear. They feel stuck and can’t move forward.

But they forget that as Christians, we are the Resurrection people, and the Resurrection wasn’t a once-off event. It’s also not just at the end of our lives.

Resurrection happens every day, as God works his mercy, forgiveness and healing in us in all sorts of different ways.

‘See, I am doing new things,’ God says, ‘can you not see it?’

God is always doing new things: shining his light into dark places, giving us hope and new life. But we need to open our eyes and hearts to see.

God does amazing things when we open ourselves up to him.

As St Paul says, ‘No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him’ (1Cor.2:9).

[1] Corrie Ten Boom, The Hiding Place, Random House, NY, 1998.

Year C – 4th Sunday in Lent

The Hound of Heaven

(Jos.5:9-12; 2Cor.5:17-21; Lk.15:1-3, 11-32)

What hope is there when we really mess up our lives?

Francis Thompson (1859-1907) certainly messed up his life. He was born in Preston, England into a well-to-do Catholic family.

When he was 11, his father sent him to a seminary, to train for the priesthood. But he was lazy and failed at that, so his father sent him to medical school. But he failed there, too. Then his mother died and he had a nervous breakdown, and after that he became addicted to opium.

Francis feared his father’s anger, and tried to escape by joining the army, but they wouldn’t accept him. So, he fled to the slums of London where he lived on the streets and sold matches to feed himself.

Francis seemed to fail at everything he tried. But there’s one thing he truly did love: writing. He wrote poetry on whatever scraps of paper he could find, and his hunger and suffering sharpened his poetic insights.

After some years of homelessness, he became suicidal and one day a prostitute found him collapsed on a street. She rescued him and gave him a place to stay.

This was a turning point in his life.

In 1888, he sent a grimy and tattered manuscript to a Catholic periodical. The publishers – a married couple – were impressed by his work. They took him in and cared for him, and in 1893 they published his first book, simply called Poems. It included his masterpiece; a poem called The Hound of Heaven. [i]

In 182 lines, it tells the story of a man who tries to escape from God because he’s frightened that he’ll lose his freedom. It begins:


I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;

I fled Him, down the arches of the years;

I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways

Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears

I hid from Him …

Like so many others, Francis had made a mess of his life, and in his guilt and fear, he fled from his family. But in this poem, he realises that it’s actually God he’s been running from. And he discovers that God is very much like a faithful hound chasing after a hare: searching relentlessly and never stopping until he actually finds it.

After years of pain and suffering, Francis had learnt that whenever and wherever he tried to hide, God’s love and mercy was always there, searching for him.

He had run into the slums of London, into hunger, dirt, addiction and disease, but still the hound of heaven was there, pursuing him with all ‘deliberate speed’.

Through his father, God had sent Francis some money via a London library. Through a prostitute, God rescued him from the streets and gave him a home.

Through a generous couple, God helped Francis publish his first book and gave him even more care. And later, when he moved to a Franciscan monastery in the south of England, he was helped to overcome his addiction.

To be prodigal is to be recklessly wasteful. Francis Thompson had squandered the blessings of his early life, and fell into darkness and misery, just like the younger son in Jesus’ Parable of the Prodigal Son. And just like the Prodigal Son in today’s Gospel, Francis found unconditional love and forgiveness.

So many people today think of God as someone or something distant, perhaps like a mountain waiting to be discovered by intrepid religious searchers.

But that’s not God at all. He is so much more like Francis’ Hound of Heaven, tirelessly searching for the lost and the frightened, always eager to embrace them with his love.

He’s so much more like the father in Jesus’ famous parable, anxiously awaiting his child, and celebrating mightily when he arrives.

The Apostle Peter once asked Jesus how many times he should forgive someone who sins against him. Seven times should be enough, Peter thought. But Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.’

This is how much God loves us, even when we’ve really messed up our lives.

In the end, Francis Thompson did find happiness. He published three books of poetry and several other stories and essays, but his health was always fragile. He died of tuberculosis in 1907, aged only 47. [iii] [iv]

This Lent, let’s remember that God is the Hound of Heaven, tirelessly searching for us, and always offering his grace and love, regardless of our mistakes.

(For a modern adaptation of this poem, go to:




Year C – 3rd Sunday in Lent

The Fig Tree

(Ex.3:1-8, 13-15; 1Cor.10:1-6, 10-12; Lk.13:1-9)

Have you ever noticed how often trees feature in the Bible? Apart from God and his people, trees appear more often in Scripture than any other form of life.

There’s the Tree of Knowledge at the start (Gen.1:11-12) and the Tree of Life at the end (Rev.2:22). A tree stands near running waters in Psalm 1 (Ps.1:3), and the Wise Men’s frankincense and myrrh come from trees (Mt.2:11).

There’s an almond tree (Ecc.12:5), apple tree (Song.2:3), chestnut and fir (Ez.31:8), and a cedar and myrtle (Is.41:19). Zacchaeus climbs a sycamore (Lk.19:4) and Jesus talks about mustard trees (Lk.17:6).

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In fact, every major figure in Scripture is connected in some way with trees. Noah receives an olive branch (Gen.8:11), Abraham sits under the Oaks of Mamre (Gen.18:1), Moses finds a burning bush (Ex.3:2-5), Joseph is a carpenter (Mt.13:55) and Jesus even dies on a tree.

Why are there so many?

Well, trees are a natural part of life, and the Bible reflects real life. But trees also mirror Jesus. Like Jesus, they’re a strong, natural and beautiful part of life. They offer us shelter, nourishment and protection. They clear the air, reduce our stress and anxiety, and have healing powers.

Research has also found that trees help reduce crime and make us more generous and trusting. [i]

But trees also teach us things. They teach us the importance of living in the light, of having strong roots and of getting good nourishment.

And they teach us to be fruitful. That’s what Jesus is talking about in his famous Parable of the Fig Tree, in today’s Gospel.

In ancient times, Palestinian fig trees were valuable. They bore fruit ten months of the year, and their fruit was very popular. In Jesus’ story, the gardener has spent years nurturing that tree, encouraging it to mature and grow fruit, but it has produced nothing for three years.

The vineyard owner has lost patience and wants it gone. However, the gardener wants to give it another chance. He promises to fertilise it and care for it, and if it’s still unfruitful after another year, then he’ll let it go.

In his book, The Cultural World of Jesus, John Pilch says that the vineyard in this story actually represents the people of Israel, and the fig tree represents Israel’s leaders, the Scribes and Pharisees. The vineyard owner is God, and he’s unhappy that these leaders have been unproductive for much too long. He thinks they’ve effectively been stealing from the people, and should go. [ii]

Jesus, however, is the gardener, and he wants to give them another chance. That’s why this story is often called the Parable of the Second Chance. But it’s not just about ancient Israel; it’s also about us, today.

Indeed, how many of us live unfruitful lives?

The stories at the start of this passage, about people being killed in two tragic incidents, remind us that our lives are fragile and we really aren’t in control. As Solomon wrote, ‘time and chance happen to everyone’ (Ecc.9:11).

So, here’s the point: we need to become more fruitful before it’s too late.

Every Lent gives us an opportunity to nourish our spiritual trees and to produce more fruit. Yes, God is patient, but we don’t have all the time in the world.  For some people, this will be their last Lent, and therefore their last chance to put things right.

Now, what type of fruit does God want us to produce? I’d like to suggest that there are three kinds of fruit he’d like to see from us.

Firstly, there are the Fruits of the Spirit that St Paul talks about: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal.5:22-23). Do you produce all these fruits? Do they reflect your life today?

Secondly, there’s the Fruit of Good Works, which St Paul also talks about (Col.1:10). What good works are you now doing for others? What should you be doing for others?

And finally, there are the Fruits of Praise. It is important that we love our neighbour, but we must love God as well (Heb.13:15; Mt.22:34-40). Do we spend time getting to know God? And how do we express our love for him?

God loves us totally, but true love is never a one-way street. God’s love for us can only become complete when we love him in return.

So, this Lent, let’s remember the trees.

We are all branches of Jesus’ tree. What fruits will you be producing this year? (Jn.15:4-6; Rom.11:17–18).


[ii] John J Pilch, The Cultural World of Jesus, Cycle C. The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, 1997:56-57.

Year C – 2nd Sunday of Lent

The Face of Christ

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

What does Jesus look like? The Gospels really don’t tell us. Perhaps the closest we get to a description of Jesus is in Matthew 26:48, when Judas kisses him so that the soldiers can find him in the crowd. This suggests that he looks like most other Jewish men in Palestine. 

In his book The Face of Jesus, Edward Lucie-Smith says that 2nd Century theologians like Justin Martyr thought Jesus was physically quite ordinary. But later on, St Augustine and St Jerome described Jesus as beautiful in face and body. St Augustine said he was ‘beautiful as a child, beautiful on earth, beautiful in heaven’.

Today, most people think of Jesus as handsome, bearded and long-haired, an image strongly influenced by the Shroud of Turin. Over the years, however, Jesus has been portrayed in countless ways, and his image (especially his face) has been called the most important image in Western Art since 312AD. [i]

Image result for face of jesus

St Jerome once said, ‘The face is the mirror of the mind’. We say so much through our faces, even when we’re silent. Perhaps that’s why God says ‘Seek my face’ (Ps.27:8).

Why, then, did God say to Moses on Mount Sinai, ‘You cannot see my face; for no one shall see my face and live’ (Ex.33:20)?

It’s because God is spirit (Jn.4:24) and has no body (Num.23:19). But as St Paul tells us, the son is the image of the invisible God (Col.1:15). So now we can see God the Father in the human face of his son, Jesus. 

In today’s Gospel, Peter, James and John witness Jesus’ transfiguration atop Mt Tabor. For just a moment, Jesus’ clothes become dazzlingly white; his face shines like the sun, and they can see who he really is – both human and divine.

Since then, many people have sought to know Jesus by contemplating his face. When St Therese of Lisieux became a Carmelite nun in 1889, she adopted the name ‘Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face’.

Jesus’ image was everything to Therese. It inspired her to look for his hidden face everywhere, and she wrote many prayers expressing her love for him. In her Canticle to the Holy Face (1895) she wrote, ‘Jesus, your… image is the star which guides my steps… Your sweet face is for me heaven on earth’.

She also wrote, ‘Make me resemble you, Jesus!’ on a small card and put a stamp of the Holy Face on it. She kept it in a little box pinned near her heart.

Her sister Celine said, ‘Just as the picture of a loved one serves to bring the whole person before us, so in the Holy Face of Christ Therese beheld the entire humanity of Jesus… Her devotion was the burning inspiration of (her) life.’ [ii]

Today, most people really aren’t much interested in Jesus’ Holy Face. The only face they really care about is their own; and some people don’t even like the one they’ve been given. They’d rather spend a fortune changing it.

As Shakespeare said in Hamlet, ‘God has given you one face, and you make yourself another’. [iii]

Indeed, Thomas Merton once wrote that our lives are shaped by what we live for. We become what we desire. [iv] And what did Merton desire? He answers that question in his book, The Sign of Jonas. He said: ‘I have one desire, the desire for solitude, to be lost in the secret of God’s face.’

This must be our desire, too, if we really want to be ourselves, because we’re all made in the image and likeness of God (Gen.1:27). And if you think about it, contemplating the face of Christ is actually contemplating our own identity and destiny.

In Mere Christianity, CS Lewis says that the only way to find our real selves, and to be our real selves, is in Jesus. He says we cannot fully be ourselves without Jesus because that’s where we come from.

And he adds that we’re all meant to be different, reflecting different facets of Jesus himself.

But the more I resist Jesus, he says, the more I become dominated by my own natural urges and the influences of the world around me, and we all end up the same.

He asks, ‘Have you ever noticed how monotonously alike all the great tyrants and conquerors have been, and how gloriously different all the saints are?’

When you focus only on yourself, in the end you’ll only find hatred, loneliness, despair, ruin and decay.

But if you focus on Christ, you’ll find him and everything else your heart is looking for. [v]

In other words, when you lovingly search the face of Christ, what you eventually find is yourself.

[i] Edward Lucie-Smith. The Face of Jesus. Abrams, New York. 2011:14-18.


[iii] William Shakespeare. Hamlet. Act 3, Scene 1.

[iv] Thomas Merton, Choosing to Love the World: On Contemplation. Sounds True, Boulder CO. 2008:127.

[v] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity. Touchstone, New York, 1996:190-191 (adapted).

Year C – 1st Sunday in Lent

Forty Days, Forty Ways

[Deut.26:4-10; Rom.10:8-13; Lk.4:1-13]

How often is the number 40 mentioned in the Bible? Over 150 times. This is significant, because numbers are never used randomly in Scripture. They always mean something.

Some say that ‘40’ is Biblical code for ‘a very long time’, but if you look carefully, you can see that it’s very often connected with stories of trial or hardship before something new begins.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus fasts and prays in the desert for 40 days and nights before starting his public ministry. But we also know that he later ascends to heaven 40 days after his resurrection (Acts 1:3). 

And going back into Biblical history, Noah’s flood lasts for 40 days (Gen.7:17). The Israelites wander in the desert for 40 years (Dt.8:2-5). And Moses waits for 40 days and nights on Mt Sinai for the Ten Commandments (Ex.34:28).

Each time, this waiting always precedes a new beginning.

After Noah’s flood, a new civilisation begins. After crossing the desert, the Israelites start a new life in the Promised Land. Moses’ Ten Commandments mark God’s new Covenant with all mankind. Jesus’ public ministry marks the beginning of a new way of life for everyone. And his Ascension opens the way for the Holy Spirit to descend on his disciples (Jn.16:7).

Today is the first Sunday of Lent, and Lent, of course, is the season of 40 days before we celebrate Easter.

Just as we spent 40 weeks in our mother’s womb before our birth, so now we’re being invited to spend these 40 days preparing for something very new.

Deep down, we all seek a life that’s rich in meaning, purpose and love. We all want to live our best lives. Lent is a good opportunity to work towards that by making time for quiet reflection, by working through our flaws and fears, and by opening ourselves up to the freshness of Jesus Christ. 

But for all that to happen, we must first lose our distractions, and that’s why we’re all encouraged to spend some time in the desert, just as Jesus did.

In the early Church, many religious men and women literally went into a desert for a while. These days, the desert is more likely to be a quiet, spiritual place where we go to reflect. But our focus remains the same.

Traditionally, the focus of Lent has always been on the three ‘pillars’ of fasting, almsgiving and prayer (Mt.6:1-6,16-18). These are excellent ways for us to look beyond ourselves and to strengthen our relationship with Jesus Christ.

But these words may be too vague for some people today. Perhaps that’s why they’ve found past Lents unfruitful. Here, Marcellino D’Ambrosio’s book Forty Days, Forty Ways: A new Look at Lent, could be helpful. [i]

In it, he offers us forty practical suggestions for things to do in Lent, including Lenten resolutions, fasting and prayer, learning, works of mercy and refocusing our priorities. Some people have found this book very helpful.

But if you Google ‘40 ideas for Lent’, you’ll find many other creative things to do, as well. One suggestion, called ‘40 Items in 40 Days’, challenges us to find one thing each day that we really don’t need, and to either give it away or throw it away. Clearing our cupboards helps us clear our minds, and by detaching ourselves from ‘things’, we can much better attach ourselves to God. [ii]

But here’s another suggestion: Commit to a daily time of quiet prayer, but don’t do all the talking. Simply listen to God instead, and one good place to do this is at Eucharistic adoration.

And why not cut back on luxuries, and give the savings to the poor? Or start and end each day free of electronic media? (Focus on people, not pixels.)

Or read or listen to a saint’s story each day. Or write a letter of thanks to someone who has changed your life. [iii]

There are many family activities as well, like everyone one day wearing purple, the colour of penitence. Or working together to design a meatless menu for Fridays.

Or discussing the story of the Last Supper at dinnertime.

Or each day, everyone praying for the same intention, or performing a random act of kindness, or doing something special for the people of Ukraine.

Or even baking pretzels with your family. Did you know that the original pretzel shape mirrored the crossed arms of a child in prayer? [iv]

There are so many interesting things we can learn and do in Lent.

Let’s use these 40 days to prepare ourselves for something very special – a deeper and more loving relationship with Jesus.





Year C – 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Words from the Heart

[Ecc.:27:4-7; 1Cor.15:54-58; Lk.6:39-45]

Today, let’s focus on words, and let’s begin with a story.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-82), the famous English poet and painter, was once approached by an elderly man.

The old fellow had some sketches and drawings he wanted Rossetti to see and to say if they had any potential. Rosetti looked them over carefully, but thought they were worthless. He saw no talent in them.

But Rosetti was a kind man, so he gently told the old man that the pictures had little value and showed little talent. He was sorry, but he couldn’t lie to him.

The visitor was disappointed, but seemed to expect this response. He apologised for taking up Rossetti’s time, but asked that he just look at a few more drawings, done by a young art student.

Rossetti looked over the second lot of sketches and became very enthusiastic. ‘Oh, these are good!’ he said. ‘This young student has great talent. He should be given every encouragement as an artist. He has a great future if he will work hard and stick to it.’

Rossetti could see that this old fellow was deeply moved. ‘Who is this fine young artist?’ he asked. ‘Is it your son?’

‘No,’ he replied, sadly. ‘It was me, forty years ago. If only I’d heard your praise then, instead of discouraging words. I gave up too soon.’ [i]

This story reminds us that words can help and heal, but they can also do great harm. What we say, and even what we don’t say, can so easily build someone up, or tear them down.

When we speak, people not only hear the sounds we make, but they can also sense our attitudes and deeply-held beliefs. Whether they’re written or spoken, our words reflect who we really are. They reveal our character and our inner-most thoughts about the people and world around us.

Rudyard Kipling once described words as, ‘… the most powerful drug used by mankind. Not only do (words) infect, egotise, narcotise, and paralyse, but they also enter into and colour the minutest cells of the brain …’ [ii]

Why are words so powerful? It’s because they flow from our hearts (Lk.6:45). What we say and the way we say it reflects what’s in our hearts, and our hearts are our deepest source of strength.  

In fact, the whole universe began with God’s divine Word. As St John tells us, ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God ’ (Jn.1:1).

And now, it’s our words that are shaping the world that God has given us.

In Luke’s Gospel today, Jesus offers us three very brief parables. Firstly, he asks if the blind can lead the blind. Then he warns us about noticing a splinter in someone else’s eye, while overlooking the log in our own. And finally, he says that a healthy tree cannot produce rotten fruit.

Together, these three parables remind us that we must choose our words very carefully. We must make sure we know what we’re talking about, because it’s so easy to hurt others and to lead them astray if we ourselves are misled.

Our first reading says something similar. It tells us that just as rubbish is left behind when we shake a sieve, so our faults become obvious when we speak. And just as a fiery kiln tests the work of a potter, so our conversation is the test of our own personal quality and purity.

But the point is that all this starts with our hearts. For our words to be good, our hearts need to be well-formed. Indeed, if the well of our hearts is polluted, any water we draw from it will also be spoiled.

As children we learn from our parents and teachers, and we hope that they’re wise. As adults we keep learning, but there’s always a risk that we can be misled. There are so many unhealthy and unhelpful influences out there.

That’s why we all need God’s guidance: only Jesus offers us the way, the truth and the life (Jn.14:6).

Our words are powerful symbols of life, of culture and of everything we think and feel. They come from our hearts.

Every day, most of us speak thousands of words. That gives us plenty of scope to either help or hurt others.

So, let’s remember what Mother Teresa once said: ‘Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.’

[i] Gary L Carver, Gotta Minute? CSS Publishing Co, Lima, Ohio, 2020:147.


Year C – 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Love in a Blizzard

[Sam.26:2,7-9,12-13,22-23; 1Cor.15:45-49; Lk.6:27-38]

One thing that sets genuine Christians apart is their capacity to love enemies and strangers.

After their home in Aachen, Germany, was destroyed by Allied bombing in 1944, Elizabeth Vincken and her son Fritz, aged 12, moved to a quiet forest cabin in the Ardennes.

They didn’t know that the Germans had been planning a major offensive through there, and in December they found themselves surrounded by winter blizzards and booming guns.

On Christmas Eve, Elizabeth heard a knock on the door. She opened it nervously to find three American soldiers, one bleeding badly. She spoke no English; they spoke no German, but she knew they were lost, frozen and hungry, so she invited them in. She risked the death penalty doing this.

The Friends of Fritz Vincken | Unsolved Mysteries Wiki | Fandom

She asked Fritz to rub their frozen feet to restore their circulation.

Elizabeth and one of the Americans could speak French, so they talked, and the wounded man fell asleep. Elizabeth told Fritz to fetch six potatoes and their only chicken to start preparing a Christmas meal.

A little later, as she tore a bedsheet to bandage the soldier’s wounded leg, she heard another knock on the door. This time, there were four German soldiers. She quickly stepped outside to greet them. They, too, had lost their regiment. They were freezing and hoped to stay overnight.

‘Of course,’ Elizabeth replied, ‘you can also have a meal and eat until the pot is empty. But we have three other guests you might not consider friends. But this is Christmas Eve, and there’ll be no shooting here.’

The German corporal asked if the others were Americans. She replied, ‘Listen, you could be my sons, and so could they. A boy with a gunshot wound, fighting for his life, and his two friends, lost like you and just as hungry and exhausted. This one night, this Christmas night, let’s forget about killing.’

The corporal stared at her.

Elizabeth then clapped her hands and told the Germans to leave their weapons outside. She also confiscated the Americans’ guns. Then she sat them all around the table, and whispered to Fritz to get more potatoes.

‘These boys are hungry,’ she said, ‘and a starving man is an angry one.’

One of the Germans spoke English and had studied medicine. He attended to the wounded American, and explained that the cold prevented infection. He also said he’ll need food and rest for his blood loss.

The men started to relax. The Germans produced a bottle of red wine and a loaf of bread to share. Elizabeth said grace, and Fritz noticed that all the men had tears in their eyes. For one night, they were no longer soldiers. They were all young men, lost and far from home, taken in by a kind woman.

The next morning, as they prepared to leave, Elizabeth gave them chicken soup and used two poles and her best table cloth to make a stretcher for the wounded man. The German corporal gave the Americans a map and compass, and showed them how to return to their unit, avoiding the German army.

Elizabeth returned their weapons, saying, ‘Be careful, boys. I want you to get home where you belong.’ The Germans and Americans shook hands, and disappeared into the forest.

Back inside, Fritz watched his mother open the family Bible at the Christmas story. Her finger traced the last words of Matthew 2:12: ‘…they left for their own country by another way.’ [i]

In 1995, this story featured on the TV show Unsolved Mysteries. Fritz had migrated to Hawaii, and managed to reconnect with one of the American soldiers, Ralph Blank. Together they shared the same meal Elizabeth had made for them fifty years earlier. ‘Your mother saved my life,’ Ralph said. [ii]

In today’s Gospel, Jesus gives us, his disciples, a new law: you must love your enemies, even when they hate and curse you and treat you badly.

Jesus expects us to mirror the kindness and compassion of his Father, and he promises that whatever we give away will be returned to us with interest.

Of course, loving our enemies isn’t always easy. In her book 51 Ways to Love Your Enemies, Lynn Davis says that you don’t have to like someone to love them. She suggests many practical ways to follow Jesus’ command, including by being civil, polite and truthful, avoiding conflict, controlling your tongue, forgiving, encouraging and supporting them, learning from them, interceding for them and keeping the peace. [iii]

But here’s the point: It’s not only our enemies who benefit from such kindness.

We do, too, because hatred poisons the hater, just as it destroys the hated.



[iii] Lynn R Davis, 51 Ways to Love Your Enemies,

Year C – 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Photographer

 (Jer.17:5-8; 1Cor.15:12, 16-20; Lk.6:17, 20-26)

Sometimes, the things we ignore or neglect turn out to be precious.

Years ago in Prague, my wife and I discovered an amazing puppet shop, full of colourful marionettes of all shapes and sizes, hanging on strings and sitting on shelves.

In one corner, under a chair, I spied a statue, looking dusty and unloved. This was no puppet; it was a very unusual Madonna and child. ‘I’d forgotten about her,’ the shopkeeper said, ‘She’s been there for years.’

We happily brought her home, and now she belongs to our very special Madonna collection.

Yes, what people overlook or reject in life can often be valuable. That’s a message we can take home from Luke’s Gospel today.

Jesus is giving his Sermon on the Plain to a large crowd near the Sea of Galilee. They’ve all suffered in some way, and they’re looking for hope. So, Jesus tells them that certain things our world doesn’t care about, including poverty, hunger and tears, are actually God’s greatest concerns.

He says, ‘Blessed are you who are poor, blessed are you who are hungry, blessed are you who weep, and blessed are you when people hate you…’ These people are blessed because God loves them, and one day they will inherit God’s kingdom.

But the reverse is also true. The things that our world madly craves, like fortune, food, fun and fame, are of little interest to God. That’s why Jesus says, ‘Woe to you rich, woe to you who have your fill, woe to you who laugh, and woe to you when the world loves you.’

His point is that selfish indulgence has no place in heaven.

But how can poverty, hunger or tears possibly be a good thing?

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Megan McKenna tells the story of a photographer taking photos of human catastrophes for a new book. In the 1980s, this photographer was in Ecuador, which had been hit by torrential rain, landslides and starvation. Several relief organisations flew in plane-loads of food, including corn, milk, rice and fruit.

He set himself up with his camera on a main street, crowded with people looking tired, sick and hungry. They’d lost their homes and possessions; some had lost relatives and even whole families.

He noticed one young girl, aged nine or ten. She was thin and straggly, hair matted and clothes torn. She was waiting in line with hundreds of others for food.

As she waited patiently in line, she was also looking out for three younger children, huddled under a large bush to avoid the hot sun. Two boys, aged five and seven, and a girl aged three. The young girl’s attention was divided between watching them and keeping her place in the queue as it snaked towards the food trucks.

The line seemed endless as the food started running out, and the aid workers became anxious. The young girl didn’t notice, however. She just watched her charges from a distance. Then after many hours in the sun, she finally made it to the front of the line. But all she received was a banana.

One banana.

Julie Anne Smyth - Digital painting Banana

Her reaction stunned the photographer. First her face lit up in a beautiful smile. She took the banana and bowed to the aid worker. Then she ran to the children under the bushes and very carefully peeled it, splitting it evenly into three pieces and placing one piece into the palm of each child. Together they bowed their heads and said a blessing. Then they slowly chewed their banana pieces, while she sucked on the peel. 

The photographer wept uncontrollably, and forgot about his camera and why he was there. He began to question not only himself and what he was doing, but also everything he took for granted and his assumptions about the world. He watched the girl and later said that in that moment he saw the face of God, shining.

He’d been given a glimpse of the kingdom of heaven through a poor street child who was rich in love, generosity and beauty, in spite of her poverty and hunger, and in spite of the politics of greed, profit and human indifference.

He never did take a picture of that girl, or the other children. But her face and smile are etched forever in his memory and soul. [i]

‘Woe to you who are rich, woe to you who have your fill, woe to you who laugh, and woe to you when the world loves you,’ Jesus says.

Why? It’s because God isn’t interested in these things.

God’s first priority is the poor and hungry, and those who weep and suffer from hate.

[i] Megan McKenna, Luke: The Book of Blessings and Woes. New City Press, New York.2009:90-91.

Year C – 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time

 A Leap in Small Steps

[Is.6:1-8; 1Cor.15:1-11; Lk.5:1-11]

Today is Word of God Sunday. Pope Francis instituted this celebration in 2019, to highlight the 10th Anniversary of Verbum Domini – Pope Benedict’s landmark document on ‘The Word of God’.

It also marks the 1600th anniversary of the death of St Jerome, who first translated the Bible from Greek into Latin. [i]

Of course, the Bible is important every day. But in instituting this celebration, Pope Francis is encouraging us all to promote the Sacred Scriptures and to help others appreciate their extraordinary riches.

The Bible, of course, is not just a storybook. It’s a constant dialogue between God and his people, as relevant today as ever. It’s the door that leads us into the life of Christ, offering a profound sense of meaning and purpose. It’s full of wisdom, detailing God’s extraordinary love for us, and it teaches us how to live the life that really does lead to heaven.

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But to get the most out of God’s Word, we must read it prayerfully, with loving hearts and open minds.

Let’s look, for example, at our reading from Luke’s Gospel today. To some, this is just a story about fishing, but it’s really about how we enter the spiritual life. For those of us who wonder why it takes so long for some people to accept Jesus, this passage can be especially helpful.

Jesus is teaching on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, and Peter and his friends are nearby, listening to Jesus while cleaning their fishing nets. But Jesus needs a better platform to teach from, so he approaches Peter, seeking to use his boat.

Peter, however, is reluctant; he’s tired and hardly knows Jesus. But Jesus did cure his mother-in-law, so he agrees, and Jesus borrows his boat.

Sometime later, Jesus asks Peter to go fishing once again. But now Peter is really hesitant. He’s been fishing all day and caught nothing, but he does respect Jesus, so he agrees, reluctantly. He goes out into the deep, drops his nets and catches so many fish that he’s astonished.

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Peter is in awe of Jesus, and thinks, ‘I don’t deserve this’. He starts to feel unworthy and says, ‘Go away from me Lord, for I’m a sinful man’.

The boat almost sinks and the men are scared. But Jesus reassures them, and when they return to shore Jesus calls them to become his disciples. ‘From now on’, he says, ‘you’ll be fishers of men’.

This story mirrors life for so many of us, for it reveals how Christian conversion can be a slow, gradual process involving several steps.

It begins by us simply observing, watching what’s happening from a distance – just like Peter. Then it involves listening to what’s being said, and allowing it to move our hearts.  After that, it involves gradually accepting small commitments within our comfort zone, helping here and there.

Then we’re amazed when the call becomes specific and deeply personal, and something powerful happens inside us. We start to feel unworthy, even sinful, and perhaps even scared. But then we’re reassured. And that’s followed by acceptance, and finally, a deep and personal commitment to Jesus.

These are the steps we all typically go through in the process of conversion, as we gradually enter the life of Jesus Christ. For some people, this process can take a lifetime. The actor John Wayne, for example, converted on his deathbed.

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But even the greatest saints, like St Paul and St Francis of Assisi, went through a process of conversion. For St Paul it was remarkably quick, but for St Francis it took years.

St Francis was initially a likeable but spoilt young man who enjoyed partying. But then he recognised the emptiness of his life and started to feel guilty. This encouraged him to open up his heart and mind, and gradually, step-by-step, he came to discover and welcome Jesus into his life.

The leap from where we are today to where God wants us to be may be huge; that’s why Jesus takes us through the journey in small steps. Thankfully, God is patient and loving, and encourages us to grow gradually.

Importantly, he’s given us the Scriptures to guide us on our way.

St Thomas Aquinas once said that our love for God is ultimately not love for a Creator, Judge or Father; it’s love for a friend. We develop our relationship with God the same way we develop other human friendships. It takes time and a series of adjustments as our love grows and our commitment becomes deeper.

We can see all this in the Bible; it’s God’s love letter to us.

The way to read it is prayerfully, with loving hearts and open minds.